Politics and mental slavery
by Peter Espeut
"Emancipate yourselves from mental slavery, none but ourselves can free our minds." - Redemption Song, Robert Nesta Marley, OM
Jamaica did away with chattel slavery 177 years ago, but mental slavery is still with us - big time! Here I don't want to focus on racial self-hate and personal lack of self-confidence, retentions from colonial slavery which still debilitate our people. Today, I want to focus on a relatively new but no-less-retarding form of Jamaican mental slavery: PNP and JLP politics!
Mental slavery is more pernicious than physical slavery, for whereas the latter is imposed by force from outside the person, the former comes from within. And this is what Bob - and Marcus Garvey before him - were trying to say: that whereas it is possible for others to liberate a chattel slave by legal or military means, only the individual can free himself from mental slavery.
In a 1937 speech in Menelik Hall, Nova Scotia, Canada, Marcus said: "We are going to emancipate ourselves from mental slavery because whilst others might free the body, none but ourselves can free the mind." The trouble is that many people do not see themselves as mental slaves in need of emancipation, and resist it, and entrench themselves in their bondage.
Defining the 'condition'
A mental slave is someone who suspends his intellectual faculties and subjugates himself to the will and beliefs and attitudes of another person or group. Mental slavery is the inability to view events, or one's self, objectively. A mental slave will not apply his brain to evaluate what he is being told, to discover what is true and rational; mental slaves are in the habit of accepting and believing what is told to them, whether it makes sense or not. Often, the mental slave does not even stop to ask himself whether what is being said makes sense or not; what is important is that my side said it.
And then if the other side says something, the mental slave is conditioned to reject it as being nonsense, or self-serving.
Isn't this a good description of Jamaican politics, as invented and perpetuated by our two political tribes? Visualise the multitudes of orange- or green-clad herds, chanting the party anthems and prejudices, happy to board buses to unknown destinations for a T-shirt, a box lunch, a Nanny and a beer.
These are not thinking people, who weigh the issues and make reasoned choices. The slang which describes many of them is profoundly accurate: they are 'die-hearted' - their hearts are quite dead! If their party put up as a candidate a black dog or a monkey, they will vote for him or her. And manifestos and political debates will be lost on these diehard, unthinking, robotic party revellers.
A person who is authentically free embraces personal responsibility, and in his or her choices is guided by reason and virtue. Political affiliation in Jamaica requires a suspension of logic and ethics. How serious church people can support parties that operate political garrisons, with armed thugs on their payrolls, is beyond me. I suppose, for them, compromise knows no limits.
I drive around Jamaica quite a bit, and I notice that the green and orange pennants on the utility poles are back. For a long time they have contravened the Code of Political Conduct signed to by both parties, and largely ignored by both sides. I consider these fluttering pieces of cloth to be the greatest insults to the character and dignity of local residents.
The paraphernalia shout: "The people who live around here belong to the (orange or green) tribe, and this is (PNP or JLP) territory. We control the area, and we control the people. They are not free to think about who to vote for; their vote is already in the bag." Such strips of cloth do not fly over Norbrook and Cherry Gardens; they only fly where poor black people live - the modern mental slaves, kept in bondage by modern mental slavemasters.
Actually, neither Garvey nor Marley first introduced the concept of mental slavery to Jamaicans. In a letter to The Daily Gleaner on July 31, 1919, Clarendon plantation owner Sidney Moxsy of Dry River, near Hayes, wrote that there were at least two types of slavery - "the mental and the manual"; and referring to the former, "none but the individual himself can alleviate it".
The hard-core support of both parties (the mental slaves) is declining as more and more Jamaicans emancipate themselves. There are too many left, though, and they are holding back Jamaica's development - and the coming of the Kingdom.
Peter Espeut is a sociologist and Roman Catholic deacon. Email feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org.