The dictum that the unexamined life is not worth living was credited to Socrates even though the words may have been popularized by Plato, quoting the master. Socrates claimed that only in striving to know ourselves and to understand ourselves do our lives have any meaning or value. Such a life was attained through wisdom and intellectual humility. For others, life meant the resilience of the human soul against evil, pain, hardships and misery. For yet another group of early thinkers and philosophers the examined life meant striving for a meaningful goal in order to perfect one’s character.
Those familiar with the Saint James version of the Holy Bible will recognize the import of, and closeness to, the above lessons gleaned from the early Greek philosophers, as used in the teachings of Christianity. We note however, that Socrates was tried and put to death for what the rulers of the day perceived as anti-religion – their religion! How times have changed; yet some persist in killing so-called non-believers!
The thought of these discourses occurred to me after listening to the Minister of National Security the other Thursday evening on TALK with Rick Wayne, and later by the nonsensical talk (of one credited with a PhD) on the import of the word ‘poodle’ in politics.
That the citizens of this land are to be encouraged to pause and examine their lives, perchance to discover in what way they may inadvertently have contributed to crime and criminal conduct, is a process past due. At the attainment of political independence, it was believed that the island would have embarked on a new road to self discovery creating a philosophical-based agenda for education, economic development and social progress.
Upon closer examination it appears that our leaders, whether in the public or private sector or NGOs, were reluctant to state in unambiguous terms a policy towards scientific research into the social ills that beset the island. Forty years later, very little has been proposed towards such a policy. Developing a ‘crime-free’ society and the philosophical thinking that underpins such a national goal remains a distant dream. It’s difficult to explain the reluctance to examine the unexamined life, whether nationally or individually, and to formulate necessary remedies. Greed and selfishness conspire against that noble venture. In addition, we often use the island’s national festivities as an excuse to hide our fears, our incompetence and our reluctance to apply our mental faculties in search of sound scientific solutions to national problems.
One often wonders whether cheap political agitation is not a ruse for hiding inabilities and intellectual feebleness of those engaged in trite useless debate. Sadly, nefarious political schemes sit too easily in the hearts and minds of persons who are the beneficiaries of tertiary education. Too often these ‘qualified’ persons prove more useless than those trained by Britain decades ago to manage her colonial enterprise here.
If by some calculated agenda for Nobel laureate observances 2018, a committee of experienced wise men and women were to design a questionnaire that seeks to discover the thinking of the population on crime and social advancement, what would such a questionnaire look like? It would certainly make interesting reading to get to the facts regarding social and economic conditions on the island, including education, crime and joblessness.
A well crafted questionnaire should reveal the circumstances which lead to crime and anti-social behaviour. One ought to have at the forefront of one’s mind the most important elements of the unexamined thinking in the society that lead to crime and violence and how these may be corrected through debate, reconciliation and steadfast action.
A questionnaire ought to inquire about communities, perchance to discover why certain persons are more likely to be attracted to these communities. The questionnaire must correctly identify persons on the margins of society who may slip into lawlessness, if the state does not intervene. The questionnaire ought to study the family, including extended family, and focus on the individual.
Questions pertaining to crime and the community ought to research whether the location of the homes is more important to crime prevention than the quality of such homes; where the persons guilty of crime were born and how they came to live at their respective addresses; how long their parents have lived in the community; what connections if any, the rest of the family – grandparents, aunts, uncles etc. – have with the community.
Questions about the family, such as their origin and what led them to the community in which they live. Were there any books in the home? Did the family go to church or worship regularly on weekends? Who were the persons closest to the family? Did the family show any respect for teachers or for any other authority? What special skills did parents possess and what was their level of education and income? Were their parents ever charged with any crime and/or incarcerated? Have they ever travelled or worked in another country? What could government do to help them and their family?
Questions regarding the individual: What are you doing to improve yourself, your family and your community? What do you think needs changing in the society? Do you and your friends discuss the things that can make this country better? When did you last listen to, or participate in, a discussion that made you feel good about yourself? If something is bothering you, to whom do you go for help? What do you understand by democracy and political education? Should a person first learn to read and write before they can get a good job??
One prays that such a questionnaire would be compulsory for all persons aspiring to public office. It should also be a matter of public policy that all such persons be encouraged to examine their lives, perchance to reveal who and what they really are as opposed to what they project to the public.