A state of paralysisFriday, April 30, 2021
On August 6, 2022 Jamaica, our island home, will be celebrating 60 years of having gained political independence. Regrettably, this developing nation is yet to attain economic independence. This is most depressing and uninspiring, because I am beginning to wonder if, in my lifetime, such an elusive dream will become a reality.
It is said that Jamaicans have a solution to every problem and a problem for every solution. Divided by political partisanship, religious bigotry, social and economic discrimination, Jamaica continues to befuddle all logical thinking in terms of why there has been so much persistent poverty, mendicancy and criminal violence.
Back in 1961, then Premier Norman Washington Manley felt that the best way forward was to become part of the West Indies Federation. The legal luminary-turned-politician and Renaissance man put his fortunes on the line by calling a referendum which he lost. His arch-rival, then Labour leader extraordinaire-turned-politician, Alexander Bustamante, turned the tide against him, stating inter alia that Jamaica ought not to accommodate “paupers” (referring to the Caribbean islands that would form part of the Federation). Ironically, today, most of these “pauperised” nations are doing far better than Jamaica, which remains, for the most part, an impoverished country. In the meantime, Federation's seemingly bastardised successor, Caricom, has become a glorified talk shop still plagued by those inherent characteristics which continue to divide the region rather than unite it.
Remarkably, we are not short of solutions or answers. So many studies have been done and are being done which oftentimes point us in the right direction, but most of these end up in “file 13” or are watered down to a state of ineffectiveness. To put it bluntly, we are very good at analysing and criticising just about everything ad nauseam. And by the time all the analysis has been done and the detractors have their field day by finding a rat under every rug, many golden opportunities would have been lost. To put it plainly: We chat too much and act very little!
Against this background, it must be stressed that the time has come for us to move from one crisis to another the next and seek to reach a point of synthesis. Unfortunately, we seem to be in a “state of chronic” (paralysis). Those who have been exposed to dialectical reasoning would be aware that synthesis is the final stage in the process in which a new idea resolves the conflict between thesis and antithesis. So, in the normal scheme of things, one should move from crisis to analysis followed by thesis, antithesis and ultimately synthesis.
The media, unfortunately, has helped to fuel this exercise in futility by focusing too much on newsbites and so-called scandals. There is persistent intellectual masturbation in the pages of most newspapers as columnists try to outdo each other as to who can come up with the best turn of phrase or headline-grabbing commentary which, when put to the test, comes up short in terms of balance, rationality and common sense. (Mea culpa, perhaps?)
Some talk show hosts, it would appear, feel that, as far as is possible, they must rip the politicians and the political parties to shreds with sadistic glee while their eyes are glued to the ratings, as more listenership leads to more revenue. After all, it is so easy to beat up on the Government of the day, analysing the problems to death, but coming up most times with very few solutions. Of course, there are those who must perforce sing for their supper. In this regard, we are our worst enemies, and so we continue to shoot ourselves in the foot.
Quoting from distinguished Jamaican journalist Ewart Walters' book We Come From Jamaica, unsung hero O T Fairclough, who not only founded the Public Opinion newspaper but the People's National Party, said in his first editorial, “Jamaica is not without a large body of men and women who are sincerely anxious to understand the state of this country and the duties laid upon them by its problems. They are not blind to evils which threaten the island from within, nor are they deaf to the noise and commotion of the outer world. They frequently look towards the future with grave misgivings.”
“But where is one to begin?” he asked. His response, “The first necessity is that those who have at heart projects of social, economic and political reform should pool their ideas — and, still more important — understand their own strength. This does not mean that mere discussion is enough: There is abundance of ineffective discussion at present. Discussion must be directed into practical channels: It must be regulated, not be casual individual opinions, but by the sum of individual thought. In other words, there must be an effective public opinion on topics of importance.”
Those views were expressed in 1937, long before the attainment of self-government and, ultimately, political independence. Today, well over half a century into self-(determination?), Jamaica still pays homage to Her Majesty The Queen Elizabeth II, her heirs and successors; uses the British Privy Council as its final court of appeal; and is being overrun by foreign interests that, no doubt, have agendas which may not necessarily in the long run be in the best interest of the country and its people.
Here, for example, is a provocative thought: Have we ever stopped and wondered why the Chinese have so much 'love' for us? During the Cold War, Jamaica was seen as a strategic location; hence, the United States paid us a great deal of attention. China is predicted to become the world's next leading superpower by virtue of its economic boom and sheer numbers in terms of population growth as US influence has waned especially during the Donald Trump era. Can it be that Jamaica, in the future, will be a pawn in a world chess game?
When I was a boy poverty came with dignity and a sense of purpose. Many Jamaicans then believed that by the sweat of their brows they should eat bread. Today, there is a frenzy of dependency; with the politician being the main target. In this regard, our educational system has failed to produce useful and happy citizens. Many of us today who can be regarded as successful came out of that era when our parents did not depend on politicians or demeaning charity. They empowered us through education, thrift, values, and attitudes that they helped to teach us, along with teachers, who were mentors and not just purveyors of knowledge. Yes, back then, we were out to build a new Jamaica. Remember that song which Ewart Walters describes as “the expression of that spirit of community optimism and solidarity which fed the national consensus. Above all, it was a spirit of goodwill and volunteerism; for most of the people involved were cheerful volunteers, engaging in community development that was central to the national movement”.
That was why Norman Manley established Jamaica Welfare, which was to eventually metamorphose into the Social Development Commission (SDC). Our national hero must be turning in his grave when he sees what has become of the mission that he had charged succeeding generations to pursue.
Today, as I reminisce on what has been, and ponder on what should have been, it behoves all of us to develop a fixity of purpose that will transcend narrow partisan preoccupations and make us a nation built on consensus, rather than contention.
Unfortunately, our current Parliament, both the House of Representatives and the Senate, is fast losing its moral authority. Prime Minister Andrew Holness and Opposition Leader Mark Golding owe it to their generation and generations to come to wrest this beleaguered nation out of this state of paralysis.
Lloyd B Smith has been involved full-time in Jamaican media for the past 44 years. He has also served as a Member of Parliament and Deputy Speaker of the House of Representatives. He hails from western Jamaica, where he is popularly known as the Governor. Send comments to the Jamaica Observer or email@example.com.
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