Independence and ministries of culture

https://youtu.be/JFy_aFR3znoJanuary 10, 2017. Rawson Square, being occupied by We Marchers. I'm there, live streaming on Facebook, when the marchers come streaming in. There's a knot of people that's moving across the square, and when it gets to me I realize it's Dr. Minnis and his entourage: the (then former) Leader of the Opposition, moving through the crowd, gladhanding and accepting accolades.He sees me."I know you should be a happy young lady," he tells me. "You see we've announced we will have an independent ministry of culture."I laugh. I have heard this before. Eleven years ago: February 2006, to be exact."We'll see. Mouth could say anything," I tell him."That's the difference between doctors and lawyers," he tells me. "A doctor is trained to tell the truth. I can't talk bout lawyers."Five months later, Dr. Minnis becomes the Prime Minister. We wait. (My breath is not bated; I know better. I have spoiled my ballot for a reason. But never mind.)The ministries are announced.There is—wait for it—a ministry of youth, sports and culture. O joy! But no, wait—That is not an independent ministry of culture at all.Culture is still And Culture.But at least it's headed for the VERY FIRST TIME by a professional cultural artist: Michael Pintard, poet, performer, playwright. Nobody seems to notice this, except for cultural artists; there's no announcement in the paper about an artist for the FIRST TIME being made minister of culture. (but later, there'll be whole stories about the first woman heading up sports. NOT the MBE awarded athlete MP, mind you, but anyway ...)*Fast forward. July 2018. There has been a cabinet shuffle. Four ministries are affected, among them—you guessed it—the ministry of And Culture! Our poet is moved to, wait what? Agriculture. And who do you think the new Minister of And Culture is?...a lawyer.

The REAL indigenous Bahamian story (or part of it)

Thanks to the Speaker of House of Assembly, the term "indigenous Bahamian" has recently trended in public discourse. But. What is "indigenous" anyway?It seems the Speaker was using the term somewhat loosely -- i.e. someone who was born in The Bahamas during the 20th century, and probably to parents who, presumably, were also born in The Bahamas during the 20 century. But very few of us are demonstrably "indigenous" -- i.e. descended from the Lucayan Taino people, whom the Europeans met here when Columbus got so famously lost.So to fill in the picture just a little, here's an excerpt from a really interesting story about some even more interesting research that's being done on indigenous people in our part of the world. Turns out that most of us really aren't as "indigenous" or "native" as we believe.And it also turns out that some of us might just be more "indigenous" than we think...

The Bahamas weren’t settled until 1,500 years ago. The people who settled there are known as the Lucayan Taino, and they and the other Taino communities of the Caribbean were the natives who met the first Spanish colonists in 1492. At the time, the Taino were thriving; Spanish priest Bartolomé de las Casas estimated that about 600,000 people each lived on Jamaica and Puerto Rico, with as many as a million on Hispaniola. That didn’t last long; by the mid-16th century, smallpox and slavery had driven the Taino to the brink of extinction.Their presence still lingers throughout the islands, in the form of words that run through the heart of Caribbean life, like hurricane and canoe. There are also archaeological remains such as rock art that tell us something of the Taino's spiritual life beyond what comes down to us from the reports of Spanish priests. But the bustling communities and widely-flung trade networks that pre-dated European colonization are no more.It's long been suspected, however, that the Taino didn't die out altogether. Spanish colonists reportedly married Taino wives, and other records say that Taino and escaped African slaves also intermarried and formed communities. Some people in the Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico, and even the mainland US still proudly claim Taino heritage and practice traditions handed down from pre-Columbian times, from cooking to crafting. There's been a larger effort to revive Taino culture and identity in the last century and a half or so, but it has never been clear how directly genetically related modern Caribbean residents are to their vanished ancestors.... the story, it turns out, is more complicated than simple extinction, and new DNA evidence helps fill in some of the gaps. Archaeologists found three relatively complete skeletons in Preacher’s Cave, a site on the northern end of Eleuthera Island in the Bahamas. Alongside the skeletons, they also found a single tooth, which didn’t clearly belong with any of the three skeletons. Schroeder and his colleagues got permission to sequence DNA from the tooth, which radiocarbon dating showed was more than 1,000 years old. That’s at least 500 years before European contact, meaning the tooth must have belonged to a Lucayan Taino woman who lived on the island between 776 and 992 CE.

via Ancient DNA sheds light on what happened to the Taino, the native Caribbeans | Ars Technica

Why we must fight for equality for us all, all the time

This post is from a friend of mine, a Singaporean friend who is gay. His struggle, and that of his community, remind me forcibly of the struggles that we face here in The Bahamas. It is the same and not the same, because here, too often, the voices and sentiments of bigots prevail. It takes courage and principle to stand up for what we say we believe in, if we indeed do believe in democracy and equality. Sometimes I feel we lack both. But I want to encourage all activists. What you/we are doing is important and necessary. Keep doing it. Here's why, from the other side of the world.

We speak up so that you can understand us better, and the struggles we go through. We speak up also because we have been told for so long to keep quiet. To hide who we are. To repress who we are. It takes courage for us to identify as LGBT. Many of us are in the position to share our stories and write about our experiences, but many of us suffer in silence because we live in a conservative family or community, or in poverty, or in shame, convinced that our sexuality is a curse. It takes unseen courage for many of us to attend Pink Dot. To take the MRT and endure curious stares and judgmental comments. To know that the authorities are keeping a wary eye on our actions and putting up barricades around our bodies. Many of you came to Pink Dot to support us.Many, many of you expressed your support on social media for my wearing the tank top, and helped the news go viral. That took courage too. Your courage gives us courage.

[Actions supporting equality do not need to be pro-anything. They need] only to be fair. ... [E]qual treatment, not special favour, is exactly what [we're] asking for. It’s too easy to favour the complaint. That was what the [Singapore] National Library did a few years ago when they removed the children’s books about non-traditional families from the children’s section because of some complaints. It’s much harder for an institution to take an impartial stance and adjudicate the merit of the complaint.

... When we were in school we recited the National Pledge every morning, and so, every morning we pledged ourselves “to build a democratic society based on justice and equality.” The writers of the pledge knew that equality is an on-going project. We were not equal then and we are not equal yet, but we can work towards equality. Gay rights are not just for the LGBT community; they are not special privileges for a vocal interest group. Gay rights are part of our national project of building an equal society. They are, right now, a key test of our will and means. I ask you, Straight People who are more than straight people, to support the struggle for equality with all the love you have for Singapore.

via Jee Responds To The ‘Gay Tank Top’ SAFRA Saga Going Viral – We Just Want Fair Treatment – Dear Straight People

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.