A horrible and brutish society

A horrible and brutish society


Wednesday, November 13, 2019

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Let us be frank, we are living in a brutish society in which concern for the value of human life does not seem to figure too prominently in how we seek to govern ourselves. In fora after fora, convention after convention, synod after synod, and endless political speeches in our Parliament we extol the intrinsic value of human life, yet, in daily practice, we devalue and destroy life at will. We divide people into different social and economic categories and indulge policies that have the net effect of denigrating the individual and pouring scorn on his or her desire for social and economic mobility.

Take the present slide in the Jamaican dollar vis--vis its US counterpart. The basic economic lesson that every adult Jamaican knows, whether he can articulate it or not, is that whenever the Jamaican dollar devalues he can expect to pay more for every basic item he consumes. Thus, a sliding dollar is a highly emotive issue, especially for the very poor, who know instinctively what will happen to his ability to spend on the most basic items needed for survival.

In an economy such as ours we know that the dollar is very vulnerable to manipulation, especially by the big players in the economy. This is not anything new and has not abated in practice. In fact, the practice has become normalised.

In the present slide, at least one Bank of Jamaica (BOJ) official has acknowledged that the unusual movement in the dollar could be due to extraordinary demand for portfolio purposes. This was a veiled reference to a pending transaction of US$240 million to satisfy purchase of shares by one of the big financial players in Jamaica in a regional commercial interest. The BOJ official expects the imbalance between demand and supply to abate or pass, but this is no Job's comforter to the very poor that will bear the brunt of the continued slide.

There can be no quarrel with those who make money legally in Jamaica from their innovation and entrepreneurship. What we must be concerned about, however, is the kind of policy that allows a few to manipulate the nation's currency thus imposing hardships on the large majority that is barely surviving.

As well, we already know of the widening income inequality in the country, which itself is an index of the widening social divide and the brutish existence to which many, even in the middle class, are relegated.

In Jamaica, a sliding dollar is not just about economic viability but about hardships imposed on the poorest among us. But who cares? Those making inordinate wealth from the situation or the politicians who are beholden to the wealthy classes for their perpetuation in power? And this is just one end of the spectrum.

If we had any doubt about the brutish society in which we live we should have been disabused by a disturbing set of news over the past two weeks. We were reminded of the mother and daughter who were tortured, hacked to death, and beheaded by young men. We were told of a 94-year-old amputee who was raped in St Ann. A committee of Parliament was told that people were being detained in our penal institutions without trial for inordinate lengths of time and were not even being given a decent meal while in detention. We were told of mentally ill people being housed in our penal institutions, and of the deplorable state of the leading mental health institution in the country. As if this were not enough, we heard of the alleged appalling treatment of children by a religious group in Montego Bay.

All of these and similar incidents are not as disconnected or unrelated as we may think. They are part of the mosaic of what Jamaica has become — an uncaring and brutish society that has no respect for the dignity of human life.

We will talk about the subject, preach about it from our pulpits, carry out hard-hitting anthropological and sociological research on its consequences for the nation, but in practice all that we are indulging is the collective hypocrisy that all is well. Then we have the temerity to sing anthems to the heavenly Father to “teach us true respect for all” and to strengthen us to cherish the weak.

Respecting others and cherishing the weakest among us are foundational pillars of any respectable society. But we need to deeply search ourselves to see whether we are living up to these basic standards of decency as a society.

Part of the mosaic of the brutish society that we have become that should stand to our eternal shame is the number of Jamaicans that are murdered each year. For the past two decades, a country of 4,411 square miles of under three million people has witnessed the murder, on average, of over 1,000 of its citizens yearly. And this is not a country in civil war or open rebellion against its Government. Yet, it is a country which, by the reckoning of the gold standard of measurements — the Guinness Book of World Records — has more churches per square mile. It, perhaps, has more rum bars as well. Has anyone ever asked why a country that has such a prominent religious status also has that of one of the top five murderous countries in the world? Has anyone ever asked why with all our religious inclinations we have so much hatred and anger loaded up in our collective psyche? The legacies of slavery, you may answer, but this is largely a cop-out.

Do these statistics bother the churches themselves, or are they too deeply ensconced in their denominational enclaves to notice? When I call for homosexuals to be given a compassionate hearing I am recognising, like the Jesus I follow, that they are human beings who he would in no wise cast out or leave bleeding on the streets of our society. He would not view them as being so leprous that he would not embrace them.

Those who do not know this about Jesus do not yet understand the rudimentary sense of the gospel of love that he came to preach and which upheld the intrinsic worth of all individuals. I cannot hide myself under the blanket of tradition that I cannot see this reality. I would submit to the Church that it ought not to allow this as well. This is even more so as the Church has to be at the vanguard of creating a kinder and gentler society.

Those who should be at the vanguard of change must do the work of discipleship. They cannot be more concerned about the bells and whistles of their own denominational settings and then claim that they are doing the will of God because they can meet budgets or otherwise have their denominations in good standing. What is good standing if we are not engaging the society more forthrightly with the transformative message of love without which the Church is no more than a social club in which the faithful gather to fraternise?

There is a crisis of consciousness that confronts each church leader in the context of the brutish nature of the Jamaican society. It is recognising whether he or she is really doing the will of God by being shepherds to the flock, or whether they are just glorified administrators who are struggling valiantly to keep the doors open. It is recognising whether the enormous resources of the churches, especially the people, are being deployed effectively in the task of truly transforming the society for good.

Dr Raulston Nembhard is a priest and social commentator. Send comments to the Observer or stead6655@aol.com.

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