January 4, 2004
The Main Street Lime came off again this year with the ubiquitous sound systems in attendance. In fact, that was about all that was in attendance (people excepted), since the 'Lime' had largely shed any pretence of being a cultural showcase. And that is the problem nowadays: sound systems have taken over this land, obliterating civilized conversation, silent contemplation, creative expression, and by extension, individual choice. If you live near a beer garden, if you live near the Sophia exhibition site, if you live on a mini-bus route - even if you live in the vicinity of some places of religious worship - you cannot choose a quiet life; others will invade your private space with their noise.
The rise in the noise levels all over this country has been facilitated by none other than the authorities themselves. They seem to believe that they cannot hold an exhibition at Sophia, for example, unless the patrons are pounded with decibel levels which would get the organizers charged with noise nuisance in better-regulated jurisdictions. Some businesses are equally not above reproach. Go down town on a shopping excursion, and there will be days when one of our major stores will nearly blast you off the pavement with the sound emanating from the massive speakers planted outside their doors.
It is true that the police have made periodic attempts in the past to control the noise on mini-buses, for example, by removing their boom-boxes. However, these efforts have never been sustained, at least partly because of opposition from the operators, not to mention many passengers. As it is, therefore, the buses continue throbbing their way along South Road, Regent Street or Eastern Highway, causing distress to residents in the area, and hearing loss to the commuters they are transporting.
In the first place it seems that the powers-that-be have failed to recognize that noise pollution is a public health issue. It has been well established for many years that exposure to sustained loud noise causes damage to hearing. On those grounds alone, therefore, there can be no argument for tolerating boom-boxes in public transportation, which over a period of time will actually do physical harm to passengers, more especially children. And there can be no argument either for night-spots or rum shops or private citizens playing music at a volume which will cause similar physical as well as psychological harm to the neighbours.
It might be added, that in the case of the mini-buses there may even be a correlation between the volume (and possibly the nature) of the music played, and the speed at which the vehicle travels. If so, then there will be a road safety issue to be considered as well.
In the second place, there is a question of rights. Every citizen has the right to the peaceful enjoyment of his own home, without being disturbed by someone else's sound system. Big noise is appropriate in the National Park, where anyone in range of it has chosen to be there, but it is inappropriate in a built-up area - except, perhaps, on the odd occasion like Mashramani Day - where the neighbours have no escape, and where their right to a quiet life is infringed.
As any resident who has ever complained to the police about a beer garden blaring away in the small hours will know, it is almost impossible to get Guyana's finest to act on a noise report. They too, no doubt, have been corrupted by the culture of disrespect for others, and may themselves in some cases be victims of hearing loss and will consequently be unable to appreciate what the complaint is about.
One cannot help but feel that if the background noise levels in so many areas of our daily lives were lower, then we might learn to listen to each other more - and we could surely do with some of that in Guyana. In any event, the epidemic of loud noise all around us is further evidence of our contempt for each other, and the general lawlessness of the nation as a whole. The first step to a truly civil society, is a quieter society. Will the authorities please make a New Year resolution to start enforcing the law as it relates to noise.