We have been around long enough as an independent state to understand that the raising of our own flag on August 31, 1962 had value and potential in excess of political self-determination and a notion of economic choice.
For one, the ability to determine constitutional and legislative values and to command indigenous human and natural resources unfolded as both opportunity and as intrinsic challenge. Small states finding their way in the world, under crippling pre and post-colonial circumstances, have consistently been found to be haplessly subject to such conditions.
The offshore orientation of the economy is now widely acknowledged and accepted, and undoubted vulnerabilities on account of geography, limited capacity and a lack of self-confidence have taken intractable root. There is now little doubt that political independence has neither brought us true freedom nor has it led to a trough of sustainable prospects for a future as a sovereign state.
It is not that we have been hopeless at political negotiation or that we have been unable to prosper, in relative terms, through economic decision-making. In many respects, we have conducted our affairs at a high level of civility and we have covered much developmental ground. Our score card on Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) is impressive.
Up to this point, Eric Williams, CLR James, William Demas and Lloyd Best are absolutely indispensable if we were to understand some key paradoxes. There is an established pathway that leads us to an understanding of how and why we have failed to advance the gains of political independence yet thrived in important ways. Economic determinism, political under-achievement and cultural insufficiency feature prominently and are irresistible subjects to ponder even in the face of the statistical high-points.
The fact that cultural, political and economic institutions have under-performed is however difficult to deny. There is yet no grasp of the changing “peoplescape” and certainly no sense of an economic destiny over which we have an adequate measure of decisive control in the final analysis. The political parties and their vital organs, in the absence of official life-support, are moribund and particularly useless in pursuit of the broader, civic self-determination that separates free people from those who are not.
The resort to authoritarianism and paternalistic dependence and control remains impulsive and few are to be found who consistently patrol the boundaries of rights and freedoms. As a consequence, important questions of state-sanctioned killing, free expression and independent jurisprudence are subject to official “vaps” and sycophantic advocacy capable of 180 degree shifts. In this respect, political complexion has made no difference.
To move us forward, new levels of understanding are needed which concede that the Trinidad and Tobago of 2010 is not the same country we came up with in 1962. The challenge of managed diversity, to cite one important example, is certainly not the same.
In many respects, it makes sense that a Ministry of Multiculturalism exists. But there is yet no evidence that the relevant political and administrative managers and functionaries understand the true nature of the challenge. This government ministry, perhaps above all others, has the greatest potential to move the development of the country forward.
This has nothing to do with financial support for entertainers or official dicta that seek to regulate taste or repairs to the National Academy for the Performing Arts. It has to do with acquiring a proper understanding of the changing nature of our society and the value of the global interface to which we are now - and have always been - inextricably attached.
There are few greater manifestations of under-development than our failure to recognise this important point. Cultural policy cannot be founded on xenophobia nor can it be built on static notions of what comes together to constitute what some would wish to describe as a “national culture”. The current nonsense of proposed regulated media content, ostensibly to “protect” national cultural products, falls far short of a proper understanding of this.
The fact is the channels of so-called cultural imperialism have the potential to offer net gains if we choose to be more confident and more independent.
Because these points are not understood, the potential of some features of our economic diversity is not correspondingly recognised. How, for example, have some of our newest arrivals sustained what appears to be a glut of food establishments throughout the length and breadth of the country? How have others, from not so far away, been able to preserve artisanal skills which they deliver at lower cost and at a higher level of productivity?
There is, as well, the lost potential of our Caribbean engagement at the hands of our own parochialism and xenophobia. To what extent, for example, is the Caribbean paradigm envisaged when we define “national culture” and our wealth as a people? We do not understand the value of such a stock of assets at our peril.
Instead, we are finding it hard to accept the fact of our changing collective face. The durability of our political independence needs to be matched by a much higher level of self-confidence and a willingness to negotiate much wider spaces. Some individuals, manufacturers and banks understand this much better than players in other sectors.
In the end, our independence has to be pursued and achieved with a much higher understanding of who we really are and what we desire for ourselves.