Shane J. Pantin
The spirit of a unified Caribbean has been reflected in the achievement of its athlete over the course of the 2012 London Olympics. This is not a new sense of unity. It has always been within the region personified by other achievements especially cricket. What has happened in London is a reconfiguration of an old manifestation. The most significant feature of this reconfiguration is the enthusiasm by people from all generations, especially the young, to support and celebrate Caribbean athletes. A visit to social media portals shows an outpouring of pride and joy as the athletes won medals.
So it is apt that we take pause to consider these developments in light of what efforts have been taken place on a larger dimension of Caribbean unity. Earlier this year Caricom was in a crisis of its existence. Its inability to push forward unification in addition to the limp response by Caribbean members towards the agenda of the organization has made it useless and irrelevant. The problems with Caricom were wide ranging, but at the heart of the matter is that it was an initiative that is largely led from the top and not from the bottom which subsequently contributed to a lack of regional will.
The direction of this push is important in assessing the overall strategy and goal of Caribbean unity. Since its establishment in 1973 by regional leaders, much of Caricom’s agencies are establishing frameworks for greater collaboration through education, economics and politics. This has led to some very important regional structures to emerge that have benefitted the Caribbean. Examples include the field of education through the Caribbean Examinations Council and the Caribbean Advanced Proficiency Examination which has indigenized the education system; the establishment of the Caribbean Court of Justice; and the Caricom Office of Trade Negotiations (OTN) which handles the region’s international negotiations.
Alas, while institutional building is important it lacks the important element of an engendered presence. What I mean by this engendered presence is the visible and known role that the organization plays in the hearts and minds of the Caribbean citizenry. If the average Caribbean citizen were to be asked about Caricom it is more than likely they would view it with disappointment to obliviousness.
But in contrast, the performance of the region's athletes on the world stage is showing a much different direction to Caribbean unity than whatever has been pushed by Caricom. It is a unity created by technology, by culture and by celebrating together. This is beyond the institutions and beyond the personalities but an organic and legitimate presence. Everyone shares in the joy of seeing Usian Bolt win gold in all the events he competes in. We all connect in seeing 19 year old Kirani James from Grenada win that country’s first ever gold medal. And in my native Trinidad and Tobago, we all celebrate the capture of the gold medal by Keshorn Walcott in an event which no Caribbean nation has ever ventured much less a teenager from Toco, Trinidad.
What this signals is that we need to reconfigure expectations and how we advance regional integration by using what we have rather than trying to create structures which the populations have no interest in and barely acknowledge. And I think a good starting point is to tap into that current sense of regionalism that is currently being experience before it evaporates.
Shane J. Pantin
The Caribbean Philosophical Association held its annual conference from July 19 to 21 at the St Augustine campus of the University of the West Indies. I presented a paper on the work of Lloyd Best and James Millette and it gave me the opportunity to visit some of their writing as well as that of a number of authors of a radical period in Trinidad and Tobago’s history, the 1960s and 1970s.
Without question the period 1968 – 1973 was rife with anti-colonialism and anti-capitalism. The common denominators were pan-ethnic and pro-socialist ideologies that envisioned alternative paths towards the Caribbean’s human and physical development. I profess that I am not a socialist and at times I am even hostile to some of its precepts; it does not mean however that I am in the ring with some of the capitalistic mantra. Both Capitalism and Socialism can be ruthless, whether ideologues like to admit so or not. But in visiting some sources it was interesting to see some of the ironies that intellectuals and activists encountered when attempting to debunk and destroy global capitalism.
In the 1970s, Capitalism seemed to be going through an extraordinary crisis. With the loss of Vietnam, Civil Rights in America, tertiary school students rebelling against the established structure, and the collusion of the oil cartels, the ideology was on shaky ground. Much of the world was under the seduction of socialist creeds speaking about the utopias it could create. Certainly the ideal of socio-economically equal societies governed by transparent and accountable governments was not just simply an ideological calling but a human responsibility. Socialism had a vision and a formula – what I call the hindsight, insight, foresight connection. I use hindsight because much of what socialism professed was based on the historical epochs that explained the experience of humankind; insight explained the contemporary conditions, the relationships that humankind had with the environment, and identifying the elites who subjugated and exploited people and natural resources; and foresight predicted a future outcome on what can happen if this condition continued, most likely a revolution, and what will come after the uprising – a new socialist order.
Back in the 1960s and 1970s, the use of socialism, socialist derived explanations, or social models were similar, making it difficult to disassociate one from the other. A good example is the research I presented on Best and Millette. One could hardly differentiate the two ideologies except that each had different political motives; but there was nuance in their resolutions. Best felt that the established structures were the stumbling blocks of social and economic progress for little had changed in Caribbean societies even after a number of territories acquired independence or self-governing status. Take note, Best was not a socialist, but he did have social models. Caribbean societies, especially Trinidad and Tobago, had to start from the ground up by building legitimate socio-political systems connecting with the lives of people, chiefly the most socio-economically vulnerable people in society. His approach was community based, grass roots organization, building support bases through educating and social mobilisation which engendered the degree of appreciation within people’s hearts and minds so that political ideology and praxis was legitimized by the people. Best’s Tapia House Group formed in 1968 was the political vehicle – I purposely do not use party – by which praxis was conducted. The motif was that the people worked hard to etch out a living and they should have control of the direction of the fruits of their labours. The intellectual’s responsibility was to go amongst the people and educate them of these structures so that they might build legitimate institutions.
But it certainly was frustrating to place faith in the people especially in the midst of the powerful political machinery already dominant in the discourse. The People’s National Movement (PNM), who held the reins of power from 1962 – 1986, had a good deal of cash, loyalty and state power to debilitate and destroy any so- called community based activism. At the end of the day, people have to eat and no level of community based action is going to solve that. State patronage was a sure answer to sustain loyalties and this defeated any effort by Best. Not to say that there were no problems with Best’s philosophy and praxis, but the political reality was far stronger in defeating his momentum.
So enter Millette’s approach, like Best, the established structures had to go, capitalism contained many injustices, and investment must be in people. But here we see a slight divergence. Nothing was possible or relevant without resources and tools. The PNM had much of these and to win the struggle you had to capture state power. The solution lied in a successful formation of the political party, à la, CLR James. And so we see the formation of the United National Independence Party (UNIP) in 1970. Millette put it best when he stated at a public rally in May 1970:
One of the very important questions raised by the current mood and the current demonstrations is the future of the political party. I think that this, too, we must face quite frankly, and head on because the political party originated as an institution for the advancement of the interests of people and if today people, as evidenced by the Black Power movement and some of the rather vocal members in the crowd here, are denigrating the existence and denigrating the legitimacy of a political party or of political parties in general in Trinidad and Tobago or in the West Indies in general, it is important for us to examine why. (Moko, 15 May 1970)
With the credo of creating a strong opposition to the PNM, UNIP and its newspaper Moko was pro-ethnic, pro-labour, and pro-people hoping to capture hearts and minds. The paper ran for about five years before having to shut down. Why? It lacked advertising! That’s right, it could not win over enough resources to continue and depended on the sale of the enlightened knowledge it disseminated to generate its own resources. Likewise, the UNIP wilted after it failed to capture power in 1971 (did not contest) and 1976.
If the old saying that knowledge is power, I learnt something the other day from an episode of Game of Thrones, power is power, and the one wielding the resources plays the tune. This is what Millette appeared to have understood and why there was a strong need to get the political machine running.
So why did it all go wrong; certainly Socialism was winning the game?
Socialism was capturing hearts and minds, it was not capturing productive energies, resources or innovators, a key point which capitalism held decisively. Those carrying wealth become the patrons of the social, cultural, technological and economic dimensions of society. They protect that wealth and hardly relinquish it on whims and fancies. When opportunities arise that appear as an investment, capitalists release finances to push growth forward thereby fuelling that investment as well as their pockets. Socialism never fully articulated the nuance of society outside of wealth. Capitalism appeared to do so. Therefore socialism lost the game.
