Flawed comparisons of Guyana with the Western world
By Dr. Prem Misir
Not a day goes by without seeing constant demeaning and flawed comparisons of the quality of life in Guyana with the self-styled modern, civilized and, generally, superior lifestyle of the metropolitan countries of the Western world, of which the U.S., UK., and Canada, etc., are powerful examples. Many of the comparisons are not solid in verifiable evidence.
The concern here is not to suggest that people should not be critical of Guyana. And, indeed, corrective action must be taken to improve Guyana, where necessary; and there are many areas that require corrective action. But such corrections have to be relevant to the context, time, and space in Guyana.
However, the concern here is that comparisons of Guyana’s public service provisions with those of the Western world are misplaced, in that it is inappropriate to compare things that are unlike. For instance, Guyana and the U.S. are not similar, yet comparisons abound; here are a few: compared to the U.S., Guyana’s streets are filthy; Guyana’s education system sucks; Guyana’s health system is inadequate; Guyana is unsafe because of too many crimes; Guyana has too much corruption; Guyana has widespread racism and discrimination; Guyana has rising poverty amid plenty; Guyana experiences continuous unemployment, especially among the youth, etc.
And the newspapers and other media agencies, and individuals are the architects of this disparaging human landscape on Guyana. Specifically, some of those who debase Guyana are mainly in the categories of Guyana newspapers’ letter writers many of whom are domiciled overseas, Guyanese tourists, and, indeed, even some local Guyanese who have never left this country but who already perceive themselves as local Americans.
In fact, many of these folks are Guyanese in addition to their other nationalities, making the situation funny peculiar because many of these people engineering and making judgmental remarks against Guyana are Guyanese by birth. In this respect, it is important to add the diplomats of the aforementioned metropolitan countries who intermittently augment the cauldron of condescending remarks against Guyana.
The genre of these flawed comparisons relates, among others, to the growing cataclysms in Guyana in increased crimes and minimum protection of citizens, inadequate education, a derisory healthcare system, repressive political governance, insanitary city streets, racial discrimination, rising unemployment, and growing poverty.
These folks present the U.S. and other Western countries’ quality of life as superior probably in many if not all respects to the Guyanese way of life; and they boldly and arrogantly suggest that Guyanese should assimilate and apply the high U.S. (and of course those other countries of the Western world) standards to Guyana, in order to improve Guyanese way of living.
In fact, many of these folks, Guyanese by birth, who demean Guyana, think that Guyanese embrace standards and values inferior to those of the U.S.; and because many such folks cuddle the U.S. culture as their native culture, they inherently provide a negative assessment of the Guyana culture. If the truth be told, these folks’ whole psyche and reference point have to do with ethnocentrism.
What is ethnocentrism? Ethnocentrism is the case where a person applies his own culture as a yardstick for judging other people’s culture, producing a negative evaluation of that culture. In essence, if you display ethnocentrism, you think that your culture is superior to other people’s cultures. The people who demean the Guyana culture practice ethnocentrism because they see U.S. culture as their own and that it is a superior culture, and so they look down on the Guyana culture which they see as inferior.
Let me give an example of ethnocentrism from an engagement I had with the press in 2010 (Misir, 2010). There was a view that Western definition of child abuse is what the Guyanese people need to assimilate and practice. But there is a problem of definition even within the Western definition because there is no one definition of child abuse; as an example, each of the 50 States in the U.S. has its own definition of child abuse and different reporting requirements and investigations.
Well, how, in this case, can Guyanese use the U.S. definition of child abuse, where no agreement on the definition exists? In fact, Guyana should not use the American multiple definitions of child abuse, not only because there is no consensus on the definition; but because Guyana has to develop its own evidence-based understanding of child abuse within its own context, time, and space. The colonial masters and former imperialists could not have been effective in executing their ‘exploitation’ responsibilities without practicing ethnocentrism. Today, the imperialist factor may still be at work in many resource-constrained countries.
I wrote some time ago in the press (Misir, 2010) that: “The European imperialists believed their beliefs, values, norms, rules, laws, language, etc., were innately superior to the local cultural format; many locals in the colonies surrendered to, and assimilated the imperialist definitions and concepts. And the way to rise in social mobility was through recognition and acceptance of the imperialist culture; modernity, a target to which many people aspire, is akin to taking on a ‘Western look’. Thus, the local culture is subject to a dual marginalization – Western imperialists’ subordination of the locals’ culture, and the locals themselves subordinating their own culture to the imperialists’ way of life.”
Ethnocentrism is not a good in itself, as it devalues other people’s way of life. But a good number of the Guyana newspapers’ letter writers who are overseas-based, Guyanese tourists, and local Guyanese who see themselves as Americans engage in ethnocentric behavior. It is time to end ethnocentrism in Guyana.
It is time to practice cultural relativism, meaning that there should be an attempt to understand a culture within its own context. Guyana will have to find its own answers to its own problems, and not to seek out short-lived and superfluous corrective action in the bosom of some foreign land.
MISIR, P. 2010. Guyana Chronicle. Available: http://guyanachronicle.com/?s=cultural+assimilation+to+wholesale+western+thinking [Accessed October 25, 2014.