Thursday, March 06, 2003


Exposing the dynamics and consequences of deception in our media
and public debates


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Changing the Tone of Public Debate in Jamaica

As we look at Jamaica's many development challenges, it has become increasingly
evident that it is only a national consensus -- one achieved through a broad-based
discussion in light of true facts, sound reasoning and enduring values -- that
can lead us to consistently make the just decisions and undertake the wise actions
that will help us to build a nation worth living in.

However, whether we are concerned over our long-standing economic and social
crises, or over political or religious concerns, or the recent attempt to censure
our Finance Minister, or the looming Iraq war, much of our public debate brims
over with shrill anger and ill-informed shallowness. As a result, it often seems
that it is power, bias and narrow hidden agendas (rather than a civil consensus
based on wisdom, balance and fairness) that drive our public discussion and
decision-making. It is tempting to conclude that this is why it often seems
that "we never miss an opportunity to miss an opportunity."

It is therefore refreshing to read the standard set by the Apostle Paul: "we
have renounced secret and shameful ways; we do not use deception, nor do we
distort the word of God. On the contrary, by setting forth the truth plainly,
we commend ourselves to every man's conscience in the sight of God." [2 Cor.
4:1 - 2.]

In a cynical, post-modern age, the retort is all-too-ready: whose truth,
balance, fairness, consensus and civility?

The rebuttal is twenty-four hundred years old. For, in his classic The Rhetoric,
Aristotle long ago pointed out how popular arguments usually appeal first of
all to our emotions, then to our trust in allegedly credible authorities, and
only in the last instance, to actual logical demonstration. But, it is easy
to see that while emotions may rest on accurate perceptions, they often blind
us to the truth. Second, no authority is better than his or her facts and reasoning.
Thus, it is only when claimed facts give a balanced view of the truth, and are
tied to correct reasoning, that conclusions are soundly arrived at.

Perhaps, then, we can apply to our own situation the hard lessons taught by
the early Greek philosophers. For, they had seen how the Athenian experiment
in democracy had collapsed under the leadership of rhetorically brilliant, charismatic
and clever (but ever so unsound and corrupt) leaders who manipulated the citizens
to make rash decisions that cost them dear.

Pilate's cynical question, recorded in John 18:38 -- "What is truth?" -- is
even more telling. For, that cowardly Governor was about to knowingly condemn
an innocent man to a cruel death, for political advantage. Thank God, as Tony
Campolo has famously observed, "that was Friday, but Sunday was coming."

In short, Democracy -- the ever-unfinished experiment in self-government by
a free people -- clearly comes with great responsibility.

Ambassador Sue Cobb, in responding to the local debate over Iraq, has spoken
well on this point: "The United States has long stood for the fundamental values
of democracy, freedom, liberty and tolerance. Our commitment to these ideals
has built a great nation, and does not end at our borders. Indeed, with great
power comes great responsibility. Part of that responsibility is to engage in
constructive dialogue . . . . we value the diversity of opinion, and the freedoms
of assembly and speech, which our two nations hold so dear." [S. Gleaner Feb.
23, 2003, p. G5.]

Now, we must immediately join with the Native Americans, Mexicans, Cubans,
Haitians and others in setting the record straight: the history of the United
States (contrary to the Ambassador's further remarks) has plainly sometimes
been "one of imperialist reach." Equally, however, the Czech national hero,
Vaclav Havel and others are right to point to how that great nation undertook
great sacrifices over the past sixty years as it helped to liberate Europe,
Japan and other nations around the world from oppressive, aggressive tyrants
and their destructive ideologies.

Such balancing remarks are in order, but they are not central. What is, is
Ms Cobb's call to responsible use of freedom, through "constructive dialogue"
that promotes the fair-minded, balanced consensus that leads to wise decisions
and effective nation-building action. (Hardly less important is the exemplary
gracious civility of her tone.)

Finally, as the Psalmist observes: "Unless the Lord builds the house, its builders
labour in vain. Unless the Lord watches over the city, the watchmen stand guard
in vain." [Psalm 127:1 - 2.] I see in that a clarion call for Jamaica's Christian
community to take the lead in fearlessly prophetic, constructive national dialogue
-- not to mention, repentance and mutual reconciliation -- towards the sound,
sustainable development, blessing and transformation of our land.


Gordon Mullings is a Christian thinker who is trained in the physical sciences
and business, works in education, the environment and sustainable development,
and seeks to promote constructive dialogue towards national and global transformation.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

(Check You Tube.
Enter Ian Boyne in search box.
Apparently some of his TV shows are there.)