By Dr Selwyn R. Cudjoe
February 15, 2022
I am not sure that I feel the same angst Ralph Maraj (a fellow columnist), former archbishop Joseph Harris, Raymond Tim Kee (deceased), Ken Gordon and others feel about the debilitating effects that Carnival has on the moral and ethical standards of our people.
Maraj laments: “Our society is threatened when tens of thousands come near to nudity, one step away from copulating on the streets. This corrosive cultural debasement has been eating at the nation’s innards, weakening the social fabric, nurturing generation after generation of young adults who are adrift, driven mainly by pleasure and materialism, so lacking in intellectual and spiritual depth they could fete every day with no commitment whatsoever to society and community.” (Sunday Express, February 6.)
Maraj also places a heavy responsibility on our calypsonians and chutney singers whom he calls “the carriers of a generational cultural disease that has been corroding the society for decades, producing soullessness and an epidemic of annual teenage pregnancies, child abuse, domestic violence, corruption, school violence, crime, drug abuse, alcoholism and more”.
This is a deep indictment of these griots and troubadours who, in many ways, have served as keepers of our indigenous culture.
These singers represent just a small slice of what French sociologist Emile Durkheim calls the collective conscience (la conscience collective), “a totality of the beliefs and sentiments common to the average citizens of the same society”.
The entire society bears the burden for the ills that Maraj and others have outlined.
In piloting the Whistleblower Protection Bill, the Prime Minister declared: “Many think of murder and violence when they think about crime [but] white collar crime was just as insidious. There are hundreds of thousands of people who will never see one million dollars in their lifetime. But then there are others in nice white cotton shirts, nice polished shoes, in air-condition, eating the best, drinking the best, driving the best, taking the best and they are in fact the cancer of our society.” (Saturday Express, February 5.)
The Prime Minister said he had to drive around in a bulletproof car prior to the 2015 election because people wanted to assassinate him. He described corruption in our society as “a balloon that is just getting bigger and bigger”.
One can look at the headlines of our newspapers any day of the week and see the sliding decline of our society: “Police investigating the AG”, to which the AG responds, “Bring it on.” Or, “Rowley slams ‘dotish’ labour leaders”, “Murders without end: child among 4 sprayed with bullets”, or, “Pathologist calls on Medical Board to probe allegations of plagiarism in court affidavit signed by CMO in cremation issue”, or “Union leader accuses PM of lying in ESOP deal”.
I don’t know what issues Maraj and others have with the human body or human nakedness, but they see it as the source of our problems.
Carnival is a celebration of the flesh. When Constantine, the Roman emperor, converted to Christianity in 313 AD, he did so on the condition that his followers be allowed to celebrate their original rites for two days (Carnival Monday and Tuesday) and reconcile themselves to demands of their new religion (Christianity) on Ash Wednesday.
Being nearly naked on the streets on Carnival day or gyrating on fellow revellers are not the worst sins one can think of.
In thinking of social degradation, it would be wise to examine Queen Elizabeth’s decree that Camilla, the Duchess of Cornwall, an adulterer or horner woman, will hold the title of Queen Consort once Prince Charles is named king of Britain.
Equally questionable is the behaviour of Prince Andrew, the Queen’s son, who is being sued by a woman who says he “sexually abused” her.
Prince Harry, the Queen’s grandson, and his wife, Meghan, have accused the royal family of “callous and racist behaviour towards them” (The New York Times, February 6).
A month ago, Ishwhar Manoo (we called him Goo), a neighbour of mine for over 70 years, was returning from exercising in the Orange Grove Savannah, when he was shot dead. I believe God would rather have met 100 naked women or 16 vestal virgins than be confronted by a man with a gun sent to kill him.
The singing of calypsoes, nearly nude women, or fornication are not the real problems in our society. Our major problem lies in a disequilibrium in our social order that manifests itself in the killings, the hold-ups, the kidnappings and the corruption that are manifested in our everyday transactions.
Durkheim refers to these social ills as a form of anomie, an abnormal form of the division of labour which ultimately weakens the social cohesion of a people.
These problems affect the entire society. Our cultural warriors and Carnival revellers only reveal the fault lines of our society.
We can understand our social problems better if we examine how we allocate our economic resources, the advantages we grant to those who control them, and listen to our citizens’ insistent demand for social justice.
Each group needs to feel that it is treated fairly and that we appreciate its contributions to society.