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"Arrest the moral deterioration in the Carnival"
Is this truly a subject for a Prime Minister to be concerned about?

Published in Express and Trinidad Guardian
05 March 2005 • 416 words

Patrick Manning has an exaggerated understanding of his job as Prime Minister.

Take his recent statement on wanting to help arrest the supposed moral deterioration in the Carnival. Is this truly a subject for a Prime Minister to be concerned about? And, if so, how does the Prime Minister propose to arrest this moral decline? As Patrick Manning, he can do so by setting a personal example – e.g. by not wining down to the ground when playing mas. As Prime Minister, however, he is out of place to think of doing anything at all.

In a well-ordered society, or any striving to be such, officials should not concern themselves about morality. Morality is a concept impossible to define for a whole society. Notions of it vary from group to group and individual to individual. No individual or organization is competent to pass moral judgement on any other, since it is impossible for any human being to have perfect knowledge either of a person’s conscience or their circumstances. In this sense, “moral justification” is a contradiction in terms.

This is in contrast to enforcing ethical norms, which is a matter all officials must be concerned about. Ethics are principles derived from reason and observation and based on the view that we should (1) treat others as we would wish to be treated; and (2) our actions should cause no harm to others. On this basis, we can argue that murder, rape, child abuse, and official corruption are matters that require State sanctions. We cannot, however, argue that wining even in the most unrestrained fashion demands a similar intervention.

We focus on Mr. Manning’s statement because it reflects a wider pattern wherein irrelevant beliefs inform official policies, often causing great harm. In recent times, the Kalifa Logan affair, the dispute over the Trinity Cross, the introduction of abstinence-only policy by the Education and Health Ministries, and the Chief Justice controversy are all matters which would benefit from a more analytical approach. It is for this reason that the undersigned citizens have decided that the humanist’s voice needs to be heard.

In our society, serious issues are too rarely looked at from the rational, empirical and ethical viewpoints. Instead, debate is often overwhelmed by superstition, folk wisdom, prejudice and self-serving agendas. Our group, which is made up of people of various beliefs and backgrounds, is here to ensure that these are not the only lens that citizens look through when discussing national issues.

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