The debilitating social decline in our midst affects everythingSunday, June 27, 2021
Beep! Beep! Beep! The piercing sound of the car horn still rings in my head. The vehicle's four-way flashers begged for attention. The driver and passenger windows were fully rolled down. If nothing else, the heartbreaking sight of a woman in the passenger seat, slumping towards the dashboard, should have alerted all that something was wrong. It did not!
The driver of a taxi immediately in front of the vehicle/occupants, in obvious distress, took his own sweet time, as we say in local parlance, before he turned his vehicle to the left and gave way. The 55 to 60-second delay caused by this callous motorist were precious moments galloping away, while someone's mother, maybe sister, certainly a human being, needed to get urgent medical attention.
This is not an excerpt from the Twilight Zone, which was created by Rod Serling. It is reality!
I witnessed it while standing near the entrance to the Papine Market — the one from which you can directly see sections of the University Hospital of the West Indies (UHWI). It was just after 9:00 in the morning, last Saturday.
Heartlessness is walking this land like man, as we are inclined to say in the rural parts.
There are far too many among us who have lost all sense of our common humanity. For them, nothing is sacred anymore, everything has been reduced to a primordial brew of “mi haffi eat a food”, “me, myself, and I”, and the devil take the hindmost.
It appears to me that those who specialise in setting ripe banana peels in the pathway of others are gaining the upper hand.
Lewdness, rudeness, and crassness are pervasive. Those who are above the fray are often labelled as freaks, prudes, old-timers, killjoys, and prigs. Social decline is metastasising in this country.
At the same time, many of our institutions which long ago had been established as counterbalancing forces are riveted in a state of flux and confusion. If we do not intercept and beat back this social decline, very soon, sooner than many think, we shall have a country oozing disillusionment of the kind described in T S Eliot's poem The Waste Land.
Some will doubtless say, “Oh, you are just being alarmist.” Others will say, “It is just that social media has exposed a scab which has always covered a sore, nothing more.” My assessment is that a cauldron long at the boil is about to burst its lid.
Consider this: “Distressing, deplorable, dastardly, ungodly, and unconscionable are just a few of the adjectives Jamaica Council of Churches (JCC) President Reverend Newton Dixon used to describe reports of pastors charged with sexual abuse of children in recent weeks.
“ 'I don't know if we have enough adjectives to describe this sad and disturbing situation. It is sad because the perpetrators of these acts are supposed to be individuals in society who people should be looking up to. Instead of being protectors and providers of care we have pastors who are now predators,' Rev Dixon said yesterday.” ( Jamaica Observer, June 16, 2021)
Some experts who study social decline posit that when a society is hitting rock bottom, institutions — including those of traditional moral rectitude — become increasingly tainted by overt corruption and devaluation of relevance. That reasoning might well be an explanation, too, for the proliferation of pastors for profit, which has become pervasive.
Our society is mired in a chaotic vortex. The effluvium of social decline is permeating the space.
Consider our long-standing murder rate, for example. It is but a symptom of a bigger disorder. Six months into 2021 and already some 662 Jamaicans have been slaughtered. Our murder rate exceeds that of some war-torn countries, such as Afghanistan, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Ethiopia, Iraq, and Libya.
The entire society is being ripped to shreds by the monster of crime. Women, children, men, the elderly are being murdered 'left, right and centre'. For those who need more convincing they can try and excavate into this: In 2005 our murder rate was 64 per 100,000 — one of the highest in the world. In 2017 Jamaica's homicide rate was 56 per 100,000. In 2018 the homicide rate dropped to 47 per 100,000; back then it was three times higher than the average for Latin America and the Caribbean. In 2019 our murder rate was 47.4 per 100,000; and in 2020, 46.5 per 100,000 — the region's highest homicide rate.
The dog-eat-dog, 'today we kill tomorrow we die' fixation is a national affliction. We have had over 1,000 murders every year since 2004. Reality is, indeed, the most powerful tutor of all.
The debilitating social decline in our midst affects everything. That reality is only too obvious.
Check it, national productivity has declined every year since the early 1970s, revealed a 2018 finding by the Jamaica Productivity Centre. This is not an accident, all things are connected.
How did we get stuck in this spiral of decline? Among other things, we continue to paper over the huge cracks in our low-wage, low-output economy. We will never make the necessary leap to a high-wage, high-output economy unless we make radical shifts. That shift cannot happen unless we substantively tackle the elephant in the room. Tinkering with our education system over many decades has landed us in a nationally embarrassing situation.
In April, the Planning Institute of Jamaica (PIOJ) told us that “65 per cent of Jamaicans, aged 25-54, have no examination passes at secondary level”. Some among us should have rent their garments and covered themselves in sackcloth and ashes on seeing the revelation. Instead, their response has been, “Oh, but we have been failing a long time.” Others reached deep into their bag of platitudinous excuses.
Do their children go to the schools that are failing? No! We have to make paradigm shifts in education. There are several excellent research papers which outline what Jamaica needs to do to recruit, reward, and retain quality teachers.
They are gathering dust on shelves.
Some will not like this, but it's true. At present, only a sprinkling of our best and brightest enter teaching.
We need to radically uproot the present structure of pay, performance, and the resourcing of our schools.
