Diagnosing the Root Cause of our Political Dis-Ease and Formulating a Treatment Plan
Two weeks ago, I was honoured to be asked to give the keynote address to an incoming class of medical students, and during my preparations I realized that there was so much I wanted to say which could not have been said in ten minutes. Although the main points I wanted to get across were that most of our medical diseases were lifestyle related and hence preventable, and that as a profession we need to change course, I realized that a similar case can be made for the political establishment not only here in St. Kitts-Nevis, but also regionally and internationally.
In this blog article, I will attempt to show you that much of the dis-eases which have developed in the political arena can be prevented, and all it takes is a recognition of the root cause and a sincere attempt to change our maladaptive mindsets and lifestyles that have resulted in these dise-eases in the first place. As you may gather, I am going to take a clinical approach and surgically dissect out the main issues, highlight the symptoms and signs of this political malady, and then formulate a treatment plan in terms of primary, secondary and tertiary prevention.
I will attempt to show that much of the dis-eases arise from our present way of thinking, and that these maladies are unintended consequences of the decisions made by sincerely misguided leaders who are elected by sincerely misguided citizens. The conclusions to be drawn are palatable and the solutions are readily implementable if we all accept that as individuals and as a collective we are only doing the best we can given our level of awareness and understanding. NO ONE IS TO BE BLAMED AND THERE IS NO CONSPIRACY THEORY. What we are experiencing today are the growing pains that we must bear as we mature and grow as we traverse this adolescent phase of our development. Above all, this article also serves to sow the seeds of hope by attempting in some small way to increase our level of awareness and understanding of the core issues, and by helping to provide solutions for the way forward.
If I can identify from the onset the core issue, I would have to say that the root cause of all our political maladies arise from, on the one hand, the tensions that develop when the rights and responsibilities of the individual conflict with the rights and responsibilities of the collective (i.e the state), and on the other hand, the codification of maladaptive and misguided strategies in the informal and formal rules of society, to deal with these tensions. For example, when we prioritize the rights of the individuals above their responsibility to the collective, we end up with the capitalistic experiment that has bedevilled most of the Western world with its unintended consequences of poverty, inequality and the distributive injustices. When we prioritize the responsibilities of the individuals to the state above their own individual rights, we end up with the communist experiment with the unintended consequences of inefficiencies in the system and the denial of basic freedoms and human rights.
Having identified the shortcomings in both of these suboptimal and more-left-to-be-desired systems, we can now make progress moving forward. What we need now is an instrument or tool or calculus that inputs the rights and responsibilities of the individual and the collective, and outputs a solution that is adaptive for that particular time and place. This would be a living and breathing instrument that grows, develops, and matures, and above all should serve as one of our greatest accomplishments we, as a human race, have ever created.
What I am talking about already exists in principle but is perverted and twisted in practice by the powers that be. What I am talking about is true democracy. A democratic state is one in which the opinions, views and aspirations of each individual are taken into consideration in determining the way forward in terms of the visions presented and ultimately the policies codified in the laws of the country. The instrument or tool or calculus that I am referring to is what we call general elections and the processes that support them that make them trustworthy, robust and fair for one and all. This is how it should work. Two or more party leaders put forward their visions on as many issues as is relevant to that period of time, and the party that puts forward the most convincing plan based on track record and merit, and not just rhetoric, would get the most votes; hence the collective decision (experiment) would reflect the majority of the individuals and one would have succeeded in bringing about the greatest good for the greatest number of people. If this experiment succeeds in accomplishing its goals, then our leaders and we as individuals share in the fruits of our labour, and if this experiment fails, then our leaders and we as individuals share in the losses. This would ensure that we always reap what we sow, and we would match the collective rights of the citizenry with their collective responsibilities in choosing the leaders who best reflect our collective aspirations.
Unfortunately, our political system, as it stands today, is out of balance and totally dysfunctional in achieving its intended goals. What is missing in this balancing act are 1) the checks and balances in the system that would help to keep our leaders and their advisers honest, and 2) the ability of civil society and the business community to genuinely trust our leaders and vice versa. Unfortunately again, and I make no apologies in stating this, the system, as it stands right now, gives too much power to our leaders to gerrymander the mindset of the citizenry, using whatever resources they have at their disposal, to serve their self-interest and by extension, the interests of their party supporters and ultimately those of their election financiers, and not in the best interest of the general populace for whom they have in fact been chosen to lead and above all to serve.
