Dennis Jones is a Jamaican-born international economist, who has lived most of the time in the UK and USA, and latterly in Guinea, west Africa. He moved back to the Caribbean in 2007. This blog contains his observations on life on this small eastern Caribbean island, as well as views on life and issues on a broader landscape, especially the Caribbean and Africa.







**You may contact me by e-mail at livinginbarbados[at]gmail[dot]com**

Thursday, August 06, 2009

Mummy, Look What I Found?

Little children are always making discoveries,and they love it. If that's news to you, organize a treasure hunt. For children, the joy of discovery is natural because they are relatively new to the world. We tend to make fewer discoveries as we go on through our lives. But the thrill of discovery is often palpable. My father was cock-a-hoop when he learned how to use the Internet and Skype to talk and see his son and latest grandchild--I could be in Africa while he was in Jamaica, but there we were talking and seeing each other live and direct. He was also fascinated the first time that he saw snow falling in London: you could imagine him standing there in the street with his mouth open to let the snow flakes fall onto his tongue. My first daughter was thrilled when she understood that I was several thousands of miles away and that the time for me was not the same as it was for her: she loved to say "Good night, good morning, Daddy." My wife is less thrilled than most women to discover a new handbag, but thrilled she is: "I must have that!" Our home is full of her treasure trove.

People love to discover new things about each other, whether it is good or bad. Some people thrive on discovering traits and foibles, and the more malign will squirrel away such information to then flash it at will to embarrass or otherwise discomfort some one or some ones. I always wonder if the voyeur is ever thinking about who might be watching him or her. Who's peeping on Peeping Tom? In the age of the Internet, it's really taken on new life, with what's called 'cyber snooping'. A friend asked me the other day if sending me his e-mail address was a good idea because he had heard about robots that sweep the Internet and websites and trawl for such things. We both agreed that it was creepy and the people who did it were really creeps, in a very literal sense. Makes you feel a bit unclean, the same way that you hate the violation of your home by a burglar--the draws left open; the clothes strewn on the floor; the finger prints on the glasses; pieces of food on the floor--like some giant rats had had a picnic. Friends I know who have been burgled were glad to burn all of their clothes and start afresh.

I remembered some working situations during the early days after the fall of the former Soviet Union. We would be holding meetings in the hotel and discussing findings and negotiating strategy. The next day we would be back around the table with the government officials, and it was uncanny how they seemed to have anticipated our questions and arguments.After a few days of this, someone from 'their' side mentioned that spying was not all about fast cars and James Bond. The message was clear. We understood why our counterparts often met together in the sauna. We took to meeting in smaller groups and in places like the park. Verbally, things soon got back to normal, but the trust had been broken.

But, there's no getting away from the 'flag waving' that comes with a new discovery. I remember those cartoonswith characters who had found a gold nugget (playing on the Klondike gold rush stories): "Im rich! I'm rich!" yelled Wily Coyote. Then along came a bad guy--black moustached, naturally--who snatched the nugget. "Now, I'm poor again..." whimpered Wily.

As an adult, when I see such events, I wonder about the passage from the New Testament (Mark 8:36)--For what shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul? I have not looked at this passage for a while, but I remember that it came to mind when there were those famous spy cases in the UK, such as the uncovering of Sir Anthony Blunt, who had been seen as an upright aristocrat and renowned art historian. However, in 1951, Blunt sold out Britain by helping the turncoat British spy, Donald MacLean, to escape to Moscow. (This case is a bit messy, its own web of intrigue: Blunt was the former gay lover of MacLean's partner in espionage, Guy Burgess.)

I asked an American visitor to Barbados to do the following exercise: think of all the good things you try to find out about people you dislike, and think of all the bad things you find out about people you like. She had been terrified to visit the island having read some comments on a blog and feared for Muslim extremists. Her discovery was refreshing--the island had hardly any Muslims and few people she met seemed extreme in any way. She has yet to get back to me on the exercise.

But what about the discoverer who is really a snooper? When such a person looks into the mirror I wonder if they smile or if they snarl at themselves: "Tee hee, look at me. I stole a peep and you can't catch me." Dirt gets under the fingernails and is often hard to remove. The stains of violation usually never wash away. One piece of information a policeman once shared with me was that violators are often serial, meaning, they never stop at doing it once. It's like forms of theft, where they relish the prospect of getting close to people and not getting caught in any act. This was in the days before the Internet, and I don't know if those who try to gaze through the computer windows will also be the kind of person to look through a bathroom or bedroom window. With spy ware and microdot cameras already in use for security in enterprises and homes, and people hacking into systems and monitoring key strokes, who's to know to what limits the behaviour may lead? No Big Brother watching but maybe just a big botherer watching. Oooooooohhhhh! Shudder.