A More Reflective Society

By Dr Selwyn Cudjoe
January 05, 2021

“So Trinidad was and remains a materialist immigrant society, continually growing and changing, never settling into any pattern, always retaining the atmosphere of the camp… [This explains] its special character, its ebullience and irresponsibility… an indifference to virtue as well as to vice.”

—VS Naipaul, The Middle Passage

Dr. Selwyn R. CudjoeIn 1960 Eric Williams, premier of Trinidad and Tobago (T&T), suggested to VS Naipaul, one of our premier writers, that he write a non-fiction book about the West Indies that the T&T government would support financially. Williams assured Naipaul he “could write about any aspect of the region and visit whatever territories [he] wished” to accomplish his objectives.

Naipaul had been away from the island for about 12 years, having studied at Oxford University and written four novels. He says as soon as he touched down on the island, he felt the same fear he had endured while he lived on the island.

He writes: “I knew Trinidad to be unimportant, uncreative, cynical… Power was recognised, but dignity was allowed to no one. Every person of eminence was held to be crooked and contemptible. We lived in a society which denied itself heroes…

“Though we knew that something was wrong with our society, we made no attempt to assess it. Trinidad was too unimportant and we could never be convinced of the value of reading the history of a place which was, as everyone said, only a dot on the map of the world. Our interest was all in the world outside, the remoter the better… Our past was buried and no one cared to dig it up…

“There was no community. We were of various races, religions, sets and cliques; and we had somehow found ourselves on the same small island. Nothing bound us together except this common residence. There was no nationalist feeling; there could be none. There was no profound anti-imperialist feeling; indeed, it was only our Britishness, our belonging to the British Empire, which gave us any identity. So protests could only be individual, isolated, unheeded.”

Williams formed a nationalist party that was supposed to channel our nationalist feelings (however insubstantial) into something more concrete. Competing identities prevented us from achieving this goal. The Democratic Labour Party was concerned primarily about Indian interests, the Party of Political Progress Group (POPPG) promoted the white middle-class interest, while the PNM, many would argue, pushed the black interest.

Sixty years later, we remain a divided nation without any common direction, the truth of Naipaul’s observations still ringing in our ears.

We should consider the following ideas as we move into the next decade:

[SELF-CONSCIOUSNESS] We need to be more self-aware and take more pride in ourselves and our nation. Hegel argued that “Man is Self-Consciousness. He is conscious of himself, conscious of human reality and dignity; and it is in this that he is essentially different from animals. Desire is what transforms Being, revealed to itself by itself in (true) knowledge.” (Alexandre Kojeve, Introduction to the Reading of Hegel)

[CIVILITY] We need to be more civil to one another, more conscious about how we speak to and about one another, whether we agree with them or not. Let’s dispense with the name-calling and treat each other with the dignity that s/he deserves.

[LEADING BY EXAMPLE] Our leaders, by virtue of their positions, are our role models. All eyes are on them and their behaviour. The President said it best: “Those in authority must, like Caesar’s wife, be above suspicion and reproach in their dealings.” (Express, January 1)

[COMMUNITY] We cannot be a national community unless each of us accepts the entirety of our country’s history as his/her own. Reading and understanding our history, as Naipaul says, is important for national coherence.

[BE PHILOSOPHERS RA­THER THAN IDEOLOGUES] An intellectual changes his mind in light of new knowledge; an ideologue maintains the same position regardless of the any new information that is revealed. An intellectual aspires to a better understanding of the world; an ideologue remains comfortable staying in the old world.

[FREEDOM & NECESSITY] Frederick Engels says: “Freedom does not consist in the dream of independence of natural laws, but in the knowledge of these laws, and in the possibility this gives of systematically making them work towards definitive ends.” (Anti-Duhring)

Being free does not mean that one cannot shout “fire” in a theatre—one is always free to do so—or to jump from a 100-storey building. Freedom consists in recognising the necessity of one’s action; that is, if one jumps from a 100-storey building, one should be prepared to accept the consequences of such actions.

[ANALYSIS VERSUS DESCRIPTION] Human beings possess the capacity to think. Description merely tells us about the surface dimensions of reality, an enumeration of dates and times. Analysis consists in seeking to find the essence of a phenomenon. Let’s try to discover what makes things tick rather than babbling tired clichés about how things used to be and why we can’t locate our destiny in the future order of things.

The President captured this shortcoming when she admonished: “While the Government of the day may well have some of these matters [such as poverty, joblessness] in its sights, those in the kitchen are feeling the heat daily and are not sympathetic to hackneyed excuses, promises of action and sob stories of doing one’s best, which they have heard ad nauseum, with nothing to show for it.”

We must think more deeply/philosophically about our condition. While we attend to our material wants, we must give equal thought to our inner spiritual needs. In 2021 we should aspire to achieve virtue, rather than vice, as Naipaul suggests. It is also in keeping with our national motto.

7 thoughts on “A More Reflective Society”

  1. Educated civility is not encouraged in T&T. Citizens of this dot on the map have carved out niches of success in almost every adopted country in the universe. They have become citizens and dual-citizens of their adopted countries, as leaders and accomplished career contributors. They were not allowed to do this at home.
    Like Naipaul himself discovered, it is difficult to thrive in an unimportant, uncreative, cynical society. In this land where civility is absent, chaos will forever prevail.
    Egomaniacal tendencies have become cultural character traits of the Trinbagonian. This sick society needs healing.
    Your ideas as stated in our article are only applicable and adoptable by civil societies in which education is more than book learning and civility is more than following laws for fear of persecution.

