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The New Barbarians

By Dr. Selwyn R. Cudjoe
April 25, 2012

Dr. Karl Case, a dear friend and one of the most eminent economists in the United States, has always pointed out to me that part of the greatness of the United States lies in innovative scientific research that takes place at its MITs (Massachusetts Institute of Technology) and its California Techs; in its Silicone Valleys and Route 128 in Boston, Massachusetts. Dr. Case should know. He is one of the founders of the S&P Case-Shiller Home Price Index, the leading indicator for the US housing market; a member of the Standards and Poors Index Advisory Committee and the Academic Advisory Board of the Federal Reserve Board of Boston; the co-author of Principles of Economics that is used in over 300 colleges and universities in the United States. Not only is he knowledgeable but he has proved his mettle in the hard, cold world of United States capitalist market.

I say all of these things to underline that no country becomes prosperous without a fundamental understanding of economic and scientific knowledge and technical know-how; the careful nurturing of its talent; and investing in the future. It also needs managers of the highest caliber; men and women who reverence achievements in various fields of endeavor; and those who think arduously about the future development of one's country. None of these attributes are capricious. They are arrived at after robust preparation and a commitment to hard work, both mental and manual.

This is why I am so disgusted by the nonsense that passes for understating in our society and the thin filament of stupidity passes as wisdom personified. In any serious country persons who are placed in positions of responsibility act with discretion and wisdom. Where there are gaps in knowledge and know-how, they recruit persons who can help them to achieve national objectives.

I am not unaware that in parliamentary democracies election to political power gives one the divine right to chose whoever one wishes to act as ministers to conduct the nation's business. Generally, excesses of political power are safeguarded by an array of public servants and permanent secretaries who collectively possess the institutional knowledge and the requisite training that allow them to guard the public purse. This is why there is always a tense relationship between these public servants and ministers who necessarily cannot know that to which they have not been exposed.

The wealth the nation accumulated over the years did not come just so. It was the product of the prudent management of our nation's resources over the many years and the careful planning and strategic decisions that were made by previous administrations and the conscientious work of many persons who gave their lives for their countries.

This is why I was so appalled when Devant Maharaj, a political appointee with no serious track record in anything, save and except, a stint as a corporative and public relations officer at the NLCB and the president of GOPIO, says so many silly things. His latest offering is that so long as a person is endowed with a "degree of common sense" he is qualified to be chairman of Caribbean Airlines (CAL).

Not content with such nonsense, he continued: "Aviation experience has never been the pre-order [strange word] of the day" and that Rabindra Moonan, chairman of CAL was "immediately tasked [again strange verb] by Maharaj to source a chief executive of the airline" (Express, April 20).

Even if we accept the clumsiness of the language (which indicates clumsiness in his way of thinking) how does someone, at a time when the airline industry is under such international assault, has the gall to tell us that all the chairman of such an industry needs is commonsense?

But what exactly is commonsense?

The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines common sense as "sound and prudent judgment based on a simple perception of the situation or facts" which suggests that before one can make a judgment one must know the facts. This is why serious countries places such a premium on the education and the acquisition of an in-depth knowledge of any field that is crucial to its development. This is why MIT and Silicon Valley are so important to the US economy. They allow for the match between knowledge and experience; research and development; prudent management and creative applications.

So that when one says that commonsense is all that one needs, we presume an a-priori knowledge of that field which one wishes to plunge into. So that common sense cannot be the central pre-requisite for an undertaking as large as that which Moonan has been assigned. This is one reason which my childhood friend, Rory Evelyn used to say that commonsense isn't really that common after and why Albert Einstein once quipped that "common sense is the collection of prejudices acquired by age eighteen."

Commonsense cannot be the primary criterion for any job although it helps if one displays a good analytic sense of his surroundings and a propensity to learn. Nor for that matter should we be deluded by the dangerous doctrine that proclaims experience, education, and technical know-how irrelevant to the task at hand. If this is so, why do so many of us strive to go to school; become proficient in our fields; and work hard to know everything about tasks we undertake?

We must combat this falsity about the virtues of commonsense before it infests our population with a miasma that begins to poison the social fabric. We, in Trinidad and Tobago, have no time for such high-fluting stupidity. We reject any attempt to deaden our sensibilities and suffocate our drive towards excellence. We will not be deluded by Maharaj's nonsense.

In any other country such barbarians would be banished to the wilderness but alas, we in Trinidad and Tobago, have enormous tolerance for misfits and miscreants. Perhaps the time has come to stop such foolishness and say, "Get, thee, behind me Satan….Yours is but a noxious air that bloweth no one any good. The sooner you leave us, the better."

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