Lyall Watson in his gripping book Dark Nature, A Natural History Of Evil
forces us to confront the evil that lives in all men, and yes, in us all.
argues that although we like to see ourselves as superior to animals,
“animals plus”, it is vital if we are to understand ourselves more
fully to see ourselves not from the top down by excluding humans and human
nature from the rest of nature, but from the bottom up incorporating
humans with plants, animals and environment.
while drawing parallels with the nature of animals, produces overwhelming
evidence that behaviour we are fond of dismissing as ‘animal like’ and
‘evil’ has always and continues to exist in mankind, in all cultures.
concern starts with the perplexity we all share when a 92-year-old deaf
and blind widow is shattered by a young assailant, or the anguish we feel
when two ordinary 10-year-old boys kidnap and torture a baby before
beating him to death; with our incomprehension when a law student who has
savagely raped and murdered at least 28 women “has dozens more women
exactly like his victims blushing and giggling on the front benches of the
courtroom during his trial.”
gives us numerous examples from the concept of human sacrifice and ritual
in the New World to the brutal and systematic terrorist that allows his
pregnant wife to be a human bomb in an aircraft; the cruel and systematic
murder of six million Jews; everyday rapes, murders, torture, and wars
throughout history, particularly relevant now as America prepares for
another senseless war.
says Watson, is easy to understand. It is peace that needs explaining. He
refers to a survey of 130 social systems in which just six were described
as peaceful in the sense that they were not involved in collective
overcome the notion of personal aggression without the option of
submission, of lethal risk without the possibility of appeasement, modern
war has had to pretend to be something other than what it is. But we are
running out of excuses. Technology so devastating that it threatens the
survival of the planet has put paid to the pretence that war is a
continuation of politics by other means.
Roman evasive ‘If you wish for peace, prepare for war’ once seemed a
valid argument in favour of deterrence; but it looks threadbare in the
face of armaments that seemed to guarantee nothing but mutually assured
are the roots of evil? The answer says Watson is in our genes.
are simple-minded and mean spirited. They have no vision and cannot be
expected to have the welfare of the whole species at heart.”
Which is why we can’t downplay “the reality of genetic inheritance or
trying to mask the extent of continuity between ourselves and other
was convinced the Shadow was more than a symbol, than it really exists:
‘It is as evil as we are positive…the more desperately we try to be
good and wonderful and perfect, the more the Shadow develops a definite
will to be black and evil and destructive… The fact is that if one tries
beyond one’s capacity to be perfect, the Shadow descends to hell and
becomes the devil.
it is just as sinful from the standpoint of nature and of truth to be
above oneself as to be below oneself’.”
says Watson is not simply an absence of good, it is an absence of balance
with good, and becomes manifest by such disequilibrium in a human being.
only real danger perhaps is already in us, not lurking in some infernal
pit. There is little merit in searching for evil in witches, devils,
demons or other scapegoats. We are it. In the words of cartoonist Walt
Kelly’s Pogo: “We have met the enemy, and he is us. But that doesn’t
mean we can’t fight it.” Chilling words, warmed with the most hopeful
of human attributes, freewill.
doesn’t come naturally to us. It is the result of deliberate choice, of
a conscious decision to revolt against the tyranny of the genes.
were social long before we became human. And in that long social
experience lie the biological origins of virtues such as compassion,
empathy, love, conscience and a powerful sense of justice. We sign
contracts. Submit to laws, and hitch our reputations to public
declarations of loyalty to friends and mates.
are not tactics to defeat someone else, but tactics to defeat the darker
part of our selves.”
real wars are within us all. It’s up to each of us to defeat our
shadows, our dark selves.
first glance, its cover with photographs of Sam Selvon, Lakshmi Persaud,
VS Naipaul, Seepersad Naipaul, Shiva Naipaul, Stella Abidh, Shani Mootoo
and FEM Hosein suggests Dr Kris Rampersad’s newly-launched book 'Finding
a Place – IndoTrinidadian Literature' is a literary critique of these
writers and their work.
fact, the fading newspapers beneath the photographs suggest a more subtle
and compelling connection. Dr Rampersad’s ground breaking work is built
around little known and rare publications produced by IndoTrinidadians
over a hundred years (1850-1950) – The East Indian Advocate, Herald,
Patriot, Weekly, Observer, Presbyterian, Koh-i-noor Gazette among others.
