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The Opressed

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Today at the barbershop i had an epiphany about films. An old Sinhalese film, must have been from the forties, was playing on the small TV. The barber told me that those actors are all probably dead now. The move is called ‘Geetha’, the full credits roll by in the beginning, but there’s a short intro into the whole theme with a scene before that.

The son has just come from England. He sports a little Hitler mustache. He is wearing a dress shirt, pants and tie. The father is dressed in a suit. They are rich people. The mother is absent. She has apparently gone to yet another meeting of a ‘women’s club’. It is a habit of hers to throw away money on these clubs and receive high positions in them. She has taken the good car to go for a function now. The son ridicules his mother’s behavior and questions her objectives. The father says that he has no real say in the matter, since he is a poor man and his wife owns all the money.

Soon the mother returns, bearing a heavy basket of flowers which she was gifted at the event as the chief guest. The son accurately guesses that she must have donated ten thousand rupees to this particular event judging by the weight of the basket, which weighs ten pounds, and the going rate for gifts of flower baskets in return for donations must be a thousand rupees for a pound. This angers his mother. She is dressed in an immaculate sari and sports one of those elaborate 1940s hairstyles that curve around a woman’s face. Further argument is suspended when a worker from their factory comes calling, to tell them that his daughter is getting married. The worker is dressed in an old but neat suit and sarong, his wife wears a carefully preserved white sari.

They have obviously come to ask for financial assistance. but as custom dictates, they don’t say so openly. All pretension is to the effect that the visit is merely to ‘inform’ for propriety’s sake. The father invites them in, the son asks them to sit down. The worker and his wife sit with great hesitation. The father and son then ask some random questions like “where is the groom from?”. The groom is from Kandy and works in the civil service, apparently his salary will be increased once he gets married.

Further conversation is interrupted when the wife loudly calls the husband aside.

“What are these poor people doing sitting in our living room, she asks, “who are they?”

“He is a worker in our factory with his wife”, says the husband.

The wife becomes livid, “poor people have their place and they should not be sitting around becoming pally with the likes of us, have you no shame?”

“well, what do you want me to do?”

“tell them to bloody leave!” she yells, so loudly that the worker and his wife get up, startled, and make as if to go away.

The husband though, plaintively persists “his daughter is getting married, we should give them something, how about five hundred rupees?”

“Are you mad? We already pay them salaries and bonuses. Just give the man five rupees and send him off”.

At this moment, the wife sees some of her acquaintances from her club coming to pay a visit. She becomes alarmed. “Chase those two away at once, what will my friends think of me if they realize the kind of people we welcome into our house!”

The women have come to diplomatically elicit yet another donation, in return for which they will nominate the wife for a post in the parliament. The wife is more than eager to agree. And shells out ten thousand rupees, which must have been a thumping amount at the time, on the spot. Meanwhile the son muses on the fact that his mother loses no time in throwing away ten thousand rupees to become a ‘public servant’ when she can’t stand the sight of the general public inside her own house.

Who in Sri Lanka makes films like this anymore? All i see are movies aping Bollywood. And ‘comedies’ with jokes so lame they need crutches. Some might say that good films with strong messages do get made, but either they get no exposure, or there simply isn’t a market for them.So is something wrong with the Sri Lankan film goer? Have the people no more appetite to ponder ground realities like the class and political differences that underpin the way we live today?

Many Sri Lankans today are sold on cardboard dreams built on TV reality shows and dolled up movie stars. The typical poor Sri Lankan is caught up with the glamor of the rich, and wants to own it as soon as possible. So when he sees the politician roll by in his cavalcade of Range Rovers and matt black BMWs he doesn’t see a vile rogue who owes everything he has to corruption and abuse of power, he sees the epitomization of his own dream. The only way to stop being oppressed is to become the oppressor.

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Something i saw today got me thinking of Colombo, and does Colombo even have a ‘counter culture’ movement? Does Colombo have meme’s? Do we get taken up with random shizz that don’t mean anything in particular? Of course we do, various teledrama phrases spring to mind like ‘I know the law putha’ anyone remember that? Could that chap be Colombo’s Giant?

I think there is mass scale sick to deathness with political BS. Its always been there sure, but with the war over poor people are expecting to get richer, this is clearly not happening. I think people need to be woken up, the economics of their situation be made aware to them. I’m not saying the government isn’t trying, but it isn’t trying hard enough. Corruption is there, cronyism is there, Hambantotism is also there.

Andre the Giant Has a Posse was a poster/street art campaign that was started by Shepard Fairy. Was watching Exit through the Gift Shop and finally found the bloody meaning behind the Andre the Giant posters. My earlier suspicions were confirmed, it doesn’t really mean anything.

