Patriotism By Decree?

...More Than The Sum Of Its Parts.

This story in the Trinidad & Tobago Express, got my attention. It mentioned some of the issues which really interest me: Patriotism, Equity, Unity among our citizens and the First Nations peoples of Trinidad and Tobago. Have a read and we will continue below:
Hello, I'm a Trinbagonian!
Trinidad & Tobago Express | Oct 11, 2010

It is the People's Partnership government's intention, as part of a patriotism framework, to rebrand "Trinidadians" as Trinbagonians.

This was stated yesterday by Minister in the Office of the Prime Minister, Rodger Samuel, in an address at the launch of Amerindian Heritage Week at the Town Hall in Arima yesterday.

"We want to take away that identity crisis that we have about Trinidadians and Tobagonians," Samuel said.

He said to a loud round of applause, "It is our intention to rebrand Trinidadians so that our nationality would be known as Trinbagonian. There would be no disparity between you being a Trinidadian and you being a Tobagonian. That is where we are heading in this country."

He said that part of his responsibility as a Minister within the Office of the Prime Minister is to develop a "patriotism framework."

One of the objectives of the framework, he said , was to preserve, conserve and develop the nation's heritage—including the heritage of Trinidad and Tobago's indigenous peoples. This would be done in conjunction with the Ministry of Arts and Multiculturalism, he added.
"as part of a patriotism framework", - What exactly is a "patriotism framework"? I need in the worst way for this to be explained. You see, just as I become very uneasy when I hear the president general of a trade union, the OWTU, making blatant and blindly partisan statements, the notion of a government being involved in "creating" patriotism leaves me with a million questions which are never answered by sound bites.

"to rebrand "Trinidadians" as Trinbagonians." Yes, I know that I have been using Trinbagonians on this blog to save myself the trouble of having to type two long words connected by "and" but I am aware that not everyone likes "Trinbagonians". Some people still want to be described as Trinidadians or Tobagonians, just like, I imagine, identical twins probably prefer to have separate names and not be referred to as the "Johnson twins" or the "Cabrera twins." They know that they have a special bond, they know that they are equal but they also don't want anyone to forget that they are separate and unique entities despite their having emerged from one egg.

Referendum time, perhaps? I understand that this is a government that listens to the people and that mechanisms for referenda have been promised.

On the other hand, it may simply be that the government is hoping to engage in rebranding "Trinidad and Tobago" and the "patriotism framework" is among its exploratory steps. I hate being downwind of Americay's trends, so maybe it is best that "nation branding" and "patriotism framework" were not mentioned together in my presence.

"We want to take away that identity crisis that we have about Trinidadians and Tobagonians," What identity crisis exactly? I was born in Trinidad. I've worked in Trinidad with people who were born in Tobago. We knew who we were and I don't remember even getting the slightest impression that the Tobagonian citizens of this twin-island state had any identity crisis, and neither did I.

There would be no disparity between you being a Trinidadian and you being a Tobagonian. And even if there were any disparity between Trinidadians and Tobagonians, which I strongly dispute, calling us Trinbagonians is going to magically alleviate the problem [which does not exist]?

"One of the objectives of the framework, he said , was to preserve, conserve and develop the nation's heritage—including the heritage of Trinidad and Tobago's indigenous peoples." Well I liked the sound of that but still didn't see this as falling under a "patriotism framework". This is the work of all the Ministries, not so? Aren't there Ministries responsible for preserving, conserving and developing:

the environment?
our natural resources?
the bountiful earth?
the creative and willing minds and hands of our people and especially our children?
the cultural gifts which we inherited and which we are continually creating/recreating?
the wellness of all citizens?
our pursuit of justice and democratic ideals
our cultural ties with our neighbourhood of the Caribbean and Latin America?

