Mon | Oct 23, 2017

Brian-Paul Welsh | Insult to injury

Published:Tuesday | June 6, 2017 | 12:00 AM

Maintaining order in the kingdom has been a burden for those in government since the days when our communities were actual livestock pens, and, likewise, abiding by the whims of a perceived illegitimate authority has been bothersome to those held captive on this rock over the past few centuries.

This antagonism between the peasants and those with intent to control them manifests itself as the abundance of villagers in active rebellion against the system and their constant battle with an army of zealous administrators determined to apply the rules at all costs.

We see this struggle play out in our school system, and, more broadly, in our towns and villages islandwide.

Such recurrent clashes among the rule breakers and those tasked with administering them haven't changed in essential character for the past few hundred years and typically end in some sort of humiliation by way of physical domination as a demonstration of legitimacy. The privileged few with the right amount of social capital are immunised from such conflict, or at the very least, can afford to mitigate the outcome.

Last week's furore over reports that a wayward teenage boy was captured and forcibly shaved like livestock as a lesson in discipline for the rest of the herd is but another example of the historical well from which many of our rules and attitudes spring. Likewise, recently witnessing a state representative taking defensive manoeuvres to protect himself from attack by an incensed group of illegal taxi operators was another intense illustration of how the natives instinctively rage against the machine to protest the perceived injustice of it all.

Ordinary people know 'smaddy' or his 'pickney' won't face such embarrassment when confronted by the law, for they have long learnt the ways of the system with respect to who is considered respectable, and amid the chatter in the town that our disciplinary philosophy is still akin to taming black animals came an astute observation commonly articulated as 'duppy know who fi frighten'.

Condensed into that idiom is the perception that rules remain rules in this country unless you possess the wherewithal to change them in your favour. It is believed that only the poor and disenfranchised feel the brunt of the law, while the rest look on with amazement at the brutality their privilege protects them from.

 

AN ABANDONMENT OF VALUES

 

In the days of yore, when rules were rules, and people knew their place, far removed from the chaos of contemporary Kingston and before our descent into anarchy, it is said that people did what they were told instead of whatever they felt like. Today's harsh reality, they say, is the result of an abandonment of the core disciplinary values we once cherished in favour of the base urges and instincts of the modern era. For them, the spirit of defiance must be broken for the greater good of this society no matter the damage caused.

There are some in the business class who, after a few drinks at the watering hole, will merrily opine that if you're too nice to Jamaicans, they won't respect you. In their experience, you have to abuse, belittle, and berate local workers in order to get their cooperation lest they think you are weak and plot to kill you or otherwise frustrate you with lack of interest because you are deemed an ineffective leader.

This vestige of the colonial experience remains part of our cultural subtext and typically comes to light whenever there is a debate about the necessity for stringent measures to combat indiscipline. For many, the drunken words of the elite employer represent the sober thoughts of policymakers and their enforcers.

Whenever we are given pause after the latest outrageous incident of disorder and loss of control resulting from an attempt to restrain, perhaps we should reconsider the utility of the frequently used heavy hand in achieving our desired peaceful objective.

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