Joseph Heller’s book ‘Catch-22’ is a satirical novel about war and demonstrates how circular thinking (such as ‘you cannot find your glasses since you need to wear your glasses to see where they are’) does not lead to solutions but dredges up memories that prove to be debilitating.
The main protagonist was so troubled that he ended up fearing his own commander more than the Germans and was worried that ‘they’—whoever they are—were ‘out to get him’. Sadly, this is the place we, as a nation, find ourselves.
We turn our eyes away from battling the Covid-19 disease and its huge economic impact to fight each other.
The act of combatting this disease caused us to put significant sectors of our nation to ‘sleep’. Our economy, and by extension, those of us who have no emergency cash reserves are in clear and present danger.
A 2017 MFO study estimated that 68% of us had no such funds and 22% of us did not have sufficient funds to buy food consistently. It is only worse now. But rather than focus on what is needed to get through and to build a future on the other side, some believe that ‘they’ are ‘out to get us’.
Sadly, this insanity is contagious. It will prevent us from coming out whole on the other side.
The role of government in coercing or influencing health-related behaviour in a culture that values autonomy and divided by partisan considerations is essentially a question about ethics—the principles necessary for us to live together in peace, mutual respect and justice.
How we manage the inherent risks is impossible to define without some value judgments. Should bars or food places be closed or not? Who should be locked down or not?
Essentially it is a question of risk and benefit and some proof of the benefit is needed to show that the risk is worth taking. Instead, we believe that the ‘other’ has an ulterior motive.
The notion of patient privacy and confidentiality is rubbished because it suits us. We gloss over a hand-waving character on livestream without asking if such behaviour is acceptable in a public hospital.
Is it good that the inmates can take over the asylum? And show us how it can be done? When the gunman comes because he is upset with the treatment of his brother, then what?
We brandish the race card because it is the easiest one at hand. The desire to score political points fan the flames of dissent removing the ability to compromise for the nation’s sake.
The lawyer for the Barbados passengers promised that the leader of that group would apologise to the Prime Minister for citing race as the reason for their being holed up in that country, but it appears that it would wait until he is repatriated. It is a pity that the message could not be sent the way the original one was.
The ill-prepared cases in our court houses fritter away attention, costing the taxpayer money and agitating both ‘sides’. How will we retain some semblance of a society so that we could live together after this?
We forget that disease reporting and surveillance are specialised skills that help to prevent further infection. Casting unfounded aspersions on the professionals who seek to protect us is incomprehensible and death-inducing.
We, armchair experts, need to appreciate the difficulty of the task, especially the struggle with this stealthy virus. When we unfairly question their work it can become discouraging. (I say that even as one who desires some specific information to help the wider public understand the ongoing risks.)
When we take our cars onto the road ‘because we tired staying home’, what will we blame when the figures begin to spike?
All governments, not just Trinidad and Tobago’s, use power to invoke mandatory measures to eliminate public health threats. Public health invariably has to strike a balance between individual and community interests.
In a crisis that is dynamic and new, administrative errors would be made. We need to own up to them and fix them. It is tragic when those who would point them out are demonised. Witnessing attempts to disrupt the system to score points is, however, soul-crushing.
When the message is sent that we cannot lock you up, what did we expect? How many more police do we need now to stop this ‘palancing’?
Two wrongs do not make a right. Digging up personal stories, rather than dealing with the substantive issues, is not helpful. The freedom of the press and of speech include the freedom not to speak or publish and the freedom to speak or publish anonymously.
We ought to know that ‘public good’ reflects political judgment by political bodies in response to political and social forces. It is therefore open to challenge but hopefully not the kind that destroys the capacity of the society to move forward.
The policy makers and their observers/armchair experts must include in their calculation the social realities and public opinion and not just rely on the courts. We, the public, owe it to ourselves to speak up.
Appallingly, some employers are hiding when it is time to sign the salary grant forms for their employees because they have not paid the NIS for them. Some sent the employees home as soon as the bell rang.
They expect us to forget that they have cash reserves built up over the last two decades and drive the best, eat and drink the best—made possible by the same people they now distance themselves from—and who they now punt onto the government to take care of. They wash their hands and say ‘the government has failed to respond’ even as they themselves stretch out their hands.
Can we break this circular reasoning and blind irrationality fuelled by deeply partisan feelings? Or is it that we are doomed to live in a Catch-22 situation all the days of our lives?
Desmond Tutu once said: “there is not a single person who has not been traumatised…we have to pour balm on tortured souls.”
May we tread the long road ahead together. This is my hope and prayer.