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Spaces in Jamaican public life are geared to exclusion, geared to keeping out. The filters of public life are extremely restrictive. This is not meant as a value judgement, it is meant as a simple statement of fact: it is hard to get what you want from public servants, the processes of bureaucracy. The interface of administrative life is forbidding.  It is an interface more concerned with control and the exercise of power perhaps than with efficiency. Because of this there is a need to accommodate the eternally waiting, the waiting who are waiting to pass through the bottleneck, waiting to pass though the filters to get what they want, or to get what others feel they should want. The fact is that the waiting are rarely accommodated. The architecture of waiting is after all a visible and permanent sign that the above judgment is true. To many this is a source of frustration. But that frustration must not go unquestioned.

Efficiency as an irreducible icon of society has here penetrated as far as the desire to be efficient, that is, to be like one’s image of others whom one imagines to be efficient. Consumerism, with the advertising industry as its proselytiser, converting by commercial, uses efficiency as its justification: commercials promise efficiency, time and again and for any improbable product. As one extends one’s stay in Jamaica one is able to understand that promise for what it is: an intention and maybe even a conviction. The difference between the literal meaning and the figurative meaning of that promise becomes very important; it represents the ill-defined gap between the immunised and the naiveté of the newly arrived.

But efficiency is a dubious icon for society to organise itself by. The frenzy of Western life, which icons like efficiency have helped to generate, has so far gone unquestioned. Our increasing despair at not finding a convincing deeper purpose to life, has redirected our teleological craving towards the efficient satisfaction of the short-term goal. Efficiency in action is the epiphany of its own justification. If there is a goal, it must be reached efficiently and so the word has come to mould our ethics of small goals. The means may not justify the end, but the means have become the end. Efficiency is the goal. A goal reached inefficiently has to be further justified, in fact its status as a goal is questionable. There being no visible deeper goal apart from purposeful existence, we have substituted the short-term, the realizable goal for any deeper all-encompassing objective. This may not be a bad thing, I am certainly not judging it; I am merely evaluating its consequences. The goals which are conducive to efficiency are short-term, immediate, and realizable: informed by an aesthetics of scientific discovery superimposed over the aesthetics of the good life. Once having achieved the goal: a product, a certain turn-over, a re-organization, there is emptiness until the next short term goal is formulated. And so the painful question of a larger purpose need not be opened up.

Our efficiency has, despite the wonderful products it has produced and the amazing bounds of the imagination it has made common, in fact, only been able to produce more: it has never reached any deeper goal in any conventional sense as it has raised efficient production to the status of ultimate goal. Manifest creation is our goal, or so it would seem. The consequence of this is that the icon of efficiency has allowed any frustration at the lack of it to go unquestioned.

Efficiency as an icon has the same awesome presence in Jamaica as elsewhere. It is equally repressive and forceful. However, many of the short-term goals have to be postponed recurrently. Few of them are ever realised and when they are, they are no longer relevant or hopelessly compromised, inadequate or broken. This is not mere cynicism on my part, nor is it necessarily true. It is the image of what is true. It is truth in the words of Brecht, as standing for what is plausible. And the manifestations of inefficiency are so sorely visible, so often rehearsed that they have become the catechism of the rich, the ex-pat community and the waiting. The consequence of this is that there is a pervasive cynicism which is sickening society, creating a society that is cynical and excessively concerned with altering its image, grasping at the merest strands to generate a feeling of pride.



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