By Dr Selwyn R. Cudjoe
March 20, 2023
Last Sunday, Terrence Farrell, one of our premier public intellectuals, sought to explain why some people say that “Trinidad is not a real place”. Speaking of the mess in which Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) Roger Gaspard found himself when he dismissed the Piarco airport corruption case, Farrell observed that it is these failures that prompt our frustration and “give weight to epithets such as ‘Trinidad is not a real place'” (Sunday Express, March 12).
I am not sure the statement “Trinidad is not a real place” is an epithet (“a term of abuse”). It is more a philosophical question about our ontological status in the world that is captured more accurately in the question, “Is Trinidad a real place?” Many philosophers pose their enquiries in the form of questions. Since philosophical ontology “is concerned with the study of what is, of the kinds and structures of objects, properties, events, processes, and relations in every realm of reality”, when a person asks, “Is Trinidad a real place?” one is asking how we apprehend our social reality and how well we apply our reason to the problems that face us.
This is why the State lawyers at the DPP’s office demanded that Attorney General Reginald Armour apologise to Gaspard for his offensive statement about their “underperformance”. They noted that the AG’s statement presented “a distorted view of the existing reality and is likely to undermine public confidence in the office” (Express, March 16). They felt insulted by his emotional outburst.
The Prime Minister’s announcement that the Government paid millions in rent for a new office that has remained unoccupied for the past three years only inflamed matters (Express, March 16).
To these lawyers, it would have made no substantial difference in the DPP’s position, even if the Government spent $100 million on a new office. They understood there is no causal connection between the two issues and that correlation does not imply causation.
Sophia Chote, president of the Law Association, pointed out the psychological dissociation in the Prime Minister’s remarks. She said, “There have been commitments given by the former attorney general [Faris Al-Rawi] that they had accepted the police recommendations that this building had to be fitted out with security features…because a prosecutor was murdered or killed while prosecuting a high-profile matter.” Prosecutors cannot overlook the security aspect of this matter “if we are to be serious about crime fighting at all in this country” (Express, March 16.)
Government authorities are free to indulge in psychological and philosophical obfuscation. In fact, it is ruinous to ask a reasonable question even in Parliament. On February 24, Rodney Charles asked the Prime Minister why T&T is unable “to come off the Tier 2 Watchlist rating in the US Trafficking in Persons Report? Not satisfied with answering Charles in Parliament, the Prime Minister describes him as “that little dirty mouth, flea-laden, lice-covered Rodney Charles…who tells the world that the PNM is building a headquarters from the proceeds of human trafficking”, at one of his public meetings. Such nastiness is unbecoming of a prime minister. It’s about time we acknowledge that his outbursts are a national disgrace.
Erla Harewood-Christopher, the Commissioner of Police, added insult to injury when she theorised, “An evil has spread over the land and we must recognise, those of us who are spiritually inclined, you must recognise that this is beyond the physical, and unless we seek the intervention of that greater spirit, whatever we may call Him…. We need to invoke the help of that being, if we really need to bring Trinidad and Tobago back to that place where we want it to be” (Trinidad Guardian, March 16). She added: “The police can come up with whatever strategy, but unless we enlist the help of God, we will be working in vain.”
Apparently, God has not been listening. Over the past several years, there have been many “days of prayer”, in which citizens appealed to God to change things in the country. Things have got worse. God is either deaf or we have been praying to the wrong deity.
God made the world (if we believe that) and endowed us, his children, with reason to work out our problems. Alejo Carpentier, the Cuban novelist, argued that a person’s greatness consists in doing his duties on earth. “In the Kingdom of Heaven there is no grandeur to be won, inasmuch as there is an established hierarchy, the unknown is revealed, existence is infinite, there is no possibility of sacrifice, all is rest and joy. For this reason, bowed down by suffering and duties, beautiful in the midst of his misery, capable of loving in the face of afflictions and trials, man finds his greatness, his fullest measure, only in the kingdom of this world” (The Kingdom of This World).
The term “ontology” is derived from the Greek “ontos” (“being” or “what exists”) and “logos” (“rational account” or “knowledge”). Therefore, when one asks rhetorically, “Is Trinidad a real place?”, one is seeking to discover the nature of our “being-in-the world” (the Heideggerian terminology for “consciousness”) and how we solve the problems that face us.
Given the irrational responses our officials give to our pressing needs, many of us believe that they reside in a state of cognitive dissonance, offering inconsistent solutions to our problems and displaying an adolescent impetuousness when confronted with real-life issues.
We exist in a real physical space, but our officials behave as automatons when confronted with real-life issues. It is almost as though they are playing “dollyhouse” in a world that demands that adults behave like adults. It is this bizarre situation that leads some of us to ask, “Is Trinidad a real place?”
It remains an open question.