Ideas, Interests and Peaceful Co-existence

19 May 2013 06:30 pm - 0     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

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It was Georg Simmel, a  German sociologist, who distinguished between what he termed the Dyad and the Triad, in order to explain how social relationships can  become complex when human groups become larger. Dyad is a human pair and the two persons involved have to find common ground in order to co-exist. A solitary person living alone has to cope with his or her emotions and feelings and adjust behaviour accordingly but it is largely an inner struggle. This is the subject of psychology.

" There was a time when many Sri Lankans were highly conscious of their caste identity but the spread of modern education, rapid occupational and spatial mobility and political mobilization reduced the significance of caste in their day to day lives to a great extent. "

But, the moment a second person moves in, the negotiation is between two persons. They have to overcome individual differences in terms of emotions, feelings, attitudes, ideas, values, interests, etc. and find a way to co-exist in the best possible way. If not, they may disagree, fight and break up. Add a third person to the group, relationships become even more complex. Increasing size of the group increases complexity. This basic principle applies across different social settings.

Today we are living in a network society, according to some commentators like Manual Castells . Human societies constitute networks of relationships, and these networks are interconnected through the internet spanning the whole world. It is not difficult to imagine how complex human relationships become in such a complex network society.

All kinds of efforts to find ways to reduce conflicts, tensions and violence, both within and across societies are a reflection of the above complexity. Conflicts, tensions and violence are products of the interplay of diverse ideas, and interests, both real and perceived. The extent of peace, stability and order in the world would naturally depend on the effectiveness of the above efforts. The same is true even for a single society like ours.

The issues of co-existence in any society are as much interpersonal as inter-group. We have such issues within households, communities and institutions. They are important and need to be addressed and resolved in order to avoid personal misery, tragic incidents, and institutional decay. The focus of this essay is on inter-community relations and how they affect peaceful co-existence and socio political order.

There was a time when many Sri Lankans were highly conscious of their caste identity but the spread of modern education, rapid occupational and spatial mobility and political mobilization reduced the significance of caste in their day to day lives to a great extent.

Then came the Marxist parties.  Their firebrand leaders went around the country and did a great deal to impress upon many people that the distribution of means of production was the key factor affecting their life chances, not karma (fate). May Day rallies attracted hundreds of thousands of people to Colombo where the urban workers, peasants and students wearing red shirts shouted slogans denouncing the capitalist class. Then came ethno-nationalists around the time of independence. They began to argue about who got what and how under the colonial rule. Ethnic identity became the prism through which more and more people began to look at the world around them.

The post colonial state that would have addressed  issues of public welfare in an equitable manner and mobilised the people around it on the basis of equal rights and social justice, became a site of contestation among ethno religious groups  competing for group rights and privileges. The rest of the story is too familiar to the readers to need any elaboration.

Astronomers are busy trying to find out whether humanity inhabiting the blue planet would face the same fate that the dinosaurs were believed to have faced in the distant past. They opine that a large enough asteroid crossing our path may turn all of us into dust or frozen corpses, if such a thing ever happens. But, short of that, the current trends in global warming, which is mostly of our own making may result in slow or sudden death, at least for some people.

" Today we are living in a network society, according to some commentators like Manual Castells . Human societies constitute networks of relationships, and these networks are interconnected through the internet spanning the whole world. It is not difficult to imagine how complex human relationships become in such a complex network society "

Meanwhile, some of us are so intolerant of each other that even the most vulnerable, our small children become victims of inter-community violence, let alone those who take up arms in anger and hatred. Even the highest level of religiosity that Sri Lankan society displays today is not an adequate antidote against racial violence and hatred.

" All kinds of efforts to find ways to reduce conflicts, tensions and violence, both within and across societies are a reflection of the above complexity. "

It is most probably a secular state that accommodates diverse views and interests in the most tolerant, equitable and just manner that can keep us from killing each other. It is the diversity of ideas and interests that has made societies dynamic, vibrant and often progressive, provided that the ideas and interests are accommodated through a continuous process of moderation that prevents social, economic and political polarisation. Whether the country’s political leaders will rise up to the occasion remains a big, unanswered question. It is of course the expectation of reasonable and rationally minded citizens.
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