Posts Tagged ‘political tribalism’

The song that is mentioned in the title of this blog post has been playing in my mind over and over as one of the many pieces of Jamaican creative art that has aptly served as social commentary basically covering my lifetime. In Jamaica POLITICS is a bad bad bad word, probably the worst word ever. In fact it has spawned many offshoots that highlight just how we as a people in large measure feel about the political process so we have “Follytics” which is my personal favourite of “politricks” which is perhaps the most popular.

For all persons who know me and know me well they know that ever since about the 9th grade I have stoutly held the position that until I see great changes in the way politics is practiced  I would never ever ever dip my finger in any ink. To this day I still feel very strongly about defending person’s right not to vote as being equal to a persons right to vote. I think this notion that “you must vote” whether you philosophically agree with the candidates put before you is one of the most popular yet flawed arguments that exists in Jamaica.

As I saw one comment on twitter yesterday “Voting for me is almost spiritual based on the sacrifice that went into me getting that right, I almost feel as though my soul will be damned if I just vote without conscience.” (slight paraphrase). That is deep almost deep beyond words. I think it is folly to say to someone your vote is valuable but give it to someone “just because” it’s the right thing to do. Persons who seek to bully and guilt trip persons into voting really need to spend the time and try to understand the stance of principled non-voters before reaching for the millions of tired clichés. Let me not even get into today the myriad of constitutional reform issues that legitimately turn people off from voting. That can be a blogpost for itself.

However, speaking of principled non-voters, I have recently developed a strong urge to reach out to my fellow disillusioned Jamaicans. We must not let our disillusionment turn into total apathy and separation from the process. whilst it is true that political participation goes well beyond casting a ballot and therefore voting is not the be all and end all of participation, we must also acknowledge that NOT VOTING AND NOT HAVING A VOTE ARE TWO CONSIDERABLY DIFFERENT THINGS. If you are not enumerated you don’t have a vote so your displeasure is not registered in any way that can even theoretically force those who you are displeased with to react. The sad truth is that these persons we make reference to are largely driven by electoral stimuli. So what we need to do is give them some different stimulus. If everybody who is not pleased with the status quo twinned their public expressions of disapproval with the REAL potential to be a “swing” set of votes THEY WOULD HAVE TO AT LEAST PAY SOME MORE ATTENTION.

SO DON’T VOTE IF YOU DON’T FEEL LIKE THERE IS ANYTHING TO VOTE FOR. I fully agree with that stance and it is your right and NEVER LET ANYONE MAKE YOU FEEL GUILTY FOR NOT CASTING YOUR VOTE FOR A MISGUIDED PERCEPTION OF CIVIC PRIDE. But political participation is more than just voting. What are you doing to contribute to the change that you want to see? Have you ever written to your representative? When parliament asks the public for written submissions have you ever sent one in? Are you a part of a civil society group fighting for a cause? NOT VOTING IS ONE THING BUT NOT CONTRIBUTING IN ANY WAY TO THE DEVELOPMENT OF JAMAICA AND THE “…THE WELFARE OF THE WHOLE HUMAN RACE” IS PROBABLY EQUAL OR WORSE FOLLY THAN THE FOLLYTICS WE COMPLAIN ABOUT.

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Many Jamaicans see all things that emanate form the great uncle sam up north as good or better stated, better than any such local  thing. One such thing that people have touted as the panacea for our political shortcomings is switching to the US Presidential system of government. I see some of the purported benefits of such a switch but many supporters of such a move ignore the shortcomings. The most notable shortcoming is that of the possibility of gridlock i.e. not being able to move anything forward if the different branches of government were held by opposing parties. Remember this point I will come back to it later.

I have never been one of these “lets copy the US and we we will be fine” people by any measure but there WAS one element of US politics that I used to be so jealous of. What is this one element? IDEOLOGY. Ideology? that cant make sense as the purveyors of POW and SHOW seek to tell us that they are ideologically different that one is LEFT and one is RIGHT. I will yield  to someone who highlights that in the 1970s and 1980s that Sirs Manley and Seaga respectively held and promoted vastly divergent world-views. Back then (based on what I’ve heard clearly) the labels “capitalist” and “socialist” were truly applicable.

For me the politics of Jamaica in my lifetime has not been driven by ideology or ideas really. But rather governed by the powerful laws of political pragmatism, populism and tribalism. Where the common “ideology” is to create relations of patronage and clientelism coupled with making (often empty) promises and finally adding the dimension of the use of or association with shady characters all in the name of winning elections. Ideas and principles and a coherent world-view have taken a back seat to the philosophy of win at all cost.

Consequently, as a student of the social sciences I have often pined for a day where our politicians approach politics and governance would  be rooted heavily in an ideological discourse. HOWEVER, as a I sat and watched the Republican National Convention 2012 and listened to the commentary of both Republicans and Democrats, I came to the harsh but age old realisation that the grass is not always greener on the other side. To put it lightly US politics is heavily grounded in ideology and ideological difference, but I no longer see this as necessarily an idyllic state of affairs.

On one hand we return to gridlock mentioned above. Republicans and Democrats have diametrically opposed views about how the world, politics and economics work.  If we accept the latter statement as fact how can we truly expect for persons that view the world fundamentally differently to work together on issues that are rooted in said views of the world. Imagine a Democratic president seeking to reinvigorate social welfare whilst the Congress was republican held and anti big government. Forget the hypothetical look at the barrage of issues that have been uncomfortably dealt with due to antagonistic tendencies between the Obama Administration and the Republican led congress. Ideological dogmatism makes it next to impossible for any true cooperation to flourish and as such I am no longer sure how much I would want to transpose such a modus operandi on Jamaica.

The second issue I have with this ideological strife ( as played out in the US) is the hatred it engenders. Hatred may seem like a strong word but the diatribe that left throws at right and right throws at left is literally stomach churning at times. And at the root of this again is what some social scientists call “othering” – the demonisation of that which is different. In this way ideologies take one a sort of religious connotation where persons start viewing their political views in a “I am the only bearer of the truth” way. This has the same end point – difficulty in engendering any true cooperation but it has a side order of distasteful rhetoric and a dessert or Hate to the main course.

All in all, I initially thought a highly ideological discourse in Jamaica could improve upon/replace an often mindless tribalism, but I am slowly coming to think that making such a transformation could really just be changing the type of tribalism. A tribalism which is based on persons deep seated views on right and wrong views held so dear to people’s heart. I put it to you that such a tribalism has the potential to be infinitely more dangerous and divisive.