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Raffique Shah


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Descent into animalism

By Raffique Shah
December 21, 2008

It has been that kind of year. It was unpredictable at the beginning, became tumultuous as it regressed (well, I can't quite say "progressed"), and as it comes to an end it leaves one wondering: would I live to see anything like this again? If you are a humanist, a caring person, you also wonder if your children or grandchildren would experience anything worse than you have in 2008.

It's not that people of this country have been dragged through the bottom of the economic pit, that the global financial and economic crises have impacted so badly on us. On the contrary, the vast majority of us would have done well on a comparative scale. Most of us had jobs that remain secure: knock wood you never know what the 'morrow would bring.

When you read of millions of people in wealthy countries losing their jobs, their homes, their will to live, you would count us among the luckier in the world. True, day-to-day survival for many has been a harrowing experience, what with inflation slapping you in the face every time you dared enter a supermarket, or hell, even a parlour or wayside vendor's stall.

Still, even the poorest among us at least had some morsels to keep those hunger pangs at bay. Not so for millions in countries as diverse as the Sudan and Congo, the permanent pavement dwellers of Mumbai or most cities in "prosperous" India, or those forever condemned to eking out an existence in rural Russia or China. No, things never got that bad for us. If anything, our burgeoning consumerism a-la-Americans-buying brands, the over-eating, the "bling"-would have taken a hit. Good thing, too, I say. From the standpoint of our standard of living, of having small-but-secure incomes, we didn't do too badly.

Our problems, in my view, were worse. We have long ceased caring for each other in good times, or bad. I hate harking back to the "good old days", which many may question just how good they were. But 30, 40 years ago, people looked out for each other.

Villages and communities brought up children. Those who veered from the straight path found no refuge, not in their own homes, not in their neighbourhoods. The old and the infirm could look forward to help from family and friends. And that was not a Christmas thing. It was a humaneness that was a Trini trademark.

Sadly, we have lost that. We have, most of us, descended into a kind of subterranean inhumanity. Like sewer rats, we claw at each other from sun-up the darkest hours. Really, if you question what I say, watch you neighbour, or even watch yourself in the mirror. One should wake up with a smile, basking in the bliss of having lived to see another day, looking forward to whatever comes your way. Sure, it may be a rough one ahead-at work, in business or in the fields. But you treasure the moment. Instead, what do we find? In one's own home, people hardly mumble greetings to each other. Faces are "screwed up" as if people are preparing to go to war, not to work or school or recreation.

The attitude spills over to the roads and highways, clogged as they are with that universal symbol of "progress", motor vehicles. Traffic, bumper to bumper. People stressed out before they get to their jobs. Then the sewer rats start their cannibalistic forays. Man (and woman!) speeding on the shoulders of highways. On main roads, hasty motorists overtaking lines of traffic-only to cut in front of you, you who have patiently stayed in line. You look at him (or her) as if to protest, only to be verbally abused in the worst manner.

The country chugs along, day after day, unmindful of the fact that in a relative way, we are blessed, as my religious brethren would say. Is it any wonder the young and mindless turn to lives of crime? If we adults could behave like beasts-from-below, what do we expect from the young? We nurture them on materialism and animalism, so primitivism becomes their way of life.

Why, therefore, are we surprised that more than 500 mostly young people have been murdered this year? Or that thousands have been robbed or otherwise violated. Women are raped, but they do not even make reports to the police, since they know justice and Jah's face they will never see.

The tragedy of our society is not that there is poverty in the midst of plenty, that we lack basic amenities, that our leaders are not worthy of respect they demand. Our failing is in the values we have lost. Life is worth nothing today. Nowadays parents and community leaders encourage the young to murder, to rape, to kidnap and abuse others. If I were religious, I'd swear that Satan has taken control of my country. But I am not.

What I do know is there are more beasts in human form among us than we care to admit. And if we look into the mirror, we may well see sewer rats snarling at us. Check yourself before you point fingers at others.

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