The rougher side of human nature seems bent on not being subdued

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The rougher side of human nature seems bent on not being subdued

Garfield Higgins

Sunday, March 22, 2020

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If it's not your own tooth, you may as well chew gravel with it. — Tigrinya proverb, Eritrea/Ethiopia

Checking with the US Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and History.com will assust in compiling a list of pandemics that are among the deadliest over the last 700 years. See pandemics table.

These diseases were brutal and unrelenting killers of millions of people globally.

Thankfully, spectacular improvements in medicine have tamed the outbreak of recent illnesses like severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS), the H1N1 (swine flu), Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS), and Ebola. I hope that the novel coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) will be medically subjugated soon. Regrettably, the rougher side of human nature will not be subdued any time soon.

Last Monday, I listened to a most interesting programme on British Broadcasting Corporation ( BBC), The History Hour. It centred on major pandemics.

To illustrate how tragic circumstances often bring out the worst in many human beings, the narrator made references to the extreme callousness that overtook people around the globe as the deadly Spanish Flu ravaged their societies.

After the disease landed on the shores of South Africa, for example, gravediggers became almost a rarity. If one had been found, his fees were so astronomical that only the very rich could afford his sunless services. Purely, a matter of supply and demand, some may say.

The narrator noted that the afflicted were frequently too weak to dig graves to the required depth of six feet to bury loved ones who had succumbed to the dreaded illness. Graves were typically dug only three feet or less in most instances.

The narrator also recounted that when those already diseased by the Spanish Flu got to the cemetery they simply flung the emaciated bodies of their dead relatives into holes which had been dug, or were being dug, by those who had got to the burial ground before them. This caused fights, several people were stabbed, and some succumbed to their injuries on the spot.

Recently I read a most interesting article in the Smithsonian Magazine, entitled 'How the horrific 1918 flu spread across America', which also highlighted man's inhumanity to man during great adversity. It said, among other things: “In Philadelphia, the head of Emergency Aid pleaded, “All who are free from the care of the sick at home... report as early as possible...on emergency work.” But volunteers did not come.

The Bureau of Child Hygiene begged people to take in — just temporarily — children whose parents were dying or had died. Few replied. Emergency Aid again pleaded, “We simply must have more volunteer helpers...These people are almost all at the point of death. Won't you...come to our help?” Just human nature, you may say.

I saw a documentary on History (formerly The History Channel from 1995 to 2008) recently which noted that some cruel landlords forced female tenants into prostitution so that they could settle debts during the Bubonic plague.

There is a severely mean streak in us humans.

Business is just that...business

Last week traditional and social media lit up with reports that some local merchants had been involved in price gouging. Almost overnight they added astronomical mark-ups to hand sanitisers, certain toiletries, some common cleaning agents like bleach, rubbing alcohol, and some basic food items. Information in the public domain says there is no shortage of the mentioned and/or related items in the country.

Folks must 'walk wide' of these modern-day Shylocks, who insist on extracting a pound of flesh from even the meagre.

I am sure they sleep as content as babies at night.

Some consumers, because of limited economic wherewithal, cannot pick, chose, and refuse where they spend their hard-earned money. Nevertheless, we should not submit to the 'hold dung and tek weh' strategies of unconscionable merchants. Business gluttons must also be exposed.

Those who say the invisible hand of the market will put these gluttons in good stead are living in a cloud cuckoo land. Conscientious citizens must work in close association with our Consumer Affairs Commission and related bodies, especially at this time, to ensure that these gluttons do not develop financial gout, which some economic historians say was common among economic gormandisers during the Great Depression of 1929-1939.

The unquenchable heat of public condemnation must also be turned on those who steal masks and other critical medical supplies from our hospitals. This headline, 'Tufton condemns mask thieves as cops raid funeral home', must serve as another wake-up call that something is extremely rotten in the state of Jamaica.

The news items said, among other things: “His warning came hours before 25 cases of gloves and masks suspected of being stolen from Kingston Public Hospital were seized by the Counter-Terrorism and Organised Crime (C-TOC) arm of the Jamaica Constabulary Force yesterday.

Tufton said there were nearly 40 cases.

Senior Superintendent of Police Stephanie Lindsay confirmed that the raid took place at Brown's Funeral Home located at 51-55 North Street in Kingston. ( The Gleaner, March 14, 2020)

If this and related acts of depravity do not churn your stomach, well, God bless you, richly.

The benighted actions of some of our transport operators, most notably taxi drivers, doubtless, would have caused well-thinking Jamaicans to swallow more than a normal dose of antacids last week.

If any taxi driver, Heaven forbid, gets infected with COVID-19, our health workers are among essential staff on the front lines of the war against the disease who will have to help nurse them back to good health. Refusing to transport our vitally important health workers is counter-intuitive thinking on steroids.

But maybe we should not be surprised at the deep expanse of voluntary ignorance of some of these taxi drivers. And, please don't tell me nonsense about limited formal education. I grew in deep-rural St Mary. My grand kin, as an example, never had much in the way of formal education, but they were very informed on myriad subjects. How come? They took time to inform themselves by reading books, listening to the radio, and reading the newspaper. No one, and I mean no one, could have them buy into any nonsense. Ah, but that was a different time, some might say. Times are always different. There is no excuse for voluntary ignorance in the Information Age. Ignorance is simply not bliss.

