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By Terry Joseph
August 01, 2003

It may well be, as Voltaire indicated: "God is a comedian playing to an audience too afraid to laugh."

Well, not I.

And in my experience, the best humour comes not from stand-up comics, even of the ilk of the late great Bob Hope, but out of everyday human foibles like misconception, complete misunderstanding of clear signals, errors that invariably cost a lot.

How else would you explain both the public mortification and victim astonishment, when three bandits recently robbed a group of disabled men protesting against discrimination, during their all-night vigil outside the National Flour Mills compound?

Why would today's thieves suddenly develop deep feelings of compassion for the legless, after having established a repertoire of ruthlessness in every other interaction?

Worse, what could make the disabled think themselves immune from social conditions about which infinitely larger numbers of citizens have been complaining for a lot longer than 92 days?

If anything, they were sitting ducks, easy prey for even entry-level amateur bandits out on adventures designed to chalk up quick rank among their peers.

Would the robbers rather attack martial arts experts? Or guys who couldn't even run if they opted to return and fight another day?

Who could misunderstand that?

Now, don't get me wrong. Paraplegics have no monopoly on misconception. While they plead for equal consideration in the job market, others who already hold influential positions make immeasurably larger mistakes, some costing spectacular sums, all because they misconstrued the core message of a particular moment.

Take the case of corporate executives at a local financial institution who hired former US President Bill Clinton to come here for a speaking engagement, thinking themselves lucky for getting in on his "extremely demanding" circuit.

But according to the March 2003 issue of The Atlantic Monthly, they were merely helping him raise money to pay off his legal debts and other expenses.

In fact, the magazine identifies Colonial Life Insurance Company of Trinidad and Tobago as paying US$200,000 to Mr Clinton for a motivational talk.

Not to be outdone, Republic Bank tossed TT$300,000 into the musical Carnival Messiah, purchasing the dubious fame of being the production's sole platinum sponsor. Hindsight indicates that in both circumstances, not even the country's finest minds always fully understand what they are getting into.

Consider now, the West Indies Cricket Board nominating to its presidency an individual whose private gambling business expressly prohibits him from senior-level participation on the International Cricket Council. Who among this league of extraordinary gentlemen could possibly have missed the implications of so unambiguous a stipulation?

Then there were those who thought Trinis would boycott the July 4 fete organised by US Ambassador Dr Roy Austin, like good patriots, demonstrating indignation over America's dismissive response to the International Criminal Court and treatment of territories that failed to toe the line. They too were guilty of as grave a misconception as those who now seek to have the warlord change his mind.

And if you imagined that serious issues like the recent spate of kidnappings and murders, the future of State-owned, cash-strapped Caroni Ltd or embarrassment that comes from refusing to support the Caribbean Court of Appeal (whose headquarters is to be sited here) will move the Leader of the Opposition to suspend his personal agenda in the national interest; think again.

You may also have developed the reasonable impression that, after a declaration of war by Planning Minister Dr Keith Rowley against advertising billboards unlawfully erected on highway verges, a few of them might quickly vanish. Instead, a huge hoarding, touting the imminent Buju Banton concert defiantly appears, smack in the middle of Dr Rowley's daily route home.

Of course, some misconceptions are deliberately engineered. Last month's global hullabaloo over an upscale Las Vegas sport called Shooting for Bambi, in which perverted men were said to be forking out US$10,000 a pop to fire paint-balls at the nude bottoms of moving female targets; was merely an elaborate hoax played upon the international media. Insiders say this very week a local version was no less manipulative of an equally gullible audience, but that too might only be gun-talk.

The hunt for weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, devices that could be launched within 45 minutes, is no longer being proffered as the reason America and primarily its British ally went to war. If that was your view, know now that a quite different rationale triggered the conflict and blame yourself for the original misconception.

As a result of this type of conditioning, nowadays even ordinarily acceptable stuff seems suddenly unbelievable. To test that concept, just run a neighbourhood survey asking how many people really believe information anonymously given to police on the tipster hotline will remain confidential, or if undercover officers will stop illegal drag racing.

It is unfortunate that we should have come to this juncture but since 1993, Chalkdust sang us fair warning about "Misconceptions". We paid handsomely for the advice, awarding him a fifth national calypso title.

He had, nine years earlier, squarely addressed Voltaire's conclusion about the silence coming from God's captive audience in another poignant song titled "Let's Learn to Laugh"

. Sometimes it seems like all we can do, but that too may be just another misconception.

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