In the twentieth century man’s problem has more and more urgently become one of coming to terms with himself – in his institutions, his beliefs, rites and observances. Today, all the world’s societies face this problem. There is a massive contemporary movement of re-orientation which disturbs even the most stubbornly conservative communities. But the nature of the transition is rather different from place to place. In the “modern” societies of the North Atlantic the scientific revolution has meant the erosion or breakdown of patiently erected domestic values, particularly in assumptions about privilege and class. In a less direct way, the scientific revolution has put an end to the age of colonialism; and post-colonial societies have found their new independence not only a boon but an additional source of pressure on “Traditional” forms of social and economic organisation. For many of these societies, such as in Africa and Asia, the dominant problem is one of adapting customary cultural foundations to the requirements of a technological age.
In this process of transition, the Caribbean stands alone – faced, as it ls, with the special problem of launching on this sea of change without ballast – without benefit of the cultural solidity which has given meaning and direction to transformation in other societies. Based on wholly imported and ethnically diverse populations, territorially small, economically, politically and culturally enslaved, Caribbean communities have traditionally stood on the periphery of North Atlantic civilization, dependent as much for their ideas and views as for their consumer goods. For these communities, the fact of independence has meant leaving the paternal shelter (for better or for worse) to face the wide world with no cultural defenses worth speaking of. There is always, of course, the romantic, touristy notion that the Caribbean is an exciting melting-pot of the world’s races and cultures. Like most myths, this one embodies an element of truth, but remains about ninety percent aspiration. The reality is less flatterinig.
Looking at this hand-me-down world Vidia Naipaul concludes that the Caribbean has no society at all, properly speaking. George Lamming is impressed by our artists’ alien “ways of seeing”. And not only the novelists, but other writers, particularly sociologists, have developed this theme in one direction or another. Lloyd Braithwaite, for instance, has described the way in which formal education in the Caribbean tends to inhibit creative adaptations to the local environment. We have, to destructive excess, that gift for which the Scottish poet Robert Bums prayed: far too much, we see ourselves as others see us…and we react accordingly, striving to conform to the external models, becoming Americans or Englishmen, Communists or Junior Executives a la Madison Avenue, according to individual education and penchant. Where there ls no internal cultural strength, anything becomes acceptable; and where anything is acceptable the tendency is for the worst to be adopted.
For all this, we remain a distinctive people with our own creative will and a determination to build a society appropriate to our collective needs. But to do this, the community must be critically selective. The overriding need is, therefore, to develop agencies of discrimination. Ideally, the task of selecting what is really desirable from among all the external influences makes a considerable demand on the collective wisdom of the whole community; and the necessary preconditions for it are, first, that an abundance of helpful facts be made readily available to the population at large, and next, that there should be agencies stimulating and encouraging reasoned discussion of important issues.
Part of this complex function is properly the concern of the agencies of formal education; part the concern of the public communications media. To our mind, the present condition of both these agencies in the Caribbean is deplorable. In articles to come we will try to analyse, and account for this inadequacy of the educational systems and or the media of mass communications. Here, we only wish to say that New World Quarterly and its associated publications are an attempt to bridge at least part of the gap on the public communications side.
Like the other publications already in production or projected for the future, New World Quarterly is one of the more concrete manifestation of a loosely-knit Caribbean movement with main centres, at present, in Jamaica, Trinidad and British Guiana and known collectively as the New World Group. This Group is not a political organization in the sense of being committed to or contemplating any direct political action. It started in the various centres as a series of informal discussion groups among people who were more or less dissatisfied with the general complexion of Caribbean affairs; and the idea of publishing grew up as a natural consequence of dissatisfaction with the existing channels for public debate. It was the general consensus that if a matter was important enough to warrant discussion by a group it was important enough to be thrown open to the public, and vice versa. Not surprisingly, the people originally taking part in these discussions were frequently (but not always) connected with the universities or the professions, but one of the conclusions early arrived at was that no inflexible identification should be made between the universities and the Group as such; the Group should be non-exclusive and all publications an expression of the Impulse to democratize the process of public discussion.
This, substantially, is the platform on which New World Quarterly stands. The foothold, however, is not altogether easy, since a simultaneous objective is to set as high a standard as possible for the sort of thing we want to publish, and! to reject the dubious device of talking down to anybody. Additionally, in contrast with associated publications such as the New World Fortnightly published in British Guiana, this Quarterly can normally be expected to deal in heavier stuff than the more topical journals. Our hope is that we do not stumble more than is humanly inevitable in carrying out the task we have set ourselves.