So looking at the current landscape, and the current travails of capitalism, we can sit and ask whether any “alternative” can exploit the “capitalist crisis” to create a new discourse. Well so far alternative responses at a global level have been limp. Capitalism remains a significant force and one that captures people’s imagination, even for those disgusted by it. So it is difficult to discuss a crisis; it is rightfully a slump and the only idea is how to reinvigorate energies.
At the end of the day, Capitalists hold most of the resources if not ideological loyalty. And even loyalties can be bought when we feel our stomachs grumble and we have to go to the supermarket to get bread, cheese, and milk.
Shane J. Pantin
From April 25-27, 2012, the Faculty of Social Sciences and the Sir Arthur Lewis Institute of Social and Economic Studies (SALISES) of the University of the West Indies (UWI), St Augustine Campus, hosted a conference exploring the major developments in Trinidad and Tobago within the past 50 years. Titling the conference in the form of a question “Trinidad and Tobago at 50: A Model Nation?” diverse contributions in the areas of politics, economics, culture, and society looked at some of the developments that have taken place, and to recommend constructive policy considerations. One issue raised at the conference were the legacies of British colonialism which some presenters felt stymies independent processes of the nation. Three of the more prominent colonial leftovers were: the fascination with titles, the ongoing use of the Privy Council, and the constitutional concerns.
Dr. Hamid Ghany, Dean of the Faculty of Social Sciences (FSS), raised the issue of titles as one of the significant concerns in contemporary Trinidad and Tobago (a post of his comments was made earlier). He mentioned that the fascination with titles, by and large, created a stratified culture. I agreed with much of what he said if not all. Titles were used and continue to be used by old world societies to separate those with privilege, wealth, and power. In much of Europe following the vacuum created by the demise of the Roman Empire, titles were a highly sought after goal by budding elitists. While in most “modern” societies today, titles are honorific rather than used as a system of social stratification, it still has a bearing on perceptions of status. In Trinidad and Tobago, the British Commonwealth, and the United States, titles such as Your Excellency or The Honourable are used by politicians, judges, or persons in other governmental capacities, to distinguish themselves from the wider public.
While they certainly have no meaning, other than to satisfy an ego, do they have any place in politics? The answer could be a resounding no if the average person is asked. But somehow these prefixes, and at times suffixes, have evolved to the point that it gives someone a sense of place in society. Does a non-medical doctor need to use the title of Dr. preceding a name? No! But he or she does less his or her opinion goes unaccepted. Titles elevate someone above the rest creating elites and establishing worth. So it is unavoidable even though it appears inane. Therefore, referring to someone as Your Excellency or The Honourable, which is vague about honour or excellence, is quite silly but it will not remove the feeling of superiority if it were to be changed. The politician will still be full of pride when referred to as Member of Parliament or Senator.
The next concern of the Privy Council was another important point. Recently Trinidad and Tobago shifted from using the Privy Council for criminal cases but retaining its jurisdiction over civil cases. Progress perhaps, but some argue that a total supplanting of the Privy Council with the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ) is required at this point in the nation’s history. I am highly supportive of the CCJ which follows the trend of thought of those who view it as an important part of our national development. Since it is a regional court, it brings the handling of national concerns closer to home. From a philosophical viewpoint, it really says something about our abilities if we do not have confidence in our own system to lead and pass judgment. At another level, the financial cost of referring cases across the Atlantic is significantly reduced.
Constitutional reform presents our third problem and this has been spoken about ad nauseum. Well there were several arguments some frequently repeated than others: does the current constitution reflect the current conditions of Trinidad and Tobago? Has the first past the post system created fair and representative processes? Should the nation continue to maintain the use of an unelected and somewhat ineffective senate? Should the constitution insert rules and regulations on political parties? There were certainly a range of responses to these questions but usually the discussion does not solve anything except remind us of what needs to be done.
So after these three points, was the question answered? The answer was more to the affirmative in the areas of economics, culture, and to some extent politics. In a multicultural society we have been able to stymie the chaos of ethnic tension; and economic advancement has done much to improve the lives of average citizens. I agree with these positions; so does it mean that these colonial vestiges are cosmetic and in getting rid of them we are only fulfilling national pride. If the idea is that by getting rid of colonial leftovers it shifts the philosophy of the way society operates then perhaps it would have some good. But given the fact that we have retained these colonial legacies and indeed some are quite content with it, I do not see how a transfer will improve anything save perhaps the CCJ. As the nation evolves perhaps colonial titles will no longer have any relevance, we will finally have a court that expresses our national or regional will and a constitution that operates within the confines of the nation. But my feeling is that these developments happen organically and with time, which is the best way of destroying colonial legacies.
Shane J. Pantin
Is that part of the Western Hemisphere that stretches from Los Algodones, Baja California, Mexico, to Águila Islet, Diego Ramirez Islands, Chile, finally acquired the confidence to make boisterous declarations. Chavez recently made the statement that Cuba will not miss another Summit of the Americas; most of Latin America was in agreement. The United States has also had a hard time influencing States within the region to policies emanating from side. And China has been continuously pushing their way into the region for the past few years. Don’t take my word for it, read this:
U.S. commercial and political influence in the region has been in decline as China gains on the U.S. as a top trading partner, and many analysts say these summits are unwieldy and only make sense if there is serious follow-up on substantive issues. [i]
The final result is that no substantive gains had been made from the Summit; some say it is a failure.[ii] Don’t worry, there is a distraction, read the headline:
Secret Service agents accused of misconduct removed from summit[iii]
So let us look at the scenario: the USA has found itself slowly losing its influence in areas of the globe that it was once pre-eminent. Latin America is no longer its backyard; the “Middle-East” has been a quagmire, one which has brought little benefit to the United States; the “Far East” is slowly falling under the influence of Indian and Chinese hegemony; the Americans cannot act as openly in Europe as seen with the European missile defence project, and with the shadow of Russia hanging over; and Africa has been a tough call. So it looks as though Western Europe, Israel, Canada and Australia are its main allies with India perhaps in league.
So what has happened? Recently I saw a video on NASA (National Aeronautics and Space Administration) space program where the US government is withdrawing investments on space exploration. During the 1960s, NASA’s federal budget was at 5 percent, it is now at 0.5 percent.
These space programs were reflective of a bygone era, where a clear enemy, the Soviet Union, and to a larger extent communism, was visible. It was easy to pour resources against this enemy and to compete against them. It gave the United States purpose and it gave them a reason to forge ahead. The nation was fulfilling its great power destiny. But this is naïve; a host of underlying factors were present as well. Be that as it may, the enemy is less clear and the United States is being challenged in many ways.
For one thing, America is less an inspired nation. Somehow they have become decadent and less concerned about the future. Neither the Republicans nor the Democrats push visions of America if we speak of the larger nature of things. Where once they spoke of landing men on the moon, there is now talk of social programs, and where once the Americans were supporting democracy to those eager for it, the main rhetoric is about deficit spending. As one writer put it, more facebook apps or social media outlets will not cut it if you want to be a great power. You need hard technology. While some say that the oratory of the past lacked any substance and it was all rhetoric by a great power, it sure did a great deal in pushing America forward. But can such rhetoric be used in the current environment. If Barack Obama today were to say that American values is about protecting freedoms, I don’t believe that he believes that! We have learned enough about America's great rise – the good, the bad, the very bad and the ugly, to not accept that statement wholeheartedly.
2012 might perhaps go down in the history books as the year that Latin America finally becomes a united force and asserts a common front regionally and internationally. The combined statements of leaders in the region in support of Cuba and the ever beating drumbeat of the return of the Falkland Islands will inevitably rally most if not all Latin American nations. And this is backed up by great strides in economic growth largely because of Brazil.
