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Saturday 21 July 2018
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Commentary

'Poor, nasty, brutish'

Prof Ramesh Deosaran

Nasty. Among its various meanings, this word is described as “ill-natured, ill-tempered, spiteful, violent, offensive,” (Concise Oxford). These are the piercing words used by 17th century British economist and political philosopher Thomas Hobbes to describe what happens to a people without a strong, sovereign government – a Leviathan with absolute authority through citizens' consent and as a means of protecting the self-interests of all.

Without such an absolute, protective ruler, Hobbes claimed that citizens remain in a state of nature – facing material and spiritual poverty, chronic fear and insecurity, and “with no arts, no letters, no society, and which is worst of all, continued fear, and danger of violent death; and the life of man, solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short."

I am taken back to Hobbes’ controversial political psychology (1651) since, within the last 60 years, a stream of events triggered the highest to the lowest to mourn the “corrupt, nasty, brutish” habits, the same petty jealousies and selfishness of many citizens here – as if in a primitive state of nature.

Today’s roughness and brutishness compelled President Paula-Mae Weekes to note the reported problems of “crime, corruption, racism, abysmal public services, ineffective judiciary” that, according to “many experts, high and low" are so “thick on the ground that TT is perilously close to the point of no return,” (Inaugural address). That, according to these experts, “We will soon be, if we are not already there, a failed state.” The president advised hope, sacrifice and renewed commitment.

“TT is sick, in need of divine healing,” said Catholic Archbishop Joseph Harris last year (Newsday, May 27). For our wicked ways, God is punishing us, hopelessness is rising, he said (March 2, 2017). Ethicist Dr Errol Benjamin stated: “We have lost the moral compass which makes us human and have now degenerated into the instinctual behaviour of the beast,” (Express, April 5). “There is too much laziness, sloth and poor productivity here,” said Fr Sirju at a San Fernando Hill ceremony. Housing Minister Randall Mitchell, in attendance, agreed.

Noting the “darkness of the world, the spiritual wickedness and billions of dollars spent on technology training,” etc, citizen Garvin Cole said, “These have done little to abate the madness; one can easily say the thing is getting worse… Our leaders appear incompetent…fear grips the hearts of citizens,” (Newsday, June 7, 2017). Apostle Andrew Ramjattan who, noting the decadence and crime in society, admitted the church needed to do more since no amount of legislation would solve the problems (Newsday, December 16, 2017). But prayers alone will not work, claimed columnist Jamille Broome (Newsday, April 2, 2017) and citizen Colin Fortune (Newsday, March, 19, 2017).

Still, Acting Commissioner Stephen Williams appealed “to put God first in the losing battle against crime,” (Newsday, February, 19, 2017). Facing a rising crime situation, PM Dr Rowley asked: “How long, oh Lord, how long do we have to endure this?” (Newsday March 24, 2018).

Lamenting Christianity’s waning, Archbishop Jason Gordon noted the “escalation of violence, the discord of society with so many pulling one way or another, we seem to be unravelling morally; destruction of the family, our children now prone to violence and accidents that are so crazy,” (Newsday April 2, 2018). A state of nature even with a liberal constitution!

Fr Carl Williams of the Trinity Holy Cathedral complained: “The prisons and death row are bursting at the seams. The tough times have left many just barely surviving while greed, selfishness, unforgiving and unrepenting hearts flourished in many people.” There is much more than the above examples – both religious and secular – about our “state of nature.”

But what is notable is not that there is decadence, greed, selfishness or conflicts. It is the apparent helplessness to stem the “state of nature” that keeps being referred to year after year since some 60 years ago.

Much of Hobbes’ political philosophy on human nature can stand the test of time – with or without scarcity. He argued that men are “continually in competition for honour and dignity… and consequently amongst men there ariseth on that ground, envy and hatred, and finally war.” Hobbes believed men are always restless, never long satisfied with what they have, and if in doubt of another intentions, strike first else you will be stricken. That is, politics has its own morality. Do you agree?

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