Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Trivialising the nation

We are at that time in Trinidad and Tobago, heading to Christmas and from Christmas to Carnival, when feasting and feting will reign supreme. Superficiality, materialism and other examples of decadence will be on full display. At home and abroad, we will be celebrated as the most fun-loving people on earth. This shouldn't make us proud. It is a trivialisation of our nation.

Privately, people do take life seriously here. It is in our public lives that we are demeaned. Nothing reduces us more than our tribal politics where, for example, we must accept plunder of the treasury when our kind is at the trough; and must deny that all our parliamentarians, not just the Government, capsized our law with Section 34 to set free political investors accused of corruption. Our Parliament swatted away our entire legal and judicial system like a bothersome fly, hollowing out 50 years of independence—nationhood trivialised by the People's Partnership, PNM and the Independents.

And it continues. For in this "season of jolliness", there is our Prime Minister, in her annual Santa silliness, distributing gifts and verbal inanities throughout the nation, as though she has no work to do, whilst our country descends into debt with no prospect of increasing revenue. Economic experts see a grim future ahead, but from Penal to Mayaro to Couva to San Fernando and continuing, Santa Kamla distributes toys in that absurd headwear, demeaning the office of Prime Minister. Poverty is growing but no talk of real jobs. This is the season of illusion. So, on one of her descents from the North Pole, Santa Prime Minister pulled from her bulging bag a promise of jobs from more Government spending on wasteful make-work schemes. Toys, toys, children; not land for food production promised to former Caroni workers. Take balloons instead. And not a single objection, protest or demand that our PM behave with the seriousness that the times require. Tanty Santa is in perfect step with the citizenry at this time. Her superficiality is obviously ours.

Christmas marks the birth of one of the greatest human beings ever; a revolutionary who stood up against the established church and tyrannical Roman rule and whose ministry, absent religious dogma, is one of the most moving and enlightening experiences available to man. But we have converted the commemoration into a carnival of self-indulgence, excess, tastelessness and triteness. In trivialising Christ, in and out of church, we degrade ourselves in our darkness.

And soon will come, the greatest "trivialiser" of all — our current Carnival with its overwhelming noise and banality. It will be such an atrocious time for sensible people. Once a festival of some art and music of sexuality, social commentary and political protest, all amidst camaraderie and bacchanalia the Carnival is now doomed, terminally plagued by paltriness, showcasing us to the world as a frivolous, flimsy people, wining, jumping, prancing to the precipice. Behold us Trinis, trivial to the bone.

The best of the Carnival has been banished. Pan is peripheral; no parade of the bands has been worth watching without Minshall; and no music lingers in the mind like that of Sparrow, Kitch, Stalin, Rudder and others who combined melody, meaning and musicality. Now we place pedestrianism on a pedestal, using superlatives to describe the flimsy and fleeting, and do not even recognise how our tastes trivialise us and deepen our decline. Privately, thousands are turning away from the hollowness of this useless street fete that debases the culture, seeing little hope for the rebirth of the festival. Nothing speaks more eloquently than our Carnival about the triumph of trivia in Trinidad and Tobago.

And then there will be Ash Wednesday and Lent, leading to Easter Sunday to commemorate the resurrection, the defeat of death and nothingness. What greater source of absorption and transformation can we ask for? But in this period, will we engage in mere ritual and show like the "whited sepulchres" that Christ exposed? Or will we have the courage for sufficient silence to face ourselves, to sustain a seriousness, discard baggage and travel inwards to discover the "kingdom within" to which Jesus pointed? That kingdom in all of us, the inner power and awareness; the source of vitality and joie de vivre; the capacity for beauty, goodness and justice; the courage to sacrifice and fight for a better society; the humanity that leads to divinity, where each can become like Christ in compassion, and creativity, a potential inherent in every human life. This is the kingdom to which Jesus led and for which he bled. This theme has resonated for centuries before and after Christ; from all great minds: saints, scholars, writers, philosophers, poets, painters, sculptors, composers; those who plumbed and revealed the kingdom of the mind and the imagination, all seeking to uncover our higher humanity, our divinity.

This, then, is the depth of the man whose birth we celebrate with overwhelming froth and frivolity, as though he never grew up and was crucified. How can you celebrate the babe in the manger and not remember the man on the cross who cried to be spared the bitter cup but was courageous enough to submit to the cause he served. And therefore how can we celebrate or worship Christ and accept the trivialisation of life and our nation? He fought against debasement throughout his mission. When the money changers demeaned the temple, Jesus drove them out. He blasted the Pharisees and High Priests for their hypocrisy in prayer. He made it clear he came to bring "not peace, but the sword" of discernment and conviction that separates wheat from chaff and stirs the courage to tell it like it is. Therefore, this Christmas, let there be no peace whilst trivialisation reigns in Trinidad and Tobago.

* Ralph Maraj is a former

government minister