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Morality and Politics

By Dr Selwyn R. Cudjoe
Posted: February 15, 2004

Dr. Kirk Meighoo suggests that if Dr. Eric Williams were alive he would have been ashamed of the present PNM. Not content with such non-sense, he informs us that Dr. Williams died an unhappy, lonely man and that might have been true. He suggests that "many observers and close confidants believed that he essentially committed suicide" and that Dr. Williams made few appearances during the last years of his life.

Dr. Williams, he tells us was "disappointed in many ways" and "was frustrated with others." He also notes that Dr. Williams "sarcastically made reference to the country's Carnival and Christmas celebrations, during which time nobody is expected to do anything, giving him opportunity and occasion to do write his historical work." He concludes: "If the PNM during Williams' lifetime did not live up to his highest expectations, certainly the PNM of today would not. To agree with what the present PNM proclaims as its success only confirms the point. It represents the politics of power (which Dr. Williams certainly supported) but it is also mere standpipe politics, precisely what Williams was against."

One cannot be sure what all of this means. I don't know of anyone who ever lived up to his or her expectations. Second, Dr. Meighoo is not a psychoanalyst so one should lend little to credence his analysis of Dr. Williams' psychological condition. Although Dr. Williams might have been every thing Dr. Meighoo says, do these things really matter when we examine the twenty six years Dr. Williams served his people. It is almost as if to suggest that Dr. Williams' suicide (if this is true) or his loneliness negated everything he ever did and that he failed his party and his people in some essential way because of these frailties. Or, is it that his people failed him?

Dr. Meighoo's analysis reduces politics (and eventually history itself) to a morality play in which heroes and villains abound; those who achieve perfection and immortality are contrasted with those mortal who are not so fortunate. Such idealist abstractions exist only in a place called utopia which, by definition, always exist somewhere else. In his myopia, Dr. Meighoo fails to see that PNM is a living, organic entity replete with hopes, ambiguities and tragedies that inhere in any human enterprise. After all, hope suggests possibilities; ambiguities suggest a sense of doubt and indeterminacy; and tragedy presumes that illusions and disappointment are part and parcel of man's existence in this world.

Dr. Williams never saw politics as some sort of teleological unfolding of our society in which all of us would live happily ever after. That's the stuff of fairy tales; not the content of human existence in a developing country. That Dr. Williams was not entirely happy or even satisfied with the project he had wrought seems a reasonable proposition. That is one reason why he immersed himself in his private pursuits, particularly during Christmas and Carnival: they served as a mechanism to invite him to know himself better and to come to terms with that existentialist dimension of self that is not easily satisfied in an essentially non-intellectual society. Such an observation is meant to be neither censure nor vilification of our society. It only suggests that an intellect as developed as Williams (and I suspect the same is true of Lloyd Best) found enormous intellectual frustration with his society. But the same would be true of a nuclear physicist living and working in Trinidad and Tobago. Therefore, it is not surprising that a man who cared so deeply about his society felt such a profound sense of loss that things did not work out as he envisaged them.

And this is the problem with hope. It is the last thing that dies in the human breast. Sometimes it does and the consequences can be great and even tragic. But to read history in a way that only catalogs that loss rather than charter its hopes and aspirations is cynicism that can go no further than to condemn the "petty-minded land" of ours.

It's all so easy. It is almost as though the last forty eight years of Dr. Williams' (and PNM's) existence was merely an anticipation of loss rather than an appreciation of its achievements. Such a posture corresponds to the "laws of dissolution" of a relationship. As with a broken marriage, we fixate on the logic of the breakup ("it did boun' to dun,") rather than contemplate the felicitous moments of the union. Looking at Dr. Williams and his relationship with the PNM as a morality play demands that one poses ethical questions that have little to do with the substance of Dr. Williams' political project.

Inescapably, one arrives at a limited psychological profile that is bound to be constricted and constricting. Relationships are complex and difficult things; political associations are unpredictable, treacherous and sometimes disastrous. It is impossible to ascertain, with any degree of certitude, whether Dr. Williams would have been ashamed of the PNM or whether Forged From the Love of Liberty not being in print says very much about the present PNM.

