In Search For Solutions, We Must Face Problems

March 2, 2015

[Opinion column written by Alex Conyers]

“I think the authors of the Declaration of Independence intended to include all men, but they did not mean to declare all men equal in all respects. They did not mean to say all men were equal in color, size, intellect, moral development or social capacity. They defined with tolerable distinctness in what they did consider all men created equal-equal in certain inalienable rights, among which are life, liberty and pursuit of happiness. This they said, and this they meant. They did not mean to assert the obvious untruth that all were actually enjoying that equality, or yet that they were about to confer it immediately upon them. They meant to set up a standard maxim for free society which should be familiar to all – constantly looked to, constantly labored for, and, even though never perfectly attained, constantly approximated, and thereby constantly spreading and deepening its influence, and augmenting the happiness and value of life to all people, everywhere.” – Abraham Lincoln

In our search for solutions we must face our problems. As you might suspect, our status quo does not always work and so we would be well to at least consider other approaches. I think answers are there but it will require breaking the mold a bit and, think outside the box, if you will.

The human body is the most incredible self-regulating entity that we know to exist. We subconsciously maintain our health with the exact amount of liquid, minerals, energy, and oxygen needed at any given time. Our heart spreads the elements and speaks with our brain through electricity.

Quite astonishing really, that all the elements are present to such precision in our body:- water, earth, fire, air.

Government is another self-regulating entity, albeit not quite as beautifully endowed. Man created government so it is unsurprising that it lacks in its exactness and alacrity of which our body runs.

I have often heard that ‘democracy is the worst form of government, except for all the others’. This seems true. It does seem to stand over examples of socialism, communism, and most dictatorships that have existed [excluding a few benevolent ones which could be argued to have proved fruitful] but they do not last.

The emotions of individual human beings are far too volatile, and so we need self-regulating organizations to maintain order within the republic, chiefly a stable legal system and representation and pluralism for the people to express themselves.

Up until now, I have provided little in the way of solutions. I am aware of that. Here I hope to offer some. My solutions will follow three central tenets.

  • 1] Increase freedom
  • 2] Do not overcomplicate things
  • 3] Be optimistic

So without further ado…

Fix the broken windows

I have spoken about this before and I draw from something called the broken window theory. It states that crime comes from general feelings of lawlessness, which are exasperated by signs of neglect. A quotation from the original authors explains as follows,

‘Consider a building with a few broken windows. If the windows are not repaired, the tendency is for vandals to break a few more windows. Eventually, they may even break into the building, and if it’s unoccupied, perhaps become squatters or light fires inside.
Or consider a pavement. Some litter accumulates. Soon, more litter accumulates. Eventually, people even start leaving bags of refuse from take-out restaurants there or even break into cars.’ – James Q. Wilson & George L. Kelling

It follows the law of attraction whereby like attracts like. From it stems some solutions. Little things such as painting our houses, keeping our streets clean, and never littering or dumping illegally can produce substantial results through positive reinforcement.

I know this sounds overly simplistic but it at least warrants your consideration. It is easy to implement and I believe can be a powerful force for good.

Change the political system

This is going to sound lofty at first so I am not going to delve deeply into the details of, ‘we’re modeled after the Westminster system’ and ‘it would never work here’. If we are making those sorts of arguments then we would be disobeying maxim number 3], be optimistic. We can, and should, do whatever is in the best interest of Bermuda. My thoughts are as follows.

At present, we have 36 elected MPs spread around our 9 parishes. Assuming our population is 60,000 [for simplicity], that makes each MP beholden to 1,667 persons, which is pretty manageable.

My idea is this. Break the two party political system and replace it with a Meritocracy. No political parties exist and each candidate runs on their own merits, to their own constituents, bound to do what is best for them and their constituency or face being cast aside at the next election. Each candidate runs for MP as an independent.

From this, when elections are held, winning MPs of each constituency become the representatives in the house and the collection of winning MPs forms the government. These MPs vote for the proper Cabinet based on their relative merits. Experience within each field is given priority to certain positions in much the same way job interviews are conducted, by looking at which candidate fits the job description best.

I cannot speak for you but I am tired of a lawyer being an education minister or an entrepreneur being a health minister. Give me a teacher for education. Give me a doctor for health.

This has some drawbacks, yes. I can hear them loud and clear. But look at the systems great advantages. People are no longer tied to outdated, ‘old guard’ thought processes. They are encouraged, nay obligated, to voice their opinions independent of what is best for the good of the ‘party’ because their ‘party’ has become their constituents. The conflicts of interest that abound in present day Bermuda politics wither and, with it, perhaps a fresh perspective for a fresh generation will find energy to take the place.

Change drug policy

After the last one, this seems straightforward. Drug policy should be placed under the remit of the Department of Health. Marijuana should be put on a five year plan to legalization and regulation by the government with the ultimate goal of following maxim number 1], more freedom.

I often hear the argument that people are a ‘risk to themselves’ and that ‘people cannot be trusted to be responsible’. Well, I disagree. We are actually all very intelligent and all of our bodies are imbued with the same self-regulating properties of everyone else. I believe that if you treat people like infants, they will act like infants. If you treat them like adults, they will grow up.

