How can we not be mental slaves? 52 years and counting

On this auspicious day in Jamaican history, we call on the Auspices to give us inspiration. Strange though it may seem, today’s Daily Observer editorial grabbed some of my morning walk thoughts, so read their take on our Independence, including our schizoid nature, which had been running through my head.

That tendency towards schizophrenia is a national condition. I like the Wikipedia definition: mental disorder often characterized by abnormal social behavior and failure to recognize what is real. Common symptoms include false beliefs, unclear or confused thinking, auditory hallucinations, reduced social engagement and emotional expression, and inactivity.

With that framework in mind, let me reconfigure my thoughts. Jamaicans are not just schizoid, but also almost like the perfect economist: they are always looking from one hand to the other hand. We are not quite the perfect blend that was the brilliant economist, John Nash, but give us time:

Give a Jamaican a seemingly good situation and within moments he or she is likely to start seeing the bad side. Failing that, he or she is likely to start the process of spoiling. Truth is, though, we often have good reason for this skepticism. Look at a major event yesterday.

Yesterday, a long-awaited 19 km stretch of road was opened, officially, between Linstead and Moneague, by-passing a notorious potential hilly bottleneck at Mount Rosser, where heavy trucks slow down travel or block the road with accidents.

Being who we are, pomp and ceremony were part of the events. Word soon came out that a government MP for the area had been ‘sent away’ by the PM for inappropriate dress (jeans and polo shirt, we heard). Whooiiii! We get a chance to laud the road for a few minutes, then get on with the business of lambasting our politicians–one of our favourite sports.

Why the pomp? Isn’t the country nearly broke? What foolishness about a dress code for such an event. (The media house who started that story later retracted it…more lambasting due about our shoddy media standards.)

If our flag had red in it, I would understand…

The PM–a consummate politician–tried to make much of the moment.20140806-082302-30182029.jpgShe talked about the toll-free month of use being an Independence gift to the people. What? Aren’t we in hock to the Chinese Harbour Engineering Company (CHEC)? I read that we will be paying cash and giving 1200 acres of land adjacent to the by-pass to CHEC. As befits Jamaica, the details of the financial arrangement come clearer at the end of the process: press reports indicate the full route, which has two more sections to be built by 2016, will cost US$730 million, but CHEC will reimburse Jamaica for US$120 million paid to the previous French developers who couldn’t figure our how to stop the road sinking….What gift? When the tolls kick in next month, the gift will be a distant memory for those who hadn’t driven till then. What nonsense! It’s deferred payment. But, on the one hand, our politicians are quick to “feel” the people’s pain, but also quick to take credit for any gains. It won’t be lost on Jamaicans that the event’s supporting cast was dressed like Chinese ladies IN RED, NOT IN JAMAICAN COLOURS. Gift? Our Indepenence. Dress code? Don’t make my blood boil.

We hear the PM urging investors to take advantage of the opportunities the new road presents. We hear the people of Faith’s Pen may also get relocated to a rest stop so that the loss of traffic through Mount Rosser won’t cripple their economic outlook.

So, while some will try to get us to see the upsides of our Indpendnce, it’s not hard to believe that we’ve merely traded the slave manacles for colonial servitude for another form of economic bondage. I think I tend to be more positive in face of certain truths than many Jamaicans. But, I’m also not a blithering idiot. Yes, we will roll out renditions of songs celebrating our nationhood.

But, we have plenty of reasons to think like that archetypical economist. So much, yet so little. We are also clearly in our strait jackets, banging our heads against walls, and crying “Nurse!”

Happy Independence!

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