In Camus and Sartre, Ronald Aronson charts the friendship of Albert Camus and Jean Paul Sartre, two towering intellectuals of the twentieth century, and the quarrel that ended it. He argues that one must appreciate relationships for their own spirit, approaching them "with their shared sense of unpredictability, choice, freedom and absurdity." Sartre, himself, always warned against what he called "bad faith."

One cannot read Dr. Meighoo's article without contemplating the bad faith that inundates every line of his bastard philosophizing. He believes that the function of analysis is simply to dwell on the repugnant features of Dr. Williams and the PNM rather than to discern the signs of greatness and spectacular achievements in spite of the odds that faced the man and his party. After all, it is not for nothing that Trinidad and Tobago is a relatively democratic society in which every Tom, Dick and Harrilal could blast Dr. Williams, Mr. Patrick Manning and the PNM as they want. However, when one reads Dr. Meighoo I am sure that one is dealing with what psychologists call transference: the imposition of Dr. Meighoo's infantile phantasies on Dr. Williams and the PNM.

Dr. Meighoo must tell us what he considers an acceptable or even desirable level of social, economic and cultural development of this land and the yardstick he uses to measure. Since he is such a marvelous scientist and has the answers to our problems, he must mobilize the populace to accept his ideas. Certainly, his eloquence will change the society for the better. However, to be relevant to our history and politics, Dr. Meighoo must find a way out of his imaginary, self-obsessed delusion to do what Dr. Williams did: go among the masses and activate them to transform their lived conditions even though the results are not what they ought to be.

During the last two years of his life (1967-68), Dr. Martin Luther King, one of the greatest patriots in American history, felt very depressed. A commentator notes Dr. Kings "depression reflected the contradictions of a politics based on moral exhortations and his loss of moorings amid white backlash, black nationalist frenzy and Vietnam. President Lyndon Johnson referred to him as "that goddamned nigger preacher" and the March on Washington was a virtual failure when he was assassinated (See the New York Times, February 8, 2004).

If someone analyzed Dr. King's life and work and emphasize only Dr. King's depression and political/social failures as reflected in the last two years of his life one would dismiss such an analysis as uninformed and juvenile. One could not reduce Dr. King's work of twenty five years (1953-1968) to brief two brief years "of despair."

Dr. Meighoo believes that words alone matter. The more grandiloquent the phrases the better; the more savage the saber's trust, the more effective its bite. But if he ever ran a Garden Club he would realize the severe limitations of words particularly in a society he calls materialist, backward and petty minded. Can such a society be mobilized by words alone or is action a constituent part of any aspect of social transformation? Suffice it to say it takes more than words to develop a society that is more concerned with fulfilling its animal needs rather developing its sensuous dimensions and that is the problem that Dr. Williams and the present PNM faces.

Dr. Meighoo and his crowd are never tired of throwing insults at Dr. Williams, Mr. Manning and their party. Cynicism has its benefits. One can always use a man's alienated condition-that is, the separation between his essence and his existence-to depreciate his life's work. One only has to look at the former Soviet Union or certain African countries to see how horribly wrong things have turned out in spite of the best wishes of its people or their leaders. Even in the United States where Dr. King struggled so gallantly things have not been a bed of roses for the African American.

Nation building is a slow, tedious and painful process none the more so because one has to deal with people. Success or failure has little to with how lonely, how crazy or how depressed a leader was at the end of his life. It has to with where the leader started and where he ended; what he contributed and where he failed; how his people responded and how effectively he conveyed his message. The evidence one sees and how such conditions compare with other societies are the more important criteria.

We live in an imperfect world with imperfect people who are always striving to do the best they can. Dr. Meighoo believes he can will a magic world into being by waving a linguistic wand. Perhaps Lord Alfred Tennyson was correct when he observed: "More things are wrought by prayer than this world dreams possible." But then faith without good work is blind and sometimes even meaningless.

There can be no great disappointment where there is no great love. Because we loved Dr. Williams so, we empathize with his disappointments, his frustrations, his pain and his loneliness. We do not use these frailties to beat up on him. We sympathize with his frailties and say but there for the grace of God go we. There is no need disparage our heroes when so few exist. Without them we are left with an intellectual and psychological void that cannot be filled by words alone.

Perhaps the time has come to stop debunking that which we do not really understand.

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