By Dr Selwyn R. Cudjoe
July 04, 2019
My article last week, “The Labyrinthine World of Doublethink,” must have touched a nerve. I received comments, some good, and some bad, from a wide array of people. This suggests that I was not understood entirely or that many interpretations could be taken from my article.
Any time a writer has to explain his work it means that he has not been as clear as he should have been. It’s a difficult task to convey what he believes to be true when his medium requires the use of language whose nature can be elusive. It’s always a struggle to get it right.
A perceptive reader would have noticed that I used George Orwell’s novel 1984 as a subtext of my article. The title was taken from that novel. And while I continue to believe that Paul Leacock’s treatment was extreme, I also wanted to say that how the PNM General Council conducts its business tends to stymie individual thinking and the free flow of ideas.
In 1945 and 1949 Orwell published two dystopian novels, Animal Farm and 1984 respectively. In 1984 he captured a world in which human beings have little control over their lives, where they are prevented from thinking for themselves, where every possible expression of their humanity is crushed, and where Big Brother is in absolute control of their lives.
I was concerned that the repression of views within the PNM and the inability of its members to confront “BIG BROTHER” may lead to a situation in which even its brightest members may not only lose their voices (literally and figuratively) but their humanity as well. Keeping in mind Aristotle’s theory that politics and political speech are meant, “to bring about the virtuous life in the citizenry” (Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy), I suggested that preventing party members from expressing themself freely might have disastrous results.
In 1984 part of the challenge of citizens was to stay “human” in spite of the destruction of peoples’ personality that they see around them. In an enlightening episode, Winston Smith, the protagonist, suggests that even though “the Party” could track you down and squeeze out your humanity, “the object was not to stay alive but to stay human….They [the Party] could lay bare in the utmost detail everything that you had done or said or thought; but the inner heart, whose workings were mysterious even to yourself, remained impregnable” (my italics).
This is the challenge that faces Trinbagonians. In spite of our material prosperity our spiritual being (or what Marx calls “our sensuous being” in his Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts of 1844) is being diminished. We cannot walk the streets as freely as we want, we are overwhelmed by corruption and crime, and our interaction as “social beings” has been tragically reduced.
Apart from PNM’s humiliation of Leacock, I was concerned with how the limiting of political speech and the free exchange of ideas prevent citizens from cultivating what Aristotle called “the virtuous life.” After all, participating in the affairs of the “polis” should be one of the most satisfying aspects of a person’s life.
My dear friend Lynette Joseph, PNM to the bone, characterized my offering as “a convoluted diatribe” that ends “with licentious words. ‘Soon the PNM will ask its adherents to believe that two and two make five to prove their loyalty to the party'” (“Beware of Political Mischief Makers,” Express, June 26).
Even the tendency of leaders in a repressive state to make people believe that two and two make five is taken from 1984. It occurs when Winston postulates: “In the end, the Party would announce that two and two make five, and you would have to believe it….The logic of their position demanded it. Not merely the validity of experience, but the existence of external reality was tacitly denied by their philosophy.”
There is nothing “licentious” about this position especially when the Merriam-Webster dictionary defines licentious as “lacking in moral restraints.” Orwell is suggesting that in a society where “doublethink” prevails and Big Brother is in control, a person quickly loses his or her individuality. The Party even controls one’s conception of reality.
Joseph is even more lacerating. She accuses me of “digging up political worms” (whatever that means) and lauds Kazim Hosein as being “more PNM than a lot of two-faced people.” She even argues that I “now behave as a bride left at the altar.”
In August 1990, in an article “What I Teach and Why” that I wrote for Harvard Educational Review, I argued that truth “is an approximation. It is the attempt to bridge the gap between ‘is’ and ‘ought’ knowing full well the gap will always be unbridgeable. Because the discovery of truth lies in process, we proceed by dialogue.”
Everything that Joseph says about my article might be true but I ask my detractors to remember the slippery nature of truth, the discovery of which lies in searching to find the correspondence between what we think we know and what we believe to be the ideal. To achieve this objective we need to constantly challenge what our leaders say and do.
Max Hastings, former editor of the Daily Telegraph, warned the British public about Boris Johnson, the likely leader of the UK, contempt for truth. He said: “There is room for debate about whether he is a scoundrel or mere rogue, but not about his moral bankruptcy, rooted in contempt for truth” (Martin Wolf, “Democratic Government,” Financial Times, June 28.)
We must always search for the truth. We may not always get it right but we ought to try to do so.