Our future will only be in our own hands if we are all Robinson Crusoes
Truly am I confounded by what Rohit Kanhai has written (“The power to shape our future was always in our hands,” SN, 16 December). What exactly is he saying? Is he living in a what-if world or does he straddle both that and the what-is world? I admit I lack the brain power to understand what he is saying. Let me see if I get it right by asking a few questions. Is Kanhai saying that revisiting history is too dangerous a project and that history should be left to slumber undisturbed? In the revisiting the re-interpretation project, should we, or should we not ask “what-if” questions? To me, he seems to be saying that we should and that we should not. Nothing is inherently wrong with both types of questions, but I am not sure about his position on the project to re-interpret our history. Apparently, Kanhai seems to agree - or does he disagree? – that the what-if world is an unhabitable world but asking questions about it could illuminate our present condition. That is, if we can go back into the past – time travel – by reversing the laws of physics and change something or an event, we would “inevitably change the future.” That may or may not be true, but we have no way of knowing and are thus trapped in a logical conundrum, a logical blackhole, securely locked between the past, present and the future, or in a world where there is none of these.
Kanhai seems – or am I in a what-if world? – to be peeved by this line of mine: “It is perception and beliefs that matter in politics, not reason, logic, evidence and reality.” To his credit, he did not merely pull this sentence out from the paragraph in which it was embedded (as a logical conclusion), but he failed to gasp its significance. The paragraph in my earlier letter made the point that the US perceived Jagan as a communist, which posed a grave danger to its geostrategic interest in the region. Hence it was perception and belief, not reason, logic or evidence or all three that motivated the political decisions of the US, which was to prevent the Pro-Soviet Jagan from leading an independent Guyana at the height of the Cold War. That’s all I am saying. Alas, Kanhai seems to confuse a re-examination of history with what-if scenarios: “A re-examination is not an exercise in “what ifs”, but a reassessment of “what is”, given information that was not known at the time in that period, information that influenced the period, which is an extremely useful exercise.” Mr. Hergash (to whose letter I was responding) was not engaging in a re-examination of history but in exploring an imaginary, a fictitious world via what-if questions. He was clearly not interested in “what is;” that is, actual reality, the real world in which we live. Consequently, Kanhai’s cancellation of the “what-if” world and replacing it with the “what-is” world serves only to muddy de dutty watta.
Eventually, there is only one option open to Kanhai: seek refuge in a well-worn, meaningless, cliché: “we struggle today for what we want, thereby shaping the future, by actions in the present.” Well, Jagan struggled for what he wanted, and he did shape Guyana’s future by his own actions. So what is the point of his letter? In truth, his cliché is a dangerous one that brings only psychological feel-good – the feeling that we can shape our future which we and no one else control our destiny. That is indeed true but under one condition: that, like Robinson Crusoe, each person lives on an isolated island without any contact with the rest of world. Only then our future will be in our own hands to shape. Alas, such fictions – what-if worlds – are unhelpful and our future is not in our own hands to shape. Guyana was not in Jagan’s hands to shape and that was probably a good thing, for Guyana could have been far worse off than it actually is today (interested readers can contact me for a paper on this I wrote over a decade ago). In the end, Kanhai ended his letter in the only logical way he could have, by labeling “perceptions and beliefs” as well as “reason, logic, evidence and reality” as “mysterious entities” created by “Dr. Gampat.” He has invested Dr. Gampat with the power not only to destroy what-if worlds, but also with the power to create jumbies. He may as well have written “Dr. Gampat, de jumbie man.” But he, too, is a jumbie man, a creative man, for he has enlarged our vocabulary by adding the “our-hand” world to the “what-if” world and “what-is” world. If only Jagan had been as creative as his inheritors …. just imagine!
Sincerely, Rohit Gampat