What we witness today in this country is a steady erosion of the moral fabric of society. The pursuit of wealth, power and personal influence at any cost by self – seeking individuals has undermined the normative order; traditions, conventions, rule of law, moral values and ethical principles. It is not the first time that such moral crises emerged in human society as a result of rapid and profound social change. In fact, the famous French sociologist, Emile Durkheim had penned several essays on this theme in the late 19th century based on his observations in the context of European societies transformed under the direct influence of rising capitalism, social revolutions and rapid urbanisation.
" Many people feel that they are free to pursue their self-interest or satisfy their animalistic desires in a cynical fashion with no regard for social standards, rules and regulations "
What is happening today almost on a daily basis leaves absolutely no room for us to doubt that Sri Lankan society is faced with an unprecedented moral crisis. Violent crime, child abuse, rape, extortion, endemic corruption, abuse of power etc. have become so common place that people are tired of following endless media reports. There are no signs of any reversal of the trend in spite of continuous public debate.
As mentioned before, the erosion of the society’s moral fabric is mostly due to the unrestrained pursuit of material wealth, power and sensual pleasure. This is an important assertion emanating from a whole corpus of philosophical, social and behavioral science writings. The challenge that modern societies increasingly guided by liberal values face, is to maintain a judicious balance between individual freedom and social control.
" The obvious erosion of the social and moral order in this country today clearly shows that both secular and spiritual leaders have little moral authority over the wider public "
In an increasingly market dominated society, the pursuit of individual aspirations, ambitions and desires takes places mostly through contractual relationships; between employees and workers, traders and consumers, professionals and clients, teachers and pupils, the powerful and the powerless, the entertainers and the entertained etc. If the market is not socially and morally regulated, these relationships can become corrosive, exploitative and even oppressive. It is in this context that the state has the potential to become a major source of social and moral restraint on those who pursue naked self-interest at an enormous cost to others in society. Yet, the state’s actual role depends on the nature of governance and state – society relations. It is in this sense that civil society becomes an important aspect of modern political systems whereby diverse social groups freely articulate their ideas and interests through a process of communicative action and influence the structures and processes of governance.
The obvious erosion of the social and moral order in this country today clearly shows that both secular and spiritual leaders have little moral authority over the wider public. No amount of religious rituals and preaching conducted by priests is enough to arrest the worsening trends in moral and social degeneration. Political leaders entrusted with the responsibility of managing public affairs in the wider interest of society can do almost anything and get away with it because the checks and balances that usually exist in civilized, democratic societies, have been abandoned or become ineffective. Many people feel that they are free to pursue their self-interest or satisfy their animalistic desires in a cynical fashion with no regard for social standards, rules and regulations.
The above trend naturally undermines the social and political order creating an anarchic situation. There cannot be social justice when those who are in positions of power and influence i.e. teachers, doctors, lawyers, judges, employers, politicians, journalists, businessmen, academics, etc pursue their self-interest at the expense of the wider interests of society. Hapless masses naturally feel that they are abandoned and left to their own devices. Many leave the country, looking for better opportunities elsewhere. Others suffer in silence and look for divine intervention.
It is in this context that the restoration of professional ethics and civic morals becomes a critical need. A key starting point is the social and moral regulation of the market. This cannot be done without radical political reforms to create a just, civilised and equitable system of governance.
Politics should not be an avenue for upward social mobility for ordinary people in order for them to enjoy excessive power, privileges and wealth at the expense of others, as it is often the case today.
" There cannot be social justice when those who are in positions of power and influence pursue their self-interest at the expense of the wider interests of society "
Instead of persuading occupational groups to adopt ethical codes to guide their practices, the recent tendency has been to institutionalise their corrupt and unjust practices. The recent policy decision to allow public school teachers to conduct additional classes for their pupils for a fee is a case in point. Many other examples can be given to illustrate the point.
The gross inequalities that we witness today in almost every sphere point to an inadequate social and moral regulation of the market. They also reflect the rise of instrumental values over substantive values. The result is that almost everybody pursues their own self-interests in an almost anarchic market environment at the expense of social and moral order. There are not many people who strive to promote higher standards in professional and public life. The state has almost ceased to be an effective restraining influence on self- seeking individuals. In fact, what at times happens is the exact opposite!