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Corrupting Our Morals

By Dr. Selwyn R. Cudjoe
May 16, 2012

Corruption takes various forms. Sometimes it is as deliberate as paying someone to give a view that is favorable to one's position; sometimes it involves simply stealing another man's purse through devious means; sometimes it entails padding the payroll so that someone gets more money than he or she worked for. Sometimes it even involves using one's talent, be it mental or physical, and placing it at the behest of the highest bidder. Sometimes it is as blatant as the acts of Calder Hart or Bernie Madoff.

It is important to point out that the tendency to participate in corrupt practices lurks immediately beneath what appears to be perfectly textured moral surfaces. In spite of protestations to the contrary, it doesn't take much to stir up these tendencies and set them in motion. So that when "respectable" members of the community begin to show their corrupt side we ought not to be too shocked. It is a vulnerability to which many of us succumb even when we pretend to be the embodiment of rectitude.

On Friday last, Irene Medina revealed that at long last Professor Selwyn Ryan's five-person committee had begun its work; it having been appointed by Cabinet "to enquire into the root causes of the problems identified and shown by crime statistics, particularly as it affects Trinidad males, and to suggest solutions to the problems identified." Presumably Tobago males, a group apart, are not an important subset of the nation's problem.

As it sets to work, it is important to remember why this committee came into being and why if it asks the wrong question; applies an inappropriate philosophical lens; contains the wrong mix of expetise its outcomes are guaranteed to be dubious. In other words, the mere desire to "eat ah food," as Medina's article suggests, cannot be the major imperative that impels this committee forward. In Dependency and Development in Latin America, Fernando Henrique Cardoso, sociologist and former president of Brazil, suggested that in thinking of social change, one ought "to pay attention to ideologies and to intellectual capacity to assess possibilities for change. In decisive historical moments, political capacity (which includes organization, will and ideologies) is necessary to enforce or to change a structural situation."

One would remember that prior to the selection of this committee crime had risen aplenty, particular in communities that are predominantly African areas such as Laventille, Morvant and Maloney. To combat these crimes, the People's Partnership (PP) decided to implement a State of Emergency (SOE) that targeted these communities. Suddenly, the government arrested black youths in those communities, some 1,600 of them. No such sweeps were made in Caroni or Carpichima, it being presumed that these "peaceful Indian communities" were bereft of the crimes that led to the declaration of the SOE.

In their haste to stigmatize and contain black youth, the government built detention camps to house these young men which gave it the distinction of being the first government in the modern history of the island to engage in such an anti-human behavior against what they consider an antisocial population. Not even during colonialism did the British government commit such a crime against Africans or, for that matter, East Indians. The high percentage of African males who were swept up by the police suggests they ought to be the subject of the study.

The committee consists of Ryan, a political scientist; Indira Rampersad, a political scientist; Marjorie Thorpe, literature professor with UN experience; Patricia Mohammed, professor of Gender and Cultural Studies; and Lennox Bernard, a teacher for 48 years who seems to be concerned about what he calls the weakness of a "learning culture in many black homes."

The committee does not possess a sociologist, a criminologist or an economist. It does not posses a young person; three fifths of the members are over sixty years of age and it includes no one from the affected communities. At best, it is UWI-centric; go-to persons under any and all circumstances. Apart from Professor Ryan, Dr. Bernard stands out. He places a lot of blame for the social unrest on the African community who, in his words, "perceive school as a glorified day care center that will magically do what is necessary to provide society with a responsible and industrious citizen."

Anand Ramlogan gave the committee its remit at the end of last year. He said the committee should pay due attention "to young black and Indian males in both urban and rural communities." It would be interesting to see how a committee that arose in response to the sweeping arrest of over 1,000 young men, 95 per cent of whom were from the targeted communities, responds to "the criminality" that is supposed to exist in black and Indian males.

It would also be interested to see how the behavior of young black males, influenced primarily by Christian/African religious teachings differs from youths who are shaped primarily by Hindu theology and practices. It would also be important to see how slavery and indentureship impacted upon these two groups differentially and how their sociological formation was shaped in responses to the imperatives of their world. Using the tools of dialectical sociology, it would be good to see how the absence of jobs in Morvant and Laventille and the increasing pauperization of the black community contribute to social dysfuntionality in those areas.

Given the enormity of their task--six months is short time to come up with anything meaningful answers even if they worked 24/7. The absence of the necessary expertise; the political biases of most of the members of the committee and even their anti-African prejudices make it difficult to anticipate how helpful their report will be.

I will await their report. I also hope they act as professionals. Whatever their conclusion, unlike Mephistopheles in Goethe's Dr. Faust, I hope they do not sell their souls to the devil and thereby cynically betray black people for a few pieces of silver. Therein lies the real corruption and the tendency to be intellectually deceptive.

Professor Cudjoe's email address is

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