Columns

Relationship, democracy, right, and wrong

Al Miller

Sunday, March 10, 2019

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Loyalty means I am down with you whether you are wrong or right, but I will tell you when you are wrong and help you get it right. — Anonymous, from Quoteambition.com

Two Sundays ago I posited that there has been a concern in Jamaica that we have been disloyal and disrespectful in our relationship with Venezuela. Let me thank our readers of this column and especially those who take the time to respond. Much lively discussion and strong views were expressed underscoring the fact that strong ideological positions are held. We appreciate all who respond.

Most responses were healthy discourse. For some others, not so healthy as they revealed political urinary tract infections whose symptoms seemed to be brightly coloured orange or green “pee pee” that seems to easily affect so many of us.

On the healthy side, a reader identified as Mark Chue firmly stated that Jamaica's loyalty must lie firstly with Jamaica and not the affairs of others. The Government has no choice but to force a takeover of Petrojam. This is simply a business decision. It is unwise and foolish to let personal feelings, politics and sentiment cloud sound business decisions.

I wholeheartedly agree that our Government's loyalty must first reflect a loyalty to us. However, Mark, for small-island states like Jamaica, in the construct of world politics, the reality is that we must form alliances and choose carefully with whom it will form those alliances. The notion of non-alliance in our world is really an absurd and impossible concept. A position has to be taken! The taken position then tends to affect our decision-making, which sometimes leads us to make decisions which are driven by anything except solid principles.

Alliances are not-perfect relationships

The alliance formed may not by any means be perfect, nor does it mean you agree with all beliefs or actions of the party with whom you are allied. Choice of alliances is often influenced by ideology, religion, geography, and economics. There was a time when ideological lines were clear and strongly drawn. They have not been as pronounced in recent times as globalisation has had some impact in blurring the lines. The fact is that ideological, religious, geographic, and economic influences have not been erased; they have only been covered over by political 'climate change' and will quickly resurface with any change in the political weather.

Another reader, who identifies himself as Holy Perv, noted that it's extremely convenient right now to talk about doing the right thing for the people of Venezuela. We are fakes. We should stop taking communist China's money as well. Why? The people in China aren't free and there is no democracy.

Again, I fully agree.

My suggested principled approach to decision-making and alliances in my last article should be applied to our current relationship with China. The media is littered with reports of human rights abuses in China and the suppression of freedoms and Christian churches. Yet we seemingly overlook them and behave as if our relationship with China is the best thing since sliced bread. Again, evidence of economics over principles.

Did the People's National Party (PNP) Government of the day when we first pursued the China loan avenue raise the concerns about the human rights issues on principle? Did the current Government, in maintaining the hot pursuit of China, raise concerns for its people? The indicators suggest, unlikely.

Again, as we said about Venezuela: It is never too late to do right.

A reader named Iceman raised the issue of my case nine years ago. Sufficient to say, I acted based on principles by which I have lived for a long time. In time, greater clarity will be given, but in all things wisdom has to be applied. In that situation, I applied the principles of my convictions. When you act on your convictions it does not mean you may not pay a price to do right, especially when dealing with a corrupt system and corrupt police force. But, let us be grateful for the measure of improvements that are now taking place in the force under its new-era leadership. Corruption is inevitable where principle is not the governing behaviour.

Based on the number of responses and the passionate intensity of the citizens who took the time to respond to the column it would seem that issues of loyalty and respect are important principles for many readers. Yet, both locally and internationally, it seems like these principles are being constantly eroded or sidelined for the sake of expediency, ideology and economics.

Take, for example, our upcoming by-election in Portland Eastern. Classism misspeak (Damion Crawford) and election date blunder (Andrew Holness) aside, the next most talked-about issue for many is the allegation of potential vote-buying. I am told that, in general, with vote buying, both major parties are involved, with the most prevalent vote-buyer being the party fortunate enough to be the most monied by our business class for the particular election involved.

If those allegations are correct, then it means that both our Government and private sector are culpable in this matter.

Vote-buying is an open secret. Noted anthropologist and The University of the West Indies lecturer Dr Herbert Gayle conducted a poll during the run-up to the general election in November 2011 in which he found that vote-buying was evident in 26 of the 27 constituencies polled. Some argue that vote-buying doesn't affect much, especially when both parties practise it.

Chief of staff to the Oyo state governor of Nigeria, Ojo, correctly observed in an article in the online African newspaper Punch, [When] the ballot becomes cash and carry and the highest bidder gets the trophy the elected candidate may be a demagogue who has a deep pocket. When vote-buying percolates to the legislature, where money becomes the language of politics, the quality of legislation becomes nothing.

