three crumbled pieces of paper and a light bulb representing a good idea

The Myth of Good Ideas

This essay was originally published in Tenement Yaad Media, a Caribbean focused media platform. 

As people who want ‘good’ for Jamaica, one of the realities that we all have to accept is that there is no objective “good” or anything that everyone will support and agree on. We have to do away with the liberal illusion of ‘objectivity’ including the ideas that debates are just about finding the best ideas, that there are things that will ‘work for all’ of us, and that maybe “our leaders” just have not thought about them yet. This type of thinking is something we can reasonably expect from optimistic children and teenagers who want to see a ‘better’ world, but it is also something that many persons unfortunately have not grown out of.

In general, if we are interested in change, we have to understand things as they exist now, what exactly it is that we want to change, and what we want to see being the result of the change we want to make. But even here, the word “we” is doing a lot, because we could very well have different perspectives on what exists now, what should be changed, and what we would consider to be good results of change; the last bit is the most important in this piece because many persons already understand that there are different perspectives when it comes to analysing the present and that there can be different methods towards achieving the same goal, but still take for granted the idea that we all consider the same things to be good.

We need to accept that there are things that some persons will see as good and others will see as bad, and that it is not just a matter of different opinions/perspectives or ideologies that can be resolved through simple debate and discussion. It is possible for something to benefit one set of people while harming other people as well; no amount of intellectual discussion or debate can change that.

When something harms a set of people, those who are harmed will rightfully see it as a problem. Others may not necessarily see it as a problem and, even if some do, they will not necessarily have any interest in trying to ‘solve’ it. When something that harms one set of people is also something that benefits another set of people, those that benefit not only lack an interest in solving the problem but may also have an incentive in maintaining the problem; for the beneficiaries, it is not a problem and we only see it as a problem if we decide to side with the persons who are harmed.

This is the reality that ultimately matters in addressing issues in our society. There is no great objectivity that we can pull from the sky or from the mouths of pseudo-intellectuals who overuse their dictionaries, because many issues that face us have different sides to them. We need to understand that different people and different sectors of the society want different things, and these wants can come into conflict with each other. We also need to understand that taking the ‘middle ground’ or the pseudo-intellectual ‘nuanced’ position to try to please everyone will not necessarily resolve these contradictions.

We must not be afraid to take sides in social, economic, or otherwise political conflict. We must be open enough to say what our goals are and leave room for those who oppose those goals, then we must be comfortable with identifying who we see as allies, neutrals, and opponents. We cannot ‘fight’ for change if we are averse to even the simplest language that acknowledges the existence of conflict. If you do not have enemies, you are not fighting for anything.

Conflict exists because different interests exist, and the difficulty in solving many problems is created rather than encountered by chance, as the problems themselves are often created rather than things that just exist by chance. Things that you may have problems with can be the results of conscious decisions made by persons acting in specific interests, not necessarily someone being ‘incompetent’ or just needing a lecture on what is good versus what is bad. Your ‘good’ idea to stop something from happening will not be valued by those who want that thing to continue happening, especially if they benefit from it.

There is no objective “good” because different people want different things, sometimes conflicting things, and something that is a positive goal for someone can be a nightmare for others. We need to do away with this lazy thinking that we can all come together, that everything in Jamaica will be solved once we just all work together in some fantasy land of magical harmony, and realise that some persons and entities in our society are actively and willingly a part of the problems that some of us may want to solve.

This is not to say that all dialogue and peaceful conversation is futile. We should always seek the simplest paths to change first, but with an open mind that things will not go as easily as we want them, and with the willingness to actually fight and struggle against obstacles rather than conceding to the status quo and those who already have power.

We need to see the status quo as a project that is actively maintained by those who have power, and we need to see our visions of a different future as things we will need to actually work for if we want to bring them about, even if it means going against those who have power and others who choose to side with them.

Change will never be brought about by those who want to please everyone, those who always try to find the middle ground, those who give too much value to the sensibilities of those with power, those who are afraid to make enemies, or those who are willing to sell out their principles and water down their ideas to make them seem ‘good’ to those who are content with the status quo.

More from this Writer

Christophe Simpson is a self-identified Marxist-Leninist who currently serves as the Chairman and First Secretary of Jamaica LANDS, an emerging political movement sustained by a network of Leftists across Jamaica and the diaspora.