30 Jan 2018

Impossible Culture

Culture is a complex matrix. No doubt about that. It is also easily misunderstood. When people talk of ‘culture’ they usually mean: “the arts and other manifestations of human intellectual achievement regarded collectively”, but forget the other definition:

the ideas, customs, and social behaviour of a particular people or society”.

We can therefore talk about Caribbean culture, which would be common throughout the Caribbean, but we can also talk about Trinidad and Tobago (Trinbagonian or ‘Trini’) culture, specific to the two islands. That is not to say that there will not be overlap, eh.

Why am I bringing up culture when I really want to talk about the Police Service Commission (PSC) and the major faux pas it made in recommending Deodath Dulalchan for the (allegedly unapplied for) post of Police Commissioner? Well, culture shapes us in a myriad of ways that we aren’t aware of. We have biases and opinions based upon our cultural exposure.

A Trini man ‘sooting’ a woman walking by? Culture.

A wine for Carnival without permission? Culture.

Going to work late? Culture.

Skipping work/school for a beach lime? Culture.

Doubles, roti, bake and shark, and a red Solo? Culture.

We inherit it, mimic it, live it because we are immersed in it day in and day out, and adopt and adapt to fit into the society around us. Which is why the PSC made the glaring error that people external to themselves can see but not the members. It isn’t and wasn’t the first time it happened, and it will happen again.

What error? The cultural error of not following due process and procedure. Taking a ‘shortcut’ if you will. It happened with several Integrity Commissions, with the President’s shortcuts to appointing members to different Service Commissions and so too to Government appointments to important State Boards.

Which leaves us with square pegs in round holes, or ‘lame ducks’ as one newspaper aptly described it. It is a cultural condition in Trinidad and Tobago to take the easiest and shortest route. It is culturally why we, the people, fail to progress. A culture to wine and dine, where ‘after 12 is lunch’ mentality leads to teenage pregnancies and STDs, and a call for girls to keep their legs closed brings a scathing backlash.

You may detect a trace of bitterness in this message. It’s because I realise that we need to change a whole culture. And that – might be impossible.