Sun, 22 May 2022 Today's Paper

Reward and punishment as tools to control a nation

15 May 2019 12:18 am - 0     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

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The Government of Sri Lanka (GoSL) is hellbent these days on strictly enforcing the law with the motive of avoiding another possible ‘Back July’ The method used to discipline this nation is the threat of punishment. May 13 (Monday) was a bad day because the presence of tension in areas like Kuliyapitiya, Hettipola, Bingiriya, Dummalasuriya, Rasnayakapuara and Kobeigane, forced the Police to impose an islandwide curfew from 9pm till 4 am the next day. 

Some sections of the society seem to have seen an opportunity to take the law into their hands; possibly because they are not happy with the pace at which the government is addressing the present unrest in the country. We have heard that certain recent attacks were carried out on Muslim owned establishments; in the presence of law enforcement authorities in some places. However our focus in this article is not on the police, but on unruly elements. 

Sri Lanka’s history shows that its people have better responded to punishment or the threat of punishment. This is in the context of disciplining a nation or forcing them into silence. 

The punishment and reward system works among terrorist organisations and extremist religious groups too. We have heard of severe punishment being endorsed by religion

B.F Skinner, an authority on the subject ‘operant conditioning’ , underscored the fact that there is a connection between punishment and reward when dealing with how humans behave. Skinner goes onto state that behaviour followed by a pleasant consequence is likely to be repeated. He also sees the opposite when a certain behaviour is less likely to be repeated when consequences are negative or are associated with punishment. The bottomline to this theory is that ‘punishment weakens behaviour’. 

Sri Lankans in general condemn violence and the bombings that happened on Easter Sunday. As a nation we moaned the deaths due to the bombings and condone the actions of extremist forces or terrorists. But aren’t we helpless when certain sections of the society, which don’t represent these terrorists, take the law into their hands and go on the rampage damaging property and causing harm to people. This is what was reported in the towns mentioned above and it has contributed to the fear that the people are experiencing. 

Such happenings now make the Government respond with force when force is exerted against them. Punishment and reinforcement are used as tools of control. We Sri Lankans have showed that we return to what is unethical or prohibited when ‘punishment is no longer present’. Skinner emphasizes on this fact. 

What we Sri Lankans have to fathom is that we don’t know how to use social media in a responsible manner. We must also take note that we really don’t understand the true meaning of democracy. In a larger context this is a country where Sri Lankans live in and it hasn’t been officially declared as a nation where the majority has the right to control the minorities. The only thing that is guaranteed by the Constitution is; the the lofty place for Buddhism in the island.  

The teachings of democracy must be followed by all communities living in the island. 

The punishment and reward system works among terrorist organisations and extremist religious groups too. We have heard of severe punishment being endorsed by religion to those who commit sins. The ruthless terrorist outfit, the LTTE, used punishment as a tool to keep the organisation functioning at optimum level. We have read in post-war literature that the LTTE hierarchy even ordered death on cadres if they were found to have indulged in sex activities outside marriage or unmarried couples copulated. 

Right now the search is on to locate extremist Muslim groups and bring them to book. We saw rewards being given to those who provided important information to arrest such extremists. But the real rewards are not these. The real rewards come when there is the opportunity to live in a nation free of terrorism. Sadly we couldn’t maintain the peace in the country after the total defeating of terrorism in 2009 and until the tenth year celebrations of finishing off a civil war in the country. 

The Acting IGP CD. Wickremaratna told on television on Monday (May 13) that the law enforcement officers have made their contributions to defeat a more destructive rebel force and added that quelling the present threat was nothing compared to the past challenges the men in khaki have faced. In this context it is interesting to note that the deaths brought upon by terrorist activities and included in a list of 15 causes for deaths, puts the perishing of lives through rebel attacks at the bottom of this list. Top on the list was deaths of children under five years of age followed by deaths caused by tobacco use and lives snuffed out due to under nourishment. The number of deaths caused due to terrorist activities in this study, made in 2010, put the figure at 13,186. Some statistics show that terrorist activities do kill people, but their work is more associated with the act of intimidation and not bringing death. Hence terrorists too believe in punishment as a tool to control when the needed public support and sympathy for their work is not being generated. 

Punishment and reinforcement are used as tools of control. We Sri Lankans have showed that we return to what is unethical or prohibited when ‘punishment is no longer present’

The extremist Muslim groups have begun to punish innocent people who don’t follow their distorted versions of The Quran. They started by punishing the Christians, largely because they believe that honoured killings- done to eliminate those practising other faiths-give them merit points to end up in heaven. 

Terrorism in Sri Lanka showed in the past that its true rewards came when it roped in Tamil Nadu to support its cause. We need to be constantly aware of the fact that terrorism has the potential to ‘transform a local conflict into an international issue’. The LTTE did this successfully. We must also be aware of the fact that America funded many terrorist groups in countries in which it wanted to see a regime change. America knows that ‘rewards’ work when it (USA) is a player in key global issues which threaten to affect the Americans. Right now America has a huge interest in Sri Lanka given the geographical location of the island in the Indian Ocean. 

So can we solve on our own this new terrorist problem caused by Muslim extremists? The answer is ‘yes’ but only till it doesn’t grow into a massive international issue.  

 

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