The Dog and the Bone
By Dr Selwyn R. Cudjoe
April 22, 2019
Over the past year, Ralph Maraj, a fellow columnist, has been a tick in PNM's behind. He isn't always wrong in his commentaries—even a broken clock is correct at least twice a day—but his obsessive fascination with PNM's failures leads one to question his objectivity and the distorting lens of his overwrought rhetoric.
Last Sunday he listed everything PNM has done wrong during its tenure and why he is heartened by UNC's plans as it prepares to govern from 2020.
He asserted: "I maintain that a core reason for the monumental mismanagement of the economy is the administration's lack of preparation…PNM did no homework and waltzed into office anachronistic, empty-headed and absolutely unprepared to meet the new realities" (Express<.em>, April 14).
Ralph cites UNC proposals (noted in Kamla Persad-Bissessar's response to PNM's last budget) and concludes gleefully: "Based on the above, the Opposition UNC is fulfilling its responsibility of preparing for government."
Ralph may be correct but his approach is not the best way to predict the country's political prospects. The UNC was in power for 5 years (2010-15), the PNM for 3 1/2 half years (2015-19). Rather than speak of UNC's preparation for 2020-25 it would have been prudent to analyze UNC's successes and failures in office to gauge how likely they are to achieve the goals Persad-Bissessar articulated.
Epistemology is that branch of knowledge that allows us to know what we know and gives us an ability to predict what is likely to occur, given the evidence that we have.
But Ralph is not concerned with analysis. He is engaged in speculation. It is important to differentiate between these two processes.
Ralph correctly points out the economic realities with which we should be concerned: a falling economic growth rate by 2020 and a crushing debt burden by 2022.
However, Ralph did not factor into his speculation that UNC will be dealing with the same Trinbagonians who live in these islands today. UNC may be thinking of importing a new set of Trinbagonians to achieve their goals.
Although immigrants bring much strength to a society, Ralph should tell us how UNC will absorb the 80,000 Venezuelans who live in our country and how such a process will affect UNC's programs.
Shouldn't a party consider its people's mindsets and psychological preoccupations when it thinks of what it wishes to achieve. Does UNC's preparation, as construed by Ralph, magically changes how our citizens approach their reality and construct their day-to-day life?
Some years ago Orville London, a wise man of T&T's politics, reminded me that politics is about people, elections about arithmetic. This suggests that if a party takes care of its people's needs then the results of an election would take care of itself.
Many people believe PNM has managed the economy in a reasonably efficient manner given what it found when it came into office. It stabilized the economy in spite of the falling prices in oil and gas and a changing international economic order. Therefore, it is difficult to accept Ralph's contention that mismanagement, empty-headedness, and unpreparedness were the major causes of PNM's shortcomings.
The PNM made some difficult decisions but failed to consider the impact of those decisions on people in the lower income group. Like previous governments over the last fifteen years it failed to promote the exploration of new sources of oil and continued to subsidize everything under the sun. There were economic consequences for these oversights.
Chinua Achebe's "The Madman" tells the story of Okafo Nwibe, a man of high standing, who was passing by a stream. After taking off his clothes and placing them carefully on the riverbank he set out to take a swim. A madman watched him for a while. As he swam the madman took his clothes, wrapped them around himself, and ran to the market place.
Angered by the madman's action, Nwibe jumped out of the stream and, cursing and shouting, ran down the madman. Seeing the commotion, the market people wondered why "a stark, naked madman" was running down this well-dressed man.
The result was predictable. The market people believed that Nwibe was mad: How else could they explain "a fine hefty man in his prime, stark naked, tearing through the crowd to answer the call of the market place."
UNC may triumph in the next general election not so much because of its promised programs but because PNM forgot the first elementary rule of politics: Always think of the impact of a party's policies on the people. Instead of castigating UNC, PNM should have explained (and continue to explain) its actions to the populace.
Socrates was skeptical about the role of the arts, including poets and dramatists, in a perfect just city, because of the inherent tension between logic and rhetoric. Philosopher Kwame Anthony Appiah, in discussing "Socrates," a new play on Broadway, reminds us that fiction "doesn't even aim at truth directly…, but it can be used to assist in the propagation of falsehoods" (New York Times, April 11).
It's only when we change people's minds that we begin to change their behavior. Speculation and overblown rhetoric notwithstanding, we must do the educational work—in its broadest sense—before we can envisage the outline of a new society.
However, before we give credence to Ralph's speculation, let us discern the sane from the insane, the substantive from the rhetorical, and remember Aesop's fable about the dog and the bone.
One should be on guard of the falsehoods that inhere in Ralph's rhetoric.
Professor Cudjoe's email address is firstname.lastname@example.org. He can be reached @ProfessorCudjoe.
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