So how can our politicians regain the trust they claim they rightly deserve when they have been ceded power to act in our best interest? To regain that trust they need to implement the checks and balances that would help keep them honest, put the necessary infrastructure in place to enable a fair electoral system which has the blessing of all involved, and above all a constitution which serves as a social contract or covenant which cedes power back to the people. Unfortunately our present constitution gives the incumbent leaders too much and unfair powers to manoeuvre under the radar through the loopholes of the system and to gerrymander the rules that are self-serving and puts party aspirations over those of its own citizens.
We need to build into the system the tenets of transparency, accountability and good governance as these sow the seeds of trust by our electorate for our politicians, and allow us to create an environment of partnerships that enables us to work together in the hard times and that also enables us to celebrate together in the good times.
Having assessed the present political situation and highlighted its dysfunction and deficiencies, we at once realize that political tribalism is the unintended result, and is responsible for the dis-ease we feel; moreover, we appreciate its strangle-hold on our psyche as it permeates and perverts every aspect of the decision making process from the individual level up to the collective. This political tribalism is thus the unintended consequence which continues to be perpetuated by our sincerely misguided leaders and condoned and enabled by our sincerely misguided citizenry. When we examine the situation more closely under a miscroscope, we can identify the negative complications of victimization, dependency syndromes, lack of productivity, perpetuation of poverty, the inability to effectively fight crime, disunity of civil society, and above all regression in the development of the hearts, minds, souls and spirits of the individuals in our beloved land of ours; this despite the claims made by the powers that be who would like us to believe that we are as a nation better off today despite these social maladies.
Having made the diagnosis of the root cause of our political dis-ease, we need now to formulate a treatment plan. There have been many political injuries, impairments and disabilities which need to be rehabilitated, and I propose that a way forward would be in setting up a National Truth and Reconciliation Commission that would bridge the political divide and would help bring the root issues to light and guide this therapeutic process with as much sensitivity and maturity as possible. It is only by us engaging as a nation in this form of socio-cultural-political psychotherapy, that many of the repressed feelings can be brought to the surface so that we can therapeutically give vent to these seeds of maladaptive thinking and behaviour. This would then allow us to grow up and develop through our immature political adolescence as we become fully mature, responsive and above all responsible citizens.
The above deals with what we call tertiary prevention as it serves to heal wounds, and prevent the escalation of maladaptive mindsets and behaviours that enables and sustains this political divisiveness. However, we also need to talk about secondary prevention, as these political injuries are complications of a deeper issue which deals with our ability or lack there of, to trust our leaders, and our leaders to trust us. So we need to screen and do regular check-ups on the political establishment and civil society and the business communities, and to pick up the early signs and symptoms of this political tribalism and effectively deal with them before the complications arise and they get out of hand. Hence, no one can doubt the absolute necessity for the urgent passage and implementation of Integrity in Public Life and Freedom of Information Legislature, supported by periodic Electoral and Constitutional Review and Reform to deal with emerging and transitioning political issues, which as a matter of fact, in all honesty, are urgent public health issues in and of themselves.
And finally, we need to talk about primary prevention and here we are dealing with the mindset of our people, what our principles are, how high should our standards be, and what should not be compromised along the way. We should start to change our mindset and be true to our motto by putting our “Country above Self,” and not party above country as this is what we do when we claim directly or indirectly that we are party supporters for life and absolve our leaders of any responsibility. When we aid and abet and put our party interests above that of our country, then party affiliation becomes idolatry and we end up giving lip service to our Christian covenant and principles that have guided us, and I have to say have protected us thus far. So it is a maladaptive mindset and its ensuing maladaptive behaviour that has gotten us into this situation; but I am hopeful, that by changing our mindset and our behaviour by creating a new responsible political dynamic that is responsive more to the needs and less to the wants of the people of this country, we would be able to effect the much needed transformation that our ancestors had so long strived to create, and for which our children dearly desire and without a doubt duly deserve. And this should rightly begin with the politicians as they are our leaders who are called to LEAD BY EXAMPLE as it is they who have it in their power to catalyze this reawakening and guide us through this crucial formative period of our growth and development.