Ronald Thwaites | ‘They’re all blaming me…!’
That was the pathetic cry of the mother of a little girl who was slaughtered recently, as everybody wretches and wrings our hands at the recurrent brutality. Then there is, more often than not, the aftermath of vicious, disproportionate and uncontrollable reprisals.
In distress, we blame the police, scapegoat the community, resign ourselves to the shedding of more blood, and seek anaesthesia by jumping semi-nude in the circus.
I believe there are some deep issues here. There is a thin line between order and disorder in any family, community or nation. It is only relatively recently, in the long arc of human history, that the values of respect for the weak, the vulnerable; for things like freedom, equality and due process, have become normative.
Move beyond the narrowness of local news and chatter and pay attention to the happenings far abroad to reflect on how reasonably advanced we are in the protection of the individual rights and liberties which many of us take for granted. In fact, you only have to reflect on our own history over the last 200 years – a brief span in evolutionary terms.
Without definite standards of what is right and wrong, coupled with firm, as distinct from cruel, discipline and the example of measured, credible leadership, regression to disorder and savagery will occur swiftly and will be difficult and expensive to correct.
Jamaica is in such a situation now. Last week, this newspaper expressed justifiable satisfaction at how the society has adjusted itself on the relatively small but still significant issue of using some types of plastic bags. So far it does show that with firm policy, sensibly executed, ordered compliance will follow.
There are some much bigger fish to fry, however. Last week in Parliament I argued that weak man-and-woman relationships, brittle family structure, cannot support a prosperous economy on a sustained and inclusive basis. In what has been carnival week, is the country in any mood to acknowledge that faithful, permanent unions are essential to the healthy upbringing of children?
Listen again to the lonely pathos of the slain child’s mother. What happened to Shantae’s father? Why do we inflict such unbearable responsibility on single parents and grandparents by our unspoken norm that it is OK to breed and only afterwards, or not, to consider how the child will be raised? And worse, to elevate fickle relationships as being unavoidable, natural and an exercise of the freedom to which my ‘feelings’ make me entitled.
Sounds prudish? Maybe, but check the best educators and they will tell you that it is the unmet basic needs and absent effective parenting which are holding back education outcomes, moreso than any other lack.
As Sterling Castle, Bellfield, Denham Town and other places show us with numbing regularity, chaos lurks just below the surface of our society, largely because we have made a default choice that it be so.
The constituent elements of Western civilised life-sharing, dignity, respect, loyalty, authority and sacredness (quoting Jonah Goldberg) – don’t just happen. They are fragile and once eroded, cannot be restored by repression. They have to be taught, cultured by example and institutional behaviour (that includes Parliament) and cherished.
Where do people learn these values? With the decline of the ‘granny culture’, less effective religious education, the in-your-face beguiling gossip of social and conventional media and the sterility of the street corner, is our predicament any wonder? Check what Leith Dunn had to say to the JTA last week, or the stories of Shavane Clarke, the governor general’s awardee, or the background odyssey of Elvis Thomas, recently released from prison and told in last Thursday’s Star.
Jamaican society has some choices to make. Who will lead?
Ronald Thwaites is member of parliament for Kingston Central and opposition spokesman on education and training. Email feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org.