On the absence of “thinking middle-classes”

October 21, 2011

My response to today’s editorial:

“Yet, Jamaica’s thinking middle class has the power to profoundly influence change.”

I find these coded and lofty attempts to distinguish who’s “thinking” from who’s not to be really problematic.

For example, the term “well-thinking Jamaicans” which is used far too much in editorials, smacks of an elitism that is based in the editors’ sense of the moral superiority of some groups over others.   Is “thinking” supposed to allude to education level and capacity to engage with ideas in a complex way? Then say that.  Just be aware that you can’t critique political engagement in Jamaica based on this vague sense of who’s “thinking” versus not.

Everyone’s thinking; not everyone is thinking clearly, about the same things, at the same level, or even working with complete, accurate information.

Maybe what’s important is what kind of thinking they are doing: what are people are taking a position on, what that position is, and what they don’t seem to be concerned with.

This is why I ask what this term “thinking middle class” is supposed to mean? Going with the assumption that its education that you’re concerned with, then this group would most likely be comprised by those who are policy leaders, run NGOs, university teachers, political analysts, etc.  But you may want to tell us again what distinguishes their opinions and stances regarding partisan politics; I don’t think you ever gave us that information.

You’re also distinguishing them from “non-thinking middle-class” – who are those? That sounds like an epithet. All who are left, including the apathetic as well as the cash-rich, free-wheeling, party-hosting ones who we read about in the social pages? Again, tell us so readers can know where you are coming from.

Middle classes cannot observe anything from the sidelines. They are part and parcel of everything, even though they are less visible as a group of political actors. It is members of the middle-classes who shop at places like MegaMart and whose tastes are catered to by the formation of small businesses as well as by the gov’t.  Middle-class people also run credit unions, speak out against the exploitation of children and women, and against police brutality, as well as demand better accountability on the part of the police.

It is also members of the middle class who are married to politicians and financiers, create fake organisations and mismanage funds, implement, defend and lobby for policies and laws that harm women, children and the environment, hide information and engage in fraudulent transactions, refuse to implement rules of fairness and equal access, demand exorbitant salaries and compensation packages, provide demeaning customer service while taking our money, and yes, even shape public opinion by publishing their stances in the newspapers without adequate citation or evidence.

It would be nice to see more members of the former type of middle-class to stand up and speak out in a clear and coherent voice against corruption, against fiscal mismanagement, and offer incisive critiques of all these lofty plans that are put out called Visions, Mandates, Platforms and what not.

It would also be nice to see more of those people working to form alliances with working-class people and demanding change on behalf of those at the bottom the way they used to in the 1980s.  However, I don’t agree that these are the only “thinking” folks.  I happen to agree with them and how they think, yes.

I also agree that, because middle-class folks do and can have a lot of influence, they need to be more organised and forthright about where they stand on public policy issues, and take leadership in advocate on behalf of all Jamaicans, rather than just on their short-term class interests.

The problem right now is that those who are having the biggest effects are doing so thru their tacit support of the status quo, and who use back-channels to protect their interests. The ones who want to change things are too busy fighting bureaucracy, intentional ignorance, and intransigence and trying to keep their heads above water.

My point is, they are all thinking, but they’re rowing in different directions, some in fancier boats than others, some even able to hire others to row for them.

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