Democracy, ritual, responsibility, and ... (yep) spoiling the ballot, giddily

We live in a democracy. It's not perfect, but we adhere to certain fundamental principles. Like this one: individuals are entitled, even encouraged, to hold widely divergent views. The vigourous debate of those views extends and enriches democratic life.Unfortunately, we tend to avoid that kind of debate. Rather than engaging with opposing ideas, fighting our corners and reviewing our positions based on different points of view, many of our discussions about principles and philosophy take on a personal cast. This happens most often when we wish to divert attention from an argument that we find outrageous or unsettling. Instead of engaging with the divergent idea, we prefer very often to cast "shade". Our general response to such an argument is to tear down the arguer, rather than to dive into the discussion at hand.

As someone observed to me recently, "Bahamians love shade".

And so it works.Here's how it works. Instead of thinking further about the issue, our focus slips to the person talking about the issue, and the more we can think of to discredit that person, the more we imagine the argument has been won.There's another name for this method of discussion. Rhetoricians call it the ad hominem fallacy, and it's a way of not arguing at all.Last weekend, Front Porch took me to task for a number of positions I've apparently taken regarding the Bahamian political process. Now I have no problem with being challenged in an intellectual fashion. As anyone who knows me well will tell you that I find good, old-fashioned debate exhilarating. At the same time, though, I find the refusal to debate ideas by choosing to discredit the person putting forward the ideas lazy, disingenuous, and weak.

(Notice what I just did there? I dismissed the ad hominem argument in an ad hominem way. Instead of showing what was wrong with it, I just described it, using a string of adjectives. But I didn't demonstrate why the ad hominem argument is weak or lazy. I just said that it was. At the end of the day, you believed me, or you didn't, but not because of any evidence. You believed me or you didn't probably because you like me, or you don't—or else you just took the adjectives on face value. Which you shouldn't, because adjectives are very slippery, lightweight words which, in an argument, all too often say more about the person using them than about the thing they're used to describe.)

But there's a better way to argue.Let's have a look at what Simon appears to have disliked about my political stances. There were a number of issues that offended. Some of them have some history to them—statements I made before the 2012 election—and some of them have a measure of currency.Specifically, they were:

  • Policy and political rallies;
  • The role of minority governments;
  • The role of representative governments;
  • The spoil the ballot campaign; and
  • The election of Bahamian Senators.

I'm going to deal with the first one, the one which stretches all the way back to 2012, in this post. I'll save the other four for another post. One which won't be quite so giddy. It'll probably be insipid instead.Hyperbolic irresponsibility & woeful uninformationSo. Here's the first dismissal:

Before the last election, Bethel engaged in the sort of hyperbolic irresponsibility that one might expect from someone woefully uninformed. She noted that she heard nothing about policy at political rallies.

She was dead wrong.

Simon, Front Porch, "The Rituals of Democracy", April 13 2017,emphasis added to highlight adjectival phrasesLet's see what I actually did say.

I have heard absolutely nothing from any party about what the future holds. The PLP has crafted some very general principles for the next few years, but these, when decoded, seem to amount to a reinstatement of what was in the works between 2002 and 2007 when they were in power. The FNM has focussed very much on vague generalities like “proven leadership” and “deliverance”, and what has been done, largely in material, infrastructural terms, in the very recent past ... The DNA speaks in broad terms, pushing the buttons that they feel gain them support, but not showing any real coherent ideology about which their philosophy has been crafted.

("Elections—and beyond", April 11, 2012)

