COLUMN-Time for a revolution!
When we look at Barbados today –– when one looks at the attitudes and actions of its politicians and Government, its professional classes, its business elite, its young people, its people in general — we are apt to wonder about what system of values holds sway over this small Caribbean nation. What precisely is Barbados’ dominant or ruling value system?
Well, it would do us well to reflect on the fact that for literally hundreds of years the ruling social ideology of Barbados was “white supremacy”. Barbados –– as a slavery-based society –– was literally built upon the concept of white racial superiority.
The “white supremacy value system” was one in which human consciousness was shaped by hierarchical notions of superior beings and inferior beings; of social winners and losers; and of persons outside the privileged in-group being regarded as non-Christian strangers or “others”. And of course, at the base of it all was the identification of black or African people and their culture with bestiality, with sub-humanness, with evil itself.
The white supremacy ideology was so dominant in Barbados that it was actually written into the law of the land –– beginning with Governor Henry Hawley’s 1636 proclamation that all Blacks brought to the island (and their offspring ) were to be received as lifelong slaves, and the 1661 act of the House of Assembly that described Africans as “heathenish”, “brutish” and “a dangerous kind of people”.
It is also important to note that, historically, there was a very strong link between slavery and the white supremacy value system on the one hand, and the socioeconomic system of capitalism on the other hand –– a relationship which was brilliantly elucidated in Dr Eric Williams’ classic book Capitalism And Slavery.
Furthermore, the white supremacy value system was given philosophical structure and legitimacy by several of the so-called “great” thinkers of Europe and North America, chief among whom was Friedrich Nietzsche, the 19th century German philosopher.
Nietzsche rationalized the white supremacy ideology by asserting that there was no absolute or universal truth, in that there was no fundamental truth that lay beneath language and that existed in the nature of things, and that, as a result, there was no moral truth that governed man’s existence.
Thus, if there is no moral truth, then, according to Nietzsche, there can be no absolute notions of good and evil, and any idea that one should strive for the victory of good over evil becomes an irrelevancy. So far as Nietzsche and the dominant sectors of European society that he spoke for were concerned, what was valuable and important for them was “exuberant spirits, splendid animalism, instincts for war and conquest, the deification of passion, voluptuousness, adventure and knowledge” and the “power of the will” which permitted one to overcome “others” in the pursuit of one’s own greatness and excellence.
For anyone with eyes to see, it is clear that the Nietzschean ideas are firmly lodged in Euro/America’s socioeconomic system of capitalism; in the dominant forms of European 20th century existentialist philosophy; and in the so-called post-modernist philosophy that Europe and North America have sought to foist upon the entire world over the past quarter century.
Back in the mid-1960s –– when Barbados and several other Caribbean territories were on the verge of becoming Independent –– the late Professor Gordon Lewis urged the West Indian leaders of that era to carefully consider what socioeconomic path and what ruling value system they were going to adopt for our new nations.
Professor Lewis –– in his magnificent work entitled The Growth Of The Modern West Indies –– warned them about the social and ideological deficiencies that were already present in their colonial derived culture, and of the dangerous prospect of exacerbating those deficiencies by permitting the newly established nations to come under the sway of the cultural and material imperialism of capitalist North America.
Indeed, Professor Lewis held up before them the negative example of Puerto Rico –– the Caribbean territory that had been most exposed to the full blast of North American cultural and material imperialism. This is how Professor Lewis described the Puerto Rico of the mid 1960s:
“. . . The local scene is one characterized by a population, large sections of which are at once psychologically depressed and socially disorganized, with alarmingly high percentages of mental retardation, psychosis, incest, prostitution and drug addiction: not to mention a collective inferiority-complex that comes from the habit, reinforced by the externally controlled industrialization programme, of always looking to the norteamericanos to do things, to make decisions as the controlling group in the relationship.”
Having sketched this historical background, let us now consider the Barbados of today –– the Barbados of November, 2014 –– the Barbados that is on the verge of celebrating 49 years of so-called Independence.
We currently live in a Barbados in which young persons (socialized in and by our institutions) who have committed a violent robbery, that leaves a fellow human being in such a critical condition that he is fighting for his life, see nothing wrong with posting a picture of themselves on the Internet, showing them smiling, celebrating and flaunting their ill-gotten cash!
We live in a Barbados in which a Government department will pay a lawyer close to $1/2 million for writing a “legal opinion” about a loan, while its parent ministry is laying off hundreds of lowly paid, hand-to-mouth manual workers, many of whom don’t know where the next meal is coming from.
We live in a Barbados in which a Government will impose educational fees on young, unemployed 17- and 18-year-old youth, and will blatantly refuse to pay distressed laid off Government workers the severance pay that is due to them, even as Government ministers splurge hundreds of thousands of dollars on foreign trips and import expensive SUV motor vehicles.
We live in a Barbados in which wealthy elite businesses will insist that they receive every possible financial concession and incentive, while at the same time vehemently objecting to poor or working-class people receiving educational, health or welfare benefits.
We inhabit a Barbados in which most of the churches are imbued with a morally bankrupt money-based “prosperity Gospel” or a sterile status quo and establishment-oriented Christianity, and have become willing co-partners with the new rulers in Government, business and the professions in fostering and maintaining a system of in-group privilege and mass exploitation.
And tragically, we also currently live in a Barbados in which a young man wearing two gold chains can be casually gunned down at point-blank range and stripped of them!
All of these snapshots of contemporary Barbados are interrelated –– they form part of a distressing whole! And whether we want to believe it or not, they are all the products of a “value system” which is currently championed, upheld and fostered by the major institutions and ruling classes of our society!
Professor Gordon Lewis warned us about this back in the 1960s as we embarked upon our Independence journey. He warned us that if we did not rid ourselves of the white supremacist colonial deformations in our culture, and that if we made the additional mistake of taking the path of willing immersion in the system of North American cultural and material imperialism, that we should expect psychological disorientation, social disorganization, psychosis, drug addiction, crime, loss of initiative and purpose, and a collective inferiority complex.
And so –– having failed to take the sage advise of the goodly professor –– the chickens have now come home to roost.
What Barbados needs now more than ever is a revolution –– a revolution of the mind, spirit, culture, politics, economy and soul!
(David A. Comissiong, an attorney-at-law, is president of the Clement Payne Movement.)