Sat | Aug 19, 2017

Pavlov’s parliamentarian

Published:Monday | January 25, 2016 | 1:00 AM

This past Tuesday, Parliament was debating an increase in the minimum wage piloted by Dr Fenton Ferguson. In the course of some back and forth and banter, Mr Everald Warmington saw it fit to refer to Lisa Hanna, the member from South East St Ann, as a "Jezebel".

Mr. Warmington was asked to withdraw, which, after some prodding, he did. So far, all of this is pretty standard. Mr Warmington has been there before, and he will be there again. The matter was hardly worth remarking upon, I thought.

I can't be the only one who felt a certain predictable tedium when the news broke that Everald Warmington was in yet another controversy. You can almost colour in most of the other details as well: there's a woman, and she either questions him or says something he doesn't like, and he explodes.

 

INSTANCES of 'WARMISM'

 

Among other instances of 'Warmism', there was the infamous "go to hell" that he levelled at Kerlyn Brown from his days in government.

More recently, he muscled up for a Gleaner intern, which was particularly enjoyable because he entered that confrontation with a swollen face, a sturdy neck-brace and all the aggressiveness of an irritated bull. That was when the cameraman captured him flipping the bird at the media.

You will recall that a perplexed Horace Chang had suggested, at that time, that perhaps the media were misreporting, and that what they thought was the bird, was in fact the V-sign.

 

NO DOUBT

 

Once the picture was produced, however, there was no doubt because 'Warmy''s finger was very pronounced, and the look on his face behind the upturned middle finger was very determined.

It's wonderful when photographic evidence settles disputes so decisively. The same, you will recall, occurred when Floyd Morris taped Senator Marlene Malahoo Forte using the toilet in the lunchroom.

So it was worth ignoring. Until, that is, Warmington did us the exquisite favour of offering a statement of self-justification.

The Gleaner, slyly, published it in full, and made available to the public this valuable document. It is in that statement that we see the workings of the Warmington mind.

The first thing that grabs you about the statement is the grammar, as the statement seems to have been prepared without the usual help and doctoring.

I would put it at about a grade-nine level, which, to be fair to Warmy, if not average, is probably above the common run of our parliamentarians. But there's enough in there to give the English teachers of Jamaica a lot of headache.

It's the level of ratiocination, though, that should give discerning readers pause. Warmington complains that:

"Firstly, I am not crazy, therefore, I would not have called a member names without cause. There must have been a reason for me to have said what I said."

Also, notice that Warmington's complaint is not completely batty:

"It cannot be that because you may be a woman you can be disrespectful to me and I ignore it; whoever you are, I will respond in like fashion."

It seems to me he's right that being a woman doesn't entitle anyone to be disrespectful and rude to others. I don't think many would disagree with Warmington there. It's the "respond in like fashion" though, where he seems to be tripping up.

 

Nub of Warmington's contention

 

You will notice from both quotes I've pulled so far that the nub of Warmington's contention is that he was being goaded and bothered by Ms Hanna, hence why he called her Jezebel.

Hanna was providing an unpleasant stimulus to him by calling him names. He, then, was compelled to react.

Furthermore, Warmington warns that if the stimulus should be reapplied, he will have no alternative course of action open to him but to react, once again, in the same way.

Mr Warmington's picture of himself is like one of Pavlov's dogs. Pavlov, you will all recall, in his study of classic behavioural conditioning, rang a bell every time he was feeding his animals. In time, once the association had been established between the feeding and the bell-ringing, he needed only to ring the bell and the dogs would begin to slaver and foam.

What Warmington lacks in his picture of the universe is any moral agency, at least insofar as it might apply to himself. In his mind, his behaviour is caused by Ms Hanna, not him.

The thought that Ms Hanna could have said the exact things to him, and that he might nonetheless have acted differently, simply doesn't feature in Warmy's world. So much so, in fact, that he promises a repeat performance. The same stimulus will result in the same output.

This is a picture of the universe that reminds me of nothing so much as the one that was operational when I joined St George's College at grade seven. If a bredda "tell yuh bout yuh modda", you were under an inexorable duty, as sure as physical causation, to join him in a fistfight.

Of course, it goes without saying (or ought to) that this level of self-understanding should be superseded by about grade eight.

I suppose one positive way of looking at it is that our Parliament is supposed to be representative of the people. And it's good to know, from that point of view, that our first- and second-formers have a man in Gordon House.

- Daniel Thwaites is an attorney-at-law. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com.