Environment v. Development…and the Loss of Our Dignity
I cannot get them out of my head. Thoughts of them stop me every time I begin to delve into the tangled theories and murky machinations at work behind the proposed Goat Island/Logistics Hub development plan, or the Bog Walk Dam, or the fate of the Falmouth Pier. I feel I cannot get into those weeds until I tackle, understand, and incorporate that understanding of the nonstop alarm in my brain into everything. I recall images I have seen of folks like them. Their livelihoods seem so carelessly considered. But, worse, their dignity is decidedly and perhaps deliberately ignored. They are the fisherfolk who are told, though not directly or with any real assurance, that once the Hub is built, there will be low-skilled jobs available for them. Well, they are also told that low-skilled jobs will be available for them while the Hub is being built. I suppose. I note that there is no expectation that these men and women will be able to do anything else. Some fisherfolk may indeed choose to take these jobs, considering the choice a step “up” and “progress”; this is, of course, fine as it is will be their choice. But I expect that many may pause and wonder how it is that their workplace is being commandeered, and that many will mourn the loss of its beauty and the opportunities it provided or them. So, I am bothered: what of their dignity and of the dignity of their work? What of their sense of self and self-worth possibly derived from at working for themselves? We parrot and pontificate about entrepreneurship but, it seems,only one kind of entrepreneurship will do. I do not romanticize fishing work – it is hard work (but it is good and meaningful work) – nor do I romanticize poverty – I am not crazy, it is an unnatural state for any human to live in, and too many Jamaicans live in it. So it is not sentimentally that drives my discomfort. Instead, it is a profound weighty feeling that we are losing something more than a Protected Area and more than access to and control over our blessed natural beauty. The weighty feeling is one of dread as we discard our dignity. The dreadful feeling of watching us intentionally betraying our dignity and abandoning our selves. The loss of dignity seems a first and dangerous step.
Dignity: a respect people have for you; a calm and important quality of a thing or person
Even as a man or woman works for a living, to survive in this world, his or her work is separate from the self. We are worth more than our work. That does not mean you don’t or should not work hard and well; it doe not mean that you cannot or should not enjoy your work and be satisfied by it. Yet, this example of the fisherfolk being told, quite condescendingly, that their livelihoods must be abandoned to be replaced by an ill-defined development seems to me to also communicate the pernicious message that they are worth nothing more than the labour that they can provide. It strikes me as condemnation to a certain kind of life and living, and only that kind of live and living.
“If a man is called to be a street sweeper, he should sweep streets even as a Michelangelo painted, or Beethoven composed music or Shakespeare wrote poetry. He should sweep streets so well that all the hosts of heaven and earth will pause to say, ‘Here lived a great street sweeper who did his job well.”
“No work is insignificant. All labor that uplifts humanity has dignity and importance and should be undertaken with painstaking excellence.”
– Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
Fundamentally: Does developing mean that we must do so at the expense of our dignity? Does it come at the expense of our selves?
There is plenty of time – relatively speaking – to go over the tug of war between environment and development, and, really we only add to a long and complex debate about the interaction of the two. But, this? This idea of dignity – our dignity – is fundamental. This pressing idea that we – the nationals of the nation-state of Jamaica – are worthy of respect and have self-respect is urgent. We may have all the discussions we want about the placement of the Hub or a dam, where to mine and how to mine, or how we manage our water and which lizards will be exterminated. Unless and until we understand exactly what we are giving up in exchange for “aid” or “assistance,” and what inducements are acceptable for “adjustments” to realize these projects, these dreams, goals, and projects are, in fact, empty.
Prime Minister Simpson-Miller has essentially said that she’s interested in “jobs, jobs, jobs” and she’s “working, working, working” to bring them to Jamaica for Jamaicans, and so unless you have some money to facilitate that goal, don’t talk to her. This is what I hear: we have sold ourselves and will continue to do so as I have decided that there are no alternatives.
It is not that I mean we should never court investment or never transform our country’s landscape or that our natural environment should never be touched or transformed in certain ways; that is Utopian and impractical. No. But I am very concerned about the mindless soulless pursuit of “progress” and “development” that frames our decisions, difficult though they are. These are not just difficult decisions, they are ones that will truly shape our destiny as a country, and, more importantly, as a nation; the decisions define who we are as a people.
Commodification: The subordination of both private and public realms to the logic of capitalism. In this logic, such things as friendship, knowledge, women, etc. are understood only in terms of their monetary value. In this way, they are no longer treated as things with intrinsic worth but as commodities. (They are valued, that is, only extrinsically in terms of money.) By this logic, a factory worker can be reconceptualized not as a human being with specific needs that, as humans, we are obliged to provide but as a mere wage debit in a businessman’s ledger.
- A bit of Marx and his theory
The apparent loss of our dignity, given willingly to the highest bidder, is even more striking and troubling to me because time and time and time again I sense that too many Jamaicans do not believe that they deserve better. It’s a tricky thing to state or demand what you think you deserve…but I think that, at least, we can demand that our fellow citizens are treated humanely and not as mere collateral damage.
Dignity: the state or quality of being worthy of honor or respect; a sense of pride in oneself; self-respect.