If it is practiced with systematic consistency and admirable talent, should we not offer songs in praise of mediocrity? If by its ubiquity it may be pronounced a cultural phenomenon, safeguarded and sustained by unchecked passions, should mediocrity not transcend the realm of the vulgar and be imbued with high honor? Should mediocrity not be raised to the dignity of an art, stripped of its stained and tattered clothing and arrayed in the divine robes?
The “art” of mediocrity is a cultural phenomenon which finds its highest and most consequential expression in the political process. True, the political process unfolds against the backdrop of a culture of mediocrity, but what is more salient is that the process takes sustenance from the perpetuation of the culture.
To pronounce St. Lucia’s political process dysfunctional is to be guilty of nothing new. Neither will it earn one an award for innovation to state precisely what stamps the process dysfunctional; for it is known by all that the fundamental problem is that our politicians create the standards by which they are judged. At any rate, they are permitted to create the standards.
Any group imbued with power of the carte blanche type is bound to operate in accordance with such power, for it is hardly ever the case that the competency of a politician rises above the people’s paltry demands. The sustainability of this grand exercise in mediocrity—precisely what our political process is—is therefore heavily reliant on the educational poverty of the electorate that seems wondrously incapable of framing politics in its proper language: the language of competence and functionality. So stably have we acquiesced to the low standards strategically proffered by our politicians that the idea that the politics can proceed along different lines—more importantly, the idea that it can be improved—is a meaningless concept in the popular mind.
So assuredly have we been duped by our politicians that we have accepted with the deepest conviction that the measure of a politician resides exclusively in his vulgar wit and vigor, and the ease with which he ejaculates mépwe from the party platform. Notions of accountability and transparency are merely side attractions.
That said, we may proceed to elucidate two kindred attitudes which virulently infect our political process:traditionalism and tribalism. The traditionalism of the political process is reflected most poignantly in the lack of difference in the way we relate to our political parties vis-à-vis our La Rose and La Marguerite flower festivals—with a laughable partisanship predicated on nothing else but the cumbersome weight of tradition. Whereas for a flower festival such sectional loyalty is of no consequence, it goes without saying that it is a death blow to the political process.
The relationship between politicians and the electorate must be an adaptive one, a selection process predicated on competence. When this fundamental law is breached, the political apparatus cannot function; it becomes a machine for the mass production of mediocrity. With minds ossified with the bones of traditionalism, it is not only that the electorate offers little criticism of the abuses of the political process but that when they do, it is always with the animalistic grunting of the defeated—something worthy of consideration in itself but worthless as a means of strategic amelioration of our dismal political existence.
If they do not know how to make demands except with the myopia of reflex action, it is all part and parcel of the strategy that politicians create the rules by which they are judged. And what has just been said is by no means an attempt at exculpating the masses.
Traditionalism infects our politics with no less virulence than its sibling tribalism. The tribal character of St. Lucia’s political process constitutes this: that our politicians are placed on a pedestal as objects of divine veneration. If they are invested with unlimited power, it is because it is their divine prerogative; if they are not subject to criticism, it is because it is heretical and blasphemous to question divinity; if they are untouchable, it is because it is taboo to lay profane hands on the sacred body of a god.
It is only too easy to extend the tribalistic analogy. Politics in St. Lucia, if it is not an adoration of divinity, is at least a form of hero worship. A peculiar consequence of this hero worship, too quick to love and too slow to censure, is that it renders corruption normal and expected behavior on the part of politicians and reduces the ethics of political action to an amorphous “all is permissible.” If the politician is heedless to the call for transparency and accountability it is because, in the capacity of tribal chief and communal hero, he is the custodian of the spoils of war (otherwise known as the country’s resources) which he distributes with final authority.
Systemic corruption, lack of transparency and poor accountability—key traits of any mediocracy—operate to ward off competent individuals who lack the stomach for the intrigue required for functional operation in a corrupt climate. What is more, the aforementioned vices are taken—even by the abused people themselves—as an inherent part of the political process; as strong indicators of “practicality” and “pragmatism.” Anyone opposing such a perverted viewpoint is dismissed as unsophisticated and naïve; as lacking an understanding of the “complexities of politics.”
However unpalatable, it must be acknowledged that systemic mediocrity, buttressed by the inanities of bureaucracy, is a formidable force against the competent individual. When the man of ideas enters the bureaucracy and perceives that his ideas are floundering under the activity of lesser men in overwhelming numbers, can he be blamed if he—as unsavory as it sounds—throws in the towel? But this is only the gentler reality, for we are all familiar with the character assassination directed against anyone who has the gonads to challenge the political status quo.
But that is expected. What is unexpected—or more to the point, what makes the blood curdle—is that it happens with the tacit, sometimes explicit, endorsement of we the people!
If one now believes one sees the tragedy of our political life in its fullness, then one is pitifully mistaken, for there is a more abominable means by which the political apparatus perpetuates the disease of mediocrity: the reproduction of new politicians as simulacra of the old ones.
What else is the purpose of a Youth Parliament but as a re-enactment of the dismal political process where all the zeal, all the energy of youth is invested— not in novelty and profundity—but in assiduous imitation? Many have fallen prey to the seduction of political rhetoric; caught up in sick role-playing; only too pleased to play the sedulous ape and to eat, like birds, from the cornucopian, giving hands of our grand old political demi-gods. It is always an assault on the ears to hear friends, who aspire to elective politics speak with the dead voices and burnt-out visions of their older counterparts.
It is as if the present situation is begging for blood and that only violence will resolve the situation. But recourse to violence—as a means of social transformation—is never justified. As an inarticulate expression of discontent, as a reaction and not an action, violence can never encapsulate the strategic foresight imperative to viable social action; it merely contributes to the reproduction of the same.
Besides, in an age of civility and good form, we must have recourse to proper methods. The path to amelioration, in its broad strokes, amounts to this: the mobilization of a cadre of young, educated, visionary persons to express at the highest decibels—through speech, through writing, through protest—their discontent; to take back the authority that was long ago invested in politicians by means of which they write the rules by which they are judged; to force our politicians to raise the standards at which they function; to put an end to this travesty, this farce, this poverty which has dared to deify itself into an art—this detestable mediocrity!