Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed by the author(s) do not represent the official position of Barbados TODAY.
It seems, looking back, that as a young adult, I had access to a number of older, wiser heads who could be relied on to provide intelligent counsel on a number of subjects. These engaged intellectuals included the likes of Gladstone Holder, Dr. Richard Allsopp, Dr. Keith Hunte, Dr. Leonard Shorey, Leonard ‘Lenny’ St. Hill and Mrs. Kathleen Drayton.
In the arenas of public discourse, through their writings and speeches, they could be relied on to provide knowledgeable, critically objective, balanced, and rational discourse. You might not always have agreed with what they said, but you had to admire the breadth of their knowledge and the quality of their intellect. In a tribute to Leonard St. Hill, a eulogist noted that if you got into an argument with Lenny, you always had to bring your ‘A-game.
Why does one get the impression that today, few such persons exist, and if they do, they can’t be bothered or are too timid to speak out? Why should one have to rely on the likes of Polly Toynbee or Janet Daley of Dateline London or Zanny Minton Beddoes or Bernard-Henri Levy of Fareed Zakaria GPS to hear serious intellectual discussion? Is it that talk shows like Brass Tacks with its motley crew of regular callers have obviated intelligent thought and expression? Is there a Gresham Law of public debate where nonsensical chatter drives out intelligent discourse? Could it be that, as with West Indian cricket, we just don’t have the talent, the discipline, the application or the commitment to the game? Has Caribbean education at all levels become so qualitatively poor? With all the talk about the excellence of our regional university and the number of graduates it is producing, do you get the impression that they lack a broad grasp of issues and capacity for really critical, in-depth thinking? They all seem to think the same way and say very much the same things.
Catchphrases, buzz-words, platitudes, happy-talk, and bad analogies abound. We are told that we need to adopt a “holistic” approach and “build-out” a “platform” as a “mechanism” for change. As Gladstone Holder used to say: “These are fine words, but what do they really mean?” What exactly are you planning to do to move object A from position B to position C to achieve objective D? Too often, what is obviously a very complex issue often involving competing legitimacies is reduced to simplicity. This is particularly true of issues relating to race, class and gender where the discourse quickly becomes emotive, where it is hardly ever thought out with a regard to finding a workable solution. Instead, a battle ensues, fought to the death as each side defends its constituency “to the death”.
One of the deficits in our public discourse is that increasingly the pundits appear to have a blatant disregard for the truth. In some cases, this is occasioned by a mandatory ideology either of the right or the left. In other cases, it springs from political partisanship. Many educated middle-class Barbadians tend to stay away from controversial issues of a political nature, often out of an unwarranted fear that their status position will be jeopardised one way or another.
In this post-Republican era, Barbados is facing some critical challenges. There are untold economic difficulties, issues of law and order, and let me add “spiritual” concerns. Let us face it. A war is on for the soul of this country… a culture war about “the kind of people we are” and the kind of people we really want to be. The idols and antics of escapism will not endure. Happy talk, show, and symbolism will not suffice.
On the night when Barbados became a Republic, Barbadians were introduced to its tenth National Hero. It was a total surprise to those who thought the issue was still under consideration. Robyn Rihanna Fenty is a “National Treasure,” the most famous Bajan on the planet who has so far made a tremendous name for herself and her country. She is also now a billionaire in a world in which money counts.
Philanthropy-wise and personally she has committed to her country. In my book The Barbadian Cultural Renaissance: Iconographic Reconstruction and Search for Identity, I dedicated an entire chapter to Robyn Fenty entitled The Rihanna Phenomenon.
However, her exaltation to the status of National Hero at such a young age is highly questionable. It reflects a certain immaturity and lack of discernment in our national consciousness and our leadership.
It seems as if the millennial tattooed generation wants to redefine terms like “heroism.” If a recent letter to the press is to be accepted, the new trope says as follows: Emancipation has been completed, and so has democracy. The kind of heroism that won those struggles is now not so relevant. The strife is over, the battle won.
Now we should look to a new type of hero, entertainers, creatives, who, if they make money, do some philanthropic work and become internationally recognised, can suddenly, and to everyone’s surprise, be declared National Heroes. The late Oliver Jackman might have written as he did back in the early 1990s “Another Devaluation!”
Fifty-five years may be a considerable time in the life of an individual, however, it is not a long time in the history of any country. If we are to make a success of this new endeavour, serious thought must be given to every step we take. In terms of historical time, we are at the stage of adolescence with what Erma Bombeck once called its “hormonal overload.”
We need to stop and think and not rush headlong into decisions that could prove highly questionable.
Dr. Richard Allsopp once told me that if you listened consistently to Barbadian radio, you might think the average age in Barbados was fourteen or fifteen. Where are the adults in the room? Ralph Jemmott is a respected retired educator.