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‘Coming of What Age?’ – Let the debate continue

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Many readers might have missed last week’s editorial of the Vincentian captioned “Coming of What Age?” but it should be a must read. The writer who appeared to be a guest really argued, consciously or not, for focusing the nature of the debate in the country in a different direction. The writer identifies some of the recent ills that have been besetting our country – among them, armed robbery, abductions, kidnappings, rape, rampages of violent behaviour, vigilante style justice and murder, which he argues were at one time rare or ‘simply non-existent.’{{more}} While the debate in the country has been caught up with the issue of capital punishment, contributors quoting either the old or new testament to justify their positions, the author of the editorial piece states that we need to focus on “how (well) we relate to one another, the extent to which we are our brother’s keeper; whether the goods of this land are distributed freely and equally to the benefit of all the people; …how we relate to one another in our families, how our men relate to their womenfolk, how neighbours relate to one another, how a community relates to itself, how the society is ordered by the institutions on which it is founded”.

This editorial naturally appealed to me because it fits in with my thinking about what is happening in the country. In last week’s issue of the SEARCHLIGHT I wrote the following: “I want, however, to add another dimension to the debate, and that is, the breakdown of order in the society, the ill-discipline, the total disregard of the rights of others and the selfishness that have gotten hold of this country.” The author puts out for serious consideration issues related to the ordering of the society by the institutions on which it is founded and how the community relates to itself. He/She asks rhetorically: “Have we not been cultivating a misconstrued impression of what is right and wrong?” A friend of mine has for some time now been suggesting that we have reached the stage where we are unable to distinguish right from wrong. The back page of last week’s issue of the News bears this out. A Minister of Government has indicated publicly that party support determines the priority for fixing roads. In a sense there is nothing new about this, but to make a public statement to this effect is to confirm that we have lost all sense of standards and of what is right and wrong, and not to be outraged by this is to accept that anything goes.

Our editorial writer also makes the point that we are exacerbating “an already sinking foundation when we reward some for and punish others for failure on the same battle ground.” The author’s example here is of the ‘bountiful’ reward for ULP candidates who had failed at the polls as opposed to those of the NDP who “continue to wallow in a state of uncertainty and disgrace, unable to find gainful, deserving employment in their country of birth.” The editorial touches also on the lawlessness on the roads by both pedestrians and drivers and is particularly concerned about the message we send out to “young, impressionable minds” by reinstating persons in the Police Service “after they have been found guilty of inflicting bodily harm on another.”

People assume centre stage, and we can say, always should. This need to focus on people and how they function in society and relate to one another is particularly important when the institutions that should be ordering the society have themselves become corrupt. In any event, it is people who man the institutions that help to order the society. But there is a dynamic relationship between people and the institutions in the society. Institutions do not operate in a vacuum. The values, the standards, the sense of right and wrong have gone awry and are now to a great extent serving only the needs of the political directorate. The persons who man these institutions have cowardly sat back and failed to defend the traditions and the objectives. These institutions have, therefore, lost the confidence of the people, with the young people in particular becoming rootless, having nothing to hold on to. The home, the church and the school were the institutions that were to provide the values and set the standards that were to uphold the society. Our families are themselves in crisis with a widening gap between the sense of belonging and the values between parents and children. The churches have fallen back to the approach taken during slavery- focusing only on the hereafter when right and wrong will be set right. The schools are catering to the materialistic side, preparing people to acquire certificates for a job market which might or might not be there. There is little understanding of the organisation of society and of the purpose of the institutions in society.

As you travel this country, you will become aware that standards mean little, that there is little pride in the way things are done. I have referred on different occasions to the disgusting habit of men peeing on the roads in full view of the public. There is no clearer example of not knowing what is right or wrong or admittedly, it might be, of simply not caring, once it satisfies the individual’s selfish purpose. I am convinced that the plethora of ‘bad words’ you hear as you walk the streets has a lot to do with not knowing what is appropriate and what is right or wrong. There is nothing called society outside of the activities and relationships of individuals. So when we speak of a society in crisis we are indeed looking at how people relate to each other and to the failure of the institutions which are out of sync with a society that has to respond to global challenges.

The political institutions which in a democratic society are to enhance governance have like others become corrupt and have assisted in corrupting the others and cater only to the interests of a few. Our institutions’ major function is to provide for the ordering of society. Once problems arise here, then the society becomes aimless and adrift. Can we say that SVG today is aimless and adrift?

Dr Adrian Fraser is a social commentator and historian.

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