Ronald Thwaites | Rekindling national fervour
Jamaicans need a compelling idea, a noble cause, to rekindle the national movement.
In their times, causes like Emancipation, self-government, and Independence each excited enough of our ancestors to raise communal expectations and induce often heroic individual effort. Different classes, races, and interest groups came together and saw their self-interest achievable by joint action rather than self-referential behaviour.
But these goals have been achieved and have given way to vague ideals like 'freedom', often disconnected from responsibility; 'power', without social obligation; and, latterly, 'prosperity', divorced from specific effort.
Let's admit it: Our political culture is good at marketing the slogans but less than brilliant in charting the specific at and inclusive programmes that can transform the social, economic, and political culture. Neither party has a current ideological stance out of which policy can be crafted.
What does freedom really mean in Jamaica? Is it more than the emancipation of personal choice - to do what I feel like, what I think is in my self-interest, with the least interference possible? Many people believe and act as if this is the highest good.
So we have vast differentials of wealth, poverty and social well-being without demurrer. We tolerate a huge informal economy with little intent to correct it; not to mention the recent and continuing caricature of prosperity by offering freeness to some at the crushing expense of the weakest.
I don't doubt that the nation could well achieve five per cent growth of gross domestic product in four years, but I am not at all sanguine that this will make much difference to the people of Central Kingston and similar areas. There is the real likelihood that the benefits of growth will leave out the many once again or be exported to enrich other societies as has been the pattern of our history.
You can't define the goals of a nation only in economistic terms. Having plenty things won't, by themselves, make us happy. Donald Trump has had every material advantage imaginable since birth and look what a warped person he has become.
Recently, I attended a conference of Jamaican Diaspora Churches in Montego Bay. It was a good effort to bring together the concerns of religious organisations to advance Jamaican development goals. The discourse seemed to centre on charity and philanthropy rather than the stirring of an explicit ethic of being our brother's keeper.
But the germ of a renewed order of caring and sharing is deep in the Christian psyche of our people. Right now, all people of goodwill need to put aside the fractures of denominationalism and escapism in religious and secular circles and develop the strong stomach for social re-engineering that alone can revive the national movement for inclusive transformation.
Cultivate these sentiments then demand and watch public policy begin to reflect them in the Budget and in new laws. This is the only antidote to the 'freeness', victim status, and false entitlement to which many politicians pander.
All of us, but especially young people, can be brought to understand the purpose of sacrifice, of postponement of gratification, of restraint; of respect of self and all others.
These will have to be among the values that will make us want to wake up and get out every morning rather than bleach the nights away because there is nothing worthy of compelling effort to engage us next day. It is work and personal responsibility that alone can make Jamaica's development goals inclusive and sustainable.
- Ronald Thwaites is MP for Central Kingston and opposition spokesman on education. Email feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org.