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Brutifying Our Sensibilities
Posted: Monday, March 20, 2017

By Dr. Selwyn R. Cudjoe
March 20, 2017

This is not a criticism against Edmund Dillon, Minister of National Security, or the present government. It is more an attempt to place a finger on what the recent murders are doing to our national psyche, how they are affecting our emotional state and damaging our self-conception.

Citizens' fears are palpable. On March 16, after the body of WPC Nyasha Joseph was found, 28-year-old Renatta Diaz remarked: "You could go in a store in broad daylight and come back out in a body bag" (Express, March 16). It cannot get more debilitating than this.

Asked what message he had for citizens who were traumatized by yet another murder, Minister Dillon counseled: "I don't think they should feel a sense of hopelessness because the police will not put their hands up in the air and give up the fight against crime and criminality in Trinidad and Tobago." Citizens, he says, should not give up in frustration. "If we do that, it's to almost die ourselves."

This was a searing insight. It's as though he was suggesting that hope is all that separates us from the death of our spirit, soul and sensibility. Like Jesse Jackson, he seems to argue the best we can do is "Keep hope alive."

It gets deeper than this. Jeaniffer Flament, a system analyst at the Ministry of Trade revealed the trauma she and her coworkers felt when they observed the recovery of Nyasha's body. She said: "What is going on in this country is very sad. Our men need to be spoken to. A woman is not a tool or an object to be used." Women, in other words, should not be thingified.

Jeaniffer urged women to take self-defense classes and to walk with pepper spray to protect themselves from mindless avengers. She also pleaded with men to regard women with the same reverence with which they regard their mothers and sisters.

These are all sensible suggestions. They appeal to our natural desire to protect ourselves in the face of evil. However, this social dis-ease goes deeper than this: it bores to the depths of our existential condition in Trinidad and Tobago; and affects our men and women.

The constant murders—in a drip, drip, daily fashion—has begun to erode our humanity and the emotional security we should feel in our national space. The "brutifying" of our consciousness, a word that one of our nineteenth-century commentators used to describe the harrowing effects of slavery on our sensibilities, comes close to describing our present condition.

George Numa Des Sources, the editor of The Trinidadian and one of our major thinkers of the nineteenth century, used the verb "to brutify" in 1850 to describe the impact slavery had upon enslaved Africans or what Archdeacon Henry Johnson of Lagos described as the "unduly pachydermatous" effect of the slave trade on Africans in that region.

After recounting Europe's long years of fratricidal struggle for freedom, Des Sources noted Caribbean blacks had "smarted under the grip of tyranny, and [were] driven by a monstrous system,...which demoralizes and brutifies man."

Frederick Douglass, enslaved African and one of the most distinguished men of the nineteenth century, spoke of how slavery transformed "a man into a brute." In his Narrative, he wrote: "Slavery has a natural, an inevitable tendency to brutalize every noble faculty of man."

Dillon appeals to hope to keep our spirit from dying while the government selected Ramesh Laurence Maharaj "to bring some on Death Row to the gallows" (Express, March 17). I do not see how more killing (legal or otherwise) can solve the problems of our hardening sensibilities. It will only deaden them further. The government would be better off using Ramesh to bring suspected wrong doers of the previous government to justice.

Our society must think of positive ways to uplift our spirit and feed our minds. In an insightful article, Raymond Ramcharitar observed that getting out of "the present predicament of omnivorous violence depends upon our ability to learn thinking, reasoning and sensitivity" (Trinidad Guardian, February 15). He suggested that the government commission the Trinidad and Tobago Workshop (TTW) to stage readings of Euripides "Medea" and other plays.

This is something C. L. R. James, a believer in the educative dimension of Greek drama, would have endorsed. We need the intense education of our souls and minds (our sensibillities) to see us through this harrowing onslaught on our emotional state of mind. And I do not mean formal education.

"Brutifying" is a forgotten word that once described what the social environment did to us. Now that Derek Walcott, the founder of TTW is dead, we might see the value of pouring more monies into music and the arts to reverse the spiritual/emotional death spiral into which we are descending.

Walcott reminded us: "For every poet it is always morning in the world. History a forgotten, insomniac night; History and elemental awe are always our early beginning, because the fate of poetry is to fall in love with the world, in spite of History" (Nobel Lecture). It is something we should ponder.

Professor Cudjoe's email address is He can be reached @ProfessorCudjoe.

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