Wed | Nov 14, 2018

Are we in a (social) death spiral?

Published:Monday | December 28, 2015 | 12:00 AM

The term 'death spiral'is often used in accounting (financial) matters to explain insurance, production or investment missteps and the resultant maladjustments that lead to massive losses. It is also used in ice skating to describe the very rapid and precarious, descending rotations of a female skater in the hands of her male partner as he spins her closer and closer towards the ice.

The term is also used in aviation to describe the downward corkscrew motion of a disabled aircraft as it plummets towards an inevitable collision with terra firma. And, by extension, the term also describes the actions of a person, persons or an entire society that will predictably lead to disaster.

The thought that our society seems to be in a death spiral came to me recently as I slowly advanced in bumper-to-bumper traffic along a main but narrow thoroughfare. Drivers were forced to remain close to the left curb because many large trucks were approaching from the opposite direction. Suddenly, I heard loud banging on the back of the pickup that I was driving. My wife remarked that a bicyclist, who was approaching from behind, was trying to squeeze himself between me and the curb. As I stopped moving and wound down the passenger-side window to see what was going on, the infuriated young cruff blurted out that I was driving too close to the curb! He screwed up his face and let fly a very obscene Jamaican expletive. It stung, and as I felt anger rising inside of me I thought to myself that he isn't worth it.


Values and attitudes


The disrespectful idiot rode off but decided to negotiate the vehicle in front of me by passing on the outside - which is what the fool should have done all along. This kind of crass ignorance is not unique to that clown; it is becoming pervasive. It manifests in different ways, depending on the socio-economic status of the individual. The slow-moving traffic afforded me a lot of time to observe the demeanour of the people around me and to contemplate on the values and attitudes of some of our citizens. The evident comfort of people in the midst of multiple cacophonous emanations and orchestrated chaos was disheartening.

Aggression, thievery, corruption, criminality, indiscipline, nepotism, selfishness, cruelty, lawlessness, indifference, enlightened self-interest, hopelessness, ignorance, inefficiency, licentiousness, disrespect and prejudice are all extremely toxic to any society. Yet, they are becoming widespread.

Try as I might, I had great difficulty imagining Jamaica recovering from the social death spiral that it is in. Most of the conscientious minority, the real patriots, have been swamped, outnumbered, outmanoeuvred and ostracised by the many who have warped or abandoned their principles because they are, in some way, directly or indirectly dependent on 'politics' and/or corruption for their survival.


Above the law


We missed the boat years ago when we failed to keep a firm grip on discipline and the rule of law. We muffed it when we allowed the systemic inefficiencies, unfairness and red tape within government bodies to persist until the opportunity for corruption was created. Then we declined to ferret out the many offenders and we never insisted on accountability. Even today there are those among us who remain untouchable and above the law. They can blatantly and openly flaunt their acquisitions without any auditing of their lifestyle while others, incomparably less fortunate, are aggressively pursued and harassed based on any suspicion of financial error, indiscretion or transgression.

Honestly, I don't know how we can retract from impending disorder; our leaders don't have the will to do it. Many of those who can save our country have migrated. Some that remain have acquiesced and, feeling powerless and helpless, decided to live just for themselves. They have withdrawn from the inexorably degrading society.

Most of us are simply trying to survive in this economically and socially hostile environment. We are being wafted along by the winds of negative change while clinging to the meagre hope of positive change until the apparent inevitable death spiral ends in a catastrophic crash.

- Garth A. Rattray is a medical doctor with a family practice. Email feedback to and