It unearths lost chunks of our history, presses us to rethink the Indian
experience in the New World, and lights up through her research the lost
and faded pioneers of IndoTrinidadian writing.
was in the (East Indian) Weekly,” she writes in chapter five, “that
the first writers found an outlet for their wish to write. Through its
reports and focus, they found the subjects and themes that would dominate
later creative fiction.
issues of adaptation to a new society, cross-culturation, the struggle for
promotion and acceptance, acquiring wealth, biracial marriages… later
became subjects and themes for the creative fiction of IndoTrinidadians.”
her introduction, the author asserts that her book, which quotes articles,
letters to the editor and editorials from rare, lost or forgotten
publications, “maps a process of literary development.”
writes: “It becomes obvious from this study that a writer like VS
Naipaul did not arise as an aberration, but from realities within the
society in which he grew up. The desire to write came out of a
century-long tradition of yearning and aspiring towards that goal, within
which was encapsulated the need to be understood and accepted by the
society which was now being claimed as home.”
had seen Dr Rampersad, looking incongruently girlish the evening of the
launch, among heavyweight university academics asserting that we all have
only a partial view of the world based on our individual experiences and
influences, which is why we each need to write our stories so we can
understand one another.
Finding a Place is rooted in academia, it reads like investigative
journalism at its cutting edge. The writing is lively with evocative
images, plump with analysis and context, (so that in some ways it is a
one-stop shop for the history of the IndoTrinidadian’s experience in the
New World) and the material as fascinating as unexpectedly discovering
fading letters of a grandparent and seeing them in their youth.
book began with a vague notion, a philosophical position, that of
understanding how the many strands of our society have evolved. After
that, I looked at the Koh-i-noor Gazette which was one of the few of the
12 publications available in the National Archives,” Dr Rampersad said
later in an interview.
whole lot has disappeared. When I was looking for material, people would
say ‘we just moved and threw away old papers.’ I didn’t locate The
Herald and The Patriot until the end of the study, then I had to redo
other chapters to accommodate the new material.
all the issues raging in the 1860’s and 70’s are relevant today –
the questions of voice and voicelessness, of national identity; of how
much allegiance do we owe to Africa, to India.
are instances in the book that manifest how politics and self-interest
divide groups such as the split that caused the demise of The Herald, a
paper that saw itself as a unifier among races. The political faction
produced a rival paper The Patriot. The Herald’s noble literary
ambitions suffered, its editor got disillusioned, and the paper died.
study, adds Rampersad, “explodes the myth that IndoTrinidadians were
insular since it demonstrates so much interaction within the society
without animosity. For instance, the East Indian Weekly had an
Afro-Trinidadian publisher. The paper shows Hindus, Muslims, Christians
working together, for example, on the issue of destitute indentured
labourers and championing national issues from flooding in Laventille to
the need to develop Carnival.
you won’t hear anyone calling themselves a ‘Christian Hindu,’ but
that was common then. The term ‘An IndoTrinidadian’ has its first
recorded usage as a pen name, as early as 1888.
the society was much more tolerant than we are today, recognising that all
peoples need to assert their identity. Nobody at that time had a problem
with people having a press for themselves. The Creole population had The
San Fernando Gazette, the upper classes The Port-of-Spain Gazette, so when
The Koh-i-noor Gazette came out, most felt it was about time.”
a Place debunks old myths of the IndoTrinidadian as insular or
un-intellectual by producing overwhelming evidence that this group, like
the Afro- and Euro-Trinidadian, was grappling with an identity that
remembered the Old, and actively interacted with the New World.
don’t realise the great struggle it was for IndoTrinidadians to get the
vote in the country. When the Franchise committee on granting universal
suffrage wanted to introduce a clause that only people who could read and
write English should be able to vote – at that time that was about 70
per cent of the Indo population. Agitation in the press got that clause
as IndoTrinidadians gave up their language and adapted English for
mobility, says Rampersad, they found other ways to streamline Indian
culture and language, other ways of evolving while retaining a sense of
their roots. This was manifested in the oral tradition, in chutney and
Pichakaree, and the oral traditions fed into the writings.
Rampersad’s premise is that everybody is searching for roots and
identity at a time when technology and travel makes it impossible for
people to be insular, and many see themselves as multicultural entities.
She hopes her book will become a module for others to look at their own
Finding a Place is a must read.