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The Pursuit of Happiness

By Dr. Selwyn R. Cudjoe
December 12, 2007

The people of Trinidad and Tobago are witnessing a decline of our civilization which no amount of money can reverse if we do not recognize the sovereignty of our people and that the goal of democracy consists in the sanctity of life, the preservation of liberty and the pursuit of happiness. To be sure, the pursuit of happiness cannot be reduced to a mere license to do whatever one wants to do at any time one chooses to do it. It consists in conscious and thoughtful acts that enhance our human personality and advance our humanity. It goes without saying that the affirmation of life and the pursuit of happiness cannot be achieved in a climate of lawlessness and the inability of citizens to feel a sense of safety in their homes and in their communities.

The ever spiraling crime rate in our society threatens to derail our democracy. Confronted with the ugly truth of this reality, the Minister of National Security who has the responsibility to create a safe and secure society admitted that he "underestimated the extent of the work and the length of time of time it would have taken" to solve the problem of crime. When asked to rate his performance, he responded that the Prime Minster is the "most suitable person" to judge his performance.

In his capacity as leader of the government the Prime Minister has to appraise his performance and decide whether to demote or promote the honorable minister. I do not know that the Prime Minister is the most suitable person to judge the effectiveness of his performance. Ultimately, the citizenry is the minister's boss, a function that cannot be abrogated by the Prime Minister. The people, in all times and in all places, remain the judge of his behavior. He forgets this at his peril.

In his discussion with the press, the honorary minister recognized the relation between spiraling levels of crime and the government's thrust towards "developed status" or its attempt to raise the spiritual and social levels of our civilization.

However, we cannot achieve such a goal if we elevate the status of the Prime Minister and reduce the importance of the people. To put it another way, we cannot substitute the hard-fought wisdom a people gained over its two hundred year-history with the short-lived experience of any leader, no matter how brilliant he or she might be. Bob Marley reminded us: "Two thousand years of history/Can't be washed away so easily." Nor, for that matter, can it be subsumed by any one man.

As we move into the twenty first century, the PNM has to look very closely at the absence of politics within the party and its resuscitation if it wishes to remain relevant to our people's needs. While the PNM remains a formidable election machinery it faces a danger of reducing or erasing its raison d'etre: that is, its ability to reflect the concentrated expression of the people's will. Its members have a responsibility to arrest any thinking that seeks to replace the sovereignty of the people with the wishes of any individual leader.

PNM's greatest weakness consists in the absence of a sustained intellectual engagement with its publics: that is, with both its members and the nation. It is no good to say that the public has no right to know about or interfere with the party's business since the party's business is also the public's business.

It is important that there is a continuing debate inside and outside the party; in private and public forums; and with the leaders and members about what constitutes the public good. It is important to open up ourselves to public scrutiny and to insure that it gets back to the business of being a political party where politics remains at the centre of its activity. C. L. R. James warned that political parties in parliamentary democracies cannot become machines in which the individual either conform or be ruthlessly eliminated. Freedom to express oneself within the party remains the prerequisite for the integrity of the party.

In Facing Reality, James observes that mankind is not developing towards the enjoyment and consumption of more material goods but towards "self-realization creatively based upon the incorporation into the individual personality of the whole previous development of humanity. Freedom is creative universality, not utility." It consists in developing our minds and our personalities.

The people of Trinidad and Tobago cannot explore their human personalities or realize their humanity (or their happiness) unless there is an atmosphere in which they experience their uniqueness; privilege their collective wisdom, and insist on a society in which people feel relatively secure.

We owe it to ourselves and our progeny to leave a legacy that emphasizes the hard-won victories of our people in every sphere of life rather than attempt to resuscitate an outmoded system that emphasizes the divine rights of kings. The achievement of developed status in the year 2020 means nothing if does not mean the development of people to realize their humanity and an openness that emphasizes the brotherhood of men and women and fatherhood of God.

Professor Cudjoe's email address is

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