The writer and changing values

Dr Errol Benjamin -
Dr Errol Benjamin -

THE EDITOR: I seemed to have lost my appetite for writing to the newspaper as I have been doing for the last quarter of a century, wanting to say something positive to the people in this country, and elsewhere in the world, presumptuous as the latter is, in the hope that they will lift up their eyes and look, critically, at any given situation or issue and take an informed position on it.

Whenever I wrote I did so against a background of basically Western value systems, being of the West and schooled in its ideas, which I used as a moral and ethical yardstick to measure human behaviour, with focus on its fundamentals such as freedom of speech, good leadership as a moral imperative, relationships being based on good will and a sense of fair play, justice as not being blind and the like, too numerous to mention.

This has created a dilemma for me as a critical thinker (having lectured on the subject at the tertiary level based on my published text, Critical Thinking for Tertiary Level: A Self-Instructional Course), for value systems are as wide and varied as the world is diverse and what may be “moral and ethical” to one group may not be so for another. As such one cannot appear to judgemental about one value system over another, merely report on them as “fact.”

Yet, even with this infinite variety, is it unreasonable to assume that there should exist in the world at large a universal sense of right and wrong to which we in our common humanity should adhere? But even this assumption is problematic for the idea of reason and rationality is often trumped by other value systems which are essentially theological, and by extension ideological, which brings into play the idea of belief and faith, which are often to the detriment of such rationality.

Steven Pinker, professor of psychology at Harvard university, in an interview with Krishna Murthy on Channel 4 News on his podcast “Ways to Change the World” (YouTube), would ask the telling question: “Are we living in an epidemic of unreason,” pointing to this paradigm shift, and on the same continuum, there are the new “woke,” left, liberal and ultra “progressive” ideas which pose a serious challenge to the conservative Western value system as we have come to know it.

Which is why I feel like a dinosaur in this world of rapidly changing values, not knowing what standards to apply to human behaviour. Like in our country, for example, as against the traditional democratic tenet of “government of the people, by the people” with leaders facing the consequence at the polls if they are in violation, what can you say to our leadership on both sides of the ethnic divide seeing no obligation to give account of their stewardship because of a tribe which is prepared to ask no questions of their leadership for the “mess of pottage” to be had for this unquestioning loyalty?

And what can you say to the people in this country whose tribal instincts trump every consideration for the national good for all? And we are not alone. Even in the greatest democracy in the world, the US, democracy seems mocked when its fundamentals like free speech and justice for all are under siege and seem to be going slowly under. Just look at the politics of the Donald Trump indictments as attested to by many or the continuing longevity of a leadership now under an impeachment inquiry.

Of course there is the usual “to and fro” of opposing media houses on these issues, some for and some against, which is a marker of our changing value systems, even in an institution traditionally regarded as sacrosanct in terms of fairness, justice and the news as “fact.”

And elsewhere in the world you look in awe at the unprecedented blood and death and wish you could say something for a return to our common humanity, but like with the politics in the US, this scenario has become the playground for competing media houses portraying the “facts” to suit their own interests and agendas and you stand in your shoes and wonder like the lost Naughty Boy of John Keats, not knowing what to believe.

What, then, can I write about?

That answer is now blowing in the wind.


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"The writer and changing values"

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