Wednesday, 25 January 2012

Most Selfish Generation


by Jean de Boissière

Some eighty years ago, the leading people of Trinidad the (plantation owners) were hard working industrious folk who exploited the masses shamefully in the interest of what they thought was a sound conception of society. 
Embodied in this conception was a firm belief in the family unit as the very basis of that society. this made one of their first principles the establishment and strengthening of large family groups. Another solid conviction was their faith in religion as a force essential to the past, the present and the future. It was not an empty conviction for they propagandised that faith among the thousands of illiterate who came under their influence.
To these people (the freed Negro slaves and the East Indian indentured labourers who were their workers) they extended a regard for their material as well as their spiritual welfare. In practice, this welfare was administered in a completely despotic but benevolent manner. A gardener got a dollar a week, and if he forgot himself and his place so far as to demand fifty cents more as his just wages, he would be chased from the estate. But if he asked for a spot of land to build his shack, or five dollars to christen a child, he was given it and more with a paternal graciousness that made him feel that he was as much part of  that family unit as its oldest son.
The elder Creoles of three generations back were in most instances conservatively constructive, paternal and kind. That they were unaware of an industrial revolution that was torturing Europe and which would eventually destroy their work and their world, that they accepted the status quo with the same faith that they did their God was not their fault. In their time and place they could not possibly have done otherwise.
If one could accuse them of crime, it could  be only for that of spawning the generation that followed them. No single excuse could be found for these. Their parents graciously cheated the masses in order to create a surplus to send these hopes-of-the-world for an education in a Europe that was perpetually seething with an under-current of industrial and political unrest. For all they saw of this they might as well been blindfolded before they left. But what they did see and learn was the unscrupulous selfishness of the bourgeois class, rampant in the jungle they had made out of European civilization.
When they returned, the adulation and regard with which they were greeted was completely misinterpreted. They looked upon it rather in the way a millionaire's son does on the salutes of the sailors from his father's yacht. The first practical application of the lessons they had learnt was in their treatment of these workers on their plantations.
No more benevolent despotism. The attitude was now that of the European bourgeois to their factory workers. Ruthless individualism replaced the former almost feudal arrangement. It was expressed in such phrases as these: "The gardener get his wages - and his standard of living doesn't justify his getting any more. So why should we give him free lands for a house, when we can get rents from those lands, everything must make a profit. If they don't want to use the estate barracks and want to live above their means - and they always were a lazy, spend-thrift lot anyway - let them rent the land."
To their industrious parents who had worked and cleared the estate of all encumbrances, meanwhile building whole villages for their workers, they would talk in this strain.
"Mother, I don't see why you keep on giving money to these people to christen their children, when you know very well that they are a vicious immoral lot and all of their children are bastards anyway - and the amount of  money you waste giving away rosaries and prayer books, they can well afford to buy themselves. This would make them appreciate them more than when they get them for nothing anyway."
In like manner to this, they undertook to inaugurate and establish the regime of unrestricted capitalism on the plantations of their fathers. Any resistance to them was met with cruel suppression. They did not stop at attacking the workers, they carried the battle for these new principles (or more correctly lack of principles) right into their own families. The survival of the fittest , the  crowning of cunning, and the law of the jungle had to be established here too. Where their parents had assisted members of the family in their moments of distress, they used such moments to take advantage of them Instead of the financially embarrassed member getting help, he would be forced to sell whatever he had left to the stronger relatives at a colossal sacrifice.
One would have thought that this would have brought some qualms of conscience. It did; but gave them little trouble as they had a bourgeois conscience; the most elastic produced yet. They insisted on a strict honesty that left them masters of the embarrassing situations created very dubiously for their opponents. The elastic of their conscience expanded with creating the situation and contracted visibly in handling it.
In morals they insisted on an ultra-puritanical code for their own wives and daughters, while those of their labourers were invariably supposed to submit to the advances made prior to any work or land being given on the estate. While the older generation had occasionally lapsed and produce children with women on the estate which they acknowledged and supported (in some instances even giving them a European education), the new one ignored and abandoned the innumerable bastards they begot as a preliminary to the day's work in the cocoa.
Not satisfied with turning the estate and its workers into a machine from which they could grind money for a self-centered empty life of pleasure, they sought official positions in the government, where their most arduous work was done in jockeying for the highest paid jobs. The first step was to reduce the work of the department to a minimum and then to arrange for the terrifically underpaid subordinates to carry on the work, while they spent their time on the galleries of their clubs, sipping drinks and slaying peoples reputation with an impressive dignity.
There is one classic case worth mentioning of a head of a department who, having arranged his official life in like manner to suit himself (to have told this man that he was a servant of the public and owed them a duty would have been to grossly insult him), he would turn up at his office everyday at 11 o/clock and leave at midday. For over 15 years, he drew about $ 400 per month of the public's money for sitting at a desk for five hours a week. He eventually retired a short while before it was absolutely necessary because as he boasted to his friends, his "conscience hurt him".
They attended church every Sunday with an eye to subtle publicity, for they went always to the biggest ones where they would be seen by the most people. But the simple Christina virtues of unheralded charity, kindness and love were completely absent from their makeup.
In their lifetime, they succeeded in deranging the social order created by their forbears so completely, that the former good relations that existed between the classes disappeared and the same social disorder and unrest that haunted Europe permeated the island.
Some of these supreme individualists still exist and linger in the estate houses, the position of government and the benches of the larger churches. They are few now and these ladies and gentlemen of the most incredibly selfish generation will pass away, but it will take more than a little time to heal the wounds they made on the body social that their forefathers brought forth." 

No comments: