Nationalism, Terrorism, and Religion: A Bio-Historical Approach

Nationalism, Terrorism, and Religion: A Bio-Historical Approach

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It has been my distinct privilege and pleasure to live in Sri Lanka these last eight months serving as a Senior Fulbright Fellow in the Department of Pali and Buddhist Studies at the University of Peradeniya. I have been able to travel widely in this beautiful country and to meet many, many truly wonderful people.

I am here giving this lecture at the invitation and instigation of Lakshaman Bandaranayake, Managing Director of the Vanguard Management Services. We have had a number of conversations and he seems to think I have something valuable to say about the situation here. I have my doubts. You will be the judge. If nothing else, I hope that these comments can provoke a vigorous and productive conversation.

This is a very complex country with many wise and talented people who have worked very hard over many years, often at great risk, trying to make it more peaceful and prosperous. Unfortunately I do not speak Sinhala or Tamil, which of course is a major limitation. However I have followed your English language press faithfully for these eight months. I have read a dozen or so books about the history of this country and its civil conflict. During my tenure here I have tried to meet with diverse people and expose myself to diverse perspectives. In all of this, I make no claims to being an expert on Sri Lanka.

Sometimes, though, it is helpful to bring in a friendly outsider perspective. This is done frequently in the world of business with the now ubiquitous role of the outside consultant. This is done in family life as well with the use of psychological therapists and marriage counselors. I recognize that the current mood in the country among many is now resentful of Western governments, the United Nations, and foreign NGOs telling Sri Lanka how to solve its problems. Some refer to this as “Neo-Imperialism” or “Neo-Colonization”. The world has changed a lot in sixty years. I do not think that the United States or any of the major powers in the world today see this small island nation as having much geopolitical or economic significance, but the feelings of resentment expressed is nevertheless real. So I embark upon this talk with some trepidation and a great deal of humility.

A few additional disclaimers are required before I begin. While my tenure in Sri Lanka is funded by the U.S. Fulbright Commission, I do not represent the U.S. government, the US-SL Fulbright Commission, the Metanexus Institute, or any of its supporters, or for that matter the Department of Buddhist Studies at the University of Peradeniya. And while the Vanguard Management Services is hosting this lecture and discussion, nor are they in anyway responsible for anything I might say. Actually I would like to make this even more explicit. If there is anything that I say that you find wise, informative, or useful, then the credit goes to others, including my Sri Lankan mentors this past year. If there is anything that I say that you find misguided, ignorant, or unhelpful, then the blame goes to me.

There were three different versions of this talk and after some consultation I have decided to go back to the basic outline of the original, which is a lecture that I gave in February at the Subodhi Institute and again in April at the University of Peradeniya. The original lecture was under the title “Nationalism, Terrorism, and Religion: A Bio-Historical Approach”. The lecture ends with a discussion of the advertised topic, “Creating a Best Case Scenario for Sri Lanka”, but I will do so by first discussing the phenomena of nationalism, terrorism, and religion. I take a bio-historical, evolutionary perspective, because I think this will help us best understand and transform this conflict in Sri Lanka and others throughout the world.

I am inspired to take this evolutionary approach in part through my encounters with the writings of Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, a French Jesuit Paleontologist who died in 1955. He writes:

For our age, to have become conscious of evolution means something very different and much more than having discovered one further fact…

Blind indeed are those who do not see the sweep of a movement whose orb infinitely transcends the natural sciences and has successfully invaded and conquered the surrounding territory – chemistry, physics, sociology, and even mathematics and the history of religions. One after the other all the fields of human knowledge have been shaken and carried away by the same under-water current in the direction of some development. Is evolution a theory, a system, or a hypothesis? It is more: it is a general condition to which all theories, all hypotheses, all systems must bow and which they must satisfy henceforward if they are to be thinkable and true. Evolution is a light illuminating all facts, a curve that all lines must follow.

By taking this broad evolutionary approach, we gain the most leverage in both understanding and transforming this country and the world. To paraphrase Dwight Eisenhower, if a problem cannot be solved, then enlarge it. So I begin globally and end locally here in Sri Lanka.

1. Nationalism

Nationalism can be understood as an evolutionary outgrowth of our natural tribal passions and rationalities, which were imprinted in the human psyche and genome over millions of years. Humans are profoundly social animals with a highly evolved capacity to engage in symbolic thought. One of the fundamental challenges in social species is how to ensure cooperation within the group and sacrifice on behalf of the group. The wellbeing and survival of the group depends on this cooperation and sacrifice. In humans, this is accomplished by a mix of evolved primate behaviors, as well as, newer cultural adaptations in the realm of religions, ideologies, and cultures.

It is no simple evolutionary trick to get individuals to cooperate and to sacrifice their own wellbeing, or that of their immediate offspring, for the benefit of the group. And yet, we cannot imagine that a human society would long endure if it could not 1) organize its members to cooperate and 2) in extreme instances, ask individuals to sacrifice their wellbeing for the benefit of the group. The latter is particularly troublesome to evolutionary biologists, because true altruism would contradict Darwin’s theory of natural selection. There are various theories within evolutionary biology that try to explain other-regarding behavior. They go by names like kin selection and reciprocal altruism. At this stage, we need only consider a few of the proximate mechanism, rather than their ultimate explanations, and think about how these scale up from the level of the tribe to the dynamics of a nation state.

Remember that the dark side of this in-group altruism is that it is often employed in the most brutal manner against outsiders. Humans are clearly capable of great evil, as manifested in warfare, massacres, pillaging, raping, and enslavement, which have been the norm for most of human history and presumably much of our pre-history. This evil is partly a function of our evolved nature.

Of course, humans have natural dispositions towards living in groups. It hardly needs to be said, but no human is self-created. There is no such thing as a fully autonomous individual human. We speak languages we did not invent; we use tools that we did not design; we benefit from a vast library of knowledge that we did not discover; and we are nurtured as infants and children into “individuality” by families and societies that we did not choose.

We note in many species of primates, including humans, there is the phenomenon of the dominant male and occasionally a dominant female, which role also helps to hold the tribe together. This Alpha-Factor is replicated in a number of mammalian species, including wolves, horses, and elephants. This institution of social hierarchy within the group helps provide for cohesiveness. The maintenance of social hierarchy is generally achieved through displays of aggression and displays of altruism. Members of the group appease the BigMan out of fear, but also out of hoped for benefits. The BigMan doles out rewards and punishments in order to reinforce this social hierarchy. He passes on his kingdom to one of his children, thus increasing his “reproductive fitness”, but does so in part at the expense of the community from which he extracts surplus production and surplus reproduction as his “sovereign right”. The Alpha-Factor is not the only form of social organization that humans use to maintain solidarity, and it is certainly supplemented by many other social tools as well, but I believe it is the predominant outward structure of societies for most of human history, especially societies that grow in size and complexity.

