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Social climate change too

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If we were all very concerned about the rate of violent crimes in this country, then recent events give cause for alarm. Last week’s seizure by the police of a quantity of arms and ammunition has vividly heightened this alarm. It comes right after the 2016 year, a year during which there was not just a frightening level of murders, but the high percentage of which were committed using firearms.

In addition to this aspect, there were the allegations that many of these murders were assassinations connected with the drug trade, as well as the fact that many of both the victims and alleged perpetrators were young persons. It is true that St Vincent and the Grenadines (SVG) is not the only Caribbean country experiencing this spate of violent crimes. Jamaica and Trinidad and Tobago are so riddled by this blight that their respective Prime Ministers have had to make repeated public statements of concern and commitment to combat this phenomenon. Several of our neighbours are also similarly affected, to one degree or another.

SVG is a small multi-island country with porous borders, making it difficult to police and protect. Over the years, we have tended to concentrate on contraband smuggling and, more recently, on the lucrative marijuana export trade. But, the type of weapons seized by the police and the related paraphernalia (ammunition and ski masks), give a clear indication of the situation in which we now find ourselves. These are by no means small weapons that can be argued to be for defensive purposes, even if they are unlicensed firearms. These are assault weapons, made to kill, terrorize or wage war. It can only mean that those who procure them have something very valuable to protect, or are planning armed robbery or assassinations. Is there any connection with our recent history?

Public reaction to these most unwelcome developments have been varied. They range from open despair (“SVG gone through”), to strident calls for a “return to God”, to the ridiculous conclusions of those who can see no further than partisan politics. However, perhaps we ought to reflect on the fact that not only is SVG and the Caribbean experiencing climate change in an environmental sense, endangering our physical surroundings, but we are also feeling the effects of social climate change, regarding human society.

We are fond of boasting of our “Christian society” and take a lot of pride in extolling our “Christian values”, but, if truth be told, far too many of us only find Christianity in times of adversity. When times are good, we are far more relaxed and flexible about how much we uphold those values, and far more tolerant of those who do not. Our society has become one in which the accumulation of wealth and conspicuous consumption have become predominant.

In such a situation, those who make a success of these practices are not just tolerated, but even seem to be endorsed by society, irrespective of the means used to achieve this “success”. Even some of our Parliamentarians are not ashamed to be seen publicly with persons regarded as questionable by our law enforcement officers. Similarly, whereas in times gone by, going to prison was considered socially unacceptable, even to the point of discrimination against those once incarcerated, today many young offenders seem proud of having been imprisoned and there is a sense of hero-worship of those involved in illegal activities, especially relating to the use of firearms.

A whole behavioural change has pervaded our young people, encouraged by what they observe as the materialism of older generations. No longer are the values of thrift and hard work upheld; it is the end, not the means, that seems to matter most. Even the sphere of education has been affected. Thus, while it is a positive sign that there is far greater embrace of education today in our society, all too often it is devoid of social content, being regarded more as a means to enrichment and personal aggrandisement than any degree of uplifting and enriching society as a whole.

We can go on and on, mentioning the breakdown of discipline, lack of respect for others, and above all, the tendency to resort to violent means, by word or deed, to resolve differences. Our young folk are absorbing all these traits from us, yet when they are manifested in the transgressions of today, we react in horror. There are no simple solutions to the social problems we face, but in order to tackle them, we must be honest about it and acknowledge the fact that we are living at a time of social climate change, which needs every bit as much attention as the environmental variety.

Renwick Rose is a community activist and social commentator.

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