That's the way, uh-huh, uh-huh, We like it.
Published: Sunday | March 16, 2008

It must be a miserable experience to live in a country with the world's highest homicide rate, and one of the lowest official GDP growth rates over the past 20 years. Or, maybe not. According to the February 24 Sunday Gleaner poll, 59 per cent of those living in statistically broke and murderous Jamaica say they are happy.

When I returned home in 1989 after studying in Canada, 414 people had been killed the previous year, and US$1 bought about J$5. If you had told me that 19 years later the murder count would be nearly 1,600 and the exchange rate over 71:1, I would have predicted bloody riots, mass insurrection and maybe a military dictatorship.

Instead, virtually nothing has changed. Except, perhaps, that most people now have access to cars, and everyone has a cellphone. But, on the whole, the skyrocketing dollar and the murder rate have had amazingly little impact on day-to-day life. All the violence should have made people afraid to go out at night. But the music scene has never been more vibrant, and we've never had more street-parties - or more expensive SUVs.

Like many fellow 'commentators', I've often lamented my country's, supposedly, terminal decline into chaos. Why are so many other places getting it right, while we keep on falling behind globally? But a decade of watching and asking and thinking has led me to one conclusion: Sure, most Jamaicans would like to have more money and less crime, but not if it means altering our 'anything goes' lifestyle. From top to bottom, nobody wants to change anything.

Makes no sense

This makes no sense, and I'm quite willing to modify my views, if only someone could show me any signs of a real desire for change in any stratum of society. I sure don't see any. There are no angry mobs marching on Gordon House. Or firebrand orators whipping up crowds at Heroes Circle. Or restless officers at Up Park Camp. Or even a third political party that can garner five per cent of the vote.

Talk shows are deluged with 'the end is near' jeremiads. But no one seems interested in legislation that has worked elsewhere to ameliorate similar issues that a country with 85 per cent of children born out of wedlock, and less than 40 per cent with registered fathers - perhaps the world's highest rates - also leads the planet in per capita homicide. And it's hard to see why Chilean-style paternity laws, US model 'three strikes you're out' imprisonment laws, and British- like DNA database laws would not improve these situations. But our politicians, commentators and lobby groups are, at best, indifferent, and even at times positively hostile to such measures.

Similarly, this is a land of blatant linguistic apartheid. Those who cannot speak English properly when they have to - which is the majority of Jamaicans - are considered second-class citizens, even in their own eyes. If all Jamaicans could speak understandable English, our national income would plummet.

Now, speaking properly has nothing to do with race or class, and everything to do with properly trained tongues and lips.

Common-sense remedy

But, whenever someone suggests the common-sense remedy of elocution classes in schools, intellectual ghetto academics start babbling about 'class bias' and 'simplistic solutions'. It's almost as if they want to keep incoherent masses in perpetual subservience.

We hear endless sound bites about family values, improving parenting, getting fathers involved, protecting children, and the like, but it is just 'ray, ray, ray' talk. Words without actions mean nothing. Our last prime minister made a big to-do about how, as our first female leader, she would place special emphasis on strengthening the family and helping mothers and children.

For all her moving and impassioned speeches, did she push through any legislation focusing on these matters?

Now we have the first 'nuclear family' prime minister in a generation, i.e. married and never divorced, with children. He also talks a great deal about reckless parenting and dysfunctional families. It's possible he will back up his chat with laws.

But the public will believe it when we see it.There are some glimmers of light. Last week, thanks to new laws against abetting carnal abuse, a woman was jailed for knowingly allowing a man to have sex with her underage daughter. Now, how about mandatory reporting, mandatory DNA testing, and mandatory sentencing for underage pregnancies? And, where is the long-promised sex offenders registry?

MPs Ronnie Thwaites and Mike Henry recently co-sponsored a bill to give mothers the right to put the father's name on children's birth certificates. Neither The Gleaner nor Observer thought it news fit to print, showing how low fathers rank on the list of national priorities. So, I'm not sure if their proposal settles disagreements with court-ordered DNA testing à la Chile.


But cynics wonder if our MPs will ever pass these laws that might embarrass a lot of 'big men', including themselves. Nor is it clear that our women want to give up their inalienable right to 'jacket' and 'raffle'. Is whose dolly house you want to mash up?

Now, you would expect such a measure to be championed by women's groups and politicians, not two middle-aged males. But Betty-Ann Blaine seems to be the only woman interested in fatherlessness. Other prominent female rights spokeswomen, apparently, prefer to concentrate on such pressing matters as laws that allow women to be charged for raping men.

Unless, we are a nation of zombies, telepathically controlled by vicarious thrill-seeking aliens, things could not be as they are if most Jamaicans did not wish it so. Or, as the song says, 'That's the way, uh-huh uh-huh, we like it!'

Rampant violence

And when confronted with the inevitable by-products of our 'as you like it' lifestyle - such as nearly four murders a day, rampant violence in schools, and endemic teenage pregnancy - we anxiously look around for convenient scapegoats.

It's the corrupt, violent police who are causing the crime! As if throwing uniforms on young males raised in disorder will magically transform them into disciplined London bobbies.

It's the crooked politicians who are mashing up Jamaica! As if our leaders have descended from on high and not been freely voted into power by the majority of us.

It's the deejays who are causing the slackness! As if they are not doing what Jamaican musicians, from the days of Slim and Slam, have always done, namely mirroring the society they live in. And, as if deejays can dictate which songs become popular.

Bruce Golding seems to genuinely want change. But even the best-intentioned leaders don't get very far, if they can't persuade their people to follow them. And, while his drive for efficient and accountable government deserves support, trying to fix your politics without addressing your social reality is like writing in water.

The essence of Mr Golding's platform is that a little more discipline and long-term planning, in both the private and public spheres, will significantly improve the quality of life for all.

Common sense suggests he is right. But, he might have a tough time convincing those 59 per cent of Jamaicans happy with things as they are.

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