Seeking sanity

towards a sane societyReview by Larry Marshall

Book | Towards a sane society | Professor Siri Hettige 

Uniting Through Faiths was proud to launch this important book at the synod offices in Melbourne last month. It was officially launched by Lionel Bopage and Prof Paul Komesaroff, who gave excellent summaries of the breadth and depth of these essays on public policy.

The author, Prof Siri Hettige, is an inspirational public intellectual writing weekly in the Daily Mirror newspaper in Colombo, Sri Lanka. The collection of essays frames his constructive ideas for a more inclusive, just, sustainable and ‘sane’ society in Sri Lanka. There are lessons here for Australia too. The professor charts the pathology of modernity by re-asking philosopher Eric Fromm’s question about the sanity of our collective actions on major issues and the twisted ‘logic’ of neo-liberalism.

According to postcolonial theorist Edward Said, an intellectual’s mission in life is to advance human freedom and knowledge. This mission often means standing outside of society and its institutions and actively disturbing the status quo. At the same time, Said’s intellectual is a part of society and should address his concerns to as wide a public as possible.

This is precisely what Prof Hettige has achieved with his weekly analysis presented to a wide public audience. This book appears in all three languages in Sri Lanka – Sinhalese, Tamil and English.

The 67 essays cover a wide range of issues: from failed education and transport policies to the global threat of climate change; from good governance to the exodus of professional youth; from the march of neo-liberalism to religious fundamentalism and ethno-religious tensions.

Here is a sociologist using his vast research experience to support a clinical dissection of his own society. This is an academic willing to disturb the status quo by speaking his truths without fear or favour in a language that resonates with the public. One would only wish for more voices such as his in Australia.

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