Those who did not grab for an extra dose of antacids last week, in response to the rotten behaviour of some taxi drivers, certainly would have reached for their paracetamol or ibuprofen when they read that Edgeton Newman, head of the Transport Operators Development Sustainable Services (TODSS), made an imbecilic attempt to dismiss popular scorn of the actions of some of his members.

Headline: 'Stinging response from transport boss about PPVs [public passenger vehicles] boycotting nurses'

The news item said, inter alia: “According to Edgeton Newman, head of the Transport Operators Development Sustainable Services (TODSS), he is in full support of the transport operators' concerns and actions. ( Loop, Jamaica, March 15, 2020)

Good going, but...

The Andrew Holness-led Administration has been doing a very good job at managing the COVID-19 crisis. This, of course, does not mean that they have got everything perfect; no Administration can or every will.

The reactions in our highways and byways, and on social media, in particular, have been overwhelmingly favourable.

The international community has also recognised the efforts of the Administration as evidenced here:

“Thank you so much for your leadership — and preparedness — for #COVID19, @christufton. #Jamaica Being ready for #coronavirus is key to pushing it back fast. Together, for a safer world!,” World Health Organization (WHO) Director General Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus posted on Twitter. ( Jamaica Observer, March 18, 2020)

Last Tuesday, the United States Ambassador to Jamaica Donald Tapia said in a tweet: “We want to congratulate the GoJ [Government of Jamaica] and the MoHW for its timely reporting of COVID-19 cases and aggressive containment strategy. The MoHW [Ministry of Health and Wellness] has shown that one of the best defences is appropriate public sensitisation on preventative methods and the importance of early case recognition.”

If we apply dispassionate systems of measurement it becomes evident that Prime Minister Andrew Holness, the Minister of Health and Wellness Dr Christopher Tufton, and Finance Minister Dr Nigel Clarke in particular, have all done a very creditable job.

I believe we have won back a lot of respect which we lost during the cock-ups in 2014/15. Recall, Dr Fenton Ferguson, and the People's National Party's (PNP) mismanagement of the chikungunya epidemic and other health-related crises.

The political busybodies who are desperately trying to convince the public that the Holness Administration is falling down on the job of managing the coronavirus outbreak need to be guided by the logic of this very potent commercial which airs on CNN frequently: “This is an apple. Some people might try and tell you that it's a banana,” the ad copy reads. “They might scream, 'Banana, banana, banana' over and over and over again. They might put BANANA in all caps. You might even start to believe that this is a banana. But it's not. This is an apple. Facts first!”

Those who are working overtime to promote ignorance and confusion must take note of this crucial caution by Abraham Lincoln, the 16th and most celebrated of American presidents. Lincoln famously said, “You can fool all the people some of the time, and some of the people all the time, but you cannot fool all the people all the time.”

Political own-goals

Two Sundays ago, I wrote in my column inter alia: “I think that if the Opposition PNP misses the opportunity to demonstrate mature leadership when the coronavirus infection comes ashore, 89 Old Hope Road will succeed in further devaluing its political stocks. In fact, from a purely political perspective, when COVID-19 is confirmed in Jamaica, it will be an opportunity for the PNP to redeem itself from the disastrous mismanagement of the chikungunya outbreak in 2014.” ( Jamaica Observer, March 8, 2020)

This statement by the Leader of Her Majesty's Loyal Opposition and PNP President Dr Peter Phillips gave me a niggling feeling about whether 89 Old Hope Road was going to put all its weight alongside the national effort to combat COVID-19: “We are prepared to help to manage the crisis if called upon by the Government. We are willing to work in every area and guide the Government through the economic crisis, crime, and the corona crisis,” Dr Phillips said. ( The Gleaner, March 2, 2020)

Note “guide” [to show the way or pilot]. The conspicuous irony and political double-speak were obvious to me.

I was not surprised last Saturday, therefore, when Basil Waite, deputy general secretary for the PNP and caretaker for St Elizabeth North Eastern; Imani Duncan-Price, caretaker for Kingston Central; Wavell Hinds, caretaker for Hanover Eastern; and other PNP standard-bearers put out posters with numbers which were different from the official COVID-19 information numbers of our Ministry of Health and Wellness.

For the umpteenth time Dr Phillips has not condemned what I believe are nationally damaging actions of his political lieutenants.

This is a harbinger.

I believe this was a coordinated attempt by 89 Old Hope Road to create confusion. The deluge of criticisms of well-thinking Jamaicans, especially on social media, quickly silenced the noise from the bad plumbing of the PNP.

Did the PNP not learn anything from the political embarrassment caused by the ill-advised actions of Patricia Duncan-Sutherland in the recent by-election in Clarendon South Eastern? Recall Duncan-Sutherland and her supporters were photographed in white T-shirts marked “Observer” outside polling stations, even though the PNP said it had boycotted the by-election. Duncan Sutherland said on radio that she was using the by-election as an opportunity to canvass voters. Was this an attempt at voter suppression, or worse?

Recall also that co-chairs of the election centre, Director of Elections Glasspole Brown and Political Ombudsman Donna Parchment Brown, condemned Duncan-Sutherland's action. She ultimately was subdued by an avalanche of public pressure and, thereafter, dispensed with her “Take me to court” boast.

She then tendered what I believe was a pseudo-apology.

This and other recent and numerous political own-goals by the PNP suggest to me that they have a political death wish for themselves.

On their present trajectory they will, in all likelihood, suffer an almighty crash.

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


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