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Politics makes us stupid

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I have taken this caption from an article entitled ‘How Politics Make US Stupid’ that dealt with some aspects of politics in the US and thought that the topic captured SVG, as I see it. It is really difficult today to have any civilized conversation on important issues in the society.

Persons become emotional, suspicious and protective (protecting what I am not sure) and display signs of insecurity. It is not only that we operate on different wavelengths, but many of us speak based only on rumour, on misunderstanding and spite, with a willingness to malign others. {{more}}There is a delicate balance between information and rumour. Some of the things people believe and speak about are so farfetched that Lennox Lampkin is really right in saying that too few engage their brain before speaking. Sometimes we are very selective and only hear what we want to hear. The funny thing is that when some of us speak, we speak only half truths and peddle rumour and gossip, which we very often steal from others, sometimes not even understanding what we are peddling.

Caribbean News Now carried a piece that highlighted a comment by St Kitts/Nevis attorney Charles Wilkins, in which he expressed concerns about ‘fragile Caribbean electoral systems.’ He is reported to have likened Caribbean societies “to truculent adolescents, who place appearance over substance, whose bravado masks deep insecurities and who have perverted notions of respect.” Wilkins only touches the surface in his attempt to depict Caribbean societies. Clearly, for SVG we have to include lack of discipline and disregard for regulations. We continue to be an ungovernable people. These, it must be noted, are not limited to our political sphere and the games we play, but to the total life of our society.

Sometime ago I suggested that elections were hurdles that we need to jump over in order to go forward. We seem to have kicked down the hurdles and questions are now being raised about the race itself. However this is resolved or not resolved, one suspects that it will not be business as usual. There is now no distinction between political and civic. ‘Non-governmental’ is a fantasy, since everything has become governmental and the space no longer exists. Wilkins, according to the piece from which I have been quoting, notes the fragility of Caribbean electoral systems. He is of the view that most Caribbean countries are not far away from becoming banana republics and calls for urgent ‘need for effective legislative deterrents to despotism.’ The fragility of our electoral systems really reflects the fragility of our whole system. I am surprised that he has called for legislative deterrents to despotism, for St Kitts/Nevis is a good example of the failure of legislative deterrents. It took the Privy Council to bring some semblance of order to the tense situation in that country. Legislative and constitutional mechanisms do not function on their own. They are operated by people and this is where the problem is. These structures that are meant to guide and even to protect us are not considered sacrosanct. They often get subverted with hardly a wink from us.

Transparency and good governance seem to mean little. We have become political slaves, as we prostrate ourselves awaiting our master’s command. We rationalize and pay obeisance to any moral shortcomings and sometimes glorify and salute things horrible and despicable. As I have suggested on many occasions, we confuse right and wrong and treat respect and decency as signs of weakness. Machismo is the order of the day and sets the tone for others to follow and sometimes to carry to the very extreme. We worship authoritarian behaviour, since it reflects strength to which we are willing to genuflect. To us politics is everything, even when what appears to be playing out here is a tale of two societies, of two peoples. Hopefully we will not get to the stage where ‘never the twain shall meet’. But some persons might not be bothered by this.

Our country needs healing. We simply cannot sit back and await the hand from above. We have first to help ourselves and in doing so, help will come from above. As I put stress on the fact that we, the people, have to save ourselves, I am of the view that the Arts can make the greatest contribution to our development. The Arts involves the use of creative skills and imagination. It encourages us to use our heads, instead of sitting on them. I attended a production of the Arabesque Dance Company called Black Diaries. I was thoroughly impressed and felt that there was still hope for us. Juanita Phillips, the director, did a wonderful job in how she conceptualized what was portrayed. It traced the path of blacks from Africa through slavery and our struggles for liberation. Nelson Mandela, Rosa Parks and Paul Robeson were highlighted. Martin Luther King’s ‘I have a dream’ was part of the story, as was Bob Marley’s ‘Emancipate Yourselves from Mental Slavery’. SVG, of course, featured in the Diary through the poetry of Shake Keane, in his depiction of an aspect of who we are in his ‘Calypso Dancers’.

I want to use this column to congratulate Juanita for a job well done. The show flowed smoothly and everything seemed to have fallen into place. My only regret is that it was not done at the time of Independence, for although not limited to SVG, it helps to depict that journey that our foreparents took. A diary records an activity after it has taken place and certainly this production will find its own page in ‘Black Diaries’.

Dr Adrian Fraser is a social commentator and historian.

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