Just when you think it has reached its lowest, it sinks even further.
I am referring to the pursuit of political power.
The world of commerce is locked up in secrecy, but there can be little doubt that is an even more cut-throat environment than anything any ambitious politician anywhere could conjure. It is an open secret that academia is rife with rivalry and sharp practice in the pursuit of reputation, status and the acquisition of limited financial resources. Religious organisations, too, are tainted by the lingering effects of the same disease.
I have certainly seen first-hand the ugliness of the relentless quest for power in nearly all areas of work.
The big difference between any of those worlds and politics, however, is that the public is inveigled into politics and made to bear witness and to take sides as our favour is fought over, not necessarily in our own interest.
The 2020 election campaigns conducted by the main two parties were bruising, leaving a nasty taste in our mouths. Our returned PM Dr Rowley has requested us to once more believe that we are one people and to put aside the rancour and slander of the last two months. That is a tall order, since the campaign on both sides was very personal and attacked supporters as much as leaders.
The public may have laughed at some of it but it sank in, threatening to deepen the damaged trust between the different ethnic groups and provoking an even larger mistrust in our institutions.
The "Us" and "Them” isn’t about real differences in ideology, since, for the most part, the main parties have little that divides them in terms of big ideas; it’s more a question of priorities and, sadly, to whom favours are owed, but we have been encouraged to perceive it as a matter of race.
The big question is how can we regain what we have lost of the worthy endeavour to be one people?
The slide has quickened over the last few decades as our self-seeking politicians continued to divide us in order to rule us, having learned at the knee of our colonial masters. Other countries have had similar challenges and put themselves together again, so recovery is possible.
First, we must accept that the racist rants, the general lack of civility and the wilful demolishing of those with whom we disagree is not healthy and decide that we want, as Dr Rowley advises, to be on the same side, for everybody’s benefit.
Social media has a huge role to play in what has to be a new campaign of healing. because it is a source of isolation and works against co-operation. A bulwark against that trend includes the important role of civil society in rallying to the cause of nothing less than our future.
Full marks to Dr Rowley, then, for seeing the need to add “citizenship” to the curriculum and for the appointment of two women who promise to be excellent in their roles as minister and junior minister of education.
These ministers need courage, but they must surely sense that everybody is behind them, and so is fate, as this is a moment of opportunity. The pandemic exposed the inequalities and fault lines in our outdated education system and they have a real chance to undertake a root and branch reform. We all know that we need to radically transform the curriculum, to make schooling fun, of the 21st century, and to have at its heart teaching about life and responsibilities and society and people, rendering that part of education as important as getting a good grade in exams. The syllabus and teaching methods must cultivate more critical thinkers who can get themselves through the even more complicated future they will eventually face.
The government has kept some old ministries and created some new focal points, such as digital transformation as part of the Ministry of Public Administration, and I hope that extends to the business of education and involves parents and all citizens, particularly students and teachers.
I feel encouraged by some of the promised focus of the government and hopeful about change being realisable. The strategy could facilitate a shift in our culture that will gain momentum.
But we need urgent legislation against racism. Ralph Balgobin believes calling black people vermin is “intolerant and stupid” and that free speech allows for that. Wrong! Free “hate” speech is racist and should be outlawed. Laws can shape thinking. I cite seatbelt legislation, which profoundly changed the narrative from, “The police will catch you,” to, “You are risking your life.”
We cannot force people to love one another, but we can make them respect others’ rights and privileges by insisting upon it.
The short, swift boycott of Ramsaran products was instructive in showing that people have power and that it can be awesome when we act together. The overwhelming response of indignation shows that we know the limits. That’s half the work done.