Ronald Thwaites | Living a simple lifestyle
“MP (member of parliament), you don’t have no ambition!” That was the conclusion of the big woman – the type who frequents political gathering places. “Dat a your car?” She pointed to the ‘deportee’ I was driving. “She a your wife?” That came after her glare at the understated, unadorned, genuine beauty who I accompany through life.
After the anger had subsided, I came to understand her world view. People who lead, those who are supposed to be powerful, like a politician, are expected to be fashionable and flashy: to act superior, to wear authority like the phylacteries of the Pharisees in the Bible. In her mind, parliamentarians are supposed to look ‘stush’, drive a ‘crissas’, have a flashy partner (or two), and live in a big house (chaparritas are optional). Her social presumptions have been well taught and learnt. Remember the masses who gathered at the wharf to ogle when Busta’s Buick Skylark arrived.
SIMPLICITY AND SELF-RESTRAINT
In last week’s writing, I recommended as virtuous, practical and appropriate for all Jamaicans, something radically different – a simple lifestyle: adopted not least so others could simply live. That is, for all to have access, as a human right and through their effort, to the basics of stable relationships, good healthcare, great education, a decent environment in which to live and work. In short, a social order and a political economy which leans towards less inequality; towards more opportunity – more ubuntu.
The recommendation was not popular with some readers. Several who commented on the article were uncomfortable with the ideal of simple living. “You want everybody to be like Mother Teresa and Father Ho Lung?”
Impossible though their dream, many Jamaicans have been schooled to want the great house, the feeling, if not the reality, of superiority (even if only at your funeral); the ‘browning’ culture; the self-conferred entitlement after the history of sufferation, even if attaining all this means trampling on others – just as they themselves might have experienced.
QUESTION OF VALUES
Imagine the young farmers at CASE, being educated at the public’s expense, dumping locally produced food in place of imported fast food. What values underpin their food preferences? Where did they learn disdain for simple, local goodness?
The politicians’ fat-salary issue is of similar texture. The executive’s avarice is not grounded in any national policy, about which the prime minister says the Cabinet “agonised”. Nor is it the product of just applying some relentless arithmetic formula, as Minister Clarke avers. Anterior to all those excuses for its vulgarity is the tacit exemption of themselves by those with power from the condition and concerns of those who pay them. And pseudo-leaders can do this because the underlying values and structures of our social order facilitate it. Just check the expectations of that impoverished big woman for her political leader.
Because the way things are set now, there is little likelihood that, except vicariously, she and others like her will ever achieve what they so ardently desire and project on others. The mentality which drove the Cabinet to give themselves what they think they deserve and more, proves that they have no resolve for a less cruel, more equal society, whatever their useless manifesto promises said.
That’s what the embittered voices of protest are complaining about. The demonstrations may dwindle, but the anger can’t end because the injustice and contempt are so glaring. Not even the Dudus issue hurt so much.
For, which father or mother at a small Sunday dinner, where there is not enough for all the children to eat, nyams off the lion’s share of the food and leaves ‘pity-mi-likkle’ for the pickney dem? That analogy sums up how the nation now feels about Andrew, the ministers and the MPs as they swish past us, breaking the traffic law they enacted, with sirens and outriders; as they adjourn the House after only 15 minutes, the very week they bawl how deserving that work is of the millions they are charging us. And while they, same ones, are proposing to give any policeman the right to lock us up without charge or judicial review for six months and call that just and constitutional. Wickedness!
And the People’s National Party better mind they don’t get sucked into that same mindset. Because if people feel that they, too, are in on the money racket, or that they are soft about the obvious lurch towards an authoritarian State, they will be spurned and spat out as cordially as is now happening to the Jamaica Labour Party.
The evils of the unholy trinity of slavery, colonialism and crony capitalism in this country are not only their bases of racist and now, underclass holddown. Deeper than those is the disrespecting of humanity, the elevation of a bogus hierarchy based on ascription, rather than merit and a drifting away from authentic Judeo-Christian values towards sleazy, greedy secularism.
Where the ‘me-first, bashment’ ethos prevails, there arrogance abounds. and if I have the power to give myself a 250 per cent pay hike with public money, while most others nurse hungry belly, then to hell with you. Isn’t that exactly what we were seeing play out last week?
The progeny of those our ancestors liberated and enabled have now become the self-obsessed oppressors of their own kith and kin. They say we have given them the power to do so. It’s past time to prove them wrong. Civil society must continue to unite and resist with Pentecostal fire against human devaluation.
The philosophical and, for some, theological premise of an intentionally simple lifestyle is not some dull communist sameness, but the joy and peace of living, not exploitatively, but mindful of the mutuality of healthy society, upholding the consummate principles of the common good; caring the equal dignity and divinity of everyone.
What if we wheel and come again and, instead of competing to grab the millions which will only ‘clide’ our souls and crash happiness, instead combine around the virtuous aspirations of promoting strong families, decent healthcare, effective schooling, modest housing, efficient public transportation and food sufficiency?
These are the issues which should fill the order paper of the legislature and the content of the news media. Constitutional reform would then have a progressive agenda. Were it so, a change of mindset would have begun. And the elected servants of the people could never dream of betraying us as they have just done. For living simply and modestly would be on the way to become the norm – spiritually and materially.
Rev Ronald G. Thwaites is an attorney-at-law. He is former member of parliament for Kingston Central and was the minister of education. He is the principal of St Michael’s College at the UWI. Send feedback to email@example.com.