But it doesn’t have to actually. The fat face with the look of a man trying to size you up for dinner with the word OBEY written in big think lettters is nothing short of Orweillian. The concept behind it is really interesting. Fairy (far as i know that IS his real, not figurative, name) borrowed the picture off some tabloid and stuck the OBEY motif to it and then stuck it on several walls in an around LA. This took for some inexplicaple reason and soon thousands of people were sticker bombing the US with Andre.

To quote Shepard Fairy from the movie

“Even though the Andre the Giant sticker was just an inside joke and i was just having fun, i liked the idea of.. the more stickers that are out there the more important it seems, the more important it seems, the more people wanna know what it is, the more they ask each other and it gains real power from perceived power’.

An A the G movement site has this to say

The Giant project isn’t a sales pitch, it’s an experiment in phenomenology, prodding the collective psyche with something inexplicable, creating an illusion of a secret society…What Fairey hoped to get across was that Giant uses the same propaganda techniques that try to sell you cigarettes, movies and presidents.

Funnily enough, Fairy did use the same skill set to sell a president. And people bought it too. The Obama posters were probably some of the coolest pieces of election campaigning i’d ever seen, but like a lot of people now i think Obama was just same same, with marginally different skin tone.

So why get worked up over nothing? Its a psychological blip. Something constantly in your face that you don’t know the meaning of, that you’re driven by curiosity to get to the bottom of it sort of like one of those itches under the skin your nails can’t get at. Hopefully in the process you end up becoming a little more aware of your surroundings.

“Once you examine it, there’s nothing left but the aesthetics of a process. If people realize, ‘I was manipulated by that,’ then maybe, like the domino effect, they’ll say, ‘What else am I being manipulated by, that I’m not questioning?’”

The message is in the medium. All this is a very novel, surrealistic approach to social activism. You don’t point and shoot, you just sort of create a jarring affect and hope it leads to something.

…say, ‘Question Authority,’ or ‘Stop Racism.’ You just get a pat on the back from the people who agree with you already, and the people who don’t agree with you don’t even think about it. So for me it’s just about creating an individual dialogue process that can expand into people trying to interpret it, and asking someone else, and then there’s two people talking about it. Something just going on that people can’t pigeonhole along with everything else.”

Obey the Giant is a meme that came out of a counter culture movement. The anti corporate, anti commercial, anti paid advertising one. It slowly morphed into a subset of corporate culture anyway vis a vis the Obama posters and Fairy’s ‘Black Market’ graphic design firm.

There may be something there in Colombo for a potential sticker bombing campaign. But i’m thought bouncing I suppose. As the three wheel dudes know; Life is rainbow.

Following is a brief synopsis of the history of economics as i understand it together with a subjective viewpoint on its inherently oppressive nature. This viewpoint as written below does not necessarily reflect my personal opinion on economics, it is simply a viewpoint, that should stand alone in its own right.

-The Raj

Since industrialization humans have focussed on getting more efficient, becoming more profitable. I shouldn’t say humans in this regard, for it is mostly the capitalists who expound such thought processes into practical application. Economics after all, cannot be taken away from the self interest of its proponents, and when brought into the fray of politics, self interest largely depends on who is in power. And, money being tantamount to nearly everything in entering politics, most modern democracies flout the interests of capitalism over ‘what is good for the masses’. Of course this is cleverly disguised, more so from the politicians themselves, but GDP is not a measure of quality of life. Getting richer as a country, with it’s complete wealth distributed according to the laws of the Pareto Principle, is questionable as a purpose of being. Most modern economies can be highlighted as examples.

The prevailing ‘what is good for the powerful is good for the economy’ philosophy can be easily illustrated with simple look at the history of economics. Initial feudal establishments (which were centered around the absolute power of the landowning class and its default omni-ownership of all capital) crumbled with the increase of trade and the appearance of ‘marketplaces’. This only exacerbated with colonialism and eventually led to the Merchant class surpassing in wealth the landowning overlords of feudalistic society. Eventually, the reign of Merchants was the norm.

Mercantilism

‘Mercantilism’ was their philosophy. Mercanltilists were of the opinion that to prosper, a nation must sell more than it buys. In other words, its exports must exceed its  imports. This kind of thinking will seem absurd in the modern day world with interdependencies among nations causing more deficits than surpluses. A system like that cannot survive, for the simple reason that were every country in the world to follow identical princples, trade would simply halt! leading to eventual collapse of the system. As it happened Mercantilism survived for a long while, primarily due to cheap resources readily available from colonized nations and also by oppression of its own country’s peasant class, and economies in that day were controlled more by guilds of merchants that functioned more like cartels; monopolizing trade and commanding prices. Not very good for the quality of life of your average peasant, I would say.

