ALL AH WE IS ONE: Barrow’s ghost
The Deputy Principal of the Cave Hill Campus, University of the West Indies, Professor Eudene Barriteau, proved to be deeply insightful and perceptive, when she used the occasion of the 2012 Errol Barrow Memorial Lecture to remind her audience that there should be a clear understanding of the difference between a philosophy and a policy in order for Barbados to “deal with the peddlers of warmed-over development strategies” (SATURDAY SUN, January 21, 2012).
Given the reality of the moment as one of flux, change, rupture, collapse and ongoing renewal in technology, politics, economics and ideas, the goodly professor could not have been more appropriate and relevant to her context, both immediate and global.
After all, Barriteau, a student of the politics of development, was no doubt aware that she was speaking to a generation of political leaders and party supporters, to many of whom Errol Barrow now enjoys “mythical, God-like” status.
In such situations, there is always the danger of “essentializing”, in which the total essence of a person is lost or misunderstood, in exchange for a neatly packaged frozen image from which no departure can be tolerated.
In a generation so used to sound bites and quick fixes minus hard work and creative thought, this danger is multiplied ten-fold.
Above all, too, the context of the celebration of the legacy of Barrow has been one in which his project of independence, development, integration and social democracy has faced its greatest challenge. At the most obvious level, the clear and present danger comes from the enemies of Barrow’s social democracy, the neo-liberals, who, in their moment of intellectual dominance, are most guilty of presenting models which abandon “ethical development” and which “can produce permanent crises and social implosion”.
On the other hand, while it is easy to point a finger at the enemies of Barrow’s social democracy, it is equally important that those who claim adherence to his legacy so understand his philosophy that they do not themselves become the destroyers of the very legacy with which they identify. It is for this reason that Barriteau’s reminder of the need to distinguish a policy from a philosophy was perhaps her most important message to the Democratic Labour Party’s (DLP) leadership.
In recent times, quite apart from the economic difficulties, one of the most obvious challenges facing the current leadership is a “philosophical crisis”. At its simplest, this philosophical crisis is reflected in “not knowing what to do”. Similarly, the common complaint of the Government “not engaging enough” may spring from a similar cause. Engage with what?
Philosophy informs practice. Where the philosophy is unable to guide concrete action, the consequence is normally inertia, confusion and an instinctive reliance on “what worked before”.
Following Barriteau’s advice, and to honour Barrow, the DLP should urgently convene a “Philosophy Conference” for introspection and also as a guide to action.