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Peter Espeut | Getting the big picture

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

One of the characteristics of mature thinking is the ability to apprehend the big picture, to connect the dots, to bring together seemingly disparate elements to construct the whole. When you buy a jigsaw puzzle in a box, all the pieces fit together, and none are missing. In the great puzzle of life, some pieces are missing, and some pieces just simply don't fit.

Take the matter of crime. Consensus is growing around the idea that the origin of criminal behaviour lies in social factors like the dysfunctional family and poor-quality education. As criminals are put away by the justice system, inter-gang warfare and police excesses, many more are produced. Crime reduction will only be sustainable when sufficient progress is made with appropriate social interventions.

Clearly, there are dysfunctionalities in the Jamaican family. Irresponsible sexual behaviour produces unwanted children, which is a major contributor to the problem. This problem is not of recent vintage. Read In Miserable Slavery, the diary of Thomas Thistlewood (1721-1786), planter of St Elizabeth and Westmoreland. Thistlewood was a sexual predator who abused his female slaves and other women. The world the slave masters made for themselves in Jamaica was one of sexual licence and economic exploitation. Emancipation from legal slavery may have come 182 years ago, but the exploitation continues.

Contrary to a popular slogan, what consenting adults do in the privacy of their bedrooms is relevant to the good order of society. About 70 per cent of children in Jamaica are born out of wedlock, most into homes without the presence of a father. Contrary to the feminist ideology of the 1970s, mothers cannot father children. The socialisation of both boys and girls is inadequate when the influence of a father (or father figure) is absent.

 

PERSONALITY DISORDERS

 

A leading psychiatrist has asserted that maybe half of all Jamaicans suffer from personality disorders, much of it to do with improper or inadequate socialisation. And many of those who commit incest and brutal rapes and horrific murders suffer from personality disorders. No wonder we have one of the highest murder rates in the world!

We are good at diagnosing problems, but notoriously poor at solving them. How do we address the problem of the dysfunctional family in Jamaica?

Two hundred plus years of Christianity on this island has not made much of an impact. There is no evidence that Christian women have fewer children out of wedlock than their pagan sisters. The data show that women with higher incomes have less children, and so human development and social mobility may be the best contraceptive. Investments in good-quality education for the poor (we have not done well in this area in Jamaica) will pay rich dividends in good order and economic development.

So, let me make it clear that when I say that Jamaica needs strong nuclear families, this is not a religious statement; Islamic, Hindu, Jewish and atheist nuclear families are just as strong and just and socially functional as good Christian families.

There is a movement, flexing its muscles in Jamaica, with, thankfully, very little success, which aims to destroy the traditional nuclear family before it even gains the ascendancy. There is no evidence that same-sex families are better than single-parent ones at socialising children and avoiding the development of personality disorders. If Jamaica is ever to become a low-crime, well-ordered society, it is the traditional nuclear family that is to be held up as the norm.

 

SEXUAL BEHAVIOUR

 

Indeed, sexual self-discipline is a more certain route to a well-ordered society than encouraging early sexual initiation, while supplying the technology to avoid or terminate pregnancy. Research has discovered that for more than half of Jamaican women, their first sexual experience was not consensual, i.e., they were raped. Clearly, sexual indiscipline is rampant in Jamaica. I hope that the recently appointed bipartisan commission on values and attitudes will head us in the direction of self-discipline and away from scratching at every itch.

The success stories of Jamaicans who have done well have a common theme centred on self-discipline and avoiding distractions: studying hard, training hard, focusing on one's goals, and being self-directed. Persons who scratch every time they itch, and who give in every time nature rises, are more likely to become parents early, be academic and economic underachievers, and transform into a burden on society.

Let us step back and look at the big picture: what kind of society do we want Jamaica to become?

- Peter Espeut is a sociologist and Roman Catholic deacon. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com.