Letters to the Editor

Our culture and progress can't dance

Tuesday, August 14, 2012    

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Dear Editor,

Now that the euphoria of the Olympics and Golden Jubilee are dying down, it's time for sober reflection and introspection. As a witness to Independence in 1962 which crisscrossed the island in the past month, I recall two indelible impressions.

One is our seemingly inexhaustible capacity for denial and self-delusion, a coping mechanism which is both virtue and vice. Its virtue enabled a nation to celebrate in full regalia and gay abandon even while morally and economically down on its face; its vice has enabled us to postpone indefinitely a recognition that termites are eating away at the foundations of our house.

The second was that the most significant development over the past 50 years is the change from our rich Jamaican culture to an Anancy bling "Ah nuh nutten 'kulcha'" - from "good" cholesterol to "bad' cholesterol, as my doctor often reminds me. It was therefore a pleasant surprise to see that the government, Culture Minister Lisa Hanna and project manager Robert Bryan emphasised the former and minimised the latter. Did anyone else notice ?

Unless this "Ah nuh nutten kulcha" is transformed in short order, there can be no significant economic progress. I say this, not from some middle-class bias or as an old fogey looking back at 1962 through rose-tinted spectacles, but from a cold, hard analysis of its main characteristics: lawlessness, indiscipline, inefficiency, slackness, unpunctuality, carelessness, poor English, indifference to public spaces, etc, etc. These are anathema to a successful economy and society. The two can't dance.

The challenge now is threefold: (a) recognise the link between culture and the economy; (b) summon the political will to transform this "kulcha"; (c) find the smarts to devise winning strategies within a democracy (for example, the ministries of education, culture and the Broadcasting Commission).

Few of our movers and shakers - The Jamaica Observer's Dennis Chung a shining exception - seem to have accepted this link. It is the National Blindspot. It is as hard a sell, I know, as a pastor telling his flock that it is their "religion" that is taking them down the road to Hell.

Finding the political will in a tribalistic polity is equally hard. Another daunting challenge is crafting a winning strategy in an Americanised society where any serious attempt at "heavy manners" brings cries of "dictatorship", "communism" or worse. Remember the Cuba issue?

For those who believe we can achieve (a) (b) and (c), the future is bright. As our disciplined athletes have proved, we are capable of incredible achievements although we like to forget that these couldn't have happened without the "undemocractic" relationship between Glen Mills, Stephen Francis and their athletes who, despite fame and fortune, try to follow the coach's instructions to the letter.

So as Portia faces life, her choice is stark and simple. Our prime minister can choose, to coin a phrase from a transformational predecessor, to spare no rod to "mash down" this "kulcha" and perhaps become our most successful prime minister ever. Or she can ignore the elephant in the room, tinker at the edges of the problem and join the list of failed leaders, not the least of whom has already spared historians much pain by writing his own "nuff man have nuff gal" legacy. May God grant Portia the wisdom and the courage to make the right choice.

Errol WA Townshend

Ontario, Canada

ewat@rogers.com

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