The Pursuit of Happiness

By Dr Selwyn R. Cudjoe
December 12, 2007

Trini PeopleThe people of Trinidad and Tobago are witnessing a decline of our civilization which no amount of money can reverse if we do not recognize the sovereignty of our people and that the goal of democracy consists in the sanctity of life, the preservation of liberty and the pursuit of happiness. To be sure, the pursuit of happiness cannot be reduced to a mere license to do whatever one wants to do at any time one chooses to do it. It consists in conscious and thoughtful acts that enhance our human personality and advance our humanity. It goes without saying that the affirmation of life and the pursuit of happiness cannot be achieved in a climate of lawlessness and the inability of citizens to feel a sense of safety in their homes and in their communities.

The ever spiraling crime rate in our society threatens to derail our democracy. Confronted with the ugly truth of this reality, the Minister of National Security who has the responsibility to create a safe and secure society admitted that he “underestimated the extent of the work and the length of time of time it would have taken” to solve the problem of crime. When asked to rate his performance, he responded that the Prime Minster is the “most suitable person” to judge his performance.

In his capacity as leader of the government the Prime Minister has to appraise his performance and decide whether to demote or promote the honorable minister. I do not know that the Prime Minister is the most suitable person to judge the effectiveness of his performance. Ultimately, the citizenry is the minister’s boss, a function that cannot be abrogated by the Prime Minister. The people, in all times and in all places, remain the judge of his behavior. He forgets this at his peril.

In his discussion with the press, the honorary minister recognized the relation between spiraling levels of crime and the government’s thrust towards “developed status” or its attempt to raise the spiritual and social levels of our civilization.

However, we cannot achieve such a goal if we elevate the status of the Prime Minister and reduce the importance of the people. To put it another way, we cannot substitute the hard-fought wisdom a people gained over its two hundred year-history with the short-lived experience of any leader, no matter how brilliant he or she might be. Bob Marley reminded us: “Two thousand years of history/Can’t be washed away so easily.” Nor, for that matter, can it be subsumed by any one man.

As we move into the twenty first century, the PNM has to look very closely at the absence of politics within the party and its resuscitation if it wishes to remain relevant to our people’s needs. While the PNM remains a formidable election machinery it faces a danger of reducing or erasing its raison d’etre: that is, its ability to reflect the concentrated expression of the people’s will. Its members have a responsibility to arrest any thinking that seeks to replace the sovereignty of the people with the wishes of any individual leader.

PNM’s greatest weakness consists in the absence of a sustained intellectual engagement with its publics: that is, with both its members and the nation. It is no good to say that the public has no right to know about or interfere with the party’s business since the party’s business is also the public’s business.

It is important that there is a continuing debate inside and outside the party; in private and public forums; and with the leaders and members about what constitutes the public good. It is important to open up ourselves to public scrutiny and to insure that it gets back to the business of being a political party where politics remains at the centre of its activity. C. L. R. James warned that political parties in parliamentary democracies cannot become machines in which the individual either conform or be ruthlessly eliminated. Freedom to express oneself within the party remains the prerequisite for the integrity of the party.

In Facing Reality, James observes that mankind is not developing towards the enjoyment and consumption of more material goods but towards “self-realization creatively based upon the incorporation into the individual personality of the whole previous development of humanity. Freedom is creative universality, not utility.” It consists in developing our minds and our personalities.

The people of Trinidad and Tobago cannot explore their human personalities or realize their humanity (or their happiness) unless there is an atmosphere in which they experience their uniqueness; privilege their collective wisdom, and insist on a society in which people feel relatively secure.

We owe it to ourselves and our progeny to leave a legacy that emphasizes the hard-won victories of our people in every sphere of life rather than attempt to resuscitate an outmoded system that emphasizes the divine rights of kings. The achievement of developed status in the year 2020 means nothing if does not mean the development of people to realize their humanity and an openness that emphasizes the brotherhood of men and women and fatherhood of God.

