Elon Musk would have fled if he was in Sri Lanka
a year ago
Elon Musk is an eccentric. He wants to establish a colony on Mars, and sold authentic flamethrower guns for the heck of it, but he’s passionate about alleviating climate change. What would have happened if Musk was in Sri Lanka? The Government would have hounded him out and described his projects as not conducive to its vision of prosperity. Nobody who has their own ideas is encouraged by this dispensation. Folk have to be sycophants, or they are turfed out. A military man too has to be a sycophant to be accepted by this Government; the ordinary military temperament would not do. In this way, our current leadership style is most akin to that of Felix Dias Bandaranaike (FDB) of Dompe. FDB was of course never the president, but he ran the country as if he was. It was his way or the highway. He wanted barefoot lawyers and used to howl about valuable foreign exchange. His accomplishments were measured, but his ego was sky high. He seemed to think he was ruling by god-given right. So it is with this Government. It was the hype that propelled it into power. But hype is easily exposed for what it is, and people have learnt fast that there is nothing behind the hype. But the hype has come at a cost. Only sycophants are entertained by the administration. If you are not a sycophant, you may have a chance if the earlier guy totally botched things – but not otherwise. Today, it appears that original thinkers have been shunted out and an inferior brand of sycophancy reigns instead. Today’s small and medium enterprise (SME) sector folk have no chance. The banks have crushed them. The banking system has been given free reign to stamp down on innovation unless it’s government-sponsored innovation. The amount of small businesses that have been refused startup funding are countless. Why is that happening? It’s likely because the Government is in cahoots with cabals of big business, but doesn’t care for the Elon Musks of this country. The youth startup culture has been completely ignored. Unless one is an insider, nobody can get so much as a look in. It means that there are small monopolies being created everywhere, just like how FDB ran the Government. Either that or you have to be part of the ruling family. The system is high on fantasy and low on delivery. No person who delivers the goods is wanted. Radical and eccentric ideas are frowned upon and the orthodoxy reigns. This has become a complete dampener for anyone who has enthusiasm to accomplish new goals and innovate. If the example of Elon Musk is to be taken, the man is a major advocate of cryptocurrency. He says governments should not be able to control cryptocurrency and that governments cannot anyway. For this, he has not been subject to censure by the US Government. But what’s the attitude towards cryptocurrency in this country? To demonise those who want to invest in it. This has been done sans any conversation about what cryptocurrency is, or what it entails. Cryptocurrency! The mere mention of the word has been enough. The concept has been ruled out peremptorily by the honchos in charge of the system. But Musk, who is a cryptocurrency adherent, works with all the top-notch government institutions in the country, including the US National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), which collaborates with him on SpaceX. If Musk was in Sri Lanka, a memo would have gone up saying: “What the hell is he doing? He shouldn’t even be in the country.” With this kind of attitude, it is a small wonder that anyone who can contribute anything is going abroad – name one person in government today who is not part of the prevailing orthodoxy, that’s willing to come out and say he or she is willing to innovate on their own. The President appears to be irked by even marginal criticism of him and typically attempts to counter the criticism by delivering a speech. This apparently happened when the current dispensation was accused of doling out top posts to undeserving individuals. The result was that the President went on air with that famous Anuradhapura Ruwanweli Seya as a backdrop, in a speech where he addressed the nation through what could only be described as a hastily launched amateur production. Then there was the recent “self-effacing” speech, where he spoke introspectively of possible failure. However, at this point the country needs solutions, not mere self-reflection. Unfortunately, the prevailing political and bureaucratic climate has forced talented people to relegate themselves to the background as those at the top cannot brook any logical, pragmatic, and sensible ideas coming from them. Are there any ideas coming from outside the elite circle today? Apparently none whatsoever; which explains why banks are encouraged to ride roughshod over the funding for SMEs. The slightest glitch in the Credit Information Bureau (CRIB) record allows banks to cavalierly refuse the funding requests of startups. But there are no such compunctions when it comes to big business, which gets to set the agenda with borrowed funds. Today, none of these big businesses contribute anything to any of the grand projects that were declared as path-breaking national efforts. Take the beaches – you don’t have to go far, if you are in Colombo that is. Take a stroll to Wellawatte to see how polluted the beaches are. Not even the best of blue chips have thought it fit to contribute their corporate social responsibility (CSR) to clean up the Wellawatte beachfront. There is no “clean up the beaches” project, period. That has gone the way of the soda fizz. The State bureaucracy is now stronger than ever. They discovered that as long as they do the bidding of the powers that be, they can be as dismissive of the citizenry as they want. The country is going nowhere fast because anyone who has not taken an oath of allegiance to the “Vistas of Splendour” agenda is a suspect. What a lot of hubris may have been required to ask every government servant to take some kind of oath saying they pledge to implement the “Vistas of Splendour” policy? This sort of narcissism is perhaps only rivalled in North Korea. But narcissism is the founding principle in the administration, and those who are repulsed by it are working outside the system because they know they would not be recognised within a narcissistic ecosystem. So if you are Elon Musk, here in Sri Lanka, you either go abroad or you work virtually for a foreign entity – because the system will not appreciate anyone who is not an integral element in the echo chamber. FDB also went down this route and had no tolerance for anyone who didn’t salute him. But all that unravelled very quickly, and the people who were sick to the gills didn’t even bother to return him to Parliament from Dompe. Either way you cut it, it appears that the cult of narcissistic personality rules today. There is a way in which any innovation is dismissed unless it’s sanctioned by the orthodoxy. Anything different from the orthodoxy is instantly demonised and cryptocurrency has already been demonised, no questions asked. But yet the talk is of innovation and the glories of technology. Anything is path breaking if it’s done with the blessings of the regime. If it’s not, then God bless anyone who is so much as suggesting something new. This is the type of meetings in a back-to-back echo chamber where the policymakers feel bad if they are not in front of the cameras hectoring sycophants. Elon Musk hates meetings. He fires his people who have excessive meetings and doesn’t participate in any himself. We, by contrast, have a culture of meetings where “rule” is equated to the ruler hectoring people in a meeting room. You get the idea. Narcissists don’t accomplish anything, but love to hear their own voice. (The writer is a former Editor-in-Chief of three national English language publications and a practicing Attorney-at-Law. He is an Editors’ Guild award-winning columnist, and contributing writer and columnist for the Nikkei Asian Review and South China Morning Post, while his editorials have been published in The Australian) The views and opinions expressed in this column are those of the author, and do not necessarily reflect those of this publication.