by Adrian Augier
Many people wonder why we love to flout rules; why we hate to line up; why we treat authority with such scant regard. In this environment of lock up and crackdown, most explanations presume indifference, indiscipline, or both. But easy answers do not describe the root of the problem; or if the root is a problem at all.
Fact is, anyone brave enough to challenge the status quo, becomes an instant hero. We love our underdogs. We identify readily with the disadvantaged and dispossessed. David vs. Goliath. George vs. Compton. A malaway credential, even by association, is indispensable in local politics. Clearly, there is something embedded in our psyche which aligns those recurring sympathies.
Or maybe, we see ourselves as part-time rebels: robin hoods opposing unjust authority, stealing back the stolen purse, saving the village, winning the girl and returning to heroic hills. But nah. Too simple. Too Hollywood. Too little literature in our lives.
More likely, under a thin skin of conformity, we are actually deeper than that: part renegade, part runaway, part relic of an unfinished resistance, and despite our good clothes, more disposed to bitasion than savanne. Or maybe, we are just duplicitous and subversive, and have always had to be. Maybe this two-faced society is nothing new, just what we have done for centuries, to survive.
Admittedly, we have perfected the art of bad-talking the boss, the government, the prime minister, both face-front and behind-back. We can make nice, spit in your plate, and serve you dinner, smiling. We are those same faithfilled people who will sabotage the very thing that feeds us, then stand in pious silence at its funeral, all downcast eyes, all innocence and grief.
Same way, we ask father-priest to bless us please, before the ribaldry of La Woz, and after the debauchery of carnival. By that measure, we are truly a calypso society, steeped in parody, double-speak and deceit. And it is probably pervasive, because higher office hardly changes us. There, we will sign memoranda of profound understanding, then forsake all poise and principle when rum loosen necktie and slacken dirty tongue.
It’s all part of our smoke and mirror world. Even officialdom is just a place we dress up and go to. Not where we actually exist. We pose, pander and perform there, for the public camera. By the end of that day, we revert to chattel, bush, outside children, and depending on what night it is, an insatiable jabal.
So who the hell are we, really…??? Like most issues strangling our progress, our shadow identity is probably rooted in our unstudied history: a shuttered place we are afraid to enter, and unable to leave. Consider that a few centuries back, when paler people began bickering over this real estate, we found our way around their battles and treaties, and through their two world wars.
We raised children, fed families, and held communities together. We steadied ourselves, against an endless rotation of governors, chief ministers, estate owners and expat bosses. Despite their politics and our poverty, we made something out of the nothing they left us, caring little about what flag reigned over Government House.
In the throes of that survival, we deemed authority to be a fickle and fleeting thing. Not to be trusted. Not to be invested in. Take sides too early, and you will be the stooge, left to burn when tables turn. Not good enough to cross over to the lighter side of town, you will have to live down in the quarter, among the very souls you have betrayed; the soucèr severed from his people.
So, if the rotation still continues – of parties, bosses, boards and brandings – why should the national psyche change…??? To rise to supervisor here, is to betray the rank and file. Moving up that corporate ladder means crossing the divide, selling out old friends and former accomplices who might begrudge your success, and moreover, know your secrets.
So, we who live the unspoken history of this place, who understand the price of loyalty, and what allegiance costs, also know which hillsides hold or slip, in seasons wet or dry. So, we mostly get on with our lives. Like wavètdouvan-poul, we may play along, but know the safety of the sideline. Fact is, we can’t really afford to ride the big roulette.
So what stake do we have…??? Well, unlike our love, which is still genuine and spontaneous, our loyalty is tradeable. Choosing to follow a cause, a party, a candidate, is largely a business proposition. Much like giving a man to be child-father, or god-father. Mouths have to feed. Either you can keep me and my children, or you cannot.
And if it happens in the meantime, that the place falls into ruin, it is not us who will be disgraced. “Not me Paps… watch I was watching them fellas… I have my bills to pay”. The boss, the minister, the candidate will be recalled, reproached, replaced. We already know all Caesar’s power comes from Rome, or eventually from us. So, if wait we must, we can and we will.
