There is no dearth of explanations or reasons proffered for our anaemic post-Independence development: underdevelopment of our economy and our society by the departed colonials; squabbling politicians; lack of capital; ethnic/racial divisions; brain drain, etc. But for each of the identified constraints, and then some (for instance, lack of physical resources), other countries, such as S. Korea, Singapore, and others in the Far East, have yet jumped from Third World to First World status. We should study them, now that we have the wherewithal to permanently change our fortunes.
As such, we would like to place on the agenda one factor that somehow has not received the attention that we believe it should have: the need for us to have a strong desire to work for the common good. Now, it might be said that this is a consequence of the divisions in our society; but Malaysia, for instance, also has these divisions, and was able to leapfrog divisions to knock on the doors of First World status. If the successful ‘developed’ and developing countries are analysed, more often than not, one would discern a strong sentiment of ‘doing it for my country.’
This emphasis can be measured by the degree to which people, emotionally or consciously, agree that a common good justifies restrictions on the individual, including oneself. It could also be described as the degree to which the members of a society are willing to forego individual advantages if thereby a larger advantage is secured for the community. Can we say we have this sentiment widespread in Guyana?
A decade ago, noted CUNY political scientist Richard Wolin visited China, and asked one worker, “What do people here do on weekends?” The reply, to his surprise, was, “We have no weekends. We have to work hard to pass America!” On his tours across many campuses and cities, he found the same sentiment very widespread. The people were willing to work for what they saw as the good of their country. Because of such an orientation, China has been able to maintain a double-digit growth rate for three decades, and is now the second largest economy in the world – just behind the US.
Japan, which led the thrust for ‘miracle growth’ in the post WWII era, was also helped by a strong patriotic fervour among its people. Many people conveniently forget that the Industrial Revolution in Britain and Europe followed their consolidation as nation states, where the people were willing to sacrifice for ‘King and country”. While the US overthrew the king, its citizens also rallied for the national cause.
In Guyana, we are still at a point where the feeling of ‘we the people’ has not been inculcated into the psyche of our people. In the absence of such a sentiment, individuals will act only in the interest of their sub-group or themselves on an individual basis. Looking out for “No 1” becomes the rallying cry. It is up to the leaders in our society to mobilise these individuals for the ‘common good’.
The PPP is attempting to change this with the “One Guyana” strategy. Unfortunately, the recent contretemps in and out of Parliament demonstrate that the Opposition is far from harking to this ideal. Whatever one’s political orientation, one has to concede that President Ali’s aggressive moves across “the divide” is more in consonance with the common good than the divisive calls to the Disciplined Forces. Guyanese should compare the differential rates of development in the Far East, where exertion for the common good is commonplace, and that of let’s say Africa, where most countries are riven along ethnic lines. We must do better.
In societies lacking an ethos of the common good, people do what is advantageous for themselves, and have no qualms in abandoning principles or changing sides when it is beneficial to them. This expedient behaviour also encourages corruption. Corruption is not just a problem of political systems, it an attitudinal problem; persons little inclined to accept personal disadvantages for the common good are easily corrupted.