Don’t get me wrong, I love using public transportation in Barbados; not for the transportation obviously, only a crazy person or a political yard fowl would make a statement like that! Between the lacklustre, apathetic, highly inefficient service and epically long waiting times of the transport board and the highly chaotic, ofttimes confrontational, highly inefficient service and constant brushes with death of the privately owned PSVs and the highly unreliable schedules of both, the transportation part of public transportation is indeed… punishment (though this is not why I was thinking about punishment).
But I do love using public transportation in this country! It could be argued that having to negotiate public transport in order to get to work and appointments on time can cause one to develop almost mystical planning skills, but that is not the reason I love public transportation. I love public transportation because it gives me a window into the society I live in. I love the raw unfiltered energy of thousands of Bajan commuters living the ugly truth that hides behind the mask of social acceptability.
Using public transportation makes me think deeply about things.
On this day I was thinking about punishment.
If I am to be honest with myself (a rare occurrence for most human beings) my initial thoughts on punishment barely even qualified as thoughts (a far more common occurrence). I was stuck in the back of a hot sticky ZR van. I was painfully aware that neither the idiot driver nor the idiot conductor had any intention of moving the van out of the van stand until it was full to capacity… no matter how long that took. I was even more painfully aware that they were the rule and not the exception and their van was closest to being full. The driver and conductor, through their wilful arseness were making me late for an important meeting (despite the fact that I had left home two hours early). I was, quite naturally, consoling myself with revenge fantasies; I was imagining locking the driver and conductor in a room and forcing them to listen to the market vendor on a two hour repeating loop until their brains exploded and drained out through their ears. My thoughts on punishment lacked sophistication at this point.
In my frustration I politely suggested to the conductor (whose name I assumed was Jonathon) that he (Johnnie) get in the “rass-hole van” so that we (the commuters) could get up the road before we died from “fucking old age”. The conductor (who really must have been named Jonathon Johnson) pointed out for everybody to hear that he was “studying money” and didn’t actually “give a fuck” about me or anyone else in the van for that matter, and that if at all any of us felt the need we could just “get to fuck out” of the van and carry our collective lady parts!!
Naturally, the passengers took great exception to this. The van erupted in protest. Only a Johnnie would have expected otherwise. The woman in the seat next to me mockingly reminded the conductor that PSV operators were in the papers last year lamenting the severity of the fines and penalties they faced. She suggested (to resounding agreement) that if this was how they treated their customers not only should the fines be more severe but that they “wanted locking to hell up too!” The man in the front passenger seat added that they wanted “beating… real real bad!” and from there the suggestions came fast and furious.
At first I was thoroughly enjoying it all; I took great comfort in the fact that I was not the only person who had been indulging in revenge fantasies, but as time wore on and the suggestions for punishment grew more extreme and the alacrity with which they were made grew more intense I began to feel uncomfortable. By the time “beating with the cat ‘o’ nine tails” and “hinging” (I assume by the neck until dead) came up I was having an unnerving epiphany.
The punishment we wished on the driver and conductor for the inconvenience they had caused us was completely out of proportion with the sin.
The driver, perhaps sensing that he could lose the passengers he already had in the van (Ordinarily I would have gotten out and encouraged everybody to follow suit long ago) urged the conductor to get in the van. He did, and off we went and of course the discussion (for want of a better word) continued.
I was mildly amused by the fact that the conductor seemed genuinely hurt by the fact that we harboured such ill will towards him; he seemed oblivious of his wrong doing. My epiphany continued, punishment by itself does not really work. The fact that the already overloaded van, full of complaining passengers, stopped at the first bus stop it encountered to cram three additional passengers on board reinforced this idea.
I wondered why, if that were the case, we are always preaching punishment; every time school children are seen misbehaving we say they want beating, if men on trial for violent crime make the mistake of smiling in public we are deeply offended and the cat ‘o’ nine is bound to be mentioned. I even remember when a number of little boys, a few years ago raped a school girl and so called rational adults felt that it was reasonable to suggest that they should be “bulled” as punishment for their crime. I often think of the photos and the horribly insensitive accompanying comments that circulated Facebook after a young girl with a socially unacceptable love of motorcycles had a fatal accident. We are quick to rejoice when misfortune befalls those who break the society’s rules. We are happy to see them punished.
It dawned on me in the back of that ZR that we love punishment!
It may be a little unfair to say, “We love punishment!” because clearly we don’t love it in the same way we love sugar or rum. That is to say we don’t love punishment when we are receiving or are about to receive it, but when it is others being punished for their sins (real or imagined) we seem to find great relish in that! I find myself wondering more and more why that is…
Nala (The $2 Philosopher)
Next PT II Love of Punishment.