Saturday, April 20, 2024

ALL AH WE IS ONE – Power’s striptease


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A social system in crisis finds itself unable to live by the values around which it has historically justified itself.
In such moments, the social formation no longer conforms to the definition of a society – a “group of people sharing a common value system”. Instead, the “social veil” under which power masquerades as a defender of the interests of all is completely removed, and the state is exposed as nothing “but a committee” which exists exclusively “for managing the affairs” of the powerful. 
Events suggest that the social veil around which power has justified itself in Barbados is being removed as a consequence of the global financial crisis and the specific state response to CLICO. Both of these developments have had the impact of eroding popular consensus on the role of the state as well as individual understanding of “what is required” in the present.
The specific circumstances under which the CLICO debacle has occurred, and in particular, the closeness of the principal antagonist to the ruling administration, has transformed the issue from an administrative, economic one to a political one. 
In addition, the sense of helplessness of the small investor standing in marked contrast to the stubborn self-demand for “special treatment” to the already favoured individual, has transformed the small investor “from a class in itself” to become “a class for itself”.  
No appeals for calm can be successful once such a threshold has been crossed. Indeed, the clearest evidence that a threshold had been crossed was the desperate appeal for calm by the Minister of Finance, to the media of all places, an institution which has never required reminders of its role as the instinctive voice of the status quo.  
What is clear, however, is that the current collapse of consensus can be reversed, but not by appeals for a deepening of the instinctive self-censorship which is the hallmark of the Barbadian public. Instead, it can be overcome only if the state takes seriously its own claims to objectivity, and the dispassionate and unbiased administration of justice. 
It is significant that in the current moment there are numerous cries that the “law should be allowed to take its course”.  This is a backhanded admission that where powerful interests are concerned, the claims of the “neutrality” of the law have been a myth. 
Ironically, the existing administration came to power fully conscious of the need to restore national faith in the political process. That was the promise of the proposed Integrity in Public Life legislation. The tardiness of the Government in pushing its own promise has to be counted as one of the weaknesses of the current administration.  
In this moment of crisis, the collapse of consensus can only be reversed if the structures which exist to punish those who abuse power are allowed to work.
Tennyson Joseph is a political scientist at the University of the West Indies Cave Hill Campus specialising in analysis of regional affairs. 


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