Of expensive ignorance, claptrap and superstitions

Of expensive ignorance, claptrap and superstitions

Garfield Higgins

Sunday, May 31, 2020

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You should keep your eye on your destination and not where you stumbled. — Yoruba proverb, Nigeria

Tomorrow scores of us will begin to return to our physical work spaces. To survive the novel coronavirus pandemic, global economic recession, and related challenges, new approaches, attitudes, and a more rapid embrace of relevant and cutting-edge technologies are needed.

We can learn many lessons from several cultures in this respect. Early Japanese history is helpful.

In 1543, as an example, the first documented Europeans arrived at the southern tip of the island of Tanegashima, Japan. These were Portuguese traders. The Japanese Daimyo, or warlord, there [Japan at the time was ruled by numerous warlords] summoned them to appear before him. Many written records of the first meeting between Japanese and Europeans, including some by Jesuits, agree that the Japanese were not filled with admiration at the sight of the Europeans.

The Portuguese introduced guns to the Japanese. After the Daimyo witnessed one of the Portuguese shoot a duck he ordered one of his artisans to make a copy of the gun that was used. The Daimyo later ordered the Europeans to teach him how to use it.

Yes, we can have a debate about how guns changed Japanese warfare for better or worse. But let us not avoid an even larger lesson.

A big factor that has contributed to the rapid rise of Japan is her willingness to quickly adopt new technologies. Yes, they have numerous superstitious beliefs, but these have never superseded a recognition that new technologies must be readily embraced and improved upon.

On the prickly matter of superstitions, I have been listening and watching certain representations in traditional and social media that have caused me to reflect/revisit aspects of the work of that prolific academic, M G Smith, in recent times.

Michael Garfield Smith, popularly called M G Smith, was a renowned Jamaican social anthropologist and poet. His research in Jamaican, Caribbean, and African labour issues, social structures, and education in the Caribbean, particularly since political independence, is lauded and cited globally. Professor Smith also did considerable research in the areas of African and West Indian religious practices and superstitious beliefs. Smith posited the view that some of these superstitious beliefs were not without their 'limitations' — my word.

I believe there are some among us who are calculatingly abusing our varied and historical disposition to certain superstitious beliefs in order to advance their personal and fanatical religious agendas. Telling folks, for example, that the geofencing technology now being used by the Government to assist with the safe repatriation of Jamaicans is a forerunner to the biblical mark of the beast — 666 — is simply unhelpful and asinine. Where is the evidence for such bland brews?

Speaking of evidence, 19 Jamaicans from the Royal Caribbean cruise liner have tested positive for COVID-19 at the time of writing this article. Those who quaff and trade in inventions might not have heard this. Recall that as Royal Caribbean's Adventure of the Seas sailed towards Falmouth some people raised Cain that geofencing was part of the Government's 'protective mechanism'. I am glad they remained resolute and meticulously repatriated our countrymen.

Expensive ignorance

Some among us, owing maybe to voluntary ignorance, Darth Vader-type motivations, variant forms of fanaticisms or a combination, seem hell-bent on enabling the uncontrolled spread of COVID-19 in our country. Why? I don't think it is difficult to figure. It is political and personal desperation on steroids.

Prime Minister Andrew Holness, in his message for Labour Day 2020, noted that, “Our economy needed to quickly transition to online transactions, as the COVID-19 crisis has exposed the inefficiencies and riskiness of cash transactions.” I agree.

Three weeks ago hundreds of Jamaicans bunched up at various remittance outlets across the country to collect Compassionate Grant payments from the Government's COVID-19 Allocation of Resources for Employees (CARE) Programme. The unhealthy state in which our fellow citizens congregated should have forced home the reality that we cannot continue to operate in these 1970s-type paradigms.

Of course, getting our economy out of its hibernating state is the immediate priority. On that score, Holness made the following remarks last Monday: “The real solution is to get the economy up and running again to full capacity, while we limit high-risk and non-essential activities that would cause the spread of the virus without any productive gain, and put more stress on our health system and our dedicated front line workers who have been working so hard to contain the spread of the virus.” ( Jamaica Observer, May 26, 2020)

But there is something else which I believe is almost as important as waking the economy from its present sleepy state. Holness in his message for Labour Day also highlighted the need for “a comprehensive national identification system, stressing that the Government must be able to ascertain and verify the identity of, and account for the benefit provided to each person, not only to ensure that the right individuals are receiving benefits but to protect the general public good”. ( Jamaica Observer, May 26, 2020)

I agree.

We urgently need a fit-for-purpose national identification system. How can we continue to say we want Jamaica to become “the place of choice to live, work, raise families, and do business” when we cannot even properly identify all who live within our borders? We don't know “who is who”.

Former Prime Minister Michael Manley called for the establishment of a national identification system in 1977. Forty-two years later we have not achieved this objective.

I believe some people are quite happy with that failure, because it is the oxygen that keeps alive the mental and financial dependencies which they feed, especially via subliminal conduits.

Some of those who repeatedly tell folks that the proposed national identification system (NIDS) is the parent of the beast spoken about in Daniel 7, in the Bible long ago, delivered their fingerprints and related personal data to foreign powers. I believe some of them are “bad lampers” working overtime to try to keep Jamaica in a state of destitution and abject poverty.

