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Government Gazette

Bring back the intellectuals

Chief Justice Asoka de Silva has made a very pertinent point with regard to the public estimation of intellectuals in present day society. Addressing a Law College function recently he bemoaned the levels to which intellectuals have been shorn off their prestige and regard enjoyed in the days of yore. The CJ said intellectuals and men of knowledge were given the highest honour in society. "Unfortunately in our time we have downgraded intellectuals and devalued the very word. Today an 'intellectual' means a man who is intelligent enough to know which side of his bread is buttered".

All right-thinking members of the public is bound to endorse the view of the CJ. This is because people of knowledge and intelligence are today no longer given ear to or their views respected. This may well be blamed on the change in the value system in our society during the past three decades or so. Leave aside intellectuals even a school teacher or the iskolay mahattaya who was regarded with awe and veneration is today reduced to the status of a non entity. People whose counsel were readily sought by the general public in the days gone by no longer fit into the equation. Perhaps the rot set in along with the policy of liberalization introduced in 1977 when the value systems became subverted to the cacophony of the market place where mammon ruled the roost.

In the melee all values and practices held sacred went through the window along with all good sense and judgement. This bred a culture of impunity to such an extent that there was no room for saner counsel to prevail. In such a milieu the intellectuals and people of learning became increasingly marginalized and lost their clout and status. Like the CJ said, intellectuals were considered only as those who knew which side of their bread was buttered. In other words what the learned judge was saying is the 'intellectual' today is a person who has the capacity to inveigle himself into the graces of those holding power. Or the other kind of intellectual would not compromise himself for favours. Thus intellectuals render themselves voiceless and their value in the eyes of the public diminished.

It is this syndrome that the country is experiencing today. More and more intellectuals fight shy of coming forward to express their opinions for the benefit of society as was the case in the past. In any event their's would be a cry in the wilderness. A good example of this is seen in the political field. The intelligentsia today are reluctant to take the plunge into politics chiefly because they are well aware that they would not stand a chance in the prevailing climate where intellectuals and the learned no more strike a chord with the voter.

There is therefore an urgent need to harken to the days when intellectuals had a bigger say in matters affecting society. This is particularly so given their importance and counsel in the context of the new Sri Lanka that is to be rebuilt from the ashes of war. More and more avenues should be provided by the State for this breed to make their voice heard and what is more to be counted.

For this there needs to be a whole attitudinal change in the public psyche and the Government should take meaningful steps to bring about such a change. A first step in this direction would be to appoint men of learning and standing in society to man important positions in the State apparatus. This would send a clear message to the public that pride of place is being given to professionals and persons with intellect. People should be reverted to the old practice of venerating their elders and teachers. This way the habit is bound to seep upwards and encompass the intellectuals and the people of learning.

For, today money has blinded the large mass of our people to the core values practised by our forefathers. Today it is money that speaks the loudest not the voice of those with intellectual capacity. This is amply demonstrated in the on-going election campaign where those who draw the largest following are those who command massive financial resources. What chance would the people of standing and those of intellectual repute have in this mad scramble for power?

Therefore it is time to bring back a degree of sanity to alter the prevailing culture and create a climate for the voice of our intellectuals to be heard loud and clear.

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