According to Simon, both Christie and Ingraham contradicted these statements by offering "policy and programmatic ideas in a variety of areas." Well, OK. I'm going to guess Simon and I have different definitions of policy and programme, and we could agree to disagree—if that was all there was to it.But that's not the issue at hand. Simon went further. Rather than focussing on the idea of political rallies, Simon chose to comment on my professional competence: "It was odd that as an anthropologist she could not, or refused to, understand the brilliance of the political rally as a ritual of democracy."This extends the fallacy beyond the ad hominem attack into the realm of the strawman argument—because, had I been interested in the anthropological function of political rallies, I would have talked about it. For political rallies are, as Simon quite rightly says, an important part of political ritual. But important as rallies are, their function does not make much room for discussions of policy and programme.Here's what Simon doesn't say about the anthropological approach to the ritual function served by the political rally. The ritual of the political rally uses revelry and fun to build bonds among potential supporters. When people allow themselves to be caught up in the euphoria of the moment, they engage in something anthropologists call communitasa kind of group bonding that doesn't come from any objective similarity among the people involved or any objective coherence to what they are being told in the process, but from the collective activity they're participating in. In this situation, the action is what matters about the ritual, not the content. It engages humans at the level of the body, not the mind, and so what is said matters less than how it is said Rhythmic speaking, call and response, catch phrases, bombastic delivery—these are what count.In other words: had I been talking anthropologically, I would have said that the purpose of the political rally is not to offer or discuss policy or programmes. A good rally is like a party or a show; if policy or programmes are mentioned, they have to be offered in such a way that they don't break the mood. So I'll accept that Christie and Ingraham offered policy and programmatic ideas in 2012. I'm not so sure that anyone really heard them. If the rallies were successful (and they were), they were not supposed to.My criticism was not of the lack of policy at political rallies. It related to the lack of vision anywhere in the 2012 campaign. The Plan and the Manifesto and the DNA's contract looked great to be sure, but that's not the kind of vision I was thinking about. Rather, I was looking for an articulation of the kind of Bahamas we would be living in in twenty or thirty years' time, and could not find it anywhere. I wasn't looking for it at the rallies. But I wanted something else—some online address by a party leader to outline and explain that party's vision of the future, some acknowledgement of where we were in 2012 and how we were going to change direction and move in a different one, even some recognition of the fact that we were now in a 21st century, digital world and analogue solutions were just not going to cut it anymore. And there was nothing. Nada. Except, perhaps, shuffles, sidestepping, and holograms.As I'm being castigated not only for hyperbole but also for woeful uninformation, it might be worth looking at what else is contained in that same blog post in April 2012 from the perspective of April 2017 (the emphasis is added). If anyone is still doubtful about why, in this election, I am considering spoiling my ballot, here's what I said five years ago, almost to the day.

I’m preparing for five more years of struggle, no matter who wins or doesn’t win this election; for five more years of escalating violence in our society; for five more years of a contracting economy, traffic problems, and decreasing revenues. I’m preparing for five more years of governmental desperation, of prostitution of the country to the biggest donor (China seems to be the crowd favourite right now), of undereducation and of brain drain, no matter who wins.

("Elections—and beyond", April 11, 2012)emphasis added to highlight the elementsthat maybe weren't quite so woefully uniformedFive years later, those words seem almost prophetic. (They weren't; they were just the logical outcome of the lack of vision/policy/programmes that plagued the 2012 elections). Check back in a couple of days to find out more about my stellar and breathtaking ignorance. But for now, cheers. 

A shift into the dark?

I am not American. However, I recognize the United States of America for providing a model for democracy around the world. No, its democracy is not perfect, but it is earnest. In principle, it seeks on numerous levels to work against tyranny, to empower its citizenry. The execution of these has been far from perfect, but the ideals have been sound.There is a status post on Facebook that individuals are copying and pasting. It essentially outlines every step that the new president of the United States of America has taken since his inauguration. I do not know the sources personally, so I am taking other people's word that these things actually happened.The thing that is worrying about the list is that the majority of these cases consist of actions that are fundamentally anti-democratic, that explicitly reduce the ability of Americans to self-expression, that muzzle the right to free speech, that increase the possibility of a tyrant beginning a process of domination in a nation widely regarded as the birthplace of democracy. Further, is it my imagination, or does the turn to violence, or the condoning of state-accepted violence, have a definite fascist cast.I want my friends and family who support Donald Trump to tell me why this is not the case, please.The list is as follows: (I've changed the stars to numbers so that we can see the length of the list).

