Sunday, March 3, 2024

More than by the law


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The recent furore over a very young boy being egged on to gyrate behind the body of a grown female, who had adopted a suggestive pose on her hands and knees on a public highway on Kadooment Day, has forced this country to look itself in the mirror and to confront uncomfortable questions about how it responds to displays of moral misbehaviour.
The questions having been raised; some of the answers may be very disturbing. The photograph is worth more than a thousand words about the way we see ourselves and our culture, whether we wish to describe it as “low” or “high”. But the incident also speaks volumes about the need for personal discipline, even as we celebrate a season that memorializes our freedom from forced labour, and from the deprivation and control of our very bodies and the attempted imprisonment of our psyche.
The display lacked couth, is vulgar in the extreme and symbolizes conduct that in its particular manifestation has no place on our streets, even on Kadooment Day, nor indeed in the privacy of our homes for the law proscribes such conduct if it involves a child.
Quite naturally, almost reflexively, we turn to the law to resolve this problem, for the photograph offends our sensibilities and we assume, perhaps rightly, that there must be a law to deal with such conduct. So that while some are utterly dismayed and throw their hands in the air, others are calling upon the authorities to investigate possible breaches of the law. That is a sensible course because the law exists to deal with any infractions of the rules.
Yet a moment’s thought ought to reveal that the law is not the only controlling mechanism in our society’s armoury of weapons to prevent unacceptable conduct. Indeed, it may not even be the most potent; for by the time it is called into action, the deed has already been committed with the resulting national shock and awe. The better approach is to prevent such conduct in the first place.
Degree of control
So there has to be a degree of personal discipline and control, commonly acknowledged and practised, which suggests that “law or no law”, the society will not tolerate unacceptable conduct and will ostracize any of its members who so comport themselves.
It is a dangerous society when people decide that they will base their conduct simply on what is or is not permitted by the law. Personal discipline beyond the law is also required.
Events such as the one under consideration often challenge normal concepts of public decency and offend the internal morality of most of us, or they ought to.
Now, the major teachable moment for all of us is to ask why there was not an immediate public outcry at the very moment when in what seems like an episode of drunken or other stupidity, the public image of this country was forever stained! Where was the personal or communal restraint on this outrage at that time?
Societies are not held together mainly by a set of laws. They are held together by the shared assumption of the majority of the people of a cluster of rules which speak to the common understanding of conduct which the entire community finds acceptable, and breaches of which it will not tolerate. Social ostracism or the condemnation by one’s fellow citizens was once the most potent mechanism for preventing criminal and other deviant conduct.
Yet, it is the gradual loosening of those very social mechanisms that permits anyone of us to even begin to think of so “carrying on” in a public place as to give birth to this kind of behaviour.
It is the unacceptable face of Kadooment and, law or no law, it deserves widespread social condemnation. It disfigures our culture!


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