Where does it leave the US? In a tight spot certainly. I am an admirer of the American constitution and Declaration of Independence, two documents that testify to the spirit of America. Their way of life, however, not so much, though there are still some good from their confident attitude toward endeavours they approach. So they will still have a place where they inspire a great many, but not have as much influence, they will be able to counsel, but not control. They will be able to guide but not lead. They will seep into the History books, and the age of a great nation would have come to an end.
Shane J. Pantin
Last month, the History Society launched the second edition of its annual magazine, Historical Tides. The theme chosen for this edition was the concept of Modernity. While the publication looked at Modernity through social, cultural, technological, and ideological processes, in this post I will like to relate my thoughts on some things not covered in the publication. In sociology, the arts, and philosophy, Modernity, Modern, and Modernism have slightly different meanings. Let us take two examples for illustration.
Prof Bridget Brereton in an interview with me related an interpretation of Modernity in the Arts. Modernity arose at the turn of the twentieth century representing the grittier side of industrial urban life. The “un-ideal” was romanticised, that is, aspects of modern life which did not hold up to Christian or noble standards were represented within artistic endeavours. This was reflected in the work of Dadaism and its derivative, Surrealism.
In history, Modernity represents the turn from feudal/ancient type organization to urban industrial organization. If we were to illustrate this process with a few simple terms, it would be larger, wider, faster, denser, and complex. If I were to qualify each of these terms with the word “economically”, then those of us who are of a fair historical mind can envision what this means in the world of economics without the detail. By the turn of the nineteenth century, Western European economies had become economically larger, wider, faster, denser, and complex. However, it is just a basic understanding as there are greater nuances to the economic process.
There is one aspect of Modernity however that seems to generate discussion and debate as I have aptly titled here, the inevitable march. Reflective of the growing trend globally especially in social media technologies and consumerism, there is an unavoidable feature to Modernity. European positivists in the late eighteenth to the early nineteenth century, were certain of the forward progression of human society. By the late nineteenth century positivists were celebrating the progress made within Europe with all its scientific and intellectual achievements.
As much as the debate over progressive world views is subjective, everyone seeks to create a world that moves forward, unless of course you are a cynic. Progression is one of the key features of Modernity in that the world is moving in a positive direction. Certainly there is a sound basis to the argument. When we compare social indices over the last one hundred years and we look at birth rates over death rates, improvements in medical care, improvements in convenience, progress made in education, we can certainly see the positive trend of thought. Indeed some people romanticise about these trends, even using it as a selling point.
As with all arguments, this positive direction has its critics. You see with all the benefits that modern civilization has provided, there is an equally negative aspect to the whole affair. Yeah sure we have higher mortality rates, but it has created greater stress on the earth’s physical resources to provide for the now 7 billion people on the planet. We have a long list of social media technologies, yet we are more disconnected from the grave realities facing people in depressed areas; and I am not talking about that KONY 2012 video. In fact we have become quite narcissistic. And even as our education system has improved exponentially, we cannot solve many critical problems such as crime and poverty.
So we win on one side and lose with the other. Therefore some have adopted a new ideological god…..POSTMODERNISM!!!
So what is the reason for me bringing this up? Well it has to do with things being said by critics which sometimes makes one wonder about their conception of the contemporary world; yes I deliberately avoided the word modern. Take the economic crisis in Greece and the “doom and gloom” of the European Union. Commentators state that the Greek economic crisis should be a reminder to all of us of the flawed system that Europeans foisted upon the world. Their economic system, their technology and even their worldview has not been to the benefit of us but has locked the world community into a perpetual state of crisis.
Really!!! The same detractors of Modernity bathe in all its splendour, but I digress.
The historical trajectory of what has been seen as a Western European concept is not a pretty one. Indeed it has been quite ugly. With each new development there was a major price to pay. Europe did not simply arrive grandiosely on the world stage by sheer intellectual and scientific development. There was a harsh and ugly side both external and internal to Europe which includes enslavement and plunder, wars and the destruction of the environment. All societies accepting the template of modern processes has undergone these strains. Be that as it may, Europe is a standard bearer to what mankind has and can achieve.
I will give my take on it. Societies have to go forward. No point in reminiscing about the past or what should have been done. Therefore, the fact that human populations are expanding which the global community has to deal with will mean new concerns are always emerging. Greater complexity arises as groups become stronger and much more confident. So we have unavoidable concerns and the faster we understand and deal with it, the better.
But, some believe that answers lie outside of Western European processes and that there can be much easier ways to steer the powerful processes at play while preserving the environment, giving an equal space to all humans, and creating an alternative to the destruction. Who are they? Environmentalist, third world activists, socialists, and we can even throw in religious fundamentalists. These are just a few. Their vision of a “better world” is fair enough, I will not denigrate it, but I cannot help but see the naivety as there has never been such an arrival. Modern societies are here because of a particular path in however way we choose to look at it. If we wish to change that path then we destroy something to build another. Oh, and there is an ugly side to this new construction as anything intellectually and socially transformative is open to challenge.
Many of those I spoke to for the publication felt that the current trajectory will stay in place for a while, even in the midst of the economic crisis. I tend to agree. The players might change, as in the newly emerging nations of Russia, Brazil, China, and India, but the processes and issues remain the same: how to deal with this larger, wider, denser, and complex world.
Here is a link to the flipbook. Use the arrows on the base of the page to turn pages.
Shane J. Pantin
Ever heard of an ethical judgement; it is rationalizing the rightness or wrongness of a decision. Some thinkers have devised models which they believe people use to weigh the rightness or wrongness of a decision. A clear-cut decision for example: steal or not to steal we can make without hesitation based on social or personal codes. But let us consider a heavier decision: President Barack Obama’s decision to send a special force team to kill Osama Bin Laden. In many religions, killing is bad (humans that is); and in most cases, societies draw upon religious codes for ethical considerations.
However, enter the concept of justice, which couches the reasoning process in complicated terms. Justice restores balance when ethical principles are breached. In fact, without some kind of punitive measure it would be hard to see how ethical concepts will ever survive. In this case, the ousting of Bin Laden was based on the idea of justice; serving as an umbrella for the concept of ethics.
When we see a wrong being committed we don’t simply refer to ideas of ethics but we also want justice to prevail. So by this we develop measures by which rightness or wrongness is weighed.
So let us look at another idea: political patronage and relate it to ethical judgement. Yes you smell the ethical stuff oozing. Many countries operating under Westernized political codes have diverse views on political patronage as it relates to groups who have power within the governing system. Political patronage comes at many levels and many forms, but in systems that use party politics to form the government, patronage is a tricky affair. How do we separate patronage from fair and legitimate grants?
Well it is never easy. Take the example of lobbying in the American political system. For years there have been debates of cleaning it up. But it helps fund the political party machinery, which pays off for lobbyists in the end. It is a double edged sword as the politics needs financial support but because of inextricable links to nepotism, the system is corrupt.
In Trinidad and Tobago we have recently confronted our own scandal with the award of Senior Counsel status to sitting judges and other personalities in the ruling political party which presents a conflict of interest. Not only does it tread on the idea of the separation of powers but gives the executive influence in an arm of the government which we must always be suspicious of.
So the concept of ethical judgement enters where we judge the decision to award such distinctions to those who are part of the ruling political party. Remember though, we are on the outside looking in while those we judge are the ones that rationalize. We assert our values, they assert their power. Well for us it is a clear case of political nepotism and we slap our palms to our foreheads and ask, “What were they thinking?” But we must also remember that the award is given to those who have distinguished themselves in the legal profession and we can certainly say that they have done so.
Terrence Farrell, writing in the Trinidad Express puts it nicely:
But this latest is yet another example of a society whose elite is by and large insecure and unresponsible, a topic on which I have written in the June 2011 issue of the T&T Review. There is almost a desperation about attaining status and recognition that leads persons to disregard or rationalise obvious conflicts of interest and to pursue self-serving agendas.
