Loss and pretence
February 23, 2003
There is an ambivalence about today’s Republic celebration. How can we forget that this is the first anniversary of Troy Williams’ death, the young prison guard who though unarmed, ran fearlessly to the assistance of his colleague Roxanne Winfield as she confronted five inmates carrying an AK47 and at least one knife. And how can we forget that Prison Officers Williams and Winfield were the first of many victims both in and out of uniform to die and be injured at the hands of gunmen over the past year. And as the revellers tramp around the National Park how can we suppress the nagging question in our minds about whether the killing will ever end, and if so, when.
The events of the last year have revealed the total fragility of the state and its institutions. If the state has any primary function at all, surely it is to provide basic security for its citizens. But when did the inhabitants of the lower East Coast and the capital city last feel secure - at least in a general sense?
The residents of the front-line villages of Annandale, Strathspey and South Vigilance, in particular, must feel a bit like the European agricultural communities in the days of the Vikings - although at least in post-Roman Europe it could be said that for the most part there was no over-arching state authority which could have afforded the people of the time protection. Yet here in this country we have a supposedly over-arching state authority which we now discover cannot protect a handful of communities against the marauding teenagers from a single neighbouring village, and cannot deal with the problem of that village either. Is it any wonder that over the last year people have lost confidence in the state, and in the Government which has its hand on the tiller of that state?
Of course the events of 2002 have brought home to us only too painfully what really we knew already, and that is the utter demoralisation and ineffectiveness of the police force. It might be added that the shortcomings of the prison service and judicial service were also on very public display. In fact, we have witnessed the degradation of all our institutions at some level, and have watched the law of the land in so many areas being openly flouted. And if there is any single thing which defines a nation, it is its system of laws.
In the last twelve months, we have also lost our innocence in terms of recognizing how far the international drugs trade has corrupted this society, while in the political sphere we have seen polarization proceed with little attempt (until very recently) at positive intervention by the politicans. We have witnessed too, the development of an ever-widening gulf between the people and their elected representatives, as the latter engage in their own conversations which have little bearing on what the people think, say or want.
But the greatest setback to this society over the past year has been the loss of a sense of our common humanity. There have been those brave voices which have spoken out, but it is not easy in an atmosphere where the mood of the moment is towards stereotyping, and excuses are routinely made for morally aberrant behaviour, provided that the group involved is one’s own. What has happened, one wonders, to that core of common values which once connected us?
And in the middle of this crisis of the state, its institutions and common value system, the Government pretends that there is no crisis. The Minister of Home Affairs pretends that the police are on top of crime. The Minister of Industry and Commerce pretends that the economy is hunky dory. All the ministers pretend that the people think they are doing a great job. The main opposition party pretends that the state of the country is all the fault of the governing party. The PPP/C pretends that the state of the country is all the fault of the PNCR. Some of the radicals on one side pretend that those who are murderers are ‘freedom fighters.’ Some of the radicals on both sides pretend that innate goodness lies only with their group, and innate evil with the other.
All the politicians pretend that their rhetoric has relevance to the citizenry. The party spokesmen pretend that the people are receptive to their never-ending repetitions. And finally, to adapt Vaclav Havel’s words, they all pretend that they never pretend.