“Why would a group of men attack a hearing-impaired man so viciously that he died?”
This, according to the Sunday Sun newspaper of July 7, 2019, was the plaintive question posed by residents of Inch Marlow, Christ Church upon learning of the brutal murder of Rupert Patrick Stoute, a harmless and pleasant 43-year-old deaf / mute fellow resident who was set upon by a group of men in The City of Bridgetown, beaten and stabbed to death.
This question should not be treated as a rhetorical question! Rather, it should be viewed as a very concrete and profound question that all members of our Barbadian society are required to answer, or to at least “try” to answer.
And the truth of the matter is that the core of the answer to this question is to be found somewhere in our currently existing “Culture System”. Indeed, if we examine our current reality closely, we will detect that with every passing year our overarching “Culture System” is gradually becoming one in which, on the one hand, cynicism, callousness, crudity, self-centred individualism, greed, and lack of empathy or respect for “others” are promoted, and, on the other hand, violence, alienation, social ostracism, and the suffering of “others” are trivialised.
But if we are to understand how and why we have come to this cultural and psychological state of affairs, we need to go back to our early years of Independence, and to the testimony and advice of one of our most outstanding Caribbean scholars – the late Professor Gordon Lewis.
Back in the mid-1960s, when Barbados and several other Caribbean territories were on the verge of becoming independent, Professor Lewis urged the West Indian leaders of that era to carefully consider what socio-economic path and ruling value system they were going to adopt for our new nations.
Lewis, in his magnificent work entitled “The Growth of the Modern West Indies”, warned about the social and psychological deficiencies that were already present in our colonial-derived culture, and of the dangerous prospect of exacerbating and adding to those deficiencies by permitting the newly established nations to come under the sway of the cultural and material imperialism of capitalist North America.
Indeed, Professor Lewis held up before us the very negative example of Puerto Rico, the Caribbean territory that had been most exposed to the full blast of North American cultural and material imperialism. This is how Professor Lewis described the Puerto Rico of the mid-1960s:
“… the local scene is one characterised by a population large sections of which are at once psychologically depressed and socially disorganised, with alarmingly high percentages of mental retardation, psychosis, incest, prostitution and drug addiction: not to mention a collective inferiority complex that comes from the habit, reinforced by the externally controlled industrialisation programme, of always looking to the norteamericanos to do things, to make decisions as the controlling group in the relationship.”
Well, instead of taking to heart Lewis’ wise words of caution, most of the political, social and business leaders of our newly independent nations gleefully embraced the so-called ‘American way’, and made the US their model and cultural point of reference.
But, the US, as we all know, possesses a capitalistic culture that, while it may have some strengths and attractions, is also suffused with such malignancies as the qualities of self-centeredness, arrogance, greed, cynicism, spiritual emptiness, an ethos of “winners” and “losers”, and violence!
In addition, the powerful business corporations of the US have created an intense consumerist culture in which the most powerful and sophisticated instruments and techniques of psychological conditioning are devoted to nurturing and maintaining a de-sensitised, atomised, uninformed, pleasure and entertainment seeking population.
And so, if this is our cultural reference-point, can we really be surprised that with every passing year our society (like the Puerto Rican society in the 1960s) is exhibiting more and more symptoms of the North American capitalist social / cultural malaise?
The truth is that we, as a people, are gradually becoming more and more self-centred, self-consumed, self-righteous, spiritually empty, and less and less capable of appreciating and valuing the worth of other human beings. And, we too, are subjecting ourselves to a surfeit of mindless entertainment and social media titillations and trivialities, and are gradually drifting away from the guidance of a moral code and a communal ethic.
Now that we have sketched this background, we can acknowledge that at the very core of incidents of senseless, violent and destructive behaviour are alienated persons devoid of empathy with their fellow citizens and emotionally and even socially disconnected from our national society.
Thus, the national response to this phenomenon must be an organised effort to establish a new and significantly different cultural reference-point and to instil in our people, particularly our youth, a sense of community; a sense that they “belong” to the Barbadian nation/society; a sense that they are connected in some vital way to the entire society and body politic – that they are our communal sons, daughters, brothers, sisters, cousins. And this, of course, has implications for our education system and the fundamental educational reform process that we know is desperately needed, but that we keep on postponing!
The sad reality is that far too many of our Barbadian children and adolescents are not being sufficiently nurtured, cared for, and prepared for life. We must therefore determine how we can so restructure the structure and content of our formal and informal education and socialisation processes so that we do a much better job of instilling in our youth an acceptance and appreciation of themselves as sacred beings; a deep respect and regard for humanity/other human beings; a sense of personal responsibility; and a notion of duty to family, community, nation and humanity.
And, of course, we must also frontally address the phenomenon of negative cultural penetration in all of its many guises. Let us begin with simple awareness of the problem. We must therefore make a communal effort to develop a national awareness that our nation exists within an international capitalist cultural environment in which some of the most negative, anti-social, and even anti-human values are currently being propagated, extolled, and imposed, and that we have to be on guard as a nation as to what values, social practices, and culture we accept.
Such a national awareness should, in turn, produce a collective determination to NOT be mere culture imitators or borrowers! Rather, we should be impelled to counter negative cultural penetration through our own nationally and institutionally organised processes of analysis of the external environment in which we exist, and also by developing, having faith in, and pursuing our own indigenous, self-generated, healthy and attractive cultural alternatives.
Finally, let us, at the highest levels of our national, political and economic governance develop a culture/philosophy/ideology/value system that is based on the notion of the “General Welfare” – the idea that every citizen matters; that no one is to be callously discarded and left behind; and that the highest and most powerful political and economic entities of our nation must accept that they possess a responsibility for the wellbeing of every citizen.
I am aware that what I am calling for is a fundamental revamping of our society – a root and branch examination and reform of our institutions, their purposes, functions and values. But the truth is that nothing short of this will suffice.
Citizen of Barbados