We see the conflict of interest and the loss of integrity to one arm of the government, the judiciary. But they see status deserving of their labours and service to the country. The ethical judgements become muddled and we ask how they do not see this so clearly. Therefore it was wrong to award government officials and sitting judges Silk, they should return it. Our sense of justice is also amplified and we want to see some sort of reprisal; not sure what that is yet.
So I have two opinions. The first is that of appropriateness and timing. In an Express online column it stated:
The appointments of the CJ and Kangaloo, along with 14 attorneys, including Attorney General Anand Ramlogan, Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar, Director of Public Prosecutions Roger Gaspard, and Solicitor-General Eleanor Donaldson-Honeywell, were proposed by Ramlogan and agreed to by Persad-Bissessar, who then informed President George Maxwell Richards, following consultation with the Law Association and Archie.
Sharma said the decision of who to appoint "can only come from a few skilled people, and this can only come from the bar".
Therefore, it was a case of bad timing and judgement and I return to the aforementioned statement by Farrell. Elites are so caught up in a world where they seek recognition that they miss what are obvious poor judgements. As skilled and deserving Anand Ramlogan might be, should he be the one proposing and receiving the award even if the proposal was in conjunction with other bodies. Should Kamla Persad Bissessar also be awarded such merit? In fact, should Obama have gotten the Nobel Peace Prize? Well that is a matter for another post. But the one thing we must recognize is that ethics teaches us to have an ear for what might be appropriate or inappropriate.
This brings me to my second point, understanding ethical problems are based on an organic understanding of social institutions whether it is politics, the family or the business. It is something imbibed by practice and social engagement at wide levels and having a clear sense as well as common-sense when confronted with an issue. Not everyone is able to tap into this. I am not sure if I can describe it. But it is readily accessible. Some however do not grow up around such principles and it is a free for all. I think the action by Chief Justice Ivor Archie and Appeal Court Judge Wendell Kangaloo was in keeping with this understanding of ethics. They were awarded a status that would bring controversy and they made a decision to rectify. They have therefore learnt.
But, we the people also have these ethical judgements to make based on our own patterns of reasoning. And remember, we also rectify rationalise and justify so that we have no conflict of interest. But like Archie and Kangaloo, hopefully those passing ethical judgements have learnt as well.
Shane J. Pantin
A prince …. ought to choose the fox and the lion; because the lion cannot defend himself against snares and the fox cannot defend himself against wolves. Therefore, it is necessary to be a fox to discover the snares and a lion to terrify the wolves.
- The Prince – Nicolo Machiavelli
In our tale of the lion and the fox the ending is simple – the fox wins. He wins because he is witty, resourceful, and charming. He chooses his battles well and knows how to rebound from defeat. He knows how to use the strength of a lion as well as the agility of a fox. And so when he tells the tale of his accomplishments or reverses, the crowd is eager for the story or to ask that one question of an important moment to give clarity or closure. Thus was the evening of conversation with former Prime Minister Basdeo Panday.
With a packed Daaga Hall at UWI St Augustine on Thursday 26th January 2012, the second in the series of Conversations with Prime Ministers was held as we traced the personal and professional career of a national figure who has one of the best monikers which calypsonians, soca artistes, or chutney stars could envy – the Silver Fox. We had the opportunity to glimpse his life story, his time as a trade union leader, and his career as a politician.
I will briefly survey his early life until his journey into politics in 1966. Panday was born on May 25th 1933 in the village of St. Julien to the south of Trinidad to poor Hindu peasant farmers. His Primary and Secondary education was attained at the St. Julien C.M. Primary School and St. Benedict’s College. He worked in several professions thereafter including that of cane-weigher for the Ste Madeleine Sugar Company and as a Court note-taker at the San Fernando Magistrates Court. He left for London in 1957, stayed for approximately 9 years gaining a diploma in Drama, his Barrister-at-Law degree from Lincoln’s Inn and a BSc degree from London University in Economics and Government. Awarded a Commonwealth scholarship to do his PhD at Delhi University in India in 1965, he was on his way to pursue his doctoral studies when the hands of fate intervened.
Before he journeyed to India he decided to make a stop in Trinidad to visit friends and family. At that time, the Labour movement was involved in a dispute with the ruling government over a piece of legislation that would give greater structure to vent grievances but which was seen by labour activists as a way of destroying the movement’s ability to protest. It was at this point that Stephen Maharaj (1915-1984), who Panday looked up to, cajoled him to join the movement’s struggles. Maharaj was a trade union activist who was once a member of the Legislative Council. He won two terms in 1950 and 1956 under the leadership of Tubal Uriah Butler’s political party, British Empire Citizens' and Workers' Home Rule Party; and then in 1961 under the Democratic Labour Party led by Rudranath Capildeo, he secured a final term. Battling against the well-organized party of Eric Williams, the People’s National Movement, Maharaj serving as Leader of the Opposition in Capildeo’s absence, worked with C.L.R. James, Jack Kelshall, George Weekes and others within the labour movement to challenge the introduction of the Industrialization Stabilization Act. This involvement allowed Panday to become involved in the politics of the day and his political career thus began.
Setting up his private legal practice with much of his clientele being trade union organizations, Panday fought long struggles for worker’s rights. In a letter he penned in 1995 eulogizing former leader of the Oilfield Workers Trade Union who died that year, Geroge Weekes, he wrote, “During the 30 years that I have known George ‘P.G. Weekes, many were the times when we engaged the Goliath in a plethora of battles on behalf of the workers, the poor and the unemployed. I think it would be true to say that we literally enjoyed fighting for what we believed to be right. For that audacity we shared many police cells together.”
When he entered politics in 1966 under the Workers and Farmers Party which was led by CLR James and Maharaj, he was unsuccessful at the polls. In 1971, the elections were uncontested and so it was in 1976 that he entered the Parliament after the General Elections of that year with the newly formed United Labour Front, a coalition party of diverse groups with Panday assuming leadership and becoming Leader of the Opposition. Coalition was one of the features that Panday had to adopt during much of his political party career. In 1981, he colluded with ANR Robinson’s Democratic Action Congress and Lloyd Best’s Tapia to not fight each other. In 1982 this “alliance” was formalised into the National Alliance of Trinidad and Tobago and by 1986 had evolved into a unitary party, the National Alliance for Reconstruction. In the spirit of the national mood, Panday along with another strong political figure, Karl Hudson Phillips, became deputy political leaders in this arrangement and the party swept the polls that year.
The ascension was short lived as the implosion of the coalition led him to create his own political faction once again. The dark days of the coup d'état signalled a low point for the nation and a poignant question was forwarded to Panday regarding that most infamous phrases that we attach to him, “Wake me up when it is over” at the outbreak of the coup d'état in 1990. Panday had a long time to think about it but he had an explanation that might have resonated with audience members even though there might have been some saccharinity in his response. It was on that fateful day that he went home to take medication in relation to his heart surgery the year before, and it was while resting that his wife, Oma Panday, attempted to wake him up with the news of the insurrection. He responded in jest with, “Wake me up when he is finished”. The audience went wild.
It was in 1995 that he finally ascended to political heights when through an agreement with his old ally, Robinson, that he became Prime Minister. The elections deadlocked at 17 seats for his party, the United National Congress, and the opposition PNM holding another 17, he made an agreement with Robinson’s NAR, which held two seats to break the tie. His time as prime Minister I will leave for another post.
Panday’s story inspires a different type of appeal than what we would usually encounter. He rose from underprivileged status and chose the path of success. The pivotal moment came when he had to choose further study at Delhi or become involved in the labour struggle and a politician. He chose the latter. Had he chosen the former, I doubt that his trajectory to prominence would have been altered. One of his qualities is ambition, a continuous strive for excellence in life which he continued to display. He is intellectually sharp and agile and qualities like these make him what he is. His other famous phrase, “When you see me and a lion fighting, feel sorry for the lion”, sums up what this type of bravado can do.
