on our moral crisis
difficult at times to evaluate what is meant by the view that
we live in a state of moral crisis, or, more seriously
(and ominously), amid a state of moral collapse. Of these
two positions, I think we can safely discount the latter.
I say this not because I have my head in the sand, but because
whatever one may adduce as evidence of collapse, a shared
moral consensus of some sort appears latently operative in
our ability to keep things together in spite of all the decline.
Crisis, however, is another matter, and as far as I can observe,
when the topic comes up, in print or discussion, several candidates
vie for consideration as eminent causes. Let me list a few:
n Endemic corruption, both institutional and personal.
This is considered impossible to fight. You either have to
go along or opt out of the system altogether.
n Society has become routinely indifferent to law, as
evidenced in the lawlessness on the roads and disregard of
n We have too many children making children,
too much irresponsible sexual activity at younger and younger
n Too much greed and unashamed self-seeking among the
n The scarcity of obvious examples of integrity among
our leaders and elites.
n Breakdown in the family.
Readers may add to the above or replace any of them. They
dont all have the same weight, and its arguable
whether some of them could constitute (or engender) a crisis
of great gravity. Taken together, however, they make such
a possibility quite real.
The different causes suggest different modes of
address. One may thus ask: as we look around, what do we see
as countervailing measures against any or all of them?
As far as corruption goes, I think its Naipaul who notes
in The Middle Passage somewhere that bobol was
once viewed in Trinidad as a widespread local pastime. What
one hears of corruption today, however, makes bobol
sound like childs play.
People who claim to know what they talk about will tell you
things like: the Police Service is 50 per cent corrupt, 30
per cent small corruption, and 20 per cent serious
stuff. I am sure I am not alone in having heard remarks
like this, reportedly made by senior officers.
When I go on to ask: isnt there such a thing as the
Police Authority, I am looked at as if I were soft in the
head. How could I not know that the Police Authority is a
Again, people supposedly in the know will tell you that the
Government knows who the big drug lords are. Hearing this,
I ask the obvious question: and what are they doing about
it? The major drug lords, I am told, are untouchable. The
obvious rejoinder to this, of course, is: then whats
the point of elaborating crime plans? What
is there for the overseeing blimps to see?
One may dilate further about corruption, but it seems to me
that its up to the central sectors of society (if a
different moral environment is really desired) to identity
its presence in their context and address it. Regeneration
is everyones responsibility, and not everyone, vaguely
speaking, but concretely the urgent responsibility of every
one of our important social sectors.
In respect of traffic chaos, its hard to imagine what
levels of carnage will make us drive more responsibly or make
the authorities put measures in place to stem the tide of
One wonders why, for instance, apart from measures like the
greater visibility of traffic police, a connection cant
be established, as in the US, between accidents, traffic tickets,
and higher insurance premiums via a points system. This is
surely not something beyond our technological competence.
Meanwhile, the carnage is as routine as tomorrow morning.
We sit up and take notice only when it exceeds the bounds
of real gruesomeness.
Regarding sexual activity at younger and younger ages, my
observation is this: its a contradiction to expect that
we can, on the one hand, treat sexuality as purely a matter
of individual freedom (which has come to mean more and more
freedom without limits or discipline), and on the other hand
expect children, who unconsciously reflect the social tenor,
to do differently. The surprise in this matter is that we
are surprised; that without a trace of irony, we register
When exemplariness, integrity, and professionalism are mentioned
together, I often wonder why its so easy to recall people
like headmasters of yesterday, individual teachers, village
(not regional) doctors and nurses, who stand out easily in
the mind as models. It is often saiddefensivelythat
theirs was a simpler time, and that society has grown increasingly
more complex. If this is meant to excuse our scarcity, the
argument is not persuasive. Indeed, its close to
As the historian Ranke once said, every age is equidistant
from eternity. It has its own response, not any other, to
its own challenges. Thus, the only standard for measuring
ourselves cannot be drawn from some simpler time, if such
a time ever existed, but from our own.
Where family breakdown is concerned, what gives me serious
cause to reflect is the fact that it is from instruction in
the family that we receive our primary lessons and later reinforcements
in morality. How then does one explain the utter disregard
for the value of life displayed today particularly by the
young? It has gone beyond any connection with the drug culture.
Many perpetrators of the most awful murder today have nothing
to do with drugs. They just brutally dispatch people in their
homes, in the streets, and in their taxis. Where did the culture
of moral instruction break down?
Philosophers say that crisis is a word, a reality,
with a double meaning, negatively as danger, positively as
opportunity. Its hard to believe that some of the things
we witness or hear about can be remotely positive. Opportunity
must lie in the challenge they represent, something similar
to what Moses famously put before his people: death or life;
life and prosperity, or death and doom. Everything depended
then, as it does now, on what direction the people decided