As humans moved from small, intimate hunter-gatherer tribes into larger social groups and spanning numerous settlements and geographical regions, it was largely the BigMan model of social organization that succeeded and prevailed. In this form of social organization a dominant human, typically a male, would serve as the leader of the group, extracting surplus production from others, while ensuring social harmony and organizing common defense, as well as, waging wars against neighbors in order to expand the territory, wealth, and population of the tribe, city-state, kingdom, or empire. The dictator-king would hand out favors to followers and ruthlessly punish transgressors. Machiavelli recognizes as much in The Prince. “Is it better to be loved than feared, or vice versa” asks Machiavelli. He answers both, but if you cannot have both, then “it is much safer to be feared than loved” (XVII, p. 59). In all of this, we can see many parallels between human social relations and our chimpanzee cousins (though less so with our bonobo relatives, who would rather “make love, not war”). Note that in studies of chimpanzee bands and contemporary hunter-gather societies, some 25 to 30 percent of males die a violent death in competition with outsiders (Dyer, 2004, 71-79).

So nationalism is a synthesis of primordial passions and modernity. As local communities decline from the 1800s on, nationalism fills the gap. This was enabled in large part because of new modes of communication, transportation, and production, as well as a race for military superiority over ones’ neighbors. Today, there are many forms of nationalism, but they all involve concepts of a homeland, sacred centers, shared language, common customs, a hostile surrounding, memories of battles, and historical thinking. These combine to create a common motivating mythology that united “the whole people”. Nationalisms are invented traditions and almost always have an ethnic component. There is a Romantic side to nationalism, typically projecting an essentialist organic or “blood” bond between the people.

In modern history, nationalism became a global phenomenon with growing opposition to multi-ethnic empires – rebelling against the Austro-Hungarian empire, the Ottoman empire, the Russian empire, the British empire, among others. Nationalism spreads the world round in opposition to colonialism and takes on new forms today in opposition to globalization. Nationalism seeks the preservation of the Vaterland and the Muttersprache. It confers political legitimacy on leaders and imposes obligations on citizens to the state.

While much harm has been done in the name of nationalism, I want to emphasize that group identity is a normal, natural, and necessary part of being human. One can be a nationalist without being xenophobic and chauvinistic. Liberal forms of nationalism offer people meaningful lives in integrated societies, a sense of belonging and pride, which need not be exaggerated and jingoistic. Note that World Cup Football and the Olympic Games are organized around national teams and are in themselves quite wholesome. Competition, including competition between nations, can be a good thing. The dialectic between competition and cooperation helps to move humanity and evolution forward.

One of the more destructive forms of nationalism is when it is combined with BigMan governance. In these instances, the BigMan and his cronies use nationalism as a form of political legitimation and control. By controlling the power of the State, they are able to manipulate rewards and punishments to entrench themselves through the Alpha-Factor. And like little chimpanzees that we are, most humans are only too happy to fall in line. Big-Man governance, however, disrupts the dialectic of competition and cooperation, so the society stagnates, becomes inefficient, and at war with itself or the outside world.

The only alternative to BigMan governance that humans have invented is in some form of limited government with checks and balances built into the structure of government to restrict the power of the State and the Alpha leaders who would grab control of state power. Remember that the modern concept of national sovereignty, as opposed to the BigMan concept of the sovereign’s rights, is derived from the concept of individual sovereignty. In other words, each individual is ultimately the king or queen of his or her own personhood. Government in this view is a social contract entered into to enhance individual freedoms – the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, as stated for instance in the U.S. Declaration of Independence.

Implied in this social contract theory of legitimate government is the notion that economic activity is not the primary responsibility of the State, but of individuals. The state is to maintain a level playing field for economic interests to compete and cooperate, enforcing laws equally, protecting private property, enforcing contracts, providing for national defense, and when efficient, promoting public goods like transportation or education. Thus, the concept of limited government liberates economic markets and human ingenuity to create a rich ecology of production and innovation within a society. This non-zero sum dynamic is the magic of economic development. New wealth is created.

Note that I used the term “limited government” and not “democracy” per se. Democracy, as Plato already pointed out in The Republic, is simply the tyranny of the majority. The majority is not likely to be virtuous or just. In Socrates’ words, the majority will be governed by base “appetites” and “passions” and not noble virtues and wisdom. In democracies, Socrates argues, the minorities will rebel against the tyranny of the majority. Civil war will ensue. And before you know it, democracy will end in chaos followed by dictatorship (Plato). Universal suffrage may be an important part of limited government, but in itself is only one piece of the puzzle.

I have already argued that the concept of individual sovereignty as formulated by John Locke and others is a fiction that we have invented. Humans are never independent, autonomous individuals – sovereign nations unto themselves. We are always dependent on a web of social relations that form our identities and enhance our survival. Let us think of individual sovereignty as a useful fiction, one that has productively spawned a discourse about human rights, legitimacy, and justice. This discourse helps make the world a better place. Even if it is not ontologically true, it is pragmatically useful. Let us call this the dialectic between individual rights and social obligations, the dialectic between individualism and communalism, which we can add to the dialectic of competition and cooperation.

In her book, Sri Lanka in the Modern Age: A History of Contested Identities (2006), Nira Wickramasinghe ends up arguing for just such an understanding of citizenship and sovereignty and against the identity politics that has destroyed this country. In her chapter “Citizens, Communities, Rights, Constitutions, 1947-2000”, she concludes:

The curse of multiculturalism is that while providing for more freedom and recognition to the group or community it is a closure in that it denies the contingency and ambiguity of every identity. Multiculturalism cannot help but essentialise the fragment. Turning towards the citizen is a possible way out of the impasse. The citizen is not only a legal subject; s/he is also the part owner of political sovereignty…(Wickramasinghe 2006)

By the way, nation-states are not really independent either, though national sovereignty is regularly invoked against interference in the internal affairs of others. Say what you will to justify what you may, but in the end neither the large and powerful, nor the small and less powerful nations of the world can escape what Martin Luther King, Jr. called “the inescapable web of mutuality”(King 1963) in which all of us our entangled today through global markets and global communications.

2) Terrorism and War

Ever since George W. Bush declared a “war on terrorism,” the term has lost its meaning. Technically, terrorism is a tactic for waging war. What counts as terrorism is defined by traditional just war theory, which states that war is only justified when fought for just cause, minimally self-defense, as well as by just means. The latter includes rules of engagement, for instance proportionality, targeting combatants and not civilians, treatment of prisoners of war with compassion, etc. Terrorism, we are told, is barbaric because it intentionally targets civilians, so it fails the just means test.

