Ronald Thwaites | On civic virtue
When Socrates questioned how the defining characteristics of the Greek city state – political virtue, harmony, balance, peace and order – could be derived, taught and transmitted, legend ascribed to Plato tells us that recourse was had to Zeus, the highest God who:
“...fearing that the entire race would be exterminated,
sent Hermes to them, bearing reverence and justice
to be the ordering principles of cities and the bonds
of friendship and conciliation.”
Jamaica lacks schooling in the civic virtues. Reverence for each other’s dignity is considered weak and appeasing, and secondary to money power or political influence. Justice is circumscribed by class and special interests, and its pursuit is mostly inaccessible or delayed until the outcomes are meaningless.
We are by no means the worst by international comparison. Check Haiti, parts of the US, Yemen and Afghanistan, for instance. But, blessed by brilliant human resources, manageable size, felicity of geographical location and usable traditions, we could do much better for ourselves.
These thoughts are provoked by the thick wall of resistance to COVID vaccination and the pseudo-’reasoning’ behind this unwillingness to act in reverence and justice towards others.
Hear one Bishop Facey opposing the righteous call of Archbishop Gregory for a vaccine mandate. This prelate argues that a requirement to protect oneself and others around you would be a breach of human rights and an issue unrelated to the moral order which Christians ought to promote. And this influential view is apparently widespread – witness the increasingly empty seats at the vaccine ‘blitzes’. As if it can ever be godly to be self-centred!
Trust, the beautiful child of ‘friendship and conciliation’, is the scarcest commodity among us. Scant reverence for each other is what is keeping us back from taming COVID. Distrust is why we have a government chosen by only an abject minority of the electorate. With wry truth, Lisa Hanna said last week that the only thing not ‘going up’ is respect for politicians.
It doesn’t help, for example, when the O’Brien old-car purchase case is so long unsettled that it is forgotten. Clearly, that is the intention. So it is with the litany of other unresolved scandals which sap people’s confidence in constituted authority. For you can have plenty power but lack the authority to use it for good purposes. Isn’t that where we are heading right now?
Thankfully, the Integrity Commission does not need any referral from Cabinet or a ministry to examine the Airports Authority or Nutrition Products. The problem is that long before any investigation takes place, the public have reached a conclusion which may be unfair to named individuals and has further eroded public trust.
BEST HOPE LIES IN SCHOOLS
The vital need to teach and model civic virtues does not only apply to governments. Last week, Deryck Rose, in a letter to the editor, repeated his lament about the terrible and unremitting noise pollution we all suffer from the selfish fashion of motorcycle riders who modify their mufflers to induce deafness and distress. How do you relate the civic virtues of reverence and justice to this deliberate nuisance? Where did they learn that this was OK? How do they unlearn?
A few years ago, in a series of parliamentary questions, primed by Deryck, I had asked Minister Montague why this illegal practice was condoned. After the usual long delay, the answer given him to pass on to me was the pitiful riposte that when the bikes came for the annual fitness test, the farting exhaust systems would be corrected. Try yu best, Bobby. Sorry, Deryck.
Please don’t rely on either the mass media or political parties to encourage the civic virtues of respect for self and others, and more. Our best hope lies in the schools. At the most impressionable early-childhood level, revamp the entire curriculum to teach and model humane virtues and good habits.
Especially after the prolonged purgatory of COVID, the Brain Builders programme for the pre-primary sector is as essential as universal vaccination. Take the early- childhood teachers out of minimum-wage penury, feed the little ones the nutrition that most don’t get at home, and bind the parents to renewed, positive value transmission.
Zeus had this to say to the Athenians:
“...for cities cannot exist, if a few only share in the
virtues, as in the arts.”
The same applies to us.
Rev Ronald G. Thwaites is an attorney-at-law. Email feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org.