Moving on, the rise of capitalism happened when the industrialists got into the game. They were a class of people who believed in the use of capital to control the arena of trade. They would supply capital to small scale artisans and contract merchants to sell them. This practice formed the basis of what would become the modern company.

Capitalism

‘Capitalism’ full blown, had names like the Dutch and British East India Companies as its flag bearers.  They allowed joint stock ownership and modern share markets found their origin here. They used their vast capital and trade monopolies to import cheap and sell dear. Making their owners’ wealth increase to previously unimagined proportions. Along with the emergence of capitalism, the seeds of the destruction of mercantilism were sown. Some advantage was gained to the common man with the abolition of protectionist measures like monopolies. And free market systems ensured competitive prices but along with its advantages the market economy also increased the sense of work ethic. Previously idyllic lives were now to be spent slaving at factories and workplaces eking out a living.

This hasn’t changed much. In the world of globalization and international trade, corporate interest is the main driving force behind ‘growth’. Obama treads lightly with BP because Obama possibly knows who has a fatal but light grip on his balls. The ecosystem and the small people making a living off it are not really significant. And this is not really a one off example. Trade barriers, free markets, international trade agreements, multinationals etc are all ‘good for growth’ but not really good for the increment of the quality of life of the small man. At least, such increment does not make the betterment of the common good its priority. Leading us to question the validity of the whole system, and our perceptions of human nature.

-there’s money to be had on the pavement

 We all bear a secret grudge against pavement hawkers. Maybe one of them cheated you, or intimidated you when you were a kid or was rude to your mom or felt your bum or whatever. Pavement hawkers wouldn’t really rank high on our lists of favourite people.They clog up the streets, the block access to legitimate shops, they scream in your ear, they pollute and they conjest. The city is a lot less refined looking cause of them.

Many (mostly on the side of the government) hail the current drive to clear the streets of Colombo of pavement hawkers as a bold move heralding our entrance bid to become one of Asia’s more developed economies. Others snidely remark on other various measures that are adopted to clean up the face of Colombo before the IIFA awards, like the uncharacteristically ultra-efficient road painting going on in the Negombo road.

But there is no denying that illegal pavement hawkers are a problem, and must be tackled,  indeed it won’t be fair to say that this is  clean up effort prior to the Indian invasion so to speak. The government has been doing this for some time and not only in Colombo, but current methods strike me to be too symptom oriented and not actual disease focussed.

Impulse Purchase

To provide a viable solution to your average pavement hawker, we must ask; what makes it profitable to be a pavement hawker? Most pavement hawkers probably make barely enough to eke out a living at that. But they do that primarily out of catering to impulse rather than actual needs. Think about it, whenever you bought something off the pavement, it was out of impulse wasn’t it? Unless of course, you actually set out from home looking to buy a pen torch that can also write in five different colors, cheap/fake Ray-Bans and Rolexes or wierd fake mustaches and beards harking back to the era of ancient Sri Lankan kings.

Such impulse products rely on supply to create demand. If it’s there, you buy it. If it isn’t there, you don’t. So, obviously the ideal places to sell products such as these are places where people gather. The sellers must go to the buyers. The market must literally be in the way of the potential customer. It more or less relies on this characteristic to survive. Hence the inherent nature of your average illegal pavement economy.

An Impotent Solution

So far the solution for these people has been to relocate them to shopping mall like buildings that accommodate them in concrete stalls in a many storeyed building. The building is located in a busy area of the city, sure but hardly in a place where customers frequent it. Therefore the businesses soon fall apart or return to the streets to survive. Current solutions are impotent, they only result in higher unemployment (and by extension possibly crime), wasted public funds and space.

A potent solution

Obviously, all current pavement hawkers will not be able to continue hawking viably while also following laws and regulations. Limited spaces can be provided in existing public infrastructure that can tackle the dual problem of getting them off the streets and also providing adequate livelihood. Shop spaces in the Borella underground is a good example. Maybe space can be given in major railway stations and bus stops but that will only mean that a very few of the currently afflicted will be able to continue work.

A potent solution must be a more dynamic one. It’ll involve a lot more reasearch into rooting out root causes and the studying of the communities involved. What causes people to enter into the pavement trade? Lack of opportunity, education; what? Is there any way their entrepreneurial capabilities can be directed towards a more productive industry that will also help build a more robust economy?

