Opinion

If you are a puppet and you know it clap your hands!

Summary

Our degree of puppethood is proportional to the degree to which our beliefs and preferences are fixed.

A colleague confidently claimed in a recent conversation, that our politicians are controlled by various agencies and forces outside Sri Lanka. She was referring to a comment an opposition MP had made in Parliament that Tamil was the original language of Sri Lanka, or something on those lines.

Her claim was that the said MP was instructed, by his handlers, to make this statement. The purpose was, in her view, to provoke government MPs to become abusive in parliament. The idea being to provide ammunition for the claim that the government was suppressing the opposition through its numbers. It would also help as a reminder of some boisterous events in Parliament not too long ago.

Flights of fancy abound when the actions of politicians are interpreted by those who dislike them with passion. The preceding example may be just another instance of a person seizing readily the interpretation that casts a selected politician in a bad light. It points to a more general tendency: the public at large being ready to believe that politicians they hate are controlled by various wicked forces. In other words, that the political class consists of puppets – usually of India, China, Russia or ‘the West’ (meaning USA, EU countries, Canada and Australia).  If these theorists have got things right, what are the implications?

A major implication is that the lives of many politicians must in reality be woeful. To be controlled by foreign puppeteers can’t be nice. Nor for that matter, local ones. One is not one’s own master. The rest of us, of the seemingly less privileged ‘general population’, may be freer to do as we please than the overlords? 

Before we get carried away feeling superior to the politicians, we may do well to reflect on whether we are indeed less under control of puppeteers – foreign and local. If we accept, for argument’s sake, the story about that MP doing the bidding of a foreign agency, does that imply that his level of existence is lower than mine? Am I indeed less strongly controlled by puppeteers?

Should a politician be incapable of refusing instructions of some outside power, he is likely quite aware of his plight. He may be well aware that he is nothing but a puppet. On the other hand, there are likely to be many among the public, who will defend a particular politician who cynically deceives them, his admirers. We, in ‘choosing’ to support a given politician or party, do not imagine that we too may only be puppets of a different kind – the ignorant. 

Ambassadors and high commissioners provide a similar example. They may present a totally false picture of their countries’ good intentions, knowing very well they are putting it on. But they are far less puppets – under control of their governments – than are the local admirers of their respective countries, who uncritically believe them wholesale. The local fans are far more constrained in their views than the ambassador who is obliged to dupe them. If you are a puppet and you know it, it’s not so bad.

Among puppets, the saddest examples are not the politicians, foreign ambassadors and employees in all kinds of businesses. The saddest examples are the unwavering supporters of given politicians, countries, brands and the like, among the rest of us.

Our degree of puppethood is proportional to the degree to which our beliefs and preferences are fixed. Religious and political champions and advertisers are the commonest fixers. In the extreme state of fixation, we will not allow room in our minds for the possibility that unseen puppeteers may have hacked into our souls; that they control us by tugging relevant feeling strings. For the real controllers work in such subtle, and mysterious, ways.  

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