Just war theory, however, runs counter to the logic of war, which is always about winning at whatever cost by any means necessary. In the 20th century, the logic of war almost always prevails, as we see in the increasing number of civilian casualties in conflicts around the world. In World War II, for instance, the just war against German and Japanese aggression turned into an unjust war when the United State and its allies intentionally targeted German and Japanese civilians in the fire-bombings of Hamburg, Dresden, Tokyo, and other cities, as well as the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. In Vietnam, we “destroyed the village, in order to save it.” Indeed, the technology of warfare today is so enormously destructive that more civilians regularly die in conflicts than combatants, as is the case in Iraq and Afghanistan today, in spite of our euphemistically named “surgical air strikes” and best intentions. It is not just the United States that is culpable; it is every war everywhere in the world today. The logic of war always tends towards total war; win by whatever means necessary or perish. War is an ugly business and inevitably brings out the worst (as well as some of the best) character traits in humans. The logic of war and the technology of war almost always trump the just war theory, which is not that we should abandon the discourse of just war, the Geneva Conventions, the prohibitions against child-soldiers, etc. We need to be sure that these ideals do not blind us to what is actually going on in spite of our best efforts, remembering the old adage that in war truth is the first casualty.

Terrorism then is a tactic in guerilla warfare. It is not that the Hamas, Islamic Jihad, Hizbul Mujahideen, Euskadi Ta Astatasuna (ETA), National Council of Resistance of Iran (MKO), Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), or the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) would not prefer to wage their struggles with tanks, helicopters, submarines, and fighter jets; they just do not have that capacity. So they use the tools available, including direct attacks on civilians. In stating this I am making no judgments about the justness of their cause, only pointing out the obvious, that terrorism is a tactic of the weak. As the United States found out in Vietnam and the Soviet Union found out in Afghanistan, it is very hard to wage conventional war against a guerilla army.

Adjudicating the different claims to justice in the world today is quite a challenge.

Certainly abject poverty is a terrible injustice, but I do not really know the best way to solve it. Is this accomplished best through socialist welfare institutions of the state and the redistribution of wealth or through the dramatic growth achieved through capitalist societies?

Certainly racism, discrimination and prejudice are terrible injustice, but I do not really know the best way to solve these problems. Is it through reifying multiculturalism into an endless clash of identity politics or is it by reifying the individual and individual rights?

Certainly the loss of indigenous languages and cultures around the world is an injustice, but I do not really know the best way to preserve these cultures and languages. Is it by withdrawing into a chauvinistic and xenophobic ideologies or by entering into the global market place of ideas and mission?

Certainly, the ruthless exploitation of labor and natural resources are injustices, but I do not know how best to solve these problems. Is it through protectionism and regulation or is it through technological innovation and economic growth?

Certainly, the use of state-power and criminality to rob people of their freedoms, property, and life is an injustice, but I do not know how best to solve these problems. Is it through accomplished through externalized law and order or through internalized virtues and values?

And certainly, war itself is a great injustice, because for whatever reasons it is started, it not only results in death and destruction of innocent people, but it demeans the human spirit. But I do not know how put an end to war in human affairs. Is it through strength of force or the force of justice that war will end?

If we want to end wars in the world today, or here in Sri Lanka, then we must understand that many of these injustices, perceived and real, lie behind human conflicts. The powerful can enforce an unjust status quo. The powerless will always be tempted to use the tactics of terror to advance their causes and seek address to their grievances. It is more the obligation of the powerful to address the root causes of the injustices, than it is of the powerless to abstain from what they generally understand to be legitimate “self-defense”. Still I would argue that the oppressed and powerless would be much better served by nonviolence. And whatever side of a conflict one finds oneself, without an attempt to understand one’s enemies, it will not be possible to resolve these many conflicts.

Whether we fight wars with so-called conventional means, or with unconventional means, war unleashes a social dynamic of terrible power. To motivate soldiers to kill and be killed requires an enormous amount of ideological and psychological indoctrination. We may have an innate instinct for aggression, but we also have an innate instinct for self-preservation. Organized political violence is a scary disorder in the body politic, necessary sometimes in extreme circumstances, but costly in what it does to the soul of the polis and the psyche of soldiers. Modern warfare occurs on a scale that bears little resemblance to the violence of our primate and tribal forbearers.

As Gwynne Dyer details in his book War: The Lethal Custom (1985, 2004) for most of human history warfare was almost always fought in close ranks and tight formation. Soldiers stood shoulder to shoulder with their comrades in rows and marched into hand combat with the enemy. While all of one’s instincts might have said, “this is stupid, I am going to get hurt, turn around and run away”; one was psychologically and literally pushed into battle by peer pressure. Whatever side broke rank first generally lost the battle. The duration of the battle was always limited by physical exhaustion of the soldiers and the available daylight. Casualty rates in combat might be as high as 40 percent of the combatants in a single battle on a single day.

It was not until the invention of the breach-loaded rifle during the U.S. Civil War that the psychology and physiology of war began to change. First used in the Battle of Gettysburg, with the Winchester rifle it was now possible for a soldier to fire from hiding or shelter at the enemy from a distance with a high probability of wounding or killing them. Soon the rifle would be supplemented by the machine gun and much more destructive weaponry.

It would not be until after World War II, however, that military strategy caught up with the new technology. Concentrating one’s troops made them easy targets, so commanders began dispersing their troops, but this changed the psychology and physiology of warfare. U.S. Army psychiatrists studied U.S. combat soldiers in World War II and discovered that as many as eighty percent did not return fire when sitting alone in their foxholes. Why would one call attention to oneself and risk getting killed, was the thinking. Dyer thinks this is also the result of a natural aversion to killing people.1 Afterwards, the U.S. Army completely redesigned basic training, which now included a lot more psychological indoctrination, breaking the soldiers down and building them up again. The average age of combat soldiers dropped from twenty-six in World War II to nineteen. The indoctrination included demonization of the enemy and a lot more machismo. “This is my weapon, this is my gun; the one is for killing, the other for fun” goes a Marine Corp chant. You can train a twenty-six year old to kill and be killed, but you can never make them think its cool. Evidently this is easier to do with eighteen year olds.

The other thing that U.S. Army psychiatrists learned on the battlefields of World War II is that protracted modern warfare resulted in a high number of psychiatric casualties. It did not seem to matter how many furloughs a soldier had, after about two hundred days of combat stress, most soldiers developed what was then called shellshock. Fully one sixth of all the U.S. casualties in World War II were psychiatric cases. The number might have been a lot higher, except that soldiers normally did not survive two hundred days of combat. This psychiatric trauma continues long after the battles have ended and is now referred to as Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). In Vietnam, for instance, more U.S. soldiers died in the decade after the war, than actually died during the war.

