Politicians: Just excess baggage in the modern age

While there are political decisions, which may not lend to scientific exactitude it is not a brief for unintelligent politicians to proliferate as in Sri Lanka. They fumble, they distort and they corrupt the art of politics. Intelligent political leadership should pass those instrumental activities to those who are competent to handle them scientifically.

by Dr. D. Chandraratna

( March 18, 2017, Colombo, Sri Lanka Guardian) I believe it is time to have a spirited, intelligent and honest debate on the drift of the nation in the hands of the politicians that we have. The melancholic condition of our nation, which seems beyond repair, owes much to the ineptitude of the politicians who handle our destiny. In examining the pathetic situation of our political scene, what is apparent is that in the course of the last century we have been blindsided to the developments in the field of both natural and social science, while in the developed west the political realm has totally embraced the developments. Just as the natural sciences have provided men with the kind of knowledge to control their natural environment, thereby making it hospitable and useful we have we got the social scientific knowledge at hand to control much of the social environment in which we live; in order to make it congruent with the wants and needs of its members.

We are living in an age where it is accepted without any reservation that our social matters can most efficiently be handled by the use of scientific knowledge of the social sciences. This calls for a transformation of what is left in the hands of the politicians to be devolved on to the scientists and technocrats to handle. Contemporary society, as social scientists believe, is dynamic, divisive, impersonal and unstable such that it cannot be governed by traditional political methods. We need social arrangements that are in line with science, particularly in countries such as ours where things need to be rationally organized so that it can cope with the multitude of problems: displacement, allocation and misallocation, conflicts of interest, and many more including simple/ big issues as garbage disposal and every other need, and manage the fortunes as in a technological society. At present our parliamentarians, 83% without GCE O/L, have taken these into their hands and have made a jolly good mess of things.

Our democracy is many scores old and our people are quite prepared to accept scientific solutions to their problems. For example a science, such as Criminology is essential to control crime, a science of economics to control incomes, productivity and savings, medical science for health matters, pharmacology to manage medicines, and likewise other aspects of human needs and wants are well researched and serviced by the sciences with satisfactory solutions. These sciences give us a true account of how the world functions, and how problems can be tackled scientifically.

Our attitudes too have changed along with the development of sciences. The role of religion, magic or traditional practices that was existent in preindustrial societies is ineffective and people are cognizant of that. Neither astrology nor soothsayers can solve problems. Science has helped to destroy that old order and it is a new spirit, a scientific one that will relieve us of this helplessness that politicians have dumped on us. The traditional political opinions and practices are inferior because they mingle the factual observation with opinion; subjective biases and prejudices based on some unprovable conception of human needs and wants. The politicians, especially the under educated ones that we have, see the world in terms of their own needs and wants and cannot throw off their adolescent habits and likes. They cannot see issues in terms of what they really are and not how they wish them to be. It is the scientist’s neutral observation that is useful to manipulate the social world, and the intelligent social scientist cum social engineer can realize the means towards the end goal. The social engineer employs methods, which are transparent and uniformly applicable and publicly verifiable. The moment has arrived that without this sort of publicly verifiable knowledge analogous to the natural sciences, we will continue the unnecessary suffering that we are subject to and ultimately we can suffer a total breakdown.

My argument is that the democracy that Sri Lankans are subject to at present is not the democracy that is practiced in other countries of the developed world. In the developed world, there is a serious connection between the policy scientists and the politician. Without the policy scientist and his social engineering skills the politician cannot act on reliable standards and publicly ascertainable truths, and thereby work out decisive solutions to the problems of the modern world. We agree that not all political questions can be translated into technical terms but most can. Just to name a few from our current political imbroglio; the SAITM is pure and simple a technical issue. Garbage is a technical issue, war crimes are a technical issue in the hands of the expert on jurisprudence, and international relations are a technical issue in the domain of the expert and not a wharf clerk. Technical men and women and not the imprudent politician must handle these. The politician’s job is merely to enunciate the policy objective (a scientific one at that, not folk wisdom) and the technical expert will do the means to the achievement of the policy objective.The Sri Lankan politician has not understood the role difference between the politician and the social scientist or the technocrat. It is a clear case of ends (politician’s) and means (technocrats). The politicians are full of biases, prejudices and in the Sri Lankan case, ignorance and ineptitude. The one-syllable policy perspectives heard in the parliamentary chambers make you wonder where we are heading. Members who talk of mega development issues, or Samurai bonds, higher education, free trade, and free education make intelligent folk shudder. The debate about free education or / and unfreezing free education is a case in point. He has only to decide whether he stands for 100 per cent free education or not. If not, to what extent will it be unfree, what other variables are present in free education and to what degree should they be allowed or curtailed?

The problem is that the Ministers of Health and Education do not know what their policy ends are. They do not know, or do not understand what the issues are, and more particularly how other issues are interconnected and what variables have to be regulated avoiding contradictions, to bring about the desired outcome. Free education relates to a number of larger issues: doctor/patient ratios and specialists to General practitioner ratio, private health education, tuition fees, secondary school education, children’s health, and controls and standards. These are all interrelated and have to be the province of the expert. Each one has ramifications on the other. With no clear policy on the matter it is like a football kicked to and fro that will eventually damage the health of the nation. SAITM issue is a sad indictment on the quality of our political process. The natural and social sciences have the power to deal with the issues, but it is in the political realm that the policy has to be stipulated. To accomplish that the politician must be equally educated in order to understand the limitations of the political realm. If only the politician could understand the necessity in the application of scientific knowledge, the political dialogue too will be different. There will be disagreements, but they will not be on personal values, not on power, or position, nor settled on rhetorical power, but rather on tangible alternative benefits and values. This will end the anarchy of opinions that surrounds Sri Lankan political dialogue. Men would cease to demand the impossible, like bringing rice from the moon or Volkswagons from Kuliyapitiya because men learn the true nature of things. When a tourist has no toilet from Chilaw to Anuradhapura a Megapolis is an unreal expectation. When children truant for lack of toilets, laptops are a distant dream.

While there are political decisions, which may not lend to scientific exactitude it is not a brief for unintelligent politicians to proliferate as in Sri Lanka. They fumble, they distort and they corrupt the art of politics. Intelligent political leadership should pass those instrumental activities to those who are competent to handle them scientifically. Political leadership also will be meritocratic as scientific leadership and a technocratic elite will govern society for the political decision maker. It is not possible for non-scientists to determine the worth of scientific decisions just as it is inconceivable for a non-engineer to participate in a judgement on how best to construct a bridge. Quality decisions by the same token will be immune to attack from the public, quite simply because of the public’s acceptance of the logic of science. This is the sublimation of politics that has made the advanced democracies in the West prosper.

Author: Sri Lanka Guardian

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