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Living in our sick society

MARINA SALANDY-BROWN Thursday, January 16 2014

Diagnosis is important in ridding a patient of disease. Once we know what is wrong there is a fair chance that some useful remedy could be found. Our society is very sick right now, with hastening deterioration, but we, and those who hold our wellbeing in their power, have yet to perceive the nature of the ailment. The failure to do so could produce permanent damage.

An eminent TT doctor has a theory of why deceased Akeem Adams, the promising young TT footballer, rather strangely lost his leg after suffering from a heart attack in Hungary. It is a good metaphor for the spot we find ourselves in.

Apparently, when someone suffers a stroke after a heart attack the most likely reason is that a clot has detached itself and found its way to the brain, and possibly also to a limb, causing a blockage. These symptoms occur — the limb goes dark, it loses the pulse and becomes cold and painful. If these important clues go unnoticed necrosis of the limb occurs and eventually amputation.

The simple solution is surgery to remove the clot and save the limb. But, it requires the doctor to approach the problem holistically and to know how to diagnose. The complication in Akeem’s case is that he had very dark skin and in a country where doctors are unused to treating dark-skinned patients the colour change possibly remained unremarked for too long. Being unconscious, Akeem could not complain about his leg and lead doctors to taking the pulse. You might say, a tragic failing on both sides.

That is us, in a nutshell. We have somehow managed to lose our way along the road to development and now we cannot understand why we are the way we are.

Neither our governments nor society know how to pinpoint exactly what the problem is, unable to appreciate how bad political decisions about societal, economic and educational matters, coupled with moribund institutions and the failure to pass good laws and rigorously enforce them have contributed to our crisis. It is indisputable that we are displaying signs of a disease that could well become chronic. People seem to be descending into despondency, despair and self-harm.

The crime rate is spiralling out of control, 26 in 14 days and counting. At this rate we will break our own record and challenge Jamaica for highest murders per capita in the region.

According to a UNDP report, in the decade to 2012 we more than doubled the average homicide rate of all the Americas of 15.6 deaths per 100,000, which was five times more killings than ten years earlier. There is a lot of official talk about policing and crime detection but the nature of our crime seems to be almost as much domestic as gang related. Both are of long gestation and the root cause of each may well be linked.

I ask myself a series of questions about the people, not in gangs, who kill, maim, rape their wives, lovers, children, relatives, friends. These crimes happen among the rich and poor, rural and urban, diverse weapons are used. Are the reasons economic? Emotional? Psychological? Are they weak and vulnerable people? What produced that fault in them? Why is the trauma so great? Is violence the logical expression of the anger and frustration we all feel and some find themselves unable to cope with? Questions we can all make an intelligent stab at answering, but then we must decide to try addressing the problem.

The call has gone out for us to protect our children, and also battered women but what about the care of the men who perpetrate the crimes and the women who collude in them? There must be some connection between their experiences of society, the workplace, sports field, hospital, school, the private environment etc and the interpersonal abuse they indulge in. Those people are part of a society that believes in “licks” for children and an eye for an eye, one where the media show violent images that inure us to horror. Violence is in the fabric of our society.

In almost every relationship there is a hierarchy, and injustice and powerlessness in any situation that presents a challenge, especially for those who feel unequal or unable to command respect.

How can we remedy the inability to manage anger when violence is an accepted part of our behaviour? I would say people feel this is an unfair society where corruption and inequality are encouraged, where wrong goes unpunished and poor justice is dispensed, where too much is inefficient and people do battle to survive, at home, at work, on the street.

We are developing a frontier mentality and the gangs are little different from the abusive parent, child or partner. Catching murderers is only part of the answer. The real task is to prevent us being killers in the first place.

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