I take you on this digression with a purpose. One, I want to emphasize how “unnatural” modern warfare is. It bares almost no resemblance to the kind of fighting our hunter-gatherer and primate forbearers engaged in. Second, I want to emphasize the terrible human costs of war, which we are now witnessing again in a new generation of combat soldiers returning from Iraq and Afghanistan. A recent report suggests that on average last year five U.S. combat veterans attempt suicide every day.

When I first arrived in Sri Lanka last September, I spent the first few weeks being amazed by all the soldiers and police, who spend most of their days standing around idle and bored waiting for something terrible to happen, day in and day out. I was stunned by the incredible waste of energy and talent. These men, and sometimes women, were wasting the best years of their lives standing around doing mostly nothing for long hours, when they should be learning skills, building a nation, and improving themselves. The waste cannot be calculated in mere money. The societal resources diverted into maintaining this militarized security state must be calculated especially in the “opportunity cost” for all of these soldiers and for society as a whole. At the time, this struck me then as an enormous tragedy; today unfortunately I have grown numb with familiarity. It just seems normal. I want to remind us all though, including myself, that the casualties of war go far beyond the wounded and fallen in battle.

Like any war, the war on terror is also corrosive of liberal nations. In order to wage the so-called “war on terrorism”, the United States has lost many of its liberties and engaged in unspeakable acts of torture. Our political culture has been severely polarized and traumatized. James Madison, one of the principal architects of the U.S. Constitution and the fourth President of the United States, warned us of these dangers:

Of all the enemies to public liberty war is, perhaps, the most to be dreaded, because it comprises and develops the germ of every other. War is the parent of armies; from these proceed debts and taxes; and armies, and debts, and taxes are the known instruments for bringing the many under the domination of the few. In war, too, the discretionary power of the Executive is extended; its influence in dealing out offices, honors, and emoluments is multiplied; and all the means of seducing the minds, are added to those of subduing the force, of the people. The same malignant aspect in republicanism may be traced in the inequality of fortunes, and the opportunities of fraud, growing out of a state of war, and in the degeneracy of manners and of morals engendered by both. No nation could preserve its freedom in the midst of continual warfare (Madison 1795).

The enemy of civil societies and civilization is not terrorism per se, it is militarism in all its manifestations. This is the threat to our life and liberty. It is a malignant manifestation of competition and cooperation. The weapons of war today bear little resemblance to those wielded by our human ancestors. The Logic of War points to the eventuality of war waged with weapons of mass destruction. Warfare threatens our ability to move onto the next stage of our cultural evolution, in which we must widen the circle of our humanity and scale up to new challenges in a now global civilization.

3) Religion

Now let me turn to religion. The best and the worst things that humans do seem to be motivated by religion. Unfortunately, religions, as one of the markers of cultural and national identity, are easily harnessed for political chauvinism. Religions, however, can also be one of the social institutions, which checks and limits BigMan rulers and tyrannical majorities. Religion, at its best, is always oppositional to the values and appetites of the many and the powerful. It seeks to call us out of our self-centeredness to more noble, meaningful, and compassionate life.

Religion, like nationalism and war, is a natural aspect of our species. It is an outgrowth of our human quest for meaning and belonging. In the name of getting rid of one religion or religion in general, we invariably create a new religion, even if that is wrapped in the garb of some secular ideology. Some of the worst tragedies in human history were waged by formally anti-religious ideologies. Here I refer to Nazism, Stalinism, and Maoism. It is just not realistic to think that religion is going to suddenly disappear, instead we must engage it to try to make it more wholesome in human affairs. In so doing, we will also transform ourselves.

Human identities, norms, and actions are forged through the confluence of different stories, powerful symbols, causal patterns, divergent reasons, universal passions, existential terror, and transcendent hopes. Religion stands at the center of this confluence. When we feel threatened, our sense of identity is actually strengthened and religion is necessarily part of that mix, acquiring greater prominence in times of war. Religion, not only provides a strong sense of identity, it helps motivate the insider altruism of citizens in order to wage outsider violence.

And yet religions can also be oppositional to governments and prophetic in their social role. Certainly, all religions also have a great humanitarian and universalist core to their moral teachings. The answer to bad religion is not no religion, but more and better religion. One of the challenges of religion today is to expand from intra-textuality of fundamentalism to inter-textuality of a complex world. It is not that we can or should abandon sacred scriptures, but we must put these in conversation with the world of science, other cultures, our common history, and globalization.

Certainly, one important function of religion in human societies is to promote morality. This is done in the affirmative, but also in the negative; the latter we shall call public shame. Another important function of religion in human societies is to mediate reconciliation, because breeches in the community can spiral out of control in a costly escalation of revenge. I will return to both of these issues below – shame and reconciliation.

If there is to be any dramatic transformation in this society or the world, then religion is going to have to help lead the way. My hope for Sri Lanka is that the Sangha will reform itself and together with lay Buddhists take responsibility in promoting the authentic dharma of wisdom and compassion. Muslims, Hindus, and Christians must be allies, in promoting that reformation, even as they reconsider their own responsibilities in building a peaceful and prosperous society.

The bio-historical future

At this point I would like to return to Pierre Teilhard de Chardin (1881-1955), the French Jesuit priest and paleontologist, who sought to integrate religious faith and evolution ((1955)1959) ((1957)1960) ((1963)1970). While Teilhard spent his scientific career studying the history of evolution, including human origins, the spiritual question for him was not so much where have we come from, but where are we going.

Teilhard saw evolution as a teleological process of increasing complexification, with ever-deeper relationality as the corollary to this complexity. This evolutionary process gave rise to consciousness and with it increasing freedom. He referred to this process as “centration,” an epic search for the cosmic center. Divergence, convergence, and emergence are the pattern replicated throughout the epic of evolution. This law of recurrence operates at each level of reality. Subatomic particles give rise to atoms; atoms make possible molecules; complex chemistry leads to cellular life; multi-cellular life gives rise to organisms; organisms evolved into vertebrates; vertebrates eventually differentiate into mammals; mammals split-off into primates; primates ascend into humans. Divergence, convergence, and emergence operate in each transition of novel forms in the evolutionary epic. “Reality,” writes Teilhard “repeats on every viewable plane.”

He came to see this dialectic between cooperation and competition, between individualism and communalism, between differentiation and integration as fundamental characteristics of the evolution of the universe. These forces move the evolutionary history forward to greater levels of complexity, beauty, consciousness, and freedom. New and novel entities emerge in the course of evolution. Our species is certainly an incredibly important novelty from the perspective of evolutionary history.

