A long habit of not thinking a thing wrong, gives it a superficial appearance of being right – Thomas Paine
Matters of public policy will always evoke mixed emotions, but a truly democratic state must evince great tolerance for dissention. Indeed at the core of democratic theory is the view that a multiplicity of voices and ideas are crucial for success. And so, for instance, much has been said about vote buying in Barbados and indeed the rest of the Caribbean.
What concerns me is the real possibility that political participation is driven primarily by a promise of payment. Why? Because what this ultimately generates is a high level of cynicism which translates into distrust in the political system. And this cynicism has resulted in an electorate which is defined by incontrovertible “judgmentalism” regardless of their socio-economic status, age, race, gender and ideological persuasion.
But who is to be blamed for the plague of judgmentalism? Whilst judgmentalism is partly rooted in a lack of civic engagement which is detrimental to democracy; it cannot be blamed entirely on citizens. Rather, it must be sourced squarely at the doorsteps of the political elite, and the corporate community which has historically sponsored the vote buying tendencies of the governing elite.
So today we hear snippets of protest from a business community reeling from the unrelenting taxes and poor decision making of the administration. As their profit margins shrink (except for those who callously and consistently raise prices beyond that which is reasonable) partly as a consequence of the reduced spending ability of an overtaxed citizenry, sections of that privileged community begin to whimper about the scourge of vote buying. Where was the outrage when that same class prospered during a period of more favourable economic and financial opportunities?
Beyond the support of the corporate community, the two demographic groups critical to the electoral chances of political parties are the young and the mass of working class people to whom politicians tend to appeal around elections with their vote buying strategies. Young people, notoriously difficult to inspire politically, are turning away increasingly from all forms of formal political participation and find greater satisfaction in a retreat to social media. And this makes them vulnerable to failed politicians who can only secure their political position through vote buying. Where is the ability to persuade citizens on the soundness of the policy platform of political parties and candidates?
And what of the working class? Many view government with great suspicion and fear. Why fear? Fear because many of the social safety nets historically enjoyed have been undone by the impact of public policy which has considerably worsened the future prospects of that class. I am also mindful of the position of the small band of middle class citizens, indeed persons like myself, who often view politicians as little more than predatory rabble rousers devoid of ideas who make a mess of public policy whilst abusing citizens with unrelenting taxation which has exposed the soft underbelly of this artificial middle class. Yes artificial! For many in that class by dint of their profession often find themselves squeezed between unconscionable levels of taxation, unsustainable mortgages with pirate and savage levels of interest imposed by a banking sector hell bent on mortgaging the future of the country, not to speak of all the other weighted demands on their more or less static incomes.
Even as politicians should be condemned for this general malaise, we ought to take stock of the growing isolationism that is generated through the increasing saliency of social media which has led to a loss of community spirit and life, and unquestionably to a reluctance to get involved in national and community problems. Where is the social and individual agency? Everything must be left to the politicians, to the government, for after all that’s why we pay taxes, and that is why we vote them into office. Why should we collectively agitate to improve the national problems, why should we collectively tackle some of the small community problems ourselves? So let’s Ipad alone, let’s smart phone alone. The solution to our problems is on the World Wide Web. Or worse, it is in the bottom of a bottle. At least, despite the retreat, trade unions have continued to speak out and to demand justice.
This article was completed in December 2017 and I would have ended the article at this point, but for the matter of a protest of a small band of women (four women to be precise) who, depending on whom you speak with, would refer to them as silly on the one hand, and on the other as brave. And I am in the latter group. Many of us condemn politicians and persons in positions of power for the abuses of power entrusted to them, but we do so privately away from the public eye where it can result in little to no political change. We would not dare raise our voice in public. And that is a manifestation too of the failings of a civic community. There are also those who routinely condemn governments and individuals for the slightest infraction, yet remain silent when abuses are blatant from regimes that they support. But that is the double standard that we have to live with and by.
The four women, led by Dr Kristina Hinds, my colleague at the Cave Hill Campus, took a principled stance. This was not an act that was lightly entered into. Indeed Dr Hinds is passionate about gender issues and abuses of political power. So we can cast judgement on them. We can call for Dr Hinds’ dismissal as I have seen in some online postings sent to me by my students, we can use the opportunity to further castigate the young lady at the centre of the scandal in St Vincent and the Grenadines, we can use derogatory language to describe the young lady at the centre of the scandal for having had an alleged affair with a married man and we can remain silent on the fact that young Gonsalves may well have had an affair with a very young lady whilst married. We can circulate letters claiming to be the definite picture, painting the young lady as a villain and Gonsalves as a saint. We can chose to forget that the state has chosen to abuse a vulnerable and poor young woman.
But the four women drew some much needed attention to the ongoing silence and abuse meted out to women across the Caribbean. Let us also not forgot that a minister of government in St Lucia was also found in a similar situation. He still holds his ministerial post whilst the young lady has been charged with blackmail. As I have already said, that is the extent of the individual ministerial accountability that abounds around the Caribbean. I speak specifically to the issue of “amendatory responsibility” and “sacrificial responsibility which ought to have seen at a minimum both ministers (Gonsalves and Raymond) apologizing to the parliament and resignation. But alas! No. In one case, the prime minister himself advised the minister (his son) to remain silent on the issue and in the other, the prime minister refused to address the issue because it was in the hands of the police, even whilst the minister’s naked photo went viral. Sad indeed!
So much of this is also bound up in the persistence of patriarchy and the subordination of women, and until patriarchy with all its ugly manifestation (including the open misogyny) is completely routed and dismantled, this treatment of women will continue. So perhaps yes, I can concede that the instrument could have been different, the four young ladies could have silently protested with their placards, but it certainly has widened the conversation and hopefully, just hopefully a “me too movement” will emerge in the Caribbean. Hopefully, yes hopefully, real change will come as we take a more critical look at those persons in whom we place our trust and our future.
I for one will not judge the protesters, I applaud them for their stance and their bravery in the face of power and, in my view, a show of raw unwarranted force by the security apparatus of the state.
Say what! Did I just engage in judmentalism! Hmmm!