    1. Tman dog-whistles fake indian history in trinidad. Truth is, when indians, whites, chinese and middle easterners migrate, they don’t show those (white/non-black) societies the same obnoxious, recalcitrant hostility that african trinidad and african trinidadian leadership is and has been shown. In canada, uk, america etc. indian communities are more desirous to genuinely be part of and “join” the society in a wholistic manner. All of a sudden, in a sea of white people and other non indigenous (black) africans, interracial dating and marriages with other ethnic groups become almost mandatory among indian trinidadian families abroad. All that ole talk about “preserving” “indian identity”, gets chucked to the wayside to make room for their WHITE canadian, uk, american DADDY & MOMMY!! In other words, the virulent, toxic myopia of anti-african racism that retards indian cohesiveness and inter-ethnic community building in the caribbean, fiji and Africa is put on the back burner and unshackles them to be productive to white/non-african canadians, brits etc. etc. After “independence”, the whites, indians and others LOATHED the mere existence of african leadership and socially, politically sabotaged the society’s progress..
      *Africans fought politically for independence while whites and indians fought to maintain the racist stratification that slavery and colonialism defied. (whites over non-africans over africans)
      *Africans fought to remove america’s chaguaramas army base occupation, whites and indians fought to KEEP IT.
      *Africans fought against white racism in employment and education in trinidad in 1970, Indians scorned, undermined and exploited the black power movement, it’s progress and opportunities gained. LOOK at the banking industry today! Are the africans who fought for anti-racism in banking the shared beneficiaries ??? Did larry howai and his family support 1970?
      Did Jawara rambaran? It is despicable of Tman and other spin-doctors of Hindu Nationalism, to blame the consequences of THEIR racism in not wholistically participating in the society on africans. Despicable!
      Well….in india, brahmins and upper-castes claim that the untouchables are racist and are responsible for the ‘division’ in that society!

    2. V.S. Naipaul HATED african people!Unlike Selwyn Cudjoe, indians in india of integrity, call him out for who he was and what he promoted and represented!

      V S Naipaul: A Literary Giant, A Racist & A Misogynist | Madras Courierhttps://madrascourier.com/biography/v-s-naipaul-a-literary-giant-a-racist-a-misogynist/

      V. S. Naipaul: Casteist. Communalist. Racist. And Now, A Nobel Laureatehttp://www.postcolonialweb.org/caribbean/naipaul/meena.html

      1. [LEADING BY EXAMPLE] Our leaders, by virtue of their positions, are our role models. All eyes are on them and their behaviour. The President said it best: “Those in authority must, like Caesar’s wife, be above suspicion and reproach in their dealings.” (Express, January 1)

        Trinidad and Tobago
        Coronavirus Cases:
        Inconvenient Truth can you explain to me why Dr. Rowley is asking for an additional $16,000,000,000 from the HSF to fight Covid? And what happen to the $19,000,000,000 previously taken out to fight Covid before the election.

        The borders are closed. Yet Covid soared to over 7,000 cases with 6,744 full recovery. So why the main stream media is not subjecting to interrogation the desire for the PM to pillage the treasury at his good pleasure?. You quick to say Kamla thief along with PNM diehards. But strangely silent when it comes to emptying the treasury.

        Those in government are saying Dr. Rowley really need that money to pay civil servant, those folks who sit and do nothing but vote PNM. Is he leading by example? What is really happening with TnT economy, when chicken farmers had to kill off chickens at Christmas time because they could not purchase feed.

        Anyways the only example this PNM regime is putting forward is tax, tax, tax, borrow, borrow, borrow, spend, spend, spend….

  2. The President exhibited courage in pointing out the concerns of the citizenry in her current quagmire of ceremonialism. It may seem like a toothless display of discontent but she is stepping into the dens of despair currently eating away the moral and spiritual fabric of the nation.

    Power can create a monster if remain unchecked and above interrogation. The media houses have bought into the idea that silence is the best way forward. If you are getting bread from the bakery why condemn the baker.

    The indicators of failure or fail state is all around. Ordinary citizens with family to feed cannot get work. The CSO has become impotent to say how many are unemployed. So there is no desire by the politicians who can whip out a government issued credit card and entertain their friends with wine, women and whatever they desire.

    Yes, the bridge is broken the cars are coming and there is no one to warn them or try and stop the sudden crash. The President must be applauded for her efforts. Her concern duly noted. Perhaps it was all meant to be. Que sera, sera!

  3. [SELF-CONSCIOUSNESS] We need to be more self-aware and take more pride in ourselves and our nation. Hegel argued that “Man is Self-Consciousness. He is conscious of himself, conscious of human reality and dignity; and it is in this that he is essentially different from animals. Desire is what transforms Being, revealed to itself by itself in (true) knowledge.” (Alexandre Kojeve, Introduction to the Reading of Hegel)
    The honorable Prime Minister recently complained of chest pains. I will say that was a self conscious moment. He understand his limitations as a human being. We all have those moments when mortality grips us and we face the future with uncertainty.

    With our import cover slowly dwindling and foreign goods coming to a sudden halt in the near future (average next 6 mths). It is no wonder the PM is looking for an exit to preserve his legacy. The economy has been in a terrible tailspin since 2015 with the sale of Petrotrin and several businesses closing. The future looks grim. What is ahead is a world wide recession as in a post covid world we will see remarkable national bankruptcies. The HSF fund which saw Kamla leaving $30 billion is being pillaged. As no new ideas to generate revenue except taxation of some kind and borrowing remains the PNM solution to the economy. The only bright hope is for Rowley to demit office as he has said before he did not want the position of PM (not sure how true that was) .

    But who can take up the challenge of moving TnT through these shark infested waters. The current Minister of Finance has done the most damage to this economy than anyone else. And will be remember for his no innovation ideas. After all life for he is the islands and Diego Martin. Yes the leadership race for the PNM has started… I will say Jamaican Abullah who is always sought after for his ideas could join that race.

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