Teilhard hoped and believed that humans had reached a stage in our own species evolution, in which something new and grand was struggling to come into being. He referred to this new thing as the “noosphere”, a realm of consciousness and spirit that would encircle the Earth. Teilhard called it a “halo of thinking energy”. Many today call Teilhard the prophet of the Internet, but this is only part of his vision. Teilhard believed that it was now time to expand the boundaries of our tribal identities, to move beyond sectarianism and nationalism, and to embrace humanity as a whole. Indeed, humans need to discover their capacity to go beyond a species-centric view of themselves in order to fulfill their evolutionary mandate, which he understood to be the self-conscious “organ” of the planet and the universe. Science was not incidental to this transformation, indeed the tapestry of science was partly our species-specific role, to pay attention to the details, to become mindful, aware, full of awe and reverence.

Teilhard also saw this law of recurrence manifesting itself in human cultural evolution. From diverse nomadic tribes of hunter-gatherers to larger agricultural settlements to city-states leading to nations, empires, and now globalization, which he experienced in nascent forms in the first half of the 20th century. Teilhard believed we were in the process of “the forming of a completely new psychic reality”. He writes “In order to become explicit, it requires that our consciousness, rising above the growing (but still much too limited) circles of family, country and race shall finally discover that the only truly natural and real human unity is the spirit of the Earth.”

The future depended upon what Teilhard referred to as a “Grand Option”. Would we withdraw into pessimism or strive in optimism? Would we isolate ourselves in sectarianism or evolve in communion with each other and the planet? Evolution’s ascent towards consciousness had reached an impasse and a turning point. There was no guarantee that we would succeed. Teilhard knew only too well that evolution was also full of extinctions and dead-ends.

Teilhard gives us a framework for understanding nationalism, militarism, and religion and many needed transformations in the world today. Our evolutionary job at this moment is to become “the Spirit of the Earth,” to find a way out, to avoid a global catastrophe, prevent unimaginable human suffering, to preserve and enhance ourselves and this planet. It is not primarily about preserving the past, though continuity is certainly a part of the evolutionary drama. It is about evolving into something completely new, a kind of evolutionary leap.

We are now at a unique moment in the natural history of our planet and the cultural evolution of our species. Reframing the challenges of nationalism, militarism, and religion as a global and bio-historical problem takes some of the wind out of the sails of small-minded ethnic and cultural chauvinism, whether in the United States or here in Sri Lanka.

The problems in Sri Lanka today look rather small, in light of the larger arc of global history. And yet Sri Lanka is itself a kind of microcosm of these very challenges, which could make or break the entire world in the decades to come. In that sense, the geo-political, economic, and strategic opportunity that Sri Lanka has is to chart a new path in the world today, not to fight the old wars of nationalism, but to pioneer a new road to peace and prosperity.

Creating a Best Case Scenario for Sri Lanka

What is the upshot of all of this for Sri Lanka today, a country with a troubled history of conflicting nationalisms, militarisms, and religions. I have tried to reframe the question in a larger bio-history of humanity. The problems are in no way unique to this country, though the country is certainly unique. Sri Lanka is a kind of microcosm of the world. Indeed, precisely because of your many problems and troubled history, Sri Lanka can play a pivotal role in effecting profound changes in the world.

One possibility is certainly that things will get worse, much worse. And it is certainly useful to run some worst-case scenarios as part of your strategic planning.

I was very moved and saddened by the images of the funeral for the students from the DS Senanayake College who were killed in the bomb blast at Fort Railway station this past February, as well as by several other bombing incidents since then. Speaking as a parent, the worst-case scenario is when a parent has to bury a child. Unfortunately, the worst-case scenario for Sri Lanka involves many more scenes like this, though mostly without the benefit of mass media coverage and large public funerals.

In the worst case, the Sri Lankan government will “win” the war but the country will lose its democracy. Without a political solution, there is a probability that the violence will metastasize, not just that of Tamil separatists, but also the lawlessness of the Sinhalese and Muslim underworlds will grow. Feeling threatened on all-sides, the Muslim community will arm itself in self-defense. The Sinhalese community will rally around a BigMan leader, who promises law and order, but delivers political patronage and demands absolute loyalty. Having gone into debt to fund this war, the country will be wracked with run away inflation. Foreign investment will flee. Foreign aid will dry up. The tourist industry will become a thing of the past. The exodus of middle and upper class youth to safer lands, better education, and career opportunities will accelerate. Poverty, hunger, and disease will grow. Essential services will falter. Communal riots will be revisited. The JVP or its successor will again pursue violent revolution. In desperation, the natural resources and cultural treasures of this country will be plundered. In desperation, Sri Lanka will export an army of domestics and laborers to the Middle East. In desperation the diseases of alcoholism, drug addiction, and suicide will become epidemic. Sri Lanka, once a proud and successful country, will become a failed state.

Of course, the description of this worst-case scenario bears some resemblance to the news in Sri Lanka over the last few months. John Templeton, one of the most successful investors in the 20th century and the mentor and benefactor for much of the work that I have done in the last ten years, promoted the idea of “investing at the point of maximum pessimism”, because that is where the greatest returns will be realized. One of the reasons I am so bullish about Sri Lanka is precisely because it can’t get much worse. My worst-case scenario looks a lot like today. Hence, I think you are at a turning point and uniquely positioned to enact one of the first great political and economic miracles of the 21st century.

It is very important for strategic planning to develop best-case scenarios, and to do so in great descriptive detail, because these visions of a positive future are more likely to generate the creativity and motivation need to implement fundamental changes. In Teilhard’s words “the future belongs to those who give the next generation reasons to hope”.

Cosmopolitan Buddhism

In developing my best-case scenario for Sri Lanka, I begin with Buddhism, because I think so much rests on its ability to become a more positive force in society. Indeed, I would argue that most great social transformations are fundamentally religious in nature. So let me begin with talking about Buddhism in Sri Lanka.

In Buddhist doctrine, we are told that we “choose” our parents before we are born. This is psychoanalytically profound, because, for better or worse, we are stuck with our parents. It is our karma to work out that family history in trying to become better persons in our short lives. So too is it perhaps for nations. We could say that Sri Lanka has chosen its history before it was born. The karmic challenge of Sri Lanka is to craft this history into becoming a better nation. Rather than seeing the Moors, the Portuguese, the Dutch, the British, and the Indian invasions, oppressions, and influences, as a disruption of some idyllic and pure past, let us see these as karmic opportunities to create a better future. Sri Lanka has been endowed with a great cosmopolitan culture and this heritage can position Sri Lanka to be a center of cosmopolitan culture, business, and learning in the 21st century. Instead of being a loss to the country, the Sri Lankan diasporas can be seen as extensions of the country in a global civilization, if you give them something of which to be truly proud.