All these form part of our heritage and perhaps the descendants, both genetic and spiritual, of the First Nations of these islands can symbolise that rootedness. But heritage is not just a noun or an artifact, heritage is also a way of doing, heritage is also what we hand to the future. And therefore we admit that there are ways of doing that we can improve upon and there are aspects of our heritage(s) that we might consider jettisoning and saying a farewell prayer over before moving on together to do better.

True patriotism is first about how we value ourselves as individuals. It is next about what we feel about our place in this land and no government can be in charge of orchestrating that. We will naturally come to love our country and to defend it if we feel rooted here, if we feel that we are well served and that we also have opportunities to serve, if we can prosper according to our different ambitions and be respected for the uniqueness of our contributions. Patriotism is not always pro-state or pro-government, so can a government be disinterested enough in its own preservation to encourage its citizens to think critically and independently. Will this "patriotism framework" support a patriotism that is true and non-partisan?

Patriot Wayne Kublalsingh

By Andre Bagoo | T&T's Newsday Friday, November 20 2009

There is no government fiat that can create "true" patriotism [unless we are blessed with a government that is also a champion of the cultivation of intelligence in its citizens] and what I fear is that this engineering can be taken to the extreme of ideological brainwashing leading to the mindless jingoism that is often made to masquerade as "patriotism". Governments of such "patriotized" populations can then use the flimsiest of slogans to effect the required Pavlovian responses.

I do not mean to suggest that populations are always gullible and lacking in intelligence but there is that human weakness, against we must always struggle, to take the easier, or what is perceived to be the easier, route and this manifests itself even more rabidly in populations that are already stressed [like ours] and therefore more unlikely to want to face harsh truths and take action against them.

In 1993, Midnight Oil, an Australian rock band from Sydney, produced the brilliant song "My Country" This song expresses my fears about the dangers of flag waving patriotism taken to the extreme, when we get to the stage where it does not matter when something is terribly wrong and we insist on using the flag to cover up the rotten core and even worse, to discourage criticism and dissent. We unscrew our heads, take out our brains and whether our country is right or wrong, we salute the flag:

"And did I hear you say,
My country, right or wrong
My country, oh so strong
My country, right or wrong
My country, right or wrong
My country going wrong
My country, right or wrong?"

I hear you say the truth must take a beating
The flag, a camouflage for your deceiving..."

Just like there must be separation between church and state, I feel that no government should be trusted with "creating" patriotism. This is why I fully endorse Black Stalin's words in his song, "Sing For The Land":

"I alone know how much this country do for me
So I alone could say how much I could do for the country
So how could any man or woman Trinidadian
Tell me how I must contribute to this land?
Because since I born, this country been taking care of me
And I making sure that I do the same carefully
Because this is just a warning to my fellow Trinbagonian
That I go lay my life down any time at all for the land.

"Is Trinbago who give Stalin the privilege
Just to find out I'm an African after the Middle Passage
So it's my obligation to make sure the twin island
That how I meet it, I could leave it in a better condition
So then I can't wait on no PM, no Opposition, or no party
You see I got to do the little that I could do
And do it wholeheartedly for this country. One love!"

I didn't learn to love my country from the government or my teachers, even though they were responsible for teaching about the national symbols and it was in Primary School that I learned the "National Anthem", "Our Nation's Dawning" and "God Bless Our Nation." I learned to love my land from my parents because they were more like country people and they had a deep connection with the natural environment. My father was the first environmentalist that I ever knew and I had the good fortune from childhood to be more in tune with the rhythms of nature than with manmade fashions and pleasures. He predicted all the environmental problems that T&T would experience because he took note of the savagery with which the land was being handled. He predicted the social problems because of the way in which people were being used and allowing themselves to be used. Today, I am grateful that we were brought to the same non-partisan understanding that Black Stalin shares.

Some time ago I wrote on this topic of patriotism and I concluded with embedding a speech by American Republican Ron Paul, who presented a surprisingly enlightened view of what constitutes patriotism.

Here are some quotes from that speech. If you wish, you can read the text or view the videos at my post, here.

