RE­VIS­IT­ING THE SIT­TING OF THE HOUSE . . . of Feb. 11, 2014

The fol­low­ing was first pub­lished on Fe­bru­ary 22, 2014 in the STAR News­pa­per.

The Star (St. Lucia) - - COMMENT - By Peter Josie

“In the in­stance of the sit­ting of the House un­der re­view it was ap­par­ent that the per­va­sive emo­tion of many per­sons view­ing the pro­ceed­ings, in­clud­ing this writer, was one of sor­row. Sor­row be­cause it ap­peared that the coun­try’s par­lia­men­tar­i­ans did not care how they be­haved or sounded in the eyes of the elec­torate who look to them for guid­ance.”

It was not the first time since it achieved in­de­pen­dence from Bri­tain that the House of As­sem­bly of Saint Lu­cia had been di­verted from its true pur­pose – that of de­bat­ing and pass­ing leg­is­la­tion. When it met on Tues­day 11 Fe­bru­ary, 2014 it had be­fore it a Bill ti­tled ‘The Anti-Gang Bill’. The his­toric mo­ment of wel­com­ing its first fe­male Leader of Her Majesty’s Loyal Op­po­si­tion was in­stead used to di­vert at­ten­tion from what some ob­servers be­lieved was a sin­is­ter move: to un­der­mine the free as­so­ci­a­tion of per­sons through that Bill. It ap­peared that cer­tain politi­cians, who claim ‘ex­pe­ri­ence’ in the art of pol­i­tics, fell for the di­ver­sion­ary bait, hook line and sinker. The last time that hap­pened may well have been when the House was in­vited to de­bate and pass an im­por­tant money bill, seek­ing ap­proval for fi­nanc­ing road re­pairs and other un­men­tion­ables. Only later did par­lia­men­tar­i­ans, jour­nal­ists and the public dis­cover that the pack­age of ex­pen­di­ture in­cluded pay­ments to Rochamel and Fren­well for cost over­runs and the like. Still later, the iden­ti­ties of th­ese two be­came ev­i­dent and the de­tails which the deals re­vealed made the gov­ern­ment look cal­lous, in­com­pe­tent and fool­ish.

At that Tues­day’s sit­ting the ex­tended dis­play of false sym­pa­thy to­wards the de­throned King by the gov­ern­ment benches bor­dered on un­mit­i­gated evil and cal­lous­ness. So too was the grudg­ing wel­come which was of­fered the new leader of the mi­nor­ity. The dis­play begged fur­ther anal­y­sis, per­chance to dis­cover the mo­tive be­hind the evil. Such an anal­y­sis is be­fit­ting a coun­try on the cusp of its thirty-fifth an­niver­sary of po­lit­i­cal in­de­pen­dence and one which has pro­duced note­wor­thy schol­ars in ev­ery era.

To as­sist a deeper prob­ing and in­sight I de­ter­mined to re­turn to the great trea­tise of Adam Smith, ‘The The­ory of Moral Sen­ti­ments’. In the in­tro­duc­tion to the ‘The­ory’ we read: ‘That we of­ten de­rive sor­row from the sor­row of oth­ers is of a mat­ter of fact too ob­vi­ous to re­quire any in­stances to prove it; for this sen­ti­ment, like all the other orig­i­nal pas­sions of hu­man na­ture, is by no means con­fined to the vir­tu­ous and hu­mane, though they per­haps may feel it with the most ex­quis­ite sen­si­bil­ity. The great­est ruf­fian, the most hard­ened vi­o­la­tor of the laws of so­ci­ety, is not al­to­gether with­out it.’

In the in­stance of the sit­ting of the House un­der re­view it was ap­par­ent that the per­va­sive emo­tion of many per­sons view­ing the pro­ceed­ings, in­clud­ing this writer, was one of sor­row. Sor­row be­cause it ap­peared that the coun­try’s par­lia­men­tar­i­ans did not care how they be­haved or sounded in the eyes of the elec­torate who look to them for guid­ance. The ‘Hon­ourable gen­tle­men’ al­lowed their abun­dant testos­terone to take con­trol; they fell woe­fully short of grace in wel­com­ing the first-ever fe­male Leader of the Op­po­si­tion to a sta­tus en­shrined in the is­land’s con­sti­tu­tion.

