Pedro Opeka is a living saint. His Cathedral is a granite stone pit from which he mines precious stones. They are not as beautiful as Laventille Blue Limestone once quarried to build the Governor’s House, the Balmoral home of Stollmeyer, Police Headquarters, St James Barracks, the Royal Gaol, the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception and the San Fernando Courthouse. But from Opeka’s Cathedral quarry, he says Mass three times and his hand hewn stones cut from the pit have been used to construct houses for 25,000 slum dwellers, 100 schools, 6 clinics and 2 football stadiums and plans are afoot to build a college to educate paramedics. From the hillside, Opeka saw ordinary people rummaging through garbage for food and sleeping in hemp shanties bolstered between elevations of waste.
Opeka is a member of the “Congregation of the Mission”- a vowed Roman Catholic society of apostolic life founded by St. Vincent de Paul. The Holy Father Pope Francis taught Father Opeka theology at the Colegio Máximo de San Miguel in Buenos Aires while Francis himself was completing his own studies for the priesthood. The Holy Father recently defended the poor in a homily during an open-air Mass in Akamasoa, a village of candy-coloured houses built by Opeka on the hills above Madagascar’s capital, Antananarivo. Akamasoa was once a place of despair. Now, “Every corner of these neighbourhoods, every school or dispensary, is a song of hope that refutes and silences any suggestion that some things are ‘inevitable’,” Pope Francis said. But all silences are not the same.
Following the Pontiff who once tutored him, Father Opeka said, “poverty is not an inevitable destiny but something that stems from the lack of social responsibility of politicians who have forgotten and turned their backs on the people who have elected them.” Andry Nirina Rajoelina, the President of Madagascar, stood silent as Father Opeka spoke. But his silence is not the same as the silence of the dwellers of the municipal dump. Nor is it the same as the silence that now dumfounds every doubting Thomas who witnessed this deprivation and did nothing. The Chilean Nobel Laureate poet, Gabriela Mistral in “The Pleasures of Service” writes: “Do not limit yourself to the easy tasks. It is so beautiful to do what others dodge. But don’t fall prey to the error that only great tasks done can be counted as accomplishments. There are small acts of service that are good ones.”
Opeka was penniless. He borrowed 900€ to initiate his ministry. For thirty years, this Lazarian Saint lived in the municipal dump, side by side with the shantytown dwellers. Well–being and freedom to live a decent human life must be the ultimate objective of the economy. Unequal social relations create a “culture of silence” that instil a harmful, inactive and repressed self-image amongst the oppressed until they themselves develop the critical consciousness to recognize that a culture of silence is created to oppress.
The ability to reason well and the disposition to do so are not only constitutive of development but are at the core of any development strategy that envisions the creation of intellectual capital as the basis for economic advantage. Within the new geographies of power, advantage may be judged in terms of the abilities and dispositions which the state serves to foster and to nurture among its citizens; in particular the ability to evaluate the probative strength of judgments and the disposition to do so. The disposition to reason well involves: valuing good reasons, seeking good reasons, assessing reasons, and governing actions and beliefs on the basis of such assessments.
This results in: an inquiring attitude, nuanced judgement, the ability to analyse complex frames from multiple points of view and shifting criteria, the exploration of solutions for which possible paths are not specifiable in advance, and the ability to use a host of tools to construct meaning and impose structure on situations rather than to find them already apparent. It will erase silence.
Plantation schooling never aimed to make the enslaved, the emancipated, or the indentured the landlords of profits. Thomas Piketty shows that European society was once highly unequal and private wealth dwarfed national income as rich families sat atop a rigid class structure. This system persisted even as industrialization contributed to rising wages. Piketty’s theory of capital and inequality shows that, as a general rule, wealth grows faster than economic output.
He captures this idea in the expression r > g (where r is the rate of return to wealth and g is the economic growth rate). Other things being equal, faster economic growth will diminish the importance of wealth in a society, whereas slower growth will increase it. But there are no natural forces pushing against the steady concentration of wealth. Only a burst of rapid growth stemming from technological advancement or government intrusion can be counted on to keep economies from returning to the “patrimonial capitalism” that distressed Marx. Social, race and class dynamics are tightly interlaced in bequeathed education systems that propagate a culture of silence because they eliminate paths of thought that lead to a language of critique.