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Capitalism ‘uncivilizing’ Barbados

fighting goliathHardly a day passes in Barbados without the occurrence of some horrific incident of violent crime, domestic violence, or abuse of women. The recent tragic murder of 29-year-old schoolteacher Dwight Holder, and the arrests and charging of six Barbadian youths for the horrific crime are merely the latest and most striking example of this distressing phenomenon.

So, where do we go from here? How do we confront and tackle this social pathology that is threatening to overwhelm our country?

The great tragedy is that most of the people and institutions occupying the official positions of leadership in our country are so much a part of the dysfunctional system producing this pathological behaviour, that they are more a part of the problem than a part of the solution!

The politicians can get in Parliament and pontificate as much as they like about lawless and criminal youth. Who is taking them seriously? Virtually no one!

The reality is that the entire society is aware many members of our political class routinely engage in vote buying; in putting the country’s interest second to politically partisan gain; in feathering their own nests. So how can the political class admonish wayward youths and point them to the right path?

We also have a serious problem with the “religious class”! Who can forget the prominent female pastor who famously declared that if the drug pushers were driving SUVs, that pastors like herself deserved to be driving Mercedes Benzes!

Historically, Barbados was afflicted with a “religious class” that was an integral part of an oppressive and exploitative ruling white planter/merchant/Colonial Office establishment. And to this historical deficiency we have now added the social blight of those pastors and priests who subscribe to preaching and practising the
self-centred, profit-oriented “prosperity Gospel”.

Of course, we do possess several genuine and credible men and women of the cloth. But I fear that their presence and influence are being swamped and drowned out by the sterile establishment-oriented priests and the vulgar capitalistic pastors.

And then there are the businessmen and cultural custodians who –– unfortunately –– are seemingly incapable of perceiving the mass of Barbadian youths as any more than a potential market for entertainment and consumerism-based profit making!

I could go on and on with these social examples, but I think I have already made the point.

The truth is we currently exist in a “culture system” in which, on the one hand, greed, self-centred individualism and lack of empathy or respect for “others” are promoted, and, on the other hand, violence and the suffering of “others” are trivialized.

But if we are to understand how and why we have come to this state of affairs, we need to go back to our early years of Independence, and to the testimony and advice of one of our most outstanding Caribbean scholars, the late Professor Gordon Lewis.

Back in the mid-1960s –– when Barbados and several other Caribbean territories were on the verge
of becoming Independent –– Professor Lewis urged the West Indian leaders of that era to carefully consider what socio-economic path, and what ruling value system, they were going to adopt for our new nations.

Lewis –– in his magnificent work entitled The Growth Of The Modern West Indies –– warned about the social and psychological deficiencies that were already present in our colonial-derived culture, and of the dangerous prospect of exacerbating and adding to 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 us 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.

Well, instead of taking to heart Lewis’ wise words of caution, the leaders of our newly Independent nations gleefully embraced the so-called “American way”, making the United States their model and cultural point of reference.

But, the United States –– as we all know –– possesses a culture that is suffused with self-centredness, greed, an ethos of “winners” and “losers”, and violence! We are all aware of American self-centredness and greed. But let us focus for a while on the violence.

United States television routinely features news stories (and movies) about death and destruction inflicted by the American government and its military forces on human beings all over the world, and the mainstream of American society accepts this as normal and routine.

When this national predisposition is mixed in with a popular culture that glamorizes violence and that insists on the individual right to possess guns, it is not surprising that every couple of weeks some American gets it into his head to shoot down a dozen or more of his fellow citizens!

In addition, the powerful business corporations of America have created an intense consumerist culture in which the most powerful and sophisticated instruments and techniques of psychological conditioning are devoted to nurturing and maintaining a desensitized, atomized, uninformed, pleasure and entertainmentseeking population.

And so, if this is our model, can we really be surprised that we are progressively becoming a people devoid of a sense of kinship, or community, or connection to each other?

The truth is that we –– as a people –– are becoming more and more self-centred, self-consumed, self-righteous, and less and less capable of appreciating and valuing the worth of other human beings. And, we too, are subjecting ourselves to a surfeit of mindless entertainments, and are gradually drifting away from the guidance of a moral code.

However, there is one Caribbean country that stands out as a nation that has avoided many of the pitfalls of the American way; and that country is Cuba. The Republic of Cuba was able to avoid the American embrace largely because in April of 1961 the government of the United States imposed an economic, commercial, financial and cultural embargo against the Cuban nation and people, and insisted upon a separation between their nation and that revolutionary socialist Caribbean republic.

The Cubans will rightfully tell you that they have suffered many losses and deprivations as a result of the American embargo, but I believe that Cuba has also gained from its enforced separation from the United States.

After some 54 years of embargo and separation, Cuba –– a country of some 12 million people –– has a murder rate that is approximately one half of Barbados’! Furthermore, Cuba has become a socially cohesive society imbued with a strong national culture and with strong intergenerational connections among its people.

Indeed, the sense of social solidarity is so strong in Cuba, that no matter how difficult economic conditions might become, the Cuban authorities never compromise on the fundamental health, education and welfare provisions to their people.

The remarkable culture and spirit of the Cuban people are further typified in the willing readiness with which they respond to people in need in other parts of the world –– the latest example being the tremendous Cuban effort to help the three Ebola-stricken West African nations.

I am not arguing for Barbados to become another Cuba. But I would certainly like to make the point Barbados has more to learn (and gain) from Cuba than from the United States!

In addition, I would urge that the single most effective way for Barbados and the other English-speaking Caribbean nations to pull themselves away from the destructive cultural trajectory they now find themselves on, is to seriously focus on, commit themselves to, and pursue the construction of an autonomous “Caribbean civilization”, undergirded and supported by an integrated, self-sustaining economy, and with the Republic of Cuba occupying a central place in such a process.

The harsh reality is that capitalism is gradually uncivilizing Barbados. It is time for us to find a better way –– a way that truly reflects the best of our historical struggle for freedom and dignity, and of our indigenous culture and values!

(David Comissiong, an attorney-at-law, is president of the Clement Payne Movement.)

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