Jamaica Gleaner / PM Holness has apologised for something, though I’m not sure exactly what. It has to do with the Dudus debacle and the Tivoli bloodbath, but beyond that, it’s hard to say. He did not confess. In fact, based on a Gleaner report, he stated, “I have a clean heart,” so he has nothing to confess. And for all I know he may be right.
However, I have my suspicions. Let’s just say that anyone who sat in the Cabinet during the period leading up to May 2010 may have been given the wrong eyeglass prescription, plus be suffering from some serious cataracts, pink-eye, and glaucoma – all at once – if they’re able to feel completely clean of heart on this matter.
But that’s OK, too. Different souls are differently calibrated to the capacity to feel guilt, which is why we have such things as serial killers, psychopaths, and politicians.
So let’s talk about apology and confession. They are connected because they both draw upon man’s feelings of sorrow, regret, and remorse, but they are also quite different.
Here’s a distinction I like, drawn from Susan Wise Bauer’s The Art of the Public Grovel :
“An apology is an expression of regret: I am sorry. A confession is an admission of fault: I am sorry because I did wrong. I sinned.”
The apology, according to this distinction, is a performance meant for an audience. The confession is a change of heart.
That said, the fulsome apology tends to shade off into confession.
Anyway, the Tivoli commission only asked for an apology, not a confession, which is understandable. The commissioners might demand some outward action, but they could hardly have dictated the more profound response, even though that’s what the country really needs.
So as I explore this a bit more, some cautions are in order, because we want to maintain our high-level analysis.
First off, we are dealing with a political apology, a species of apology that has been perfected, at least according to legend, by the old British Labour politician, Dennis Skinner.
Skinner: “Half the Tory members opposite are crooks.”
Speaker: “The honourable member MUST withdraw that remark.”
Skinner: “OK, half the Tories are not crooks.”
In other words, the mere observance of a directive to apologise (by the House Speaker, or by the Tivoli commission) is certainly no guarantee of the sincerity of the effort.
And even though I have pointed to confession as the superior end of the spectrum in this business of owning one’s sins, even when that kind of operation is afoot, we have to remain astute.
Consider old Mr Weisenheimerwitz, who barged into the confessional booth at church. He immediately launched into a close recital of his most grievous sins. Naturally, I can only offer the barest summary of that famous confession here: “Bless me, Father, for I have sinned … . I have bedded the beautiful Smith sisters. Both at the same time!”
Father Murphy, taken aback, responded: “Mr. Weisenheimerwitz! Is that you? What is this you’re telling me about the Smith sisters? And aren’t you Jewish? Why are you even here telling me this?”
Mr Weisenheimerwitz answered gleefully: “Why am I telling you? Because I’m telling EVERYONE!”
The salient point is that not even all who confess are seeking absolution and forgiveness. You really have to pay careful attention.
So let’s talk about the apology tendered by Prime Minister Holness. This is the statement that jumped out at me:
“The process of healing comes not so much from the apportioning of blame but from the understanding that violence and conflict make victims of everyone involved.”
The trouble with that, as I see it, is that the “apportioning of blame” is necessary for accountability, and so far, nobody has been held accountable.
Furthermore, when everyone is cast as a victim, it means that victimhood has lost is flavour, so to speak. If everyone is a victim, no one is a victim. But, to belabour the point, there definitely were victims. If “violence and conflict make victims of everyone involved”, shall we say of Governor Eyre that he was victimised in 1865, poor old chap? Nonsense.
What I want you to see is that this general approach of mental mush, and the inability to make simple clear distinctions about who was who in creating the conflagration of May 2010, is essential to the revisionism of even recent history. My God, man!
Twenty years from now, the received wisdom could very well be that the Cabinet bravely fought off the evil American incursion into Jamaican sovereignty on principled grounds, but then the Cabinet bravely undertook the hard work of dislodging a criminal, who the Cabinet then safely escorted to plead guilty and serve his time. No harm, no foul. Nothing wrong done; it’s aaallllllll goooooood!
Wow. Let’s perform the feat of memory and recall that the greatest massacre of citizens since (victim) Governor Eyre’s little unfortunate circumstance didn’t just pop up out of nowhere or happen in a flash. It lumbered along, the issues festering, while decision after decision after decision by the Cabinet of the day steered Jamaica towards the precipice.
They got a warrant, tipped off the (victim?) Dudus, fabricated legal tomfoolery to frustrate honest law enforcement, politicised and debased routine law-enforcement tools, hired lobbyists to surreptitiously corrupt the American government, prostituted the attorney general’s office in Jamaica, fouled the solicitor general’s chambers, donned and shed ‘skins’ as convenience dictated, alienated allies, besmirched the country’s reputation, triggered dozens and dozens of deaths, cost the country billions, then couldn’t recall anything after it was all done.
It’s said a real apology contains an expression of regret, an explanation of what went wrong, acknowledgement of responsibility, declaration of repentance, an offer to repair, and a request for forgiveness. What Jamaica just got from its Government (via victim PM Holness) was an expression of regret and an offer to channel some more tax dollars through the same sluices, drainpipes and sewers that created the Tivoli barnacle on the Jamaican soul in the first place.
Sorry, not sorry.
– Daniel Thwaites is an attorney-at-law. Email feedback to [email protected] .