An interviewer once asked Thomas Sowell, renowned American economist and social commentator: "You used to be a Marxist. What changed?"
Fanatics do not think like a Thomas Sowell. You see no matter how many facts are presented to fanatics they hold onto their beliefs like a fully-clinched vice grip. To preserve and protect their fanaticism, fanatics often build and then mentally take refuge in huge fortresses of ignorance. From their mental bunkers they wage relentless battles to deceive, especially, the unsuspecting.
I do not subscribe to the view that ignorance is bliss. One of the great millstones around the necks of many societies that fail to grow and develop is a massive overcentration of ignorance. Merchants of ignorance often come clothed in the garb of false religious teachings, antediluvian cultural superstitions, sinister political tomfoolery, and varied derivatives of these. Whenever ignorance emerges — and it frequently does from its dodgy bunker — the sanitising heat of facts must be plastered, all over it. If we fail, facts become slaves.
Six Sundays ago I said, among other things, in this space: "There is a technology revolution happening. Its consequences are and will be far-reaching, even more so than the Industrial Revolution which started in the 18th century. This revolution is changing everything and fast."
The world is being rapidly brought closer together by various modern technologies. Jamaica cannot economically strive and thrive isolated from these developments. This should be common sense. But, alas, common sense is not that common.
There are some among us who preach a loony message that Jamaica needs to be kept in a state in which we effectively rebuff and reject the technological improvements that are helping to meaningfully advance the economies of our neighbours and the global economy. We have among us, too, modern day Luddites who frequent the highways and byways and the airwaves falsely forecasting doom and gloom if Jamaica were to dear step into technological modernity. We must democratically reject the ignorance of these thought misleaders.
Hundreds live in poverty because some among us fly ignorance like a kite at Easter. While these confident men push up the misery dial, many bask in First World-type lifestyles, right here in Jamaica. I believe these charlatans, irrespective of their shiny robes, trappings, and or credentialled state, mean this society no good.
Why are some among us — including some who say they want to lead this country — so mightily upset that Jamaica aspires to embrace technologies which will make the lives of especially ordinary folks easier? They seem to prize 18th century drudgery and want it to be a staple.
Recently, Prime Minister Andrew Holness, while speaking at the Jamaica Stock Exchange (JSE) Conference, said, among other things: "Jamaica is well on its way to becoming a digital society as the Government intensifies policy support for and investments in the development of the digital economy locally."
Holness's statement has evidently put a killer bee in the britches of some, who are shouting, "The sky is falling!"
According to these pontificators of dooms day, Holness, as we say in the streets, is trying to "stop di food" (thwart the livelihood) of the 'small man'. What claptrap!
A little research would help these purveyors of backwardness to understand that societies that do not change die.
I hear some mouthing that digital technologies are part and parcel of the white man's new tools to re-enslave black people. I humbly recommend the The Economist of March 2, 2015 to these spreaders of conspiracy theories. The internationally reputable publication had an insightful piece entitled 'Why does Kenya lead the world in mobile money?'
It said, among other things: "Paying for a taxi ride using your mobile phone is easier in Nairobi than it is in New York, thanks to Kenya's world-leading, mobile-money system, M-PESA. Launched in 2007 by Safaricom, the country's largest mobile network operator, it is now used by over 17 million Kenyans, equivalent to more than two-thirds of the adult population. Around 25 per cent of the country's gross national product flows through it. M-PESA lets people transfer cash using their phones, and is by far the most successful scheme of its type on Earth."
Kenya is not the only country in Africa which is deriving massive social and economic benefits from the adoption, adaptation, and integration of modern technologies. In Rwanda and Tanzania, more so Rwanda, mobile technology and drones are being used to deliver health services to rural districts and towns. And there are numerous other countries in Africa and elsewhere around the world which are using digital technologies to improve their standard of life. Rwanda is one of the most peaceful and cleanest countries on the face of the Earth. And she has one of the fastest-growing economies in Africa and globally.
So while they are reaping massive benefits, we have people in leadership here telling folks, no, campaigning that we need to embrace backwardness 'closer than a brother'. We must reject these nonsense peddlers with every sinew.
Optional means just that
At the mentioned conference Prime Minister Holness celebrated Jamaica's boldness in being the first country to recognise its digital currency as legal tender with the introduction of JAM-DEX in 2022.
Said Holness: "No bank account is required to hold the digital currency, and you can get a digital wallet issued by a bank or authorised payment service provider with simple, customer-friendly processes for easy access."
Some, for reasons that should be obvious to anyone with a modicum of discernment, have reacted to this innovation with the retailing and wholesaling of conspiracies, deeply riveted in farcical religious dogma, and rank political opportunism.
"How is the little market lady going to survive," some bellow.
"Dem boxing food outta poor people mouth," others bleat.