My hope is that a new kind of cosmopolitan Buddhism will lead the way in this effort, hand in hand with the other religious traditions in this country. Imagine a Buddhism eager to learn about science and the world, eager to speak English and other foreign languages. Imagine a Buddhist Sangha eager to reform and improve itself. Were Sri Lanka a peaceful country, Buddhists from all around the world would flock here for pilgrimage and study. Sri Lankan monks and lay leaders might become missionaries around the world. Western converts would flock to Sri Lanka, even as a cosmopolitan Buddhism in Sri Lanka becomes a host for inter-religious dialogue and learning. Here I am only restating the vision and unfinished agenda of Ven. Anagarika Dharmapala and his many followers from almost a century ago.

One of the functions of religion is to create and sustain moral behavior. This is done not just in the affirmative, but also in the negative by creating public shame. Certain attitudes and behavior need to be shameful, because government cannot police every individual, indeed government leaders cannot even police themselves.

Kishali Pinto Jayawardene recently wrote in her weekly column in The Sunday Times (May, 4, 2008):

Overall, the violence that has seeped into Sri Lankan society frames the failure and subversion of law enforcement; in a country that continues to experience unending conflict through many decades, torture, death and disappearances have become everyday occurrences. Human society, along with its ostensible law enforcers has itself become brutalized. In the result, bringing order and sanity back to the law enforcement process will undoubtedly be an agonizingly uphill task (14).

We might apply the same analysis to the problems of corruption endemic in this society. I see no way of accomplishing that “agonizingly uphill task” of professionalizing law enforcement and stamping out corruption without the full power of Buddhism and other religious groups, both clergy and laity, leading the way.


Another function of religion is in mediating reconciliation. Evolutionary psychological approaches to understanding the group dynamics of transgression and punishment suggest that humans have a terrible tendency to seek punishment and revenge far in excess of the cost of the actual harm originally done. Religion provides one of the ways that societies reestablish cooperation after a transgression inside the community.

The political road to peace and reconciliation in this society is perhaps the hardest thing to imagine. Unfortunately, there is no “technology of peace” that can simply be imported from abroad, as is done now with the weapons of war. The defeat of the LTTE is not a forgone conclusion. Indeed, there is a lot of evidence from around the world to suggest that modern insurgencies are never easily defeated, in part because the technologies of war are such today that even a very small group can exact an enormous toll on a society. Of course, I am a citizen of the United States, the most powerful military force the world has ever known. We could not enforce our will in Vietnam. It is unlikely that we will succeed in enforcing our will on Iraq and Afghanistan today.

It is important to mix some Machiavelli with our Gandhi and think hard and realistically about the situation in Sri Lanka today. We need realism and idealism in equal measures. From my reading of the history and the press and my limited conversations here, I am inclined to believe that there is not much purpose in negotiating with Prabhakaran, except of course in the sense that Karl von Clausewitz meant when he famously observed that war is “a continuation of political intercourse carried on with other means.”

This does not mean that Sri Lanka should not be negotiating with the Tamil people. Indeed, a political offensive is needed in the North, in the Diaspora, and right here in Colombo. The Sri Lankan government should put its best offer on the table and should do so publicly and in detail. It should leaflet this offer by airplanes over Kilinochchi and the North. It should appeal directly to the Tamil people, who have suffered the most in this terrible conflict. What should this “best offer” include? Minimally it would include amnesty for all LTTE fighters and the promise of employment and educational opportunities in rebuilding the country, because you want them to defect from the LTTE. It should include the promise of linguistic parity, regionally elected governments as specified by the 13th Amendment, full rights of citizenship in a unified Sri Lanka with equal protection under the law. Prabhakaran and the top LTTE leadership should be offered political asylum with the help of one of the Western allies of Sri Lanka, because revenge is not as valuable as an end to the conflict. I am intrigued with the idea of offering stock ownership in privatized public utilities, giving the citizens in the North and the East literally a share in ownership of this unified country. Remember that there are things other than territory and political representation that can be divided. The goal should be to make all Sri Lankans, including the Tamil minorities, rich beyond their wildest dreams. Were such a political offer and a detailed vision of a prosperous, peaceful, lawful, and unified Sri Lanka on the table, in the media, and on the street, working in tandem with the Sri Lankan military’s efforts, then I could imagine in very short order an coup d’Ètat or assassination inside the LTTE that would hasten the end of this terrible war. Of course, this is essentially what happened in the East, where there was a coup inside the LTTE. I dare say such a political offensive would also help you garner a lot more support from your Western allies.

By the way, if I were giving this speech in Kilinochchi, I would basically give the same advice. Put your best offer on the table now, do so publicly in detail, and be judged accordingly by Tamils, Sinhalese, and the world.

We need to give some thought to what follows after the war, the challenges of demobilizing soldiers who have minimal skills and some times significant psychological trauma. Remember also that the military has become part of the social welfare system in this country. There is the real danger that lawlessness and violence of the war will metastasize and spread like a cancer throughout the society. And there is also the challenge of reconciliation, which actually needs to begin now as part of the political offensive that I spoke of above.

Reconciliation and forgiveness requires recognition of wrongs done. One of the problems in a conflict like this is that each side has such a long list of grievances now going back decades. So many people have been hurt and killed in so many circumstances over so many years. We all have a natural tendency to focus on our own hurts and grievances, and to ignore or minimize those of others. Of course, the secret of Sri Lankan history to most outsiders that is obscured by this ethnic conflict is that more Sinhalese have killed Sinhalese and probably more Tamils have killed Tamils then they have killed each other; but here too, it is easier to externalize these hurts, blaming them on an Other – the “evil” Tigers or the “evil” Lions. May I remind you all that neither tigers nor lions are species indigenous to Sri Lanka. Sri Lankans are indigenous to Sri Lanka and the real challenge is building that national identity.

We are coming up on the 25th anniversary of the July 1983 riots, which marked a watershed in the conflict and the beginning of a full-scale civil war. The history is familiar to you all.2 An official government inquiry put the death toll at 1000, but NGOs and international agencies estimates say the number of deaths may have been as high as 3000. More than 18,000 houses and commercial establishments were destroyed. In the wake of the Black July, hundreds of thousands of Tamils fled the country. Others joined militant Tamil groups including the LTTE. While the government of Sri Lanka conducted a presidential commission to investigate the 1983 Riots, no restitution was paid to any of the survivors and no criminal proceedings initiated against any perpetrators.

It would be healing and helpful for Sri Lanka to commemorate this 25th anniversary of Black July, as part of its political offensive, as a sign of its commitment to ensure that all of the citizens of this blessed Island enjoy the equal protection of the law regardless of their ethnicity, language, or religion. It needs to be recognized publicly that this was not the case in July 1983, that the government failed to protect its citizens from lawlessness.

