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Gleaner 180 - In a normative funk

Published:Saturday | September 13, 2014 | 9:00 AM
Garth A. Rattray
  • In a normative funk

Published: April 14, 1981

Wilmot Perkins, Contributor

THE INCIDENT the other evening at the National Stadium in which two youngsters from two of Jamaica's leading secondary schools precipitated an occasion of sport into a brawl in which several persons were injured and which led to the termination of the meet, raises again the question of the Calibanisation of Jamaican life.

I have been amazed to find speaking to responsible persons at both institutions, that while it is admitted that the conduct of the boys was, in both cases, inexcusable, attempts were made on both sides to offer what in fact amounted to excuses. I was told, for example, about a "bias of officials fostering the interests of one school above the other" resulting in one boy being impelled to "take the law into his own hands".

I cannot imagine any of the masters at any school to which I went taking such a view of such a matter. Indeed, I can hardly imagine such a matter occurring in the days when I was in school. Those were the days when the secondary schools were, in the jargon of today's politics, elitist institutions. It happened a little before my time; but the memory of it was still fresh. An entire football team was caned by the headmaster of Jamaica College (JC) for having given their opponents in a Manning Cup match a ten-nil drubbing. That, he is reputed to have said, was not the act of gentlemen.

In those old days one needn't have done anything nearly as gross as initiating a public riot at the National Stadium, transforming a field of sport into a field of blood, to have found oneself instantly out on one's ear. Now, I am told by a headmaster, boys in his school involved in organised gambling tell him that that "is in their blood". It is what they see and engage in at home.

A fight in school these days is as likely as not to involve a knife. The owner says he is from a ghetto area, and need, it for protection; which doesn't explain his using it in a fight at school. He tells me that in such cases the boy is usually suspended. Apparently, it is as difficult to expel a boy from school these days as it is to fire a civil servant.

The ghetto has invaded and conquered where elitism once reigned supreme; not because of the democratisation of opportunity, but because of the democratisation of standards. It is one thing to take the ghetto youth and put him into Wolmer's or JC, Kingston College or Calabar with the idea of making an educated gentleman of him; another entirely to put him there as a source of infection, a means of debasing the mores of society to a single common denominator.

The manners and habits of the ghetto are appropriate to the ghetto and to nowhere else. Ghetto people used them to be acutely sensitive to this until the professional loudmouths discovered that there were easy pickings to be made 'Mau-Mau-ing' the trembling middle classes, not least the politicians. One Mr Feathermop made a notable career of this until hubris betrayed him. He was a man of no discretion. Success made him overbearing. His too vaulting ambition and want of caution led him to an early and violent end.

The ghetto, I believe, looked with disapproval on the whole affair. Stones circulated about Feather planting his hand in this one's face, and heaving bricks through such and such a car window; and my impression is that while poor people retailed them with fascination, it was also with horrified disappointment. That was not the quotient they expected their political process to yield, nor the out-turn they looked for from the leadership in which they had invested.

Ask yourself this question: Why is it that the ghetto has never settled political leadership on the likes of Feathermop, or come anywhere near to doing so? Why has it increasingly looked to die products of JC and Wolmer's and Munro and St Simon's of 40 years ago?

The ghetto man wants to escape the ghetto, and he looks to the political process, and to a middle class leadership to point him the way out of it. One raft of clueless politicians thought that the answer to his problem was to ghettoise the entire society. In this they were even more powerfully prompted by Freud than by Marx.

Freudism is only now working its way through this society. We have at Iast discovered the unconscious, and been moved to explore and implement in full its social and political implications. If man is but a bark, buffeted, by fearful storms raging out of the unconscious, how can he be held responsible for anything he does? How can he be justly punished for infraction of rules when he may have been driven to the infraction by unconscious forces over which he had no control?

A psychiatrist friend of mine tells
me that his role is "to understand rather than to react or condemn".
With the spread of Freudian ideas, this has in fact become the posture
of society itself; except that society, unlike the psychiatrist, is
constantly being persuaded of its own guilt. Freud has disfocussed
attention from the act itself and its consequences for society, to focus
it upon the process by which the act was brought
about.

Murder is no longer unquestionably the issue,
but the convoluted psychological process which led from the baby being
left alone in his crib at the age of two months to the man immolating
his wife in the bath at the age of 40; or rather, our speculations about
them. They are, in the nature of things,
unprovable.

Similarly, the focus is not on the
barbarously unsportsmanlike conduct at the National Stadium. That,
admittedly is inexcusable; said in the manner of a first trick conceded
at the bridge table when the small slam is a lay-down. What we must
understand is what led the lads to behave as they
did.

