Some of my erstwhile friends from the WPA seem to be pushing for street action along the lines of Hoyte’s “slow fyaah; mo’ fyaah”, as they purportedly mobilise for “justice” in Guyana for their constituency.
That all groups – in our case, ethnic groups – might be seeking justice does not seem to be taken into consideration. Even though this might help make the outcome “variable sum”, rather than “zero sum”. The neglected consideration would be the consequences of the vehicle in this push for “justice”. Is violence the only recourse, when democratic politics in our new nation of minorities can deliver office to either of the two major ethnic-based parties? Have not the PNC and PPP alternated office through democratic politics in the last decade?
When the political philosopher John Rawls declared: “Justice is the first virtue of social institutions as truth is of easy systems of thought”, it was because justice goes to the ends of political action. But what about the need for “truth” in the system of thought that is deployed to struggle for justice in social institutions? Aren’t ends merely consummated means?
Today, liberalism’s democratic choice, that even the social democrats accepted, appears to have been abandoned by the WPA as it acts as a flank group to push the PNC into a more confrontational stance.
This is unfortunate, since liberalism’s stance on “truth and reason” in the variant dubbed “deliberative liberalism” offers us a practical approach towards a democratic process that can deliver “justice” in our social institutions.
As in science, deliberative liberalism holds that truth is to be found through reason, but the “truth” unearthed is never held as if it is the “TRUTH”. It is always held provisionally, with the acceptance that the “truth” may be overturned based on some new evidence, possibly produced by our interlocutors. The outcomes of deliberative liberalism are ineluctably indeterminate, and are based on empirical practice that demand respect for both truth and the other side. We cannot enter a discourse that “what I have is mine, and what is yours is negotiable”.
Liberal democracy rests on deliberation utilising “reason” as the yardstick for evaluating differing perspectives. But reason cannot be tethered to lies, BS, and fake news that create and transform every rumour into “facts” to stir up dissention and hate. This is nothing more than cheap demagoguery, which vitiates any hope of us recognising our common political identity as citizens of Guyana, with equal rights, responsibilities and dignity.
Only public reasons grounded in truth should be proffered in such deliberations. That is to say, assertions rising solely on faith or dogma and not reason would not be accepted as “public reasons”. We simply cannot baldly assert that, say, the PPP is committing genocide against African Guyanese by insisting on vaccination against COVID 19, without offering concrete evidence to demonstrate the truth of that assertion. In cases where such assertions stem from beliefs that are in deep, fundamental conflict with similarly held beliefs of others, we would have to agree to disagree on such nettlesome issues, and not exploit them in the public space to arouse fears.
In sum, we would have to be committed to democracy to achieve ends to which we are all committed. I have proposed “liberty” and “equity” as values that we can all agree on in light of our common history of slavery and indentureship. However, it is possible that some groups may have differing views – for instance, as to whether equity should ipso facto also deliver equality. For me, for instance, I have always held that equity should deliver “equality of effective opportunity”, and as to whether that delivers “equality of results” depends on personal effort.
We will have to deliberate with each other how such values would be operationalised. The bottom line is whether citizens would be committed to such a process of deliberation. I believe so. The problem lies with their leaders. We would have to be practical and ensure that all near-term measures have incentives for the politicians.
We would have to be prepared to deliberate with each other in every available forum – and then some. Newspapers’ letters pages, community meetings, town hall meetings, call-in Facebook shows, etc. But we have to respect each other as citizens. I have warned time and again about the sterility of polemics.
When has it ever convinced someone from the “other side”?