A Nation of Lunatics or Idiots?

Published: Sunday | November 30, 2008

What kind of country allows men with illegal guns to roam freely mere yards from a platform where the prime minister and his Cabinet are seated?

What kind of country keeps babbling about responsible parenting, but ignores the fact that less than 40 per cent of its children has registered fathers?

What kind of country obsesses about the death penalty - which has been or is being abolished in most United Nation member states - but has not built a new prison in at least 46 years, despite a 1,600 per cent murder-rate increase over that period?

doubting sanity

Surely not a sane one. And anyone who lives here for a while must begin doubting for his sanity too. Maybe it's me and not this island's people who are crazy?

Yet, the entire outside world cannot be mad. It's a given in North America and Europe that, official security aside, no legal firearms - much less illegal ones - are allowed at political conferences. Politicians there realise that guns mixed with excitable crowds can lead to people getting shot, which might include them. Our elected officials either consider guns harmless playthings, or think themselves invulnerable to bullets.

Witness Karl Samuda's "There was nothing we could have done to prevent it" statement after the JLP conference shooting. I always assumed that no matter how corrupt or brutal politicians might be, they understood the principle of self-preservation. Samuda's 'no-big-deal' shrug about a man being shot yards from where he and the prime minister were sitting shows this is clearly not so.

You hear it said all the time that our politicians don't give a damn about the common people. Well, apparently they don't give a damn about their own personal safety either. But then, don't you have to be double crazy to want to govern a crazy country?

responsibility of parents

Most countries with the rule of law accept that children need both an active mother and an active father. Indeed, the 1959 United Nations Declaration of the Rights of the Child says that "[The child] shall, wherever possible, grow up in the care and under the responsibility of his parents" - parents na-turally meaning both the female bearer and male progenitor. That's why Chile passed a law in 2005 giving mothers the right to put the name of their children's fathers on the birth certificate, with court ordered DNA testing to settle disagreements and prevent 'jacketing'.

Common sense suggests that men who legally admit in writing to being a child's father, are far more likely to play an active role in the child's life than those who don't. And all research shows that boys with involved fathers are far less likely to become criminals.

But maybe such logic applies only to the outside world, and not our twilight zone island. I've had many conversations on the topic with doctors, lawyers, judges, teachers, politicians and so forth. Only a small minority agree that a child needs both a mother and a father, and that only legal sanctions and not tiresome platitudes will make our men as a whole take more responsibility for the products of their sperm. Hardly anyone makes the connection between less than 40 per cent of our babies - at last count - having a registered father, and Jamaica having perhaps the highest murder rate in the world.

stricter paternity laws

But of course stricter paternity laws would embarrass some big men - maybe including many who make our laws, and prevent some women from being able to 'raffle' their pregnant belly to their most well-heeled sexual partner. Word on the street certainly suggests that more than a few male parliamentarians have outside children without their name on the birth certificate. Whatever the case, there is patently little support for Chilean- style paternity legislation in Jamaica. And who can blame politicians for showing no interest in unpopular laws?

Sane nations also understand basic arithmetic. When crime goes up, you pass tougher laws, and hire more police to catch criminals, and build more prisons to hold them. But our murder count has gone from 66 in 1962 to 1,674 in 2005 - a 26-fold increase - without a single new prison being built in that time. No one ever talks about this. But there are weekly headlines about resuming hanging, when we all know deep down that international pressure from the UN and European Union make it almost certain that no Jamaican will ever again be executed. If we really think that a small, poor island of 2.5 million can impose its will on a 6-billion strong planet, then we are either a country of lunatics or idiots.

Now crime is obviously a deep- seated, multi-faceted problem that will require much time and energy over a long period to get under control, if indeed our politicians wish to do so. For since 1962 our murder rate has increased at an average annual rate of 7.5 per cent. If we had managed this rate of economic growth, we would now be a first-world country. But our GDP has not gone up even one third as fast as our homicide count. Remember that old children's joke - if your nose runs and your feet smell, you're built upside down? Apparently Jamaica is.

Karl Samuda - File

transformed country

Even more incredibly, the two parties which have transformed a once peaceful country into a murderous one, and kept it mired in poverty, have won the unstinting devotion of the population. Since independence, not a single non JLP/PNP candidate has won a parliamentary seat. The PPP, UP and all other third parties have been utterly rejected by the Jamaican electorate. When the well-funded, well-publicised NAM came along promising less tribalistic and violent politics and more transparent and accountable governance, it got less than five percent of the vote.

'Politicians mash up the country?' Give me a break. Jamaicans had their chance to alter the current political set-up and try something new, like electing even one non- labourite/Comrade MP. They refused it. So please, spare us the 'We need to change the system!' lamentations folks. It's like listening to women, who have spurned quiet decent guys for abusive roughnecks, moan and groan about how "man wutless and wicked!". We're lying on the bed we made.

In a way I've been disappointed by Bruce Golding, who seems to have totally forgotten all those inspiring "no tribalism, more transparency and accountability" principles he so convincingly espoused in his NDM dispensation. Was all that stirring rhetoric was just another cynical, opportunistic political ploy? Only he really knows.

Yet like most of life, politics is a trial-and-error profession, where you discard what fails and embrace what works. And having seen Jamaicans respond with bored indifference to all those fine NDM ideals, Golding would be a fool really to spout them again. They didn't want it then. Why should anyone think they want it now?

A friend once remarked to me that nice guys in Jamaica get screwed, or rather they don't. Apparently this applies just as much to voters as it does to women. And there is only one universal law of success in love and politics - you do whatever it takes.

God knows where this country is heading. But one thing is certain. We are getting what we want and deserve.

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