But I am personally inspired by his qualities as a charismatic leader. Panday embodies the undercanidae, in this case the fox, who must use cunning to achieve victory. He is able to use lionlike qualities to battle against stronger forces. But as we relate we realise that successes were not easy. In fact it was riddled with defeat if we are to use the national elections as a barometer.
Panday failed with the WFP in 1966, he also fell short with the ULF in 1976. Even with the collusions in 1981 they failed to breach the PNM’s stronghold. The triumph of 1986 saw him take a backseat to the more popular ANR Robinson. In 1991 his party only won 13 out of 36 seats. And it was only because he successfully convinced Robinson to his side that he attained success in 1995. A string of successive elections in 2000, 2001, and 2002 were riddled with controversies and saw the eventual triumph of the PNM. In 2010, the final battle, and for all his skill and bravado he was unsuccessful against his rival Kamla Persad-Bissessar. The record speaks for itself.
Therefore, his personality is the magnifying factor which makes victories all the sweeter. Lesser persons would have become irrelevant by now. But Panday is relevant because of his versatile qualities alongside his struggles in the labour movement and the politics. He has earned his respect. At no point in time did he quit, and though he hinted that evening that he will not be running for the leadership in the UNC’s internal election, I think he would want to have some influence in the party he founded.
So I conclude with my impression. Panday is the guy who despite the losses you want him on your side. He teaches us that success need not be tangible, meaning it is not always about if we win, but how we fight the fight, and how we confront defeat. In this case, Panday has always looked at defeat with a smile and said “I will return”. And that is what perhaps gave the evening its appeal. For even as we know the story we still want to hear it again.
Note: This is the second in a series of lectures held by the Open Lectures Committee of UWI. Former Prime Minister Manning, as well as current Prime Minster, Kamla Persad Bissessar, would be invited to speak as well.
Shane J. Pantin
Over a month ago, Tuesday 22nd November, 2011, to be exact, former President and former Prime Minster of Trinidad and Tobago, ANR Robinson, made one of his few public appearances. This evening was entitled “Conversations with Prime Minsters”, and was meant to reflect and discuss with audience members a long career in politics and social activity. It was also meant to generate traction ahead of the launch of Robinson’s biography, “In the Midst of It” which has already been published.
Understandably, because of his frailties he was only able to give short presentations on areas of his life; therefore the reflection took on a different format. Questions or comments were posed to him which he responded to in kind. Be that as it may, the glimpses one got of his life really gives us the image of a man and a political career that was forged by sheer will and determination for success.
Robinson was born in Castara in 1926 to a humble background. Educated at Tobago’s schools he was able to pursue his studies in the great seats of learning in the United Kingdom where he was trained in philosophy, politics and economics. He was Deputy Political Leader of the political party, the People’s National Movement, for a time under Eric Williams. He broke away from the PNM in 1970 in the wake of the Black Power disturbances and formed his own political part, the Democratic Action Congress (DAC). Thence, Robinson’s political career was opposed to the politics of the PNM with 1986 being the eventual triumph over the party that provided him with his first taste of politics.
Reflections such as these by men who served in the realms of power are quixotic but fascinating. For them life was victory after victory, a contribution and a legacy which are to be etched in the history books, or in an autobiography; and so the reflections take on an, “I did it my way” kind of theme. Therefore victories, defeats, blunders, and regrets are seen as necessary parts of the journey. Judgement of actions are left to those who write or comment on it and inevitably shape the memory of the man but do not shape the man himself.
This is the fascinating part of reflecting, how to pass judgement. George W. Bush once remarked that history will be the judge of his actions in the aftermath of the invasion of Iraq. The jury is still out on his actions. When men assume power and occupy the stage they are no longer ordinary figures. They have well-crafted personas and support systems they use to maintain their image. They become detached figures, having notable or notorious characteristics, or both. Somehow these aspects tell the tale of a man, and in the age of media sensationalism, one word or headline creates and impression of a person greater than what a book might say. So then how do we pass judgment?
Hitler is an easy call, a mass murderer but brilliant and charismatic leader; he goes down as the twentieth century’s devil. Mahatma Gandhi, another easy call, the sage of non-violent resistance against injustice, inspires the kind of compassion towards fellow men which only exist in an ideal world; a great inspirer. Let me put forward a tough one, the American President John F. Kennedy. He gives us one of the most encouraging phrases of all time, “ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country,” while at the same time laying the foundation for war in southeast Asia. He also had a personal addiction which I will not bring up. Who amongst you are curious can look that up. But how can we judge him? Well it should not be so easy and we are certainly presented with a challenge and with areas for discussion.
So back to Robinson. He served as Prime Minster during one of Trinidad and Tobago’s most difficult periods. He is known for standing up against radical fanatics during the coup d'état of 1990 that erupted in Trinidad, defiantly instructing the security forces to “attack with full force”. Finally, in recent times he is acknowledged as a pivotal person in the formation of the International Criminal Court (ICC). Likewise, he ran into controversy with the austerity measures adopted during his administration. In 2000, he made a decision not to appoint certain senators chosen by then elected Prime Minster, Basdeo Panday. And finally, he made a controversial decision in 2001 in appointing Patrick Manning as Prime Minister on the basis of moral and spiritual values rather than constitutional principles.
Perhaps in trying to understand and pass judgement we deconstruct the man, his career, and his work. His humble beginning in the isle of Tobago presents us with the image of a hard worker. It is usually not easy for a person to move from depressed socio-economic conditions to a socio-economic position of status, wealth, and erudition. It takes an admirable degree of determination which means that the choices made were life changing ones. The choice to pursue education, social action, and political activity, over mediocre or forgettable choices by someone coming from depressed conditions is not a simple one. So I for one respect and admire the struggle he put forward to achieve what he has gained in life.
Politics is a dirty cutthroat game. No one escapes unscathed. So with that caveat we encounter some difficulty in exploring the political persona. In reflecting on his years as member of the PNM, we see someone living in the shadow of its powerful and enigmatic leader, Eric Williams. Robinson saw success within the party because of the attributes he brought with his skills as an economic analyst. He served as Minister of Finance and he took this job as a challenge. Breaking with the PNM was not an easy one. As the most well organized and disciplined political machine the nation had ever seen, it was almost an effort in futility. But challenge it he did and he broke with the PNM because of his disagreement with the PNM over the handling of the Black Power disturbances. I am not sure if I believe this story and one can guess there was more in the background. From here on end it was political wilderness until 1986 with the grand triumph of the NAR led by Robinson over the PNM.
The euphoria and political turmoil between 1986 and 1991, which those old enough to know, has been explored twentyfold. I will not recount here. A shattered political alliance and a wave of discontent with economic austerity looms large not only in Robinson’s career but many associated with the NAR. Trinidad and Tobago’s experiment with coalition political party politics came at an inopportune moment given the tumult of the global financial crisis. And the bitter legacy was one that haunts politics up to today. It was not one of Robison’s strongest periods.
But he held on, returning in 1995 to the centre of the political stage by coalescing with the United National Congress led by Panday, and promised the Presidency if he lent his support. In the role of President he served ably though meeting controversy.
His work really reflects the type of person he is. I shall mention two important contributions. A Tobagonian, the sister isle was prime importance and he was instrumental in the establishment of the Tobago House of Assembly. Second was the establishment of the International Criminal Court which he played a large role. Alongside the THA, the ICC was a professional and personal triumph for someone who strongly believed in the principle of human rights.
So here we have a mixed bag, Robinson was a political figure and a public figure; someone that can inspire because of his personal travails; and someone who shows that inspirational anecdotes do not make one immune from political unscrupulousness. His is one, like many political, public, or powerful figures, which we can learn from. This is the way to understand him; and is the best way by which to judge him.
