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Sunday, November 12, 2006

Cause and Effect


Dr. Lester CN Simon

When you stab or shoot someone in Antigua and Barbuda, are you planning to run and hide in the mountains to escape from the police? There are no mountains here. With all those antennas on top of Boggy Peak, the highest hill, you might think, quite wrongly, that one of them will expose you. Notwithstanding the problems in the local Police Force, the act of committing seemingly senseless murder in a small country like Antigua and Barbuda must be driven by unique motives and circumstances.

Most people refrain from doing something wrong or evil if they know there is a very good chance of getting caught. Yes, there have been many unsolved murders here for many years. However, over the past two to four years or so, most of the murderers have been caught. So why is the crime rate rising? Some writers believe that poverty and joblessness are responsible. I beg to differ. To be unemployed in Antigua and Barbuda to the point of stark hunger would be like successfully keeping your hair completely dry and free from sand at a picnic at one of our 365 beaches. Antiguans and Barbudans would not recognize abject poverty if it came up to us at high noon on moko jumbie stilts in the middle of the Antigua Recreation Grounds and spat in our faces. I posit that wealth and empowerment by illicit and licit means are at the root of the crime wave.

Think about it. Power and control generate emotive forces that are extremely hard to supersede. Raw power and control by any means necessary may be at the root of the crime wave here. These causative factors do apply worldwide as well but they take on accentuated forms here, when other factors, like escaping and hiding out, are reduced by geography. Obviously, the lack of trust between the community and the police adds to the ease of escaping capture, but it is not the predominant, causative factor.

The first paycheck I got as a teenager fresh out of school saw me stuffing myself at the Kensington restaurant on St. Mary’s Street. I ate and drank to my heart’s content (and later to my body’s relief). Yet, to this day I cannot recall precisely what I ate although it must have been chicken or lobster, and lots of lime squash and Coca-Cola. This is because the type of food I consumed was immaterial. It was the power of having my own hard earned money in my pocket that I remember. I still recall the sensation of ordering the meal, sitting in the canopied chair, waiting to be served and listening to the music. In those days we had small and large bottles of Coca-Cola. I sat back, relaxed and, having practised to perfection, proclaimed to the waitress, “Go thither to yon vendor of effervescent beverages and purchase me a taller member of the Coke family”.

Some of us also remember the power and control we felt when we were the only one to solve the math or physics problem in school. All of our friends and some of our enemies gathered around as we dictated who would be privy to the solutions.

The rise in crime after the “freeing up” of the country since the last general elections might also be part of the “talk as you like” newly found freedom. If this is true, the slowness to meaningfully empower people in legitimate ways relative to their expectations, might lead to the shunting of empowerment in other, pathological directions.

In a recent book, The Challenge of Affluence, described as sparkling and provocative, Professor Avner Offer opens his tome with the sentence, “Affluence breeds impatience and impatience undermines well-being”. You know you are in for a very good read when he prefaced his opening with a 1955 quote from Robert McNamara, the then general manager of Ford Motor Company, who prophesied that the test of this generation will not be how well it stands up under adversity, but how well it endures prosperity.

There are many parts to the whole solution to crime and violence but understanding the root causes will help us to find the right solutions. Preventative action must be centered on education. We have to direct the young towards the all powerful and embracing emotions of the joy of discovery and the enchantment of possessing and utilizing real and useful knowledge. Youths must be groomed to realize the self-defining, authentic and enduring satisfaction that comes from positive social interaction in contradistinction to short term self-indulgence.

There will be at least one unintended consequence of creating an enabling environment for entrepreneurs. Those who want to move from the informal to the formal economy will have easy, hopefully one-way avenues of transition. History is replete with stories of crooks who became philanthropists This would be similar to other enabling environments that allow an exit from prostitution, drug addiction, sex addiction, overeating, smoking and other modern ills, with all the frustrations from varying degrees of failure.

The solution is not to remove the affluence since affluence to an extent is desirable. When affluence reaches the level where short term rewards take over from long term objectives, we are, as now, in deep trouble. Hence the conjoining of the impatience from affluence and the impatience from unfulfilled political and social desires put us in a state in which senseless and brutal crimes conspire to overrun us.

A key part of the long term solution is to prevent the problem from worsening. We have not yet reached the stage where the illegally empowered have passed on so much of their wealth to so many of us that we have dons, drug lords and war lords who are ardently protected by grateful members of civil society. We will know when we get to that stage. The demand for soap, detergent and bleach will rise. My maternal grandmother was right in reminding me to always wash my hands after handling money.

The reason why we do not see crime and violence as by-products of affluence, with
its attendant power, control and impatience, is because some of us want to deny the relative affluence in Antigua and Barbuda compared to real, abject poverty elsewhere. Alternatively, those who make the connection between affluence and crime and violence refuse to talk about it. Why? Because they would have to admit that affluence also existed under the former government.

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