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Wednesday, September 9, 2009

The One That Got Away


Dr. Lester CN Simon

There is an old, true story in my village, of a gentleman who confessed to stealing a piece of wire from the then operational USA Military Base. His confession was offered immediately after the villagers had been summoned and told that the perpetrator had done a most commendable thing in removing the valuable piece of wire. It was reported that the wire had fallen on to a very dangerous place, where, had it not been removed surreptitiously in the dead of night, by an angel of mercy, many a good man would have been laid waste.

For the past few years, indeed some would say for the entire history of this country, and for the next few years, and again some would say forever and ever inevitably, some of us have performed and will carry out acts that can only be described as treasonable at worst or just plain, old, bad mindedness, at best.
It is important to know right from wrong but it is even more important to understand why wrongs are committed. Such an understanding can mitigate the penalty for wrongdoing. But putting such an understanding in a larger, philosophical context can lead to, not only the justification of the wrongdoing, but, the culturing of wrongdoing. When such a culture expands from the personal to the national, the soul of the nation is diminished and extinguished. So here we are then.

A group of local men of great national influence is convinced that it is justifiable for the government of Antigua and Barbuda to refuse to pay back, to the point of wanton disregard, monies borrowed from other nations and groups, even with the signed intention of paying back the monies. (“No Ink”, says the calypso man). The justification is a weird concoction of false black philosophy, national thievery (or “thief-ing-niss”, as we say here) and plain bad mindedness. The claim is that, “they”, the ancestors of the lenders, were rogues and thieves.

It is this same deadly kool aid that pushes the One Love philosophy for all Caribbean people in vulgar disregard for the rule of law so that whosoever will, may come and go, as whosoever please. Not even ants’ nests operate like this, their apparent arbitrariness notwithstanding.

We can justify anything. Let us justify slavery on the basis that (secret, secret) we are really God’s chosen people and slavery is our “walking for confirmation”, our journey through the wilderness of life so that we may inherit the kingdom. Let us justify all robberies and rapes so that the police has good training material; which, incidentally, would require more crime if the training seems not to be effective.

The Trade Unions have a lot to answer for in this country. Having failed at getting the planters to accept the workers as partners in the sugar industry, through the unwillingness of many, not all, of the planters, the animosity between worker and management had a number of effects. It led to a brilliant piece of legislation called the Labour Code. It also led to two dangerous approaches to managing workers. The wrongs and attitudes of many workers, as mild as they were, compared to those of management, were either subsumed under a pile of corruption with the consequent leadership style that corruption requires, or glibly passed over without chastisement, with the consequent leadership style of indecisiveness, that appeasement demands.

We still have not come to terms with the paradox of capitalism: Greed is good but the hungry ones, for whom greed is a mirage, must be fed. And here again, we justify excessive, uncontrollable, unnecessary and unnatural greed by claiming that we are fighting for poor people, the small man. How do we redress national wrong? Go to court? But justice can be blind and, worse, very expensive. The number of public enquiries this country has had should inform us that we simply do not care, or, as our unofficial motto declares: “Me na kay”.

One time, I had abandoned my grandmother by playing with some friends for far too long. When evening closed in and I waltzed back into the yard, she greeted me with a novel complexity. She told me that I should know the kind of person she was, and that I should not have to light the lamp to look for her. Barely seeing my dearly beloved grandmother in the darkness, and knowing that she would talk in parables, saying one thing and meaning the next, I honestly thought she wanted me to light the lamp in the house. I had not heard of a metaphor at that age. So you can well imagine my crosses, and my backside, when, after carefully lighting the Home Sweet Home lamp, dozens of licks from a strap of car tyre came packing on to me.

If punishment will do you good, then clearly, you must do something that is primarily worthy of punishment. On a national level, I am forced to conclude that it can only be that all the badness perpetrated on this little nation by politicians, their invitees, cohorts and people in high places, is seen by some as a schooling of the nation, to teach us how to graduate from badness to goodness. The devil knows his place and an apple a day is good for you.

In fact, some people will claim that the suffering they are visiting on the nation is in line with the Christian way of suffering as part of emancipation and ascension. These are the same people who will tell you that it was Jesus himself who told his disciples which one of them would betray him, and pointedly dipped bread and passed it on to Judas, and then actually urged him to do quickly what he had to do.

One argument, reported by Joan Acocella in Betrayal: Should we hate Judas Iscariot?, in The New Yorker Magazine, is that Jesus is divine and since only mere mortals can be killed, that Judas did not really kill Jesus, he simply did him the favour of setting Christ’s Passion in motion, allowing for the saving of humankind.

Can it be that it is this warped reasoning that informs some of us that Antigua and Barbuda cannot and will never die? And hence national thievery and bad mindedness are justifiable? Is this why, even when these good citizens are caught (red or blue handed), and even after all the long drawn out court battles and innumerable public enquiries, they know long before hand that they will still have 29 pieces of silver?

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