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Letter of the Day | Intellectuals in the Jamaican context

Published:Thursday | March 21, 2019 | 12:00 AM


It is the intellectual, more than any other individual, who shapes the course of history and public policy. Despite the scientific nature of modern policymaking, ideas have a greater impact on determining policy than empirical facts. For example, the literature on the utility of gender quotas is overwhelmingly negative. But the prevailing ideology of identity politics asserts that gender quotas are necessary, hence their growing popularity. Interestingly, the intellectual is usually a first mover in the market of ideas but not in the Jamaican context.

Local intellectuals do not seek to innovate, but, rather, copy the outlook of the international left. Ideas are cumulative, so there is nothing imprudent about copying foreigners. Imitating, however, becomes problematic when the ideas being copied are wrong. Perspectives such as feminism, radical environmentalism, and identity politics are becoming significant in academia.


These topics may be intellectually fashionable, but they have no utility. One who does research on the significance of culture in building social capital is more valuable to Jamaica than the person who is investigating patriarchy in the Jamaican context.

Social capital is a necessary ingredient for economic growth. Patriarchy, on the other hand, is a welfare system privileging women and children, but feminists have turned it into a pejorative buzzword. Equally useless is the obsession with reparation and colonialism. Fervent discussions of reparation and colonialism give fodder to the thesis that contemporary problems may be traced back to slavery and colonialism. Yet, the World Bank informs us that corruption, crime, low productivity, and weak leadership are to be blamed for post-Independence failures.

Moreover, Maseland (2018) argues empirically that the effects of colonialism on African development are disappearing. It would not be surprising that research conducted on Jamaica would also yield a similar result. When Jamaican intellectuals accept the superiority of Western culture by understanding how the West was made, then they will become a great force. Islam had a golden age; Africa had mighty empires like Aksum, and China was more developed than Western Europe for much of human history.

However, when Western Europe started to increase in wealth from the 1500s, Europeans embarked on a trajectory of sustained progress. Empires in Africa, Asia, and Muslim countries flopped; the Europeans did not. These formerly uncivilised barbarians went on to master the art of empire building and created an era of unprecedented scientific and intellectual advancement. Western culture prioritises individualism along with an openness to new ideas, thus making Western civilisation superior to all others. Jamaicans, on the other hand, wallow in intellectual backwardness.

Lipton Matthews