Sunday, May 24, 2015

My intellectual failure


Mark Fraser

For years now, I have been trying to become a respected intellectual, and for years now I have been failing to achieve my goal. I know this because my books have been ignored by the local literati; I have never been paid $1 million by the Government to solve social problems; and I’ve never slept with a feminist.

This week, however, I received final confirmation that I will never be a respected intellectual like heterosexual African artist LeRoy Clarke, simply because I completely misconstrued the requirements to be such. You see, in order to prepare myself for the career of an intellectual, I spent many years immersing myself in the basic knowledge areas: literature, philosophy, physics, biology, psychology, history, economics, politics, cast-iron cooking.

But, save for my collection of cast-iron pans, it was all for naught. Much to my dismay, I only recently realised that, in order to be a respected intellectual like right-wing culture critic Raymond Ramcharitar, you have to meet the high standards of the region’s premier tertiary institution—the University of the West Indies. And this I have failed, dismally, so to do. 

UWI’s standards, it turns out, are even higher than the standards of Oxford and Cambridge universities. I discovered this from UWI principal Clement Sankat, who last week said that UWI Chancellor Sir George Alleyne had said that “while it took 300 years for Oxford University to produce 25 prime ministers and Cambridge 13, it took UWI only 65 years to produce 18’’.

Now, clearly, this was a brilliant statement. It had to be, because the UWI Chancellor said it and the UWI Principal of the St Augustine campus repeated it. And this is why I concluded, beyond all shadow of an unreasonable doubt, that I do not have the brains to be a respected intellectual like creationist electrical engineer Stephan Gift. Because my immediate reaction—and I confess this with complete and utter embarrassment— was puzzlement.

You see, Oxford is the oldest university in the English-speaking world, founded in the 11th century and established by the 13th: but the term “prime minister” wasn’t used until 1625 by Cardinal Richelieu (and he didn’t even say “prime minister” but “premier ministre”, which is an error French people always make). Moreover, it wasn’t until 1688, when the British Parliament was created as a power separate from the monarch, that the modern post of prime minister was actually formed. 

So, to cut a long history lesson short, this would mean it took 700 years for Oxford University to produce the 25 prime ministers mentioned by UWI Chancellor Alleyne as cited by UWI Principal Sankat, or 54 years if measured from 1742 when the Earl of Wilmington became the first Oxford graduate to get the post. Which, I am mortified to admit, led to my second problem, literally, because it had to do with arithmetic. 

Now let me admit that I am almost as bad at mathematical reasoning as respected intellectual Michael “Lowest Voter Turnout” Harris, but it seemed to me that, since Oxford and Cambridge had to produce prime ministers for one country, and do so in competition with over 100 other British universities, then logically it would take them longer to produce prime ministers than one regional university serving 11 Caribbean countries.

Obviously, however, my logic is not UWI logic as displayed by Chancellor Alleyne and cited by Principal Sankat. And, if more proof were needed as to my sheer incapacity to be a respected intellectual like crime expert Pastor Clive Dottin, I even believed that, in a region with the highest murder rates in the world, deficient education systems, and under-developed economies, any institution connected with the leaders who preside over such backward states should really try and hush up the fact.

However, UWI’s administrators do not believe in hushing up, except when questions arise about the award of degrees to politicians. This is probably why Independent Senator and Graduate School of Business lecturer Rolph Balgobin last week told the Parliament that, out of the 900,000-plus adults in T&T, only the 72 Members of Parliament should have free speech: presumably because most people don’t know when to hush up, like Balgobin did when asked by the media about his role in the award of an Executive Masters in Business Administration to House Speaker Wade Mark.

Indeed, although I have tried to become a respected intellectual like poet Pearl Eintou Springer through my writing, I also discovered through UWI that I don’t even understand the English Language, since the report which okayed Mark’s EMBA was prepared by a four-person panel described as “independent”, even though it comprised three UWI officials and somebody from T&T.

But it’s okay. I have resigned myself to the fact that I will never be a respected intellectual like Kamla speech compiler Krishendaye Rampersad, and have now set my sights on becoming a really good cast-iron cook.