Wed | Aug 23, 2017

Daniel Thwaites | Grab them by the bushy

Published:Friday | November 25, 2016 | 11:00 AM

I enjoyed The Gleaner's thunderous denunciation of the utter social collapse on Spur Tree after an Appleton delivery truck overturned. Instead of rushing to assist, candid footage of our fellow citizens showed them energetically scavenging what survived of the cargo. I hope it's not too presumptuous to speak in the plural, not in the royal 'we', but its opposite, the Democratic one, and say: We fell upon the suddenly unguarded rum like thirsty pirates.

The Gleaner's perspective verged on outrage. It acknowledged that there's a suspension of the ordinary rules of law and order in the wake of disasters, accidents, mayhem, and when nobody is looking and the likelihood of being caught is sufficiently diminished.

Still, the real gravamen of the newspaper's complaint was that the police wouldn't even likely think about charging anyone.

Actually, by way of historical detour, scavenging was often associated with the sea and shipwrecks. There is folklore that people on the Cornish Coast of England would, depending on the weaver of the tale, extinguish lights, or set deceptive ones, so as to cause shipwreck. One major source of this legend: Daphne du Maurier's novel Jamaica Inn, named after an inn that took its name from the Trelawny family that had extensive holdings in Jamaica, the island. That's right: If a egg, wi inna de red!

 

INDUSTRY OF WRECKING

 

In fact, there was a whole industry of 'wrecking', and naturally, we have our place in it because di scamma dem deh ya! Wrecking was the business of retrieving treasures, diving for loot, scavenging.

Read it however you want, but we Jamaicans are not afraid to hunt for the booty.

In fact, the largest find prior to the 20th Century features Jamaica in the story. Treasure hunter William Phipps, former shepherd boy and future governor of the Massachusetts Bay Colony, anchored off Port Royal in November 1684, exactly 332 years ago, to offload mutinous crew and upload others, particularly divers, to search for his fortune. And that he did, off the north coast of Hispaniola, in the form of finding and scavenging a Spanish Galleon that was on the sea floor loaded with coin.

By the way, Phipps is most famous, not for booty, but for commissioning a court to investigate witchcraft in Salem, Massachusetts.

Returning to more local trials, I realised that elections trigger the same suspension of law and order as does shipwreck or truckwreck, and for largely the same reasons. All sorts of things happen, and there's very minimal chance that the moderating institutions - the limited checks and balances in our system - will get around to seeing anything, much less doing anything about it, until it's too late.

So I was surprised that The Gleaner didn't draw this obvious connection in an otherwise splendid little meditation on 'Cynical politics', published as an editorial on Wednesday, November 23.

What I'm saying is that the scavengers are not so far away from our Government, which has magically found $600 million to sprinkle around the place for 'bushing' in anticipation of the election. Naturally, Desmond McKenzie claimed to know nothing about it, but across JLP constituencies and divisions targeted for takeover, green-shirted and green-bangled youth are busy at make-work in these few days. Donald Trump would explain on a hot mic that the Holness administration is grabbing them by the bushy.

Before you hasten to assume that I'm unhappy about this turn of events, let me quell that concern. I am simply noting it, and wondering where the usual outrage is. And in the absence of that outrage, I simply conclude that this is how it's always going to be when 'is fi dem time', whoever the 'dem' happens to be.

 

STATE INEFFECTIVENESS

 

Regarding the Spur Tree scavengers, the police bore the brunt of The Gleaner's criticism, but understandably, that was a proxy for the ineffectiveness and impotence of the State. The police, an armed force supposedly governed by rules and trained to impartially apply the law, was unable to protect the property on the overturned land-yacht.

Similarly, in the garish bling-out of public money, none of the institutions set up to moderate or halt that kind of behaviour will have any effect. They will arrive to the scene too late and be able to do too little. Money will already have been pumped out on to the street without oversight, and after the election, an aversion to hindsight will ask: What really is the point of going over all that history?

Of course, 'run-wid-it' spending has happened many times before. But, in recent times, a practice had developed of spreading it across constituencies, regardless of political affiliation.

That changes, which might appear like mere minor tweaks to a fundamentally flawed system of election spending, were actually incredibly important innovations that lessened tribal rancour and lowered the overall temperature. Understand that seemingly small changes like that have enormous impacts on the ground.

In at least that change, we had evolved away from the more gauche and blunt tribalism where 'if yuh wanna get some food, yuh bredda gotta be your enemy'. But with this recent behaviour, we are in danger of devolving into it. The bush-grabbing and scavenging that The Gleaner called "cynical politics" is threatening to get things out of hand.