Tools

A High Mas

By Sunity Maharaj

It's a puzzle why so many people who are dragged before the courts actually fit the stereotype of the criminal when it is so easy to get away with almost anything in this country by simply dressing the part.

Where colour offers no advantage, we still have a magic box of tricks from which to create and deceive. A briefcase, a tie, the power suit, the styled hair, the accessories and accent will get you through any combination of locked doors.

Come from foreign, drop a few names and add some letters behind your own and, voila!

Life is instantly a corridor of opportunity without doors.

For the architects of the most successful cons, it must be hard having to endure their triumphs in silence; but the downside more than compensates for the benefits of success up the ladders of social, financial and political mobility, all of which exist well beyond the limp arms of the law.

Meanwhile, down below, the denizens in the dungeons pay heavily for their ignorance in not knowing how to employ the imagery of success to hoodwink and prosper.

Those are the ones who were piled into open van trays and carted off as decor for a fraudulent SOE one hot weekday.

Step into the magistrate's court and see them hauled by the back of their falling trousers, their names bouncing off the concrete walls, shoved and pushed and bawled at, all presumption of innocence denied.

Yep. This is not a country to play yourself.

Far better to engage the masquerade and survive; even better to design the masquerade and win the prize.

While the phenomenon is not special to T&T the extent of it might very well be.

Most of us have little idea of how to recognise substance in the absence of those socially-agreed signifiers of substance, such as the titles, personal connections and university degrees. Indeed, over time these have become so powerful in themselves that they are the substance, which immediately negates the need for all doubt, question and challenge.

Throw your minds back to the executives of CL Financial, masquerading as high-flying titans on other people's money, their supine compliance hidden behind the mask of professionalism until revealed in the rubble of the empire's ruins. Think Allen Stanford, the conman before whom the entire Caribbean was willing to bow, even when they knew better.

The great thing about Carnival is that for two whole days, we know that we are playing mas. For all of two days, we are actually in contact with the truth. For the other 363 days, we dwell under the illusion that the mas we're playing is real. Ironic, isn't it, that those two days of mas could be our touchstone to reality? No wonder so many declare it to be cathartic. Two days of freedom from the yoke of daily mas.

Perhaps there are brilliant young sociologists at UWI who are studying us, our codes, attitudes and so on in order to better and more scientifically understand us. If so, they should be encouraged to bring their work into the mainstream of discussion and thought. More than ever, we need to hear from UWI's Department of Behavioural Sciences as we flounder around, searching for the moorings of some certain truth.

We are not alone in this. All over the Caribbean, we seem to have lost our way along the highway of independence.

In T&T, the broad scale of mistakes in the appointment of persons to public office alone would suggest a level of dysfunctionality well beyond normal misstep and mischief. An enterprising political science researcher could make a name for herself by subjecting the Persad-Bissessar administration's decision-making on personnel appointments to serious scientific investigation.

In the context of appointments, what greater expression of masquerade could there be than that of President of the Republic? Paraded as the highest office in the land, it always takes the cold political reality of the electoral college to remind us that Eric Williams' president is just one step up from the British governor-general, invented to mask the reality of entrenching the prime minister's maximum power while pretending to reduce it, in response to the cry for "constitutional reform".

Noor Hassanali was rare among the occupants of the office because he was wise enough to know the truth of his position and self-confident enough not to exaggerate its importance. He preferred to leave us to enjoy our delusions of presidential power, filled as our heads are with notions of the American president.

Tomorrow, when the government announces its nominee for the position, the point of greatest interest will be the imagery surrounding the personality, and what it reveals about the prime minster's estimate of the strength of her government and its chances for re-election.

The nominee for president will hardly be as important as what the government believes s/he signifies to the population at this time of anxiety, desperation and fear. So, let's see.

In the meantime, let us consider the impact of the ideology of image as substance on the up and coming generations. They are the ones feeding off the values promoted by us in their induction into a worldview that promotes the certificate as more important than the training and the job title as more significant than the job. In hustling to the top, they risk leaving behind the prospect for the kind of happiness and personal fulfillment that bring the rest of us into their glow and add value to the process of development.

But who could blame them for not trusting themselves and their futures to a world where anything goes? Why pursue a life of substance when the evidence is overwhelmingly on the side of image and masquerade?

On the optimistic side, we might interpret the widespread conmanship as the inevitable consequence of a particular approach to life which has finally brought us to the crisis point for change. This is the hard concrete reality on which we have bounced our heads. It is now up to us to decide if, again, we prefer to delude ourselves and pretend it's just another cushioned reality.

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