Sunday, January 19, 2014

Full Rights Freedom - the Peter O'Connor commentary

Nearly all “freedom” is constrained by the requirement that the rights of others prevent us from doing everything we want to do. 

Persons who are living alone in nature may be totally “free” in that they are responsible for no one else, they depend upon no one and neither offend nor are offended by anyone. But we are not that free. We are constrained in our behaviour by our families, our communities, our neighbours, school, work and social gatherings.

Or we should be.

We conform to the laws and customs of our cultures, how we drive, how we park, how we dispose of garbage, the noise we make, how we compete in life—in our work, our sports, for our mates, and in what we pass on to our children.

Or we should.

But this is sweet T&T. Since Independence we have blessed ourselves with freedoms unavailable in most societies. We have now reached the state of “full rights” to do anything and everything we wish, or to refuse to do anything which we ought to be doing, or what other people (parent, boss, authorities?) would like us to do.

This may sound like bliss to the unthinking—and we have so many of these—but in fact the result is physical, mental, and emotional gridlock. And this state of inertia into which we have settled is preventing us from developing as a society, and we have nowhere else to go.

There is absolutely no price to pay for the abuses we pour upon each other and the advantage we take of our fellow citizens. No consequences, no liability, no reprimand or punishment. So we all do “like everyone else”. 

We block the busy road to “make change” with PH cars heading the opposite direction, we drive on the shoulder to seek to get to the head of the line, we “push” our cars into the line, we dump our garbage everywhere, we scheme and lie and falsify. Government Ministers employ their families and friends. 

Big businessmen override decisions of civil service by calling government ministers. We build on the right of way for highways, and when the highway is to be expanded, we claim that we have the “right” not to move, and big lawyers stop the highway. 

We cut all the trees along hillside roads and when the road slips away, and thousands of people cannot get to work or school, we get compensated for the disaster we have caused. We can set up mega-amplifier systems in our homes and cars to blast noise through our neighbourhoods, and get vexed when neighbours complain.

We have absolutely no regard for anyone or anything. We do just what we want, when we want and where we want. And it runs from the pinnacles of our society all the way down to the homeless and destitute, who have the right to defecate on our city streets. 

And it is only “now” that we have become aware of the results of these freedoms. Only now that we are in the gridlock we have created. But it did not happen “now”. It has been happening for over fifty years, starting slowly of course, as we discovered with Independence that Massa Day Done and we no longer had to account to anyone. I would like to believe that when Dr. Eric Williams coined that phrase he meant “manage our own affairs”. But we took it as “When the cat’s away, the mice will play”.

The boss gone, the English left and we sat down to lime and fete. Imperceptibly at first, like poison gas seeping into a crowded room, our slackness turned to incompetence, and our incompetence fuelled corruption. 

As citizens sought services from government employees who were busy talking, eating, liming or absent, it became customary to “pass a little something” and you got your permit your papers or your permission. We all just accepted that. And it quickly moved up the line, until massive “little somethings” were passed to politicians to secure contracts and even pass laws suitable to the “passers”. 

In some cases foreigners involved were jailed in their countries for enjoying this “freedom” we had developed. But their co-conspirators in Trinidad live high and free and cabinet ministers jostle to drink their champagne.

And in the meantime, that sector which we call the criminal element (everything outside of white collar crime) was discovering that petty crime paid, as no one bothered to arrest or charge them. And that, fuelled by drugs and URP, quickly moved into banditry, kidnappings and murders, all under the watchful acquiescence of our governments, and that is where we are today.

We should applaud ourselves. Our mission of “full rights freedom” is achieved, but like King Midas discovered in that myth, it is of no use to us.

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Jai & Sero

Jai & Sero

Our family at home in Toronto 2008

Our family at home in Toronto 2008
Amit, Heather, Fuzz, Aj, Jiv, Shiva, Rampa, Sero, Jai