Can words mean so many different things?

Dear Editor,

I write with reference to Dr Joey Jagan’s letter titled ‘Shared governance is an ancient concept’ (SN, July 11). This exchange of letters between Joey Jagan and myself is about the meaning of the phrase, ‘Shared coalition governance.’ Dr Jagan writes in the above referenced letter: “The concept of shared coalition governance is one which has no contradictions…” Really? Who says so?

The architect of the concept of ‘shared governance’ is Dr David Hinds. The debate over this concept has been going on for several years – what does it mean? How will it work? Dr Hinds came up with this concept as a way to address the problem that bedevils Guyanese politics and society. Several Guyanese (including columnist Freddie Kissoon and myself) have called it “elected dictatorship.” That is, given the fact of extremely high rates of ethnic voting for ethnic parties, and that one group, Indians, form the majority, this means the Indo-ethnic party will forever win the elections. According to Dr Hinds’s enunciation of the concept, all parties which win seats for parliament, will share the presidency and cabinet portfolios according to some pre-agreed formula.

This is not the same as coalition government. Coalition government occurs only when no party wins 51 per cent of the votes, in which case two or more parties may of their own volition join together to create a majority government. In the ‘shared government’ concept, even if one party wins 51 per cent, they will be obliged to share power, as per the agreed-upon formula.

I have read hundreds of articles involving Dr Hinds and his several detractors over the last ten years. And, none of them has treated these two very different concepts as the same thing. They are two different animals. Only Dr Joey Jagan is willing to argue that there is no difference between these two concepts.

Dr Jagan believes that citing an event from two thousand years ago and adding some spurious interpretation to it will make it more novel or cogent. He says that Alexander the Great in 330 bc conquered Persia and instituted “shared governance.” How did Alexander manage to pull this off? He married the sister of his enemy, the dead Persian King.
I do not recall reading about this particular marriage of Alexander the Great. But this could hardly be the same thing that Dr Hinds is calling for. Dr Hinds is calling for the sharing of “executive power,” which is very different from what Emperor Akbar’s (marriage to a Hindu princess) or Alexander’s marriage produced, namely, placation and control of a conquered population. Neither of these emperors shared power with the local or existing government. Co-opting local people as tax collectors or for low-level administrative functions does not constitute sharing power. What Dr Jagan is doing here is a very serious misreading of what happened in history.

I cite a short passage from Lewis Carroll’s Through the Looking-Glass (1872) where the character Humpty Dumpty discusses semantics and pragmatics with Alice:
“I don’t know what you mean by ‘glory,’ ” Alice said.

Humpty Dumpty smiled contemptuously. “Of course you don’t—till I tell you. I meant ‘there’s a nice knock-down argument for you!’ ”

“But ‘glory’ doesn’t mean ‘a nice knock-down argument,’” Alice objected.
“When I use a word,” Humpty Dumpty said, in a rather a scornful tone, “it means just what I choose it to mean—neither more nor less.”
“The question is,” said Alice, “whether you can make words mean so many different things.”

“The question is,” said Humpty Dumpty, “which is to be master      that’s all.”

Dr Joey Jagan is taking the classic Humpty Dumpty line – making words (and events from history) mean so many different things. He wants his version to be “master – that’s all.”

Yours faithfully,
Mike Persaud

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