- Dependence on pre-packaged knowledge starts very early and gets steadily worse
- The absence of training in critical thinking leads voters to swallow docilely what is spouted from political platforms
The title of this article is perforce unflattering but there is overwhelming evidence to indicate that it is only a small number of citizens and TV media in Sri Lanka, to whom the above descriptions would not apply. The bases for this declaration are explained below.
American Professor Hardy Cross, who invented the celebrated “Moment-distribution method” for analyzing the behaviour of continuous beams, made a very striking observation in his book Engineers and Ivory Towers.
What he had noted was that most people, presumably his fellow Americans, whether they were engineers or not, would stubbornly prefer to spend almost any amount of time on unchallenging drudgery to get a job done so long as they did not have to think about finding a more efficient way of doing so.
It does not require reference to a controlled scientific research programme to aver that the disinclination to make an intelligent effort to carry out a specific task manifests itself far more strongly in almost every sphere of activity in Sri Lanka than it would in the US, and sadly more so, when it comes to electing the people’s representatives.
There are not many of them that do even a few days of honest work for the welfare of the country that they proclaim they love so much
The plain truth is that our people are mentally lazy and want decision-making information of every kind to be spoon-fed to them.
This dependence on pre-packaged knowledge starts very early on in life and gets steadily worse as the individual grows older.
The proliferation of tuition classes that have as their sole objective the coaching of students to pass certain key examinations, with no room whatever to develop creativity and reasoning is the inevitable consequence.
This is also why newspaper-reading, which requires at least a small measure of mental exertion, is tending to decrease in contrast to the painless and passive absorption of the non-challenging contents of most TV programmes.
This indolence is not a new phenomenon because, as far back as the early 1950s, it was observable that the pedagogues, at least in the science streams in the sole University that we had then, who gave the largest volume of examination-oriented notes, were the ones who were the most popular.
The rare lecturers who tried to get the undergraduates of that era to exercise their brains rigorously were greatly disliked because they did not dictate or distribute voluminous notes that would help the multitude of long-spoilt crammers to prepare blindly for their examinations.
Remarkably, many of those who graduated from this thought-killing environment were able to produce good work later, when exposed to the mentally-challenging ambience that prevails in the reputed centres of learning overseas to which they usually went for their post-graduate work.
The almost complete absence of training in critical and lateral thinking during the 14-17 year period of Sri Lankan schooling over the past seven decades leads, among other things, to our citizens tending to swallow docilely, what is spouted from political platforms and the media in the same way as these very citizens were schooled– that is, more or less unquestioning acceptance by force of habit of ‘facts’ that are presented to them by persons and media sources to whom they are already committed culturally or emotionally.
In other words, it is the pre-favoured messengers’ messages that are accepted without detached comparisons with the messages sent by their rivals.
Whatever Politician A says will tend to be embraced with practically no questioning by his/her loyal followers and whatever Politician B says will be received similarly by the latter’s loyal followers; and so on.
The credibility gap is widened where Politician A happens to have greater charisma and is more adept than his rivals at lying convincingly.
Undiscerning voters – who are regrettably in the majority – would cast caution to the winds and vote for Politician A to the ultimate detriment of the country.
Is it surprising that our politically brain-dead citizens keep electing so many representatives who are so dishonest that, while shamelessly grabbing their full salaries and all the accompanying allowances, they attend Parliament far from regularly and contribute even less frequently to important debates and committee work?
In a January 2014 article titled GROSSLY-UNDERPERFORMING MEMBERS OF PARLIAMENT (v. www.cimogg-srilanka.org), we mentioned that, inter alia, S.M. Chandrasena, Weerakumara Dissanayake, Atureliya Rathana Thera and E. Saravanapavan, did not attend even one of the 100 meetings of COPE, of which they were members during 2012/2013.
Namal Rajapaksa, who former President Mahinda Rajapaksa is believed to be grooming to be Executive President of Sri Lanka, no less, managed a 3% attendance!
For that matter, Mahinda Rajapaksa, in his new avatar as MP for Kurunegala, has certainly not been setting a worthy example, where regular attendance is concerned.
Even where the attendance of some members may look good, the inescapable reality is that much of the time spent by them within the premises of Parliament goes to plotting schemes that have only their own personal and party interests in mind.
There are not many of them that do even a few days of honest work for the welfare of the country that they proclaim they love so much.
Needless to say, our TV stations cannot be blamed for the steady deterioration of Sri Lankan standards and productivity over the first 30 years since Independence but, subsequently, there is no question that they have pandered more and more to the demand for mind-numbing entertainment without considering their corporate social responsibility obligations.
Instead of helping Sri Lankans to learn to think for themselves, objectively and rationally, too many TV programmes attack their viewers’ brains so adversely that the descent of our citizens into persistent intellectual darkness is inexorable.
Another important factor that is responsible for the failure of our citizens to cast their valuable votes in a judiciously-evaluated manner is that our TV stations conduct political ‘seminars’ long after their peak money-making hours, just when most working people are getting ready to go to bed or early in the morning, when there is limited time to deal with multiple domestic chores before rushing off to work.
As might be expected, it is mostly seniors who would find the leisure to sit through these ill-scheduled programmes. Don’t the TV stations care even a little bit about the rest of the voting public?
To make things worse, much of the time at these talk-shows is spent on destructive criticism of each other by political rivals, so much so that too little room is left for the objective comparison of what individual participants have to say.
In contrast, in better managed countries, on certain days of the week, a small amount of costly prime time is set apart by TV stations for the presentation in reasonable depth of all points of view on questions of national or regional importance so that citizens may come to a balanced view of the problems being discussed and the alternative solutions that are proposed during the presentation of the diverse viewpoints.
In lotus-eating Sri Lanka, however, prime time is given over exclusively to entertainment programmes that attract the highest proportion of advertising revenue.
The owners of TV stations here are so oriented towards maximizing their profits that they do not see the dire need there is to set aside, say, two half-hour periods every week at prime time to get small groups of informed and well-conducted persons (Not yelling and screaming politicos) to give a variety of views on matters of current political concern so as to allow citizens to come to their own conclusions regarding questions of national significance.
The other regrettable characteristic of our TV stations is that they boost the image of promising politicians who, when successful at the ballot, will be expected to foster strongly the interests of the respective stations that have contributed to the building of the politicians’ public image.
Family relationships and business connections are the more common elements that decide which station will support which politician.
In lotus-eating Sri Lanka, however, prime time is given over exclusively to entertainment programmes that attract the highest proportion of advertising revenue
Thankfully, the thug who used to get TV stations attacked by his minions with fire and bombs has been relegated by his political masters to the wilderness and, hence, we consider that at least now there could surely be a little less unadulterated loyalty to one’s own pet political candidates and a fairer chance given to less known and possibly better candidates.
Individual printed journals are generally no less partisan than TV stations but their present impact tends to be much less than in pre-TV days because the public spend less and less time on newspapers and much more time watching TV.
Moreover, the number of persons who read the more informative articles in the print media constitutes only a fraction of those who actually buy newspapers. The majority look for obituaries, reviews of entertainment and places to eat, business news, hints about on-going political machinations and the private life of well-known persons, sensational crimes, astrological forecasts and so on.
Consequently, one is forced to the conclusion that the serious contents of printed media are able to influence the views of only a minority of newspaper readers and do not influence significantly the political choices that the rest of our citizens make.
The writer can be reached at email@example.com. The Citizens’ Movement for Good Governance (CIMOGG) was formed in 2002 and is a voluntary, non-political, non-profit organisation committed to promoting the Rule of Law and Good Governance in Sri Lanka