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Finding the space


These are indeed trying times for our nation. We have lost the art of conversation as we speak often what we don’t believe, but what is convenient to say. We have indeed become hypocrites congregating in small groups and whispering to our selves. We have lost the sense of community, of brotherhood and sisterhood as we dance to different rhythms. This is despite Talk Radio that presents a faceless voice and is a medium for the brave and daring and those who hope somehow to break the silence of a community that is driven by fear and uncertainty.{{more}} Would you believe that this is the land of the Caribs, a land where we have given pride of place to that noble, illustrious defender of our birthplace and birthright? Would you believe that it was on this same land that an invisible people on October 21, 1935, confronted a system that refused to allow them space to grow? We it was who withstood slavery, struggled for land and formed ourselves into a peasantry that produced the finest brand of Sea Island Cotton and Arrowroot recognised throughout the world. We rebuilt our lives after hurricanes and volcanic eruptions, a poor people but proud and driven by a sense of community and purpose.

It is now a hundred and seventy years since the shackles of slavery and apprenticeship have been removed. Twenty nine years ago we reached a new milestone and proclaimed ourselves free from a system of colonialism that had entrapped us for too long. With few natural and physical resources we aimed to develop our human resources. Education was to be the thing, the key to a new life and community. We had begun that migration from the status of pale Anglo Saxons as we began to caribbeanise and decolonise our education system. In the process we seemed to have lost something. We lost the sense of community and migrated into abject and rabid individualism. We have become players in a global village but lack the cultural anchorage that could guide us and preserve an identity shaped over a long period of struggle. Today we seem not to be sure who we are and what we are about and what meaning we are giving to life. There is a disconnect somewhere. We thought that by proclaiming Chatoyer national hero we were highlighting certain symbols and values that would have inspired us as a people. But that proclamation was a mere event and each year we commemorate only an event. It appears to have made little difference to our lives.

Major challenges confront us as we play out our economic and political lives. Last year we had a record number of homicides partly because we lack the wherewithal to settle personal conflicts. This we have transported to the broader national arena where we are unable to converse with each other and resort mainly to carrying on verbal battles on air and to a lesser extent in the press. It is only a matter of time before these verbal battles become physical battles. This is a frightening thought in a situation where politics dominates every aspect of our lives. Politics remains a question of who gets what, when and how. The cake is small and so we have to position ourselves to get a slice rather than collect the crumbs. We are once more entrapped as we fight for survival by any means necessary. St.Vincent and the Grenadines is a multi-island state where anything seems to go, where we pay little attention to rules. In fact rules are in our view meant to be broken, not to be obeyed. Our work ethic is extremely poor and we appear to be in a state of nature as described by the 17th century English philosopher Thomas Hobbes in his book The Leviathan.

I was amused by an incident that happened a few weeks ago at Arnos Vale where the road is being repaired. After a brief stop to allow traffic to go along, the vehicles in front of me started moving after receiving a signal from the lady who turned her ‘Go’ signal indicating that we were cleared to move. As I approached where the lady was standing, her cell phone rang. Immediately she dropped the sign and answered her phone turning her back from me in the process. I was astounded and for a moment was not sure what I should do. But that is St.Vincent and the Grenadines for you. Anything goes. It doesn’t matter what happens once we satisfy ourselves in whatever way we can. We profess to be Christians but live un-Christian lives. We quote from the word of God when we find it convenient to do so. We worship instead mammon and are driven by greed and spite.

This is obviously a harsh assessment and clearly a gross generalisation because there are those who remain meek and humble and still possess some moral fibre. But these are not what catch the headlines. These are not what stand out and what appear to be driving the society. Why can we not settle our differences in a sane and sober manner? Where are the institutions and people who can take the leadership roles and move us along a different path? The truth is that our civil institutions/organisations are extremely weak leaving us to the mercy of the political. We claim to be a democratic country, having inherited a British Westminster, so-called ‘two-party’ system that separates us into government and opposition. With weak civil institutions we are left to battle in the political sphere and this is where we have our problems. Until institutions arise that can provide us with the space to order our non-political lives we will find ourselves trapped with no way out except nasty political battles. Everything will be played out along political lines and this will do us no good.

So I am suggesting that we find some space that is not political. It is not that there is anything inherently wrong with the political but with the political comes the passion, the greed, the personality cult, the perceived enemies. Unlike other institutions or arenas the political is conceived as a battle with two parties struck in a prolonged struggle to control the tools that bake the cake that the winner is left to divide as it feels. The Westminster system evolved in Britain. It grew out of the struggles and cultural make up of Britain. We inherited it and had to try to make it work. Even when we try to reform the system what we have basically attempted to do is to tinker with it and to leave the main elements and assumptions untouched. We have really been unable to think outside of the box.

At the heart of all of this are the people. We are the ones who make institutions work and who man the political system. We are a large part of the problem and also of the solution. There is need for a real education revolution but it has to have clear objectives and goals.