From a youth with an interest in reading I was often struck by the confidence with which persons would express a thought or a position on something that sounded impressive at first but, on reflection, proved to be simplistic, if not downright wrong. Years later, with the days of my youth certainly very far behind, one sees that the inclination for impressive pronouncements that are far from that on reflection, continues. Just in recent weeks, for instance, I read somewhere that “Capital creates change.” Well, not necessarily. Once some other key ingredients are in play, capital can create change, but to say flat out, “Capital creates change”, case closed, we are wording the assertion much too narrowly. Other things have to be in place, capital alone does not produce change; other aspects or forces have to be in play, such as efficient management, identification of a gap in a market, or a certain disposition in the society to identifying either something missing or, conversely, something present but malfunctioning or generating trauma, so that the society wants that condition removed or remedied. If those aspects, and others, are not treated, simply throwing money at the project will not propel it, as we have seen in different arms of government in countries far and wide. We have an example this week, with regard to the proposed multi-million-dollar development on the Pegasus Hotel site, in comments from the developer Mr Robert Badal, that what is also needed is a more enlightened approach to taxation for such ventures, and, happily, Minister Dominic Gaskin indicating some agreement with the idea. The Pegasus development, in other words, will require more than just money; among other things, progressive attitudes to business have to be in the mix; without them, capital will not produce change.
Living in North America, hardly a month goes by without some prominent person in the society pronouncing at a high-level conference or meeting that “in life, if you’re prepared to work hard enough for it, you can become anything you want.” Unfortunately, not so. Hard work alone, however focused, will not make you an Olympic sprinter, or a nuclear scientist, unless you have the particular genes that equip you with a facility for those things. I recall the example of a study done on the Trinidadian Olympic sprinter Hasely Crawford which showed that the neurons in his muscles were firing faster than for most folks; in other words, Hasely was born to run fast. In completely the opposite of that, I recall the example of a young Guyanese in Toronto who used to frequent the Bermuda Tavern on Yonge Street (this in the early 1960s before Tradewinds). Freddie was a dapper, good-looking young man, with a good singing voice, a mini-Belafonte, and in an effort to help him with his desire to sing professionally, I spent time rehearsing with him, but the problem I immediately saw was that he had no sense of timing whatsoever. You would play an intro line to a song he knew and Freddie would either come in late or early, but not on time. I would stop the band, he would recognise the error, and on the second try he would get it, but the next time the intro came around, Freddie would come in late, or early, again. We tried repeatedly with this young man. He was keen, he was committed. He made the mistake and kept to trying to fix it, but we finally had to give up on the project. As hard as he was willing to work at it – you could see the longing in his eyes – Freddie could never make a living singing. As Hasely was born to run, Freddie was born to not sing professionally.
Here’s another one we often hear pronounced with great solemnity. “If you do bad things in the world – cheat or steal; malign persons; become involved in criminal activities; etc – sooner or later, you are going to pay for your sins; you will get yours.” It may be a somewhat comforting philosophy, but even a casual look at everyday life will show us copious examples of folks engaged in the most disgraceful behaviours in societies, sometimes even the criminal, who never seem to get their comeuppance, at least not in public; every one of us knows instances of that, either in our own circle, or in the society around us. It’s another nice thought, but in fact not every sinner seems to pay. In fact, the equation often seems to go the other way.
Recently, responding to something I wrote about the state of music, someone whom I consider generally astute, said to me, “The problem with the low level of music we have today is that people are not being introduced to great music on our radio or television offerings. Most people would appreciate such things if they were exposed to them.” His point, of course, was generally aimed at the level of popular music in the Caribbean in recent years. In fact, however, the current popular fare is what the public generally wants; literally every kind of music produced in the world is available to us, if not on the internet, certainly on the hundreds of radio stations playing everything under the sun. Now, more than ever, one can hear whatever music one wishes, and often free, and people are being exposed to it, but they make their own choices and those are not indications of “ignorance” or “lack of exposure to real music”. Indeed, “real music”, in that popular music arena, is precisely how those aficionados would label the songs they are drawn to. It is not a matter of exposure; it is one of choice. They have heard the rest; this is what they like.
So the next time we hear such platitudes…not necessarily.