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Freedom and Creative Utility

By Dr. Selwyn R. Cudjoe
May 23, 2008

I am convinced that if our academics, intellectuals and social activists do not wade into the present political debate, the society is likely to feel betrayed by our silence. The public has a right to demand the benefit of our knowledge as it seeks to understand what is taking place in the society. I am aware that each citizen has his or her take on matters that is as important as what the academics and intellectuals have to say. However, since intellectuals as workers of the mind are trained to analyze phenomena in an objective manner and to bring to bear a balanced perspective on things their insights should be able to help up at moments such as these.

I have in mind some of the questions that revolve around the UDICOTT issue and certain notions of development that have been proposed by Minister Mariano Brown. It follows that one cannot rely on the impartiality of Cabinet members in these matters since their sole duty is to support the government's line of thinking. We expect that Cabinet members will support the position taken by the Prime Minister as the Prime Minister correctly demands that they give him their vigorous support on these matters. Nothing is wrong with this approach to governance.

This brings me to a speech offered by Minister Browne last week to the Greater Chaguanas Chamber of Industry and Commerce in which he offered a rationale for the creation of a Joint Select Committee to investigate the affairs of UDECOTT. In the course of his discussion he emphasized our economic achievements and noted that we have been able to achieve a lot with .3 per cent of the world natural gas resources.

He emphasized: "With these resources we have been able to export or account for approximately 70 per cent of the total imports by the USA of LNG and approximately 60 per cent of total exports of methanol. We are the world's largest single supplier of ammonia and urea. These things did not happen by guess." He concluded by reminded us that the "development process of a country is not a cheap thing." This is true but the argument does not revolve around the expensiveness of the development process or the impressive growth rates of the economy. The problem revolves around process; that is, what can be reasonably be expected in a society that is nominally democratic and what do we mean by development after all is said and done.

I am sure that Minister Brown knows better than I that all development must concern itself with people rather than things. C. L. R. James has reminded us: "The end towards which mankind is inexorably not the enjoyment, ownership, or use of goods, but self-realization, creatively based upon the incorporation into the individual personality of the whole previous development of humanity. Freedom is creative universality, not utility."

Which brings us to the question: development towards what end? No one can deny that our material well being, that is to say, the amount of goods and services that we consume today are greater than that which we consumed ten years ago. Nor, for that matter, would anyone deny that there must be a material basis for our emotional and/or psychological well-being. However, what I hear from persons who are the subject of this developmental process is that they are being seen and treated more like objects rather than subjects for whom this "development" is directed. More importantly, they feel they must be involved in making decision about themselves as we pursue our developmental objective.

So although development may be difficult and expensive it means very little if someone cannot enjoy the relative freedom of their homes or if they feel they do not-or do not have a say-in the own development. For them, economics cannot only about the allocation of scarce resources but must also concern itself with relations among people.

Hence, the cry about the creation of a Commission of Enquiry as opposed to Joint Commission of Enquiry has more to do with a feeling of helpless and non-participation than it has to do with the citation of statistics that tell us how well we are doing materially rather that how we are realizing ourselves in the society. It has to do with a feeling that somehow we, as a people, are moving to a position where we define our status as people more by how much we use and consume (utility) rather than how quickly we are moving towards self-realization: a process where we come to understand what it means to relate to one another in a more civilized manner on a basis of respect rather than power.

In this respect, the inability of Figler Jack from Diego Martin West to get a hearing from the General Council about an issue to which he wrote the Council speaks more to the question of power than it does to the question of democracy. Respect for our fellow men and treating them in a civilized way still means more than the citation of ever so many statistics about growth.

It still profits a man to save his soul and his dignity than to gain the whole world, its gold and its silver.

Professor Cudjoe's email address is

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