What does all of this have to do with an unfeeling taxi driver who mindlessly delayed the transportation of a lady who needed urgent medical attention at the UHWI? Everything!
A most essential glue which holds crucial societal institutions together is rapidly losing its adhesion.
The rule of law, in this country, is in intensive care. The evidence is all around us.
On our roads, motorists break the law with near impunity. Check this: “The Ministry of Transport and Mining's Road Safety Unit is renewing its calls for motorists to drive safely, as well as obey the curfew hours implemented due to the novel coronavirus pandemic.
“This appeal comes against the background of 214 people having died as a result of 193 fatal crashes since January 1 up to June 22 of this year.
“The ministry said fatal crashes have increased by 19 per cent when compared to the corresponding period in 2020, during which there were 197 fatalities.” ( Jamaica Observer, June 23, 2021)
It is not an exaggeration to say that the breaking of the law is like a reflex action in daily relationships in this country. There is an abundance of statistical and anecdotal evidence which pinpoint domestic exchanges and relationships gone wrong as root causes of our high crime.
In a low-trust, low-consequence environment these realities are lit fuses leading directly to power kegs.
It should be obvious to those who don't suffer with convenient blindness and voluntary amnesia that the social infrastructure of the country, over many years, has been so severely damaged it now exudes a Victorian reek.
There is a foul, mean spiritedness, and grotesque obsession with unenlightened self-interest which seems to have penetrated even the deepest recesses of daily life. If we don't become uncomfortable, extremely uncomfortable, and arrest the hugely deleterious social decline all around us we can kiss all hopes of Jamaica becoming “the place of choice to live, work, raise families, and do business”. That will not happen in 2030 or 3030 unless we stop the almighty rot.
Other societies which have found themselves in a worse state than we are have successfully rolled back the tide of social decline. I believe we can too.
First, the national will for a radical shift is needed. That can only happen when a critical mass is sufficiently sick and tired of being sick and tired and decides to do something to cure the ailment. No society can truly grow and develop in a context in which a premium is placed on 'ginnalship' and 'bandoolooism'. The rule of law is the oxygen that fuels successful societies.
Less than four months ago reports of shortages of beds, medical grade oxygen, and critical staff, as well as related resources at many hospitals were plastered all over social and traditional media.
No, I am not talking about Trinidad and Tobago or Suriname — which last week “recorded the most amount of deaths from [COVID-19] over the past 24 hours from Caribbean Community (Caricom) countries that announced deaths and increased cases of the pandemic...” ( Jamaica Observer, June 23, 2021). I am talking about Jamaica, lest we forget.
We must not forget this maxim: Stick to the science.
Fewer than 10 per cent of Jamaicans have had at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine, and just about three per cent have received the second jab.
At the time of writing this article Jamaica had recorded seven more COVID-19 deaths, forcing the count to 1,049. There were 46 new cases, with ages ranging from one year old to 91 years, driving the total to 49,841 with 19,108 being active. People in hospital numbered 122, with 24 being moderately ill and nine critically so.
In the context of these realities, the Andrew Holness-led Administration has decided to reopen the entertainment and creative industries which officially have been on lockdown since the confirmed arrival of the novel coronavirus on the island on March 10, 2020.
I think Prime Minister Andrew Holness made a very injudicious decision. Why? We are nowhere near herd immunity. Our health system wobbles too often. The uncertainties with regard to timely arrival of additional supplies of vaccines are pronounced, and the general uncooperative propensities of too many of our people are an open secret. Large gatherings, at this time, do not make sense.
The warning by the prime minister that strict adherence to the health protocols would determine the longevity of the new measures is not a good enough insurance policy for me. Another spike will likely cancel out, several times, the benefits/gains that will be realised from the relaxation measures announced last Tuesday.
Those who are shouting “Hosanna” now will as easily shout “Crucify him” tomorrow.
We have seen what happens to countries that move too soon to relax measures imposed to control the spread of the virus, as well as those that sidelined science on the altar of politics. For example, our brothers and sisters in India are reeling from the catastrophic consequences of a pandemic which virologists and other experts say is the worst in the last one hundred years. There is now a sustained call in India for the political head of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, whose political stocks are waning rapidly, according to credible media reports from there.
Among other things, Modi is being blamed, justly or not, for the nearly 400,000 COVID-19 deaths. The buck stops with Modi, and rightly so, that is how democracies operate. Here at home the buck stops with Holness and his Health and Wellness Minister Dr Christopher Tufton, and, indeed, the entire Administration.
Let us not delude ourselves, we may be fatigued, but the novel coronavirus is not. The experts say a third wave is inevitable. I believe them, because I believe the science.
Farewell, Rosemarie Vernon
A lady of the highest integrity, who was always willing to lend a helping hand and render a kind word, especially in situations when the chips were down.
That is how I will remember Rosemarie Vernon, former principal of Alpha Primary School, former president of the Jamaica Teachers' Association (JTA), and long-standing member of the the Broadcasting Commission of Jamaica (BCJ), plus numerous other boards and commissions.
She was a class act, a truly outstanding Jamaican.
Garfield Higgins is an educator and journalist. Send comments to the Jamaica Observer or email@example.com.
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