Bad times and good mores | Sunday Observer

Bad times and good mores

25 June, 2023

Is the country in trouble or are the people in trouble? Those are two different issues. They are not always coterminous, those external issues that deal with a country’s economic problems and so on and people’s day to day travails. Ask the God of small things.

Countries raising themselves from the ashes is an oft revisited theme. They say Japan raised itself from the ruins of World War 11 and an atom-bomb attack. But sometimes while countries are mired in economic angst or war, the people do quite well. After all stainless steel, pilot-communications and a myriad such inventions owe their success to the conditions of World War II, and inventors of similar new products and processes made a good deal of money for themselves.

But essentially high-art and the noble pursuits suffer during times of great political and personal angst for people, and that’s why we are going through in Sri Lanka these days. The nobler nature of people may be seen when they are under extreme stress. This was seen last year. People started helping each other because life was gradually becoming intolerable.


But long periods of recovery are not generally good for a country, and long periods of prosperity are probably not good for the nobler pursuits either. Either society gets ‘dumbed down’ or people go for cheaper thrills because of mass-consumption of what’s becomes known as popular culture.

After all, the circumstances of what’s considered great art are rather stunning. It’s said that the young director of the Godfather films Francis Ford Coppola first rejected the idea of making a movie out of Mario Puzo’s book the Godfather, because he considered the work to be ‘low-art’ catering to salacious tastes.

But then he realised, he said in various interviews, that Puzo was attempting to do the very thing he was attempting, which was to provide for his young family. Coppola says he eventually took on the project and was dead scared it would be a failure because he wanted to buy an apartment as his kids didn’t like the tiny one they were living in.

Some antecedents, wouldn’t you say, for what is considered great art? But was it? Was it great art? The Godfather romanticised the mafia and made a collective fetish out of solicitous violence.

Of course rationales have been created, and they would be. Those who wanted to praise the ‘art-form’ said that the depiction of the mafia was in fact a depiction of how certain types of capitalist-enterprise operated in the USA. Even though the mafia was a manifestly criminal business syndicate, it was nevertheless a model concerning scheming for wealth in the country, albeit a bad one that nobody was encouraged to follow.

But was that an excuse for the valorisation of egregious violence? Good art it may have been in terms of cinematic excellence because there were riveting performances in terms of the acting, and superb artistic use of props, extras, locations and cinematic devices.

But yet, this writer dares say that sans the portrayal of solicitous violence, the Godfather trilogy would have been one more production in a year of forgettable movies i.e: not the historical success it was. So, times of prosperity such as 70s U.S are not necessarily the best ones for the nobler pursuits. But it seems neither are times of long and arduous recovery.


This is a period in Sri Lankan in which people are interested in leaving the country more than they are interested in the welfare of fellow humans. It’s true there was a time of acute anxiety and upheaval last year in which neighbours, friends and comrades were compelled to come to each others’ aid when the country was running out of bare-essentials.

Now those bonds are breaking in certain specific contexts, because people are back in a situation in which they see themselves competing with each other for a share of the economic pie.

So there is skirmishing over land, and skirmishing over history and all that doesn’t necessarily bring back pleasant memories. This we need to watch.

It’s therefore especially a time in which a great sense of responsibility is called for from religious, community and civil society leaders. Buddhists should be more Buddhistic than ever before and that does not mean strengthening the trappings and the edifices of the respective Buddhist orders.

This instead is a time in which the Buddhist tenants of compassion should become the key watchword during our so called resurgence. But, compassion should mean compassion, and not an outward show of it or mere verbal fealty to the idea.

If this is not the time for noble pursuits we should make it the time for noble pursuits, because if everything else fails we should have been uplifted as human beings.

Transitions in particular call for restraint and calm, ask Nelson Mandela. He knew after the successful pursuit to end apartheid that whether people follow him in that endeavor or not, he should call for deeper understanding and great restraint.

For this he was not universally popular especially in his home country because especially the young people in a hurry began to see him as the benign father figure who somehow had lost touch and lost his revolutionary zeal.


But Mandela knew that hubris was the last thing the young country needed. Hubris is the last thing we want in Sri Lanka now, and even if there is nothing really to be hubristic about there are some people who want to be hubristic over the fact that we are doddering our way to a recovery of sorts.

Just imagine that. Just because there is some sort of recovery which is not guaranteed either, there are people who are rearing to go at each other and raise issues that are more parochial than rational or thought out.

Are they bored? If they are, there is a sure sign of some sort of recovery, but if some people are bored it can be guaranteed that the vast majority aren’t, because they are engaged in a daily existential battle trying to make ends meet.

In such a context being parochial is certainly not a recipe for going anywhere unless some folk want us to end up nowhere in a hurry. Being parochial is not a recipe of course at anytime, and it’s especially not one at this time. The most common question that gets asked nowadays is whether we have crossed that hump meaning are we out of the woods, and firmly on a path to recovery or still just floundering around even though at least people have a fighting chance at present though a lot of them don’t have money because whatever they earn disappears fast?

Besides all that people also feel they haven’t been channelled the benefits of the decreasing prices of certain commodities because the capitalists are making capital out of the situation as they are reputed to do whenever they have a situation they can exploit.

People are still at least in private raging against these injustices and they don’t feel these have anything to do with what some specific community, or people that follow this religion or the other.

People see the need to bond together and they have been ennobled to a great extent by the events of last year, strange though it may sound. Hobbled as they are by economic inequities and their general lot battling the cost of living, they still feel they are light years away from the time they used to point fingers at communal bogeys and other similar chimeras that are based on identity. They want politicians to deliver and not divide. It doesn’t seem they have much patience these days for those who practice the dark arts of discord. Potentates and politicians, are all taking heed.