Fri | Jan 18, 2019

Is Obama a waste man?

Published:Sunday | April 19, 2015 | 12:00 AM

I'm of the view that, in general, we should take what our artists and entertainers say quite seriously. Reverend Boyne, among others, convinced me long ago of their vast influence. Of course, that also means subjecting what they say to criticism and analysis.

Recently, talented and outspoken dancehall singjay Chronixx lit a fuse by musing on Twitter, and in trenchant language, too, that Obama should be concerned with expunging Marcus Garvey's criminal record. There's some debate about whether, in expressing himself, Chronixx meant to call Obama a "waste man". A waste man, you may know or may have guessed, is a term of severe disapprobation.

Even allowing for poetic and artistic licence, the comment ran completely counter to the general euphoria Jamaicans were experiencing with the Obama visit.

I confess I read his initial tweet that way. It was published under a photograph of Mosiah:

"This man ... Still have criminal record in the United States and we glorifying some waste man! This man was hunted and imprisoned by our Jamaican government ... who some years later, paved a peaceful and safe path for the US president to address us ... a "race of good for nothing's". That's why black faces don't mean anything to rasta anymore".

Most people expressed dismay and disappointment that Chronixx could have said what he did. Chronixx learned the hard way that Jamaicans will tolerate criticism but not abuse of leaders. Unless, of course, we are talking about local leadership, at which time abusiveness will get effusive praise and open doors.


counter-intuitive meaning


Anyway, I am utterly puzzled and dumbfounded by the part of the statement that reads, "That's why black faces don't mean anything to rasta anymore." Even assuming that Chronixx had more than his two ounces, I'm not sure what it could mean. The plain reading of it has a shocking and counter-intuitive meaning. So I put that one side.

Regarding the Obama part, Chronixx then responded to his numerous critics:

"I love every human on this planet, and as hard as it is, I show nothing but perfect love even to the waste man dem at home and abroad. Love has nothing to do with truth! And I did not call the president a waste man."

Actually, if he says he didn't mean to call the president a "waste man", why not take him at his word? Plus, it may have dawned on Chronixx that every president since Garvey's conviction is a waste man if the determining criterion of 'wasteage' is the failure to expunge Garvey's record. There's no reason to blame Obama more than Bush or Clinton.

But Chronixx's follow-up tweet got me to thinking also. For starters, I'm not sure that "perfect love" would permit you to refer to anyone at all as a "waste man", although let me be clear, I'm not arguing for the term to be retired. I've been finding it quite handy. But then I don't profess perfect love and consider it quite beyond my competence.

Still taking it a step further, I couldn't help but wonder about Chronixx's profession of love for "every human on the planet". These are my thoughts: I've found that it's quite easy to "love every human on the planet", but exponentially more difficult to love one's neighbour (as a more ancient celebrity encouraged us to do).

"Every human on the planet" is a whopping abstraction that makes no demand on us. It is, therefore, vacuous, empty. It's rather like the #bringbackourgirls campaign where, other things being equal, I suppose it's better to retweet a hashtag than to not retweet, but one should get precious little self-satisfaction from it.

The neighbour, on the other hand, tramples my lawn, parks in my spot, has children who scream, and, after all that, wants to borrow a Shearer to settle his light bill and pickney school fee. Dis bredda nuh easy at all!


love for all humanity


But in keeping with the above, it's amazing how commonly people sustain the supposed and professed love for all humanity with utter contempt for the real, live, breathing human beings that live down the road.

For the intellectual types interested in that sort of thing, I'll add that the greatest offender in this respect has to be Jean-Jacques Rousseau. This arch-hypocrite specialised in breeding his girlfriend. Meanwhile, he railed against the Church, trumpeting the inherent goodness of mankind, while ditching all of his children on the doorstep of a local orphanage run by some nuns. However wonderful the human animal appeared to him in theory, he wasn't prepared to actually feed, clothe, or rear any, even those he helped create.

Karl Marx was another such specimen whose righteous fulminations didn't excite much self-critical awareness. After fathering a child with the maid (which, let's face it, could happen to the best of us), he refused to 'own' the pickney - the lumpen proletariat of the Marx family, so to speak.

My point is, shouting loudly about injustice does not make a man just in his dealings. And having the right opinion about moral matters doesn't make one a moral human being. I can't state it better than Anthony Daniels does: "There is a permanent temptation, particularly for intellectuals, to suppose that one's virtue is proportional to one's hatred of vice, and that one's hatred of vice is in turn to be measured by one's vehemence of denunciation." If only living well and virtuously was that easy!

- Daniel Thwaites is an attorney-at-law. Email feedback to