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Ethon Lowe | Culture of violence and indiscipline

Published:Friday | July 22, 2016 | 12:00 AM
Ethon Lowe

"Bob Marley!" exclaimed my Chilean guide (who has never been to Jamaica), when he learned I am from Jamaica. Apparently, my Jamaican presence reminded him of Bob Marley, not, I suppose, because he thought I was the Jamaican legend, although that thought had occurred to me. (What would we do without good ol' Bob).

His next words, however, almost floored me. "Bxxxo-cxxxe!" Undoubtedly, a useful Jamaican expression. It calms when annoyed; wards off duppies, I have been told; and soothes the pain of a crushed finger. BC, abbreviated here to avoid offending the prudes, is universally known (and greatly admired) and is uniquely Jamaican. Unfortunately, it portrays to the world a culture that is highly undisciplined. Duh! We knew that already.

Paradoxically, Jamaicans are spontaneous and fun-loving. Quick to smile but, also, quick to anger. Beneath that friendly veneer lie aggression and volatility bursting to get out. Channelled in the right direction (yes, aggression can be useful), they become world-class athletes and musicians. In the wrong direction, more skilled con artists, rapists, and cold-blooded murderers you won't find.

Violence is related to cultural influences - drugs, greed in a materialistic culture, dysfunctional families, etc. Less publicised is the violence perpetrated by the thin-skinned and often dangerous Jamaican male. Endowed with a shaky fragile self-esteem (partly resulting from arrested development in a 'bad home'), these individuals do not take kindly to being criticised or being bested.

They are often the cause of domestic violence (e.g., wife-beating) and motor vehicle accidents. Wives offering helpful advice or constructive criticisms do so at their own peril, and motorists are advised not to overtake or pass them. They are prone to road rage. If offended, their response may be the obscene gesture of an upraised middle finger (a favourite of at least one politician). This harmless gesture may be followed by a barrage of choice Jamaican swear words (their knowledge of these words is encyclopaedic). While I am all for knowledge, when description of your mother follows, it's time to back off.

Geography has not been kind to Jamaicans. Beautiful beaches and salubrious climate - good for the occasional beach party and tourism, but bad for discipline. Our island paradise encourages a laid-back, easy lifestyle, a no-problem existence. Highly disciplined countries like Canada, Norway and Germany, to name a few, are less violent. The downside is that with increased discipline and education (and hence sophistication), spontaneity suffers.




Germans are not known for their bubbly personality, but are highly disciplined. You are more likely to see a taxi driver gyrating on the dance floor than a college professor. Back home, want to know the merits of self-discipline? Check St Elizabeth farmers who, despite numerous adversities, are the most successful cultivators in Jamaica.

It appears that aggression and violent crimes may be related to genetic predisposition. The MAOA - L gene affects the neurotransmitters - dopamine, norepinephrine and serotonin producing lower levels of these hormones. A variant of this gene (the so-called warrior gene) is associated with higher levels of violent behaviour and aggression.

One study shows blacks are 9.4 per cent times more likely to have the extremely dysfunctional version of this gene than whites. (Journal of Psychiatric Research, Vol 58, November 2014) . More studies are needed to determine a direct correlation between these genes and violence.

The male hormone, testosterone, has also been implicated. The theory goes that high levels in fetal life and childhood, combined with negative or positive early-life events, produce either chronic antisocial lifestyles or strong achievements, motivation and leadership qualities.

A disciplined society will strive to be an educated society. With education comes maturity - the awareness of self and our relationship with others. Self-awareness develops new psychological insights: how to improve one's life, ones' family, the community and the environment. Jamaica has a long way to go.

- Ethon Lowe is a medical doctor. Email feedback to and