Over 26 years ago I shared the following thoughts with those sitting in Parliament. While a few of the thoughts have been made redundant, sad to say, the general condition of our society has not changed. I therefore thought I would share the letter again, hoping that the present slaughter might encourage us to ask more seriously why we have become what we have become.

The letter is published in a collection called “The Naïve Agenda”, available at the following link

https://gumroad.com/l/ZjNEh#

Let me know what you think.

Pat

ON VIOLENCE

3rd January 1989

Dear Member of Parliament,

Happy New Year

This is a letter about problem solving. It is about an architect offering solutions to monstrous national problems using complex and perhaps unusual psychological rationale, backed by no specialist training and no authorities on the subject. It may therefore be regarded as either the ranting of a lunatic or the naïve expressions of a social-political amateur. There is also the slightest chance it could be the result made possible by being far enough removed from the struggle to see it in a different light. I trust you accept it in this latter spirit.

The subject is violence.

Over the past few weeks I have been faced again with the horrors of a violent Bahamian society, and the terror of arbitrary action. I have heard several responses, ranging from a call to arms to attempts to isolate the perpetrators as deviant members of an otherwise healthy society. Unfortunately, none of the responses deal with the root of the problem. None seeks to understand what makes it possible for a young person to commit such extreme levels of personal violence and maintain a belief that he is a normal member of a civilized society.

Nor do the statements of politicians and other civic leaders, who cite jobless, the breakup of the family, political dissatisfaction or the influence of the foreign media, speak to the disease with which we are wrestling.

(Now I recognize that what I am implying is that a lot of very informed people are in this case mistaken, and I shall obviously go on to suggest that I have somehow stumbled across the virus that creates these symptoms, and therefore that I know now to cure the disease. As fantastic as that seems, I beg you to follow the slightly off-beat journey of reason that follows.)

Violence, or any other expression of anti-social attitudes, results from a perception of hopelessness, frustration or despair. This condition, in turn, results from the belief that power to create happiness exists outside the individual and that that power is somehow inaccessible. This perception of internal impotence results from an injury to what psychologists call the self-image, that image of personal worth and universal connection which results from the social conditioning of each individual. The automatic effect of a healthy self-image, therefore, is an inner peace. If I am at peace with myself (which requires my believing myself whole, good, and in equilibrium with the world around) I cannot voluntarily become the vehicle by which harm comes to someone else. I do not want what others have because I experience satisfaction at whatever level of material existence I find myself. (Now before you say this is all too philosophical, remember that the other ways of dealing with this problem are not presently working.)

This inner peace, therefore, results from the vitality of our self-image which is determined by three factors, and three factors only. First there is what I call a Sense of History. This is what gives us validity as members of a Universal family. It allows us the comfort of knowing that we are a part of a process which neither begins nor ends with us but is influenced by our presence and that therefore we do not function in isolation or desperation. The devices that help create this Sense of History are many; the history taught in school, historical monuments and heroes, keep-sakes and images, myths and legends etc. The second factor is a relationship with the supernatural. Simply put, each of us needs to be comfortable with the forces we know exist, but can’t see or touch, or otherwise explain. Finally we must have a Sense of Uniqueness by Association. That is, we must be able to say, “I am somebody because I am a part of something greater”. This is developed through the celebration of the special and unique expressions of the community, through the focus on those areas of human existence most expressive of the uniqueness of the particular society. This, of course, is the primary function of Art, which includes not only the gallery or stage arts, but methods of cooking, dressing or any other expression of living. Or as stated in the poem Culture Vultures ”… Culture is the way people live……..that’s all”. And Culture is what brings the individual his Sense of Uniqueness by Association.

These are the building blocks of the Self Image. These are the stimulants for the development of positive values. These are the purpose behind such age-old social institutions as School, Church, Lodge and, yes, Family. Without these three elements, an individual treats the world with contempt, because his own existence is irrelevant (no history) because he feels no shame (no morality) and because he has nothing to be proud of (no culture.) Does that sound familiar?

Let me indulge in a little finger-pointing for a moment. Given the above analysis, let me lay at your feet, as the guardians of the socio-political jewels of this country, the following pitiful conditions:

One: with 85% of the population having descended from Africa, how is it possible that our schools have NEVER taught African history or geography?

