Irresponsible behaviour and the promotion of ignorance
Destruction caused by Hurricane Fiona in Rose Blanche, 45 kilometres east of Port aux Basques, Newfoundland and Labrador, Canada on Saturday, September 24, 2022.Photo: AP

I sincerely hope the police will arrest and charge the two miscreants who were seen in a video appearing to damage the padlock on the gate leading to the flooded Bog Walk Gorge last Monday while the outer bands of Tropical Storm Ian dumped heavy rain on the island.

"It is clear malicious destruction of property and they are not supposed to do that; it is there for safety purposes so they shouldn't be breaching it either. We are trying to find them because we are wondering why they would be trying to do that," said Assistant Commissioner of Police Gary McKenzie, who heads the Public Safety and Traffic Enforcement Branch.

He further stated that under the Jamaica Constabulary Force Act, "police have the authority to close any road that is likely to be danger to the public".

"We have met the enemy and the enemy is us," said noted American animator and cartoonist Walt Kelly Jr.

Indiscipline is one of our biggest enemies. Stupidity is the champion of indiscipline. Those who cheer on stupidity, are cruel drolls.

Paradigm Shift Needed

A conscientious citizen sent me a video last Monday that captured people walking quite contentedly in knee-high water which had flowed onto the road from the Rio Cobre during the torrential rains.

"I am patient with stupidity, but not with those who are proud of it," said famed British poet Edith Sitwell. I share that view.

Acceptance of personal responsibility does not fetch a premium, nor is it a big vote-getter in our country. I suspect that is a large part of the explanation as to why so many of our citizens believe someone else is responsible for their every action, or inaction, and must, therefore, bear the consequences of either.

Quite frankly, I think it is time we stop babysitting the feelings of people who are intent on being downright irresponsible.

Mollycoddling people who choose to ignore even the most basic rules of self-preservation has not benefited this country. It is time for a radical shift.

Last Sunday, I heard several advisories from the authorities warning fisherfolk to leave the cays and head for the mainland. Sections of the media reported later in the day that some 70 people opted to stay on the cays. I am glad that the authorities made it abundantly clear that those who opted to stay would not be rescued if that meant rescuers would have to put their own lives in great peril. But, how did we get to this sad state of affairs?

There was a time in this country when it was fashionable, very fashionable, for politicians to overtly tell folks that the purpose of a Government was to wipe their every tear, and soothe their every sorrow. Reality then hit us right smack in the face and the country was forced to realise the folly of that approach well, a section of the country at any rate. We still have large sections of our country who have not got the memo that personal responsibility, means just that, personal responsibility. I think leadership at every level in this country needs to join forces to spread the message of personal responsibility.

Consequences Matter!

While we ramp up the message of personal responsibility, we have to simultaneously talk about consequences. Numerous studies have found that people obey rules not because they are innately predisposed to obedience but more so because of consequences for disobedience.

One of our long-standing challenges is our low enforcement environment. One of its very terrible results is that large sections of the society have come to believe that 'bandoolism', 'blyism', and skulduggery are as Jamaican as the local patty. They have adopted the self-deprecating thought process of "A so di ting set."

Until there is a complete social reorientation of this society, where the vast majority whether, rich or poor come to understand and expect sure and swift sanctions for anti-social and illegal behaviours, we are going to continue to have miscreants trying to pry open the floodgates of the gorge and worse. And we are going to see more people from uptown, midtown, and downtown trying to 'beat the system'. Consequences matter!

If people know they can get away scot-free by beating the system, they will. I believe consequences are powerful adhesives in society. When that adhesion is fractured and/or ripped apart, the result is usually a state of affairs where it is each man for himself. When this happens, a society's critical social foundations become nearly untenable.

I do not buy the argument that ignorance is the primary reason for illegal and anti-social behaviours in our society. In a similar fashion, I do not buy the view that poverty causes crime.

There is a conspicuous reticence in our society for telling folks that there is nothing sexy about being irresponsible. There is even a greater unwillingness to tell people frontally that when one decides to defy the laws of common sense, gravity, and self-preservation especially where there is a clear working alternative, the State will not extend or expend any resources. I think it is time we let people know that ignorance is not bliss. And stupidity is not a gold standard, except in twisted echo chambers on social media.

Huge Cost

We are paying dearly as a society for not putting a premium on personal responsibility.

National Works Agency Communications Manager Stephen Shaw reported that: "The floodgates were constructed at a cost of $100 million and were aimed at curtailing the loss of lives during heavy rains.

"The gates were put up for safety of the persons to prevent persons from going in there when it is flooded," Shaw stated, adding that had the men breached the closed gates, they risked losing their lives as well as harming the passengers in the parked...bus." (Jamaica Star, September 27, 2022)

I heard Shaw on a radio programme saying that last Monday's attempts to remove the lock was not the first. He said, in the past, people have actually torn off the floodgates to gain access to the flooded gorge. Is it that these people have a death wish? No! I think they have simply come to recognise that the enforcement of consequences is lacking. And moreover, precious State resources are often used to bail them out.

