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Nero fiddles while Rome burns

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This, of COURSE, isn’t about Nero or Rome, but about us, Vincentians. We are perhaps sleeping, drinking, ‘shit-talking’ or fiddling while SVG is burning.

I am using ‘burn’ here figuratively, but the way things are going these days, it can well be literally. We have rightly concentrated on politics and the economy, because these impact heavily on the way we live. They influence other areas of our lives and in turn feed on those areas.{{more}} Politics and economics do not stand on their own. When I speak about politics what comes to mind are players, power, patronage, dependence, ignorance, ego, corruption and selfishness, the existence of sycophants and yard fowls, to name a few. One old definition of politics suggests that it is about “Who gets what, when and how”. This leads us naturally to the economy. Are there opportunities and policies to stimulate our involvement and creativity? The state of our economy determines how we live. What is the level of inequality and the state of employment? Are we able to meet our everyday needs? Are we able to bring up our children and ensure that they share in what are the essential elements of good living? Are we active participants in the economy? Are there road blocks to our ability to participate in a meaningful way?

These do not exist in a vacuum, for it is the interplay of forces in society that makes the society tick. To me, our society is in a process of disintegration. As our politics and economics become deflated, they carry other forces in the society along with them, as a war for survival emerges. Our values are overturned, discipline has taken a hit, families disintegrate, our communities lose their spirit of togetherness, as it becomes a matter of survival of the fittest and naked individualism and materialism predominate. Morality becomes a bad word. Burglary and crime are rampant, as people feel left out.

The pillars of society that are supposed to help to keep the society together and to teach the values that are necessary have fallen victims in this dynamic interplay. The purpose of schools seems to be to allow students access to the certificates that will take them into a job market that doesn’t exist. The ingredients for good living are not taught and there is a narrow focus on looking for jobs, not creating jobs. The discipline and the values that are central to education and to a proper functioning society are in short supply. The school is being turned into something it was not meant to be. There is a view shared by many that inter-schools sports have now become an opportunity for making a statement on fashion and fast living. Support for schools and encouragement for athletes will happen by the way and seem not to be the reason for the attendance of the non-athletes. The church is held to ransom by many who see it as a means of serving narrow ends. Churches spring up everywhere and we have to ask why. What do those who assemble take away with them?

We complain about the attitude of drivers on the road and about the playing of loud music. This is symptomatic of the disintegration of our society. We are self-serving, so that when we stop at odd places on the road and block traffic, maybe to speak to someone or to pick up a passenger, the inconvenience to others matters little to us, once we satisfy ourselves. There are many complaints about the difficulty of walking the streets of Kingstown because of the prevalence of vendors. The reply is often that people have to make a living. Of course, people have to make a living, but let there be order. Are there regulations in place for the use of space for vending or does everything become right once the necessary fees are paid to the Town Board? Crude and untidy structures are set up to facilitate vending and we accept this.

Things are not working as they should. Even in government departments, workers attach more allegiance to the politicians that got them their jobs than to the orders of their supervisors, who in many cases, however, owe their positions to their political bosses. The provision of service to customers becomes second place. Our society is an organism that owes its life to the interplay of many forces and people. When things are in disarray, the society becomes dysfunctional. Am I an alarmist? Am I alone in seeing how things are disintegrating in our society? Is it that these are new times and what we do is a reflection of this? Of course, these are new times and changes have to be made, but our purpose should be to make sure that the society functions, rather than malfunctions. A society is a complex entity that owes its life to elements that function. Is it that we are looking at our society from different platforms? Do we detect serious problems with the way our society functions? Do we simply take these for granted and fail to realize the long-term consequences for our lives? I know that quite often to be critical of things in our society is to draw the wrath of those in positions of power. If you see this as simply a false assessment of things, I am sorry. Don’t tell me these things happen elsewhere. What support measures are in place for those seriously affected? What efforts are being made to understand the problems and to get on top of them or is it that we are all fiddling while SVG is burning?

Dr Adrian Fraser is a social commentator and historian.

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