Note: This is the first in a series of lectures being held by Open Campus of UWI. Former Prime Ministers, Panday and Manning, as well as current Prime Minster Kamla Persad Bissessar, would be invited to speak as well in 2012.
Shane J. Pantin
One of the more controversial programmes on United States’ cable television is South Park. Shown on Comedy Central and running for over ten seasons, the half hour show pulls no punches when it comes to exploring contemporary issues with a humorous or satirical twist. The program has managed to tackle everything from politics, to the war on terror, even people affected with disabilities; everything and everyone is within the limits of the show’s producers, Trey Parker and Matt Stone. I am not going into details of the program – that is for you to do – put in this week’s (2nd-11-2011) episode the Occupy Wall Street campaign was parodied using the usual sharp invectives. And sometimes what long winded statements struggle to do, this show manages to reveal in less than half an hour common sense positions about a person, thing or event.
Occupy Wall Street
The Occupy Wall Street movement is a campaign to challenge the socio-economic and socio-political structure of the United States through mass demonstration. People who feel “powerless”, took to the streets (no pun intended), to voice concern of the so called “99%” of Americans affected by the “corruption”, “greed”, and “privilege” of the top “1%”. Wall Street’s businesspeople are the representatives of this 1% so they are the targets. The movement began in New York and has seemingly caught on worldwide.
Supporters and demonstrators seem to be a motley crew of activists and ideologues. Ranging from renowned economist Joseph Stiglitz, to topless protestors, to university/college students, and war veterans, there is certainly a range of people who seemingly think that by demonstrating the walls of the establishment will “come tumbling down” and all will be well.
It is of note the rhetoric coming from this event: “We want to make Wall Street accountable”; “the top 1% are corporate greed mongers”; “it is time for economic redistribution.”
The usual brouhaha.
Back to South Park
So what is it all about? Well South Park put it best: class warfare.
You see the movement is not really about making anyone accountable or bringing justice to a system. It is a coming together of aimless frustrated people of diverse circumstances to have a good time. They are there because they were told to be there; and by being there it gives the impression that it is a mass movement. There certainly are some genuine concerns but as can be seen, all the noise and those messages get lost. Do not expect an “Arab Spring” in this movement; any violence and the movement would be crushed and indeed disgust everyone.
So just as quickly as it comes together, is just as easily it breaks up. You see, people need to live so they have to get back to work; can’t stay on Wall Street all day. The South Park episode then showed what inevitably happens to mass movements: splintering. A group of protestors representing “the 83%” broke off from the overall movement demanding greater representation for their group. Suddenly, another splintering occurred with “45%” breaking away to demonstrate for their group. At the end, nothing was achieved, nothing gained, and all that was left was a huge pile of mess on the streets for the garbage cleaners to pick up. What a carnival!
The Tea party movement also comes to mind. They too represent the majority of Americans; perhaps another 99%. So if my math is correct 99% plus 99% equals 198%. Therefore, both movements represent 198% of Americans. The Tea Party movement has its own issues. An Islamic Nazi President is one of them. But I digress.
America is certainly experiencing the usual convulsions ahead of next year’s seemingly excitement filled election. Issues are being drummed up as political forces act to rally emotions and passions. So all I can say is pull out a bag of popcorn and let the mudslinging begin because the entertainment is well on its way!
Shane J. Pantin
On Wednesday 28th and Thursday 29th September 2011, I was able to attend three events: the first was a lecture hosted by the Sir Arthur Lewis Institute of Social and Economic Studies (SALISES), entitled “State of Emergency: A Necessary Evil”; next was the second in a series of seven lectures hosted by the Parliament of Trinidad and Tobago for the 50th Anniversary of Bicameralism, entitled, “From Legislative Council to House of Representatives: promoting or hindering democracy”; finally, an undergraduate student debate hosted by UWI’s Economics Society as a precursor to the Conference on the Economy (COTE) which debated the influence of party politics towards sustainable development in Caribbean economies was my final stop for that week. One cannot miss the common thread of political concerns at all them.
The lecture hosted by SALISES explored the necessity of the State of Emergency with four panellists presenting views on its effectiveness. They included Hon Surujrattan Rambachan, Minister of Foreign Affairs and Communication; Opposition Senator Terrence Deyalsingh; former UWI lecturer in Linguistics, Merle Hodge; and Professor Patrick Watson, former Senator and Head of SALISES. Prof. Watson delivered the most balanced and thought provoking lecture of all the speakers. His ability to put forward a balanced position of the current environment from an academic point of view, stood out for me. He stated while we must never grow comfortable with it, the success of the operation must be judged by standards put forward by the government. He also stated that the government has given reasons for this drastic action, but many of us do not want to listen to any of these reasons.
I certainly share Prof. Watson’s view of the emergency which I think is what is needed right now. From what can be observed, there are no grey areas. One is either for the emergency or against it. But a balanced point of view opens up constructive exchange on how to improve the current dilemma. But a poignant question put forward by the Opposition Member for Parliament was the number of persons arrested thus far, because all persons detained have been detained under normal police procedures. Rambachan did not respond in kind so it certainly left questions in my mind with regard to the real action by government. Be that as it may, I think the State of Emergency has presented an opportunity for certain goals to be achieved one of which is certainly developing specific intelligence for future action once the emergency has lifted.
Another issue that was prominent emerging from the lecture hosted at SALISES was the effectiveness of policing. It is common knowledge that people who live in the more difficult conditions of Trinidad and Tobago do not have good relations with the police. Therefore, they perceive themselves as victims of police aggression. One key point raised was the lack of a gender or familial understanding by the police force. There is a view that women have become more vulnerable at this time which the police are not sensitive about. Be that as it may, I did not hear any constructive contribution with how this can be improved.
The lecture hosted by Parliament was given by Dr. Kirk Meighoo looking at the transformation from a Legislative Council to the House of Representatives. One key point raised during the discussion segment was the issue of responsible and irresponsible freedoms. Responsible freedoms, Meighoo stated, are exercised by people who are considerate of their actions and its impact on society, for there is a consequence to every action. Therefore we exercise our freedom of speech to construct and build a better society and not to destroy or berate individuals or groups. Irresponsible freedoms are those actions which have no consideration towards the wider society. Example, there are no legal penalties for walking naked in public, but it certainly is not considerate to do so.
It goes at the root of what I believe Trinidad and Tobago’s society is about. I have a few examples of inconsiderate actions that I am sure many of you have encountered: you are walking on the sidewalk or driving your vehicle and suddenly someone in front of you stops for some trivial matter barring your way with absolutely no consideration for those behind them; or you are in a public place, and a group of persons are talking loudly disturbing everyone else; or the case of someone blaring loud music because he or she feels it is their right. In the examples given, there are no legal penalties for these actions (except for the last one but it is rarely enforced). Therefore people feel they are free to do as they please. Certainly they do. But is it responsible and considerate? When one takes the prescriptions of individual freedoms and uses it in a narcissistic way then one becomes selfish.
So the State of Emergency: some people feel that their rights are being deprived as the right to move wherever they want at whatever time, the right to assemble, and the right to criticise are being curtailed. While they are legitimate concerns it feels that these concerns are meant to deconstruct rather than construct. It is the feeling that because your rights have been deprived, it is about my situation rather than the total situation.
We move now to the undergraduate student debate which asked the question of the usefulness of party politics. There was a side supporting the issue and a side against the issue. The issues were debated well enough and they seemed to have been well-researched by the students involved.
But I will put forward my own view on party politics and Caribbean development speaking from the situation in Trinidad and Tobago. Under British colonialism, the colony was granted Universal Adult Suffrage in 1946. Further constitutional advancements took place in 1950 when the Legislative Council of the colony had been expanded to 18 elected representatives up from 9. During the period 1946 to 1956, political and historical commentators have analysed the prevailing situation as one of weak party politics. But overall, there was a wide representation in society with a host of political groups and individuals able to run for election.
