The fiction of majority rule
The stage is tightly managed by a stage manager who we do not see. Her job is to direct who can move where, when, and how things look. The script is carefully edited so the right effect is made by the words the players on the stage speak. Nothing is left up to chance.
Everything is controlled from the lights to the music and we are told when to enter and leave. This is the fiction of drama, the world of theater. We go to a play and we know that we are being fed fiction, some may be based on fact, but it has been distorted or enhanced for impact. We live in a time where this is how everyday life is tailored. The market determines what we see and how we feel. They also know exactly what we do and when. We are told that we should be happy that we live in a majority rule country, and that we are the cause of police violence because we do not raise our children well enough. Violent police come from our majority rule homes and are our responsibility, just like the youth they hit with clubs. Then we are told to shut up, we don’t know what we’re talking about. Offstage, the stage manager and director quickly adjust the script to ensure that we understand that it is all our fault.
We as Bahamians are usually reminded that we must be grateful for majority rule because it empowered the majority of Bahamians. It certainly did give each man and woman, who until then, had not been allowed to vote while a dominant merchant class who benefited from British colonialism because they had local control through money and law-breaking criminality and ran the country as if it were their private plantation, because in many ways it was, and they voted each place they had land and for the number of companies they owned. So, much along the lines of apartheid South Africa and Rhodesia and all the other colonised countries where the minority exploited and controlled the majority through structural violence and racism, The Bahamas continued to segregate and sideline blacks until they were given the right to vote. The plural vote was removed from the still dominant merchant class. Yet they retained power.
But then this fiction developed of all blacks being empowered. “Roots” the film became the way to continue to espouse the reality of an oppressive white system that had exploited blacks in order for the country to continue to believe in the need to see things along racial lines. What that hid was a class of blacks who continued to fictionalise the empowerment of the majority and the colorised power dynamic that had shifted and now allowed blacks to run the country. In reality, this was never really true. There was never a real change. There was an apparent change that led to many people in positions of privilege fleeing to a whiter part of the world, and others who could, capitalising on that space to enter and assert a certain level of dominance. The structures, law, economics, class-based separation, education and access remained overwhelmingly segregated or controlled by the minority. The minority never lost their power. The laws continued to be the same laws in place from the early days of imperial extraction colony that allowed the colonial power to rape the colonial space. What changed was the face of some of those in apparent positions of power and who facilitated the rape. It is all economics.
The fiction of majority rule continues even today as Chinese and American, British and any other non-Bahamian group is granted land through these same mechanisms and by the same powerful few who argue that the majority rule. As Disney runs its own private country in the Bahamas, the few that set this up in the old plantation economy, still make money through contracts; they don’t need the low-end jobs the space occupiers offer in exchange for controlling all the space they want. Such is majority rule. Wage slaves cannot rule.
Internationally the same or similar effect was held through the ways colonial empires implemented laws and ruled. So when the United States took over Cuba, Puerto Rico, Guam and the Philippines, they created a legal system that ensured that their companies would always be dominant and the ‘locals’ would see the fiction of the country being theirs but not see that their rights were severely circumscribed by a system that rendered them legally and economically second class citizens. This apparently ended when the Bahamas gave the right to vote to every Bahamian citizen, yet continued to manage these from their spatially determined power asymmetries. Space has power. The Americans controlled all the laws in these spaces and so created zones where their companies managed and voted over the people. They did not allow locals the space to grow. Similarly, in The Bahamas, the fiction is that we have Bahamianised the Bahamas, yet those companies, those same companies that once allowed their owners to vote multiple times, create laws that empower international persons over any majority Bahamian. The deals to rake salt, extract aragonite, drill for oil, sell sand, all went to companies who had ties to that same small group of businesses. The ability to control land gave them the ability to control the economy and the ability to manage the people. Whomever the employer is dominates. So we see the fiction that we are benefiting from the sale of land for pennies with motorcades for Mickey Mouse and privately empowered talks show appearances for those private investors who want to annex parts of the country, the same as was done in the US insular territories, and the ability of the company to strip those who live in those areas of their rights or to diminish their power to speak in their own land by overpowering them, but this all comes from the same minority, though now not white but still equally exclusive and tightly managed; the same company is then ushered into the halls of academia so that we can learn to count with Mickey and Minnie and be forever in their debt. This is while a non-national is being courted to swoop in and decimate those Bahamian employees that keep the complexion of the place a certain way. We are now no longer talking about one man or woman one vote, we are now talking about the neoliberal state that understands the need to control the majority and to empower business so that business once again has more rights than any person. This is why economic zones are so important. They will empower the residents of those areas, we are told by a talking head who does the job of creating the talk for government because government can’t open its mouth without causing havoc by putting a foot in it, in reality they empower businesses, private international investors who are waiting in the wings to jet in, once their entrance is managed sufficiently.
So, much like the fiction of Shell providing us with better access to oil, and improving our infrastructure we now know they will not, except to control the market and stranglehold us with their legally determined monopoly because it enriches the same small group, yet deepening our reliance on all that destroys the country and making sure we will be paying $8 a gallon of gas soon enough, which will make everything else go up, and VAT be added to that. While customs duties remain and each magazine that arrives in the post box now is charged as if it were a box, yet people say nothing. The oil lobby, if we lived in the US it would be called that, is a part of the majority rule who use economic zones and neoliberal tactics from those that Mises, Freirick von Hayak, Freidman and others have built to ensure that the economy or business or the company maintains its starring role: domination. As was seen in South Africa during the shift towards a free market:
“Yet granting black South Africans suffrage rights would inevitably lead to a reordering of property relations, since the black majority would favor reclaiming land that had been taken by white settlers. This was unacceptable in Hayek’s view”. (Patrick Iber, The New Republic).
Such is the dilemma of neoliberalism. Yet, as we deepen our neoliberal majority rule reality, the company vote becomes overwhelmingly plural through the access it has to government and the ability to displace communities.
Majority rule is managed as the stage manager does in ensuring that we only see what is carefully scripted by the authors, or the playwright and director; it is a fiction, a ruse that works to ensure that China can walk in and buy whatever land they want, Mickey and Minnie can own islands and education and that while we are waiting for our lump sum payments, people are being brought in who were used in other countries to gut their universities and ensure the company right was secure, and that those pesky people did not get too high on their own beliefs, to enact a similar kind of violence here. National institutions will no longer be national. They are carefully being managed into oblivion. The stage is set, fiction is entertaining especially when it possesses such a high level of verisimilitude.
• Dr. Ian Bethell-Bennett is a professor at the University of The Bahamas.