Every Barbadian of a certain age knows how to recognize what the old folks call “the first sign of madness”. It is when you find yourself talking to yourself –– out loud; when there is no one present but you.
However, when you start talking and laughing to yourself –– out loud, when there is no one there but you, it is probably time to seek the help of a qualified health care professional.
This is the second thought I had on seeing the headlines in another section of the Press last Wednesday, May 25. Hard Ball, they read, Maloney Standing Firm Despite Enforcement Notice.
Barbados TODAY has provided in-depth coverage of that ongoing saga. It has also kept readers abreast of the most recent Auditor General’s Report, which tells its own story about the state of accountability, transparency, fairness, and good governance in what was once considered a just, civil, and well-run society.
Having read those articles, I resorted to talking and laughing –– out loud –– to myself, even though there was no one to bear witness but me.
Sadly, like so many eking out an existence in a fractured and fragmented Barbados, proper medical care is out of my reach. The only remedial treatment I can afford is the comfort of writing. In this way, perhaps, I can convince myself I am not actually losing my mind.
Perhaps, by recording my thoughts and sharing them with others, I will discover the Barbados I have loved is not altogether lost. There might still be hope if we as Barbadians can put what we are experiencing into a suitable context and act accordingly.
The late Gladstone Holder once wrote: “Literature is a revelation of the human condition through the portrayal of people in society. It offers illumination of human behaviour so that readers . . . may recognize the startling and consoling fact that human behaviour has changed but little over centuries of recorded history.”
Small wonder, then, that as I read last Wednesday’s cover story and snippets from the Auditor General’s Report, a little voice inside my head whispered: “All animals are equal but some animals are more equal than others.”
Just like that, I was catapulted back to my teenage years, when the George Orwell fable Animal Farm was required reading in secondary school.
It calls to mind Joseph Stalin’s oppressive Soviet rule by introducing us to Old Major, a prize-winning boar-hog living on the Manor Farm. One night, Old Major’s dreams reveal an earth free from Man’s ruinous control.
So captivating is this mirror image, the next evening, after the Manor’s owner Mr Jones goes to bed, Old Major summons the animals and delivers an impassioned speech calling for a revolution.
He reminds the animals they are nothing more than poor wretched slaves. He details the ways Man siphons off the fruit of their labour to guarantee his comfort while giving them just enough to survive.
At the end of his speech, Old Major sings a song called Beasts Of England that paints an enchanting picture of what Earth would be like if animals were the ones in control.
Three days later, Old Major dies –– but his dreams do not die with him.
Two young pigs named Snowball and Napoleon take up the revolutionary cause, organize the animals, drive out Mr Jones, and rename the manor Animal Farm. They adopt the Seven Commandments Of Animalism, the most important of which is All Animals Are Equal.
Ultimately, the pigs prove this is not so by awarding themselves special privileges, effectively hijacking Old Major’s revolution. At the same time, Snowball and Napoleon begin a struggle for power.
With the dogs under his control, Napoleon sends Snowball packing and declares himself Supreme Leader. He makes several changes to Animal Farm’s governance structure, abolishing meetings and creating a Committee Of Privileged Pigs to run the farm.
In a stroke of sheer genius, he hires a pig named Squealer, a kingmaker so gifted in the art of propaganda the animals end up worshipping Napoleon like a god. He then purges the farm with his dogs, crushes all dissent, and kills any animal accused of collaborating with the enemy.
In perhaps his greatest betrayal of the revolutionary ideal, Napoleon sells Boxer the carthorse, his most devoted and industrious labourer, to a glue maker for money to buy liquor for himself and the other privileged pigs.
Having thus cemented themselves in power, Napoleon and his pigs openly adopt Man’s lifestyle, walking on two legs, carrying whips and wearing clothes. They now recognize only one commandment: All Animals Are Equal But Some Animals Are More Equal Than Others.
Now you know what precipitated my brush with madness last Wednesday morning.
Anyone passing would have heard me say –– out loud –– to myself: “Welcome, Comrade, to the new revolution, where life for the ‘poor black man’ is still drudgery, and a promise is a comfort to a fool. Welcome to the 21st Century Plantation, where barnyard politics trumps good governance, makes a mockery of the idea of ‘Independence’, and sets back ‘development’ so far, it is impossible to tell the pigs and the humans apart.”
Old Major, doubtless, is rolling in his grave.
Long may his revolution live!
(Dr Annalee C. Babb is currently an international consultant. She is a former Barbadian diplomat and journalist. She was the chief executive officer of a Government statutory corporation, Invest Barbados, from 2006 to 2008.)