Boyne's balance proves 'Ideas Matter'

Published: Sunday | December 8, 2013 Comments 0
Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller flashes a smile alongside Lady Allen and Sir Patrick at the launch of 'Ideas Matter' in November - file.
Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller flashes a smile alongside Lady Allen and Sir Patrick at the launch of 'Ideas Matter' in November - file.
Frances Salmon, head of the West Indies and Special Collections at UWI Library, receives a copy of Ian Boyne's 'Ideas Matter' from the man himself at the book launch on November 20.-Colin Hamilton/Photographer
Frances Salmon, head of the West Indies and Special Collections at UWI Library, receives a copy of Ian Boyne's 'Ideas Matter' from the man himself at the book launch on November 20.-Colin Hamilton/Photographer

This is an edited presentation by Professor Trevor Munroe, executive director of the National Integrity Action, at the launch of Ian Boyne's compilation of In Focus columns, Ideas Matter.

We are launching a book reflecting the work of one of the Caribbean's most outstanding journalists. It was Ian who reminded me a few days ago that many decades ago I once said to him, "You are the most widely read person I know who is not a graduate student nor an academic." I want to revise that in perusing this work, Ideas Matter - I have to say that Ian Boyne is among the most widely read person I know, including graduate students and academics.

The subtitle of the book is Journey into the Mind of a Veteran Journalist. This journey is fascinating as we traverse the 330 pages, the six sections and more than 60 pieces written by Ian. They reveal a very special type of mind - a mind with a boundless interest in the diversity of the human experience; a boundless interest in all facets of life - interest in religion and philosophy, international affairs and foreign policy, in dancehall, arts and culture, in Jamaican politics and in a vast range of socio-economic and governance issues.

The pages also reveal a mind with a truly unique breadth of reading and capacity to synthesise complex ideas and varied experience. I ask you, as you read this book: What other mind can you think of that would penetrate, dissect and analyse, drawing on relevant reading, the life of Pope John Paul II, Alton Ellis, the King of Soul, Mutabaruka, Obama, Ronald Reagan, and not to leave out present company, Portia Simpson Miller, P.J. Patterson, Eddie Seaga and Bruce Golding? What other mind can you think of, with equal facility, that explores Christianity and atheism, the world of sex, guns, greed and, of course, the arena of values and culture and their relationship to economic programmes and public policy?

Mind of a Dilettante

One could say that this is the mind of a dilettante, were it not the case that Boyne deals with each of these and many other topics with depth and with familiarity with most recent writings, well beyond the visitations of the dilettante.

And reading this book, we journey into a mind not only characterised by diversity of interest and breadth of reading. We have here a mind, needed more and more in the contemporary realities facing Jamaica, the region and, indeed, the entire human race - that is, a mind capable of extraordinary balance, devoid of one-sidedness, impervious to seeing reality as black and white.

Dialectical Thinker

Rather, we have a mind which grasps that all phenomena are shades of grey; that in every positive, there is negative, and in every negative, a positive. Ian Boyne is a truly dialectical thinker, as the philosophers would say. Or as we in Jamaica would say, a truly non-tribal personality - one able to pick sense out of nonsense and, conversely, to discern nonsense in what appears to the naked eye as incontrovertible truth.

So in the course of the writings which make up this book, Boyne has been called a Labourite when he writes: "There is no living Jamaican anywhere in the world today, as Jamaica celebrates its 50th anniversary, who has contributed as much to Jamaica as Edward Philip George Seaga. None!" (pg. 55).

But then the same Boyne continues in the same column: "Let me say straight off the bat that Seaga's role in post-Independence Jamaica has not been angelic. Yes, he is responsible for some of our finest and most laudable achievements, economically, culturally, but politically, he has been a major player in tribalism and must share blame for our decadent political culture." To many, this is muddled thinking. To me, it is seeking to grasp the complexity and many-sided nature of reality.

Then read on to see why the same Boyne is accused of being PNP, a Comrade. "Manley," he says, "saw clearly that an unequal society was a wasteful society; a society that impairs efficiency and order; a society which courts instability. The brilliance of Manley's intellectual grasp of these issues - from the 1960s - is reinforced when one is immersed in contemporary development literature."

(pg. 50) So do we here have a Comrade Boyne?

Read on: "Manley made a number of blunders and did not evince sufficient emotional intelligence ... did not manage the fears of the Jamaican people well enough. One would need a whole column to delineate his errors and blunders ... from a consequentialist point of view, Manley was a failure. But from a Kantian perspective, he was a success." (pg. 53-54) Clearly, this is neither Comrade Boyne nor Labourite Boyne.

But is Ian, with all this balance, falling into the trap of many intellectuals, falling prey to the risk of many so-called objective analysts? With so many 'on the one hands' followed by 'on the other hands', what is his position? Or does he have a position? Remember, we only have two hands. Is nihilism where he ends up? No - not at all.

Boyne takes definite positions. After the balanced analysis, the independent thinking, the grasp of some merit in economic theories which extol the State, as well as the value in ideas which celebrate the market, Boyne is unambiguously for an activist, developmental state. One in which the market has a definite place, but the State holds and uses the levers of development.

DEFINITE POSITION

Clearly, on the fundamental questions, despite - I would even say, flowing from - 'on the one hand' and 'on the other hand', Boyne takes a definite position.

But do these ideas, or any, Ideas Matter? Do Ideas Matter to anyone else but those who generate them and perhaps to their enthusiastic followers? Boyne gives us an insight into his answer to the question. Ideas and "scholarship should not be confined to recondite journals read by a few. My goal is to democratise it and make it accessible to the masses" (pg. xxvii). But making ideas accessible to the masses is one thing. Having the masses grasp and make these ideas their own is quite another.

Put bluntly, Jamaica, and I dare say the region, and the world, need journalists who carry intellectual ideas to policymakers, but who also carry these ideas to the masses. These are journalists who double as public intellectuals like Ian Boyne, a Wilmot Perkins or a John Maxwell.

Professor Carl Stone, one of Ian's heroes, wrote columns in The Gleaner for more than two decades while authoring more than 100 scholarly publications. Further afield, Nobel Prize-winning academics like Joseph Stiglitz write regularly for The New York Times and The Washington Post. There can be no question that the times in which we live require journalists like Ian to take scholarship to the masses. For being a pioneer in this endeavour, we have to be grateful to Ian Boyne and thankful for this publication.

Join me in extending warmest congratulations to one of the Caribbean's finest journalists by reading this exceptional work.

Ian Boyne's 'Ideas Matter' is available in book stores islandwide. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com.






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