Our own Omar Francis, writing in this newspaper just before the general election of 2016, put it succinctly: “The practice of buying votes is both illegal and corrupt but, even greater than being wrong, vote-buying perverts a democratic system.” Francis, vice-chairman of the well-known political youth group Generation 2000, then elaborates:

“The main principle in a democracy is that the majority rules. The political parties are [therefore] expected to campaign and to provide the better argument, thus convincing the majority that they have the better message and vision... [There is] disproportionate influence of vote-buying on the most vulnerable members of the society that arguably have a greater need than the community in which they reside. Given that this group is most likely to be the people that vote on election day, they will have an overwhelming impact on the election result. Elected officials, therefore, will have no one to be accountable to. This is both because it can be said they have already paid for their post, and also because they were not elected based on their accountability. ( Jamaica Observer, February 20, 2016)

I appeal to our political and private sector leaders, on behalf of all good citizens: Stop playing with our democracy! Convince us to vote for you based on policy issues and on principles. Convince us to vote for you based on the practical development you deliver to the constituency you desire to represent. Stop taking the expedient and destructive political road of buying votes.

We have all been watching the evolution of supposedly the world's most successful capitalist democracy. Who would have thought that socialism in various forms would once again be gaining popularity, least of all in the good ole USA! Some would argue that it's the excesses of President Donald Trump that have facilitated the rise of socialism once again. However, I would remind those who so argue that Senator Bernie Sanders and his democratic socialism ideas and policies were gaining popularity before Trump was elected. Remember, Sanders narrowly lost to Clinton as the Democrats' choice to go up against Trump for president. There are still those who think that he would have beaten Trump. Some conservatives see Trump as the last stand against growing socialist ideology.

Corey Lewandowski, opinion contributor in the online newspaper The Hill, wrote in his Ash Wednesday column, that Trump was great at the Conservative Political Action Conference last weekend, where he said: “America will never be a socialist country...ever.” There are a number of Democratic socialists running for president right now who want to transform America into a socialist nightmare like we are seeing in Venezuela today. Thankfully, President Trump will fight the socialist ideas that have become mainstream in the new Democratic Party.

I am not here batting for capitalism, especially the type currently being espoused by the USA Republican Party. However, even socialists would agree that our past experience with socialism here in Jamaica, and that which we currently see in Venezuela, is an ideology of expediency. Hardly does positive socialist rhetoric and positive socialist action align themselves.

More often than not, socialist ideology espouses ideas such as “the end justifies the means” and deterioration into authoritarianism seems an inevitable scenario in all socialist experiments so far. (See Ethiopia, Cambodia, Cuba, Angola, North Korea, Vietnam, Iraq, Syria, Burma, Laos, and, of course, the Soviet Union and China.)

Professor at Georgetown University Paul D Miller, in an article of August 5, 2018 titled, 'Why Socialism Is Bad... A discredited ideology returns to mainstream discourse', powerfully argues for his stand on this ideological issue:

“The Soviet Union was the largest, longest, and most ambitious effort to implement socialism in human history. It was also an evil, totalitarian slave state that survived only by militarising all of society and sustaining a permanent state of emergency for seven decades. As soon as it began to relax, it collapsed. If socialism failed in its biggest and most intensive effort, there is no strong reason to believe it will succeed elsewhere.

“History bears out the verdict of political theory: Socialism is a bad idea that results not in economic freedom, but political servitude. A critic, or a socialist, may reply that we just need to give it one more try; or that it failed because it wasn't implemented correctly; or that we now know how to do it right. But trying the same thing over and over again and expecting different results is insanity. By that rubric, the current resurgence of socialism in America is, quite literally, insane.”

Socialism is not a principled ideology. Not that many socialist concepts are not good and worthy of application in many spheres, but it is not without note that the far left-leaning philosophy tends to be atheistic and low on Judeo-Christian values. The far right tends to be fanatical and self-serving. Both extremes lean toward becoming dictatorial and oppressive. The end result being every form of human rights violations and therefore low on principle-centred actions.

It becomes obvious that what best maintains the balance for a healthy society is a values- and principle-centred approach. We must look for and choose leaders who are evidently principle-centred and we should know what informs their life principles.

What we must also understand is that if government leaders, if private sector leaders, if you and I do not live our lives based on principle, then trust becomes lost, expediency becomes the rule, instability sneaks in, and corruption flourishes.

Where principle-centred leadership is not present such unprincipled leaders cannot be trusted to serve the best interests of the people. They can be expected to be loyal only to themselves. Self-interest and other interests, such as money and power, will always guide their decision-making. The ongoing problems in Venezuela is evidence of this. Our own political history is replete with this reality. Extricating ourselves from this is vital to building the new Jamaica.

So, whether it is our relationship with Venezuela, by-election campaigning, or capitalist versus socialist ideology, we cannot view loyalty as a matter of blindly following along. Loyalty embraces principles of right and wrong. Loyalty means that I will tell you when you are wrong and help you get it right.

Rev Al Miller is pastor of Fellowship Tabernacle. Send comments to the Observer or pastormilleroffice@gmail.com.


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