Friday, April 4, 2014

Open-minded politics and the Caribbean

By Oliver Mills:

Caribbean politics in many ways can be regarded as being a closed-minded activity. We as Caribbean people often have our allegiance to political parties pre-determined for us by our political culture, and through political socialisation. Through these processes, our minds from very early are shaped to accept designated political beliefs, which very often we do not question, or even revise, despite the fact that the political organisations we support can often behave in unacceptable ways. We therefore become the victims of our own choice. We are therefore not open-minded about the political beliefs we hold.

William Hare, a former professor at Dalhousie University, says that open-mindedness is the ability to hold particular views, but to revise them when new evidence that contradicts them is presented. To me this means we remain open to the possibility that what we currently hold to be true; can be found to have no basis or substance when new evidence is presented to the contrary. We should therefore revise our original position, and adopt the new, evidence-based one, despite the psychological unease we may experience, because of the changes necessary to put things right.

The lack of open-minded thinking in Caribbean politics is seen most starkly just before independence, when Caribbean governments had other political systems to choose from, but instead retained the one they inherited. This meant continued governance by the well-off and parliamentary legislation being formulated to benefit the elites. Since the system benefited only a minority at the expense of the majority, there was no consideration of reflecting in an open-minded way, on whether it needed to be evaluated, and replaced by one which was more equitable.

A closed-minded view of politics therefore prevailed from the eve of independence to the present. Independence itself was a gift to the Caribbean closed-minded elite. This is why every Caribbean independent country is experiencing the same problems in some form presently, since the content of the gift was worse than the packaging.

Apart from not being open-minded about the inherited political institutions, there was, and still is no attempt to politically educate citizens of the independent countries in a serious way to rid their minds of the myths their previous controllers had, and still have about them.

One Caribbean author states that myths were used to make people contented with their lot. For example, they were told the social order under which they lived was natural, and even divine. This led to a cowed ambition, and an existence without any serious purpose, since everything was fixed. Few Caribbean countries since independence have sought to free the minds of their citizens in a systematic way from the complexes the pre-independence period imposed on them.

Because of this, unhealthy negative thinking remains, and some of the coping mechanisms in the pre- and post-independence period were and are to submit to the system and be contented with it, while seeking to be recruited into the ranks of those who wielded, and still possess power and authority, so they could be a part of the system of dominance, and so help to keep their own people quiet and obedient. This is the closed-minded way of coping, and these behaviours remain in the present era.

Some who used this strategy, and still employ it, include the educated middle class. Closed-minded thinking has therefore led to economic stagnancy, exhausted political ideas and, most frightening of all, it has led to ministers of government behaving like civil servants, rather than transformational leaders.

The political directorate in the Caribbean has therefore become copycats of other systems, because they have not employed open-minded thinking to find alternative social arrangements that would work in their respective countries.

In one area where the Caribbean political directorate has become most open-minded though, is in the role of the maximum political leader, or prime minister, simply because it gives them more power, and authority. This is shown where, according to Trevor Munroe, the Caribbean prime minister dominates the executive or cabinet, more than does the British prime minister, and we also have a political culture which defers to our leaders.

The prime minister in the Caribbean also exercises greater control over his or her party than what obtains in Britain, since party candidates are approved by the leader. In Britain, the candidate for election is chosen by the people in the constituency. The Caribbean prime minister’s power over the legislature is also greater than that of the British prime minister, because he or she has the power to dissolve parliament.

We have seen, then, that open-mindedness in Caribbean politics exists only where it benefits the leaders. If they see where being open-minded gives them an edge, they revise their views on certain practices. If no political mileage is gained, closed-mindedness prevails.

But open-mindedness goes beyond personal advantage. It is about being constantly alert to the possibility that the political environment might change and so endanger progressive policies. It is being constantly open to the changes in the way the electorate measures the political winds, and decides to change with them. It is being open to new political ideas and philosophies, which are transformational in character. And it is having the willingness to adopt, make decisions based on evidence, and so provide citizens of the Caribbean with a prosperous, happy, and viable society.

Most importantly, open-mindedness involves the willingness of Caribbean leaders to give up their most cherished ideas, once new evidence shows they no longer have credence, and change them for those that have.

April 03, 2014