I believe that for the first time in its history, Barbados has a Minister of Government with the responsibility for Wellness. It must be a very arduous task to restore social health to a society that is becoming increasingly diseased.
There is and has been, for some time, substantial evidence that our country is not well. This state of ill health has taken on a new malignance. It must be cold comfort that what we see in Barbados today is also typical of so much in the Caribbean and the wider world. Violent predatory crime in Trinidad and Jamaica is of epidemic proportions. The continuing spate of knife attacks in London and other British cities is frightening. In a front-page story in the Daily Express of Friday, June 28, Dave Thompson, the outspoken Chief Constable of the West Midlands Police, warned that, ‘violent behaviour is being normalised.’
While we were sleeping, a number of events in both their qualitative and quantitative dimensions suggests a growing level of glandular malignancy. The Campus Trendz firebombing deaths of five young women signalled a differently more callous degree of social deviance. Then there is the ongoing spate of drive-by shootings where it is no longer healthy to sit outside of a shop playing a game of dominoes or draughts. Note also the recent stoning of vagrants by youths in Bridgetown and the stabbing of a hearing-impaired man in Fairchild Street. Add to that, the idea that the shooting death in Mannings Land, Bank Hall may have involved the use of high-powered AK guns. There has been some evidence of the presence of such weaponry in Barbados, but this incident may indicate that the criminal element is quite prepared to deploy them. This presents a clear and present danger to persons living in such neighbourhoods. It is incumbent on the police authority to let the taxpayers of this country know whether the shells recovered from that incident did involve the use of AK weaponry.
It probably makes little sense trying to analyse the roots of the current toxicity. The issues have been discussed over and over again with varying levels of acuity and honesty. Basically, it represents a level of institutional failure. The family, extended and nuclear (what’s left of it), has collapsed. The Church still concerns itself with salvation in the afterlife rather than with probity in the here and now and some in the church are equally consumed with materialism and status promotion. Besides, no law can force anyone to attend church. The school which compulsorily holds children from age five to 16 has become the agent of credentialism rather than of effective socialisation to positive norms. The authority of the school has been diminished by liberal professionals who have fashioned a culture of leniency which had led young people to feel a diminishing sense of the deleterious consequences of their actions. Then there is the Barbadian platitude that the deviance reflected only ‘a handful’ of miscreants. Also, there was the pretence that we had ‘a zero tolerance’ policy with this and with that. Yet so many rules and regulations are not enforced.
While these institutions were failing, the Culture, particularly the bashment variant and social media, has educated young people to negative ends. As Carl Moore suggests, so much is now built on ‘the bashment chassis.’ Chief Constable Dave Thompson blames ‘the PlayStation generation who believe that if things go bad, they can hit the reset button and start over.’
The situation in Barbados cannot be allowed to continue. A Jamaican once told me that if the violence seen in his country ever becomes evident here, Barbados, because of its size, would become, in his words, ‘a hellhole.’ The question is, how do we dilute the toxicity levels in the culture?
Apart from the more overt signs of social toxicity, there are signs of what I have called the atomisation or fragmentation of Barbadian society. This is marked by a growing sense of mistrust. In the Sunday Sun of June 30, John Hunte wrote a letter headed Genuine love lacking in society. I would suggest trust and empathy may be more germane. Hunte wrote: ‘Many of the young men and women I work with distrust each other both as friends and in relationships. Very few either know their father or love their mothers. Many have strained relationships with their siblings or aunties or uncles. Even within communities at church there is a level of distrust and judgment as to sincerity.’ He noted that many young men ‘struggle to develop a real, loving relationship with a young woman.’
In the age of the television, the cell phone and the computer, people are becoming more isolated. A hundred Facebook friends but little meaningful intimacy with anyone. In his latest book, New York Times columnist David Brooks argues that the road to happiness and social wellness lies in ‘WE’ not ‘ME.’ The book entitled The Second Mountain: The Quest for the Moral Life, contends that the self-centred culture renders us capable of only the flimsiest relationships which leave us ultimately disappointed. The more disappointed we are, the more we retreat into ourselves. Cristina Odone in a critique of Brooks’ text concluded: ‘Brooks has hit a nerve. The rise in mental health issues, suicides, opiate abuse, absent fathers, broken relationships and distrust, bespeaks a seriously troubled culture.’ John Hunte’s observations quoted above, may represent the real psycho-social state of Barbados. Sad.
Ralph Jemmott is a respected retired educator.