PEOPLE & THINGS: Sublime or ridiculous?
Over the years we have been spoiled in Barbados regarding the holders of the office of Minister of Education and have therefore come to anticipate an intellectually stimulating contribution from the ministry which is the custodian of this country’s greatest asset.
Thankfully, this has been the convention adhered to in both Barbados Labour Party and Democratic Labour Party (DLP) administrations and reflected in the proclamations of ministers such as Sir James Tudor and Dame Bille Miller.
In more recent times, however, several among us are inclined to ask whether this tradition is being maintained, and the answer could be rooted in an evaluation of three profound comments emanating from the most recent holder of this office.
The first of three comments was the suggestion that some of our young people appear to be “possessed by demons”, which is perhaps the type of thing that one associates with some evangelical movements that not only argue that such exist, but claim the ability to “cast out” such wizards. It was therefore not surprising that around that time the NATION reported on the plight of a young mother of several children who was stranded after a late night evangelical service she attended to have her children’s demons released.
As much as one supports the principle of freedom of religion and acknowledges the right of the minister to believe in demons, one must equally acknowledge the inherent recklessness of such a statement when made by a public official with responsibility for the well-being of children.
Some years later, remarks were made in Parliament to the effect that public protest might lead to a scenario in which the law enforcement agencies might be forced to “crack some heads” and “shoot some people”. This second comment was made after the DLP was narrowly returned to office and the minister felt the need to send a signal to anyone who might have been inclined to think that public protest could shake the foundations of his weak government.
The first comment could be perceived as trivial or profound depending on the extent of one’s religious beliefs. However, it is difficult to see how this second one would not be categorised as offensive. Although one acknowledges the context of the statement and the need to maintain law and order, the casual reference to what would be an extreme reaction on the part of our armed forces offends our common sense and the constitutional permissions which enshrine the rights to freedom of expression and reasonable force.
As has been the custom in public life, an individual who is prone to make these types of “gaffes” will continue doing so, especially where he is not “reined in” by a structure of political management that appreciates the negative impact of such statements. In this instance, a lack of public reaction from the leadership on these issues could be interpreted to mean either approval or indifference, which in colloquial terms means “carry on smartly”, and that he has.
In the spirit of continuity, we now have what is easily the most profound comment from the minister to date, which suggests that Barbadian women (presumably) need to have “more babies”. Certainly his suggestion seems simple enough since it was framed against the need to increase the size of our young population, which is a proposition that many of us support. The problem is that the simplicity with which he spoke reflects a lack of appreciation for the extent to which this matter is far from simple under normal circumstances and far less in this economic environment.
It is easy to attack the Barbados Family Planning Association (BFPA) for being too successful in its mission to help avoid unplanned pregnancies, but those among us who think should also appreciate that the BFPA was born out of an appreciation that unplanned families represent a severe negative social impact.
If one were to subscribe to Jones’ logic the 3 000 odd public servants who are going home should therefore consider spending their extensive free time “making babies” without consideration of the fact that they will be primarily responsible for housing, feeding, clothing and educating these “babies”.
This type of “wisdom” is actuality quite dangerous in a society where some parents are simplistic enough to think that “making babies” can be perceived as “national duty” without appreciating the extent to which their inability to care for these children is actually a form of child abuse.
To date, support for the minister on this issue has come from one vocal member of the DLP’s “fan club” who also appears to be “at sea” regarding the implications of such a statement. In defence, we were reminded of the logic of such a proposal and advised that similar policies have plunged Europe into a situation where their population is also ageing.
He noted that the United States does not have a similar problem and the naïve among us would interpret this to mean that Americans are more fertile than Europeans and we should be more like the Americans.
In reality nothing could be further from the truth, and one often quoted (and now amended) phrase comes to mind: “It’s the immigration, stupid”. Tragically, it is immigration that presents the best opportunities to reverse this population growth trend and the same policy which the DLP has effectively ruled out by way of their attitude towards immigration as reflected in the notorious Green Paper.