Irrational exuberance

By Dr Selwyn R. Cudjoe
January 08, 2024

Pain, fear, nausea, benumb our sensibilities.
Not sure how many of us will live to see tomorrow’s light,
Not confident our country will remain a coherent whole
After we leave this earth and our politicians depart this life in ignominy.

—Author’s poem

Dr. Selwyn R. CudjoeOn January 1, 2024, Prime Minister Keith Rowley offered a disappointing New Year’s greeting to his nation. It is as though he were speaking about another country at another moment of time; sounding as someone out of touch with the existentialist realities of his society.

Any serious Trinidad and Tobago leader understands that the three most important challenges that face the country are crime, more crime, and more violent crime. Yet our Prime Minister delivered his New Year’s greeting with all the irrational exuberance of an immature schoolboy who believes he only has to put together a few platitudinous sentiments and that will satisfy the deepening gloom the country faces.

The Prime Minister claims we live in a “multi-polar world”, that the Caribbean must remain a “zone of peace” and we must be mindful of the dangers of the Israel-Hamas war. I am not sure how those sentiments affect the madness in our country.

T&T is on the decline. Two events over the past week will suffice. On December 30, Anesha Narine-Boodhoo, an El Socorro businesswoman, was kidnapped from her home. “Three unmasked men exited the vehicle and made their way towards Narine-Boodhoo… dragged her out of the SUV and placed her in their vehicle.” (Express, December 31, 2003). Luckily, Narine-Boodhoo was returned safely to her home on Tuesday.

Last Sunday the Express reported: “Two men were fatally shot in St Augustine yesterday morning. They were identified as 35-year-old Anand Bisson, aka “Fly”, and 20-year-old Shane Ramjitsingh. Relatives said they believe the shooter may be about 14 years old… Their 20-year-old friend, of Pinto Road, Arima, was also shot during the attack.”

The report continued: “Relatives of the men said they did not understand why they were killed. ‘They were just in the gallery liming last night and came back in and were all just relaxing and preparing for the day. A youth man they know run up to them and just opened fire. The youth man then run down the road in a speed. He look about 13 or 14.'”

Two concepts are necessary to understand the gravity of our situation.

The first is the normalisation of crime; that is, the kidnappers’ indifference to being caught—they didn’t even wear masks to hide their identities.

The second concept revolves around the relatives’ incomprehension of “why they [their friends] were killed” and the almost irrational nature of the act. A relative of the deceased asked the pertinent question: “What is happening to our children? What is happening to our country?”

In light of crime incidents, the United States Embassy offered a security alert for its citizens visiting Trinidad: “Due to recent increased gang activity in St Augustine, US citizens are advised to exercise extreme caution in the St Augustine areas of Trincity Mall [Tacarigua], Grand Bazaar and Valsayn areas in the new year.” On December 30, our Prime Minister spoke of the “brazenness” of the criminal elements “that is rooted in the belief that they would not be apprehended, and even if they are held, they have nothing to fear from the judicial system”. (Express, December 31.) For once, he did not blame the UNC for his Government’s shortcomings in terms of policing and the courts’ inability to act quickly and effectively.

The Prime Minister said in his New Year’s Day address: “I am pleased that your Government can state that it greets the new year with a renewed sense of optimism, as we strengthen our energy base, enhance the nation’s infrastructure, improve the conditions of investment, and continue our attempts to improve and make the daily lives of citizens safer.”

Such a statement sounded contradictory. Although billions of dollars (financial capital) have passed through our system over the last 30 years, the social and cultural situation of our society (our cultural capital) has diminished severely. Is there any logical reason to think that pouring more money into the society will make the crime situation any better?

Our fight against crime will not improve because Keith Rowley, his Cabinet, his Judiciary, and his police officers have not put their hands on the major source of the problem. Our problem does not reside in “a handful of citizens” who wreak “death and destruction… upon the vast majority of the population” (Rowley’s analysis). Anthropologically, it inheres in a Culture (with a big “C”) that we have not examined carefully.

This continuing violence, indifference to the law, and the inability of the Government to prevent crime are deeply embedded in our society. Our inability to conduct the necessary examination stymies any avenue of understanding or change. Gillian Tett has noted: “The fundamental idea of anthropology is that we’re shaped by cultural assumptions that we’re barely aware of because we are creatures of our own environment and culture.”

It is not self-evident who we are as a people without questioning some of the assumptions we make about ourselves. We must dig deeply into our society to find what frames our behaviour and guides our actions. In doing so, we may realise that all of us are involved in the deepening criminalisation of our society.