While some bad lampers jealously protect their First World-type standards of living, they feverishly continue to romanticise and retail ideas of poverty, while some tacitly and otherwise glorify the “suffera mentality” in the eyes of the general public. This blot should have been extinct from the 70s, but, sadly, this dinosaur survived.

Their promotion of timid ignorance is unworthy. It is not beyond us to devise and implement a fit-for-purpose NIDS, while protecting our constitutional rights.

I believe we are able to walk and chew gum at the same time.

I hear/see some in media, including persons of the cloth, effectively telling Jamaicans that they should refuse a COVID-19 vaccine when and/or if one is developed. Their reasons are fuzzy, at best. I declare that as soon as a safe vaccine for COVID-19 is approved by the relevant global authorities and made available to the general public I am prepared to be the first volunteer to receive it.

Millions of lives have been saved by vaccines. Consider this from the Cleveland Clinic, one of the best health and medical research facilities in the world: '13 Vaccines that saves lives around the world'. The publication noted, among other things:

“For hundreds of years man has been fighting disease. Since the beginning of vaccination programmes in the 20th century millions of lives have been saved. Simply put, not being vaccinated can be a matter of life and death.” ( https://health.clevelandclinic.org/vaccines-that-save-lives-around-the-world-infographic/, January 14, 2014)

I have also heard some in media preaching that 5G technology is part of a sinister plot to usher in a special microchip which will be placed on the right hand or in the forehead. They trumpet that this is a precursor to the arrival of the anti-Christ. They sing that 5G technology is a cause of COVID-19, and shout that the severely infectious novel coronavirus was invented in a laboratory.

They would do well to consider this bit of evidence: “The novel SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus that emerged in the city of Wuhan, China, last year and has since caused a large-scale COVID-19 epidemic and spread to more than 70 other countries is the product of natural evolution, according to findings published today in the journal Nature Medicine.

“The analysis of public genome sequence data from SARS-CoV-2 and related viruses found no evidence that the virus was made in a laboratory or otherwise engineered.

“ 'By comparing the available genome sequence data for known coronavirus strains, we can firmly determine that SARS-CoV-2 originated through natural processes,' said Kristian Andersen, PhD, an associate professor of immunology and microbiology at Scripps Research and corresponding author on the paper.

“In addition to Andersen, authors on the paper, 'The proximal origin of SARS-CoV-2', include Robert F Garry, of Tulane University; Edward Holmes, of the University of Sydney; Andrew Rambaut, of University of Edinburgh; W Ian Lipkin, of Columbia University.

“Coronaviruses are a large family of viruses that can cause illnesses ranging widely in severity. The first known severe illness caused by a coronavirus emerged with the 2003 Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) epidemic in China. A second outbreak of severe illness began in 2012 in Saudi Arabia with the Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS).” ( ScienceDaily, March 17, 2020)

Check this: 'OUR says 5G technology is not in Jamaica'. The news item said, inter alia: “The Office of Utilities Regulation (OUR) yesterday said that there is currently no deployment of 5G technology in Jamaica, and “none of the existing mobile telecommunication providers has advised of any definite plans for the immediate implementation of this technology.

“The OUR, which regulates the telecommunications industry, said that regulatory agencies and experts worldwide have repeatedly said that there is no connection between 5G technology and COVID-19. It said, too, that 5G technologies have the potential to facilitate increased productivity and data handling.

“Experts said that 5G technology makes mobile and Internet communications much faster, but conspiracy theorists say that the radiation from these towers can weaken people's immune system, making them prone to illness. However, the World Health Organization said that after much research, 'no adverse health effect has been causally linked with exposure to wireless technologies'.” ( Jamaica Star, April 16, 2020)

Bring it on!

I anticipate that some will chide me for writing this article. I defend your right so to do. I expect some will label me an atheist. I am not an atheist. I am an unapologetic believer in God. Unlike some, however, I do realise that a belief in God is not incompatible with a belief in science, and by science I am not talking about Obeah.

Galileo famously said: “I do not feel obliged to believe that the same God who has endowed us with sense, reason, and intellect has intended us to forgo their use.”

I think those who have been educated, especially at significant public expense, have more than a responsibility, we have a duty to assist our fellow countrymen to cultivate literate habits that will advance all of us. The swift embrace of beneficial technologies is crucial. The Japanese have recognised this for hundreds of years.

I believe we must cultivate a thirst for technological advancement. We can become the technological equals of other nations. Singapore achieved this magnificent feat in less than 40 years. Singapore is slightly smaller than our parish of St Thomas, with fewer natural resources. I have written several articles on the rise of Singapore.

I believe we have that potential and resources to become the equivalent of Singapore in the Caribbean and Latin America. As a start, we need seismic shifts in the social, political, and economic status quo along the lines that I have discussed in recent previous articles, if we are to realise that goal.

The wholesaling and retailing of superstitious beliefs, religiously-tinged or not, add to the miserable quotient of ignorance which already exist in too many spheres of our public life. It does absolutely no good.

Dr Martin Luther King Jr, said “The function of education is to teach one to think intensively and to think critically. Intelligence plus character — that is the goal of true education.” I agree.

I am firmly opposed to those who spread and promote superstitious beliefs which politically, socially, and economically retard and maim our people. We must reply on facts and science, not superstitious claptrap.

Garfield Higgins is an educator and journalist. Send comments to the Jamaica Observer or higgins160@yahoo.com.

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