That colonial mentality — 1
Professor Ramesh Deosaran Sunday, September 2 2012
MENTALITY. In this context, it essentially means a package of fixed ideas and attitudes that often resist opposing information no matter how logical. In fact, the tricks used by one of its negative components, prejudice, to avoid or reject opposing information has long intrigued psychologists and psychiatrists. So as this nation celebrates its 50th year of independence, hoping for an “independence mentality”, to what extent can we assure ourselves that indeed the ugly vestiges of colonialism — through symbols, interests, attitudes and opinions — have been or are being divested? Look around and see.
In the Caribbean post-colonial literature, a major component of the colonial mentality is described as a population’s “lack of confidence to govern itself”, to operate its institutions, and, at the expense of “local talent”, relies on talent from the very country which gave it independence. Now, with the acceptance of globalisation and a porous sovereignty such as we have, the importation of talent does not necessarily reflect a “colonial mentality”. The residual difficulty, as pronounced by the late Lloyd Best and more sharply by late Prime Minister Eric Williams, is why is it taking so long for this country not only to cultivate the talent required but also to operate its key political and economic institutions properly. Is it a lack of talent or that their operational and legislative architecture are not suitable for an independent country? Why so much “friendly corruption” throughout the years of independence?
Some light could be seen when the present is compared to what Dr. Williams, for example, said before this country’s independence. On April 22, 1960, at Woodford Square, he said: “Our enemies said we would never be free. They said we would not be fit for freedom. They said we could never govern ourselves. They said that we were a lazy, servile race, desirous only of sitting in the sun and eating yams and pumpkins, capable of aping the graces of our European masters.” He added: “They said we could never operate democratic institutions.”
In other words, with typical fervour, Williams argued that not only were we fit for political independence, but we were quite capable of divesting all the ugly aspects of a colonised group, in particular, shedding the colonial mentality by demonstrating, among other things, the capacity to “operate democratic institutions”. So one way of judging whether or not the colonial mentality still resides here, even in residual amounts, is to compare what we have today with what the founders of our political independence proposed.
Of course, since the early part of the last century, the anti-colonial literature flourished from India, Africa and across to the Caribbean. It was described as the irresistible “winds of change”. Colonialism became a very bad word. And as one developing country after another gained independence from Britain, political and economic elites strategically formed themselves into what several Caribbean and African researchers called “internal colonialism”. The local elites, it was argued, practised much of what the colonisers once did. Divide and rule, formenting petty rivalries and jealousies, all converged to make it appear as if the newly independent country was at war with itself. After independence, some things got quite bad in Africa. A few “freedom fighters” got assassinated. Efforts by Tanzania’s Julius Nyerere to shape a benevolent dictatorship within a representative one-party system lacked sustainability.
The “colonial mentality”, it seemed, still survived, with pockets of locals as brokers and agents under the inherited multi-party Westminster system. Lloyd Best insightfully recognised the dominating influence here of the “validating elite”, an elite now curiously being validated even by a few of Lloyd’s former disciples, unwittingly pushing Lloyd’s message into oblivion. Again, I was intrigued when Lloyd described his methodology as coming from social psychiatry, going beyond simple psychiatry which asks clients to adapt, cope and adjust – leaving the debilitating structures largely intact. With social psychiatry, Lloyd implied that this post-colonial society possessed some pathological elements.
Reputable economists, from Nobel laureates Amartya Sen to Joseph Stiglitz, today argue that sustainable economic development cannot properly be achieved if the social, political and psychological conditions are not right. Hence the emergence of social capital, that is, the presence of trust and cooperation, as a necessary condition. Sen proposed that economic development is driven and prospers when a people’s basic freedoms are ensured, when human motivation goes beyond self-interest. All this suggests that wherever the colonial mentality exists, the social, economic and psychological development of the population would be distracted and deterred.
(Part Two next week)