An independent Independence Day attack


That their true sentiments should be revealed mere days before we were due to celebrate our 58th year of independence is nothing short of disturbing. Their words represent an undermining of years of collective progress in developing our societal intellectual astuteness; as we continually try to break free from the lingering legacy of first, massa’s, and later, the colonial overlord’s influence.

That the words should come from “neutrally-appointed” ones, put there as an extra safeguard in the democratic process, is an even more difficult pill to swallow. Two independent senators proclaimed that segments of the population are “mentally incompetent” and “idiots” in need of the State’s boot on their throat.

The first, a mental health practitioner and head of the Medical Board, was quoted by a local media outlet as saying that some citizens are “(too) mentally incompetent to understand the danger (of not practising social distancing)”, and should be fined for not adhering to these rules.

The second, a lawyer, declared, in a prepared televised contribution in the Upper House, that “these (fixed penalty offences) are calculated to cultivate behavioural change, to transform idiots into proper citizens.”

These two statements go far beyond scolding and straight to condescension, and dare I say disdain, that leaves this citizen of TT perturbed.

Of course, these two are compensated through the public purse, and belong to “esteemed” professions. They are not standing on their feet all day forced to wear a mask while packing groceries, and are unlikely to be hustling on the streets to afford the bare minimum of food and shelter. Their condemnation from the economically insulated soapbox is a perfect representation of the optics of covid19 times.

We are all often tempted to put ourselves on a moral pedestal and condemn rule-breakers.

However, human nature is not idiocy or incompetence to be beaten out, but rather a reality to be understood and used as an input into decision-making.

This entire pandemic has turned citizen against citizen, and the constant blaming of the population by the experts, others at the top, and the privileged has likely fuelled this phenomenon.

These non-pharmaceutical interventions were never meant to eradicate the virus, but rather “flatten the curve” to prevent an overwhelming of health care capacity. On August 28, the Minister of Health was reported as saying that the system is not overwhelmed, despite the surge. Data indicates that our per-capita covid19 mortality rate (a morbid but more reliable indicator than positive cases) is currently less than 20 per cent of the global average, and lower than all but five countries (with a population of at least a million) in the Western Hemisphere.

How much more “flattening” can be done realistically – not idealistically – while balancing rights, freedoms, mental health, livelihoods, and the bonds that make us human?

Public health is not my area of expertise. I have, however, learned a lot by closely following online debates between actual epidemiologists, virologists, and other relevant professionals.

There are those who believe that force or blame directed at the public, and a narrow-minded focus on one concern, is a justifiable approach to solving complex problems. Then there are those who attempt to take a more holistic approach, informed by multiple interconnected factors.

Consider the Atlantic article The Fun Police Should Stand Down, by Dr Julia Marcus, an infectious disease epidemiologist at Harvard University. In this intellectually astute piece, she notes that: “Public health is a service industry, and it cannot serve customers without first trying to understand them…People are seeking out social contact not out of selfishness but because, like going to the grocery store, human connection is an essential activity…Instead of turning partygoers into criminals, officials can offer safer ways for people to stay connected – and support struggling businesses in the process – by opening, redesigning, and loosening restrictions on the use of outdoor spaces.”

Johan Giesecke, former chief scientist at the European Centre for Disease Control and Prevention – who also helped craft Sweden’s pandemic response – said in a recent interview with an Australian news outlet that “we trust the people, people are not stupid,” in reference to the Swedish strategy. This trust lasted through a huge surge and external condemnation by foreign media. Trust and rationality were not abandoned to fear, even though, clearly, not every citizen of Sweden followed recommendations.

Interestingly, Dr Giesecke was recently promoted to the position of vice-chair of the Strategic and Technical Advisory Group for Infectious Hazards for the World Health Organization.

One would think that we would recognise the failure of scolding and shaming into “correct” behaviour here in TT. Hint: high prevalence of HIV and other poor sexual health outcomes. Apparently, though, nothing that we (painfully) learned before is relevant in the era of SARS-CoV-2.

I am led to conclude that the lack of rigorous analysis of complex problems is a path to believing in the religion of disciplinarianism; a shackle that an independent TT must continue to free itself from.

Ryan Darmanie is a professional urban planning and design consultant, and an avid observer of people, their habitat, and the resulting socio-economic and political dynamics. You can connect with him at or e-mail him at


"An independent Independence Day attack"

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