Normally I am able to tell an inquirer precisely where I am headed once I’ve started writing one of my columns. Not this time. In a way, I’m like the Occupy Movement, whose increasing membership know not what they wish to see in place of “the current system”—but are irrevocably convinced it no longer serves humanity, if ever it did, therefore must at all cost must be dismantled.
If the above sounds nutty, it might nevertheless serve to acknowledge the possibility, however remote, that the insanity resides in the mind of the beholder. When you contemplate the countless jobless and homeless, the unattended sick and starving multi-millions the world over, including, let us never forget, the USA and Europe, doesn’t the Occupy mentality begin to make sense? Relatively few of us may be positioned to diagnose, let alone prescribe failsafe remedies for the world’s killer problems. But that does not mean multi-millions aren’t daily suffering related excruciating pain!
Conceivably there was a time when the horse as a means of transport was as highly regarded as, say, the latest BMW convertible flying down our Millennium Highway. But for countless reasons—among them lumpy droppings at times most inconvenient to horseman and pedestrian, and the curious tendency for rider and animal to give off the same body odor after only a few minutes of close contact—four-legged transit had to go, even though relatively few people had the smallest idea what would replace it.
Ah, but look where we are today: walking on the moon. We wander all over the world, by land, sea and sky, for the most part in luxurious comfort. (“We” does not necessarily include tourists to the Rock of Sages but the folks at the Saint Lucia Tourist Board assure us things could abruptly improve: even as the government contemplates improved plans for an upgraded Hewanorra Airport, other officials are engaged in high-level talks with Jet Blue, Red Jet and doubtless jets of other hues.
As I say, bear with me kind reader; I have not the slightest clue where this is headed—yet. Call it stream of consciousness. It seems to have started a long time ago as a recurring idea way in back of my head, bubbling as it were like a small fumarole in my subconscious, until this past weekend when it suddenly exploded with impossible-to-ignore volcanic ferocity during a conversation with a 17-year-old visitor and her parents. They will deny it, of course, but I strongly suspect the true purpose of their visit was to test rumors of my imminent demise.
Just kidding, folks; feel free to blame my often morbid sense of humor. (All right, all right, the truth is I’m actually channeling my Rudyard Kipling: I have written the tale of our life/For sheltered people’s mirth/In jesting guise—but ye are wise/And ye know what the jest is worth.
Say no more! No surprise that the conversation with my visiting relatives soon turned to the economy, the scarcity of work for contractors, which led to a discussion centered on what is and is not sustainable government policy, which led to a particular comment of mine in the weekend STAR.
In effect, I had expressed the opinion that a half-interested citizen taking in last week’s House session via his muted TV, and judging only by our prime minister’s tone, his gestures, his laughter, might easily have imagined he was exulting in the recent commencement of several highly lucrative projects, and lots of employment opportunities—when in fact the prime minister was merely reconfirming his irrevocable decision to impose VAT on this nation at the worst of times and his declaring yet again his iron determination to solve every national problem with more and more borrowed multi-millions.
“We live in unprecedented horrible times,” I acknowledged in the course of last weekend’s family discussion. “Governments such as ours have little choice but to borrow. But there must be an obvious demonstration of some sense of responsibility. Our political representatives must be careful to take loans in our name only when there is absolutely no other choice. We can’t have our prime ministers borrowing more and more millions just because they can. Or duplicating jobs for the same reason.”
I repeated to my visitors an earlier statement, that the Kenny Anthony government had in effect put its wobbly cart before its famished mule when it created several ostensible relief vehicles for “the most vulnerable among us,” with not a clue about how they would be sustained, save perhaps with the blood of anorexic taxpayers. It was at this point that I introduced the subject of our young citizens and their immediate future, which immediately caught the attention of my seemingly bored beautiful niece.
Earlier she had appeared altogether preoccupied with her Blackberry, this generation’s way of letting their mentally handicapped elders—whether geriatric, middle-aged and illiterate or just plain out of touch!—know how captivated is their captive audience. A student of mechanical engineering she smiled sweetly before addressing her elderly uncle. (When you’re 17, everyone over 20 is elderly, let alone presumed near-death cases!)
“What future?” she asked, eyes dazzlingly bright. “In Saint Lucia, no kid my age believes he or she has a future. What we all have is boredom and more boredom. That’s why most of us can’t wait to get out for good!”
The panic in her mother’s eyes betrayed her worry that her daughter might’ve stepped over the line. Before she had a chance to gently admonish my niece or to redirect her thoughts, I poured fuel over the exposed little flame.
“Do you guys ever listen to meetings of parliament?” I asked. Her response was inaudible. But there could be no denying the eloquence of her grimace.
“Never?” I asked. She shook her pretty head. “Never! None of my friends ever talks about parliament or the ministers or local politics. We can tell you a lot more about Barack Obama and Sarah Palin and her daughter who was on Dancing with the Stars than we can about our own supposed representatives.”
