Columns

When rationality takes leave of us

Howard Gregory

Sunday, October 07, 2012    

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One bit of advice that is usually given to parents is that they should never administer discipline while they are angry. It is a classic case in which it is recognised that anger is an emotion that easily overrides rationality and a sense of balance and can easily lead to the kind of distortion which transforms discipline into violence and abuse.

A widow in the grips of grief is advised not to make any immediate life changes, as options may not be weighed with the level of objectivity required. Neither should the person beginning a life of retirement make decisions at the onset of retirement concerning matters of relocation and commitment to new vocational and entrepreneurial ventures, without allowing some time for internalising of what it means to be retired and allowing time for a realignment and redefinition of self.

It is the case that when emotions are free-flowing, actions which are uncharacteristic or unbecoming may issue from individuals as well as groups. This is particularly evident in mob behaviour. In such situations, the mob mentality and behaviour may be sparked by a simple rumour, that is falsehood, or by some incident or behaviour on the part of someone which generates outrage and anger, and thereafter spirals out of control, leading to consequences of which the members could not have envisaged, and in their own private moral frame of reference could generate a sense of abhorrence.

Over the last few weeks we have been witnessing events in this society which have been nothing short of mob activity and which have been labeled "jungle justice". It was evident in the incident in Zion in Trelawny, which began with a tragic incident of the death of two boys whose bodies were found in the river. Tragic as that situation was, and therefore generative of its own emotional response, it was fueled by what is still of the nature of a rumour that the boys were buggered and then killed, and their bodies dumped in the river. In converse relationship as emotions soared, so did rationality flounder.

From reports in the media, it appears that there were members of the Police Force who started to give their own personal autopsy reports that the boys were buggered. Not only is this unprofessional as this is not the area of competence of the Police, and even if they had a suspicion that this may be the case, there is absolutely no reason for them to begin to disseminate such information. Needless to say, there is evidence that in other situations, there are individual officers who see it as their role to disseminate details of crimes to the media and the community. One thing they should learn from other jurisdictions is the way in which lower level officers are not allowed to engage the media on crime scenes, but these are the purview of senior officers who often hold a briefing with the media at which discreet information is shared after they have carried out their primary duties at a crime scene.

Having fueled the notion that the boys' death was the result of being buggered, it seemed only natural that the community in its heightened emotional state should start looking for the perpetrator. The subsequent attack on a household in which a supposed perpetrator lived, and which led to the death of one person, injury to another, and the destruction of their home, should come as no surprise, as this is what, even in our supposedly sober and rational moments we prescribe for what is deemed by them to be the most serious of mortal sins, homosexuality.

The rape of five females including an eight-year-old child within a matter of days, turned up the emotional temperature gauge as people were overcome by a deep sense of outrage and anger at this dastardly act inflicted by human beings upon others. Here it was not just some isolated rural community displaying a kind of primitive outburst, but a nation challenged by the many signs of moral and social degeneration. Many channeled their anger into expressions of disgust, others joined in the public gatherings expressing their opposition to the violence which is being directed at women and finding expression in the kind of violence in evidence among children and adults alike. What is of concern and expressive of the lack of rationality, are the kinds of responses which members of the public were sharing on the electronic media as to what should be done with the perpetrators of violence. In the long run the corrective and punitive responses suggested by what are supposedly decent, if not Christian citizens, place them on similar ground to the perpetrators they are attempting to discipline.

The undercurrent in all of this is the apparent crisis situation in which the citizens of this country seem to find ourselves. There seems to be no abating of the crime and violence, notwithstanding the occasional release of data suggesting indices of success, but which do not seem to square with the experience of the people. Equally, is the sense of frustration which continues with the high percentage of unsolved crimes and the seeming inability of the justice system to deliver justice in a timely manner which can generate confidence in the minds of people. Hence, jungle justice is lurking at our door, and I dare to suggest that once it plants its footing in our cultural psyche, it will not be easily expunged.

What happened on the Old Harbour Road a few days ago, and which led to the mob killing of the teacher, and coming in the wake of the incidents of a few days prior, is the ominous cloud which signals what is ahead. If we are to be saved from such a deluge, all of us in this society must stop and take stock of what is happening. The Church, civil institutions, and patriotic citizens of every hue, must seek to calm the current mood and not contribute to the fueling of the same with negativity. The authorities in government, the security forces, and the judicial system need to act in ways that can generate a sense of confidence in the people that violation of the law, acts of violence, and criminal activity, will be brought to book and justice will be done. It will of necessity involve taking action against those who seek to unilaterally assume the authority to execute jungle justice, but that as a strategy by itself will have a rebound effect which will frustrate more creative efforts at solving the problem.

My greatest concern is the way in which those in governance respond to the challenges which have climaxed over the last few weeks. And here I deliberately choose to use the idea of climax because I fear what shall become of us if there is more of this still to come and in more complicated ways.

It is important that in hearing the cries, yea, the demands of people that something be done, that the authorities let rationality guide their judgement and they not be sucked into the same emotional responses. I become uncomfortable, for example, when the minister of national security, in announcing the strategy for crime fighting in the wake of recent developments, outlines the strategy of the police for re-assignment of personnel from trouble spots to St James. It is something which the Police do from time to time, apparently driven by a desire to assure us that things are happening but, given the movement of criminals from one location to another, the announcement that certain troubled spots will see more police presence while identifying where the contraction will take place, is more unsettling than consoling.

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