  1. On January 19th, 2017, DT said that he would cut funding for the DOJ’s Violence Against Women programs.
  2. On January 19th, 2017, DT said that he would cut funding for the National Endowment for the Arts.
  3. On January 19th, 2017, DT said that he would cut funding for the National Endowment for the Humanities.
  4. On January 19th, 2017, DT said that he would cut funding for the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.
  5. On January 19th, 2017, DT said that he would cut funding for the Minority Business Development Agency.
  6. On January 19th, 2017, DT said that he would cut funding for the Economic Development Administration.
  7. On January 19th, 2017, DT said that he would cut funding for the International Trade Administration.
  8. On January 19th, 2017, DT said that he would cut funding for the Manufacturing Extension Partnership.
  9. On January 19th, 2017, DT said that he would cut funding for the Office of Community Oriented Policing Services.
  10. On January 19th, 2017, DT said that he would cut funding for the Legal Services Corporation.
  11. On January 19th, 2017, DT said that he would cut funding for the Civil Rights Division of the DOJ.
  12. On January 19th, 2017, DT said that he would cut funding for the Environmental and Natural Resources Division of the DOJ.
  13. On January 19th, 2017, DT said that he would cut funding for the Overseas Private Investment Corporation.On January 19th, 2017, DT said that he would cut funding for the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.
  14. On January 19th, 2017, DT said that he would cut funding for the Office of Electricity Deliverability and Energy Reliability.On January 19th, 2017, DT said that he would cut funding for the Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy.
  15. On January 19th, 2017, DT said that he would cut funding for the Office of Fossil Energy.
  16. On January 20th, 2017, DT ordered all regulatory powers of all federal agencies frozen.
  17. On January 20th, 2017, DT ordered the National Parks Service to stop using social media after RTing factual, side by side photos of the crowds for the 2009 and 2017 inaugurations.
  18. On January 20th, 2017, roughly 230 protestors were arrested in DC and face unprecedented felony riot charges. Among them were legal observers, journalists, and medics.
  19. On January 20th, 2017, a member of the International Workers of the World was shot in the stomach at an anti-fascist protest in Seattle. He remains in critical condition.
  20. On January 21st, 2017, DT brought a group of 40 cheerleaders to a meeting with the CIA to cheer for him during a speech that consisted almost entirely of framing himself as the victim of dishonest press.
  21. On January 21st, 2017, White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer held a press conference largely to attack the press for accurately reporting the size of attendance at the inaugural festivities, saying that the inauguration had the largest audience of any in history, “period.”
  22. On January 22nd, 2017, White House advisor Kellyann Conway defended Spicer’s lies as “alternative facts” on national television news.
  23. On January 22nd, 2017, DT appeared to blow a kiss to director James Comey during a meeting with the FBI, and then opened his arms in a gesture of strange, paternal affection, before hugging him with a pat on the back.
  24. On January 23rd, 2017, DT reinstated the global gag order, which defunds international organizations that even mention abortion as a medical option.
  25. On January 23rd, 2017, Spicer said that the US will not tolerate China’s expansion onto islands in the South China Sea, essentially threatening war with China.
  26. On January 23rd, 2017, DT repeated the lie that 3-5 million people voted “illegally” thus costing him the popular vote.
  27. On January 23rd, 2017, it was announced that the man who shot the anti-fascist protester in Seattle was released without charges, despite turning himself in.
  28. On January 24th, 2017, DT tweeted a picture from his personal Twitter account of a photo he says depicts the crowd at his inauguration and will hang in the White House press room. The photo is of the 2009 inauguration of 44th President Barack Obama, and is curiously dated January 21st, 2017, the day AFTER the inauguration and the day of the Women’s March, the largest inauguration related protest in history.
  29. On January 24th, 2017, the EPA was ordered to stop communicating with the public through social media or the press and to freeze all grants and contracts.
  30. On January 24th, 2017, the USDA was ordered to stop communicating with the public through social media or the press and to stop publishing any papers or research. All communication with the press would also have to be authorized and vetted by the White House.
  31. On January 24th, 2017, HR7, a bill that would prohibit federal funding not only to abortion service providers, but to any insurance coverage, including Medicaid, that provides abortion coverage, went to the floor of the House for a vote.
  32. On January 24th, 2017, DT ordered the resumption of construction on the Dakota Access Pipeline, while the North Dakota state congress considers a bill that would legalize hitting and killing protestors with cars if they are on roadways.
  33. On January 24th, 2017, it was discovered that police officers had used confiscated cell phones to search the emails and messages of the 230 demonstrators now facing felony riot charges for protesting on January 20th, including lawyers and journalists whose email accounts contain privileged information of clients and sources.From News and Guts*credit for compilation: Karen Cornett-Dwyer
  34. On January 24th, 2017 DT threatened martial law by 'sending in the feds' to Chicago.

 

Gilbert Morris on the Referendum

In a well organized society, equality cuts both ways, and must include for instance changes to family law so that good fathers, can gain custody or have proper access to their children. Overall, I do not believe this referendum contributed to the good of The Bahamas. Governments of the Bahamas are too political and so undermine their credibility as constitutional arbiters. We cannot make the first change to our constitution some rule change on a narrow basis. Bahamians need to learn the basic meaning of having a constitution, and feel kinship with its principles.

