Economic deprivation and ‘principled opportunism’

Dear Editor,

Exclusion is not just about gradations of inequality, but mechanisms that act to detach individuals or groups of people from their social or political base. In their crudest form these mechanisms can act to dislodge individuals or groups from a livelihood and from the capacity to look after family, dependants and themselves. In Guyana systemic discrimination and exclusion are ‘kissing cousins’ used skillfully to keep individuals in line or drive them into political directions they would not normally take. Once beaten into submission by this perverse system the individual will tend to use all types of justification for seemingly uncharacteristic behaviour.

In reality these people are as opportunistic as any. They are not like grasshoppers. According to `realist’ theory, individuals and groups, acting in the selfish pursuit of their interests are inclined to behave in ways that are noticeably more aggressive and extreme than the given situation may call for. This psychological ‘proving up’ of loyalty to the previously criticized or ignored entity is never ending and takes on a life of its own. Eventually it can take its toll on the opportunist’s sanity or at least seriously impair his or her cognitive ability. How else can one explain recent pronouncements by a supposedly educated man that no African Guyanese like and including himself, has the experience or ability to hold down a diplomatic posting? Then there is the case of the businessman and building contractor systematically denied equal opportunity to participate in all but the smallest, most insignificant infrastructural projects who crosses the bridge to position himself for better days and better projects he hopes “the best and the most structurally sound political entity in the country” will now put his way, when in reality it is the same entity which has put him in the poor house in the first place.

Guyana’s civic decline is real and visible in many sectors of contemporary society, not just an invention of conservative politicians. It is seen in the weakening sense of solidarity in some local communities and political groups, in the high levels of disingenuous behaviour and in the rapid growth of a type of self-serving morality. These pathogens will tend to deny that economic deprivation is associated with these problems and say that it is wrong to reduce civic decline and opportunistic behaviour to economics or the influence of imposed poverty and underprivilege. They would sooner have us believe in the “nobility of betrayal’, but then that is as much an oxymoron as ‘principled opportunism’.

Yours faithfully,
F Hamley Case

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