In a few short weeks, registered Antiguans and Barbudans will be going to the polls to give their approval or disapproval for a change in our constitution that will pave the way for our move from the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council (JCPC) to the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ) as our final appellate court. As is to be expected, the arguments for and against just such a move have been forcefully and very clearly made. Yes, from town halls to church halls and classrooms and bars and restaurants and the workplace water cooler and the airwaves, the arguments on both sides have been proffered and defended in robust debates and discussions. As well it ought to be. Indeed, on just about every street corner (think, the Parliament of the Streets, to borrow a term from one of our founders, Winston Derrick) the conversations almost always turn to the JCPC versus CCJ debate. Again, we applaud the citizenry for the keen level of interest displayed in one of the most important decisions that we will make in our lifetime. And yes, the National Coordinating Committee deserves our applause for the fairly decent job that it has done in getting the arguments out there, and ensuring that John and Jane Q. Public can make an informed decision, come Referendum Day.
What was not to be expected however is the increasing acrimony and vitriol on both sides of the divide when making the arguments. Whatever happened to the wholesome notion that “We can disagree without being disagreeable?” Alas, we fear that the spirit of comity, goodwill and respect is on holiday and the tone has taken a regrettable turn for the worse.
Consider, In a recent Town Hall meeting, one speaker besmirched the attire of another and ridiculed that speaker’s position on the matter. Of course, not one to take a punch lying down, the ridiculed speaker came back with a left and a right hook and disparagingly questioned the core principles of the first speaker for having gone from Dis Party to Dat Party. Of course, as the young people would say, we are shaking our heads, because while the ad hominem attacks made for good theatre and elicited chuckles and guffaws, a Town Hall debate on this most consequential discussion was hardly the place for these blows below the belt. They lowered the level of the discourse, and arguably detracted from the points being made on both sides.
Meanwhile, it is with much dismay that we note the condescending and elitist language being used by the proponents of one side when referring to the arguments and concerns of the other side. Indeed, in one recent public forum, the proponent of one side derisively dismissed all the arguments of the other by saying that he had not heard one single valid argument all night. Really? So the misgivings and concerns of the ordinary Joe Blow are of no account? And they can be dismissed with a flippant wave of the hand? Again, we shake our heads and say ‘For shame!’This type of intellectual conceit and arrogance is quite off-putting, to say the least, and it is not outside the realm of possibility that the arguments for one side have become obscured by their ‘eye-rolls’ and their insistence that they are ‘so baffled’ that Joe and Jane Blow cannot ‘grasp the logic’ of their argument.
And then, of course, there is the further pollution of the whole debate when the gasoline of party politics is thrown into this increasingly volatile mix. The supporters of one party or another are belittled with unflattering words like “sheep” and “foolie” and “dumb” because they are casting their vote strictly along party lines . . . because Dis Leader or Dat Leader is directing the flock to vote yea or nay. Whatever happened to the notion of doing the right thing based on one’s deeply-held conviction, never mind the party position? More importantly, whatever happened to a healthy dose of respect for each other’s thought processes on the matter? Are we going to descend into bickering, name-calling and acrimony? “Come let us reason together . . .,”and yes, reasonable minds can disagree without bloodletting.