By Dr Selwyn R. Cudjoe
May 31, 2021
There is much that is silly about the back and forth between the prime minister and the leader of the opposition about who is to be blamed for the rising death rate the savage pandemic has inflicted upon the people of our country. Rowley says that the candlelight vigils “organized and paid for by the UNC is a major contributory factor in the spike of Covid infections,” whereas Persad-Bissessar claims that the 50,000 people who visited Tobago during Easter “on the Prime Minister’s invitation resulted in the outbreak” (Express, May 25).
Epidemiologist Avery Hinds claims neither is accurate. He says: “A number of factors have contributed to the spread” of Covid-19 (Express, May 27)
In spite of the mindless rhetorical sparing, the death toll continues to rise. There are now 21,987 Covid-19 cases and 440 Covid-19 deaths. Unemployment increases, poor people continue to suffer mentally and physically; imminent death threatens with surprising suddenness; femicide has risen to the point that it has drawn international attention, and young people remain adrift and dangerous. The government quibbles about nonsense as the society implodes.
Tuesday was the first-year anniversary of the death of George Floyd that sparked a worldwide movement that forced people to take another look at how racism and white supremacy continue to deny oppressed people their right to a better life. It spurred the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement to greater prominence and raised our awareness of the plight of oppressed people globally.
Some people have argued that the ascendency of the BLM movement increased awareness of the suffering of Palestinian people. Even New York Times changed the tone of its coverage of the Israeli-Palestine war while eighty members of Harvard University found the courage to support Palestinian liberation out of “an alleged suppression of support for Palestine within academia” (The Harvard Crimson, May 6).
In an article, “Economic Reform Crucial to Improve the Lives of Black Americans,” Taylor Nicole Rogers argued that since Floyd’s murder “America has re-evaluated discriminatory practices in the workplace and policing, in housing and health care policies, and even infrastructure repairs.” She questions whether those proposed changes “can meaningfully improve the lives of black people if economic reforms are not prioritized too” (Financial Times, May 25).
About a year ago, our prime minister created a Community Recovery Program under the leadership of Anthony Watkins to deal with the problems of people in the underprivileged areas who protested their living conditions under which they lived. In launching his initiative, he said: “I will not be dissuaded to change course from this [Recovery Plan] by anyone who feels it has to do with race, religion or geography…. We’ll resolve to make tomorrow a better day, not only for ourselves but also for those who live in communities like these” (Trinidad Guardian, July 2, 2020).
In December 2020 Minister Donna Cox declared that the social ills experienced in these underprivileged communities stemmed from “issues such as poor parenting, crime, poverty, lack of employment, and other environmental factors.” She said that the committee indicated that the solution to these problems lay in setting up “parenting skills workshops, [providing] counselling and psychological support, opportunities entrepreneurship,…and other programs designed to help, empower and transition out of poverty and vulnerability.”
Watkins confirmed this diagnosis by indicating that the Committee will focus on “Community pride and ownership, human development, social stability, and economic development” (news.gov.tt, December 8, 2020).
Anyone listening to this mumbo-jumbo would have screamed that the answer to the problem lies in the provision of jobs and more jobs; that is, in the initiation of specific economic projects. Instead, a committee that was supposed to come up with practical solutions to long-standing problems of economic deprivation is reduced to a recitation of the sociological and psychological shortcomings of a seemingly defective people.
Then, in bright daylight, Torrance Mohammed, an outstanding citizen and inspirational artist, was murdered in a town in which he grew up and one he nourished spiritually and emotionally with his artistic gifts. San Fernando Mayor Junia Regrello observed: “There are a lot of desperate people out there. There are a lot of hungry people out there as well” (Guardian, May 5); this statement sums up our state of being in the world.
As we contemplate our situation, we should remember that “Philosophy is essentially not possession of the truth, but a quest for the truth.” Political philosophy, a branch of philosophy, consists in “the attempt to replace opinion about the nature of political things by knowledge of the nature of political things” (Leo Strauss, “What Is Political Philosophy?”)
Keith Rowley is no more the possessor of the truth than Kamla Persad-Bissessar is the embodiment of lies. Each, in his and her own way, is striving to arrive at what is best for society. A society cannot be defined without reference to its purpose and none of us has the perfect answer to that question. Once we put aside the bombast, together we might be able to find a way out of our morass.
Let us be more humble and realize that we all bring our opinions to the public trough in search of truth. Let us treat all opinions as carefully as possible knowing that the quest for truth is more important than the certitude of having the truth. We cannot arrive at the truth if we think that everyone else is a stranger to the truth.
The prime minister was correct when he said that people in the underprivileged areas have the same ambitions, require the same services, and strive for peace and prosperity as all of us do.
These thoughts should guide us during these moments of uncertainty.