By Dr Margaret Nakhid-Chatoor
Overthinking, re-thinking and/or the failure to think through current policies, strategies and interventions in the economy, in education and in our health and penal systems have perpetuated a power structure that is elitist and a populace on the verge of exploding into chaos, anarchy and subversive energies.
Most of the major social challenges that we face today in Trinidad and Tobago, can be traced back to the socio-cultural consequences of living in a Third World society where successive governments, eager to compete against First World rankings and qualify for monies and grants from international lending agencies, have sought to commodify all aspects of how its people live and survive: from the ways we raise our children, to schooling practices, how we teach civics and values, which sexual identities we should consider to be respectable and what we should enjoy and see as pleasurable.
Within a capitalist economic system, commodification is the transformation of goods, services, ideas and people into commodities or objects of trade.
Max Weber in his famous book, The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism, warned societies against blindly accepting a capitalist framework without closely examining the consequences of capitalism.
He spoke about the severity of the capitalist economic framework which embodied practices that generated disenchantment as a function of economic growth and “which would lock us into an iron cage of rationality without feeling”; that is, does the end (excessive monies spent on facades of buildings, extensive highways, unaccounted purses) justify the means, without due care to the affective needs and feelings of citizens?
How many of our people continue to move about, roboticised by duty to family and self, without pleasure, locking themselves behind closed doors (cages) at the end of the day?
The pursuit of pleasure and contentment in simple things have become luxuries, rather than necessity, increasing the fallouts in physical ailments and illnesses and pushing psychological well-being over the edge into an abyss of despair and disillusion.
To add to this dilemma, there seems to be a common thread in the many written discussions in the newspapers on the state of our society thus far—an impoverished understanding of the social ills and the interplay of human nature’s desire for peace and contentment.
This misunderstanding has paralysed our ability to learn from the mistakes of the past, with a lack of common resolve and a social and political will to put the pieces together for the good of our people, starting from the cradle.
Objects not subjects
There seems to be a lack of agency and intent to reframe our cultural norms, rituals, and traditions to current ways of being and knowing, and seek to root them in a transformational view of education as a form of personal and collective empowerment, for the individual and for the society in which we live.
Mis-education has created a poverty, both tangible and intangible, that is real and alive in this country.
I have often intimated that our politicians and economists should ‘walk the ground’ and see for themselves, the struggle of many who do without basic necessities daily.
But these blinded persons choose to stay on privileged ground, high enough above the struggle where they continue to enjoy the uneven distribution of resources.
They constantly fail to link the violence and uneasiness that pervades our land to a lack of contentment and pleasure in home, family life, and availability of jobs and amenities.
The failure to link the absence of pleasure with the absence of social change has dire implications for any policy that is legislated and continues to commodify our people as objects, not as subjects.
There has to be an understanding of the motives and desires of a people, psychologically affected by the state of the society and driven to commit atrocities in the misguided hope of equalising the imbalance of economic resources that exist.
So that there is an urgent need for programmes of socialisation and enjoyment in our communities. We have lost the art of caring, which is an art that is cultivated and nurtured by others—no-one is born with this.
Who will sow the seeds of compassion and care, instead of sowing the seeds of doubt and despair by the various political parties, with their myopic and high-handed agendas?
The refusal to recognise that a happy and contented people are the stimulus for social development, and the continued dismissal of persons who advocate for morality and truth, paves the way for a self-destructive society that sacriﬁces the peace and goodwill of its people in the interest of a political agenda dictated by economics.
Will we be forever doomed to be the mimic men of a First World that is slowly disintegrating, replicating its global social ills? When will the people of Trinidad and Tobago accept that we can stand on our own with the multiplicity of talent that we are blessed with?
We can. We must. Or else we will perish.
Dr Nakhid-Chatoor is a clinical and educational psychologist, and immediate past President of the Trinidad and Tobago Association of Psychologists (TTAP).