In it Ron Paul makes a distinction between true patriotism and the "other" patriotism which the state often prefers and fosters because it allows it to pursue its agenda without opposition from the citizens.

"I accept the definition of patriotism as that effort to resist oppressive state power.
"The true patriot is motivated by a sense of responsibility and out of self-interest for himself, his family, and the future of his country to resist government abuse of power. He rejects the notion that patriotism means obedience to the state. Resistance need not be violent, but the civil disobedience that might be required involves confrontation with the state and invites possible imprisonment.
"Peaceful, nonviolent revolutions against tyranny have been every bit as successful as those involving military confrontation. Mahatma Gandhi and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., achieved great political successes by practicing nonviolence, and yet they suffered physically at the hands of the state. But whether the resistance against government tyrants is nonviolent or physically violent, the effort to overthrow state oppression qualifies as true patriotism.
"True patriotism today has gotten a bad name, at least from the government and the press. Those who now challenge the unconstitutional methods of imposing an income tax on us, or force us to use a monetary system designed to serve the rich at the expense of the poor are routinely condemned. These American patriots are sadly looked down upon by many. They are never praised as champions of liberty as Gandhi and Martin Luther King have been.
"Liberals, who withhold their taxes as a protest against war, are vilified as well, especially by conservatives. Unquestioned loyalty to the state is especially demanded in times of war. Lack of support for a war policy is said to be unpatriotic. Arguments against a particular policy that endorses a war, once it is started, are always said to be endangering the troops in the field. This, they blatantly claim, is unpatriotic, and all dissent must stop. Yet, it is dissent from government policies that defines the true patriot and champion of liberty.
"Out of fear of being labeled unpatriotic, most of the citizens become compliant and accept the argument that some loss of liberty is required to fight the war in order to remain safe.
"This is a bad trade-off, in my estimation, especially when done in the name of patriotism. Loyalty to the state and to autocratic leaders is substituted for true patriotism; that is, a willingness to challenge the state and defend the country, the people and the culture. The more difficult the times, the stronger the admonition comes that the leaders be not criticized.
"Statism depends on the idea that the government owns us and citizens must obey.
"Our government was originally designed to protect our liberties, but it has now, instead, become the usurper of those liberties.
"We currently live in the most difficult of times for guarding against an expanding central government with a steady erosion of our freedoms.
"The true patriot challenges the state when the state embarks on enhancing its power at the expense of the individual.
"Before the war in the Middle East spreads and becomes a world conflict for which we will be held responsible, or the liberties of all Americans become so suppressed we can no longer resist, much has to be done. Time is short, but our course of action should be clear. Resistance to illegal and unconstitutional usurpation of our rights is required. Each of us must choose which course of action we should take: education, conventional political action, or even peaceful civil disobedience to bring about necessary changes.

"But let it not be said that we did nothing. Let not those who love the power of the welfare/warfare state label the dissenters of authoritarianism as unpatriotic or uncaring. Patriotism is more closely linked to dissent than it is to conformity and a blind desire for safety and security. Understanding the magnificent rewards of a free society makes us unbashful in its promotion, fully realizing that maximum wealth is created and the greatest chance for peace comes from a society respectful of individual liberty."

I will end by saying that we must question everything that is said to us, even if at first blush we make the mistake of applauding wildly. Go away and think about it. If you are uneasy, discuss it with others. If the uneasiness does not go away, demand clearer explanations from the speech makers. Don't let anything creep up on you.

This questioning is patriotism in action...true patriotism.

Sing For The Land - Black Stalin. See lyrics.

"Patria est communis omnium parens" - Our native land is the common parent of us all. Keep it beautiful, make it even more so.

Blessed is all of creation
Blessed be my beautiful people
Blessed be the day of our awakening
Blessed is my country
Blessed are her patient hills.

Mweh ka allay!


Maximilian C. Forte said...

