While Rome Burned…

By Dr Selwyn R. Cudjoe
July 09, 2019

Dr. Selwyn R. CudjoeLast Sunday I wrote that in spite of our material prosperity, our spiritual being is diminished in the process. I noted: “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.”

That evening Mount Lambert residents witnessed bullets flying all over the place as two gangs took on each other. One resident said: “‘[It was] like a scene out of a movie in which warring factions traded bullets with each other…. It showed that criminals were becoming more and more brazen since they no longer had any fear of committing crimes in broad daylight and for any and every one to see” (Express, July 1).

Two weeks ago I used George Orwell’s 1984 to capture the anarchy into which our society is descending. This week, the William Butler Yeats poem, “The Second Coming,” seems the appropriate frame in which to situate our predicament.

The first stanza reads:

“Turning and turning in the widening gyre [spiral] / The falcon cannot hear the falconer; / Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold; /Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world, / The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere / The ceremony of innocence is drowned; / The best lack all convictions, while the worst /Are full of passionate intensity.”

In a situation as dire as ours one would have thought the Prime Minister (PM) would have redoubled his efforts to bring things under control.

This does not seem to be the case.

On two occasions last week, he praised the “go to, all round talents” of the Minister of National Security who he says is always at his beck and call. He describes him as his Garfield Sobers, the all-rounder that every team needs to hold things together. But acting on his own, and despite his enormous talent, Sobers alone could not carry the West Indies team to victory.

At a time when our society is falling apart, when the center is barely holding together and anarchy threatens, our PM tells us that the person whose major job it is to hold the society together not only waits, but stands ready to serve him in every possible capacity.

One of the residents caught up in the pandemonium in Mount Lambert seems to have a deeper sense of our calamity than the PM or the Minister of National Security. He lamented sorrowfully: “And you know I does lime here on this road? I’m just glad that I wasn’t there at the time because those men don’t care who they kill. They don’t have respect for life any more” (Express, July 1).

Senator Hazel Thompson-Ahye, in her contribution to the debate of the Firearms (Amendment) Bill, brought home the gravity of our situation when she described the initiation rites gang members undergo: “To prove you are worthy of being a gang member, to prove you can be trusted, is frequently the use of a firearm….You have to kill someone to prove that you tough, to prove that you can in fact be a member of the gang.”

“So when they actually kill someone—because of that sense of hopelessness, and they want the gang to be their family—the people they have killed have become ghosts. Their ghosts.” (Newsday, July 2).

I would change a few words in the senator’s insightful observation: “To prove worthy of being a person [which is what gang membership confers on them] one has to kill someone to assert one’s humanity.”

Distorted as this reasoning appears to be, it demonstrates the low level of the social and intellectual development of these young men. This is why I drew on Marx who distinguished between a person’s animal functions (eating, drinking, procreating) and his “species-being” (or conscious being) in which he realizes himself as “a universal and therefore free being” (Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts of 1844).

Like “the alienated worker” that Marx describes, these young men feel themselves truly free and active only in their animal functions rather than in exercising their human functions. It is only in the cultivation of their species-being that people fully become human.

The PM is free to praise Minister Young’s intellectual dexterity and his availability to the former. He should use Minister Young as he chooses. However, a Minister of National Security should give his full attention to prevent the social conflagration that is just around the corner. Sooner rather than later the criminals will engage the police in an all-out shooting war. They fear neither God nor man and that is something of which we should be afraid.

The demands the PM makes on Minister Young may prevent the latter from devoting his full attention to his major duties. He is also the Minister of Communications and Minister in the Prime Minister’s Office. No human being, no matter how smart he is, can do all three jobs efficiently. Since Minister Young cannot devote his full effort to securing the safety of the people of this nation, the PM should select someone else to do so.

I admire the PM’s public appreciation for Minister Young’s devotion. Yet, such sentiments leave me feeling that while the country burns, the chief fire fighter is busy keeping the Fire Commissioner’s car shiny and new. Nero fiddled as Rome burned.

The central object of our democracy remains the promotion of “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.” We can only attain that goal if we have a devoted minister of national security.

It would be nice if the Minister of National Security could be left alone to do his job.

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