Moreover, the ghetto man has plausibly been the
victim of social circumstances. The system has operated to his
disadvantage; condemned him to poverty and to die the experience of
brutality. How can he, in general, be expected to achieve standards
determined within the more privileged strats of
society?

The law itself is an instrument of
oppression, imposing upon the ghetto man constraints that are extraneous
to his own culture. Cultural relativity rises to assert that value
itself, being culturally determined, cannot be applied across cultural
boundaries. Ghetto values are as valid as any other set of values, and
the ghetto unconscious naturally swirls with different winds from those
of Barbican. All of which leaves us in a normative
funk.

But that is middle-class reasoning, an excuse
for the failure of middle-class leadership. The ghetto man never heard
of Freud. For him, a man is still responsible for what he does; and
society still needs to be protected from some of the things men do. And
given a chance, he would want to send his son to the JC of 40 years ago
to become a gentleman.

  • Response: Negative social
    engineering

Published: September 13, 2014

Garth Rattray, Guest Columnist

Quintuple murders, quadruple murders,
triple murders, double murders, infanticide. Murdering the helpless, the
elderly, women and children, people who witness crimes, murdering to
terrorise communities, murdering the relatives of people with whom one
has a grievance, people who showed disrespect, people who angered
someone, people who owe money, beheadings, murder for hire ... murder,
murder, murder.

Murder, the most heinous crime against
man and an affront to God, has become an expected item of daily news.
When I was growing up, murder was rare and it was very big news. Word of
a murder precipitated chills, wide eyes, dropped jaws and whispered
gasps of horror. People would congregate in small groups and buzz in
hushed tones as they exchanged proclamations of repugnance, trepidation
and concern for the moral degradation of society.

Now,
whenever someone is killed, the society reacts with morbid fascination,
people experience fleeting sympathy that rapidly fades into curiosity,
and then into attempts at rationalising the awful
crime.

The excuses/explanations/speculations for
murder run the gamut from believing that the victim was 'mixed up' in
something, troubled somebody, reneged on a deal, got involved with the
wrong crowd, was in the wrong place at the wrong time, was the victim of
mistaken identity, was targeted for a robbery, saw something that
he/she ought not to have seen or invoked the ire of a 'bad
man'.

I used to purchase fruits from a group of
fellows located at Four Roads. My usual supplier suddenly vanished. When
I enquired of his whereabouts, his friend said that he got himself into
trouble. Naturally, I assumed that he had run afoul of the law. But
when I pressed for more information, it was explained to me that he had,
"seen what he should not have seen and so had to run away to the
country".

Witnesses hiding

It is
interesting that criminals used to go into hiding if they were seen
committing a crime. But nowadays, it is often witnesses who must perform
disappearing acts for their safety. And when certain communities heat
up with gun skirmishes, it is entire blocks of families that become
internally displaced.

Amid their panicked exodus is
the haunting realisation that this is the new paradigm. The old
archetype, wherein the wrongdoer fled and cowered in fear and shame, no
longer exists. Now, emboldened by their transient pseudo-power and
supported, explicitly or tacitly, by those close to them, criminals run
roughshod over anyone in their way and unleash terror with
impunity.

Society is akin to a garden populated by
several types of plants. Some flora are fortunate to have been nurtured
in the salubrious portion of the garden. Their circumstances allowed for
orderly, healthy and lush growth that enhance the well-being of the
entire garden. However, some other flora grow in and have adapted to
extremely harsh conditions. Their survival is dictated by their ability
to create and adhere to an alternative set of
laws.

The alternative set of laws masquerade as
innocuous conveniences that insidiously permeate and transform all
levels of society. Suddenly, the rules and regulations that stood the
test of time, survived wars and riots and produced order and civility
are made to appear redundant encumbrances.

Now, even
among the middle class, among the people who did not have to adapt in
order to survive, there are some who delve in survivalist tactics
(justified illegal activities) in pursuit of the rarefied air of social
supremacy.

Various gardeners have not only paid scant
attention to the needs of the flora growing in harsh environments, they
have used and manipulated them to gain power and control. Now, the
survivalist tactics once confined to a small subset has metastasised and
has taken root throughout society.

The survivalist
excuse is employed across blurred class borders, extended and used to
validate the breaking of various laws, the bribing of government
officials, 'letting off suppn' to get around the system, unethical and
illegal activities, falsifying documents to make huge profits, and even
paying for murder.

Future leaders must pay closer
attention to the socially unfortunate. They must care for and empower
them with no strings attached. They must dispatch the infectious
survivalist drivel to where it belongs ... in the garbage
heap.

garthrattray@gmail.com