This 25th anniversary of the July 1983 Riots provides an opportunity to collect oral histories of survivors, which can be transcribed, translated, and printed in newspapers and books, presented in television documentaries. It would also be important to include oral histories of Sinhalese who helped to shelter Tamils from the mob violence. If forth-coming, it would be wonderful to include oral histories of Sinhalese who participated in the mob violence and are willing to express remorse. Of course, individuals should have the option of keeping their stories anonymous, if they feel endangered or embarrassed. Perhaps the names of those killed, to the extent that they can be assembled, should be read in public ceremonies. Sri Lankan embassies abroad could also hold events for Tamil and Sinhalese ÈmigrÈs.

Throughout these observances, it will be important to emphasize the individual human tragedies, rather than to rehearse the conflicting narratives about who is responsible for the ensuing civil war. The goal is not simply to commemorate, but also to communicate to Sri Lankan Tamils throughout the world, but especially here in Sri Lankan, that many, perhaps most Sinhalese recognize in these fateful events that a terrible injustice was done to their fellow citizens, who deserved equal protection under the law provided by the police, the courts, and the government of Sri Lanka of which they as citizens are part owners. The goal should also be to educate a new generation of Sri Lankans on these fateful events in the history of the country. The tone of the commemorations should be to declare “never again” and to promote a vision of a unified, peaceful, and prosperous Sri Lanka, in which all citizens, regardless of their ethnicity, language, or religion, are entitled to equal protection under the law.

Whether or not the Sri Lankan government participates in this 25th anniversary commemoration of Black July, there is no reason why religious and civil society groups should not go ahead and do so independently of the government. Indeed, it would be more meaningful as a grassroots initiative. Recognition is the first step in unleashing the magic of reconciliation.

If none of the above work, then perhaps we should revert back to an ancient solution and arrange a royal wedding to united the Sinhalese and the Tamils. Perhaps Mathangi Arulpragasam, aka M.I.A., the British Sri Lankan Tamil hip-hop phenomena, could be married off to one of the Rajapksa boys.

Political Economy

To realize this great cosmopolitan culture will obviously require an end to the civil war and the other forms of lawlessness rampant here. This can only be accomplished through instituting some form of limited government, which provides equal protection under the law to individuals, regardless of the language they speak, their family background, their political connections, or their religious beliefs.

Devolution of the government should not lead to more government bureaucracies, God forbid, but less government all around. Devolution should be about privatizing many government services and employees. Note that the question of good governance is directly related to political economy. Sri Lanka made some critical mistakes in creating a bloated, now inefficient, and overly centralized and paternalistic public sector. You were not alone in this. The question now is how do you recreate your economy such that economic complexity and wealth emerge from the bottom-up through the distributed talents and exertions of your citizens.

In an evolutionary view of economics, we cannot simply apply labels like liberal and conservative, socialist and free-market. Economic development is always a mixture of public and private forces. Economic evolution always involves dislocation (what economists call “creative destruction”). There are limits to the economic involvement of the state. Subsidies and price controls are generally a very bad idea, but excise taxes and especially vice taxes may be a good tool, for instance in discouraging wasteful use of fossil fuel. The state should probably not directly run public utilities, rather these natural monopolies should be private corporations that are regulated by the state. Universal health care and universal education are goods to be promoted, but the state is not well equipped to actually manage hospitals and universities. In the view of economics, surely the state is involved in organizing infrastructure investments that would not otherwise be undertaken by the private sector.


One of the major infrastructure challenges for Sri Lanka is transportation. First, we need to recognize that the current transportation system in Sri Lanka is extremely inefficient in terms of liters of petrol consumed per kilometers traveled. Secondly, the inability to move people and goods easily around the Island means that large sections of the Island remain under-developed and disadvantaged. If a farmer in Anuradapura cannot market his produce effectively, for instance, choosing between the highest prices in Colombo, Galle, Batticoloa, or for that matter Tokyo, then the agricultural sector will be disadvantaged and productivity stunted. If a laborer cannot chose the best paying job, whether it be in Jaffna, Kandy, or Matara, then the labor market will be disadvantaged. If export/import industries cannot choose between using the harbors at Colombo or Trincomalee, then the export/import industries are disadvantaged not just domestically, but internationally. Without internal choices and competition, Sri Lanka will not be able to compete externally in the global markets.

Remember that there is a kind of dialectic between competition and cooperation. In order to compete more effectively, both internally and externally, Sri Lankans need to cooperate to create the necessary infrastructure. Here is a role for public-private partnership.

So I want to imagine with you tonight a new Island-wide transportation system that would unify the country in fact and not just name. Sri Lanka can and should build a 2000 kilometer, inter-modal, limited access highway system encircling and bisecting the Island. Lets call it “The Road to Peace and Prosperity,” because that is what it would mean for this country. Without a modern and comprehensive transportation system, Sri Lanka will not be able to unleash its true economic potential. Here you have the opportunity to leapfrog, using the best concepts in design and engineering collected from around the world. Indeed, as part of a comprehensive peace settlement and political reform, Sri Lanka might even be able to convince the international community to pay for the entire costs of the project.

This Road to Peace and Prosperity would exponentially multiply every other private and public investment. If such a highway existed, it would be possible to drive from Colombo to Trincomalee in two hours, to drive from Jaffna to Colombo in a three-hour drive, and to drive from Batticaloa to Trincomalee in less than an hour. From Matara to Jaffna would be a five-hour drive up the West Coast highway and a seven-hour drive up the East Coast highway. On the state of the art, high-speed rail line that would also be built, the travel time would be even faster. Water, electric, and telecommunications lines would also be laid in this new highway corridor. This construction project would provide badly need jobs for demobilized soldiers and police officers, as well as the impoverished citizens and internally displaced persons from the North and the East. Such a transportation system would stimulate tourism, manufacturing, construction, and agriculture. In all of this it will be necessary to build for energy efficiency and ensure environmental protection. Rather than create a new government bureaucracy to manage the new transportation system, let’s think about tolls leading to profits, shares of ownership leading to dividends. Indeed, the division of stock ownership in these new corporations can be used as an incentive in the peace offensive mentioned above (remembering that there are things other than territory and votes that can be divided and shared). The end result of the Road to Peace would be an island that was truly unified and on it’s way to enacting one of the first great economic miracles of the 21st century.

Again, I think the business community, religious groups, and civil society organizations do not need to wait for government to take the initiative. There is a lot of work to be done envisioning, designing, and planning such a transportation system. This work provides an excellent tool for educating your young and building the necessary political movement to make this vision a reality.


At some point, before or after peace, before or after the Road to Peace and Prosperity, the Constitution will need to be rewritten. Some kind of bicameral parliament offers many advantages, including regional representation in one house with the other house being proportional representation on a national level. The executive branch should be a separate branch of government, checked by the need to seek funding authorizations, advise, and consent by the two houses of parliament. The courts would have an unambiguous constitution to interpret and enforce.

