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An age of irrelevance

guestWe who now inhabit this planet called Earth find ourselves marooned in an age of irrelevance. An age where there are no soaring issues to stir the soul. An age where the cut and thrust of debate and ideas have been replaced with empty and often puerile rhetoric.

I say this not to denigrate the passion and chivalry of those who fight for their pet causes. I say this because it is the unadorned truth. We — you and I — have benefitted from education, jobs, global growth, better healthcare and longer lives. We are the beneficiaries of the struggles of those who went before us. In that bygone age, the circumstances bred greatness. The enormity of the issues facing the world demanded that those who lived in that time responded.

I am not persuaded that the men and women whose names come readily to our lips were necessarily born great. I am persuaded that the relevance of the age in which they lived became the crucible in which their greatness was forged. The relevance of their era forced them to respond in a manner which transcended the ordinary.

Those leaders in the Caribbean who tower over the rest of us, were each a creature of his or her time. Early Labour and later political leaders fought for the right to vote, equal treatment for workers, independence and against the evils of colonialism. Farther afield, Mandela fought against Apartheid; Gandhi fought against discrimination and colonialism; King fought against racism; Garvey fought to reunite Africa with the African diaspora in the Caribbean.

Even those icons of culture were a product of their time. Bob Marley and conscious reggae music might well have proven irrelevant were it not for the major issues of his time which he set to music and so set our imagination and our spirits alight. Songs of Freedom have no resonance where people are already free.

As America and the world grapple with the election of Donald Trump to the most powerful position in the most powerful nation the world has ever seen, I see his elevation as yet further evidence of the age of irrelevance in which we live. Rappers now rap about bitches, riches and sipping Hennessy.

Many of our women are consumed with wigs and weaves and who has the more expensive nails. Many of our men are consumed with siring as many children as they can without thought of ever being able to maintain them. So many of our people now feel entitled to everything without wanting to work for anything.

A sense of coarseness and an absence of big ideas are now the order of the day. A Mandela born today would perhaps live and die without ever being known simply because he would have nothing to fight for. It is our struggle that makes us great. Also, our ideas and beliefs that enrich us. It is the relevance of our times which imbues us with greatness.

Our politics and politicians are no different. None are advancing the type of ideas which go beyond the next election cycle. Our politics now is not concerned with soaring rhetoric or soul stirring oratory. No, we are concerned only with what does it take to win the next election.

And that, that instinct to survive instead of bringing tangible change, has created a generation of highly intelligent, highly connected, highly technologically driven people who individually and collectively live mundane lives in an increasingly mundane world.

Donald Trump is a creature of our age of irrelevance. No ideas or bold initiatives are necessary. Nay. All we need is an emotion. In his case, it was anger which has globally replaced hope as a dominant political force. And lest you think that I am somehow disaffected with Mr Trump, then let me be clear that Hillary Clinton would also be more of the same. They both are incredibly talented and accomplished persons. But both lack greatness. Both failed to stir our souls. Both remind us that in an age of irrelevance, wall paper can be elevated to acclaimed art.

The world needs significant issues to energize the next generation of greatness. Will it be climate change? World poverty? World hunger? LBGT rights? Legalization of drugs? Which of these or any other can galvanize the world as the evils of apartheid or of Jim Crow laws or slavery did?

Perhaps we yet have great leaders in our world. They just have no issues left on which their greatness can be burnished and made manifest.

(Mark Brantley is the Minister of Foreign Affairs in St Kitts and Nevis.)

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