12 thoughts on “The Pursuit of Happiness”

  1. The climate of lawlessness and the inability of citizens to feel a sense of safety in their homes and in their communities are being fostered by the approach taken by the present government.The regime in power has never seriously evaluated the extent of the crime problem or fully identified the reasons for the increasing criminal activity.They responded to criminal activity by engaging criminals in a collaborative effort to seek solutions. The resulting social programs to placate the criminal elements of the country legitimized this group and fostered their existence.The Prime Minister initially responded to the spate of kidnappings with humor, attributing blame to the victims themselves.He also suggested that family members were responsible and most of the incidents were not to be taken seriously.( a speech in the US)This attitude towards criminals and crime helped to create a permissive atmosphere in the country.It is only now that certain government officials are recognizing the corrupt elements in the police force itself.
    The Prime Minister’s apparent confidence and “absolute power” stem from four major factors: the weak Opposition,the PNM itself, the tribal voting patterns and the weak role of the President in the relatively new republic.
    The Opposition in T&T seems to think that its primary role is to oppose recklessly using the rumshop as its platform.While its leader was involved in his many legal shenanigans, the opposition drifted aimlessly.The opposition should have constructively and scientifically examined housepadding,redrawing of electoral boundaries and causes of crime, not primarily for political gain but for genuinely improving the lives of citizens.
    The PNM also allowed its leader to literally “run away” with his ideas for fear of hurting the party with what might be perceived as internal struggles.The party was also more preoccupied with holding on to power rather than encouraging good governance for all the people.
    The Prime Minister’s actions since his victory have been more dictatorial than democratic.His public swearing in, his appointment of the Speaker, his appointment of so many unelected cabinet ministers and his delay in convening Parliament are all reasons for concern.In the meantime the role of the President seems to be diminishing.Unless the Opposition changes its role from tearing down the goverment on every issue to offering helpful criticism for the benefit of the country, the Prime Minister will get his own way.It is also refreshing to see that concerns are being expressed by faithful supporters.

  2. I could not agree more with Professor Cudjoe . I hope that somehow Prime Minister Manning as a chance to have a read, in that it is so poignant that this sermon is coming from a faithful member of the PNM flock. What the Professor is saying here basically is that the Government has to watch those dictatorial tendencies, that they have to remember who put them in governance, and why!Mr. Rampersad has also made a relevant point in that we currently have an opposition whom has no moral authority to “throw stones”, and whom really commands very little respect from the majority of the public population, save the Government.In effect, what we have in Trinidad is a virtual one-party democracy, where the Prime Minister feels little or no pressure to take action on any issue that he doesn’t feel to. The Prime Minister and Government, though, have to be reminded whom their bosses are, and to whom they are accountable.

  3. I quote, “While the PNM remains a formidable election machinery it faces a danger of reducing or erasing its raison d’etre: that is, its ability to reflect the concentrated expression of the people’s will. Its members have a responsibility to arrest any thinking that seeks to replace the sovereignty of the people with the wishes of any individual leader.”

    Interestingly, you have made a significant distinction between a democracy and a republic. The term democracy is often used in a generic sense to describe a society with a duly elected government. However, the original concept of a democracy is more substantive. The word democracy is derived from the Greek demos,”the people”; kratein, “to rule. The pivotal idea is that government exists to serve the people given legitimacy through a free and fair electoral process. The people are sovereign. A number of complementary principles flow from this basic concept namely, commitment to majority rule, protection of the rights of the minority, acceptance of a rule of law, and equality of all citizens before the law, and the safeguarding of basic liberties.

    The terms “democracy” and “republic” are often used interchangeably however they are not synonymous. Although both systems delegate the power to govern to their elected representatives, the officials in a democracy more generally and directly reflect the known or ascertained views of their constituents whereas in a republic these officials are expected to act on their own best judgment of the needs and interests of the country.

    I recall only recently in September, we celebrated Republic Day and there was an editorial headlined “The Republican Ideal”. I asked the question “What is the Republican Ideal?” because the following paragraphs were illustrative of a democracy. Suffice it to say, I received no response.

    Without a doubt, there is an echo reverberating in our society – a call for true democracy where the people are sovereign. I am further persuaded that a conscious distinction between the two ideological perspectives has not yet been made by the Trinidad populace.

  4. Some thoughts on the pursuit of happiness: If you chase someting constantly,it runs away from you. Maybe happiness is like that. In teaching Social Studies, in that land where this statement forms part of the Declaration of Independence, I often pointed out tostudents that happiness is like a rabbit being chased around a track by a dog. Because its a mechanical rabbit,no matter how much faster the dog chases, he cannot catch the rabbit. Sometimes happiness is only enjoyed in retrospect, “we were happy then”whe we are not happy now.