Source: On Referendum 2016 by Gilbert MorrisI appreciated this analysis. Go read the whole thing. 

Back to the Referendum

Eighteen months ago, I was invited to write an article for Global Voices about the proposed referendum on gender equality in The Bahamas. It was published in October 2014, a month before the referendum was initially scheduled to take place. That the referendum didn't take place is common knowledge now; it was postponed to allow "public education" to take place. Well, it's now back on the national agenda, and I'm not sure how much education has happened. So I am now going to publish what I wrote back then in its entirety in an attempt to inform the discussion we are now having with some facts.The Commonwealth of The Bahamas is amending its 41-year-old constitution. I’m using the present continuous tense, because the amendment is a process, one that began some twelve years ago in 2002. Back then, a constitutional referendum was held and failed—the proposed amendments to the Constitution were rejected by the general public. But the need for amendment has persisted, and ever since 2012 a constitutional referendum has been imminent.The main issue at hand is the question of equality between the sexes under the constitution. The most striking instance of inequality in our constitution is that between men and women in relation to their ability to pass on Bahamian citizenship, but, as the most recent Constitutional Commission has noted, the inequalities in the current constitution are manifold. This Commission has narrowed them down to the following categories: inequality between men and women, between children and between married and single people. To this we can add inequality based on place of birth.The last item on that list notwithstanding, the Constitutional Commission has drafted four bills which, if passed by the two Houses of Parliament and agreed to by the general public, will make Bahamian citizens more equal than non-Bahamians by seeking to address the first three inequalities.Put simply, the main inequalities are as follows:- Married Bahamian men and unmarried Bahamian women automatically pass their citizenship on to their children at birth.

  • Bahamian women cannot pass their citizenship on to their overseas-born children at birth, if they are married to a non-Bahamian.
  • Single fathers may not pass their citizenship on to their children, as the constitution defines children born out of wedlock as not having a father.
  • The non-Bahamian wives of Bahamian men are afforded the right to be granted citizenship upon application.
  • The non-Bahamian husbands of Bahamian women are afforded no such right.

The issue, however, is complicated by several other requirements that make the passing on of citizenship from parent to child less straightforward. Primary among these is a clause which addresses the institution of marriage. Under this clause, unmarried Bahamian mothers are defined as “fathers” for the purpose of passing on their national status to their babies. This particular clause also nullifies single Bahamian fathers’ ability to pass on their citizenship.The four bills drafted to amend the constitution seek to rectify the situation. They are designed to promote equality for children, among men and women, and to enshrine the principle of equality throughout the constitution. The first of these seeks to award the children of both Bahamian men and women citizenship at birth. The second entitles all non-Bahamian spouses of Bahamian citizens to Bahamian citizenship. The third allows single Bahamian fathers to pass their citizenship on to their offspring. And the fourth bill seeks to enshrine the principle of equality between the sexes in the constitution by adding the word “sex” to the list of categories under which discrimination is prohibited.On the surface, this seems a simple enough task. It is complicated, however, by a public discussion which has focused mainly on the fourth amendment—the one which is, in its own way, the simplest of the proposed changes: the adding of “sex” to the categories prohibiting discrimination.The current categories include race, place of origin, political opinions, colour, and creed, but exclude sex. The opponents of this amendment have construed the word “sex” as relating to sexual orientation, and have gained much traction in the eyes of the public by claiming the constitutional amendments are designed to permit same-sex marriage. If this Article is amended, their story goes, Bahamians will be giving the government permission to allow same-sex marriages to take place. These arguments obscure the principle of equality between the sexes and make this clause appear the most controversial—which also makes it the most threatened as the time for the referendum draws near.And there are other questions of inequality that have not been addressed. Most notable among them is the question of birthplace and its effect on the awarding of citizenship to Bahamian children. There are two elements at work here. The first is the fact that birth on Bahamian territory is no avenue to citizenship if neither of one’s parents is Bahamian. The most that a person born in the Bahamas is entitled to is the right to be registered as a citizen upon making application at the age of 18.The second, more difficult challenge, is the kind of citizenship one is granted if one is born abroad to Bahamian parents. One peculiarity of the current constitution which has not been put forward for amendment, is that children born to Bahamians abroad, even if they are classified as citizens, have no automatic right to pass their citizenship on to their own offspring. In other words, children born to Bahamians studying or working abroad, or giving birth in another country for reasons of health, may be classified as Bahamian citizens. However, if they themselves have children outside of The Bahamas, those children are not Bahamians at birth, and have no right to claim Bahamian citizenship whatsoever.The issue is complicated, and most Bahamians are not aware of this stipulation. Most of the discussion relating to citizenship and our constitution has focused on the next generation—on our children. We have not yet thought about our grandchildren. What the current situation does ensure, though, is that not one of us, whatever the outcome of the referendum and whatever amendments are made to the constitution, can be confident that our grandchildren will be Bahamians at birth.Let me bring this home. In my family, I have cousins who were born abroad because their Bahamian father was studying in the UK at the time of their birth. They are Bahamian. Their children, though, unless they are born in The Bahamas, are not.Similarly, I have a nephew who, once again, was born in Canada when his Bahamian father was studying. He is a Bahamian, but his children, unless they are born in The Bahamas, will not be.Finally, I have another young cousin who was born in Miami while his parents were there getting medical treatment for their older son. That cousin, even though both his parents are citizens, will not be able to pass on his citizenship unless his children are born in The Bahamas.And none of these issues even begins to address the question of statehood for the many children of undocumented immigrants (most of them of Haitian origin) in The Bahamas. Most of those children currently have no national status at all. It is a situation which must be addressed, but which has not been touched upon in the present referendum.So critical is this question of citizenship that a 2013 Report on the constitution recommended appointing a second commission altogether to focus exclusively on the issue of statelessness in The Bahamas, as the commissioners did not feel they could give it the necessary attention. No such move has yet been made.The constitutional amendments are long overdue. They will go some way to equalizing the granting of Bahamian citizenship to children, and to even out the distinction between male and female, married and unmarried, that currently exists. But they are only a beginning. Serious issues of inequality remain, and the climate in which the discussions regarding the referendum is taking place has grown fraught with misdirection. The popular interpretation that the addition of “sex” to the categories where discrimination is prohibited is an endorsement of same-sex marriage plays into a deep-seated homophobia in Bahamian society. But it’s also worrying for another reason: it is entirely possible that this relates to homophobia only tangentially, and is in fact a strategic move to campaign for constitutionally-sanctioned misogyny without openly admitting that fact.

