Discipline and the devil’s disciples

Monday, 18 February 2019 00:55 -     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

That coach who repeatedly slapped a boy under his care has generated a storm of controversy on social media. On one side are aunties, bleeding hearts, civil rights champions et al who are outraged or at the very least shocked or surprised. On the other are tough-minded philosophers such as contact sports fans, old boys who’ve played rugby for their respective schools and those who say they believe in discipline or corporal punishment or a healthy combination of the two. 

Take which side as you may; the slaps that went viral have raised more questions than armchair warriors can possibly answer. Is it conscionable to hit a ward or charge in order to discipline them? Or is corporal punishment often a thinly veiled attempt to argue the ‘end justifies the means’ case? Would the rugger network be defending the coach in question if his unorthodox methods didn’t guarantee results – read, victory – as they reputedly do?  

Would those tactics work outside the schools circuit? Should responsible corporate houses endorse such a strategy to make their businesses a winning team? Could it be that this is why violence has become embedded in our national culture and egregious behaviour in house and home – as much as in the House – go unpunished? Despite all the angst on Facebook and Twitter, both Sanath Martis and those scoundrel MPs have more defenders than it makes me comfortable to think about.

There is also a possibly related and closely corresponding sense of dismay at the lack of discipline in public life. From the way Sri Lankans drive – road rage, lack of lane discipline – to the way we make headway in civics, governance, war, biz, sport – might is right, to the victor the spoils – seems the norm. And only a small coterie of resistant islanders would think it a shame, cry halt, and let slip the dogs of conscience and civility.

I see the phenomenon manifest itself in three dimensions. By no means though is the 3D take below comprehensive or all-inclusive. But in a short space such as that of a weekly column, it will have to do.


Democracy passes muster

In the old days, the greatest treason used to be ‘doing the right thing for the wrong reason’. Today it is exactly the other way around. And democracy not only has many liberties taken in its name. But the lack of discipline among so-called democrats is excused on the grounds that it is in the larger national interest. That the culprits from previous scams are still around to bond with the powers that be makes a mockery of internal investigations and party discipline. Never mind good governance ever again! 

For example: hardly anyone ever talks seriously about bringing the minds and masterminds behind a Central Bank imbroglio to book. If you do, you must be angry with a UNP bigwig, drunk at a party, bored out of your small mind or a heady cocktail of all three. But the allegation of the German envoy in Sri Lanka – hard on the heels of a contract being awarded to China despite a better deal elsewhere (ahem) – means that the global business community is beginning to see the way pseudo-democracy works. Shall we do the Full Monty and reveal that it was ever thus? 


Demagoguery parades muscularity

Then there are the past-masters at rousing up the rabble with nothing but their own sad petty twisted vested interests at heart. A prime example would be our chief executive. Who seems ready and willing to espouse just about any cause if it will make him more popular – an increasingly tough ask, dear – and/or win him a second term in the highest office. Sadly for us, there are many who take the bait… from whales in high political office and places of worship to minnows along the stream to the voting vortex.

There used to be a more rugged masculinity to those who rattled their sabres in nationalist and even ultranationalist causes. Today – how the mighty have fallen? Where once a past president was like a lion among Daniels, roaring defiance in the face of an agnostic world, the tail is between the legs of a present political opposition leader. That worthy has gone in a long and chequered career from embracing the flower of a republic’s dying youth on his paada yaatra from south to north; to defending the honour and even dishonour of the military who slew them; to agitating for alleged war criminals to face sanctions in the present milieu. What price personal introspective reflexive discipline?   


Discipline parodies morality 

THE FULL MONTY: From Mr Clean’s dirty deals to the Machiavellis who used the military as a shield to sit in seats of might, Sri Lanka’s reputation for reasonable, responsible and reflexive discipline has often hung by a thread. As for the man who wants more milk made, he’s no milksop when it comes to administering the coup de grace in the form of an implemented death penalty

Perhaps the once and always shadowy figure who could or should worry us most is the ultimate disciplinarian. A national rugby coach of a sort, with a repertoire as wide as ‘winning the war’ as part of a troika to beautifying the city all by himself. Now he would don the velvet glove again to smash that iron fist of old against future offenders lacking discipline. Coming from a former strongman bureaucrat, that would be chilling. Except I suspect the polity – save a few blowhard bhikkus and their correspondents in the chauvinist parts of the polity – have seen through the façade.

I think Sri Lankans have matured a bit more than that. But when I hear big business leaders and experienced chamber heads yearn for a benevolent tyrant, I am suddenly not so sure again. Since we seem to have – as a race as well as an island race – that fatal chink in our armour which desires a great dictator. Which makes it par for the course that coaches indulge in a bit of slap and tickle. However hard it may be for mothers and assorted aunties to stomach it. Perhaps there’s a place for a small and controlled measure of corporal punishment in schools sports. However small taps generally degenerate into bloody body blows and the full-blown war that monkeys in the house ape from their schoolboy masters and rugby coaches – or does the inspiration flow the other way?     

(Journalist | Editor-at-large of LMD | Writer #SpeakingTruthToPower)

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