According to the pious among us, the Bible says that “God helps those who help themselves.” In fact, the Bible says no such thing; nor does it advise us to “render your heart and not your garment.” In the first instance, the adage just sounds biblical, and in the latter, it is a simple mishearing or mispronunciation. But both have been repeated and believed as though they were gospel when they are not. In much the same way, political misinformation and disinformation are rife in our society, with the many accepting them as truth and the few who know better not daring to tell the emperor he has no clothes.
A pastor bellows something from the pulpit, and rather than searching out the Scriptures to see if these things are so, we swallow it wholesale, and condemn those who question as being impious, sacrilegious, demonic. A political representative makes an utterance and because it sounds good, sounds learned, contains an impressive number of polysyllabic words, we agree it must be so, because “that is the side we back,” and don’t tell us anything different. We nod our heads sagely and agree that such-and-such is unusual, without even knowing the usual; determine that something is being undertaken with inordinate haste, when we haven’t a clue as to the normal speed; and hasten to paraphrase without having understood the original phrase.
This has been the trend – the rising trend – of late. The irony, though, is that while technology has made access to information easier and quicker – as school-children tote tablets and adults brandish BBs – we seem more and more inclined to rely on what we have heard, second- or third- or fourth-hand, than to find out what the truth is, what the facts are, by doing the research ourselves.
As the Citizenship by Investment Bill made its way, again, from the Lower House to the Upper, this week, so many persons had so much to say on matters about which they had sought no facts, but were content to pronounce only on opinions. In addition to the punditry on parliamentary procedure, we heard yet again the old bogeys about the dangers of courting rich people from outside (notwithstanding the home-grown terrorism that was unleashed at Heritage Quay three weeks ago in broad daylight). Ask most of those speaking with such authority whether they have consulted the Standing Orders or the Constitution, or had attended any of the CIP consultations, and they would say, without embarrassment or apology, “No. But this is how I feel… .”
Certainly, everyone is entitled to feelings, but is education advanced, is knowledge gained, from this type of parroting, this lack of intellectual exercise? And what is it that stops us from knowing what we ought, instead of what we are told?
There are those who will say, routinely that “the Government needs to come and tell us about,” or hasn’t “sold,” this project or that initiative: how it will work; who it will benefit; why it is being done in this way and not that. But where in the world do governments go door – to – door telling folks, individually and personally, how projects will work? Nowhere; that’s where. (And if we cannot tell the difference between government operations and political candidates’ campaigning, then we are stupid, indeed.) The cold, hard truth is that we, the people, have a duty to search out information for, and by, ourselves. That is the obligation of democracy, eternal vigilance being the price of freedom. But, too often, when we get the opportunity to pose questions to the people with the answers, we choose – consciously elect – not to be present.
A few years ago, when consultations on immigration were being held, thousands of Antiguans and Barbudans abroad clustered around their computers to make sure they didn’t miss a jot or a tittle, because of “all them foreigners in our place.” When Louis Farrakhan lectured here last year, purportedly on black people and our economics, there wasn’t room to sneeze inside or outside the Multipurpose Centre. The low turnout to the CIP consultations, therefore, would seem to indicate that, for most of the population, it is no big deal. How, then, do the radio pundits “know” that the people are not for this and not for that? Where did the people say so? In which forum did they say it? And if the information was obtained objectively, how is it that none of us was canvassed?
On other matters in which we profess ignorance or are waiting, like Godot, for the information train to roll into our garages, we ought to be flogged. Maybe because we often do not see what is right in front of us, but we fail to recognize and capitalize on the fact that the Parliament is a source of information. Every Bill that becomes law is catalogued there for public information. Before it is passed into law, every debate is open to the public. Any man, woman or child, once decently covered, has access to the gallery and is welcome to sit and listen, take notes or record the proceedings, which, incidentally, are broadcast on both radio and television. How, then, can we, the people, bleat that we do not know, we never heard, we weren’t told?
Opposition MPs can pose questions at every sitting; grill ministers on how they have handled an assignment or how much a venture has cost; and, in pundit’s terms, “hold their feet to the fire.” With what regularity is that done? Further, they can effect changes and influence policy by bringing to the House what is called Private Members’ Bills. When have we seen such action taken?
…We come from a tradition that holds information close to our chests. From childhood, we are warned by parents not to tell the neighbours our business. We work, for years, without ever seeing the big picture, without ever learning whether our company operates at a profit or a loss. We celebrate silver wedding anniversaries, and never know where our spouse saves his or her money. And we are victims of crime, or intimidated by the criminal element, and yet keep our tongues between our teeth.
Is this what we mean when we call ourselves “a knowledge-based society?”