By Anthony Deyal
“A hospital is no place to be sick”. This is an oxymoron or figure of speech in which two opposite ideas are joined to create an effect, for example, “cruel kindness,” “living death”, “police intelligence”, “jumbo shrimp” or something supposedly said by government spokespersons before the coronavirus became a pandemic or the count started in the Guyana elections. “We are not expecting any emergencies.”
We, humans, are a mass of contradictions which sometimes become the norm. Now, the doctors, ministries of health and common sense working together for once have made it clear that a hospital is no place to be sick especially if you have, think you have or are susceptible to the virus. Everywhere people are self-monitoring, self-assessing, and self-isolating or putting themselves into self-quarantine.
Emeritus Professor of Anthropological Science at Cambridge University, Alan Macfarlane, commented on the contrary or “topsy turvy” behaviour of human beings, “they claim to be sole judges of truth but spend much of their time lying. They are loving, yet they spend much time hating and undermining each other. Humans are cooperative creatures, yet they are also immensely selfish…They enjoy peace but constantly kill.” Professor Macfarlane concludes, “Man is an embodied paradox, a bundle of contradictions. Especially puzzling is the huge gap between human potential, the ability to make a rich, lovely and fulfilling life on earth, and the actual miseries human beings create for themselves and other species.”
We know but never fully admit that even in our behaviour we are walking, talking, thinking contradictions. We can be bright and stupid, coward and brave, right and wrong, haters and lovers simultaneously.
There are lots of contradictions in people’s strongly held beliefs and even though some joke about it, they are being serious at the same time. Andy Warhol, the “Pop Art” guru, admitted, “I am a deeply superficial person.” Dolly Parton explained, “you’d be surprised how much it costs to look cheap.” Donald Trump boasted, “the budget was unlimited, but I exceeded it.” The great poet, Edna St Vincent Millay, spoke about her contradictory feelings, “I hate people, but I love gatherings.” Samuel Goldwyn, the movie producer famous for his oxymorons was clear, “A verbal contract isn’t worth the paper it’s written on” and Mark Twain, spoke for me when he said, “I can resist everything but temptation.”
I suppose this is what happened and continues to play out moment after anxious moment, day after disquieting day, in Guyana where contradictions, “topsy-turvy” and temptation abound and seem to have overtaken law, common-sense and concerns about the future. This is yet another time in its history that Guyana seems to be putting power before principle, the rule of the lawless, including the police, before the rule of law, and racial differences ahead of national unity, even in this dark time of COVID-19.
We human beings are “time binders”, able to span the past, live in the present and prepare for the future. What kind of future awaits Guyana if it once again jumps off the escalator to peace, progress, and prosperity and returns to the path of anarchy, blatant racism and being a country where unity is an ignored village on the coastland?
What is even more difficult to believe is the emerging view that the president of the country is somehow a pawn or helplessly sick old man controlled by a group of “hard-liners” who don’t want to lose control over the vast riches expected from Guyana’s oilfields. It is also clear that neither of the two major parties is the best bet for the future- the present ruling party presently clinging to power by its teeth like a hydrophobic pitbull, intent on destruction even of itself, and the other voted out of office five years ago because of perceived corruption and mismanagement of the economy.
However, this is not the time or the reason to destroy the hard-earned democracy that is based on the wishes of the people. They have spoken but their voices, expressed through their votes, are being hidden, possibly substituted and certainly not being counted literally or figuratively.
The whole shebang is like a bunch of old movies being projected on a flickering screen in snatches with scratches. There is the 1970 film, “The Right and the Wrong”, made in Trinidad by an Indian director, about the suffering of African slaves and Indian indentured labourers at the hands of the English colonisers. There is also, “Wrong Turn” which sounds like the direction being taken in Guyana, and a movie where nothing is right, and everything is absurd aptly named “Wrong.” Another is “The Flying Irishman” about a pilot nicknamed “Wrong Way Corrigan” after he claimed to have mistaken the route from New York to San Diego and ended up in Ireland. It was clear that as an experienced navigator he knew what he was doing but chose the wrong way to do it. This seems to me to be what the Guyana president and his “hard-liners” are up to. There is also “The Good, The Bad and The Ugly” and despite being a spaghetti western seems to apply equally to roti, “cook-up rice” and pepperpot.
I know that one can be right and wrong at the same time. For example, to stop at a red light (especially at night) is wrong in Sao Paulo, Brazil. Policemen will step out and warn you to keep moving because the risk of an armed bandit stealing your car when it is at a standstill is high. But two wrongs don’t make a right because what remains in their wake are chaos, confusion, and even catastrophe. Guyana today is intent on ensuring that the words of the poet Martin Carter are true.
The racial division makes it indeed a “dark” time for the nation. Worse, it recalls V.S Naipaul’s “Bend In The River” where, caught in the ethnic violence caused by Idi Amin’s purge in Uganda, one of the sufferers insisted, “It isn’t that there is no right and wrong here. There’s no right.”
*Tony Deyal was last seen saying he hoped the term “rigging” in Guyana would be associated only with trawlers and oilfields but it is clear it has now returned to elections.