This period some view as representing Trinidad and Tobago’s best period of democracy because of wide participation and representation. Since it was an open field, there was a belief that a strong personality could get elected as in the case of Tubal Uriah Butler or Albert Gomes.
The problem with this level of politics was that one person or one weak political group could not take the county out of the impoverished socio-economic situation existing at the time. It was the recognition by Dr. Eric Williams that a systematic set of policies put forward by strong political machinery is needed to drive the socio-economic development of the country. Williams launched the powerful political party the People’s National Movement (PNM) in 1956, which has been able to contest general elections since then with candiates in all constituencies.
What is arguable is William’s manipulation of the bureaucratic system to achieve his aims. He created what some see as a variant of the Westminster political system that operates in the United Kingdom but which Dr Kirk Meighoo sees as a continuation of the old Legislative Council.
So does the system, erected by Williams, work towards a democratic framework and does it promote sustainable development? This is the question for me which is not really answered by looking at party politics. In any system of government one is going to get groups coming together on issues unless there are regulations against it. As far as I know, there are no regulations in Trinidad and Tobago, so therefore party politics is not the issue. Could it be political party reform as one area to be looked at? Or is it the system, some pointing to the Westminster styled system that needs to be changed? Others say it goes to the highest point, constitutional reform, which really determines change. A final argument that is made, Trinidad and Tobago lacks a political philosophy, political morals or political code of ethics. Therefore the nation cannot move forward if it continues to use borrowed philosophies, Questions, Questions, Questions…. So we will leave it at that.
I will not delve into these questions here because of the deeply analytical and historical issues involved which would not do it justice via a blog post. Overall though, all three events were beneficial discussions.
Shane J. Pantin
In an earlier blog article, I referred to the idea of historical repetition: the idea that an historical event sharing close similarities with an earlier event is repeating. This idea of repetition is juxtaposed with an idea associated with George Santayana, that those who do not remember the past, are doomed to repeat it. Another concept is that of historical imagination, an idea that gained steam in the early twentieth century and which has been both good and bad for the discipline. Historical imagination refers to the idea of narrating past events in a style or manner that are not necessarily based on facts and can even be void of reasoning. The examples of great battles or social movements are cases in point. Details might either be vague or there may be a number of viewpoints; the task of the historian is to take this event and construct a sequence of events that either inserts the missing details or use portions of abounding details.
These two concepts in history are tools historians encounter in a subtle sort of way and make the historian’s task a compelling exercise. Both concepts have been tackled in various ways with regard to the discipline and they have evoked a number of concerns. Historical repetition, for example, has become almost layman-like, that is, something which the non-historians use in a naïve way to present the idea that events are recurring. Historical imagination has been used in a most unfortunate sense – against the discipline of history. Because telling a story with a particular point of view using imagination is biased, the credibility of the discipline is reduced. Interesting stuff to explore.
History does not repeat itself! One often used term is that “hindsight is 20/20”, and this is why someone who goes about looking for historical repetition are just looking for comparisons after the fact. If we were to compare the American Revolutionary War and the French Revolution, one would certainly find similarities and differences which tell us things associated with the specifics about each event. But can it be said that a person living between each event been able to predict the French Revolution. An example closer to Trinidad and Tobago might also be relevant. Would someone living in 1962 have been able to predict the 1970 Black Power Movement after what had taken place in 1930? Dr. Eric Williams, then Prime Minister of Trinidad and Tobago and one of the Caribbean’s greatest historical scholars, was unable to predict the maelstrom of the movement.
Therefore to avoid difficulties, we say history allows us to make accurate predictions, which historians are willing to accept but which can also be controversial. Even though we may have knowledge of events that happen in the past, technological and environmental change prevents us from embracing all the facts of a contemporary event as opposed to a historical one. Therefore one could have known most if not all of the facts of 1930 and still not be able to predict 1970 because the on the ground and time space realities had changed. Therefore the event for someone in 1970 would have to be a rather unique experience.
This does not mean to say that there is futility in conducting predictions; it certainly is a fun exercise to perform and an engaging one. But in the midst of it all it is hard to predict the future. It is easier to speak of the inspiration one draws from history for example, by someone trying to understand the rights or wrongs of the past. Someone might look to a particularly personality to see how that person dealt with an event to inspire and inform a decision making process. George W. Bush, for example, 43rd President of the United States of America, has spoken of his fondness of Abraham Lincoln because he lived and presided over a divided country. Bush believed he was leading the country within a similar context. This perhaps is what we can look for when we explore historical events.
The controversy of historical imagination arose with attempts to make history as close to the precision and certainty of science. In writing history, the biases for a personality or an event inevitably surfaces. This inevitability makes the discipline less able to construct an event that is as precise or certain as one would comfortably like it to be. Therefore history gravitates towards the literary tools, having metaphors, plots, narratives, or morals. In becoming this, history allows expression to take hold in presenting events of the past.
We take for example oral traditions, which societies void of writing use to perpetuate their heritage. Oftentimes, oral traditions have elements of fantasy to tell the tale which takes away from the historical nature of its method. But because an argument has been made that the inevitable subjectivity in history arises in written history regardless of the availability of facts, imagination and fantasy appears in any historical enterprise. Military histories are prone to this which adds godlike status to heroes. Who has never come across the tactical and strategic genius of Napoleon Bonaparte or the sheer evil that is Adolf Hitler in the telling of European history? Oftentimes the sequence of events that allows the historian to tell a person’s life is exaggerated and his deeds are indeed exaggerated.
So how can we argue for historical imagination! For one it certainly gives history its richness. Try to tell history void of imagination and you have a historical report, and believe me, your audience will fall asleep. We tap into the biases of an audience or our own biases to make sense of things. All disciplines do this including the sciences. Imagination is what inspires and motivates us and allows us to come up with ideas that propel progress. The real task is that of optimization – some facts, some imagination – that allows for clear expression.
As a student of history, I encounter these concepts and it really drives my fascination for the discipline and the way people think about the world. History is limited in its ability to predict future events and it requires a bit of imagination to tell a good story but these are limits we have to contend with. To chart a sequence of past events in an engaging way we must rely on a host of tools, some less useful than others. We need to be careful how we go about using it.
Shane J. Pantin
Well it has been two weeks since the announcement of the “limited” state of emergence and there has been mixed feelings as to its effectiveness. The government’s initiative has yielded over two dozen firearms, large ammunition caches, and sizeable quantities of drugs. Mass arrests have been made exceeding 1,000 persons and “key” gang leaders have been captured in some surprising places. The government has announced the exercise a success given what has been achieved so far, specifically, curbing the frequency of murders. Since the emergency there have been four murders.
A security operation or something else???
Most Trinbagonians know where the “hotspots” (areas with high crime rates) are located. Many of these areas are predominantly Afro-Trinidadian, where some communities are without proper physical infrastructure and public utilities. There is a pervading perception that opportunities are limited and there government needs to establish socio-economic programmes in order for communities to grow and become prosper.
Be that as it may, the security forces have noted the growth of sub-cultures parallel to the national culture that are strong in these areas. Members of these communities become attached to gang life for financial rewards as well as state patronage. One offers quick financial returns while the other gives a sense of social collectivization. The idea behind the security operation is to break up these networks, uncover arms and ammunition and insert state authority where it has been lacking for years.
In my opinion, in the short term it has achieved this while at the same time profiling members of various communities arguably associated with gang activity. In many respects, these are the ones associated with violent criminal activity led by the larger elements – the so called “big fish”. In eradicating these elements then the criminal activity will be reduced … for the time being.
In the long term however, a different outcome would arise if not carefully managed. Crime in Trinidad is an incurable cancer; we can only eliminate it for a time but it grows again until another round of treatment is required. Because of this, the big fish remain safe in their aquariums because of their wealth, power, and status. This limitation means that how it is dealt with has to be opportunistic rather than carte blanche. A day will come when the big fish will make mistakes and he or she will be trapped in the nets and brought to justice. Hopefully it is sooner rather than later.