#100things I want from government 1-10

This week I began to write a series of tweets which, I hope, will break this pattern of silence that has fallen upon me since Boston. I find I can't engage with any public discussion happening in Nassau right now, largely because the disussions are without result. They are unproductive because they tread old ground incessantly so that they begin to resemble the path of white rats in lab mazes. I don't like feeling like lab rats or hamsters on wheels, so I have unplugged for some time.But one can't stay unplugged forever. So I'm trying to get at least some of the concepts that are crowding my mind down in 140 characters or fewer, hoping the discipline will be constructive. Here's how the series  began:

Been blocked/silent on big issues since I went to Boston. Maybe because the gap between life there & life here was so wide ...... not in experience but in possibility. And this is the opposite of what I felt when I lived abroad 20 years ago ...Living in the UK in the 1990s was like living in a coffin: rules everywhere & few rewards. Innovation? impossible. You emigrated to breatheToday Nassau feels the same, only without rules. So as we move towards elections the silly season has graduated to full stupidityAm going to start tweeting what I want to see from my next government. Prospective politicians, you want my attention? Bring it.

And so? The first 10 of the #100things I want from government:

  1. #100things I want from government: Gender equality. Don't mind the noise in the man-ket. Women vote.
  2. #100things I want from government: A citizenship policy in a constitution that makes sense. l'd like to be sure my grandkids are Bahamian.
  3. #100things I want from government: An energy plan that makes sense. An energy plan that puts the power in my hands not some outsider's.
  4.  #100things I want from government: Ideas and ideals for the good of the nation, not new letters and faces for the good of themselves.
  5. #100things I want from government: Research that unveils the causes of crime PLUS programmes to address them not reaction to the symptoms
  6. #100things I want from government: Some real democracy. No more vote once every five years & done. Want my MP to represent me not a party.
  7. #100things I want from government: Protection of the humanity of all within our borders: justice for all regardless of age, sex, origin.
  8. #100things I want from government: Facilitation of fresh ways of being/seeing, not frustration of everything different or new
  9. #100things I want from government: Honour & a place at the table for youth. Elders deserve respect, not deification.
  10. #100things I want from government: Devolution of power. Break up the rule of the 1% over the 400k.