Dec 16, 2013 Editorial
It has become fashionable to blame “society” for most of the problems that abound around us. Youths routinely rob shoppers in Georgetown and it is “society’s fault”.Ditto for the violence in the schools.
The late Margaret Thatcher, former Prime Minister of Great Britain once stirred a great deal of controversy when she was alleged to have responded to this claim by asserting in a much quoted outburst, “There is no such thing as society.” What she actually said was much more nuanced and bears contemplation as we approach our 47th anniversary of having achieved “independence”.
“I think we have gone through a period when too many children and people have been given to understand ‘I have a problem, it is the Government’s job to cope with it!’ or ‘I have a problem, I will go and get a grant to cope with it!’ ‘I am homeless, the Government must house me!’ and so they are casting their problems on society and who is society?
There is no such thing! There are individual men and women and there are families, and no government can do anything except through people and people look to themselves first… There is no such thing as society. There is living tapestry of men and women and people and the beauty of that tapestry and the quality of our lives will depend upon how much each of us is prepared to take responsibility for ourselves and each of us prepared to turn round and help by our own efforts those who are unfortunate.”
What she was pointing out was that society is the sum of its parts — individuals, families, voluntary organisations, businesses, religious bodies, etc. Because of the reification of “society”, people expected too much from government, concentrated too much on their ‘rights’ and ‘entitlements’, and not enough on their obligations. At independence, most of our politicians were ideologically predisposed to that view of “society” and consequently accepted the idea that government could then solve the problems of “society” through reorganising that entity. The approach failed here and elsewhere.
While nowadays the ideological biases are not worn on the sleeves of the politicians, from both sides of the political divide, they still cleave to the old view of society and the intrusive role of government. This predisposition is at the root of much of the confusion in the affairs of the country today.
While in the last two decades the role of government in the affairs of the citizenry was consciously reduced through the intervention of external multilateral agencies, there has been no sustained effort to reorient our citizens to assume more responsibility for their own progress and development.
Take the role of the family. Thatcher’s point about the foundational role of the individual and the family as the concrete building block of our social organisation is routinely acknowledged, but does not go much beyond flowery words and the creating of bureaucratic bodies.
Guyana has had a National Family Commission (NFC) since 1998. It was founded, staffed with all sorts of “important” people, then gradually just withered away without doing much, if anything, to address the patent challenges the modern Guyanese family is facing.
In December 2012, the NFC was “reloaded” and relaunched by the Ministry of Social. Services, amidst a surfeit of flowery language, but precious little has been done since. The point is, there is not much that any government commission can do about the family, save recommending that the government take care of its ultimate responsibility to provide security to the people, ensure opportunities, especially for employment and access to the national patrimony are distributed fairly, and justice is delivered when people break the law.
It is up to the individuals of this country, and the families to which they belong, to get a grip on their lives and to resolve to do whatever it takes to lift themselves to whatever levels they conceive to be their goals. The example shown by our forbears at the abolition of slavery to create a civilisation through their own efforts must be repeated.
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