“Why’s that?” “Well, what our politicians talk about seldom has anything to do with us. It’s as if we don’t exist. When we hear one of them over the news, we never understand what they’re talking about. It usually has to do with putting down somebody else, calling each other liars and so on. Once I heard one of them saying a fellow MP was a criminal. The way they say what they say is like nothing we hear from one another, whether at school or at parties. It’s like they speak in a tongue quite foreign to young people.”
(I recalled last week’s House meeting when one MP pronounced a word so that I thought he was referring to something he’d found “in evvy table.” Of course, tables had nothing to do with it. He was simply reminding his fellow MPs that VAT was inevitable!)
After my visiting relatives had left I recalled an article that had touched on the new normal as far as education and the workplace are concerned. Regular readers will recall my recent piece about the freelance phenomenon in the U.S. and elsewhere. More proof that the world has changed, and continues to change the changes almost every other minute. Meanwhile here on the Rock of Sages the words to live by remain “stability” and “de kolcha.” The accent is on resisting those who would “dictate” change and keeping things exactly as they’ve always been. So we talk as we talked in 1964, behave as we behaved before the invention of the Internet, celebrate Creole Day by brutalizing kweyol all day, and continue to spend more than we’ll ever earn . . . all the while expecting things to improve overseas so we might automatically continue to benefit from the kindness of strangers we treat as traitors to our culture.
In his last budget address the prime minister predicted, to wild partisan applause, tourism’s return to “buoyancy in a year-and-a-half to two years!” More recently he said the world economy would normalize in two years. And on that impossibility he banked on our own imminent recovery.
But back to the earlier referred to article, written by Mark Cuban, and American business magnate and owner of the NBA’s Dallas Mavericks. I will cite a just a few paragraphs from the piece: “When it comes to getting a job, the USA has bifurcated into two employment worlds, the digital world and the brick and mortar world. The brick and mortar world is everything you physically touch. It’s manufacturing, it’s retail sales, it’s distribution, it’s construction. The digital world is everything defined by what you find on computing devices. It can be on your desk, in your hand, or in the cloud.
“What has happened is that the brick and mortar world has had every bit of intelligence that can be sucked out of it completely removed. Any information that can be created, identified or recognized is being captured in as automated a process as possible and delivered to ‘big data’ or even small data databases in the cloud. What used to require some intelligence at the brick and mortar workplace has been seeded and ceded into the cloud.
“Every smart company wants to become smarter and the way to do that is not by asking their employees to communicate orally or in writing to management. It’s by automating everything.”
This paragraph was especially riveting: “The problem for those who work in brick and mortar is that as the intelligence is sucked out of the job the intelligence required to do the job is reduced. Yes, you still have to be good at what you do. But you can be great at customer service or great in a factory line with or without a college education.
The competition for jobs that don’t require degrees has pushed down the wages paid for brick and mortar jobs as well. When there are no specific skills beyond basic people and required communication skills, the job pool competing for any openings expands considerably, forcing down wages and leaving more unemployed folks unemployed.
“The other unfortunate part of working brick and mortar is that as intelligence is moved out of physical locations it also reduces the number of jobs available. Have you ever seen a cashier at an Apple Store? Unemployment is sky-high in the brick and mortar world. There are far more jobs in the digital world than there are people to fill them.”
I’ll skip several other paragraphs in the interest of space.
“What is my solution?” asks the author. “I’ll tell you what I told my alma mater Indiana University and the University of North Texas committee that I’m on: Every junior and senior should hold open at least one class in each of their junior and senior years for jobs skills training. The universities should make those classes fungible. Each year the range of job skills is defined by the needs of employers in the global marketplace. If they change every two years, then great. Employers will be thrilled and so will students who will be able to find jobs. If they change every year, students will have broader skill sets. Which also makes employers happy. Companies struggle to keep up with all the changes the latest in digital technology requires. Train people and people will hire them.”
Yes, folks, welcome to the real world. But then a raspy voice at the back of my head is saying: “That’s why Kenny is training so many people for the world of work. That’s what STEP is all about. And NICE.” (As far as I can tell, the “vulnerable” people on those grass-cutting and side-walk building details are mothers with more kids than they can on their own support, middle-aged and old geezers with their own peculiar problems and so on. It does not appear to me, despite the contrary propaganda, that the jobs-jobs-jobs program caters to the needs of ambitious young people!”)
Still the government insists that NICE is indeed nice. So tell that to my 17-year-old niece and her friends. Tell that to all the kids who can’t wait to bail outta here, who long ago tuned out the likes of Stephenson King and Kenny Anthony—who seem to care only about what’s happening in equally handicapped Grenada, St Vincent, St Kitts, judging by the way our government copies whatever these near-failed-states do, especially borrowing and spending multi-millions without returns. Never mind that VAT did not deliver the promises of the leaders of these spendthrift territories, our own prime minister is evidently determined to make taxes work for him— even if it kills us all!
Ah, it suddenly occurs to me what I thought I didn’t know when I started this article. It is that we’ve driven at least two generations near mad with our insane partisan and mindless official policies, most of them carried out by hack officials with no real interest in our nation’s future. And now we are destroying yet another generation with our suicidal pretense that it does not even exist!