I am starting to think we Jamaicans are some of the laziest rassclaat people ever!!  Ok, so that’s obviously not true, but I am so, so, soooo sick and tired of the attitude that dis yah govament must do, think and be everything for us. 

I humbly submit that we as citizens need to show leadership on the issues that ail us.  And there is clearly lots of that kind of leadership, although not nearly enough. Politicians are just that; they don’t know squat, except how to move money around and rubberstamp policies.  That’s not leadership; yes, they can be useful to us, but its we who have to show the way and get them to notice and provide  support where necessary.

How did I get onto this topic? Well, its been bubbling all along. The education debates is just one impetus.  And there’s the everpresent wailing about what to do about ” crime and violence.” And often they are linked, as in the response of this blogger.

So here’s my off the cuff retort:

The real obstacles to making any kind of progress in Jamaica are reflected in the blogger’s response as well as the comments. We can see the same thinking in practically every letter to the editor.

1. The profound cynicism that nothing can be done, and blaming the problem on some other entity – the government, the people, NGOs – instead of us taking responsibility for working on any given issue in order to tackle the problem.

2. The inability to recognize that what we say, blog and yell has implications beyond us. Among the many things that Jamaicans have yet to understand and take serious is the notion of personal accountability.  If you say it, you must be willing to take responsibility for the implications of what you say.  That means, if you want something to happen, you have the responsibility for doing something to make it happen.  I could ask the blogger what are YOU doing to get more political attention to the educational needs of children living in poverty-stricken communities? In fact, for all who are rounin’ up dem mout bout dis and dat, maybe we need to start asking – insisting even – them to translate those attitudes and ideas into action.

3. The “either or” approach, based on absence of knowledge about how problems emerge and how they can be addressed.

No social problem can be addressed only by the government, and certainly not one as inept and morally bankrupt as ours.  Furthermore, no social problem can be addressed without addressing the SOCIAL ie. how we relate to each other, and how we see ourselves in relation to the broader society. That “relate” term is broad and very complicated; its not just about “I” or “you”. So, dismissing the role of the arts & humanities in everyday life and the role of youth-based organized activities in combatting criminality is truly the dumbest, most-uninformed thing I have heard in a long time. Seriously.  It is also has destructive implications, given how little interest and awareness there is about the role of the arts & humanities in our society.   Anybody who has thought for a second since the beginning of time knows that remaking social relationships is critical in any effort at social change.  Thinking and seeing ourselves differently – through the art, music, film, conscious conversations and interactions – allows us to radically reshape who we are.   The ability to create beauty and to recognize and build our common humanity around beauty is a worthwhile and even essential goal, when we are surrounded by only ugly things – violence, bloodshed, discrimination, decay, decline, etc. etc. 

You don’t need to go far for evidence about the effects of being involved in organized activities.   Just talk to individual youth who are involved in group activities vs. those who are not.   Just their ability to reflect on themselves and to make use of their time is different.   

What do you think these so-called Christian and religious fanatics that we live with are trying to do with their various rules to make us pray more, and to make every activity – even sex! – a religious one?  They are able to convince many that “morality” (by which they mean Christianity) is the answer to regulating all social relationships;  from homosexuality, to adolescent sexuality to criminality (kill, scorn and exclude all o’ dem while we wait fi God fi come fi ‘im wurl’); that answer comes from a particular definition of what a”good society” looks like and how it should unfold.   Since so many of us accept that rigid, conservative, one-dimensional, unsubstantiated thinking, we are clueless about how we can participate in social change in other ways in our own communities.   I certainly disagree with that approach for all kinds of reasons found elsewhere on this blog.  But I find it especially dangerous in Jamaica because there is little else to counter it, and little evidence of us creating new ways of thinking to counter such reactionary ways of thinking and acting. 

In fact, the blogger’s noting – and tacitly endorsing – that middle and elite Jamaicans would find the notion of investing in the education of poor kids as ridiculous, is evidence of exactly what we need to change.   What exactly is laughable about denying thousands of children access to education and social mobility?  Who can answer that question seriously and still expect that their humanity is intact and not been compromised in some fundamental way?  There’s lots of evidence right yah so to show that the scoffing and laughter are wrong in principle, substance and effect.  One small and important starting point is to gather that evidence of the children who, having been given opportunities often denied to their peers, have changed their lives.  Oh, right, no money no inna dat. Oh right, dem deh people nuh worth it.  I’m sure you can fill in the reasons why you, or noone else that you know should do anything of worth beyond yourself.  

