Using Force in Jamaica
Recently, my Move Back to Jamaica has caused me to think more and more about the difference between Force and Power, and the degree to which the energy of Power has lost ground to the energy of Force here in Jamaica.
Power might be said to be the ability to exert action over another, when it is exercised with the willing consent of those who are affected.
Force, on the other hand, is energy that is used when it is external to, and has no regard for, those over whom it is exercised.
(Here is another useful definition.)
To illustrate, at the heart of democracy is the idea that the privilege to exercise power is given and taken away by the ballot box. Those who grant this permission do so freely.
Conversely, most other forms of repressive government rely on the rule of force, rather than the rule of law. Threats of physical violence are used to instill fear in those who are under the control of those who use force.
Modern day Jamaica is all about the rule of Force.
I performed an observational experiment a couple of days ago. I decided to simply observe the use of force or power.
As I drove around, I observed Jamaicans using a great deal of force to do simple activities like drive down roads, speak to each other and generally go about their business.
The volume of our energy is astounding, as evidenced by what others call aggressive driving and even more aggressive voices shouted back and forth.
The most interesting moment came in a traffic jam in Manor Park Mall. Traffic was heavy, as it was the day before Good Friday, a holiday.
I got caught in a traffic jam along a side street (the one running alongside Lee’s Fifth Avenue) due to a stubborn woman who refused to back up to allow the traffic coming in the opposite direction to pass.
She actually took out a book and started reading it – blocking traffic in the opposite direction. When the security guards tried to convince her to back her car up by a few yards for a few minutes, she plainly refused, while her passenger remonstrated with the guards, arguing for all to see that they should not be the ones to yield.
I eventually was able to back up and take a different route altogether, but others were not so lucky and were stuck with cars in front and behind, unable to move.
Some may say she was rude. Others may say she was operating her vehicle in an unsafe manner.
I think that she was exercising force.
This kind of force is all about trying to dominate others against their will. It takes on several forms, but perhaps the most common is the use of aggression.
Jamaica aggression takes many forms, from the use of naked force posing as physical threats to active verbal abuse sprinkled liberally with curse words. Murder, of course, is just another form of aggression. So is a pastor that belts out his sermons from 7:00am until 2:30pm over loudspeakers designed to disrupt the neighborhood’s silence. So is a parent that beats a child, an adult that strikes an elderly parent or a teacher that strikes a student.
So is a husband that uses fear to keep his wife “obedient,” or a religious convert who condemns others to death, hell or eternal punishment for not following her beliefs.
These are some of the overt ways in which force is used to dominate others.
Other forms of aggression are more subtle, but no less insidious.
These include what I observe as Class and Education aggression. These are more “acceptable” because they do not rely on the need for either physical threats or verbal abuse, but they are deadly nonetheless.
“Class Aggression” is to use the force of accent, dress or skin colour to get one’s way. It works when another Jamaican submits because they think or act as if they are inferior, if only for a moment. It is a tricky one to define for middle and upper class Jamaicans, because the actions taken are naturally taken as normal.
An example: someone affects an upper class accent to get something done by pretending to be important, or by affecting an annoyed tone that connotes an implied threat – “you are in danger of my going above your head and using my relationship with someone powerful to get you in trouble.”
“Education Aggression” relies on the inability of someone being dealt with to think fast enough to be outsmarted. In short, the aggressor uses their superior intellect to run rings around another, thereby confusing, shaming or manipulating them into acting against their own best interests.
An example: someone has an idea, but instead of championing it themselves, they tell someone else that it was their idea, when it was not. The other person is not smart enough to know or to remember anything different.
If there is any flaw in this distinction, it might be in the accusation that it is naïve to think that power based on consent is sufficient to live a daily life in Jamaica, and stay alive. The use of force is accepted as normal, and in fact is seen as the only choice available to those who are trying to get things done.
I know this because I can see myself falling into this same trap – in fact, these two forms of Force are only really because I see myself learning to use them.
The fact is, they work. The downside is that they are shortsighted, as they destroy the humanity and divinity of others.
I have found that I am slowly developing a capacity to see myself use force, and I am trying to find ways to exercise power instead. My goal is to learn to use more power and less force, and hopefully to get to the point where I am not using force at all.
At the moment, I have developed two watchwords: “patience” and “being firm.”
Moving Back to Jamaica has therefore meant unconsciously, and unfortunately, taking a full step backwards. I am using more force than ever before.
Hopefully, now that I am awakening to the difference between force and power, I can tip the scales back to the quiet kind of power that I really want my life to be about.