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Saturday, April 29, 2017

I recently decided to take a break from buying newspapers. A startling admission from a newspaper columnist, to be sure. Leafing through a constant barrage of grim, depressing news invariably sours the milk in my snap, crackle and pop. Seated across from de madam for breakfast, we often find ourselves indulging fulminations over the staggering incompetence, corruption, greed, apathy and murderous rage the headlines mirror about society. It’s easy to get worked up, tough to calm down and a pointless expense of energy and emotion either way.

A few years ago I asked a psychiatrist friend if it’s normal to be so easily riled by the challenges facing this country. Not that I was trawling for a free consultation...but I was. I needed to know whether it was normal to be so emotionally invested in issues of environmental destruction, crime, institutional lethargy and so on. I explained to my chin-stroking (yet sparse of beard) friend that, for example, seeing pictures of slaughtered wildlife, or reading the story of a mother struggling to feed her brood, is enough to trigger the waterworks. He said, “It’s interesting you asked, because the reactions you describe aren’t normal.” Noticing his stare shifted from casual interest to diagnosis mode, I quickly changed the subject.

In keeping with my disconnection from the hurly burly of T&T life, this past week I carved out time to make trips to Waterloo, Chaguaramas and Maracas. After a day of attending to some business in the capital city, I decided to nip up to Maracas Bay as I haven’t been to the North Coast for the purpose of recreation in many years. With my ears practically flapping in the stiff wind, I stood in the dirt, which masquerades as beach sand, in wholly unsuitable footwear. I watched beachgoers lounging in the afternoon sun, or frolicking with gay abandon between red flags in the treacherous surf. Nearby, a group of young people chatted gaily, mixing cocktails of Hennessey, windblown sand and white cranberry juice. All around me there were people who, notwithstanding the hopelessness of it all, are determined to wring some measure of a worthy life out of creeping desolation. The time has come, I thought, for me to unburden myself, albeit temporarily, of this affliction of caring.

When I began my working life as a journalist nearly 27 years ago, the stories I covered then, were much the same as they are now. Rampant crime, unchallenged corruption, political bacchanal and intrigue, brap, brap, brap. The assignments board was like a hot 100 chart toppers of our steady decline. If physicists need concrete confirmation of the Mobius string theory, they needn’t look any further than Trinidad and Tobago, where time has become a loop. We repeat the same failures, promulgate the same toxic political ideologies and continue to cavort in an orgy of laziness, entitlement syndrome and banality.

In fact, early in my incarnation as a journalist, it quickly became clear most news stories would yield quite readily to a template. “Police have confirmed a murder(s) in (insert location). Reports are, following several loud explosions, residents emerged from their homes and found (please choose a figure from the drop-down arrow) man (men) lying in a pool of blood. According to investigators, there were (0) witnesses. Inquiries are continuing.

Templates are equally applicable to all spheres of life in T&T. In politics, new generations of politicians rise to fit neatly into the crumbling edifices of thought-free and self-serving governance. Sitting governments will blame the previous administrations for the woes plaguing the country without actually doing anything to confront them. Opposition parties will howl with criticism at every gesture offered by the government, all the while offering feeble opposition to policy decisions and failing to offer solutions and compromises to move the country forward.

Politics is often compared to the game of chess. This is far too generous a likening for our breed of politicians who have nothing approaching the sophistication associated with that game of intellectual strategy. More appropriate an analogy is Snakes and Ladders. In our political landscape, the biggest snakes climb ladders to the top in a luck-and-chance scenario. Any guesses at who the ladders symbolise? That’s right, you and I!

Ordinary citizens have their templates as well, political fanatics who will draw swords in defence of their sworn lodges, irrespective of the suffering they must endure for their blind faith. Political supporters claw and scratch at each other in an enduring war of attrition in which neither side gains any appreciable ground.

T&T’s circumstances are deeply disheartening because our rinse and repeat psychology points to something far more sinister; we’re either incapable of learning from our mistakes, or determined to ignore their lessons. So for the time being, I’m unplugging and disconnecting from all news and other signposts to irrevocable hopelessness. I’m quite sure when I pick up a newspaper in future, that old dog that is T&T will still be chasing its tail in the same spot where I left it.


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