But is the government ready to undertake such deep study and come up with such solutions? are they even capable of it? Maybe a think tank should handle it. These imo, would be great areas for reconciliation work to take place. After all the potential for conflict, suffering and hardship is very high. This kind of intelligent reform, if it were to materialize, should definitely signal our entry bid into Asia’s list of top economies.

I didn’t vote at the last elections. And no, i didn’t meet with an accident, i just couldn’t be arsed. I didnt vote and i feel good. And this post is a little late, but meh.

Voting is a method of approving the system. By going out and voting, you are basically saying that you endorse what’s going on. The government wants you to vote precisely for that reason.

So take a *cough* hypothetical situation; you live in a country where the constitution is a farce, the politicians are corrupt and the leader so authoritarian that ‘democracy’ can only manifest itself in an acid enduced hallucinatory trance.

In a place and time like this, lets assume that it didn’t matter if you vote for the opposition, because integrity is an arcane concept to all of them. They’d simply switch sides when they got into parliament and sell their ‘principles’ for a few million. So your vote means nothing in the end. Your vote won’t swing things your way because your ‘way’ is not represented – hypotherically speaking of course.

So then what do you do? Endorse whats going on by going out there and casting your vote blindly? Spoiling your vote and destroying your chances of spoiling the election? not voting?

Or taking to the streets and fighting? Or staying home and watching Burn Notice?.

Terror. What begets it? More terror? Or are we talking about Original Terror here?

Imagine Sam. Sam was a young man living in a small unimportant town on the Eastbank of Innocentville. He chopped wood and managed to scrape through with a meager living; feeding his ailing old mother and little sister in the process.

Suddenly invasionary troops from the neighboring country of Baddasery do what they do best; invade. They break through the villager’s meager defences, break into Sam’s home, kick his door in, and do away with his mother and sister after doing unmentionable things to them. Sam comes back after a day in the woods, sees this, is devastated, and vows revenge.

Innocentville gets organized under the leadership of Sam. They seek help from the King of Deviousville, who furnishes them with weapons and extra troops. Ten years later Sam’s forces break thorugh to the capital of Baddasery- Badassopolis, raze it to the ground, kill everybody who cannot be gainfully enslaved and generally introduce Badassery to a whole new level of badassery.

Who’s the biatch now?

Jack that’s who. Jack is twelve is years old. His father was a farmer living outside the city limits of Badassopolis. When the Innocents invaded, they killed his parents in front of his eyes; Jack was an only child. He hid from the armies of Sam and escaped to friendlier territories. He then dedicates his life to his revenge.

Terror has already been enacted. Question is, where or when will it stop?

(Title of post borrowed from a Lost Prophets track of same)

Lincoln, by Dali.

In our confused drive to believe in ‘equality’ we have confused equality with similarity. In our efforts to treat everyone and everything as equals, we have tried to make things easy by ignoring the differences and focussing on the similarities, to the exclusion of those differences almost completely.

We are not homogenous. we are a mix of several rich and diverse things. Black people, brown people, women, men,  Tamils, Sinhalese, Muslims, Christians, fair people, dark people, rich people, poor people, selfish people, rude people, beggars, executives etc. At times these differences really don’t mean anything, but at times they do.

Secularism is a nice concept. It requires people to focus on commonalities when working together, and requires them to keep their differences to themselves. But people interact on all sorts of levels. And beliefs are not just limited to organized religion. And politics are the manifestation of our worldviews, which are based on our beliefs. Then secularism becomes a very porous border no?

So we’re not all the same. But we’re not all that different either. We’re on that dynamic gray line that shifts between white and black on a constant basis. Individual humans are capable of identifying with this, and acting on it. We have no problem of accepting the fact that everyone we meet needs to be treated subtly differently, and we do so everyday. The problem happens when we get together.

Humans collectively are far less intelligent that humans alone. When we’re together, the instinct is to generalize. Societies make decisions based on generalizations, as opposed to individual humans. This is of course probably because the impacts of these decisions affect society as a whole as opposed to indivuduals. But in doing so, society has created a world that is still too rigid for individualism to survive beyond a set non-criminal boundary.

In making these collective decisions there is far too much left unsaid. The need is to keep things simple. And this is understood. There is no way of conveying, amalgamating and transmitting all the collective nuances of mind a group of people will possess all at the same time. Our skills of communication still restricts a vast portion of our thoughts, perceptions and ideas to the realm of the inexplicable.

So we know that the world is colored grey but we have no choice but to look at it in terms of black and white. We work together and we are forced to alter our perception of reality in order to try to make a system that does the best things possible for the most amount of people it can.

That is a sad consequence of being human. Can technology help? Cos evolution didn’t. We’ve always been the same throughout history; the winners still write it.

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