Public intellectuals should step forward
The media is regarded as the fourth estate in democracies. It is supposed to be another check and balance to powerful interest groups, and an arbitrator of sorts, along with the executive, legislature and judicial branches of government. These four groups usually get beaten up in the public sphere when things do not go well. This is good. Criticism makes our community better.
Academics and intellectuals are also important in public discourse. Professors, artists, writers and thinkers in general also have their parts to play in shaping public policy and ‘the collective mind’.
Some of our academics are good at this. One who comes to mind is a regular contributor with The Nassau Guardian. Dr. Ian Strachan writes weekly columns for the paper and is a guest radio host at our sister company Star 106.5 FM.
Dr. Strachan is an intelligent and fearless commentator. Though an English professor at the College of The Bahamas, his political analysis is good. We do not always agree with what he says, but it is always thoughtful and has the purpose of adding reason to the public sphere.
Dr. Strachan is not the only intellectual, of course, who regularly engages in public debates. Other professors at COB, such as Felix Bethel and Dr. Nicolette Bethel, are also well known for their interventions on various issues.
Sadly, though, the contributions made by public intellectuals often go unnoticed.
Many of the people who write to newspapers, appear as guests on radio shows, or debate issues publicly, are politically aligned. Hence, what they say is more an attack on the other side to advance the interest of their side than an opinion based on genuine reflection.
True public intellectuals are different. They challenge common ideas, they raise contradictions and they challenge those who exercise power. They do so aligned to ideas rather than self-interest or a political party or group.
The solutions offered by public intellectuals who offer solutions vary significantly. Those who lean left argue for collectivist action. Those who lean right argue for the removal of restrictions in the marketplace. These interventions are necessary and we encourage more thinkers to get involved in public debates in some form.
The Bahamas has serious problems when it comes to education, crime, public infrastructure, and many other things. Our political class is desperate and has few ideas left that can change the circumstance of the country. Those who think, those who have studied, those who care are needed now to offer solutions.
Often there is little to no compensation for those who challenge vested interest groups. In fact, victimization or ostracism often follow. The courage to challenge the status quo, though, can change long-standing wrongs some think insurmountable.
In October, the president of the United States, Barack Obama, and thousands of Americans officially opened the monument to the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in Washington, D.C. Dr. King was an intellectual. He was not afraid and was one of the leaders of a movement that changed centuries of wrong. He felt strongly for the cause of racial equality and social justice. He died for that cause. In the modern Bahamas our problems are different than those for blacks in the Americas a century ago. We simply lack organized, thoughtful, progressive leadership. We lack national planning. We lack a direction as a country.
All who have well considered ideas must step forward. It is not good enough to complain from the sidelines.