“He spoke from his heart…We were just discussing what a great speech it was.”
This is how the speech delivered by Barbados Prime Minister Freundel Stuart during the launch of celebrations to mark the country’s 50th anniversary of independence was described by Sandra Hinds, a member of his secretarial team.
I called the prime minister’s office on Thursday evening to request a copy of the speech as I prepared to respond to claims he made about the impartiality of Barbados’ judicial system and the soundness and sustainability of its democracy.
Needless to say, based on my own and others’ observation of the impunity that some Barbadians like Donville Inniss enjoy, I am not sure about the authenticity of Mr Stuart’s statements.
I imagine that many Barbadians who have seen how partial or paralytic our court system can be in its dealings with, for example, the CLICO monetary ‘abuses’ of Stuart’s predecessor the late PM David Thompson, would want to challenge those and other claims made by Stuart and echoed by most who spoke during that launch ceremony.
Sadly, Stuart and many other Barbadians seem to have difficulty facing their own and others failings.
They tend to excel in superficial, simplistic analysis of those failings or ‘sins’ and the long and short-term impacts they have had and can yet have on Barbados’ development.
Hence, the rather disappointing suggestion by PM Stuart that some people are demanding perfection of Barbadians while being poor models of perfection themselves.
Could he have framed that argument in more clichéd, thought-tiny language?
Could he not have come up with a more original and rigorous way of expressing that idea: a more robust scale or framework by which to assess and measure the expectations and standards by which Barbadians analyze our country’s progress since the relative independence achieved in 1966?
What is ‘great’, to quote Ms Hinds, about that defence by Stuart of Barbadians failings?
It doesn’t suggest a very deep reach into his heart by the PM.
It doesn’t suggest, for example, that Mr Stuart is familiar with the idea that “perfection” is more of a process than a point of personal or national development.
Might not Barbados’ High Commissioner to the UK, Reverend Guy Hewitt, or some other prominent Barbadian cleric have informed the PM that in the well known passage of scripture “Be ye perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect” (Matthew 5:48) the Greek terms behind the English translation invoke pursuit of a goal, rather than its attainment?
Might not regional Anglican potentate Dr John Holder, himself a Barbadian, have previously informed PM Stuart of this more historically informed and accurate mode of biblical interpretation?
Or should we conclude that while Mr Stuart is a Queens Counsel (or QC, like Cherie Blair and therefore presumably a legal practitioner of some standing) he has never been exposed to that level of religious or spiritual teaching?
More worryingly still, might it be the case that having been exposed to such teaching PM Stuart has not retained the basics?
Might the soil of his heart have proven so shallow, hard or barren as to have squandered or rejected such small beginning, mustard seed sized educational investments?
Our Prime Minister is clearly familiar with the idea of receiving, retaining and rejecting biblical education approximating banking lessons.
Unless I am mistaken, he advised Barbadians to employ a three-fold framework of receiving, retaining and rejecting aspects of our national heritage as we contemplate our island state’s future prospects.
This clearly more studied, possibly pre-rehearsed proposal is something of an improvement over the simplistic “imperfect people asking us to be perfect” comment that preceded it.
But Stuart’s apparently glib, greasy and slippery grasp of what it means to pursue perfection does not inspire confidence in his ability to lead Barbadians in a truly rigorous, robust process of measuring moral development or progress.
On the contrary, what it suggests is a degree of moral myopia and bankruptcy.
It indicates ethical erosion and the anchorless historical drifting.
It evokes the dripping or spitting of essentially empty words from the mouth of one who, in ethical terms, is only superficially educated.
From my perspective, it puts PM Stuart’s speech, and the political mouthing of Opposition leader Mia Mottley and many of their DLP and BLP associates (including persons like University of the West Indies Vice Chancellor professor Sir Hilary Beckles, prominent poet Margaret Gill, politician David Comissiong, educator Esther Phillips, journalist David Ellis, Rev Sonia Hinds and others with whom I have had significant interactions, in a rather lamentable regional and international context.
Essentially, it lumps their words with Hilary Clinton’s extraordinary 2008 fantasist account of landing in Bosnia under sniper fire in 1995.
That military incident appears to have happened only in Ms Clinton’s head.
And few would vouch that as she uttered or berthed that item of artificial intelligence she spoke from her heart of hearts, her deepest, most holistically self-understood self in that instant.
Stuarts and other Barbadians apparent failure to understand that being perfect is at least as much about a course of travel as arrival at any destination lumps their and narrowly nationalistic, critical analysis dismissing defence of Barbados’ shortcomings with the mainstream media-puffed, much over-rated speech delivered last year by British Labour Party power-broker Hilary Benn in the English Parliament in defence of David Cameron’s proposal to intervene in Syria to bomb ISIS.
He may have been generously applauded by Tory, Labour, Liberal Democrat, UKIP and other Parliamentarians, but I can’t conceive of his father, anti-war icon Tony Benn being particularly proud of him in that moment.
At a substratal linguistic, and especially pragmatic and semantic level, Stuart’s speech recalls the African supremacist pro-reparations (for trans-Atlantic slavery) money mongering arguments of the UWI Vice Chancellor Beckles delivered at the United Nations New York headquarters, Chicago University and other unfortunate openings in recent times.
And the term ‘abomination of desolation’ comes to mind here, as the killing of Jamaican Khalil Campbell by Beckles’ son Rodney in 2007 is whispered in my conscience.
Sadly, such deeply deplorable, even sacrilegious abuses of public spaces by profane speech acts seem to have become all the rage since 9/11.
Among these metaphorical, ISIS approximating ‘public beheadings’ and other short-sighted, opportunistic obscenities, the crowning of Trinidad born and initially bred, Oxbridge and wider British elitism prejudice fed writer VS Naipaul with the Nobel Prize for literature in 2002 stands out poignantly.
Has human intelligence, measured in terms of morality, spirituality, scientific inquiry or any other rubric ever been more profanely prostituted than when it was associated with the dark, devious machinations that were conceived in Mr Naipaul’s head?
I do not wish to be unkind to the aged Mr Naipaul, Prime Minister Stuart or anyone else with whom I have taken issue in this essay on the measurement of human progress or perfection.
I’m simply saying that if Barbadians are to stand any chance of ever achieving the kind of global leadership that Mr Stuart and others may rightly desire for us, they and we will have to give up the cognitive and affective industry avoiding laziness that inclines us to complacently and glibly ‘measure ourselves by ourselves’, to paraphrase the apostle Paul (2 Corinthians 10:12).
Such simplistic, Adolf Hitler and Forbes Burnham recalling notions of independence and integrity lump Barbadians with the demagogue Donald Trump, the Talibank thinkers Mitt Romney and Luis Farrakhan, and a range of other Jamaican, Trinidadian, Guyanese, British, American, Canadian, Indian, Nigerian, Malaysian and other morally bankrupt political opportunists.