A Guy’s View: Politics of knowledge and ignorance

“There is a cult of ignorance in the United States, and there has always been. The strain of anti-intellectualism has been a constant thread winding its way through our political and cultural life, nurtured by a false notion that democracy means that my ignorance is just as good as your knowledge.” Isaac Asimov

Politics in Barbados has always been about the interplay between groups – primarily two groups – the knowledgeable and the ignorant. Who occupy these groups has nothing to do with party. Generally speaking, those in occupation of the leadership positions in parties share a class relationship that is very different from those who follow them. This is a feature of “democracy” that is not peculiar to Barbados nor the United States, for electoral politics in a capitalist society is about small groups competing with each other to persuade the broad mass of people to follow a particular path, even if it is not always be in their best interest.

Put differently, modern politics is often about the art of manipulation. It is one thing for the uninformed masses to fight among themselves, but, unfortunately, these groups take up arms based on the nudging of those who are better informed than they.

There was a video circulating on social media of a seeming lunatic who was spouting abusive and defamatory words about a radio talk-show host whom, it seems, he had never met. Persons of his ilk will never be part of the class which shapes opinions and see it as their right to lead others. Ignorance can be emboldening, but he would scarcely be bold enough to plunge into the trouble into which he may have dived of his own volition.

The weaponisation of the dull and ignorant is a strategy which has been used to good effect by the manipulators who know better. They inspire, but sit above the cesspool. We should have sympathy for the simpletons who fall prey to the dishonest whims of the intellectually sophisticated.

And then there was the rumour of a 2.5 million dollar house which was supposed to be built by the Minister of Finance. A little search apparently turned up a Trinidadian woman who owns the house alleged to be that of the Minister and who wishes that she could be kept out of the nastiness of Barbadian politics.

One wonders how the figure of 2.5 million was arrived at and what was the source of that intimate information. Underlying the story is the insinuation that the source must have been some reliable entity, or how else would the actual value be known?

Fake news stories like this are given legs by the intangible and unprovable words of kings and king-makers who drop comments to be picked up by their foot soldiers. For example, it is often sufficient for persons who would never descend into the real world of providing any evidence of what they speak, to talk about corruption in high places, knowing very well that the blind bats to whom they speak will attempt to add meat to their invisible skeletons.

Barbados passed a Prevention of Corruption Act in 1929. It has stood untouched ever since and has spanned both Barbados Labour Party and Democratic Labour Party administrations. As would be evident from its date of passage, its penalties would hardly be dissuasive in 2017. But this could hardly be a new discovery.

It may be argued with some merit that in the scheme of things, this area may have been placed on the back burner so that more urgent social issues could be addressed. One should never assume that we have ever been blessed with only scrupulous officials, consequently, the need for a legal framework to ensure accountability is always relevant. However, the sudden discovery of integrity among people who have never before been tainted with that brush is interesting. But being born again just before a pending election is not evidence of divine intervention.

Plato opined that there would be no end of troubles of states and humanity until philosophers become kings, or kings become philosophers. One may interpret this to mean that he had recognised that some of those who occupy or aspire to high political office did not have the fibre to make life better for the people they would govern. This raises the question of what would make a philosopher a good leader. What were the deficiencies in the non-philosophers that Plato saw?

A study of Plato is beyond this space in a single article which is intended to encourage ordinary Barbadians to think for themselves, but it seems clear that one may take from Plato’s statement here that thoughtful leadership, grounded in a fundamental philosophy was important. Throwing a handful of dirt and hoping that some of it sticks to an opponent is not the stuff of leadership. That is gutter politics that can only demean those who are exposed to it.

If this nastiness is intended to suppress votes and create a general malaise with politics, it may have had great success. In too many places, people are vowing not to vote for any political party in the next elections. Other than the little children who were recently indoctrinated, this sour taste is likely to be reflected in a further decline in popular participation in elections well into the future.

Nasty politicking has probably succeeded in pushing some people who could make a useful contribution to their country away from such an effort. This is an unfortunate reality, but a serious problem for a small country with limited resources. We cannot afford to do without the benefit of our better minds.
George Bush, former President of the United States, is alleged to have said, “If you are sick and tired of the politics of cynicism and polls and principles, come and join this campaign.” His was an interesting mix, but one wonders what would be the invitation that could reasonably be extended to Barbadians in 2018.

Difficult circumstances demand persons of strong metal who have been tried and tested to stand up and be counted. Considering different approaches may also useful. A faint flicker of good news is that we have some new persons who have declared their intention to offer new ideas and to present us with additional electoral choices. There is nothing bad about that development. However, on the other hand, by locating themselves outside the mainstream of local political thought, their ideas may not be given full currency.

A country could always benefit from fresh ideas. We need a system that would facilitate new thought without sidelining those who bring them. It may be some time before we find a strong political base in Barbados outside of the two main parties, but we should not think that good ideas cannot come from elsewhere.

For sure, even if only for the health of our souls, we must reject the politics of nastiness, lies and deception and seriously contemplate how we can build our country. We need to place substance above form.

Barbados Advocate

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