The debating society | Sunday Observer

The debating society

13 November, 2022

The war in Ukraine, the runaway inflation as a result of the global economic slump, the repercussions from global warming and so on are all issues that impact on Sri Lankans and people of other countries that are not participants in the great debate in the West over who is to blame — Left or Right.

They slam each other in the West saying the Left is responsible for this state of affairs, or the Right is. That debate is academic to most people who suffer as a result of the myriad woes that are referred to above.

Sri Lankans want to keep their heads above water, purchase fuel at a reasonable price at the pump and get about their business without having to go hungry. They wouldn’t care about whether it’s the liberal Left or the so-called rabid Right that’s the cause of all these problems.

But in the media, they insist on telling us that the Left has a certain policy on this or that matter, and that the Right is wrong as well, and that we ought to know. Try telling that to the poor man carrying a can to buy his kerosene.

They say the Right is undemocratic and is poised to bury our freedoms and that this is apparent in Italy and other countries such as Israel that are lurching rightward. Of course nobody wants fascist right-wing parties gaining over the moderates and harassing immigrants among other things.

However, people essentially in any part of the world don’t care much about whether it’s a Right-wing Government or a Left-wing Government as long as the goods are delivered. Ordinarily people who are essentially apolitical don’t care, and that is the unalloyed truth.

It’s a fact that there are many people in the US who support Trump as they feel he is a businessman who ran the economy better. This article is most certainly not a defence of Trump. His style is questionable to many, and others feel he is not tough enough on Putin and others of his ilk.


But that notwithstanding, there are many people who are watching their kitchen-finances and their household bottom lines that feel Trump delivers on the economy. They don’t care where in the ideological spectrum he is located.

There may be many Left leaning progressives who never would vote for Trump even if he does wonders with the US economy. Those are what are called bloc voters in our local idiom. But those loyalists aside, the voters in the middle — the so called floating voter — don’t care whether Trump is red, blue or orange.

This is true for most voters anywhere in the world who are caught up in this great Right vs. Left debate and feel as if they are being goaded on to take a side.

They don’t want to take any side because they feel it’s an elite debate anyway because most governments, on the Left or Right, don’t have the people in their calculations in the first place.

That’s exactly how most people feel and it’s a fact. They say governments don’t feel the pain of the ordinary man and this is a refrain from the US to Sri Lanka to Italy to wherever.

If they feel that there is a Right-wing Government or a Leftwing Government at a given moment that slightly favours them they wouldn’t hesitate to vote for or support that dispensation over the guys from the opposite side of the spectrum.

Moreover, they feel the entire cat-fight between Left and Right is something out there — they would say ‘I don’t have a dog in that fight’ to use the Americanism. They don’t feel they have a stake in most of the issues that are being debated because their lives are mired in economic angst and in the problems related to leading a paycheck-to-paycheck existence.

Under those circumstances they don’t care about the dog-whistles of the Right or the virtue signaling of the Left because they have other things to worry about such as how to survive a cold winter, or how to send the children to school.

The war in Ukraine for instance is not an issue that people want to take sides on. Governments may want to, but to ordinary people it’s about whether the war would impact in terms of securing their household gas supplies.

This may be characterised by the opinion leaders as irresponsible, but people are aware that there is so much politics out there that it’s difficult for them to decide in black and white terms. They also feel that whoever it may be, world leaders ought to try to avoid war. They feel on that score everybody has let them down in Ukraine, including the aggressors so-called and the defenders so-called in that confrontation.

They are not about to vote on the basis of who does what for Ukraine. That’s a problem of course for most powerful governments that want to assist that country, but whether people are right or wrong their apparent ‘selfishness’ in this matter should be seen as a wish to survive.

They are not drawn to tales about suffering in Ukraine when they are themselves in a position of having to suffer a winter without heating, all because of the war in Ukraine, as they are told.

That doesn’t mean that this article opines that there is no right or wrong in Ukraine. But that’s a story that is unfortunately irrelevant to most ordinary people who elect governments especially in these hard times on the basis of who would help them tide over the current circumstances best.

That’s not something for a politician to rail against. If there is a smidgen of empathy that’s harboured by politicians for the ordinary people, they ought to come together and find common ground so they could do something about the lives of quiet desperation most people lead these days.


But that wouldn’t do for politicians on any side of the spectrum. They need their dog-whistles and their virtue-signalling because most of the time it’s not about the people in least, but how to maintain their own grip on power.

Ordinary people know this and they watch things closely but if they feel there is a leadership that at least by some accident is able to manage the economy better, they’d take a chance on them.

Of course not all voters mark their preferences at the ballot on the basis of the economy, but it would be fair to say that in these times, the majority does. They don’t vote on the basis of nationalism for instance or the right to an abortion, as important as some of these issues may be at a given movement.


Though there would be of course some percentage of votes cast on the basis of extraneous issues, the majority in these times of a global economic crisis vote on the basis of how best they could exist and keep from starvation and want.

The Left-Right debate in this context is grating to the ears. What’s even more troubling is that people are being assailed when they don’t take sides on certain issues that are important to the Left or Right as the case maybe. People who struggle to make ends meet are not happy being hectored on various subjects that are deemed so important that they are told they should take a stand.

They would take a stand on global warming because that impacts them. But they wouldn’t want to get into a fight with their ideologically opposed neighbours because they too as their neighbours do are trying to buy fuel to heat their homes at exorbitant prices.

In Sri Lanka these ideological debates are hardly heard anyway but it’s just as well. People here are not worried which demagogue is heading for power in some European country unless they are desperate to immigrate there, which of course some are. But by and large the masses everywhere don’t want info-wars. They simply want food, fuel and a roof above their heads.