Cultivating Cultural Confidence

Terrence Farrell

It all began because of Terrence Farrell…

He identified the ways in which our feelings and attitudes about ourselves and toward our space—these islands we live on—bring about our under-performance and under-achievement as a society.

For me—and perhaps this is because of my background of absorbing Milton Friedman in my early-twenties—the most fundamental of the issues is a lack of feeling ‘ownership of the space’. We still don’t feel like Trinbago is ours and thus don’t act it out. Superficially, yes, of course we do. But on the deep ways of investment and trading up for our descendants’ future, we don’t.

As much as I admire Farrell though, I disagree with his solution. To begin with, he didn’t offer too much of solution, but what little he did say amounted to waiting on the ‘elites’ of society to shape themselves up and begin putting things right in a trickle-down manner.

I disagree with this for two reasons:

  1. The so-called elites of our society seem to rely on the very fogginess of our rules in order to succeed. We have obscene amounts of public / government-level corruption, but also within the private sector. Many (not all, but many) business owners and operators are corrupt and require the society to exist in the way it already does so to allow them room to manoeuvre their schemes. As such, they’d be unwilling to change status quo as it works for them, and saves them the effort and risk of ridicule;
  2. To quote Shahrukh Khan’s ‘Rahul’ from ‘Chennai Express’, “Don’t underestimate the power of a common man!” The ‘regular’ people of society make up the majority of the workforce, the majority of consumers, the majority of economic interactions day-to-day. If somehow each of those interactions could be made incrementally ‘better’, the overall effect on society at large would be massive.

And so, with all of the above said, what Method Moda’s mission really comes down to is a desire to encourage a feeling of ‘ownership of the space’ in all Trinbagonians, especially us ‘common’ individuals.

Cultural Confidence

From our reading, it’s becoming clear that during those early decades around TT Independence, there was endless confidence and optimism around ourselves and our future as a nation.

This maybe have begun to plummet during the 1970s when the oil boom hit and we’d gradually slid into the ‘resource curse’ over the next two decades. Foreign (aka US) entertainment also began invading our culture en-masse during the 1970s—perhaps because more and more people suddenly became able to access entertainment via the money increase—and this also began to harm local culture. As evidence of this, we began seeing some musical artistes push back against disco, for instance ‘Dancing Shoes’ by Brother Resistance, ‘Disco Daddy’ by Lord Nelson, etc.

In the 1980s, our music took a hit because of the maxi taxi and hard pound fiasco. According to Mottley (aka ‘Mad Dog’) who was a music pirate in the 1980s (and today repairs washing machines): Local copyright enforcers took a dim view of maxis playing local music without a licence and so maxi men instead played mostly popular Jamaican music like dub and dancehall. This meant that large numbers of young people were hearing not Trini, but rather Jamaican music everyday to-and-from school, and we see today how much more popular Jamaican music seems to have grown for most Trinis’ casual listening outside of Carnival time.

The 1990 coup attempt, but moreso the impunity of the persons who committed the attacks, caused a lasting sense of disillusionment with, and distrust of, the TT government, police, justice systems, and authority which we continue to have today in 2022.

In the 2000s we had Patrick Manning’s third stint during which he begun to grow unhinged. There were the UDeCOTT, deals with Calder Hart which culminated in the scandals of the Las Alturas project, playing out publicly. There was the shutting down of Caroni, which used to be productive but was favoured by Manning’s political rivals, and the massive environmental protests around the smelter plant which thankfully worked because the exclusion zone around Aluminium smelting is a larger diameter than the entire island of Trinidad.

So what happened prior to 1970 then? Because interviews with Carlisle Chang who embodied and worked feverishly during his lifetime driven by a strong feeling of pride and optimism toward the future of Trinbago, admiration of Eric Williams, but who became put off by Williams—describing him as having “feet of clay”—near the end of his own Life? Were there scandals in the late 1960s which undid all that was gained?