Who you callin’ arrogant?

Opposition Leader Kenny Anthony speaking at Labour Party rally. (Photo by Bill Mortley)

The current Prime Minister has been accused of being spineless and of being unable to exercise any leadership over members of his Cabinet; some in the current administration have been accused of traffic violations while others are suspected of trafficking in drugs—though not by the police. Presumed financially healthy members of the current Cabinet had to be taken before a judge to pay import taxes he tried to avoid. Yet   there is talk that the electorate will not vote for the Labour Party because it is perceived that the party has a leader who is arrogant.  In this article, I will discuss the peculiarities of the political situation in Saint Lucia in light of Mark Twain’s powerfully persuasive statement, “Laws are sand, customs are rock. Laws can be evaded and punishment escaped but an openly transgressed custom brings sure punishment.”
There are some who are extremely concerned that the electorate will not scrutinize the conduct and character of our current crop of government ministers before deciding how to vote.  In a recent article, Rick Wayne made the point that the electorate should be extremely wary and should be informed of the characters of those who seek our vote.  Rick’s concern is not misplaced.  A judge clearly indicated the current Cabinet had permitted a member to take advantage of concessions for which he did not qualify. Yet the UWP administration has not established a Commission to consider measures that should be put in place in order to decrease the likelihood that the entire Cabinet will endorse illegal acts in the future.

Should we assume that the Prime Minister’s failure to institute mechanisms that will prevent such wanton illegality in Cabinet is evidence that the Prime Minister does not understand or perhaps does not care about the integrity of Cabinet?  Incidentally, the government promised that it would inform the citizens regarding its intention to appeal the matter to the Privy Council—to date no such intention has been released.  Is this yet another case where the government believes that the electorate should remain uninformed?  Yes, Rick is correct; the citizenry should be kept informed on such matters.
Unfortunately, we have not cultivated a custom of becoming informed citizens.  In fact, while I can think of a variety of laws that are meant to withhold information (example those related to Cabinet decisions) I can think of no law which mandates that specific information be disseminated.  In addition, our society seemed to be based on keeping public data and information confidential and on a “need to know” basis.

For example, it is not uncommon for a person who requests additional information to be cruelly chastised: “That is not your business! What you want to know for?” It is, therefore, not likely that citizens will understand the need to have relevant information as part of the decision making process.
There is merit in the suggestion that decisions related to the upcoming general elections should be based on the importance we place on the candidates’ character.  Our history, however, suggests that when we make these decisions we are likely to ignore those who break the laws and instead support those who follow well-known customs.  For example, with respect to the Tuxedo affair, it is clear that Mondesir initially avoided payment of relevant duties.

The electorate is aware of this.  Further, the electorate is well aware that it is illegal to evade paying custom duties.  Do you think this illegality will significantly tarnish Mondesir’s chances at the upcoming election?  Truth of the matter is that many citizens routinely and without any regrets attempt to evade customs duty.  This invariably means that these citizens are also less likely to see any need to punish Mondesir for attempting to defraud customs.  Mondesir’s situation is entirely consistent with the sentiments expressed by Mark Twain in the offered quotation—breaking the law is less
likely to have negative repercussion than not adhering to customs.  Yet we claim to live in a country where the rule of law is sacrosanct. How ironic.
Without an established context it is difficult to know what characteristics identify a person as being arrogant. The typical dictionary defines such a person as having an unwarranted sense of his importance or abilities.  On the basis of that definition, I will assume that persons who think that a person is arrogant also perceives that the individual is overbearing, presumptuous and prone to appropriating undue authority to himself.
A long established and well-accepted principle is that perceptions depend on the benchmarks that are established.  A simple illustration will be useful here.  A person who is expected to produce 100 items is considered to have overachieved if he produces 200 such items.  Yet a person who has produced that same quantity would have underachieved if he were expected to produce 300 items.  Yes, producing 200 items may be considered to be overachieving or underachieving depending on the perspective of the one who is doing the evaluation.  How then do we determine that a person’s perception of his ability is consistent with being confident or reflects arrogance?
There is evidence that the prevailing practices in Saint Lucia are geared towards creating a people who readily accept the substandard.  For instance, we are reminded that the meek will inherit the earth —does this justify believing that who dare to be assertive are arrogant?  We are advised to be humble—can we be surprised that we are labeled arrogant if we dare to be proud?   We are consistently advised that half a loaf is better than no bread—should we be surprised that those who strive for the whole bread are considered arrogant?
A fundamental characteristic of our society is that at every turn we find evidence that ours is a custom of accepting mediocrity and producing wimps.  It can therefore come as no surprise that we easily categorize achievers as arrogant. Let us look at examples of some of the persons we consider to be arrogant:  John Compton, Rick Wayne, Kenny Anthony each one is an achiever of merit. Although it is not obvious why these persons were labeled arrogant, relevant research is likely to reveal that they were (are) not willing to march to the beat of inferior drummers or to subserviently accept proffered advice.
People who know better should not be prepared to accept foolishness espoused by the uninitiated.
Surely, Monsignor Patrick Anthony should not be deemed arrogant for ignoring my advice on matters of Catholicism.   The reality is that by ignoring my advice the goodly priest does not claim unwarranted superiority as it would be easily agreed that he has superior understanding of the issues! In fact, Monsignor Anthony must be sufficiently confident in the superiority of his knowledge to virtually shoo any garbage that I offer with respect to Catholicism.  To do otherwise would be to “suffer a fool gladly”.
Unfortunately, Saint Lucian custom is that persons who are sufficiently assertive to openly and quickly identify and disregard hogwash are usually described as arrogant.  I can hear some milksop arguing, “The problem is not saying that the advice is hogwash it is the way it is said.”   There is a shred of merit in that position.  After all, after a person has spent hours contriving a solution he would want to know the deficiencies of that solution.  The fundamental matter at issue here is that a person should not be identified as arrogant for merely rejecting offered advice.  In fact because we accept that arrogance is related to having unwarranted sense of ability we can conclude that achievers are less likely to be arrogant.  The irony, however, is that as a result of our customs it is generally the achievers in our society that we tend to view as arrogant.
We have consistently expressed a desire to elect a Parliament that is capable of aspiring us to greater achievement.  Therefore, we should carefully consider whether it is prudent to continue the custom of glibly labeling our achievers as arrogant.

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