Very interesting essay. There are a ton of things here that I could address, but I will focus on one in particular. States have typically invented unitary nationhood out of diversity--the "branding" exercise is common, even if in this case it is doubly transparent, superficial, and amateurish (ironically, that can be good, as it becomes easier to unveil and attack). This is a state that is also eager to paper over the many gaping social cracks with vain little exercises in nationalism that sound like they came out of the mouth of a school child. However, my main point is that this "patriotism framework" is what most states have, in the sense of constantly having to invent the nations that they govern. When it comes in such an *obviously* top down manner, it will provoke a backlash: expect to hear many more people in T&T loudly proclaiming "I am Trinidadian," or "I am Tobagonian, I am not a Trinidadian." From that point of view, Samuel has spoken like an amateur, a political infant, and I gather than this PM is surrounded by a lot of hacks. The real framework, after all, comes out of Washington, not Whitehall.

Guanaguanare said...

Thanks, Max, for visiting and leaving your very interesting comment. Yes, you make a good point about "unitary nationhood" out of diversity. 'Rainbow Country" comes to mind. It must be much easier in theory to push forward, if your nation has been honed into a single prong, instead of some hydra-headed mass of competing interests. In practice though, even if were possible to engineer this "unity" it would be at the expense of the same diversity of which we boast. I believe in diversity. Just look to genetics to understand why loss of diversity can lead to vulnerability and extinction of varieties.

I don't have a problem with the notion of us working together as individuals for a common good, but when that good is more for the benefit of the state and its cronies [inside and outside] and actually causes harm for the population, even when they cannot discern or admit it, I want us not to be so far gone that we cannot recognise that "false" patriotism can and will destroy dissenters to preserve the status quo.

You mention the real "framework" coming out of Washington and I would be less worried about the "amateurishness" that is being displayed if I did not agree with your conclusion. Where is the "patriotism" in surrendering agency? Where is the ability to provide a serious intellectual and moral counterweight to that juggernaut of destructive self-interest?

louis said...

To diminish the initial negative, hostile and contemptuous reaction I had to the news of a contrived "patriotism framework" and that I would be rebranded as a "Trinbagonian" I began to see myself as just another snobbish expat who has become out of touch with the country he left. I already knew that was the reason for my shock when one day it dawned on me that I was supposed to be a "Trini". Your post has put this latest questionable policy of the current TT government into perspective and I can consider it more calmly.

Guanaguanare said...

Always so good to hear from you, Louis! I know exactly what you mean. Like you, I also question myself and my reactions and so I will boldly speak on your behalf and assure you that snobbery has nothing to do with the "impatience" that you feel. That would be ludicrous considering that you can and have identified in the past parallels where you are located.

I prefer to think of you as an outrider patriot. Like me, you are not bound to cast a backward glance or to give a damn about what is going on in the land of your birth, yet you continue to ride alongside, accompanying it on its journey. I value your perspective because you also speak from the vantage point of being able to situate your country within a wider landscape.

I do understand your impulse to diminish initial reactions. Some people call it counting to ten. It is advisable in all situations where you are not sure exactly what is driving your response. What I do is I privately note my response and then I walk away from it. I continue to think about it and if after a few days my uneasiness has not evaporated, even after I have read other viewpoints and received more details, then I decide whether or not to share my feelings. Most times I choose not to.

Like you, there is a part of me that worries that my criticisms may be counterproductive and although as a citizen of Trinidad and Tobago, I am entitled to contribute, I do not think that I am required always to intervene on behalf of people who can and will work things out in their own time and fashion.

The thing that disturbs me is that there is a noticeable trend [especially among the commenters on the online newspapers] to accuse ALL critics of government actions and utterances of being "PNM supporters". When the label "PNM supporters" is eventually dropped in favour of, or should I say,"rebranded" as "unpatriotic citizens," is then crapaud smoke we pipe!

By the way, which name do you prefer? Trinidadian, Trini or Trinbagonian? I'm a Trindian, by the way - a West Indian who is indigenous to T&T. Add that to the brew!

Thanks again for visiting and commenting!