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Brian-Paul Welsh | Why can't we get it right?

Published:Monday | July 18, 2016 | 7:00 AM

I must confess there are times when I struggle to write this column. Not that there is any shortage of material in my life that I can't creatively spin into a page and a half of content once a week, but since my interests extend beyond myself and, instead, to the community of souls aggregated on this rock we call home, the state of the nation directly affects how I state my mind, sometimes shocking me speechless. That's the time I retreat to the hills high above the city in order to escape the chaos below. Why can't we get it right?

Much of my despondence stems from the way our news cycle spins like a washing machine, tumbling the same tales of mayhem, disorder and hopelessness I've been internalising since infancy. Prolonged exposure to these intense vibrations numbs the senses, reduces empathy, and induces pessimism about the future of this nation.

Twenty years ago, former Prime Minister Michael Manley engaged in the last full-length interview before his death with journalist Donette Chin-Loy. The first question she asked was: "What is the hope for Jamaica? Where is the light at the end of the tunnel?"

The discussion took place at Manley's picturesque hilltop chateau, a world away from the despair of investors, entrepreneurs and ordinary people still reeling from the ongoing collapse of Jamaica's financial sector, spiralling violent crime, and the galloping exchange rate.

Manley prefaced his response by indicating that neither he nor anyone else could pretend to have the answer to Chin-Loy's question. He described the perception that the world is trapped in an inevitable conflict between the interests of those who own the productive apparatus and those who work for it, hence the perpetual conflict between business and labour, with the state acting as referee.

He offered his perspective on the prevailing geopolitics and the steady slide of the world into injustice, racism and economic strife at a time when a cash-strapped Jamaican Government under the stewardship of his successor, grappled with discontent, ranging from seditious rhetoric to widespread violent criminality. Manley painted the picture of a regime incapable of providing basic social services and a young population succumbed to fear and cynicism after enduring a prolonged crisis of public safety. It is uncanny how much 1996 sounded like 2016.

 

NO SOLUTION IN POLITICS

 

Chin-Loy then asked Manley whether the hope for Jamaica should rest with our leadership, to which he tersely expressed the difficulty for people engaged in the political battle for power to be the source of any real strategic new thinking. In other words, politics is not an environment that is necessarily enabling of high-level intellectual discourse or inspirational ideas, something that has been demonstrably true for decades, but with particular resonance today.

Manley beckoned to the great thinkers and intellectuals of history in order to demonstrate the utility of visionaries, as distinct from politicians, in charting the course for a nation, placing the politician as the implementer and not the source of the imaginative concepts that will improve a country's development trajectory.

Jamaica has no shortage of bright people with brilliant ideas and impressive credentials. They huddle behind microphones, eloquently leading public discourse among themselves. They write epistles such as this in the newspapers that no one reads. And some lucky ones get high-paid consultancies or invitations to sit on commissions, producing fancy reports that add to the impressive collection at the ministry.

The problems associated with Jamaica's lack of economic and social development are very well discerned, documented and discussed. In fact, we have been discussing them for decades of political independence and centuries of colonial rule.

We know what's wrong, who's wrong, and where we went wrong, and yet we find it so difficult to do what we know is right in order to improve our lives.

I've long theorised that corruption is evident not only in acts, but also omissions, and much of the seeming reluctance to correct the systemic ills of this country stems neither from fear nor inefficiency, or even lack of resources.

Instead, it seems that the preservation of self-interest by the beneficiaries of Jamaica's bipolar reality is what accounts for the relative peace and prosperity to be found among the political and business elite, and which is responsible for the pain and humiliation still facing the peasants after being promised a future in a country in which their lives mattered.

At a time when supposedly greater nations are grieving over unresolved conflicts, we have an opportunity to unite and fix our own.

- Brian-Paul Welsh is a writer and public affairs commentator. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com and brianpaul.welsh@gmail.com or tweet @islandcynic.