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Grabbing at Straw

In an effort to respond to the maladies of violence and "immorality" that plague the Jamaican landscape, many are, not only soliciting answers, but purporting to have the solutions. In an article which appeared in the Sunday Gleaner, dated, August 2, 2009, President of the West Indies union of Seventh Day Adventists, Derek Bignal, spoke disparagingly of the immorality that is now so pervasive in Jamaica. He went on to cite lack of accountability as contributory to the milieu.
In the same issue, separate article, Esther Tyson, principal of Ardene High School definitively asserts that the problems in our nation arise out of the dysfunctions within family structure. According to Tyson, the "traditional family structure" in Jamaica, is becoming obsolete as more Jamaican women are seemingly rejecting marriage.
While, there is merit in the concerns espoused by both respectable Jamaicans, who I am certain have the best interest of this nation at heart, i want to posit that we cannot continue to play the blame game or offer symptomatic treatments. There is a bigger issue which is at the core of the decadence of which the two, who represent a moral ethos in Jamaica, speak. This bigger issue, which i wish to submit as the causal factor (not symptomatic) is the disrespect of humanity.
From a theological (analogous) sense, the clear mandate given at the culmination of creation was that man should take care of creation. A mistreatment of that which has been entrusted to him causes creation to lash back at man. Man indiscriminately cuts down trees and that leads to erosion and flooding and a host of other spin- off effects; man continues to pollute the air and that results in the depletion of the O-zone layer. Similarly, if man treats humanity poorly, humanity will resist all forms of oppression, marginalisation and infringements of rights; meeting those with violence if needs be. The imposition of one's version of right on others through discrimination or sanctions or criminalisation is not a preservation of "morality". On the contrary, it cuts against the grain of morality itself, for, morality must be based on the value that is placed on humanity first, not systems. Our systems cannot become more important than the people they were made to serve (not enslave). If we should learn anything from slavery, it is that it was always met with resistance and revolts as the enslaved refused to have their humanity "dissed" by the system of the day. Can our poilcy makers take any lesson from this? When we refuse to do enough to protect the poor from inequity and injustice, we are creating an embittered; disenfranchised society, vulnerable to the symptoms: violence, prostitution, robbery and the like. It is the causes of these that become the sin. I, therefore submit to Bignal, that it is the disrespect to humanity, not simply lack of accountability that has contributed to the John-Crow beads instead of pearls, of which he speaks.
Moreover, the simplistic offerings that was fed in Tyson's article beg the question from sophisticated thinkers, "What is the traditional family structure that you speak of?" I often wonder about all these "traditional" concepts of which we speak, while we dub ourselves progressive. If we must get traditional, then the point she posits about single parent families contributing to the social melee becomes antithetical. According to African tradition, it takes a village to raise a child. Therefore, even the efforts of a nuclear family (the ideal for the moral authorities) will be inconsequential in ensuring stable, well adapted citizens. Certainly, the idea of a village raising a child does not abolish the concept of individualism. In fact, it highlights the responsibility of every individual towards humanity. So I asked these "moralists" who look from their ivory towers, untouched by the decadence to which they turn the noses up: what is your response when you see young girls and boys peddling while they should be at school? what si your response when powerful men exploit poor young girls and get the pregnant (creating the unmarried mothers that you spoke disparagingly about)? What is your response to those who are adamant that men and women are abused and ostracised or even banished because of their sexual orientation? Where is the sense of morality then? Remember, that when Humanity and dignity are undermined because of whatever prejudices we may have, then Morality only exists in the mind and not reality and to exist in reality is far more important than to exist only as a concept.

contributed by:
D.Marcus Williams


  1. Ok, I believe that the problem is a multi facetted and no simple solution or idealistic thought will be the answer. The problem is was conceived in our history, and so was the solution. We have to remember our roots and the SOLUTIONS are right there

  2. You are correct and that is why i went as far back in history as possible for my premise; our responsibility to humanity. Your response points us right back to an idealistic thought. maybe if we borrow from each person's ideals then we will find a plausible solution. Thanks for your perspective. Greatly Appreciated.

  3. D.M.W.

    Let me try again. Hopefully my comments will arrive this time.

    I am glad to see someone who purports to be thinking theologically is actually thinking through these critical issues and not just spouting scripture (usually bad exegesis). Though I think I understand your critique of Bignal and Tyson I think your assertion at the end undercuts the very thing you are trying to purport. Let me try to explain.

    Though Bignal's and Tyson's comments need to be addressed since they seem to appeal more to conventional thinking rather than good scriptural reasoning, the fact is that they are not totally untrue. That immorality often springs from a lack of accountability in Jamaica cannot be denied, though immorality is much more manifest in society in many more ways than which the Church traditionally speaks. Read my blog for some of this. And Tyson's comment on the state of the family in Jamaica also rings with much truth, despite your welcome criticism. The fact is that even in a village, children who grow up in traditional families, where mom and dad are positively present, do adjust better to the world, all things being equal. The traditional family which Tyson speaks of though has hardly ever existed in Jamaica, when we view the population as a whole.

    But, I believe that your last comment cuts away the ground on which you stand. You said, "Remember, that when Humanity and dignity are undermined because of whatever prejudices we may have, then Morality only exists in the mind and not reality and to exist in reality is far more important than to exist only as a concept." If by prejudice you speak of disagreeing with, as I do with your comment on sexual orientation, is that necessarily a negative? If by orientation you speak of "the way people were born" as far as I know, no such idea has ever been proven. I think there is a greater case to be made for the idea of sexual orientation as a result of a potent mix of genetics, socialization, experience, and (in the case of homosexuality) scarring. I also believe that counselling therapy, prayer and the will to be "normal" one's orientation can be adjusted. Does this belief necessarily make me negatively prejudiced?

    If prejudice and strong disagreement are the same, then I think your ideas prove that you are prejudiced against me, hence you are guilty of the very offence you write against. Now in the case of "sexual orientation" I see prejudice in the fact that people cannot even discuss this openly with being branded, bullied or beaten. But where will that discussion take place?

  4. Oh No Uncle David!!! the Point i have been making is the disrespect to the humanity of the persons who hold a different view from ours. certainly there is room for disagreement and I premised my discussion of prejudices on the points i made about marginalisation (social exclusion) and the rhetorical questions that i asked toward the end. Our disagreement is not what is under scrutiny in this discourse but our treatment of others consequent to our disagreement. as for the merits in the arguments of both Tyson and Bignal, I have acknowledged those but I am seeking to not simply deal with symptomatic issue but exploring some deeper casual factors of the immorality that we blame for the state of the Jamaica we encounter daily. As you have rightly pointed out, the traditional family to which Tyson speaks was virtually non-existent but how does Tyson speak to the other issues that mitigate in favour of single parent family, like the example i cited. Certainly, the root is the better place to start than the branch. I am suggesting the root; not denying the reality of the branch.

  5. Of course I understood that you were saying all this. I just wanted you to be certain, as well as your readers, that differences do not necessarily mean discrimination. Though I agree that where certain differences are concerned we are so arrogant to believe that we understand evil motivations in others, and since they have deliberately rejected our "right" point of view then they in turn must be rejected. Apart from the issue of sexual orientation, we see this idea prevalent in denominationalism, party politics, and school ties (of all things)in Jamaica. So you are correct that in these cases the disagreements might very well be the branches of a growing tree, whose roots go deep down in the all too fertile, but desperately polluted soil of bigotry and prejudice.

    How do we discuss our differences and move forward in a manner that grows our society well?


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