A few years ago, then prime minister Patrick Manning made a startling declaration to the country. He knew the identity of Mr Big.
Mr Big. At once both faceless Sasquatch and the chief architect of the criminal wave. Mr Big. The author of kidnapping, drug smuggling, murder. Mr Big, the man who was responsible for the state of the nation, its descent into violence and inhumanity at the lower levels, and incivility and self-aggrandisement in the upper echelons.
Of course, as you read these reported exploits you would recognise Mr Big’s supposed record as an egregious nonsense. A fabrication, a sham perpetrated by the people on themselves. It nevertheless found currency in a population gullible enough to believe anything, even its own lies, or otherwise too punch drunk with reports of crime to care.
The State has acknowledged the lone crime don hypothesis a number of times. For example, it engaged not one but 26 Mr Bigs (we called them Community Leaders at the time) in discussions about social peace.
This was funny because all these men knew to do was make war, a fact supported by their subsequent violent deaths. Another admission came when the two “Mr Bigs” were arrested at the Hyatt during the state of emergency turned out to be no more than fools with a taste for champagne and prostitutes, their taste for both eventually inviting capture.
There is simply no way that these people were anywhere near smart enough to mastermind a crime wave, all of them demonstrating the taurine intellect to walk into public hotels in the capital without disguise. Sesame Street’s Mr Snuffleupagus was cleverer, and evaded attention longer too.
This leaves the question then as to whether Mr Big existed at all. There is a convincing argument to say that he does not, and that the quality of our interpersonal interaction, the everyday violence we heap on each other in word and deed, has more to do with a broader societal degeneration than with the actions of a single man. If this is so, then perhaps there once was a Mr Big, or even a small society of Bigs, but things have since vectored beyond them into the general population.
So whatever the genesis of our epidemic of crime, we may have transcended Mr Big in our criminality; the phenomenon has become more general. And as we descended, we lost trust in just about everything, including our leaders, and especially each other. Our psychology, warped by the sick experiences of larger societies witnessed here on TV, a few adopted those monstrous actions ourselves, the rest of us shrinking backwards in horror. We built our walls higher, locked our gates, kept our children indoors.
No more playing in the street, riding bike and pitching marble. The generations-long cycle of parents calling their children home at sunset was finally broken. We lost our closeness, and our civility. We replaced them with gated communities and all-inclusive fetes, both with a price tag to keep us safe within, and the riff-raff out.
Our leaders provided just the impetus we needed because they lacked intelligence, civility, class and taste as well. In every sphere, we have embarrassed ourselves with unseemly pronouncements and approaches destined to elicit combative response. The upshot is a society seething with anger where everyday disagreements, inevitable in any society, turn murderous very quickly.
In such a context, perhaps there might still be some key figures we can capture and make examples of?
I have said before that I don’t know Mr Big, but I do know of some Big Misters. The police, army, Coast Guard, Air Guard, SSA and others do too, so I don’t need to tell them. Yet they remain free until they are more explicitly identified.
So let’s do that then. Let’s start with one of the real Big ones. This is the one who has the most to spend, which is important because the internal drug consumption in Trinidad cannot support a real set of Bigs. Wannabe Bigs’ income has to be supplemented from robberies, kidnapping, contract killing, drug transshipment and other things. What are the “other things”? Well, as it turns out, in the underworld, this means working in the “aboveworld”.
The “aboveworld” is legitimate. Now don’t think that this makes them responsible members of the society at least part the time. Rather, they pretend to be responsible and above board, and structure things so that they can get paid without any problems by Mr Big. If anyone interferes with or invades their “competitive space” they are warned off or killed outright, their commitment to Mr Big’s money almost total.
The money comes in the form of contracts. Deals. Many are open and transparently given, some less so. Mr Big has only one condition, and that is unwavering loyalty. But what does loyalty in this case mean?
The answer to this question reveals the true identity of at least one Mr Big.
Loyalty to Mr Big means voting for Him, canvassing votes for Him, intimidating those who don’t vote for Him, taking care of private problems for Him and generally not embarrassing Him. And it is here that this Big becomes unmasked, for He is the prime mover in the economic activity on the island, his minions never quite understanding that all their little unethical actions, put together, weave a tapestry of corruption and mismanagement for us to gaze upon in awe.
In panic we search for a person to blame, succumbing to our predilection for messiahs and devils alike. Politicians, hardly clever and always visible, make inviting targets. Businesspeople also invite attention, as those that pay bribes should. But while there are many Bigs about, this particular Mr Big resists capture, incarceration, prosecution. You can’t catch him using standard police methods, for he is not in human form.
Rather, Mr Big is the State.
• Dr Rolph Balgobin is an