The elastic prison

by Festus L. Brotherson, Jr.
Guyana Chronicle
August 6, 1999

A GENERATION ago, those children, who attended special classes during the month of August, while schools were in recess until September, were teased as dumb. But the more we try to understand the politics in Guyana, the more dumb and dumbfounded we seem to become. This may well mean that all citizens should be mandated to go to school in August in search of understanding and wisdom.

Many of us recall growing up in British Guiana and then, Guyana, during the idealist era of the 1950s and 1960s and hearing our major political parties promise not only `a better life for all' but the moon and stars as well. Once we "achieve development," the long-awaited Utopia would emerge.

Debates were pursued in the loftiest of rhetoric and the language of racial prejudice among Guyanese of different origins; principally East Indians, Africans and Portuguese. Sound education produced the former while the racially distinct composition of political parties helped explain race-baiting rhetoric derived from real, embellished and sometimes misperceived behaviours considered racist.

Since then, "Development," has refused to visit us, feeling unwelcome at our collective stupidity which has kept the national climate near permanently inhospitable. This ever present climate is dormant at times but never changes much for the better over the long term.

How is this explainable? Is it in part due to inner human compulsions?

In an essay written in 1996 by Minister of Education, Dr. Dale Bisnauth, about human behaviour, he reviewed Arthur Koestler's book, Man - One of Evolution's Mistakes. According to Bisnauth, Koestler concludes that "at some point during the later stages of the biological evolution of humankind something went wrong...there is a flaw, some subtle engineering mistake built into our native equipment...that makes us prone to delusions, and pushes us towards self-destruction."

Five symptoms of this malady are provided. The fifth is very interesting. It is the "disparity between the growth-curves of human technological development on one hand and that of human-kind's ethical behaviour on the other."

Put another way, the record of history shows that while human genius has created spectacular advances in science and technology what has lagged behind significantly is sustained advances in human relations. Wars are no longer fought with bows and arrows but with sophisticated weaponry of missile technology. Many major diseases have been cured or are easily controllable but extending this benefit to the neediest does not occur on a large scale because it is financially "unprofitable" to do so. This appears to be true worldwide just as it might be true that Guyana has larger proportions than most states of the maddening malady of lag between technology (imported) and ethical behaviour.

Koestler, on a wider level, blames the double-edged sword of language for the symptoms of what was earlier referred to as "the subtle engineering mistake built into our native equipment..."

The human's excellence with language, which distinguishes the species from other animals and assures dominance over them is, at the same time, by way of abuse, responsible for human conflict. Maybe. Maybe not. But whatever the truth, the fact is that Guyana remains stagnant both in the search for development and in attitudes and behaviours between culturally and racially distinct groups.

A curious dance to the death continues without intermission. It is highlighted by hostile accusations about who is to blame for minor and major missteps to the music. And while language a la Koestler takes us closer to the precipice, dancing partners continue an unseemly debate over which one is taking us there.

For its irrationality, this current status of life in the Guyana state and society reminds of a depiction in the popular On the Far Side cartoon. There was this long line of cows outside a slaughter-house each awaiting its turn for slaughter upon entering. Then one cow comes across the street and attempts to cut in front of another near the entrance. The offended animal yells, "Get to the back of the line, buddy!" It is the same irrationality which obtains in Guyana's politics.

In the search for elusive development, pointless prattle prevails. And as the carping continues, the country is moving closer and closer to the precipice.

Usually, the lessons of history near and remote provide understanding and wisdom or, at the very least, prudence.

Not here. The lessons of history tend merely to provide more material for debate over who is to blame even as the curious dance to the death continues.

In his classic work, The Revolt of the Masses, Jose Ortega y Gasset says the following: " in modern culture was a gloomy one. It meant that tomorrow was to be in all essentials similar to today, that progress consisted merely in advancing, for all time to be, along a road identical to the one already under our feet. Such a road is rather a kind of elastic prison which stretches on without ever setting us free."

Ortega was not talking bout Guyana but somehow his words provide a relevant ring. Maybe we all can benefit from school in `August month' since we do appear to need more help in understanding ourselves and country.

A © page from:
Guyana: Land of Six Peoples