Savouring our Schadenfreude


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Category: Trinidad Society 29 Jun 14


“When the Canadian writer Paul Roberts visited Baghdad in the 1990s he wrote of the ‘inner carnage and horror’ that eclipsed the more obvious physical neglect of Baghdad under the UN sanctions. ‘The minds of its inhabitants have been tampered with in an infinitely crueler, probably irreparable manner,’ he wrote. ‘For over 20 years, what has been happening to Iraq amounts to a psychological holocaust.’ No one was safe, and everyone knew it.”

Justin Marozzi, author of Baghdad: City of Peace, City of Blood


I woke with a start at 2.30 am on Thursday morning to a pinging noise: a text from a friend that the daughter of our mutual friend was killed in a vehicular accident near MovieTowne.

The unverified information I got was that she was reportedly driving out of Movie Towne and past a green traffic light when she collided with a 20-wheeler multi-lift crane that killed her instantly. The police “escort”— that facilitated the truck breaking the traffic light—had shot too far ahead to be of any use either to pedestrians or motorists by the traffic lights. I didn’t go back to bed.

If the account of what I’ve heard turns out to be true, the question to ask is: why did the police escort (presumably police-men on motorbikes) not do its job of actually escorting the truck, and of ensuring the safety of pedestrians and drivers on the road, instead of shooting forward? And why are we not surprised at what appears to be gross negligence?

This is why. We are used to policemen overcompensating for their ineffective work by getting high on their power to speed past traffic lights, and “bad-drive” those on the road, simply because they can. I once heard a police “officer” in ridiculous shades on a bike, who was part of an escort, actually tell an old woman around the Savannah to get the **** out of the way.

The police force is not a thing apart, as the pilloried, sacked ex-police chief Dwayne Gibbs told me in a 2012 interview, but “products of this society.” They are born of us, and behave like the rest of us.

Everything bleeds into everything else—drug gangs, make-work gangs, illiteracy, uncontrolled pollution, falling transparency, rising corruption. Like a young, dependent trust-fund child given too much money before we were mature enough to manage it, we have given up responsibility for ourselves. Sloppy thinking, cutting corners, laziness, a blurred moral compass where the badjohn is hero-worshipped, bleeds into everything. This means that everybody in power is not accountable. To be powerful is to mess up the people below you, and take your time, and enjoy your power. We savour our Schadenfreude, or crumble with impotence. Our traumatised lives have turned us into camps of sadists and victims.

My friend, her father, was called to the site of the incident on Wednesday night, where his daughter’s body lay on the road for over two-and-a-half hours until the district DMO arrived to officially pronounce her dead. As if they didn’t know by then—this freshly bereaved father and mother, sibling and family, keeping vigil over their child’s body.

Everything bleeds into everything else, and spreads and settles, like ugly congealed stains. As we speak, my friend spent all morning in the Forensic Science Centre waiting, just to identify her body. While I speak to one of his friends, I hear loud shouting. This is not a sensitive space. It’s a space accustomed to brutality. He has not told me any of this—he is in no state to speak or complain, but is numbly trying to get through the paperwork to reclaim his daughter’s body, so he can bury her in peace.

What’s the solution? Well, we had it, but preferred to bay for blood instead of doing the work to implement it. In that last interview which Gibbs did with me before he was run from this country (we cannot tolerate excellence—mediocrity is our comfort; it doesn’t show us up), he said:

“In Alberta, where I come from, required a systemic approach to traffic safety engineering, roads, education and awareness, and policing. It required all the ministries—transport, education and works—to come together in a cohesive manner and work with NGOs. It is now implemented.”

It’s not happening here.

Gibbs knew that: “We can pick up the pieces after a collision, we can talk to teens in schools about safety on the roads. But due to lack of legislation, there is an absence of a demerit system or automatic suspension of licences after a certain number of traffic offences.”

Laws aren’t enforced. Meanwhile, we are stuck with both death and statistics from the NGO Arrive Alive. Every 16.8 minutes, a collision occurs on our roads. Between 2005 and 2010, over 1,000 people died on the roads. We rank 15th in the world for “the worst traffic collisions and loss of life.” And finally, road fatalities are predicted to increase by 67 per cent in developing countries by 2020 without intervention.

It looks like we are willing to live with this.

No one is safe, and everyone knows it.  


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All Articles Copyright Ira Mathur