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Never discuss philosophy among fools

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Dr. Richard A. B. Cox  5.MAY.06

According to a recent issue of the Searchlight, Prime Minister Gonsalves expressed a wish to have more discussion on public policy. While I applaud this I can’t help but feeling that for this call to be meaningful, existing impediments to open discussion must be removed, first and foremost the omnipotence of our prime ministers. I have said a thousand times and will say a thousand times more (as Max Muller says, the truth must be repeated, time and again once there are men who disbelieve it), that James Mitchell’s Mr. Know-it-all approach is one of the reasons why Ottley Hall went under. Here he was indeed the “philosopher king” only without the wisdom Plato spoke of in “The State”. {{more}}

It is agreed that public discussion saved our Tobago Cays from the clutches of foreign ownership (citizenship of convenience doesn’t wash with me), proving that the time for an Aristotelian lyceum and a speaker’s corner on public policy is long overdue. Indeed on every trip home I have sensed the apprehension of many to comment on any issue of public policy fearing victimisation. Questioning government is blasphemous so every civil servant’s departure point is I know and agree because I believe, rather than I would believe and agree if I know.

No, no, this is no exaggeration; SVG is generally a place where to criticize government is like undertaking a Martin Luther mission of hammering your 95 theses against an all-powerful and dogmatic authority. No you say; that’s being unfair. Well, remember the Tobago Cays where those who questioned the deal faced a firing squad after being adjudged terrorists? Indeed the fallout led to some supporters and well-wishers of the ULP including “dotish boy” Junior Bacchus, being exiled and forced to join the wanderers in the wilderness of opposition politics.

Why is it every time someone questions the powers that be he is suddenly Osama or a member of the Taliban? I have belaboured the point that we must not see divisiveness in every question; we must appreciate that there is no democracy without freedom to oppose, and when people differ with us we should never make enemies of them.

I have never and will never join the crowd who hates and despises Ralph for I know he means well, this is objective truth. No, I make no apologies, and there are many, many who share my view, even some in the NDP camp. But even when with the best interest of the country at heart you honestly question the ULP’s Socratic wisdom of statecraft and public policy, they tend to become irate. So well meaning citizens pretend to be dumb, resulting in the strangulation of the competition of ideas and the capitulation of reason to power which will ultimately lead to more Ottley Hall fiascos.

While in Plato’s “The State” the “philosopher king” is a mere utopian idea, in SVG it has been the creed of our prime ministers. Not because they have the “sophia” of a Plato’s golden soul, but rather because premiership in SVG bestows the power of a Machiavelli’s Prince. And power not civilised by education, not governed by reason and exercised by an inhumane hand is not merely dangerous but destructive.

In short, I am saying that if the PM truly wants discussion on public policy then the government must not be afraid of criticisms and approach this business with openness and honesty. And here, it is incumbent upon Prime Minister Gonsalves to set the example and be willing to entertain thoughts and ideas, which are at variance with his own. It’s an elementary case of action speaks louder than words. Right is not necessarily what he wants or what his castigators demand, but what should be. Therefore he must put on the Nelson Mandela cloak of forgiveness and smile of compassion when faced with the diatribe and venom of detractors bearing in mind the motto of the sages of ancient Greece, “Never discuss philosophy among fools.” PM please remember that a very permeable political epidermis will result in diseased political leadership.

But the government’s immaturity is only one element of the equation as regards the lack of serious debate on public policy. The press has a fundamental role in promoting such discussion. Yes, the last two or three years has seen a marked improvement in the diet they offer, but there is a long way to go. Some editors in the country still use all kind of ridiculous arguments for not publishing serious essays on national issues, ranging from they are too long or intellectual to too serious and honest. Some seem not to understand that their paper is weekly and after reading the news (which in any case was already on radio), there are those who want something serious to read on Sunday and the rest of the week.

It would be remiss of me here, if I didn’t commend the present editor of the Searchlight, for while I know that the paper has been accused of being Ralph’s cheerleader, she has ensured that my plain-shilling pieces (many very severe on ULP) were published untailored by the editorial pen.

The refusal by the papers to publish serious essays is an insult to the intelligence of our people and a complete misunderstanding of the chief role of a newspaper in an underdeveloped society as ours. There is enough garbage on television, in popular music and the like, so the printed press must be a vehicle for social development. In the beginning was the word and the pen is mightier than the sword. I rest.

And then there is John Public, the key to it all. With the coming of the FM stations, the populace suddenly has its bell tower. But what started as a good, serious and clean “shake up”, is now threatening to deteriorate into a perpetual useless slug fest with opposing sides more intent on shouting petty accusations and down right bitter hatred than discuss substance. It is time these Peters put up their swords. There are those who can see nothing good in whatever the government does, and on the other hand, those who see the government as divine and the PM infallible. No, Ralph is no Satan and again no; we are not yet in the New Jerusalem.

Unless we can elevate our thoughts beyond the divine right of our party to rule; until we see the country as home and not a bag of goodies to be surrendered to my party leader in the hope that he shares some with me; until each man strives to be the social and moral conscience of this country and love for truth, justice and nation replaces greed for power and profit, hate for political opponents and political self-righteousness- the aspiration for a beautiful SVG will remain out there on the horizon, and instead of blending colours, we will always be choosing between red and yellow, the son and the star, division over unity and strife and bitterness over compromise and love. SVG deserves better.

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