But could this state of affairs go on forever is one question we can ask? It has been extended for three months but are we willing to accept another three months? I believe it does not have to. If many in society drop the idea that somehow particular groups were victims of history and therefore they are rightful inheritors to some sort of socio-economic position; accept the idea that hard work and dedicated effort is required to achieve success; that pride in work is necessary in going forward; that contribution to the greater good should take precedence over narcissism; then a great change can be had. If society meets the government halfway in their efforts to make a better society then the other half belongs to the government. But it seems that we expect over 90 percent from the government.
While constitutional questions are a lingering issue, thus far there have been no great constitutional abuses. Many have complained that they have been unfairly targeted by the security forces. But I have to agree with Orlando Nagessar on this one, “If you have cocoa in the sun then you are in trouble.” So until motions are being made to change the constitution on our rights and freedoms this is less a concern than the security situation.
Shane J. Pantin
On Sunday 21st August 2011, Prime Minster Kamla Persad Bissessar, called a limited state of emergency in an effort to manage the crime situation. Over the weekend, 11 killings occurred, most in the developed areas of Trinidad and Tobago including the crime hot spots. This limited state of emergency means that there will be a suspension of certain constitutional rights as the security forces will have the power to search without warrant and make arrests under suspicion.
Is such a measure necessary or politically prudent? Drastic measures such as these really highlight the powerlessness of the ruling authorities to deal with criminal activities in ways beyond heavy handed measures. A few of the usual arguments for the reasons for crime are the disparities in income, poverty, unemployment, and a breakdown of social norms. Because these are socio-economic problems, they require socio-economic resolutions. Therefore, better jobs, schooling, and moral upbringing are necessary to address the crime problem.
But in a nation of 1.3 million people with vast oil wealth, one really wonders if these arguments hold true. There was an old American advertisement a few years back where barbarians were at the gates of a castle and when the defenders ask a security consultant what should be done, he turned to them and said, “Take this bag of money and throw it at them.” They retorted, “You want us to throw money at the problem?” This is exactly what the socio-economic arguments are, if you throw money at the problem, it will all go away.
Therefore, the Prime Minister is using an approach where she felt that enough money has been thrown at the problem for years, with little effect. The nation provides free education, free health services, and ample opportunities for entertainment and enjoyment for all quarters. An honest assessment, there is no grave socio-economic problem.
What exist are socio-political tensions and moral concerns. At the heart of the issue are lingering bitterness of ethnic tensions and moral standards. Groups feel that because of their legacy, they hold privileges beyond other groups. At another level are corrupt political and commercial elites who exploit national wealth. At both ends the torch burns, eating away at the order that is supposed to prevail. The so called underprivileged put out little effort but want all, the top do so as well but are immune to its harsh effects. In a world where one is taught that you have one life and pleasure is at the centre of that life – one must seek it now because it will not come again. Therefore life is a dilemma having no spiritual journey (note I have not said theological).
What of other crimes? The so called frustrations of life which some are unable to cope with lead to some serious problems. A few weeks ago, a mother and her two children were killed in what seems to be a love affair gone wrong. Under aged girls are raped by their fathers or male relatives. Bandits shoplift stores with help from security guards to the tune of 5,000 TT per day. A serious moral and social breakdown in a society priding itself on glamour, excess, pleasure, happiness, have become important concerns of society so it is not unexpected that when one has to chase after these goals, those left behind are bitter.
All societies experience breakdowns at one level or the other. How it is managed is inspirational. Canada, Scandinavia, Singapore, and even little Barbados are seen as standard bearers in these areas. Not to say they do not have their own problems. They too subscribe to the aforementioned “virtues” of decadence… Somehow they manage their levels of crime satisfactorily enough.
It also presents a constitutional predicament for the Prime Minister. Benjamin Franklin, the American diplomat, once said, “Any society that would give up a little liberty to gain a little security will deserve neither and lose both.” Cautious words from a brilliant mind. But Catherine the Great, eighteenth century Czar of Russia, once said, “You philosophers are lucky men. You write on paper and paper which is smooth, patient, and elegant. Unfortunate Empress that I am, I write on my people’s skin (my citizens) which is rough, intolerant, and ungrateful.” There is a philosophy and a reality governing the world. In one sense, we note the unconstitutionality in a democratic society like ours; but on the other, we must be cognizant of the grave criminal situation that prevails that must be reined in.
What we have therefore is a need for patience and caution. The author though, is hardly optimistic about this new action. Curbing criminal action is a multipronged affair requiring the efforts of all. Unfortunately we have grown accustom to factionalism with some seeing the state of emergency as bad and racially motivated, while others welcome it with open arms but not putting any sacrifices on their part. Therefore we await the results hoping it brings a better day.
Shane J. Pantin
As the fires burn in London and the search for causes, excuses, and motivations go on, there is a strange twist of fate going on here. While listening to the news today a reporter made an analogy between “bad rioting” and “good rioting.” You see, the flare up that took place in the Arab world a few months aback were riots specifically targeted at oppressive regimes, meant to bring about democratic change for long suffering people. This was good rioting despite the damage and mayhem it caused.
The rioting in London however is “bad rioting” with Home Secretary, Theresa May, and British Prime Minister, David Cameron, calling it “pure criminality.” Londoners unlike the oppressive Arab governments are good hard working people who should not contend with poor and frustrated youths who want a quick fill. Well given the scale of the rioting thus far and the identity of the rioters being young and poor, London sure is breeding a good number of criminals. You see, what it has been boiled down to is young people looking for excitement, some fun, a mental high and so they are simply criminals. No need to listen to on the ground community leaders who say it stems from a great deal of neglect by government as well as Conservative policies to reduce social programs.
I agree with the sentiments that it is criminal indeed. But if one is unaware of the dire issues surrounding it, then that is just stupid and shows how detached the politicians are. One analyst stated that youths have lost their moral centres. If you base your world around an ideal of materialistic concerns you will breed disaffection by those who cannot achieve this ideal. If worth is no longer given to moral and social codes where one can be rewarded effectively for doing the right things then the value of such ideals are lost. And that is one issue; you cannot take morality to the bank. If one does not have wealth then one is a lesser person in society, worse than the dogs.
From the scenes, these riotous youths have no respect for authority, property, and care little of the danger they place on themselves or others. They identify with the anger and frustration of their colleagues but that is where it ends. If they are not connected in any other way they will also turn on each other; so for now a large group will turn against the symbols of materialism: the stores, and the symbols of authority, the police to get their high.
But let us look at other examples. When bankers on Wall Street are able to risk millions of dollars in investments and get away free when all is lost at the detriment of poor investors what is the message sent? When the head of the International Monetary Fund, Dominique Strauss Kahn, is able to get away after rape charges what morality is sent when the powerful are protected? When corrupt politicians are able to engage in frivolity at taxpayers’ expense what morality is there?
From another article I read mention was also made of the history behind this. George Santayana once said that history repeats itself as those who are not aware of past events are not able to effectively deal with the present. Londoners had not experienced such mayhem since the 1980s and some say as far back as World War Two in terms of the level of destruction.
So is there a dint of historical repetition. Being a student of history but a student of philosophy as well I don’t believe in historical repetition. Societies have to deal with events given spatial and temporal conditions. In the 1980s, there were no social media outlets on the scale of today to communicate with one another. Hooligans were united because of the strains of industrial working conditions. The contexts between then and now might be same but it is difficult understand. This is why it seems to repeat itself.
Hopefully, the London police are able to get the chaos under control and the necessary arrests are made. But it is social and historical awareness that is required for one to target effectively the social, economic, and political issues at hand and which separates one from saying how a problem can be dealt with from one giving carte blanche statements.
Below are a few snippets of the riots.