Choose you this day ...
I was fortunate to have encountered the late Margaret Thatcher in person at the turn of the millennium. I recall a speech where the British prime minister laid her concerns that rogue nations were on the rise and becoming so powerful that they had raised the spectre of threatening the values that had sustained Western society and freedoms — values that we had taken for granted will always exist.
Her speech, coming at that time as an afterthought, was prophetic.
Particularly, as it was of great interest that President Joe Biden, in his first address to the joint houses, should continue the same banter now in 2021 in describing the situation unfolding as a global conflict between China along with other autocracies such as Russia, against the West with their opposing leadership styles and values as being at a global “inflection point”.
Fuelling the big question of whether a democracy can compete in the 21st century with an autocracy, the question of whether a society that values the input of its citizens and needs consensus can effectively compete against a command economy.
The underlying philosophy being challenged is the ideal of a society filled with free humans, through its joy and creativity, would be more productive than a subjugated people under authoritarianism. That idealism against the sheer brute efficiency brought by authoritarianism where work, labour and circumstance are ordered and where, in defiance, resistance is imprisoned.
Notwithstanding, when we look at the political impacts of investments by China in places such as Africa and the Caribbean, we have observed leaderships that have allowed the exploitation of their nations’ assets and the wealth of future generations — purchased for pieces of silver and more proof that political corruption is a different element of contention than simply that of efficiency.
We do not need the Caribbean, in particular, to succumb to corrupting influences, if for no other reason than our government having followed their example over the past several decades and often modelling their behaviours.
Years ago, I remember it being observed of several Caribbean states that the only business in town was the Government, and that the fight by many persons was more than purely political because in many cases it meant the difference between whether they would have a job or not.
When we add the influence of a financially powerful and authoritarian country as investor to these desperate economies, it exacerbates the dilemma and the whole matter becomes binary — and authoritarianism spreads like a virus with one country after the other following suit.
The effort to sustain a democratic world against the corrosive effects of authoritarian hegemony requires global and multinational co-operation to build sustainable economies around the planet that value consensus-driven governance and freedoms. Bermuda needs to join the American infrastructure and stimulus talks. We need to barter with our resources to develop new economic relationships to offset the impact of the US effort to close the corporate tax loopholes.
Bermuda cannot be passive on this subject because it will be too easy to become sucked down the path of authoritarianism. As an electorate, we are yet to develop the democratic enzymes to thwart dictatorships. We fit too easily among a pattern of society that discourages demonstrations of personal stands for participation in the political processes because those rights have been systemically left to the few that attend party caucuses.
If there was ever a moment when the scripture “Choose you this day whom ye will serve” (Joshua 24:15) was relevant, it is now.
We will either stand together as nations with all our differences and preserve the values of a free society and consensus-driven governments, or we will fall into the hands of authoritarian rule. The choice and the perception have never been clearer. World leadership has never been more dire; we need to promote all those efforts that go towards facilitating a safer and cleaner world now or we will live to regret it.