This week I felt sorry and embarrassed for the island of St. Lucia, when, pressed for a response to a public lecture which I delivered in St. Vincent, the Prime Minister of that country Allen Chastanet, felt it necessary to express surprise that “Dr. Joseph is actually still a professor at the University of the West Indies”. His party organ also released a statement in which they called for the “board of directors” of UWI to take necessary action.
What was embarrassing about this statement was first, that it was coming from a prime minister. Secondly, it revealed a dark authoritarian mindset in which the reaction to probing ideas is to dismiss the academic that does the probing. Thirdly and most importantly, the prime minister’s reaction revealed a shocking ignorance of what a university is, why it exists and what it does.
It was embarrassing because coming in the seventieth year of the establishment of the UWI, and following several decades of historical instances in which university academics have been harassed by itinerant politicians, St. Lucia seemed to be re-learning a basic lesson which should have been grasped decades ago: that a university is not a primary school. The comment itself placed St. Lucia ten steps back.
Can the region imagine what would be our fate if university academics could be hired and fired at the fancy of anti-intellectual leaders who only have a grudging acceptance of the university in our midst?
Equally embarrassing was the fact that the prime minister of a country would have responded to a paper and would have referred to articles, advised his party organ to issue a statement on these, without making reference to the “articles” or without quoting a single line or paragraph to indicate precisely to what he was responding. To accuse someone of being a “racist” without quoting a single line that led to such a conclusion amounted to an abuse of privilege and power and revealed a profound intellectual laziness and a deep disdain for intellectual activity.
For the benefit of my dear readers, my paper was entitled: “Every Cook Can Govern? Plato, Donald Trump and the Rise of the Caribbean Businessman Politician”. My paper relied on Greek Philosopher Plato’s reflections which ruled out the class of “producers” (businessmen and workers) as rulers, and weighed it against CLR James’s alternative perspective that “any cook can govern” and applied it the present day-neoliberal claim that business success can be equated with political leadership. Imagine relying on Plato, the father of European philosophy, and then being accused of being racist. LOL.
Edward Said has noted that nothing disfigures an intellectual more than careful trimming and silence. Many of our academics have succumbed to political bullying and have fallen silent. Our anti-intellectual rulers should note I am not numbered amongst those.
By Dr Tennyson S. D. Joseph