My plan would be as follows for marijuana [we won’t consider more illicit drugs here]. You can only smoke if you are 18 and older. Licensed distribution hubs will be regulated and taxed just as liquor and tobacco products are. Perhaps a central registry is set up to put limits on the amount each person can buy in a week and that health concerns are followed. No smoking in public places or you will be fined. No smoking while driving.

Yes, I again can hear your arguments, but they ring less loudly than before. This has been tried in places and been shown to work. Look at Portugal or Uruguay. The use has been steadily falling and people are ‘growing up’. Collectively, we are far more responsible, if given the chance, than people give us credit for.

The pros are numerous. A huge amount of money is removed from the black market and goes directly into the coffers of the government, which can be put towards education and health. Further, spending is reduced because crime and the costs of administering the legal system falls.

One of my favourite songs sings,

“My choice is what I choose to do
and if I’m causing no harm
it shouldn’t bother you
your choice is who you choose to be
and if your causin’ no harm
then you’re alright with me.” – Ben Harper

Change the education system

This is the most difficult of them all but I do believe there is much we can do. My maxim would be number 2], do not overcomplicate things.

Make schools smaller to provide more specialization and care to each student. Cut the number of students per teacher down and look abroad at models that we can bring onshore. Much of the research is already there for us. We just need to go back to the shelf and dust it off. Let’s stop paying overpriced consultants to come here and re-diagnose the same problem.

Set up charter and trade schools that can provide children that are not ‘academics’ with the skills to be successful in whichever pursuit they show promise. Not everyone needs to be an accountant! By god, the world would be a pretty boring place if we were. Some of the most rewarding jobs I’ve had were working at the Bermuda creamery making Simmons sherbet or down at Sonesta working on a dive boat.

Mechanics, carpenters, and electricians are professions that should not be belittled. On the contrary, if you’ve ever seen someone turn a tree into a chair I can tell you that it is a beautiful art and I see great redemption in it.

Lastly, let us update the curriculum we teach our children. Let us teach them the great things that our forefathers did when they found Bermuda. Show the students how they hunted for whales for food and oil, or how they acted as coxswains to the many merchant ships that carried goods to and from our shores, or how they created the Bermuda sloop from the cedar tree you pass each day. Let us point to our foremothers who farmed the Bermuda onion, who grew the Bermuda daffodil, and made the first Bermuda fish chowder [with sherry peppers and rum!].

The one point I would add, from a budgetary perspective, is this is the area I would not cut a dime from. I would do exactly the opposite. We should be spending the most amount of money on education. This has been shown in a wide array of studies over long periods of time to be an investment that when made for our children today, will pay off in spades for our society tomorrow.

Although the system sometimes feels like it is going in the wrong direction, let us get involved and stay hopeful.

Give more to charity

This is the easiest but most complicated for each of us to take on. It combines all three maxims in one solution. It has the power to return our island paradise overnight.

If each one of us gave just one hour of our time to charity each week, or money if you do not have time, then our potential is truly unlimited. Not only will you be taking the power in to your own hands, you will be paid in the most beautiful currency known to man. Gratitude.

There are a multitude of charities in Bermuda doing untold number of positive things for our society. Find one that interests you and give your time, or money, or both.

In 2011, I gave my time a single lunchtime a week to read to children aged 6 years old. It was the most rewarding thing I have ever done.

As always, I want to leave with a quotation that is perhaps inspiring or relevant or interesting. I leave with this,

“The only dream worth having is to dream that you will live while you are alive, and die only when you are dead. To love, to be loved. To never forget your own insignificance. To never get used to the unspeakable violence and vulgar disparity of the life around you. To seek joy in the saddest places. To pursue beauty to its lair. To never simplify what is complicated or complicate what is simple. To respect strength, never power. Above all to watch. To try and understand. To never look away. And never, never to forget.” – Arundhati Roy

Beati mundo corde,

- Alex Conyers

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Comments (7)

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  1. I and I says:

    Brilliant!!! Well thought out and written!

  2. Pedant says:

    It is ‘democracy is the WORST form of government, except for all the others’.

  3. Chris Famous says:

    “I often hear the argument that people are a ‘risk to themselves’ and that ‘people cannot be trusted to be responsible’. Well, I disagree. We are actually all very intelligent and all of our bodies are imbued with the same self-regulating properties of everyone else. I believe that if you treat people like infants, they will act like infants. If you treat them like adults, they will grow up.”

  4. S. Davis says:

    Briiliant at the highest level. Mr. Conyers, I do not know you however, after reading your article I can honestly say I share your sentiments. Well written indeed!!

  5. I concur with “I and I” and you Alex: “In search for solutions we must face problem.
    I would often tell people something similar: “In order for one to enter into heaven they first must go through hell.”

  6. stunned... says:

    i am sorry but your piece made too much sense, too practical, presented food for thought oh, and was without the usual negative tripe. especially liked the idea of abandoning the party politics and counter-productive westminster system and moving towards independents beholden to their consituents but governed by a Bermuda Authority with goals and objectives, roles, responsibilities, performance evaluations…ahhh, to dream.