Globalization, facilitated by neo-liberal economic reforms and the IT revolution, has made national boundaries increasingly porous. Governments continue to devise more strict immigration rules but ensure that they get the kind of human resources they want from other countries. They naturally want to prevent mass immigration of people who are in trouble, economically and politically. Yet more and more people have no respect for national boundaries. They try to cross borders, either on their own or with the help of organised networks of human trafficking.
Millions of people from developing countries have migrated to more affluent countries, either to settle down permanently or work for extended periods. As a result, a large segment of the population in almost every country is well connected to global networks of family members, relatives and friends. Money and gifts are flowing across the world through these networks, in addition to symbolic goods of various kinds. The internet and social media keep these people constantly connected. Then there are other groups, i.e. business, professional, political and cultural, who constantly interact with each other across national boundaries.
So, what happens in one country is constantly influenced by what happens elsewhere. This is a new feature of human societies, though there has been movement of people, commodities and symbolic goods across countries in the past, albeit at a much slower speed and on a much smaller scale. The result is more complex social systems that are driven by both endogenous and exogenous forces at the same time.
Remittances sent by family members working abroad keep many families going even in remote rural areas in the country. An agitated Tamil nationalist group attacks visiting Buddhist monks in Chennai, largely reflecting the persisting ethnic tensions in this country. More and more people jump into fishing boats and head towards Australia, taking the cue from those who have already crossed the line and settled down there. Sinhala nationalist groups in Europe are agitated over the UN resolution in Geneva against the Sri Lankan government, while Tamil nationalist groups there are elated. Sri Lankan housewives would never want to miss popular Japanese or Korean or Indian tele-dramas telecast over “national” television in Sri Lanka. Politically conscious immigrants of Sri Lankan origin living in western democracies bemoan the lack of high standards of governance in this country. And the list can go on and on.
What is evident from the above is that the issues of Sri Lankan society cannot be simply looked at from within. The issues are as much endogenous as exogenous. In other words, we are dealing with a complex social system and related social, economic and political issues which cannot be easily managed by the Sri Lankan state. Many issues thus remain unaddressed or unresolved, creating the impression that the state is incapable of resolving various issues facing the country.
The formation of modern states in many parts of the world, either as a result of gradual democratic transition or following revolutions, raised popular expectations with respect to development and public welfare. Citizens expected the state to resolve their existential problems in an equitable and effective manner through rational public policies and various programmatic interventions.
The development of science and technology and the spread of scientific thinking through secular education created conditions conducive for national planning. Development and collective public welfare became two key concerns of the state. General public looked up to the state to address various problems they face, be it health care, transport or elderly care. Scientists were expected to come up with solutions to various problems, be it new health hazards, old and new threats to agricultural crops, intolerable heat or cold.
The marriage between science and the state was expected to produce many offspring useful to society. The marriage has been effective to a great extent. Eradication of poverty, elimination of many communicable diseases, steadily increasing life expectancy, high speed mass transport of goods and people, real time communication systems across the world, etc. are often the result of long term collaboration of the state, the capital and the scientific community. As a byproduct, society became more secular and the state steadily moved away from religion. But, the process has not unfolded evenly across the world. While the state has not become as effective in many countries, the contribution of modern science has not been impressive either.
In the absence of secular education and a secular state, people remain wedded to religion not only as a source of support to cope with existential problems, but also as a broader ideological framework within which issues of national identity, intra-state relations and public policy are deliberated. What is problematic however is that there are multiple and often competing religious traditions in most countries today and the state cannot sanction one at the expense of the other.
In other words, unlike the secular scientific framework, religion does not provide a unifying state-wide ideology. It can be as much divisive as political ideology or racism.
Nor does it provide effective tools to solve a myriad of issues that citizens are confronted with, be it alcohol and drug abuse, diseases, crime, corruption, poverty, injustice, discrimination or violence against women and children.
The failure of the state to resolve them in a reasonable manner can drive people into the fold of religion as is clearly evident in Sri Lanka today.