And still others, "This is the Jamaican Government trying to control people's every move and facilitate the rise of the Illuminati which will usher in One-World Order," some protest.
Check this: The mentioned digital currency is 100 per cent optional.
Fearmongers deliberately and consistently neglect to mention this critical fact? Why? Their objectives and matching tools of misinformation and disinformation are situated on the creation of hysteria, not facts. Note I am not talking here about people who parted company with mathematics at long division, or individuals who did not get beyond subject-verb agreement in language arts. I am talking about individuals who are the beneficiaries of generous years of schooling at some top institutions of learning, spreading ignorance and falsehoods.
Facts are the best antidote for these types. Were they to go unchallenged they would, doubtless, succeed in putting another needless hurdle in the path of Jamaica's growth and development.
I have said here before, but it bears repeating. There are some among us who are quite happy to see Jamaica reduced to rubble, if that means they will be king of the pile. These kinds of individuals are dangerous. They pretend to be champions of the poor in their rhetoric, but their actions create the conditions that produce generational-type poverty.
Smokescreen and inertia
"We do not agree with the implementation of the national identification system (NIDS) in its present form," they holler.
Those who listen and not just hear, doubtless, would have come across this line pretty frequently in the last three years. What form do they consider acceptable? The answer is usually several variations of "In a form which is not invasive."
Newsflash, NIDS is completely voluntary too.
What could be less invasive than something which you don't have to join, become a part of, or buy? No one is standing in the public square and shouting, "Hear ye! Hear ye, on pain of death, all Jamaicans must sign on to the NIDS, or be condemned to Horizon Park Correction and Remand Centres."
I don't know of any legislation that is being enacted to force anyone to sign on to the NIDS. Ironically, many of those who repeatedly tell folks that the proposed identification system 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.
Holness, at the mentioned conference, noted that: "The national identification system (NIDS) was at present in the technical pilot phase and will clearly link citizens' physical identity with their digital identity, invariably enhancing the ease of doing business."
This has got some into a tizzy.
"No, No, No!" they scream.
What really is their endgame? Is their constant opposition a mere smokescreen?
I believe those who continue to spread falsehoods about the NIDS want the project to be derailed. Why? Derailment would satisfy their twin-objective of religious fanaticism and political points-scoring.
Jamaica must not kowtow to these stick-up men. We have been doing so for decades and the entire country has suffered terrible social and economic retardation as a consequence. The reality is 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 even know "who is who".
Some sources say former Prime Minister Michael Manley called for the establishment of a national identification system from as far back as 1977. Forty-six years later we have not achieved this objective.
This story from the Jamaica Information Service (JIS) on March 29, 2012 is one of numerous news items which illustrate how we have been paralysed by inertia, until recently:
"Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller has charged the relevant technocrats and stakeholder agencies to ensure that the national identification system (NIDS) becomes a reality this year, the 50th anniversary of Jamaica's Independence.
"[In] remarks delivered by minister with responsibility for information, Sandrea Falconer, on Wednesday, March 28, [at the] opening ceremony of a three-day NIDS seminar at the Terra Nova Hotel, Kingston, the prime minister emphasised the importance of a secure centralised identification system.
" 'The absence of a central identification system, and not having the right piece of identification, often leads to all kinds of frustrating experiences for our citizens, especially for the poor. Whether it is in applying for a job, opening a bank account, accessing services, including the services of government, or even registering for an educational opportunity,' she observed.
"The prime minister lamented that, despite the fact that the country is able to produce documents that have a high degree of security and integrity and are acceptable the world over and by the international partners, 'Jamaica does not have a central national database with the accompanying systems for verification and authentication.'
"She noted that even with the voter identification, which for many Jamaicans 'is the only piece of identification that they have', there are deficiencies. 'I know that even with my voter identification, there are issues, and we have to commend the EOJ [Electoral Office of Jamaica] for all the work that they have done.
"The NIDS, the prime minister stated, is a clear attempt to put right such frustrating experiences. 'One unique and secure ID will also reduce the risk of identity theft. Our fingerprints and other biometric data are unique to us,' she pointed out. Placing the proposed identification system within the context of national development, she stated that it will ensure that more citizens have easier access to the services of the State and, by extension, increased opportunities, which will better enable them to play a role in the development process.
" 'We must make it easier for citizens to apply for and renew such facilities as drivers' licences and filing of income and other tax returns. We must also ensure that the transactions our citizens conduct are secure,' she stated."
Technological innovations must be shaped to match our needs and the realities of our lives, I agree, but let's not become hostages to the paranoia of those who are trapped in society which no longer exists.
Garfield Higgins is an educator, journalist and a senior advisor to the minister of education and youth. Send comments to the Jamaica Observer or firstname.lastname@example.org.