Upstaging crime with culture and identity

When all is said and done, those of us who live in the Caribbean, and many of us who don’t live there, have yet to face up to an inescapable truth. Our failure to face this truth is the root cause of the continued stagnation in the social and economic growth of the Caribbean region as a whole.

Simply put, we have forgotten that Culture, with a capital C, is the art and the science of any development strategy. The absence of such a cultural identity ethos in the economic development strategy followed by the Caribbean, from the 1980’s to the present, has given us some of the less than desirable Caribbean realities that we see today.

And, whether we want to admit it or not, the most glaring of those undesirable realities is pervasive crime.

But, there is at least one bit of good news in recent media reports: Jamaican Diaspora communities in the USA, the UK and, Canada are pooling their resources in the field of crime prevention and crime management in order to devise policies and mechanisms to combat crime in Jamaica.

Moreover, in the case of Trinidad and Tobago, there is strong potential for the mobilization of that country’s rich and diverse cultural resources to draw young people away from the lure of crime as an occupation, as a way of life and as a sure road to death.

The whole Caribbean has been a high profile victim of cultural globalization.

Cultural globalization, with a big C, is a visible and invisible disease that slowly but surely eats away at our personal, social and business values, eroding our ability to resist the temptations and dubious rewards of crime.

For the sake of clarity, that concept of Culture with a big C needs to be understood in the context of two definitions that highlight the strategic role of Culture in the personal development of the individual and in the successful development of the society:

“[Culture is] the sum total of the acquired knowledge which enables the development of critical thinking, taste and judgment”. [Unilingual French dictionary “Le Petit Robert”]

“The nurturing and dissemination of culture is, more than any other factor, the source of decency, the lifeblood of freedom, the sustenance of the nation and the cure for its ills.” [Jose Marti]

On the basis of those two definitions of Culture, it is undeniable that our values have been re-defined and replaced. We, our children and grandchildren are now the victims and carriers of those diseased values that dominate in the national and international mass media, in our internet exposure, in our education systems and in the manner that we purchase and use goods and services at work and at play.

How do we reverse the slow poisoning process built into those values? How do we resist being constantly bombarded with notions of individualism, “free enterprise”, maximization of profits, and “small government”?

Our task is to re-organize our Caribbean realities with an infusion of our own values. These values have to be inspired by our own notions of identity, purpose and meaning, community and achievement.

These notions have to be infused into the full range of our national policies, including culture and the arts, sport, education, social security, and building an economy in which all industries are based on, enhanced with, or managed by IT systems.

Let us look at the potential of just one segment of one of those areas. Music is engaging because it is allows for both pleasure and creativity. The potential of music by itself or in combination with other aspects of culture and the arts is enormous.

Music is a hobby for some, a business for others and a contributor to a country’s entertainment and tourism industries. People of all ages react very positively to music. And large numbers of youth would readily gravitate towards music rather than crime, if it offered scope for earning a “decent” income, boosting their self-confidence and gaining respect from others.

The very survival of Caribbean society depends on our refusal to give up, on our persistence in finding and applying crime-fighting solutions.

That combination of hope and persistent action is our only way forward.