Sunday, April 14, 2024

ALL AH WE IS ONE: Naked self-interest

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One of the consequences of the current economic crisis of Barbados is the emergence of naked self-interest as the defining feature of the public interventions of competing social groups, each seeking to shape the emergence of their version of Barbados.

While in “normal” conditions class interests can become sufficiently muted to sustain the pretence of a “society for all”, in times of crisis the “mystical social veil” which blinds the public into believing that narrow ruling class interests are “our” interests is removed, and public discourse becomes a dog-eat-dog game of us versus them.  

These reflections are offered in response to the published statement by the president of the Barbados Chamber of Commerce & Industry that the significantly reduced intake of students at the Cave Hill Campus of the University of the West Indies (UWI) was “no cause for concern”, and the real issue is for the UWI to offer courses of “relevance”, as determined by the business environment.  

When confronted with the sharp drop in numbers from the previous academic year, the deeper questions ought to have been: what is the fate of the thousands of young persons who are suddenly unable to access tertiary education, and what is the likely impact of their exclusion upon the society? A class-neutral answer would reveal genuine cause for concern.

It is unsurprising that our historically underdeveloped private sector would not see the termination of free education as a great loss. Given its dependency, it has always found itself competing with the rest of society for access to the already sore nipples of the state, although it complains loudly against “freeness”.  

Whilst in an advanced capitalist economy the private sector would take the lead in investing in culture, learning, research and in funding the education priorities which it has deemed important, here the private sector has only conceived the narrowest possible role of education. To them, schools exist to produce “field hands” for businesses.

It is frightening that a class which for much of our history presided over a society in which “everything was imported except books”, is now boldly prescribing training and education priorities for a region that has produced intellectual luminaries like George Lamming and C.L.R. James.

Worryingly, the comments by the Chamber president indicate the collapse of consensus around the post-colonial state in Barbados. Now it is every man for himself.  

German social theorist Karl Marx had forewarned that at certain critical and decisive moments of abrupt change, people whose daily existences are always unknowingly shaped by their objective class positions, become consciously aware of their class relations, and begin to act these out purposefully. In Marx’s famous formulation, classes in themselves become transformed into classes for themselves.  

Let us hope that civil society gives rise to true leaders who think, not in narrow self-interest terms, but for society as a whole.

• Tennyson Joseph is a political scientist at the University of the West Indies Cave Hill Campus, specializing in regional affairs.

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