It seems counter-intuitive, but good governance is not primarily about good people. It is about good structures that provide incentives and restraints to bring out the best in human nature and to limit the worst. There are other institutions necessary for a healthy society, so the structure of government is only one piece of the puzzle of a healthy and prosperous Sri Lanka. One needs independent religious institutions, independent media, an independent business community, independent universities, independent professional societies, independent civil society organizations, strong families and extended families, and more. All of these actors help to restrict the bad sides of our human nature and accentuate the good, thus unleashing at every level of society a healthy dialectic of competition and cooperation which catalyzes a non-zero sum dynamic in which the whole is much, much more than the sum of its parts.

Strategically I should think it vital for the business community, religious groups, and civil society to get involved in designing and advocating that new constitution right now and not to expect current parlimentarians to lead the way. The best and the brightest are going to need to get involved in thinking beyond short-term political gains and losses in creating a legal framework that will not reify ambiguous group identities. In order to pass the kind of constitution that a unified, peaceful, and prosperous Sri Lanka needs, it will take a great deal of public education and advocacy. This should be a topic for teaching and debate at every university campus.

By the way, the only real political obstacle to adopting a new constitution and launching a peace offensive is the inability of the two major political parties here to set aside their rivalries for a few years in order to work in the national interest instead of their own. This brings us back to the need for religion, morality, and public shame.


Given the emphasis on individual rights applied equally to all citizens in the new constitution, I would expect the courts to quickly rule against separate schooling for different ethnic communities. Let separate schools please be a thing of the past. Instead of separate-lingualism and separate-culturalism, let multilingualism and multiculturalism become one of the hallmarks of this society. English literacy in Sri Lankan will broaden, excel, and assume its place as the bridge language between ethnic groups and to a larger world of opportunity.

In an effort to stem the brain drain and financial hemorrhaging of the society, higher education will be largely independent of government. The State can subsidize the tuition of needy students, even as educational standards are raised to international levels. There will be partnerships with the best universities in the world. Sri Lankan universities will compete internally with each other and with the world for the best and the brightest. I should think higher education would be the obvious first choice for the devolution of public sector. Sri Lanka loses over 7 billion rupees in foreign exchange every year with students who study abroad, most of who will not return once their education is completed. Instead of exporting students, Sri Lanka should be importing students from all around the world. As Tara de Mel wrote recently in the Daily Mirror:

For the past so many years, the tragedy of the Higher Education system has been that less than 3 percent of the relevant age cohorts and less than 15 percent of those who qualify at A’level, can secure placements in universities. This has made Sri Lanka one of the countries with the poorest rates of higher education enrollment. The 15 state-owned, state-funded and state-managed universities in 2006 could offer only 17,287 places to the 119,555 students who qualified. Moreover, these universities can hardly meet the required quality that we see in reputed universities elsewhere: They ceased to be halls for intellectual inspiration and academic strength long ago. Today, most have been reduced to breeding grounds and training camps for destructive political movements. (Daily Mirror, 7.2.2008)


Of course, it is one thing to have these grand ambitions and quite another thing to make them real. A strategic planning process requires not only uniting around a vision, but also thinking backwards to the most efficacious actions and leveraged interventions that we can take today to advance that vision. That would be a valuable exercise for the business community, civil society and religious organizations to engage in, but beyond the scope of this occasion and format.

After thirty plus years of civil conflict Sri Lanka is at a turning point. While the obstacles are many, Sri Lanka has enormous untapped potential if a number of related problems can be effectively addressed – reconciliation, infrastructure, and governance probably foremost. The point is that it is possible to imagine a time, not even five or ten years hence, when the entrepreneurial talents and ingenuity of the peoples of Sri Lanka will be liberated, when Sri Lanka will be on its way to becoming one of the wealthiest countries in Asia. This new wealth will unleash a positive feedback loop, growing government coffers, leading to better schools, better health care, better services, and better people. A Sri Lanka of peace and prosperity would be an incredible gift not just to the people of this land, but also to the entire world, because the world is in desperate need of positive models of conflict resolution and social transformation. The prestige and stature of Sri Lanka on the world stage would be enormous. No one else can realize this for you, but you can do it for yourselves and for the world.

Let me end, then as I began, with an apology. As an outsider, there is much that I do not know and cannot understand, but the perspective of an outsider is sometimes helpful. As I prepare to return to the United States next month, I am also acutely aware that my own country is deeply flawed, a less than perfect union and a cause of much suffering and conflict in the world today. Still I hope these comments have been informative and useful; but if not, I ask your forgiveness, even as I have enjoyed your gracious hospitality these last eight months. I hope especially that this lecture leads to a vigorous and productive conversation. Thank you.



Beinhocker, Eric D. (2006). The Origin of Wealth: Evolution, Complexity, and the Radical Remaking of Economics. Cambridge, Harvard Business Press.

Dyer, Gwynne (1985, 2004). War: The Lethal Custom, Crown Publishers.

King, Martin Luther Jr. (1963). “Letter from the Birmingham Jail”.

Madison, James (1795). Political Observations. Letters and Other Writings of James Madison. IV: 491.

Plato, (427?-347? B.C.E.) The Republic, Project Gutenberg.

Teilhard, Pierre ((1955)1959). The Phenomenon of Man. New York, Harper.

Teilhard, Pierre ((1957)1960). The Divine Milieu. New York, Harper.

Teilhard, Pierre ((1963)1970). Activation of Energy.

Wickramasinghe, Nira (2006). Sri Lanka in the Modern Age: A History of Contested Identities. Colombo, Vijitha Yapa Publications.


1 Of the 27,574 abandoned muskets picked up after the battle of Gettysburg in 1863, over 90 percent were loaded, although the nineteen-to-one ratio between loading time and firing time would logically argue that only about 5 percent of the muskets should have loaded and ready to fire when their owners dropped them. Indeed, almost half of them – twelve thousand – were loaded more than once, and six thousand of them had between three and ten rounds loaded in the barrel” (Dyer, 2004, 56)

2 The LTTE, at the time a small guerilla group, killed thirteen Sri Lankan soldiers. On July 23, the funeral of these soldiers in Colombo turned into a riot directed against Tamils in Colombo. Sinhalese mobs with some active and much passive assistance from Sri Lanka security forces burned Tamil businesses and homes and beat and hacked to death Tamils with knives and axes. The rioting spread to other communities, including Kandy, Galle, Gampola, Matale, Nawalapitiya, Pusselawa, Ginigathena, Badulla, Nuwara Eliya, and Anuradapura. The rioting did not finally end until the 29th of July, when police shot and killed 15 Sinhalese rioters.