A SWAN SONG

Sir John W Swan spoke of the problems surrounding Bermuda’s young men. He was right when he first said it. He’s even more right, eight years later, in 2003 when everyone else is saying it – too!

            In June’s UMUM magazine article, Violence and Bermuda’s Youth, Kara Smith writes: “…Bermuda’s young people have tainted their promising image with a slew of violent and fatal outbreaks…”. She goes on: “The situation is not easily explained because…the roots of the problem run so deep…”.

            Like Kara, I agree that the situation isn’t easy to explain. However, I believe that it’s explainable in simple terms. Kara offers part of the explanation: “Surely…a child does not come from the womb with an acute knowledge of offensive language and physical abuse.” As life begins. That’s where the explanation begins.

            The un-named bundle of genes that pops into the world may come with a genetic disposition created by drugs and chemicals – legal or illegal – that its mother may have used during gestation. But if the bundle’s mother took reasonable care – as 98% of mothers do – then that bundle will be a genetic thing without any pre-disposition to do anything.

            If that bundle is then adopted by an Australian couple, it will grow up surfing and ‘matilda-waltzing’. If a Jamaican couple adopts, it’ll grow up wearing dreads and singing reggae. A Brit couple? It’ll grow up stopping every afternoon for tea at 4:00pm and going to Saturday football matches.

            In the absence of birth defects, a genetic bundle will become whatever its nurturing community shapes it into being. The eighteen year-old lager lout, the eighteen year-old footballer, the eighteen year-old college student, are all created by some set of nurturing and shaping values. These values are those that predominated in the communities that sheltered, fed, educated, and trained them.

              Put another way, the values that reside in the soul of an eighteen year-old are the values that are quietly, but absolutely, passed on to him in the 6,570 days from the day he popped into the world and the day he turns eighteen.

            Early in those 6,570 days he learned a language.  He learned to use either ‘offensive language’ or ‘socially acceptable’ language. One or the other. As Kara reminds us, a new genetic bundle has to be taught everything.

            Ultimately, the values that reside in the deepest soul of any eighteen year-old anywhere in the world, are the values passed on to him by his immediate community [his family], and his wider community [his religion and his clan or tribe or race], and his widest community [his country].

            But look at what these three communities have done to Bermuda’s eighteen year-olds. Not at what they say they’ve done. Look, honestly, at what they’ve actually done.

            These three Bermuda and Bermudian communities, perhaps not acting with great deliberation, but still acting deliberately, have under-educated, under-trained, and then allowed and encouraged the economic and social displacement of a large part of its annual crop of eighteen year-olds. These Bermudian communities have been doing this – deliberately but not with deliberation – for more than twenty-five years.

            After twenty-five years of discarding a small number of similar items, in the same place, you’ll get a noticeable pile of something. If it’s beer bottles, you’ll get an unsightly green mound. If it’s old cars, you’ll still get an unsightly mound – just different.

            With discarded people, you get – at first – a hardly noticeable number of people who don’t seem to fit in. Then you get a larger number who are clearly not fitting in to ordinary society. Then, in the final stage, this group of unfitted-in people reach and pass the critical mass where they form their own society. A society complete with its own set of values, standards, styles, customs, and traditions.

            Bermuda’s discarded “young males” probably entered the first stage some time in the early eighties. By the mid nineties – when Sir John noticed them – they’d reached the second stage. Now? In 2003. They’re probably in the final stage and they could already be a strong group about to enter the ultimate stage of self-perpetuation.

            Special problem? On this 13,000 acre plot with its delicately balanced social and economic life, numerically small but socially negative groups have a bigger than usual ability to wreck Bermuda’s very delicate, highly vulnerable, balance.

            By the way – if you think that Bermuda’s “young male problem” is exclusively black – you need to wipe that colour blot from your mind. It isn’t a colour problem.

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