Last Saturday, while the authorities were warning that we should treat the updates from our Meteorological Office with great seriousness, social media was buzzing with posts telling folks, tacitly and otherwise, that they should remain 'easy like Sunday morning'.

The sad thing is that some bought into the stupidity. In recent years Jamaica has been very fortunate to escape direct hits from several weather systems which were said to be heading straight for us, but suddenly changed direction. Laugh if you wish, but I think our good fortune is evidence of God's timetable as He works through Mother Nature.

The reality is, at some point we will be hit by another big hurricane like Gilbert, which slammed into Jamaica on September 12, 1998. Recall the human and infrastructural cost were immense. Gladly, by November of the same year Jamaica was reopened for business. The Administration at the time, led by Edward Seaga, did a Herculean job. They received plaudits locally, regionally and internationally for returning the country to near normality in less than 12 weeks, after being hit by one of the most powerful storms of this century.

Anyway, as late as last Sunday, scores of people were saying that they had made no or little preparation for Ian. Renowned French poet and novelist Paul Bourget famously said, "There are conditions of blindness so voluntary that they become complicit." I agree!

I am almost certain that if Ian had been a direct hit on Jamaica, some of these irresponsible people would demand that their electricity, water, and other amenities be returned pronto. From them would come some familiar refrains:

"Government nah do nutten fi the people dem."

"Two days now and mi need fi bathe and mi baby need fi bathe, Is what Holness a gwaan wid?"

"I cannot live without the water heater. Lord, when is this misery going to end."

"The gas station lines are so long, I just cannot endure it."

I am not, for one moment, advocating that our authorities should be tardy in the return of basic services to our population after natural and/or other types of disasters. I am simply saying that as citizens we have a critical personal responsibility function. There will be mad-made and/or natural disasters that will cause even the most competent governments to be temporarily ineffectual.

Resurrecting falsehoods

Last week, some people, for reasons best known to them, lifted a crumpled leaf from an old political play book and tried to read it aloud as if it were Pulitzer prize material. "The flooding across the country is the result of blocked drains," they shouted. "Clean the drains, clean the drains now," they bellowed. Even some sections of the media succumbed, I think, consciously to the "clean the drains" legerdemain.

One does not need a degree in civil or structural engineering to realise that when the ground becomes saturated, flooding is the result. This is a reality in rich and poor countries alike.

No amount of drain cleaning will prevent flooding when the ground is saturated/over-saturated after heavy, continuous rain. I expect some will torture what I have said here for their narrow purposes. They will conclude that I am advocating tardiness as regard drain cleaning. I am not. I agree, we need to do more drain cleaning and on a more timely basis in this country. To conclude, however, that the widespread flooding last week was due to a national lack of drain cleaning is simply false.

Consider this:

"Rescue workers and residents of Florida's Gulf Coast searched for missing people and picked up the pieces from wrecked homes on Thursday after Hurricane Ian tore through the area with howling winds, torrential rains and raging surf and caused massive power outages.

"One of the mightiest storms to hit the US mainland in recent years, Ian flooded communities before ploughing across the peninsula to the Atlantic seaboard. Local power companies said more than 2.5 million homes and businesses in Florida remained without power." (Reuters, September 28, 2022)

And check this: "Hundreds of thousands of people in Atlantic Canada remained without power Sunday and officials tried to assess the scope of devastation from former Hurricane Fiona, which swept away houses, stripped off roofs, and blocked roads across the country's Atlantic provinces. After surging north from the Caribbean, Fiona came ashore before dawn Saturday as a post-tropical cyclone, battering Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island, Newfoundland and Quebec with hurricane-strength winds, rains and waves." (The Gleaner, September 25, 2022)

I could cite numerous other examples where saturated ground caused massive flooding in Australia, Italy, France, Germany and many other developed countries since the start of this year, but I think reasonable people will accept the point that drain cleaning, in and of itself does not prevent flooding.

I think those who resurrect the mangy horse of drain cleaning as the cause of national flooding need to understand that they are succeeding in only one thing, that is chipping away at whatever shed of credibility they have left.

Now, in our 60th year of Independence, we need to frown on and outrightly reject those who encourage irresponsible behaviours, hoist stupidity via social media and elsewhere and resurrect falsehoods to promote ignorance. If we fail we will become a pariah State.

Garfield Higgins is an educator, journalist and a senior advisor to the minister of education & youth. Send comments to Jamaica Observer or higgins160@yahoo.com

A motorist drives through flood water on Marcus Gavery in St Andrew during heavy rain associated with the passage of Tropical Storm Ian. (Photo: Joseph Wellington)
A flooded trailer park in Fort Myers, Florida, after the passage of Hurricane Ian on Thursday, September 29, 2022 (Photo: AP)
MCKENZIE... the police have the authority to close any road that is likely to be a danger to the public
Garfield Higgins

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