Moral pollution and the moral revolution


Moral pollution and the moral revolution


Sunday, February 16, 2020

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The issue of corruption is not a modern behaviour in Jamaica; it is rooted in the history from slavery through colonialism to the present. In fact, one of the major problems in Jamaica during the 1865 period was political corruption. There were cases of blatant corrupt activities by Governor Edward John Eyre and other public officials, such as Custos Von Kettlhodt of St Thomas, and his misuse of money allocated for the prevailing epidemic.

Another phase of corruption in politics began after the era of Universal Adult Suffrage in 1944 and the rise of political tribalism in Jamaica. This tribal politics is among the major facilitators of political corruption in Jamaica. However, in the search for solutions to this problem of moral pollution, it is important to look not only to the history, but also to the contemporary situation in Jamaica and the world.

So sad, no new ideas emerged at Independence, 1962, but to be truthful to history the only new idea (in terms of philosophy) that emerged in Jamaica during the 1930s is that of the Rastafari movement led by Leonard P Howell.

I wish to explore corruption and the institutional weaknesses and inadequacies in laws that aid its occurrence, along with a look at the helpless and feeble political leadership in sanctioning corrupt practitioners. The analysis of the contemporary situation in Jamaica and the world will offer insightful ideas on how to combat political corruption by public officials and members of the wider society.

Contemporary Jamaica and the world

In 2012, speaking at a conference on the church and a new morality, Right Rev Dr Howard Gregory, then Anglican bishop of Jamaica and the Cayman Islands, said in a country like Jamaica, where the major expenditures within the economy come from government contracts, it is vital that the anti-corruption agenda takes centre stage; but it appeared that the country was not serious about the concern. He called on the Church to play a vital role in educating the populace in the anti-corruption battle and that it is a main challenge faced by emerging states and modern political systems.

The decades of the 1980s saw the rise individualism and self-centredness; values that guided people to subscribe to the thinking that “winning is everything” and that greed and raw self-interests are eternal laws of humankind. The prevailing ideology of market fundamentalism and untrammelled individualism unleashed a transactional society that undermined social values and loosened moral constraints. This view argued that social values are expressed concern for others and emphasised that the “individual belongs to the tribe, community, family and nation”, whose interest takes precedence over the individual. This line of thinking suggests that the transactional market economy is anything but a community. It robs the people of the adhesive spirit of community and family, and leads to the erosion of what can be described as the perceived traditional moral order, giving rise to corruption at all levels of the society.

The contemporary political setting resembles a return to colonialism. Political leaders are just characters in a show and puppets of the system. Instead of standing for some intrinsic values, political leaders want to be elected at all costs; the political values led by the ascendency of the profit motive and weak political leadership gave rise to the corruption of politicians. The promotion of self-interest as a moral principle has corrupted politics, and even “our religious belief and social values all will crumble, as organised religions become corrupted by commercial values and civic virtue gives way to widespread cynicism and despair”.

There is a call for a moral insurgency against political corruption. One African thinker, Kwame Gyekye, in his evaluation of the post-colonial African experience, argues that political corruption is fundamentally a moral problem — moral pollution. It is the illegal and unauthorised exploitation of one's political office or position for personal gain or advantage. It involves both public officials and members of the wider society. According to Gyekye, widespread corruption flourishes under weak political leadership, when top leaders lack the nerve and courage to exert control over subordinates; in a setting characterised by low national spirit and low commitment to public interest; and when there is a lack of strong legal and institutional frameworks geared at sanctioning corrupt individuals. According to this point of view political corruption occurs in rich and poor countries, but it is treated less shamefully in the latter.

Tribalism is accounted for in political corruption in the post-colonial African experience. These “communocultural” loyalties “obscure and subvert devotion and commitment to a national political community”. This experience has been the case of post-colonial Jamaica, in which party tribal loyalties arrest the development of a robust national spirit and national political community. Therefore, what is required is a new thinking in morality to build a new conception of loyalty to national politics and to the State to foster respect for property of the State, grounded in the creation of a new moral order.

Towards moral revolutions

Since the most fundamental cause of political corruption is the nature of the moral character of the public official, then a new and effective approach in the form of a radical doctrine is required to inflict profound changes in the moral beliefs, behaviours, and attitude of public servants and members of the public. It is against this background that the call is made for a moral revolution: Firstly, a substantive moral revolution; and, secondly, a commit-mental moral revolution. The former is associated with a paradigm shift in moral conceptual schemes and fundamental changes in moral beliefs, values, and ideas of a people and society which will lead to the emergence of a new moral order to displace the existing. This profound change may be enmeshed not only in radical changes in religious spheres, but also in the socio-political situation having advocates conducting loud protests against the arrogance of weak political leadership, and also against the concentration of wealth among the very few side by side with the persistent deepening of inequality. These advocates aim to advance a new thinking to inspire new attitudes toward and respect of government, public property and public resources. Commit-mental moral revolution is concerned with fundamental changes in the attitudes and responses to individual members of the wider society. This approach involves the adoption of new orientations and new paradigms with respect to the existing system of morals, leading to the creation of new and positive commitments to accepted rules and principles.

These approaches will face stiff challenges in the post-colonial situation in Jamaica, but there are some practical methods that will be effective in ushering the revolutions in new morals.

Practical applications

The anti-corruption fight cannot be left up to the political parties. There must be extensive community and public education programmes on the scourge as well as on the new thinking. There has to be curricular responses from early childhood to higher education in embracing moral philosophy. The role of religious institutions, both traditional and new, forces such as the Rastafarians, and also the cultural forces must be central in advancing the moral revolution. The time has come for new forces within and outside of the existing political parties to come together and assist in the creation of a new political order for an independent country — an opportunity that was missed in 1962. Lastly, matters concerning globalisation and the marketisation of our society must be addressed as these values associated with the new world order are central to the moral pollution at all levels of our society.

Louis E A Moyston, PhD, is a university lecturer. Send comments to the Observer or

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