    Happiness is never achieved by comparing what you have to what others have, but a measure of contentment may be achieved by comparing where we are,to where we were.
    Abigger house cannot create happiness,just more dust.
    An interesting piece of reading on the effect of things on people”My Wood “by E.M. Forster,an essay,not a book. “The Inner Ring”a graduation lecture delivered by C.S.Lewis to a University class in 1945, is still a classic on values that those of us interested in where we are going as a people could read.

  5. I do not agree that the will of the people are better served when a nation’s political system is more adherent with “democracy” rather than with republicanism. The Westminster Parliamentery System has become a faciltator for elected dictatorship in former British Colonies. Contrast the checks on power in those systems with what is constitutionalised in the US.

    There is no perfect leader or perfect political party in this world. All have sinned and have fallen short of the glory of the almighty, so to speak. And there is no pefect system under which true democracy can and will flourish in the best interest of the people. Proximity to that ideal occurs when there are are checks and balances in the system that unconditionally compells transparency, accountability, and equality.

    The next best thing to producing a Jesus is to impose conditions of service that contours behaviours and attitudes in that model. And of course you can plug in any cultural deity in place of “Jesus” if that is what grabs you.

  6. To say that checks and balances are needed is a valid point and one I fully support. My question then is who determines the criteria, if not the people.

    Unlike the United Kingdom, the United States has a ‘written’ constitution which represents the highest law of the land. Additonally, each member state has its own constitution which closely resembles the federal model. Individual member states may grant its citizens greater liberties in its constitution. However, they may not restrict on the minimum level of freedoms guaranteed under the federal Constitution.

    Enshrined in the US Constitution is a comprehensive Bill of Rights which came about when attempts to solidify the federal union were hindered by fears of a central government. The Bill of Rights was an effective compromise which guaranteed certain individual rights and set limits on possible government encroachment. This requirement by the American colonies gave impetus to the unification process following the Revolution. The colonies having experienced the suppressive policies handed down by Great Britain were not favorably disposed to the concept of a central government.

    Apart from the US Constitution, there are additional sources of US law namely statues, administrative regulations and the common law of the courts. Unlike the UK justice system the US Judiciary plays a significant role in the interpretation of the constitution and in settling disputes where conflicts of rights exist. The US Supreme Court is the final authority on the interpretation of federal constitution. Additionally in the landmark case of Gitlow v. New York the US Supreme Court invoked the Fourteenth Amendment which says in part: “No state shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any state deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law.” Individual States may not restrict on the minimum level of freedoms guaranteed under the federal Constitution.

    I’ve said all this to say, the US had a clear perspective of how they wanted to be governed and the checks and balances instituted reinforced or upheld the will of the people. While we appreciate many facets of the US system, we need to understand it did not just happen and it is not simply the result of evolution. There was direction and there was consensus.

  7. Z Lee wrote
    While we appreciate many facets of the US system, we need to understand it did not just happen and it is not simply the result of evolution. There was direction and there was consensus

    But that is my central point. The Caribbean and the third world in General places more hopes and emphasis on individual honesty from political leadership, rather than on institutions that will coerce them into such behaviour. Regardless of whether the system is first past the post, proportional representation et al, the sovereign prerogatives of the people is best guaranteed and protected when the wrong doing and abuses of a President or other political leader is subjected to the same level of legal scrutiny and sanction as that of the common man in the street.

    Americans spent the better of 300 years tooling and fine tuning their system with ethical nets to catch any recalcitrant political fishes. It is still not perfect despite this attention, but it does accomplish what we lack in the 3rd world in general and the Caribbean in particular. What was also existant embryonically in the building of American Democracy, but is palpably missing in action similar Caribbean movements, are the NGOs, institutions and movements, with no political ambitions or aspirations, championing the causes of democracy, of transparency, and of equality.

    True democracy has never come to any nation through the one legged process of free and fair elections. It always rides in on the backs of the familiar steeds of free, independent and impartial press, and social activism movements. Unfortunately in Trinidad and Tobago and the rest of the Caribbean, such activism is mostly ego and ambition driven, and many of those involved carry a well defined image in their minds of what they personally expect to gain from their efforts and contributions.

