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Wilmot 'Motty' Perkins: the man we love to hate


Perkins

Joanne Simpson, Contributor

WILMOT 'Motty' Perkins has been fired from almost every place he has worked as a journalist.

However, he was just as often rehired to do what he does best - be a journalist par excellence.

Equipped with a reservoir of knowledge of world history, various schools of thought on his pet subjects of politics, economics, anthropology, philosophy, theology and sociology, Mr. Perkins provides his audience with a daily intellectual jog in the park, often stimulating, sometimes vigorously so and always well worth the effort.

Few people know that Motty is the shortened version of his given name, Wilmot, although over the years it has been assumed to be Mutty.

No doubt this journalist, noted to venture where others fear even to tip-toe, has invested little in the value systems to which many of his peers subscribe.

He sneers with thinly-disguised cynicism at institutions others regard as hallowed, pours scorn on the self-important and inflated as he steers his programme with a single-minded focus across choppy waters of controversy - all to the on-going delight and enjoyment of thousands of listeners each day.

With his probing analytical mind and fearless stance, Wilmot 'Motty' Perkins has had a colourful reputation as a journalist.

Today he commands pride of place as a leader in talk-show radio.

Motty Perkins seems to have engineered the formula to gain and maintain listenership. You love him or you hate him. Some love to hate him. He is as absorbing as he is entertaining. He has been psychoanalysed and criticised by many, but he is loved by the common man, whose opinions he gives a strident resonance that is difficult to ignore.

His show 'Perkins on Line' has taken its place as the most popular and effective talk show in Jamaica.

Sitting with Motty, one is bombarded with many stories. This storyteller makes you want to listen as he interprets history and applies it to today's realities. He is able to distance himself from the event, the sentiment and the emotions and apply a detached philosophical interpretation to the issue. Above all, he likes logic. He is sometimes seen as cold and unfeeling, but his social skills are impeccable and when off the microphone, he is the life of the party.

FOREVER CONTROVERSIAL

Motty revels in controversy. He savours it and delights in it. He quotes from the Good Book, he languishes on the schools of thought from learned minds and combines the ideas to offer fresh perspectives which opens the listeners' minds to analytical interpretations. He has been accused of negativism, but perhaps, that is his way of getting his audience to think 'out of the box.

"People do not have to fear me unless they are on a bad wicket. If they are confident they will call me. If they have doubt, they might find it embarrassing," he said.

He has vast experience as a parliamentary reporter, a news editor, a broadcaster, columnist and talk show host, and he is respected on all fronts.

Motty has numerous views on how things should or ought to be. He feels strongly that we should value the lessons of history and use it as a guide to tailor the way forward.

"We cannot operate in isolation of events past and present, or be forever re-inventing the wheel," he said, "for that will determine how far we go and at what pace we develop as a people and a nation."

Motty is guided by the anthropological stance which says that material backwardness is a function of cultural isolation. He supports the view that cultural cross-fertilisation is what drives material progress. "We do not need to re-invent the wheel," he again emphasised. "We have to move from the point of accumulated experience, we must understand the whys of history and not get caught up with the events themselves. We need to understand why the Europeans dominated the world for 500 years. No need to get caught up with the sentiment of what was lost, focus on the psyche and the strength of the conqueror."

On the point of accumulated experience, he illustrated his point with a reference to Bee-thoven and the Internet. "Beethoven didn't start where the first musician started. The Internet is not a new idea. It is as a result of the accumulated knowledge and experience of thousands of years. If we do not educate our children, we are depriving them of developing their potential as human beings. We have to respect the principle of value-added. We are suffering from intellectual poverty. Our intellectuals should be helping us to understand our world and they are not performing that function," he noted.

"In Jamaica, we do not value ideas," says Perkins. "Our education is not geared towards promoting understanding. Jamaica's politics could not accommodate an educated population. This may have been by design but not necessarily a conscious one. And we are now suffering from that lack of vision.

"As black people, we need to understand why five white faces and one Japanese represent the Group of Six (the six leading nations of the world). Why did Europe go to Africa and not Africa go to Europe? What enabled the Europeans to dominate for 500 years? These are the questions to which we should seek answers.

"We need to understand the principles of leadership and the underpinning of what propels a once underdeveloped nation like Singapore (the size of St. James) to move from a poor Third World country to a First World country with a per capita income of US$30,000 while Jamaica which Singapore once used as a model of development, now has a per capita income of US$1,500 or less. We need to have the vision to understand the strategy to follow the dictates necessary to move forward."

In the arena of world leadership, Motty admires most of the leaders of the American Revolution.

"I admire George Washington, who led the revolution to victory ­ I admire Thomas Jefferson, who provided the world with the best definition of Government, which says that all men are created equal ­ they are endowed by the creator with inalienable rights, among them the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness and it is to secure these rights that Governments are instituted among men. This is the primary purpose for which Governments exist," he said.

EQUAL RESPECT

He feels strongly that the same respect is due to a man of high office as the handcart man. Individuals, he feels, should not be accorded respect as a result of their office, but that they should earn that respect as an individual.

On a point of the value of self-perception, Motty said there are many lessons to be learned from an individual like the eminent Colin Powell, United States Secretary of State and military leader. This man was able to rise through the ranks of the military to hold the nation's highest military post, in a country rife with racism. He did not internalise his blackness. He is confident, he knows his strengths. He forgot that he was black. He had high self-esteem and did not rely on the opinion of others to determine how far he went.

WOMAN POWER

Looking at the prospect of women to govern, Motty said, "I think women in Jamaica are quite capable." He explained that in today's world, it is only brain that is required, not muscle and body mass that gave men the dominant position. In the past, men assumed leadership position based on their ability to perform functions of hunting and protection. "The modus operandi," Mutty ex-plained, "has changed in today's environment. Women are in many ways different from men biologically and from conditioning. But they understand their strengths and the power of a teardrop."

Turning to an ancient story of Rome: "I recall a moment in history when Rome founded by Romulus and Remus raided the Sabines and stole their women. The Sabines in turn made a counter-attack. While the two warring factions were muscling up, it was the women who got in between and said to stop this nonsense. Women have an in-built capacity for exercising good sense. They do not have to go around beating their chests, their pride does not rest in machismo. Women have brain power to move forward into leadership," he posited.

Wilmot Perkins loves a conversation. He revels in his knowledge of history and his ability to place issues into perspective. "I want people to think through issues." That is why he has so dubbed his show ­ 'The Thinking Person's Talk Show'. "My intention is to focus public attention upon the gaping hiatus between what is and what might be, and to do it within a broad historical framework that embraces not only the history of Jamaica, but the history of mankind," he noted. "There was never a quiet moment during my career through the media."

This outspoken individual has never been afraid to speak his mind. Whether out of pocket or not, Motty remains strongly opinionated. He has the guts to stand his ground without care for the consequences. He remembers several spats with Governments of the day as he is partial to none.

He recalls an interview with then Minister of Home Affairs, Roy McNeil, who had undertaken to use members of the Gun Club to substitute for policemen who were taking industrial action. Motty's question to the minister touched a nerve when he questioned the basis the gun club was being hired.

"Both groups had in common an interest in guns and shooting," he said. "Is this your view of the police?" he asked the minister.

Of course, he was asked kindly by the board to demit his post at JBC.

That was Wilmot 'Motty' Perkins then. I am sure he remains the same Motty today.

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