Are we tackling the right problems? — Part 2

Al Miller

Sunday, August 12, 2018

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When solving problems, dig at the roots instead of just hacking at the leaves. — Anthony J D'Angelo

On Sunday, July 29 I suggested that a possible deterrent to our quest for progress and prosperity and the inability to be curative in problem solving could be the “...model of Government with a constitution that reinforces it”.

I also asserted that the philosophical base of that colonial model suggests that 'the people exist for the State and not the State for the people'. It is not a system to empower and enrich the people but to control and maybe inadvertently impoverish the people. As a result, I concluded that effectively solving the top economic and social issues will always be challenging in such an environment.

Having just celebrated another Independence season it is an appropriate time to review the model of governance and the supporting systems and structures? Will it take us where we want to go? If no, then we must make the appropriate changes and not frustrate ourselves with a conflict between new goals desired and old existing systems and structures that represented someone else's desired goals.

I raise the matter for a serious conversation because, as a nation, our tendency is for a palliative (dealing with immediate symptoms) rather than a curative (dealing with root causes) approach to problem-solving, and then we grieve that the results are not sustainable. Very often the solutions need to be both palliative and curative.

A parallel issue is to be careful to correctly identify and locate the problem correctly. The right questions must be asked:

• What is the real problem?

• Is it root or fruit?

• Is it in the foundation or the constructional framework?

• Is it inherited, imposed or self-created?

• What caused the problem in the first place?

• What sustains the problem?

If the diagnosis of type and location of the problem is incorrect the treatment is likely to be incorrect. The culture of responding to symptoms often prevents us from locating the root causes. Many of the national social problems, when drilled down, are in the imposed foundation of the model of government and its colonial philosophical base. A base that sees the people existing to serve the State.

The accepted philosophy (in civilised First World countries) is that the State exists to serve the people and empower them for wealth creation. When this is so aligned, the whole societal construct and approach is different.

The old colonial governance model is evident in our high taxation and service fees for everything. It is reflected in the negative attitudes of many public servants toward the citizens. It is not a people-centric approach in which citizens are treated first-class. The model of government and the philosophical base must be revisited to build a new and prosperous Jamaica.

Now let's take the curative approach and examine some of the major social problems confronting us by looking at the root causes:

Crime is considered the number one problem with a lasting solution eluding us. We have been treating it as a social problem, so we go to the social for solution. We try all types of social intervention programmes at high cost. Years have gone by and no real lasting change. At best there have been temporary lulls and a few impacted, but not enough to be transformational and to create impact on society.

Are we treating symptoms or curing causes? We have to ask if crime the cause or the result. I strongly believe that crime is a result of and not itself a cause. It is the result of possibly two roots:

1) selfishness and greed to meet needs

2) injustice and need for survival

If you tackle this solely as a social problem, in cases of (1), resources will always be required for a recurring, endless, bottomless pit. In (2), part of the problem can be met, but it is a recurring decimal. Intervention may meet some of the need, but injustice remains.

If we dig a little deeper it will be found that crime and violence were not with us in the foundations of the nation. In 1962, our historians indicate that there were only 66 murders or few serious crimes. Crime and violence came in the constructional framework (ie, as we began nation-building). This would suggest it is something we injected into the nation.

What did we inject that correlates to crime and violence? Rapid increase in political tribal division. This altered the social landscape and multiplied the social problems. With this reality, any social intervention of significance must address this social injection that created the problem. Yet it has never been addressed.

However, another side of the problem calls for a deeper and wider look at what is behind this outward result. It will quickly be seen that (1) and (2) mentioned above have their roots not in the social but in the moral beliefs and attitudes that drive behaviour. Selfishness and greed that drive need is a moral problem manifested in the social arena. The injustices and need for survival is a moral problem manifested in the social arena.

If social interventions are not dealing with the moral issues, which are the cause for the social manifestations, then social interventions cannot effectively have lasting impact even if well-intentioned.

Let's dig even deeper. Every moral problem indicates a spiritual root. Unless a correct diagnosis, real workable solution that is curative will not be found. Our solution will continue to be palliative.

The same diagnostic technique applied to corruption and other major socially manifested problems will be found to have its cause in the moral and, even deeper, the spiritual. Careful analysis will show that the majority of our social problems have their roots in a poor moral and spiritual foundation. Unless addressed from that level, our social intervention will be merely cosmetic, limited, and not curative and transformational.

It can also be seen that the solution approach, while it should be centred on finding the real cause for a curative solution, the palliative is needed for the short-term pain control or removal.

Let's look at another two of our perceived social problems; inadequate health and education. With analysis these are not foundation issues, nor construction framework issues, nor imposition by external forces. They are created issues by our own actions. Since they are of our own creation, why are we not able to solve them?

The reason is we take a palliative approach — dealing with the symptoms — and so find excuses that it is the lack of finances and other resources which cause our limitations, etc. Serious analysis will show that we are locating the problem in the economic when it is in the philosophy of the political managers.

There is not a conviction that Governments exist for the empowerment and development of the people but to obtain and retain power for the State and self-interest as an end. If the philosophy changes the priorities will change and the allocations will be made to meet these fundamental needs of the people.

Look what Cuba under Fidel Castro and Singapore under Lee Kuan Yew has done in this area of health and education. Philosophy of governance and commitment is what makes their difference.

Is it the people who exist for the State or the State for the people? Until and unless we rightly settle this issue and adjust the system and structures to reflect it, we cannot effectively build the new Jamaica. What will be our model and philosophy of government going forward? The dialogue must be engaged and settled now.

Rev Al Miller is pastor of Fellowship Tabernacle. Send comments to the Observer or

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