A brave new Jamaica: Let's not go back to normal

A brave new Jamaica: Let's not go back to normal

BY CAROLYN A E GRAHAM

Friday, June 12, 2020

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In the face of adversity, we humans have the capacity to reflect, to be candid about the errors of our ways, to do good, and promise to be even better when the adversity ends. Take funerals, for example, many of us leave a funeral reflecting on our mortality and making promises to become our better selves. But how long does that last?

In the midst of a global pandemic many reflections are taking place. There are those hoping for a better world, pointing out the inequalities across the globe and how we should not go back to business as usual. COVID-19 has laid bare our insecurities and vulnerabilities. It has shown that our economic and social systems are weak and ineffective. It has exposed the many flaws underpinning our current way of life, such as gross consumerism, overproduction of non-essential goods, waste, destruction, and, in many instances, greed. Of course, this is not news, but pre-COVID-19, many of us were willing to pull the wool over our eyes, or to have them pulled for us. We were willing to contend with the smoke and pretend there was no fire.

Inequalities, chaos, and indiscipline in the society are assets for the disingenuous who would seek to convince the nave among us that the pre-COVID-19 world was right, so we yearn for a return to normal. The normal being a consumerist, individualistic society built on economic systems of exploitation.

Many of us are slaves to our current way of life. Believing that this is the only model, we convince ourselves that we live freely, that we are prospering; and those who don't, it's their fault. As Johann Wolfgang von Goethe says: “None are more hopelessly enslaved than those who falsely believe they are free.”

Progress?

Aldous Huxley's dystopian Brave New World exposes the absurdities of modern living that have led us down the rabbit hole we are currently in. It uncovers the real world behind the appearances of progress, freedom, and community. What we should, therefore, aim for is to be truly brave. In Jamaica, we can begin with policies that demonstrate that we undrerstand and embrace sustainable living — a type of living that involves constant reflection on what we do and how we do it so that future generations prosper.

One sign of progress in development theory is construction, but what and how do we construct? Jamaica should cease the building of unsustainable communities in which we stack people on top of each other in the name of affordable housing, however false the notion of affordability. In reality, we are constructing concrete jungles with little consideration for the humanity of the people we expect to live in them.

Another sign of progress we have embraced in Jamaica is the construction of shopping malls, the opening of foreign fast food restaurants, and the manufacturing of non-essential consumer goods. However, paradoxically, many of us are working poor in precarious employment who struggle to answer the siren call of consumerism. Yet, this is how we measure and display our worth, despite evidence to the contrary.

Could we have the audacity to imagine an alternative Jamaica, perhaps try Bhutan's model of development, crafted in our image? Increasingly, Jamaica has seen the proliferation of a type of urban lifestyle which is antithetical to a small 'developing' island in the tropics. What have we reaped? We are a Third-World country with First-World lifestyle diseases — but without the wherewithal to manage.

Normal does not serve us

COVID-19 is a disaster which presents a profound opportunity to change for the better, to renounce normal. This is an opportunity to strengthen ties and loosen some. We have been given overt evidence that, in the midst of crises, our supposed allies will trample us to ensure their survival. COVID-19 has given rise to some of the conversations we feared having, in particular food insecurity and the dire state of our agricultural sector; our high importation costs; and the safety and health of workers, to name a few.

We need to take the opportunity to go full force. We need to protect our environment. Many countries, including us, are seeing a healing of nature in such a short time that humans were almost out of the equation. There is less haze hanging over Kingston and there's peace and quiet in some places as night noise is on pause. Years ago we toyed with flexi-hours, toyed with regulating commute so as to manage traffic congestion; however, political expediency seems to always win until our very existence is threatened.

COVID-19 has shown us what essentials are, that we can live without many of the things we have made our masters. This experience confirms — for those who did not believe — that how we live and use Earth's resources is problematic.

A more equitable, humane society

Funerals compel us to examine our lives, but mostly at the individual level. COVID-19 appears to have compelled us to examine all levels. Our invisible enemy has shown us that community is more important than the individual. Overall, what we need is a more equitable and humane society. Therefore, for Jamaica, we should use this time of reflection as an opportunity to be brave and craft the kind of society that serves more than the few. We should not let those who have lost their lives and livelihood from this pandemic do so in vain. We also should not let politics and the naysayers cause us to cower.

A return to normal will see many of us left on our own to struggle, while big businesses and important people leverage their capital. What we should be discussing nationally is how to design a society marked by secure jobs, social protection for the vulnerable, welfare systems that work for the mentally ill and homeless, in short a more equitable and humane society. These are not novel sentiments, but the pre-COVID-19, neoliberal world was, for the most part, hostile to such notions. This is what a brave new Jamaica needs to survive.

Carolyn A E Graham, PhD, AFHEA, is a writer, artist, and sociologist with expertise in maritime affairs. Send comments to the Jamaica Observer or carolynaeg@gmail.com.


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