  8. Here comes the can of worms that no one else seems willing to open. In my previous post, I recommended two pieces of reading, both by British writers, Foster, an essayist, and Lewis an athiest turned Christian theologian, and professor of Literature at Cambridge; whose exhortation in the Memorial Lecture at Kings College, University of London in 1944, is a classic of values, the essence of which is, what will you give up, what will you do,to be part of the “In group”?
    Both these men were speaking from the point of view of western Christian ethics. The countries whose evolved systems of government we try to imitate, and comment on frequently, evolved from this western Christian tradition; and the laws that govern common human interaction there, are based on these Christian ethics, despite the US statement in its constitutional documents, that religion and government will be separate. That country has not yet elected a non-Christian President, and will not in any forseeable future, elect an athiest.They got their first Muslim congressman last election, and that caused quite a stir.

    Now when we apply these Christian-evolved values to a plural society like Trinidad and Tobago we run into some problems peculiar to us, and only us. Whose ethical standards do we follow in our daily governance of a plural society? That of the western evolved democracies, that profess a meritocracy where the best person gets the position, and proceeds to work for the good of all, or do we follow the systems that evolved in Africa and India, where my tribe, my clan, my extended family group will prosper when I am in power, and the rest can catch as catch can. Have no doubt that this is still true in both the Continent of Africa and its 56 countries, and the Indian subcontinent.

    This is our delimma. If we use evolved Christian ethics as our standard, our benchmark for what is good, how do people who are not Abrahamic people, like Hindus and Buddhists fit into our scheme of things? Do we need consultations with the pluralistic belief systems, before we proceed to define what our ethical guidelines will be? What to do, if you are the first in your family to reach a high position in the state, and all of your poor relatives come calling “looking for wuk”. What standard of behaviour do you use, do we use, to decide what to do in that situation? Every politician in the Caribbean has faced this at some time. Should the family’s individual needs to pursue happiness superimpose themselves on the needs of the country as a whole? should a pwerson in power forget the needs of the family to advance. How do we balance these conflicting issues?

    I do not think that in the US and Britain, as well as in Canada, the job market creates a similar dilemma for their elected oficials.

  9. Christian ethics and traditions have very little to do with standards of behavior and leadership in developed and developing countries. The ethical values espoused by most world religions are all quite similar. Like Christians, Hindus believe in the paths of love, devotion, right action and wisdom. Muslims’ duties and practices include the Five Pillars of moral behavior and religion. The Sikh religion follows religious tenets which are all similar to the Ten Commandments.
    It is very easy to argue that Christianity was used as a rationale for slavery. Was Hitler not a Christian? Throughout his life, Hitler often praised Christian heritage, German Christian culture, and a belief in Christ In his speeches and publications Hitler even spoke of Christianity as a central motivation for his antisemitism, stating that “As a Christian I have no duty to allow myself to be cheated, but I have the duty to be a fighter for truth and justice.
    Standards of behavior and the laws that govern human interaction in developing societies are a direct result of per capita income, level of education,and economic and political structure.These factors foster corruption and bribery, especially in countries with economic disparities.Leaders in these societies often exploit their positions and lean towards dictatorial behavior.
    The Prime Minister of T&T is correct when he stresses the importance of moving towards developed status.But first, what is needed is political reform to check parameters and standards of his behavior, followed by social reforms to deal with low income and education levels and the provision of economic opportunities for all.
    Unfortunately, corrupt standards of behavior have evolved as part of the cultural mores of T&T, from the top to the bottom.

  10. The person who coined the phrase, “if men were angels we would not need laws”, or whatever words were used to that effect, made the case for straight jacket clauses to present in every constitution in order to restrict the abuse of power. Let’s face it. The human animal is the least trustworthy among all the species on this eart, and predisposed to be the most cruel of masters if left unchecked to his own devices.

    Religion is probably one of the most important behaviourial structures invented by man, and probably the one that is most abused. Because what is written down or postulated in the inception has nothing to do with what is manifested by the most ardent practitioners. We apply our own interpretations to rules, and bend and contort them to suit our purposes.

