DR ERROL NARINE BENJAMIN
There was a time when letters to the editor would have been basically about roads and drains, noisy neighbours and bad drivers, the odd cases of violence and murder, some current issues inter alia, all being the offshoot of normal human interaction in our daily lives. Nowadays the letters seem predominantly about criminal behaviour, not with the usual tone of disapproval, but with a cry of anguish of how this once peaceful land of ours has come this. Here, Brian Lara’s plaintive cry from far away in the IPL is instructive. There is almost a sense in the populace of being “under the gun,” literally so in many instances, in almost every aspect of our daily existence: spending an evening out, sitting with your family in your own home, your children at risk even in the classroom inter alia, moments which you often took for granted as the normal experience of everyday living in a civilised society.
I too, sit and wonder how we have come to this, and suddenly, like the flush of a full-blown rose emerging from the darkness into the morning sunlight, came the idea of deterrence as an obligation, indeed a compulsion, not to engage in wrongdoing because of the negative consequences to yourself. And I see this as a telling prospect remembering when were young that the mantra of “if you can’t hear you will feel” was gospel and how effective it was, never to hurt your little sister or to dirty your only pair of shoes or take more than your fair share or steal the neighbour’s mangoes, for fear of a good “cut tail”, or at school, never to neglect your homework, or to be late, or to fall short when you were at the blackboard trying to do the sums, with the rod of correction ready for your back. Fear of the consequences of your wrongdoing was almost motivational and you tried to avoid wrongdoing both at home and at school and in everything thing else that you did, because your parents and teachers had inculcated that pattern of behaviour in you, and it had become your personal culture. In time you would be able to make the right choices based on a sense of right and wrong, but for now, deterrence is key. Of course, armchair psychologists and other such “experts” would say in their typically bookish fashion, that such an approach is all wrong, that “reform" is key from the beginning and that deterrence as punishment for wrongdoing is archaic and inhumane, but how can you begin the process of reform if wrongdoing persists in the individual without the necessary deterrence to set the foundation for such reform? Deterrence is an important first step once its application is humane and fits the crime if effective reform is to follow.
But in this country, we have little, or no deterrence as defined above. Criminality has driven us into a state of utter despair with no end in sight and this a part of wider pattern in the society in which wrongdoers act as if there is nothing to deter them. Starting with our leaders, if only there were some forms of deterrence to insist that the buck stops with them and that they simply cannot say or do as they please, or that our justice system could be made to answer for its numerous fiascos of late. But with such unworthy examples at the top of not having to answer for wrongdoing, is it any surprise that there are criminals ready to snuff out your life in a wink, price gougers without conscience, officials stealing government land inter alia, as if “criminality without consequence” is high culture.
With little or no deterrence as an enforceable strategy where do we go from here? We can only hope for a leadership for the future that has the vision and character, indeed the political will, to activate the mechanisms that first put an end to this aberration which we must now endure and set us on a path of normalcy.