Ilankai Tamil Sangam

24th Year on the Web

Association of Tamils of Sri Lanka in the USA

Wiseacres with Snobismus Syndrome

by Sachi Sri Kantha, December 9, 2008

And so these men of Indostan disputed loud and long,
each in his own opinion exceeding stiff and strong,
though each was partly in the right, and all were in the wrong!”

If there is one variety that is in oversupply these days, I’d mention wiseacres. We live at a time, bombarded with much information, that anyone can be a wiseacre, irrespective of whether one lives in Chennai, London, Toronto or Geneva. The New Oxford American Dictionary defines a wiseacre as follows:

“n. a person with an affectation of wisdom or knowledge, regarded with scorn or irritation by others; a know-it-all. Origin: late 16th cent. – from Middle Dutch wijsseggher ‘sooth sayer’.”

Six Blind Men of Indostan

The Vermont-born poet John Godfrey Saxe (1816-1887), anticipated the proliferation of these wiseacres among his descendants, with his witty poem ‘Six Blind Men of Indostan.’ To quote,

It was six men of Indostan to learning much inclined
Who went to see the elephant though all of them were blind,
That each by observation might satisfy his mind.

The First approached the elephant, and happening to fall
Against his broad and sturdy side, at once began to bawl:
'God bless me! But the elephant is very like a wall!'

The Second, feeling of the tusk, cried, 'Ho! What have we here
So very round and smooth and sharp? To me 'tis mighty clear
This wonder of an elephant is very like a spear!'

The Third approached the animal, and happening to take
The squirming trunk within his hands, thus blodly up and spake:
'I see,' quoth he, 'the Elephant is very like a snake!'

The Fourth reached out an eager hand, and felt about the knee,
'What most this wondrous beast is like is mighty plain,' quoth he;
' 'Tis clear enough the Elephant is very like a tree!'

The Fifth, who chanced to touch the ear, Said: 'E'en the blindest man
can tell what this resembles most; deny the fact who can
This marvel of an elephant is very like a fan!'

The Sixth no sooner had begun about the beast to grope,
than, seizing on the swinging tail that fell within his scope,
'I see,' quoth he, 'the Elephant is very like a rope!'

And so these men of Indostan disputed loud and long,
each in his own opinion exceeding stiff and strong,
though each was partly in the right, and all were in the wrong!”

Pretending to be a wiseacre is one thing. But, if the same individual is suffering from snobismus syndrome, the outcome is rather dangerous. What is this snobismus syndrome? Peter Medawar (1915-1987), the 1960 co-Nobelist in Medicine and a talented 20th century scientist and essayist, introduced this snobismus syndrome in his autobiography, ‘Memoir of a Thinking Radish (1988)’. To quote,

“the generally destructive effect upon English social life and our position in the world caused by the infirmity of manner I call ‘snobismus’ – a syndrome that more aptly than any other deserves to be called the ‘English disease’. Snobismus is the irresistibly exigent impulsion to appear before the world as someone grander and more important in point of family, schooling, wealth, friends and worldly distinction than one really is – and with this syndrome goes a somewhat debilitating conception of manners and address that are or are not compatible with gentility.” (Introduction, pp. 3-4)

The wiseacre, suffering from snobismus syndrome, if infected with crypto-racism, is a pathetic case. Such pathetic cases are notable among journalists. I’d consider the opinionated anonymous scribes who work for the weekly Economist magazine (London) a special breed of this category. An opinion that had appeared in the Nov.27 issue of the Economist magazine, had the following statements, under the caption ‘The illusion of victory’:

“Little is known for certain about the fighting under way in northern Sri Lanka. The belligerents – the Sri Lankan army and the rebel Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam – issue contradictory claims, and the area is closed to independent observers….

Few neutrals could regret the defeat of the Tigers and their brutal leader, Velupillai Prabhakaran. Pioneers of suicide-bombings, they have an appalling record of terrorism, assassination, extortion, kidnapping and the conscription of children as soldiers….

Leave alone the half-baked comments about the LTTE leader, that attests to a crypto-racist wiseacre suffering from snobbish syndrome, who seems to have never visited northern Sri Lanka, as he (she) has naively acknowledged in the first sentence, “Little is known for certain about the fighting under way in northern Sri Lanka.” But what seems perverted is the naive wish of this wiseacre: “The government of President Mahinda Rajapaksa has hinted it is prepared to go beyond the bounds of the constitution to offer Tamils the hope of a workable deal. It is time for more than hints. What are needed are clear signs that its aim is not victory, but peace.”

That the Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa is nothing but an opportunist bumpkin pol who never places the welfare of Sri Lankan citizens in front of his family and his bucket carriers is proven, from a few lines from his election manifesto, as per his interests in constitutional reforms. I quote,

“I propose to change the Parliamentary Election System to ensure that public opinion will be represented and stable Governments will be elected. With the consensus of all, I expect to present a Constitution that will propose the abolition of the Executive Presidency and to provide solutions to other issues confronting the country.” [vide, Manifesto; Victory for Sri Lanka – Presidential Election 2005, p. 97]

Three years have passed since 2005. Not even a whisper from his lips about his proposal and pledge to abolish the executive presidency! And before the hints of this bumpkin pol “offer[ing] Tamils the hope of a workable deal” to realize, we may first satiate ourselves of the miracle of the Sun circling the Earth...

I reproduce below an e-mail I sent to one of the wiseacres (Dr. Dayan Jayatilleka), currently serving President Mahinda Rajapakse from Geneva, on Nov.29th. This e-mail was a response to his commentary on LTTE leader Pirabhakaran’s recent Maveerar’s Speech.

“Hello Ambassador Dayan Jayatilleka:

This refers to your recent "personal views" on Prabhakaran's Mahaveerar 2008 address. No doubt, that you are one of the best wordsmiths El Presidente Mahinda has in his side. I also remember the times when you were with another UNP President, Ranasinghe Premadasa.

You can be one of the best wordsmiths - but you don't have to gulp chunks of history, to portray Prabhakaran as your paymaster's enemy. I refer to your comment, "He opened fire on the IPKF by October 10th of that year(1987)." Are you sure about it? For your information, I have been compiling an anthology of the Indo-LTTE war in two of the Tamil websites (www.sangam.org and www.tamilnation.org), from contemporary sources. In Part 1 of my anthology, I have included the Economist magazine's feature (probably contributed by your father Mervyn de Silva) of Oct.10, 1987. I welcome you to read that commentary, to check for yourself, who "opened fire". You also have conveniently omitted the villainous role of Lalith Athulathmudali, which set off the crisis between the Indians and the LTTE.

Oh! you gloat about Hubris and Nemesis. Shall I make a list of Sinhalese politicians, and armchair generals who have gone to meet their Maker because of their Hubris, beginning with SWRD. Bandaranaike in 1959? Bandaranaike was followed by Rohana Wijeweera (1989), Ranjan Wijeratne (1991), Lalith Athulathmudali (1993), your former paymaster R. Premadasa (1993) and Gamini Dissanayake (1994). You want me to believe that all these souls were devoid of Hubris (that's with a large case H)! The hubris competition for the Presidency between Ranjan-Lalith-Prema and Gamini speaks wonders that deserve a Sinhalese opera. All four of them took their turns to the grave.

Thanks for your entertaining history lessons.”

As of now, I have yet to hear from wiseacre Dayan Jayatilleka.

*****