I have to return to the prevailing conditions of instability which are obvious to me but now as a post-script to my tribute to Roland Quesnel, my revered teacher, a contemporary of mine, Randolph Peters, wrote that, like me, the person who most impacted his intellectual development was Quesnel.
He continued: “The sort of intellectual curiosity and critical thinking elicited from us in Sixth Form French shaped my entire university career. To this end, he would skirt perilously close to Church anathema (existentialism, Voltaire), slyly slip in some risqué jokes and yet lead you to a strengthening of your Catholic faith without the cudgel of dogmatism. What a remarkable man.”
In April, I asked whether there was a new storm gathering which would frontally challenge constitutionally established authority.
A fortnight ago, I described the irrelevance of the current Budget debates in Parliament. The numbers of persons who firmly believe that neither of the two major political parties—nor any among the current political leadership—can reset us onto a better path has rapidly grown.
Readers would probably not have missed the anxiety in this regard expressed in a Trinidad Express editorial to the effect that poor leadership has created a vacuum into which unconventional forces might step.
Currently on the ground, there appears to be a tangible rise in the extent to which racial perspectives colour citizens’ views about issues of the day. No doubt this is why the editorial writer expressed concern about division increasing in this time of adversity.
The editorial then makes the important point by reference to 1990, which it describes as an occasion “when divisiveness created room for the emergence of a dangerous extremism that succeeded in exploiting the political vacuum to mount a deadly coup attempt.” The editorial goes on to warn: “If we are to escape another such outcome we will have to demonstrate much more wisdom.”
One apparent burst of wisdom is the very belated recognition that crime and violence can only be impacted if communities and NGOs are embraced and their work on the ground is recognised. It has been reported that the current Government’s latest crime initiative—shortly to be disclosed—proposes a collaboration between so-called civil society, including civic groups, and religious bodies.
Not very patiently, those who understand that the cultural sector contains proven critical elements for salvation from violent crime will wait to see whether the touted “paradigm” shift is real.
In the words of my colleague Sunity Maharaj, the steelband movement “has been recruited as little more than a platform for mamaguy and manipulation of the voting masses.” I would add it has also been cruelly used to satisfy the desires of many of those chosen to represent it. Some of those representatives have in turn collaborated with the politicians in the narrow agenda of trying to maintain a mass dependency syndrome.
The paradigm shift required is the location of arts and culture at the core of a policy to reform anti-social behaviour. Much of the budget for national security is spent on firepower. A chunk of it can be usefully re-directed by reference to published criteria to take the arts forward to continue their successful work among communities.
Many panyards have progressed way beyond being maintained merely to win a Panorama. They have organised themselves into teaching models and learning centres, including, in some cases, homework centres.
The members form bonds and learn to socialise with one another in peace. There is an eloquent testimony of this from a young woman in the movie To be a Renegade, which deals with life in Renegades’ Charlotte Street panyard and illustrates the benefits of membership for its youthful members in terms of individual development.
I am reluctant to repeat my exhortations about the use of panyards as a form of social engineering. There are 25 such pieces collected in The Daly Commentaries. These include references to performing arts other than pan.
How the panyard dissolves the negatives that, it is said, send our youngsters into violent crime has also been well described by educator Samuel Lochan, who points out that panyard managers do not have the problems of disorder and discipline faced by teachers in the formal education system.
Lochan asserts: “Unlike the formal system, pan evolved as a vehicle for selfhood, for and by the people in disadvantaged communities, and provides opportunities for their authentic engagement.”
In my view, it is arguable that the entire social order has preyed upon the economic insecurity of pan players and other performing artistes and has failed to understand the depth and destructive force of the lack of self-esteem among many of our youngsters and how it might be remedied.