    The Christian beating loudly on his chest and caterwhauling about his right to own an AK47 and not pay taxes to support the poor is not consistent with instructional utterings of the one whose name symbolizes and identifies his faith. When that teacher stood on the mountain top and reasoned with the multitude, he said nothing that would lead us to imagine that his love for life would be vibrant at the fetus stage, but wane and dissiptate after that fetus became a living being independent of its host. But the fact that what is practiced is inconsistent with what is set down does not mitigate against the impact and injury caused by the practice.

    Similarily the Hindu believing Indian who equates Africans with their religious devils might not be consistent with what is written or postulated in the utterances of the holy ones who structured the early doctrines. But that fact does not mitigate either the impact or injury caused by such inconsistencies.

    We can proceed to Islam and its affinity with peace, and juxtaposition that with practioners who scream for the violent removal of the head of anyone who dares to be critical of something or someone symbolically important to that religion. The fact that instructionally they should promote peace and not violence in reaction to idiocy does not mitigate against the impact and injury caused by the practice.

    Like I said heretofore, there are great distinction between the ethical and moral values esposued in belief systems, and the human interpretation and manifestations of those values. Most often there is little recognizable between what we practiced and what we should be practising. These kinds of failing demand that we be straitjacketed by behaviourial clauses in our political and social contracts, in order to protect the interests of those whose lives will be conditioned by our decision making. We have to cease the illusory search for Mandelas, Martins and Mahatmas, and create tunnels of authority that coerce emulation of those examples of leadership. And democracy, true democracy, will come then.

  11. Carl, since every economic system that was founded prior to 1850 built its economy on slavery, from Egypt and ancient China to modern industrial Britain and the USA, and all the countries in between, and since as recently as World War 11, the Nazis used Jewish slave labour in both the Volkswagen and BMW plants, Japan used Korean slave women for forced sex with their troops, calling them Comfort Women, and both Brazil and India did not officially abolish slavery until the 1880’s, but allowed debt slavery to remain, in some places up to today, could we get off the British /Christians and slavery kick. They were some of the last to do it, but the Danes, Spanish, Portugese, Dutch and Germans also practiced it, when it came to enslaving Africans.The Indians and Africans as well as Middle Eatern people profitted from it.

    That does not affect my statements about values one bit. We will open the Law Term by going to Trinity Cathedral for a prayer service. The Cathedral forms part of the central area of a city with a square in the middle.It comes from Roman times, the same Romans who pushed Christianity out west, and gave us our current manner of creating calendars and measuring time. We do not open Parliament by going to a Mosque or a temple- either Jewish or Hindu,nor do we go to a Japanese Garden of Tranquility nor a Shinto Shrine. You get my point?
    Our core way of being, in terms of the ethos of how we function governmentally, is Christian. Other faiths that affect the governing systems of other places, may also protect the poor, redistribute the state’s wealth to the very needy, provide an underpinning of support services paid for by taxes, but we do it, keeping the British way, because it is a right and Christian thing to do. It is not to say that thay makes us perfect. Corruption occurs in all governmental organizations, from The UN, to the US and to the smallest state like Andorra. Yet it was a court in a very small state Lichtenstein, that stood up for Trinidad and Tobago in a recent off-shore corruption case. How that would have fared outside of the Western European system is only speculative.

    We, as a plural society must continue conversations on values, to help define where we are going, where we want the younger generations,whom we as a people have failed so miserably in our pursuit of individual happiness,to go. Let us keep the dialogue open, and see if we could refrain for a while from calling party names, and mentioning slavery. Both are non sequiturs.

  12. This is an important discussion because it centers on a very essential question. The oppressor has always taught his present and former subjects that “freedom” has no material basis. Of course, he has always known otherwise and does not even believe this lie he himself invented.

    Of more interest to me, however, is to find an explanation as to why and how slaveholders were able to become the experts on freedom, justice, equality, and human rights. Even more intriguing is how our scholars have obediently fallen in line with these concepts and ideas.

    Freedom for the exploiters, bankers, shareholders of oil, chemicals, natural gas, etc., is materially different from that of men and women who must work for a living, the homeless and those who are the majority of victims of the crime wave.

    It’s time to expose the truth and not tell the people that they can be free to develop their personality and humanity even though they are under a regime which serves foreign investors, imperial governments and other powerful interests—not the people of TnT.

Comments are closed.