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Brains, brawn and common sense can see us through 2014

EVERTON PRYCE

Sunday, January 05, 2014    

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I have said it before in this column, and I will say it again: despite the travails of the past and those of the present, Jamaica, with governments of accredited native political representatives in place, have not done so badly since 1962 when we were released from the sustained political apprenticeship we had under Mother Britain from 1944.

The bloody 1980 election experience, the 1983 boycott exercise resulting in a one-party Parliament, and political violence and varied forms of corruption of one stripe or another notwithstanding, the Jamaican polity is properly defined as the legatee of an emergent political culture with roots admittedly from elsewhere but with shoots of our own making.

Such roots have deep pedigree and come with the showing of mutual respect between opponents, agreeing to disagree agreeably, embracing the art of compromise rather than applying the bully tactics of intimidation or attempting to control others by instilling fear and playing the game on the basis of agreed rules with a sense of fair play.

But in the past 51 years since gaining formal Independence, we have largely allowed the cynics among us to have the upper hand. They see these best practices as representing British hypocrisy that must come to terms with the indigenous Jamaican penchant for contentiousness, for the worst forms of simulated violence and the actuality of aggressiveness, as well as for anancyism, with the resort to chicanery for achieving the simplest task.

In large measure, there has not been sufficient emphasis by our governors on the strength and endurance of our political system as the basis for comprehension by the mass of the population.

That is critical in these times, as it leads to national sacrifice and loyalty in the struggle to build a nation and shape a society that is every bit an indispensable part of the so-called Third World, complete with debt, dependency, dispossession, despair and destabilisation.

With one exception, what we have had since Independence are heads of government who have presided over the Jamaican Cabinet as gurus in their frequent tutorials to the nation. The problem is that our political literacy has remained frozen, emphasising phrases, words and rhetoric over genuine political education of the masses.

To be sure, today every puss, dog and rat is familiar with the words "management", "wage guidelines", "structural adjustment", "the private sector", "the public sector", "GDP", "debt crisis" and the "IMF", to mention just a few. But despite this illustrious litany of language we are none the wiser in how to use them as strategy in bringing about a sense of ease to our economic and political life. Lessons from our patrimony of experience still elude us as we journey past the first decade of the 21st Century.

Norman Manley and Alexander Bustamante, who did so much to shape our political culture, would have much to say about this.

Manley himself pleaded with a younger generation in the 1960s to appeal not to the baser instincts of our people, but to their strengths. This was after the experience of 1944 to 1949 which sapped his energy and that of his cousin, Bustamante, when the fight for control of territory and of minds between both political parties invited violence, albeit in the form of bottles, stones and fisticuffs. The ends of government at the time seemed fundamentally different in the minds of both parties.

But by 1949, the Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) came around to the idea of self-government, which Bustamante had earlier dismissed as tantamount to slavery. The People's National Party (PNP), for its part, reaffirmed its commitment to the mass of the population, which was the basis of Bustamante's populism. The upshot of this was the laying of common ground from which to build in earnest a modern political culture.

Today, although we are yet as a society to determine who first introduced guns into the body politic, the fact remains that the ends of government are fundamentally the same between the two major contenders for power; and our leaders need to speak to this more often.

For only the misguided among us would persist in the view that the JLP and the PNP do not wish a self-reliant, self-governing, resourceful polity and a civilised society, which all serious Jamaicans would themselves wish to make of their Jamaica. The means of achieving this, however, are differently perceived in each camp, judging from the performance, political manifestos, historical orientations, and persistent philosophies of both political parties in and out of power.

What is more, both the JLP and the PNP, when in government, have made their own horrendous mistakes.

But, what we need now as a society going forward into 2014 and beyond is an unprecedented commitment by all to stay the course of common sense in growing the economy, building confidence in ourselves and in our capacity to succeed as productive and resourceful citizens.

To do this we must come to recognise that the people-centred orientation of the PNP approach to development and governance is not without its problems, in the same way the systems-oriented, economic growth obsessions of the JLP have given us no less trouble.

With this in mind, we need Government, as part of its strategy to communicating effectively with the electorate, to remind that systems, growth and people are infuriatingly all essential to the effective management of any developing society.

As we brace ourselves, therefore, to encounter more turbulent economic waters in 2014 as a prerequisite to not simply meeting IMF targets but more fundamentally realigning the Jamaican political economy to function in the interest of the majority, I wish to simply suggest to both Government and Opposition that there is no substitute for well-reasoned and sustained application of brains and brawn, of will and spirit, to the task of taking ourselves beyond survival.

As Tessanne Chin's victory in the recent The Voice competition reminds us all, we remain a great society, not only because we have the gift of brawn but also because we have the greater gift of intelligence. We should use these gifts all year round to deny ourselves the luxury of such self-destructive vices as the murder and mutilation of each other and throwing ourselves on the altar of self-immolation without the requisite track record of discipline, application to detail, and hard work.

Bob Marley beckons to us again: "None but ourselves can free our minds."

A thumbs-up New Year to our readers, and sincere wishes for less violence in the society and more love shown to each other.

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