The sublime and the ridiculous
In 1812, Napoleon Bonaparte, Emperor of France, with an army of six hundred thousand men invaded Russia. After a campaign of a few months, Napoleon was forced to retreat. No more than sixty thousand men returned with him to France. This has been reckoned as one of the greatest military disasters in history. In a letter to a priest, Napoleon wrote, "From the sublime to the ridiculous is but a step."
This country seems to have a particular propensity for the combination of tragedy and comedy. This is blatant evidence of the lightheartedness and lack of purpose with which we approach some of the most crucial matters of State. Coupled with this casual approach to burning issues is the tendency to solve our problems by pretending that they do not exist.
On the one hand, the farmers of Salisbury and their families have been suffering for many years because of the gross lack of maintenance of feeder roads to market their agricultural produce. On the other hand, when there is a demonstration of angry protests against this manifest injustice, instead of the Minister of Communication and Works and the Minister of Agriculture coming down with a team of workers and their equipment to demonstrate their concern for citizens labouring under the callous indifference of those in power and giving at least a token assurance of willingness to relieve the burden on the shoulders of the people of Salisbury, a squadron of troops in complete battle array descends upon the village as if they were soldiers of Napoleon at the Battle of Waterloo!
O Judgement, Thou art fled to brutish beasts And men have lost their reason.
Shakespeare, Julius Caesar
Whenever there is a certain restlessness because people are convinced that their rights are being infringed, there is the usual call for peace. But there can be no peace without justice. Such call rightly falls on deaf ears.
If the farmers of Salisbury had merely displayed a few placards along the highway, would anyone have taken notice? Now the whole nation is aware of their plight.
When there is protest action, even when it is accompanied by violence, we may not dismiss it out of hand, affirming that it is the work of political agitators and irresponsible elements in the community. No, we have to deal with people of flesh and blood like ourselves and enter into the minds and hearts of our fellow-men. We have the obligation to listen dispassionately to the people. What is the cause of the problem? Why have people reacted so violently? Where have we failed them? What is the solution? What can we learn from this unfortunate incident to avoid future occurrences? These are questions which sensible and responsible people should ask.
Jean Vanier, one of the most sincerely religious persons of the past 50 years, writes in his book, 'BECOMING HUMAN':
Difficult as it is for us to accept and come to terms with this idea, I believe that every act of violence is also a message that needs to be understood. Violence should not be answered just by greater violence but by real understanding. We must ask: Where is the violence coming from? What is its meaning?
In his Encyclical, Populorum Progressio, Pope Paul VI, without passing any judgment, notes that many are led to pursue the course of violence because of perceived injustice.
Unless, we as a nation, led by our religious and political leaders learn to deal with the realities of life, we shall continue to run around in circles, without achieving anything. We shall continue to experience the same problems over and over again without finding any solutions. Brute force can never be the proper and effective response to people who have become desperate because they have lost patience with the callous indifference of those pledged to promote their welfare.
In the Commonwealth of Dominica, we inhabit a small part of the globe. This has its disadvantages. But it also has tremendous advantages. To me, one of the most memorable speeches made in the House of Assembly was by Senator Lennox Honychurch in the 1970s. In that address, he emphasized that in a small country like ours our needs are very few. All that we have to do is not to complicate matters but to humbly address those needs. Lofty schemes and projects do not help us. They prevent us from addressing the fundamental issues of our development. Perhaps this is the root of our problems.