Something is indeed rotten in the state of our nation.
We’ve got so much going for us, with natural resources including quality gold and diamond, expensive wood and lumber, golden sugar and rice, fresh food and dairy.
Add to that list the absence of natural disasters such as earthquakes, tsunami, tornados or volcanos, and the tropical weather that allows year-long sunshine, fresh air and home-grown food. Also clean, fresh rain water.
And further add to that the fact that we have some of the best brains in the world.
One thinks of Economist Clive Thomas, Literature genius Wilson Harris, and a host of intelligent, accomplished people scattered all over the world, with a heart for the homeland.
In the Stabroek News, every week, we have people like Ian McDonald and Dave Martins and Clive Thomas and Christopher Ram urging us to be a great people.
What is it that keeps us mired in a state of social depression?
I am in the process of compiling material for a book on my Journalism days here, which involves interviewing people about their views of this country.
And one theme stands out with glaring clarity: people scratch their heads perplexed that we cannot get our act together, while such less endowed places like Trinidad and Tobago, St Lucia, Barbados and Jamaica move ahead in people development.
We saw an enormous leaping ahead in the United States, where Barack Obama could be elected President, and in nearby Trinidad and Tobago, where a woman of Indo-Trini origin was elected peacefully as Prime Minister.
Here, we have a war of words between President Jagdeo and Brigadier David Granger, of the People’s National Congress/Reform, that might very well be a precursor of the campaign to come.
Stabroek News has editorialized about the President’s inappropriate rants at Babu John last week, and Granger’s reply to those comments was tit-for-tat. The president had also verbally attacked Raphael Trotman, the leader of the Alliance For Change. To Trotman’s credit, he did not jump into the fray, maintaining a dignified stance.
Could this verbal war be a symptom of what’s eating the soul of this nation?
Could this be an indication of what’s rotten in the state?
Acrimony and strife gets no one anywhere. And a society caught in the public fracas of its most senior leaders cannot advance into intelligent national conversations about how to move forward.
What builds a society?
We are working to build a Guyanese society. Since Independence, when we dropped the ‘British’ in the name of this land, we have worked to build a society of the Guyanese identity.
After 45 years working at it, we still cannot get our act together.
What are the tools that build a society? Society is a civilized dwelling together of a people of common interests and traits.
This social space that is our Guyanese society – which I would advocate spans the global village with the homeland as the core, the heart of the nation – came to be what it is today after a history of verbal strife.
In 2011, are we continuing this history, to project ourselves into a future that repeats the past?
To build a solid foundation for our society to develop we have only one tool: words. Ayn Rand, the American author, wrote extensively about words as tools.
Language, this brilliant thinker said, is the most potent tool human beings have developed. Words build social space.
It seems the President, and now the main Opposition leader in Granger, do not realize how powerful their words are in shaping the society, and the public space.
Thinkers such as George Orwell, Mark Twain, Neil Postman, and many, many others, have urged humanity to work on their skilful use of words to build the global village into a humane, civilized humanity.
Many experts of the use of this tool – words and language – have written and lectured on this topic. Language influences the shaping of social space, the developing of our society.
Don’t President Jagdeo and Brigadier Granger get this?
What could we do to ensure that our leaders speak words of healing, forgiveness, reconciliation and a magnanimous reaching out, with good conscience and a pure heart, to each other? What could be done to ensure we build national conversations of value?
The media must take responsibility for this, as well. Though its role is largely reportorial, the media could set the tone for the language of this nation to be a civilizing force.
In fact, this is the Government’s greatest failure. Not only has it failed to pass Broadcast and Freedom of Information laws, and thus send a strong signal of goodwill by working with the AFC’s leaders, but it has failed to set proper standards for the national media landscape.
Media houses are left to self-regulate their conduct. In such a scenario, we have gross violation of the ethics of the profession in at least two national newspapers, one State-owned.
We have on TV the same lack of professional conduct.
In many developed countries, a national communications council independent of Government and media interests enforces ethical professional media standards.
Something is rotten in our nation, its very soul. And to heal it we need to work on this intangible fort – how we implement the tool of language, of our words, in the public space. Because language it is that shapes the social space.
Cussing and swearing have become such a norm on our streets, including at the Stabroek Market, in the open, that the public places have become filled with vulgarity, lewdness and immoral ethical behaviour.
Could this be a trickle down from the top, where leaders “cuss” out each other?
Ayn Rand once held a series of lectures in her home for friends and associates to teach them the value of words, of language.
Her lectures were transcribed from the verbal tape into two books. These books, ‘The Art of Nonfiction’ and ‘The Art of Fiction’ detail the process of writing. But, more importantly, these works show the power of words and language to transform social space.
Rand stresses that words are the tools a person needs to master the building of life, and the building of society.
Just like a carpenter masters the tools of drill, hammer and saw to construct a building, a human being masters the tools of words and language to build a life. And leaders use the tool of words and language to shape social space.
I hope our leaders get this. The Guyanese society is so blessed. What we are missing is this deep respect for language.
Every great society built up a literature, a body of knowledge, stored in words and language, that defines the thinking of that society.
Trinidad and Tobago produced a Nobel laureate in V. S. Naipaul, and today its political and social structures have advanced way ahead of us, so much so that many of us migrate to live there.
We cannot over-emphasize this language-use aspect of building our nation.
Let us strive this elections time to make a new start. Let us implement a media monitoring panel comprising foreign media professionals who could enforce ethical media standards.
Let us hold the leaders to a standard of discourse that would shame them if they digress from the course.
Stabroek News actually played such a role in its Editorial on the Jagdeo speech at Babu John.
This writer could be contacted at beingshaun@ gmail.com