Even if the world perishes

By Ian McDonald
Stabroek News
January 18, 1998

I have never claimed to understand politics or politicians. Yet I have often been accused, if that is the right word, of being a politician.

I think this is said with the meaning that I contrive to sit on the fence and don't really commit myself.

This seems strange since I thought the mark of a good politician lies in the force of his or her commitment in politics. But let that go.

I believe strongly in some things. I believe in what Oliver Cromwell wrote in a letter he addressed to the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland on 3rd August, 1650.

I beseech you, in the bowels of Christ, think it possible you may be mistaken! But I know that committed politicians cannot bear ever to admit that they might be wrong.

And I believe in what Samuel Johnson wrote:

How small, of all that human hearts endure, That part which laws or kings can cause or cure,

Still to ourselves in every place consigned, Our own felicity we make or find.

I know that tried and true politicians cannot believe that there could possibly be anything more important in life than "that part which laws or kings can cause or cure".

But in the midst of the present public anger and ill-will, confusion, dislocation and worse, I have no doubt that there are many hundred of private woes-accidents, illness, family tragedies, personal failures and problems-which in individual lives are causing much greater anguish and apprehension than anything happening in the streets and public places of Georgetown, though those are the events which occupy a 100 per cent of the media headlines.

So in the sense that I do not think politics are as important as family life or good literature or spiritual pursuits in the largest sense or, indeed, sport or friendship, and also in the sense that I think that any man should stand ready at any time to admit he could very well be wrong-in those senses I am not a politician and thank the good Lord for that.

Therefore when I am told, as I am now continuously told, that the current crisis has been utterly politicised (rather than "nationalised")-on the one hand, being told that opposition adventurers are using a fabricated electoral crisis for ulterior and undemocratic ends or, on the other hand, being told that Government leaders showed ugly disrespect for lawful procedures and demonstrate no signs of addressing the fundamental problem of how power is to be shared in a desperately riven society-when I am told these things I feel out of my depth and very naive in thinking that if only a little more logic, goodwill and consideration for the long-term good of the country could prevail on all sides then all would be well-or, at least, better than it most tragically now is. But I suppose that is like asking for a world without Original Sin.

Still, out of my depth and hopelessly naive though this particular citizen may be, I think I can clearly distinguish some things that absolutely do not assist in finding a solution to the national crisis.

First, peaceful protest is one thing, the intimidation of people who want to work is quite another and surely unacceptable. Peace and fear cannot co-exist and it is impossible not to recognise that even early on the marchers, however well marshalled, inevitably instilled great fear.

Secondly, above all, the attacks on people, the arson of vehicles, the assault on stores, the use of fire-bombs, the disruptive bomb threat hoaxes, and the invasion of public buildings should without hesitation or reservation be condemned on every side.

Thirdly, what national good can come from the destruction of assets which we will all need in the future? What national good can come from the stirring of bitter memories of old hatreds? What national good can be served by destroying, yet again, the reputation of Guyana as a place where business can be done, where investment can be secured, where lives and careers can be pursued without uncertainty and fear?

When political power is at stake there is a stubborn, not to say vindictive, self-righteousness and inflexibility at work among the contending protagonists which is terrifying to the ordinary citizen. In Roman times there was a saying-"fiat iustitia pereat mundus"-which can be translated as "let justice be done, even if the world perishes". Politicians of whatever ilk always most sincerely believe that justice is on their side.

To them therefore, it is secondary if the world-or a country-perishes so long as their particular justice is done. The trouble is that when a country perishes it isn't only the politicians who perish with it.

There is a story told in both Israel and Palestine. A frog and a scorpion came to a river together. The scorpion says to the frog "I can't swim. Please give me a ride across." The frog replies "Don't be ridiculous, if I give you a ride you'll sting me and I'll die." " Of course not", the scorpion responds, if I sting you and you die then I will drown." "Well, yes, that's true", the frog says, and gives the scorpion a ride across the river. Half way across the scorpion stings the frog. As the frog is dying and both are sinking the frog cries "But you said.......!" "I know I did", the scorpion says with his last gasp, "but this is Israel/Palestine."