On see­ing the vul­gar dis­play, many per­sons sim­ply dis­missed it with a de­ri­sive smirk. Oth­ers of­fered com­ments that are un­print­able. Cheap pol­i­tics and male hor­mones had ap­par­ently mixed in a volatile con­coc­tion which flared up in the wrong place at the wrong time. The reck­less ver­bosity which one ob­served dur­ing an elec­tion cam­paign was on show in the House that day. The cam­paign for such con­duct ap­peared to be the lay­ing of hands on the Na­tional Trea­sury, and Tai­wanese Aid Funds.

The dis­play also re­minded one of the for­mer gangs of New York. It was dif­fi­cult to avoid the thought that the Anti-Gang Bill should also have de­scribed the gang­ing-up of politi­cians in dark suits who ha­bit­u­ally rape and abuse the Trea­sury and the voice­less and the in­no­cent voter. Some ar­gued that the Anti-Crime Bill should also have pro­vided for se­nior po­lice of­fi­cers to en­ter the House of Par­lia­ment and ar­rest politi­cians who are shielded from such ar­rests by the cus­toms and prac­tices of our civ­i­lized, par­lia­men­tary democ­racy.

An­other point of in­ter­est that Tues­day was the confessions of a cow­ard who could not have his way, and hope­fully never will, in the re­or­ga­ni­za­tion of the United Work­ers Party. His per­for­mance in the House was way be­yond pa­thetic. Some­one should tell him that when one is not afraid of any man, there is no need to shout it out or to fool­ishly em­u­late the cow­ard who whis­tles past the dark­ened ceme­tery. A per­son’s strength comes from the con­vic­tion of his ar­gu­ments and from the depth and re­spect for schol­ar­ship and for the opin­ions of oth­ers. In­ner strength is con­ferred by the Cre­ator. Proper nur­tur­ing strength­ens what God has al­ready blessed. Oth­ers will rec­og­nize it, and whether they choose to ac­knowl­edge it or not, is a mat­ter for them. Grand­stand­ing and child­ish out­bursts merely serve to give the empty boast away. The wise, the ex­pe­ri­enced and the ini­ti­ated were not im­pressed.

In ad­di­tion to sor­row, one also felt a sense of sym­pa­thy for the boys who have been elected to do a man’s job. Here is Adam Smith again: ‘Some­times, a man can act with per­fect pru­dence, strict jus­tice and proper benev­o­lence but his own pas­sions are very apt to mis­lead him. The most per­fect knowl­edge, if it is not sup­ported by the most per­fect self-com­mand, will not al­ways en­able him to do his duty.’

In an­other place, Mr. Smith writes: ‘Ev­ery in­di­vid­ual is nat­u­rally more at­tached to his own or­der in so­ci­ety . . . his own van­ity, the van­ity and in­ter­ests of many of his friends . . . are a good deal con­nected to it.

There is, in ‘The The­ory of Moral Sen­ti­ments’, ex­tended dis­cus­sion about pru­dence, jus­tice, tem­per­ance and for­ti­tude which per­sons versed in the the­ol­ogy of the Chris­tian church would rec­og­nize, and that are embed­ded through­out the work. Yet Mr. Smith makes no claim to re­li­gion or to an un­healthy ad­vo­cacy of mo­rals with­out sound rea­son and suc­cinct ar­gu­ments.

Per­haps as a gift to Saint Lu­cia on its thirty-fifth an­niver­sary of in­de­pen­dence, a list for com­pul­sory read­ing should be com­piled for per­sons wish­ing to en­ter the hon­ourable and no­ble pro­fes­sion of pol­i­tics. ‘The The­ory of Moral Sen­ti­ments’ by Adam Smith, along with his later work on eco­nomics, ‘The Wealth of Na­tions’, should be high on the list of pri­or­ity read­ing for would-be politi­cians and friends.

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