On Woodwork and Worms

To every thing, says the writer of Ecclesiastes, there is a season, and a time for every purpose under heaven. He goes on to talk about being born and dying, planting and plucking up, killing and healing, breaking down and building up. What he doesn't talk about, presumably because the writer of Ecclesiastes is generally assumed to have been King Solomon, who got his position from God and didn't have to worry about such things, is that there is a time to hold elections, and, alas, a time to campaign.And we have just about reached that time. We're on the brink of that period when, to quote the inimitable Patrick Rahming,They comin' out the woodwork just like worm,Everybody catching politics like germ,Chasing after sweetness just like fly;Everybody know another five years done gone by.Come convention time, we Bahamians will enter that phase in our national life during which good sense flies out of the window. It's a time when favours so transparent that they could light fires are dispensed like Halloween candy. It's a time when when turkeys and pigs tremble in their barnyards, when appliance retailers at home and abroad find their inventories moving far more quickly than normal. It's a time when the lightbulbs that were for three years absent from streetlights appear, when new tar blackens city streets that had gone grey from the weather. It's a time when prospective voters can travel in comfort and safety to rallies. It's a time when there's more gunpowder in the country than Guy Fawkes stockpiled at Westminster, when t-shirts and campaign flags are interchangeably fresh and new.It will be a time to campaign. It will be a time to party.Already we're beginning to hear the rhetoric that's assumed to have won elections in the past--comments about the participation of white Bahamians in the Independence celebrations, removals of members of the long-dead UBP from Central Bank bills, news coverage whose main actors are either people who drive cars with blue licence plates or people whose situations and statuses make good political talking points. For points, after all, are what it's all about. We've started down that road where party chairmen rack up points like judges in televised competitions. Sitting Members of Parliament and the challengers for their positions are beginning to book slots on radio talk shows, and names of new hopefuls are thickening the air.It's enough to make one give up on democracy altogether.Democracy, you see, quite properly means the participation of the people in the governing process. As it was originally designed (by the ancient Greeks in the city-state of Athens), several restrictions applied that we might find curiously undemocratic: only men who owned property and had achieved a certain level of education were eligible to vote. According to some statistics, suffrage was available to only 16% of the Athenian population; women, slaves and foreigners were excluded. On the other hand, though, that 16% of the population made all decisions directly; they did not elect representatives to do it for them. All things considered, that 16% of the population is higher than the number we currently have, when forty people decide the fate of 400,000.And the Greeks didn't have to hold elections every five years. And they didn't have to spend forty percent of their lives suffering from the shock of the political campaign.Now I wouldn't be so disturbed by the campaign period if we used it as a time to discuss the issues that threaten the nation as a whole, rather than highlighting (or creating) elements, real or imagined, to divide us. We are at a point in our development where the big issues are very very real. We've lived with them long enough for them to enter our vocabulary--issues like globalization and the Bahamas' place in the world economy, whether it be the dormant FTAA, the postponed CSME or the insidious WTO; issues like human rights and the fact that The Bahamas is consistently on the watch list of Amnesty International; issues like long-term development and its potential impact on our environment; issues like our culture, which is weak and wavering in the face of a global culture that is far better developed, packaged and marketed just right; and issues like how our society is going to handle the question of illegal immigration.But Bahamian culture is such that political campaigns are rarely fought on issues. In truth, political affiliation is at best a personal preference, at worst a bottomless pit of greed. The political machinery invokes quick-and-dirty knee-jerk subjects, like white oppression or gay cruises or the personal habits of individual politicians, using misdirection, frivolity and divisiveness to attract the kind of attention that can be translated into votes. And the Bahamian public sits back and waits to see who can put on the best show.The worst of it is, however, is that this kind of approach to electoral politics denigrates the process of democracy in such a way that it ultimately destroys the fabric of the national character. The way in which political campaigns are generally conducted in our nation fundamentally underestimates the intelligence of the Bahamian population. The assumption seems to be that the average Bahamian's vote can be obtained by purchase or confidence games, and that issues really don't matter. And by assuming this, political campaigns help create a citizenry for whom a vote is just a commodity that can be traded for a hand-out or two.So it's woodwork and worm time again, and I'm bracing myself for two years of utter nonsense. And I'm steeling myself to face the ultimate devaluation of the Bahamian soul that may be its result.