Culture, Rule of Law and Civil Rights

Culture, rule of law and civil rights

Chris BURNS

Monday, November 10, 2014

 
BENNETT-COVERLEY… educated us on the power of culture in shaping an entire people

LEGENDARY Jamaican folklorist and social commentator the late great Louise Bennett-Coverley described the flavour and rhythm of the Jamaican dialect in her own inimitable style. She wrote: “When the Asian and European cultures buck up pon the African culture in the Caribbean people, wi stir dem up and blend dem to wi flavour. Wi shake dem up and move dem to wi beat; wi wheel dem and wi tun dem, and wi rock dem and wi sound dem. Larks the rhythm sweet…”

Miss Lou was not only sharing her affection for our cultural vigour, she was also educating us about the power of culture in shaping an entire people; its language, its mood and motif, its expression, pride and desires for accomplishments, all of which should culminate in a special brand of exceptionalism. Has it really?

The advancement of multiculturalism did not start with Miss Lou’s perspectives, nor did it end with her determination to elevate our dialect. Our motto, “Out of many one people” also crystallises Miss Lou’s sentiments. Our motto represents a realistic definition of our multi-ethnic antecedents. It also stitches together our multiracial identity in ways that make the alloy of the various races inseparable; thus giving our collective hue and physicality a particular texture and character, as well as credence to our industriousness, creativity, curiosity, entrepreneurialism, tastes, behaviour and humanity.

Paradoxically, with all these enabling multicultural and multiracial traits, it remains baffling that so many of us remain poor, even as poverty is a hellish state of being. Is there something particularly intrinsic in our Jamaican culture that causes so many of us of predominantly African descent to remain wedded to the paradigm of the plantation to the extent that success remains elusive even as ambition remains constant? With the kind of ethnic spread and racial mix that runs deep within our veins, is it not curious that so many of us cannot honestly say “I am good”, instead of “I am not too bad”, when asked “how are you doing?”

Undoubtedly, we see elements of our multicultural, multiracial and multi-ethnic heritage and ethos manifesting themselves in our tastes, fashion, beliefs, behaviour, dexterity, prejudices, business acumen, and trade. Why then is financial and material successes more evident among those outside the African cohort of our population? One thing for certain, our multiracial composition is responsible for shaping our sexual culture. Part of my mind is still 20 years old; therefore, you can forgive the deviation. One does not have to imagine what happens “when the Chinese and Indian libido buck up pon the African and Spanish stamina, because the dancehall culture is always “on cock” to explode the innocence of our juvenile population with wild dreams. Could this subcultural penetration be responsible for the shift away from knowledge acquisition and toward the steadfast focus on instant gratification through sexual pursuits to the detriment of personal advancements?

By way of background, the word “culture” originates from the Latin “cultura”, which means “cultivation”. The concept of “culture”, as posited by Marcus Cicero, the Roman philosopher, has its roots in the “cultivation of the soul”. Here, cultivation implies planting; yet, we use culture in a non-agricultural sense, most of the time. Culture describes traditions, improvements, especially through education, and modification in how individuals live, think, protect, amplify, and classify their experiences and activities. Again, why are the majority of us, Jamaicans, not achieving at a faster rate? Is it that we completely misunderstand the power of culture and see it only as an intangible, faith-inducing, spiritual thing?

Could there be unseen benefits in revitalising culture in the agricultural sense to encourage more than just the cultivation of soul, but also cultivation of land and attitude in ways that reduce stereotyping associated with plantation labour? Fundamentally, culture is essential to the way we view, experience, and engage with all aspects of our lives and the world around us. Does any of this explain young people’s aversion toward agriculture? Is it that we still need to cultivate that cultural fearlessness to overcome disabling stereotypes?

I claim no superior understanding of all things cultural, but countries, like organisations, have cultures — different cultures — and understanding culture is important in predicting the preponderance of tolerance and intolerance in any society toward particular philosophies or actions. Ironically, it is worth noting that anthropologist, Adamson Hoebel, defines culture as “the integrated system of learned behaviour patterns which are characteristic of the members of a society and which are not the result of biological inheritance…” Hence, we cannot be too uptight or annoyed with those who oppose certain foreign influences, socio-cultural adulterations and lifestyles or view them as threats our culture and cultural traditions and identity.

It is true that “our explanations of culture are shaped by the historical, political, religious, social, economic and cultural contexts in which we live and are accustomed to…” This brings me to the current undertaking of parliament. The Jamaican Government has asked civil society groups to participate in the review of the Sexual Offences Act. Besides the provisions to amend the definition and punishment for rape, the age of consent, etc, the buggery provisions of the Act will come up for review. Undoubtedly, this will trigger intense public reactions because it goes to the core of the debate on homosexuality. The important question, though, is how do the arguments surrounding the retention of the buggery law square off with the rule of law, cultural traditions, and, crucially, civil rights and liberties? If one accepts equality under the law, then why are we embracing selective cultural virtues?

Even so, the parliament, being the highest court of the land, must remain sacrosanct in protecting the rights of the entire population, irrespective of religious dogma, discrimination, intolerance and socio-cultural traditions. If it is that Parliament wants to criminalise certain personal sexual habits then it must also amend the Charter of Rights to limit one’s right to privacy. As incongruous as this may sound, is there any correlation between our non-productive obsession with people’s private-nonviolent sexual preferences and our lack of accomplishment? Tons of productive time have been forfeited in hot pursuit of people’s personal experience.

A lot has changed in terms of how people express themselves, verbally, sexually, politically, and otherwise, and we would only be whistling past the graveyard if we chose to ignore these changes. For, while our culture, traditions, ethos, religion and moral values are vital to our existence, reasonable compromises are necessary as we reconcile moral, religious and cultural mores with civil rights, including the right to privacy.

Burnscg@aol.com

http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/columns/Culture–rule-of-law-and-civil-rights-_17912054