The flawed politician
The web of our life is as a mingled yarn, good and ill together. – William Shakespeare
I received an interesting email from someone who queried my use of the word “good” to describe the kind of governance Barbados has had up to now.
Based on some of the views he expressed in his correspondence, I should make it clear that I was not making a moral assessment. My main interest at the time was that we had been able so far to maintain the social services I’d outlined in my article and to avoid total economic downfall. We’d certainly been able to avert the dreaded devaluation of our Barbadian dollar.
The passion with which the writer expressed his views, however, was undeniable. He included himself among the mere two per cent of Barbadians (reportedly the result of a Cadres poll) who appeared to be concerned with political corruption.
He pretty much summed up the situation as he saw it: politicians all over the world have one purpose in mind, and that is to accumulate as much wealth as possible for themselves and family.
The writer continued to refer to various charges laid against our local politicians during the recent political campaign and made the point that he refused to vote since to do so would simply be to support “one corrupt party or the other”. He felt depressed at his observation that the general populace accepts the corruption not only as an inescapable reality, but as a normal part of life.
What the writer appears to be struggling with may well be the larger question of good and evil; let us accept that the greed and corruption to which our writer refers fall within the latter category.
This all brings to mind some of the discussions I have had with students over the years; it is impossible to teach literature and avoid questions relating to human nature and the matter of good and evil.
I must admit that I feel as inept in answering certain questions now with any surety, as I did then. I therefore have no conclusive answers for the despondent writer, but can offer only my own feelings and observations that follow.
Everything that I see about human behaviour confirms my belief that we are by nature prone to error. At best we have a dual nature, but we seem, even from childhood, to veer more naturally towards wrongdoing.
In addition, most of us humans live nowadays according to the pressures of the outside world. Sometimes this is unavoidable with the demands of job, family and other commitments. But apart from these, some are driven by the desire for power, wealth and status. No inner compass regulated by conscience or moral rectitude is given place.
Moreover, the Caribbean politician may bear a heavier burden than most. He or she is the product of a post-colonial era in which fractured psyches are still being healed, the question of self-identity is fraught with insecurities and the idea of wealth for many a politician is still new.
Given the three factors above, our politicians are as vulnerable or maybe even moreso than most.
This is not an attempt to condone or justify the behaviour of our less-than-perfect politicians. In any case, I am not convinced that all politicians are corrupt. Given the rise in status they will enjoy, some still enter the race out of a genuine desire to make a better life for their constituents. Others may be sidetracked by temptations which they erroneously thought they had the strength to resist. Unfortunately, there will be those who allow power and privilege to corrupt them to their own detriment and that of others.
It is my view that the percentage of the population my friend speaks about is greater than he may think. I believe that in the face of the inevitable imperfections of our leaders, they must still be held accountable.
The minority must not be silent, but speak out against corrupt practices. To retreat is not an option. Who knows whether the lone voice in the wilderness may yet keep a flailing conscience on track?
My sympathy is with the minority since I believe in the power of good to overcome evil no matter how drawn-out the struggle may be.
Meanwhile, long live those politicians, including some among us, who prove, as President Barack Obama does, that it is possible to enter politics in order to strive for the betterment of the electorate in the face of all kinds of opposing forces!
• Esther Phillips is an educator, poet, and editor of BIM: Arts For The 21st Century. Email [email protected]