Indeed, if push comes to shove, there are more of us than them. Even back then, colonial planters and police knew only too well they lacked the means to quell any serious uprising. The masses would have easily prevailed, if not betrayed by some soucèr. Fermenting civil unrest today, is merely a matter of who to lead, and who to die in that first frenzied charge. The characters change, but the scenario plays over.
Even in our most serious endeavors, we all say, “great idea” then look around for the sucker, fool enough to lead and face the opening salvo. And there we stop. Well short of dying for any cause. There we remain, instinctively skeptical of the establishment and each other.
Fortunately, in our small, incestuous society, its plays out much the same on both sides. Law enforcement also knows they will hardly ever face a formidable frontline. Just need to pick off those few rebel dogs out front, barking louder than they bite. True. But, the real fear is the faceless mass gathering at center. There is family in there. And old friends who know your secrets. One can always shoot a couple faceless negroes, but if the crowd surges, where does the dying end…???
So, carrying all this instinctive wisdom, all that unspoken angst, we rebel one foot at a time. Neither side dares draw any line in the proverbial sand. The police will not shoot at their own kind, and citizens will not be beaten to submission. Not all at the same time anyway. Besides, Sir, remember your constable is my cousin.
Since many of us already live with ayèn-ki-ha-pa-ni, we know scarcity and sacrifice all too well. We have survived economic siege before, and now have much less to lose than those softened by sweet luxury. So, when we gather in our numbers, at beach, in country bar, along village street, we are not indifferent, irrational or undisciplined. It is simply our version of defiance. Unmasked gatherings are the finger up in Caesar’s face.
So, whoever said, “George is dead and took the revolution with him”, better think again. Our wisdom and resistance may well run deeper than first thought.
Those who see carnival as mere fete, should recall that it is also an assertion: an annual defiance that closes down the town, diverts traffic, frustrates police, demands that city merchants heel and acknowledge a power better vented than repressed. In 1979, that same smoldering energy shattered the crystal silence of show-windows.
So, when we gather despite protocols, and beat pan in the streets without your irrelevant permission, the message may well be: cool out, my gurl… even bible say, every dog must have his day… and any boss can be replace…”. Posing as some paragon will only cause us to remind you, with slow and deliberate care, where you come from, where you cannot reach, and when your whole family ate dry bread, and bathed under a Pavée stand-pipe… just like me.
Nor is there any leverage in withholding what people do not value. They will not play a game they can never win, nor show interest in your version of the rules. If they refuse official logic, your whole house of cards will crumble. If most do not fear reprisal, and too few crave the life-saving elixir of vaccine, where then, is your leverage…??? It cannot be enforced.
Perhaps, we have always danced this way, on the knife-edge of ruin, with not that much to lose: between sedition and seduction, between taunt and temptation, between reason and reckless abandon.
So, people will gather. And they will also trust that authorities are sensible enough to manage power well. That too, is a shared responsibility. As much as reason stirs reason, aggression stirs aggression. Push too hard, and we all fall off the cliff. No elixir there. Especially for our untouchable tourism.
Suffice it to say, the power play has failed. Now, we all need to chill, breathe deep, confer, listen and collaborate. If such reasonableness is impossible, then as they say, this too shall pass. And besides, we will all soon have our say at the polls. Best don’t mess with that. It’s the one thing keeping this powder keg unfused.
Most any other democracy would argue that autonomy is healthy, that power never should be trusted, that skepticism is a wonderful and necessary thing. We may not all be so clinical, or articulate, but something deep within us knows this well. And, with suspicion like a switchblade kept open in our pocket, we will figure it all out, eventually. Pray that our meagre faith and sporadic charity can keep body and soul together, until then.
Adrian Augier is a development economist, an independent senator, and St. Lucia’s 2010 Entrepreneur of the Year. He is an award-winning poet, producer and mas’ man, and a Caribbean Laureate of Arts and Letters. He has been awarded the Saint Lucia Medal of Merit (Gold), for his contribution to art and literature, and an honorary doctorate by the University of the West Indies, for his contribution to regional development and culture. For more information on this writer and his work, visit adrianaugier.blogspot.com or email firstname.lastname@example.org
NOTE: The views and opinions expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect the policy or position of St Lucia Times.