Sun | Dec 10, 2023

Brian-Paul Welsh | The more things change

Published:Monday | December 26, 2016 | 12:00 AM

The ebb and flow of life in Jamaica, as meticulously documented in these pages over the course of this year, has twisted and turned our emotional state from joy and pride to immense grief and sadness in ways some had hitherto thought unimaginable and unprecedented.

2016 was indeed an intense period for all Jamaicans, with some interesting developments that, in retrospect, might have been following our old and familiar patterns of dysfunction.

During my intermittent engagement with news media in general, I have had several moments of deja vu, sensory flashbacks to close or identical experiences in my lifetime. Childhood memories of newspaper headlines, radio broadcasts, or breaking news on television flood my mind whenever certain themes emerge in our nine-day window of public interest.

At times, Jamaican news can feel like a looping nostalgic soap opera with a shuffling cast of the same old characters. They play out their farcical drama every night with cops, robbers, and bandit politicians, and this has made us accustomed to our own incessant wails for mercy. We have developed a familiarity with the rhythm of mayhem, and because of the nature and frequency of this exposure, to the Jamaican people, the macabre now seems mundane.

One can often hear a droning cynicism in the tone of media presenters, leached dry of empathy by the monotony of the ever-increasing reports of chaos they must detach themselves from for effective delivery. These weekly tales of woe are interspersed by increasingly bizarre cultural enigmas that reflect our troubled state, but get a chuckle from the news anchor as he smiles and breaks for commercial relief.

The gruesome tales that comprise these weekly manic episodes have been seared into my memory to the point that I can now recite the script in this newspaper on a weekly basis.

As I brewed herbal tea overlooking the pandemonium of Kingston below, I felt like John Maxwell in the '90s, journaling my frustrations with the broken system while the fat cats in the village lived lavishly, banking on blighted promises of prosperity. When rudely interrupted by own purring puss, incidentally named Isis, I felt like Morris Cargill in the '80s calmly observing the world powers stage a Cold War fuelled by the politics of fear while perched aloofly, attending to my own pressing interests.




Last week, while the nation was once more aghast at the savagery of the monsters we nurtured, I remembered as a child being told the news of the murder and dismemberment of a relative at the hands of her drunken male companion.

I recalled the feeling of hopelessness that clung to the air in that rural community ruled by the rum and the machete, and the heaviness of the sorrow surrounding the lives of those left behind.

That same feeling has emerged from my memory bank many times this year as we repeated unresolved patterns from our past and continued to habituate the cycle of pain and violence in our society.

Last week's brawl outside the KSAC among opposing political supporters brought back memories of travelling along Mountain View Avenue as a child with green flags on one side and orange flags on the other and the gripping fear of getting caught in what seemed like the inevitable crossfire. The story seemed out of place with how we perceive our modern political reality, but it clearly illustrates the mindset of some grass-roots supporters still intent on doing harm to the body politic, and our naivete in thinking tribalism is a thing of the past.

Earlier, news of increasing discomfort among the business community along Red Hills Road due to escalating crime conjured the old memory of the bloody corpse strapped to a nearby utility pole, and by the time I saw the veteran MP advising the supporters whom he had enabled in their adverse possession of a businessman's land to be intolerant of the rule of law if it didn't suit their personal needs, I was done reminiscing and was now incensed.

My wish for the year to come and those that will follow is that we will stop frustrating the realisation of our fullest potential by perpetuating these patterns of negativity in our society. We cannot continue doing the same things more intensely and expect to yield different results.

If Jamaica is ever to be the place of choice to live, raise families, and do business, we must choose to change this place for the better instead of repeating the habits and folly of the past.

- Brian-Paul Welsh is a writer and public affairs commentator. He can be reached at brianpaul.welsh