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Lacking: a constructive narrative

Ralph Jemmott

Lacking: a constructive narrative

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THE?OPENING?SENTENCE of Dr Tennyson Joseph’s article in the March 22 DAILY NATION grabbed my attention. The sentence read, “A social system in crisis finds itself unable to live by the values around which it has historically justified itself.”
Something about the statement struck me as essentially valid since I have long contended that the crisis in Barbados and much of the Caribbeanis not primarily economic; it is social and cultural. 
Lloyd Best once observed that the problems in the region were not technical but cultural. He seemed to imply a deficiency in values. A myopic concern with economic development has obviated the basic fact that values underscore everything. We act out our values in nearly everything we do. 
At the moment that I penned this article, the moderator on Brass Tacks read a letter in whichthe writer stated, “We must kill the cancer that is destroying trust in this country.” 
It is impossible to build a viable society on suspicion and mistrust. 
One recalls another caller to talk radio who recounted travelling to Singapore and asking firsta taxi driver and later the concierge in the hotel what Singapore as a nation stood for. The replyin each case was the same. 
The indication was that Singaporeans had internalized and could articulate some notion as to what their country stood for and where it might be headed. Few Barbadian leaders since 1966 have articulated anything resembling a constructed narrative vision for this country. 
We repeat the nostrum that where there is no vision, the people will perish, but beyond the repetitive platitude, few seem to know what the vision is. 
With the possible exception of The Right Honorable Errol Barrow and Mr Tom Adams, no Prime Minister has articulated a vision that went beyond “economic growth”. 
In 1975 Mr Adams was asked on Barbados Rediffusion about his hopes for this country. He said that he wanted to see a Barbados in which even the poorest Barbadian would have access to the basic amenities of life. 
It was what you might call a grand vision, not the kind of grandiose egalitarian perspective full of sound and fury to which some are given. But Adams was above all the consummate pragmatist. 
The idea of becoming something called “a First World” country is not a vision because it really means nothing. If on the other hand we say that “Barbadosis more than an economy, it is a society”, then Government has to show what vision it has of a “society” and how it hopes to construct such.
But there is a great disconnect between what is said in Barbados and what is actually done. We seem incapable of mustering the political will to live up to the values we claim we espouse. We talk about excellence but accept mediocrity. 
How, for example, does one become an education officer with responsibility to address the public without any semblance of command of the English language?   
If one is given to cynicism, one might feel that today Barbados is a nation of individuals obsessed with their own material well-being – get what you can, each man for himself, and the devil take the hindmost. 
Apart from the economic recession, some disturbing things are happening in the country. I have come to the conclusion that the problem is not primarily an absence of technical or administrative skills though there seems to be a growing level of incompetence and mediocrity.
Veteran Caribbean trade unionist George DePena warned that throughout the region everything seems to be done at a lower level of competence than previously. There seems to be a crippling deficiency of values, right sensibility and moral tenacity. 
Everywhere, apathy, mindlessness, inertia and complacency abounds. The headline in the March 18 WEEKEND NATION shouted Shame [and the article] quoted Sir Roy Marshall as saying that the administration of justice in Barbados had deteriorated to the stage where it had become “embarrassing”.
Good governance
A few weeks earlier Sir Roy, who had served as chairman of a National Commission on Law and Order, complained that the recommendations of the commission’s report had not been acted upon almost seven years after its submission. The judiciary is a key agency of good governance. How in the44th year of Independence could it be in a statethat could be described by someone of Sir Roy’s standing as being “an embarrassment”? 
Are we on the way to becoming a First World country or a banana republic? Law and order – legislated, inculcated and enforced – is a vital precondition for true development. At the moment it is critical if we are to head off the growing number of social pathologies that threaten to destroy us.         
The CLICO issue also raises serious questions about the level of competence in other areas of governance. Are adequate regulatory structures in place to effectively govern our financial institutions and are the persons placed to do so up to the task? 
Maybe, as Dr Joseph put it, we have reached the stage where the social formation no longer conformsto the definition of a society defined as “a group of people sharing a common value system”.
Excessive differentials in society between rich and poor, winners and losers, secular and religious, young and old, digital and analogue, indigenous and foreign, can create what one writer calls a diminutionof shared collective space. 
This produces anomie, a sense of normlessness, of being adrift. What we need now is a narrative anda narrator, something and someone that might bind us together and afford a sense of direction. 
But then, maybe the myopic economists are right. Maybe we just need more foreign exchange to buy more foreign goods to run up more debt in an attempt to reach First World status.