Polarised opinions and a divided nation

By Professor James Rose
Guyana Chronicle
August 8, 2001

IT SOMETIMES happens in a nation where opinions are so divided that the balance between parties breaks down and one of them acquires an irresistible preponderance.

The dominant party comes to be perceived as insensitive to significant and even influential others in the society, designating then the adversary and then marginalising that adversary, while it consigns the national wealth to one section of the community only.

In such a society opinions become polarised and policies of whatever orientation are perceived as partisan and sectional. In such a society the state apparatus is inevitably perceived as partisan and sectional intending to serve the politically dominant group only.

In such a society every action, whether intending to develop, nurture or protect the state, is often perceived as displaying a great distaste for the country’s democratic institutions. Inevitably, deep fears, apprehension, resentment, anger and dogged opposition prevail.

Is this a true perception of the Guyana reality?

Is there need for a liberal admonition, a warning mayhap, that in spite of the national motto of `One People, One Nation, One Destiny’, our country is perceived as divided into two societies. What is more it seems to me that the fear exists that this may become a permanent condition?

Certainly, these are reminders of the gloomy harking, or at the very least, echoes of Eusi Kwayana/Nicholson/Vigilance and more recently the Indian firebrand, Ravi Dev.

Is this an irretrievable position?

Is there a hopeful prospect somewhere behind the frenetic, the ongoing preoccupation with maintaining law, order and good government? There are those who argue persuasively that:

To continue present policies is to make permanent the division of our country into two societies; one poor and struggling and the other powerful and indifferent.

The resemblance between this possibility and the Black colony concept is inescapable. Increasingly the vocal elements of this notion assert that Guyana is indeed composed of two societies.

But two separate societies do not and cannot exist in Guyana. The concept of separate societies - whether presented in terms of an internal colony or two societies - obscures rather than explains the special character and present circumstance of Black people within the same society.

The concept of an underdeveloped, virtually colonised people, represents a retrograde departure from the guiding principles of our political leaders and in particular our elder statesmen.

As the Black community celebrates yet another Emancipation anniversary the time has most surely come for us to look forward rather than backward. Slavery was the pain: the epic of Emancipation and the rich black heritage is the gain.

Can we as a people tap into that heritage to chart a future not unlike the one bequeathed to us by the post-Emancipation heroes. They interpreted their predicament as a challenge, which evoked the best and not the worst in them. We are a uniquely resilient people.

In the foul clutch of plantation slavery we did not wilt. Perseverance and struggle won out in the end. Our fore parents harnessed their collective imagination, creativity, resolve and in concord and cooperation crafted a future of which we are the proud inheritors. We do not envy the others; we, however, reject the notion of two societies --one developed and the other perpetually underdeveloped.

Because of our historical legacy, too many of our people, in spite of protestations to the contrary, still see themselves as incapable of sustained collective effort and of executing major schemes.

This must certainly be the survival of the plantation enemy in our collective psyche. The point is that change must begin in the minds of people, relating to the concept they have of themselves. For whatever a people contemplate to do is determined, in the final analysis, by what they think they can do.

In short, thought services action. In these circumstances and conditions rethinking our capabilities and refashioning our goals, is not a question of semantics, but of survival.