I don’t want to make light of the real plight of some of the ‘Jamaicans’ who find themselves put on a plane of deportees from the UK headed back to Jamaica, but they display something quite common about Jamaica and Jamaicans, which is now coming to bite each of them (and has implications for the rest of us). Jamaicans have become used to living in a world where rules and regulation do not apply. I’ve argued many times that, it’s not that Jamaicans don’t abide by rules, but they are prompted to follow rules that they know will bite. The UK deportations stories are interesting, as many of them revolve around people who knew they were not compliant with regulations, but tended to leave that status uncorrected. They were then faced with a system that did not appear to impose heavy or quick sanctions for that, which tended to encourage people to ‘just take their time’ to get things right. Then, almost suddenly, with little warning, the UK screws get tightened, and all the people ‘in transition’ of just doing nothing, get caught.
Of course, as with many things in life, we have sad stories, which make us ponder whether compassion should trump other things, such as the mother of a sick son, who had lived in the UK for over 25 years, but is listed to be deported, while the son can stay in the UK. Many see the need for compassion; others see a case where someone did not do what was required to regularize a situation and now has other life complications, that are unrelated, and need not have any compensatory bearing. We also have the common case of what to do with people who knowingly break a country’s laws and whether that removes certain rights to remain in a country, if you are a non-national or not a citizen.
Sadly, because Jamaicans (and their offspring) are so used to ‘getting a bly’, they react with shock and horror when that option isn’t there. Many territories do not apply an ‘anything goes’ attitude to their affairs–it’s one reason why they are not in some state of chaos. There are systems and they work, and if you decide to not follow what the system requires, there are consequences. That’s not something that applies consistently in Jamaica, or in the life of Jamaicans, who often transport that ‘bly’ expectation abroad, alongside its cousin ‘I know someone’.
One of the things that will start to indicate where Jamaica goes in the next five years–during the current government’s term, loosely–is how the series of risk: reward equations in life start to change, so that the incentives go more strongly in the direction of being law-abiding. Accountability needs to be more than a catchy phrase.
I know from personal observation that the way things are done in Jamaica, and by Jamaicans, affects how ‘non-Jamaicans’ behave. Take for example something I’ve cited before–how people (this group may include Jamaicans who have lived abroad and now live in Jamaica) from countries that have strict laws against driving without seat belts behave in Jamaica: you find they tend to be much looser with that rule because they see the sanctions barely ever applied. So, years of being accustomed to ‘order’ suddenly drops away. You may get the reserve, however, with people from overseas trying to hold on to ‘good ways’. One instance concerns recycling and conservation: those accustomed to separation of garbage may try to still do that, even when the options for making that work are few and far between. They tend to find personal solutions and may manage to spread that to small community groups, even though there is little or no national support for the practices. [I put my household into that category: we separate plastics and have several outlets for them, other than into the garbage; we take food waste and save that for ‘dog food’ to be given to those who have animals to eat it; we compost vegetable matter. That means our garbage is much less than it would be otherwise, though more than it was when in US, because we cannot find outlets to take glass, aluminium or paper waste. But, I keep searching.]
People wonder why Jamaica hasn’t made more progress. It’s at least a two-sided problem. On one side, we need to stop accommodating ‘unruly’ behaviour (and it’s often more widespread that we admit, because we are often in that practice, though criticising others). But, remember, such behaviour is often not criminal, but about personal convenience. On the other side, we need to stop expecting our unruly behaviour to be without much consequence (and that is often harder than it needs to be, because the incentive is strong to keep doing it–for instance, people are shocked that I will not ‘call my friend’ to get the things sorted out, preferring to ‘suffer’ with the system and try to get it to work the same way for all). Just look at how former Cabinet Minister, Dwight Nelson, has behaved and you get an idea of how warped we’ve become: “I did not attend any disciplinary hearing because I did not think I breached any regulation. Can you imagine suspending a former minister?…This is gross disrespect. I think they were out of order. I believe I tore up the letter because I was so angry.” (Nelson told The Sunday Gleaner).
If everyone thinks they are so privileged that rules don’t apply to them, you can imagine what that means. It’s called ANARCHY.