Two: with our wealth and prominence in the commercial world it is astounding that there are no Government sponsored museums or galleries, and practically no historical preservation.

Three: we have yet to allot even one tenth the amount set aside as the tourism budget to the training of people in the areas of cultural and artistic development. Or to make the production of local craft worth the effort economically. (In this respect it is a testimony to our vigilance or lack therefore that we should build the Market Plaza for the exhibition and sale of local craft, and still be shy to condemn the shysters who sell Taiwanese goods under Bahamian disguises.)

I could of course continue this list, but I think I’ve made the point that we have spent the period of our liberation concerning ourselves with matters that do not create Men. We are rapidly becoming wealthy humanoids, because we are neglecting the basic nutrition required to become Human.

And that brings me to the point.

I am sharing these thoughts because I accept, as a good friend of mine recently reminded me, that everyone who offers for political office believes in his heart he will use his opportunity to serve his fellow men. However I also accept that without a philosophical base, one founded upon a clear understanding of the purpose behind the various expressions of need, the actions and programs proposed will be arbitrary and scattered, although well meaning. We will never stem violence with arms, or with stronger laws. We will not stop incest with longer sentences. The assumption that modern society must accept destructive violence as an ingredient in the pie is not reasonable, even if it does allow us to feel less guilty about our impotence. Without a fundamental change in social direction, we will continue to train policemen who become bank robbers.

As an aside, an important aside, I should declare a belief in constructive violence. Constructive violence is violence which accompanies creativity. Or as Picasso put it, “Every act of creativity is first an act of destruction.” This discussion concerns violence which is NOT the partner of creativity, and is therefore unproductive.

I beg you to forgive the length of this letter, and to continue with me awhile longer. I have said what does not, and will not work in this struggle against violence. I have proven (hopefully) that a healthy and vital self-image is the ultimate weapon against anti-social forces. I have shown that as a community we have not provided the ingredients that would lead to the development of a strong self image. It must be obvious what I am asking of you:

Firstly, I am asking you to demand an education system which recognises the development of a healthy self-image as a primary responsibility, and therefore concerns itself with relevant history (NOT just the past 50 years, but the past 5000 years), that encourages spiritual curiosity and that creates an environment for creative self-expression and cultural celebration.

Secondly, I am asking for the removal of the Spirit of Censorship which stifles the creativity of the artists. This can only be done through open discussion and public acceptance of differences without resentment or retaliation. The inability to do this, unfortunately, is the strongest negative message of political campaigning, and is most destructive, especially to the youth.

Thirdly, I am asking that you demand a re-allocation of budget priorities, so that funding is made available for all forms of cultural and historic research, and so that all research is GUARANTEED circulation through publication. Further, that the national TV network is paid to feature such in-depth research, whether in house or by the private sector. I am also therefore suggesting a closer look at the funds available for the training of individuals interested in historical or cultural research, the performing arts (especially production skills and technical support), all forms of literature, and media production. These are the tools required to build a new direction. And they must be found, shaped, sharpened and used if the next several generations of Bahamians are to be spared the damaged self-images we presently share.

The symptoms are lawlessness, disrespect for persons, property and authority, the erosion of family and community life, the loss of significant values, frustration and the need to control. The disease is a crippled self image brought about by a diet deficient in History, Spiritual Support and Culture Reinforcement. Certainly there must be a response to the crisis, with an immediate transfusion of Imposed Discipline, Religious Grandstanding and Budgeted Culture. But this deals with mere survival, not with healthy growth or development. For a return to health a dietary adjustment must be made, then sustained for a sufficiently long period of time. The above list of requests imply a diet rich in Historical and Cultural research, the encouragement of spiritual curiosity and the celebration of artistic and cultural excellence.

The transformation of war into peace requires the transformation of warriors into pacifists. I am not convinced that “beating their swords into ploughshares” was meant to imply that a pacifist results from any act of wilful violence, but rather from the conscious acts of a society in the development of peaceful men. It is your responsibility as a director of the policies that guide those actions, to commit your energy to this transformation, and to accept that it will not happen with the snap of anybody’s finger.

A child with a dream becomes a king. A child without a dream (that is, without an historical link, a spiritual base and a cultural identity) becomes an outlaw.

Thank you for your patience.

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