Maybe you can start by thinking about all the reasons why you SHOULD work to create more opportunities for youth – inner-city, rural, urban, homeless, institutionalized populations — choose which category you want to work with.  Create beauty so

We as a society have serious limitations in understanding what “opportunity” is; we are constantly encouraged to focus on individual and highly subjective attributes of “ambition”, “faith in God” and “hard work”. Hence, we can blame children for not “paying attention” or going to school, or not “taking advantage”, as long as we don’t have to look at what our institutions are asking them to pay attention to, or to recognize the obstacles that institutions put in their way. I want to hear one of dem beauty contestants and government scholarship awardees actually thank the sources of their success: institutions that, because of who their parents are (where they work, who they know, etc.) were given privilege access that was denied to other people.

By the way, that’s the point that was being made in the letter to which the blogger was responding. That is, privileged persons in Jamaica are regularly rewarded for their existing privilege; those without access are shut out because they don’t have access. “Ghetto people” can testify to this; but so can all the employers who refuse to hire people from a particular address. But he didn’t even notice that. We don’t just need “funds” to be set aside; we also need individuals who are going to work to make sure that more children from poverty-stricken neighborhoods get recognition for what they are achieving; and we need more individuals who see the need to build institutions that will focus on investing in the achievement of our children.

But I also know why someone would dismiss the arts etc. : that’s because our knowledge about how governments and societies work and what they can do is limited to THIS one. And limited to a particularly ahistorical notion of this society. Indeed, our knowledge about what makes a “good society” is limited to what we have been told here. We don’t read, we don’t investigate, we don’t know, not even what we have been doing all along, and can do better.

In fact, organized activities – whether based on sports, theatre, poetry, visual arts, trades, etc. – and the brilliant combination of these – are the hallmark of a vibrant democratic society. As such, creating new opportunities for such organized activities to thrive are tried and true strategies EVERYWHERE in the world where governments and citizens have come together and made serious interventions, in the lives young and old people.

Creating beauty is an important and vital part of our lives.  Creating opportunities for that beauty to be expressed, appreciated and to feed us is essential work if our humanity is to remain intact.  Its not that religious institutions in Jamaica can’t support this notion that the arts, etc. are important.  It’s that they don’t choose to.  And so, many of our youth in church don’t know how to express themselves in positive, affirming and community-minded ways any more than the generic youth who doesn’t participate in church.   They can be just as violent in their language and ways of being as the non-churched kids.  What is also true is that the one in church probably thinks they are “better” than the other, and are going to be rewarded for that affilation in the way that the other is not.  And art gets called “world-ian” and “pointless”, while reciting biblical scripture and dancing dinky minnie on stage somehow becomes the measure of our cultural consciousness.

Our kind of thinking — that government must provide the ideas and the money — is not thinking at all (its also funny how this notion of a centrally controlled society resembles the spectre of communism that many of us purport to hate…) It is merely repeating what someone has already said and that someone is coming from a perspective that was never examined. It is not based on any evidence but on using a medium – the blog, the letters to the editor, the call-in stations – to spout off and claim authority on an issue that everyone seems to be an authority on these days. It is based on laziness and a refusal to take responsibility for the society that we are living off like parasites, rather than putting anything back into it.

Political will is important, but so is civic action. If political will does not exist, its our job as citizens to help create it.  Its also our jobs as citizens to do the things that we believe need to be done, and that are important for our wellbeing.

It seems to me that we are constantly looking to the wrong sources for expertise and vision. Governments can demonstrate the latter through its political will – the commitment to do something and to follow it through — when they choose to. But politicians don’t have expertise, and they certainly can’t polish that vision and make it real in all its possible manifestations.

That expertise is located elswehere, and if our government officials are not smart or savvy or interested enough to look for that expertise, or cannot inspire us to offer it up free of charge, or who only can create corrupt partnerships with equally greedy citizens, then we who have that expertise and an ounce of integrity ought not sit down and wait for permission or for the gov’t to ask us.

That ability to dream, create and make things and build relationships that would not otherwise be thought possible — that’s OUR job, as individuals, as collectives.    WE need to do the work.

That means we don’t sit down and wait for GOVERNMENT to do public education on anything! Many of us are flocking into broadcasting, graphic design etc. but why? So we can become part of the “entertainment industry” or “tourism industry” and become famous in this small place and make money for ourselves and to promote all kinds of crap that is actually bad for us.

It is our narrow thinking — focused only on our individual selves and thinking that each of us is an expert — that is killing us.  Not just governmental corruption but our complacence and complicity: our inability to vision and to work to bring that vision to fruition.

We simply can’t see the forest because we are focused only on the one deggeh deggeh tree in our own backyard where we planted our navel string. It’s time to see both.

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