Brutality Cascades

Why is it that every government in Trinidad disappoints?  While the players change the complaints and themes of corruption and ineptitude remain the same.

There will always be some level of ineptitude and incompetence in any new government and we expect people to grow or be replaced so I’m not talking about that here.  What’s more interesting is why do charges of corruption in all of it’s forms embezzlement, nepotism, etc., remain like some form of herpes that never goes away?

Government haters, regardless of who is in that government, are passionate in their certainty that they’re all thieves and only in it to enrich themselves and their friends.

I usually hold my tongue when people malign people  based on gossip and hearsay.

But often, information comes to light that makes it hard to stand up for someone I had previously given the benefit of the doubt.

 Is everyone corrupt?

Or perhaps the question is, “Is everyone corruptible?”

While it’s a popular belief that everyone is an island of his/her own ethics but the fact is everyone operates in concert with their environment which includes the opinions, beliefs and practices of those around them.

And while we have some very fine historical examples of people who change their circumstance through their own being or force of will e.g. Gandhi, Luther-King etc.) in most cases the person is the one that bends to his circumstance.

Environment wins.

Lance Armstrong is not exceptional

The only thing exceptional about Lance Armstrong’s drug-taking was that he was caught.   If you think that performance enhancing drugs are not endemic to most professional sports (not just cycling) then there’s a Nigerian “prince” out there who would love to meet you.

The phenomenon of Brutality Cascades

Which brings me to the term coined by NYT columnist David Brooks.

David Brooks—NYTimes columnist
David Brooks—NYTimes columnist

The brutality cascade refers to the idea that any one person or entity is forced to adopt the prevailing unethical or even criminal practices to compete or just survive.

It’s akin to peer pressure, except the pressure may come from all directions not just your peers.

In other words, it’s all well and good to have your moral principles and ideals for the way people, corporations and governments should behave, but once you are surrounded by  people and institutions who do not share your ideals and practices you must adopt theirs or be crushed.

If all your competitors use performance enhancing drugs you either bow out of competition or lose.  If you want to compete you must also take those drugs.


Blowing the whistle on your competitors will get you nowhere.

You won’t be able to prove it, and you’ll be up against networks of people and companies that benefit from the prevailing system.

Obama and the Democratic Party face this problem.  Compromise, moderation, and accommodation get you nowhere when your opponents practice extremism, intolerance and win-at-all-costs.

Brutality cascades and what it takes to break them are well depicted in the 1973 movie Serpico.

A bleak outlook

So if the prevailing practices, systems, attitudes etc. are corrupt at their core, it’s very difficult for an ethical person to survive.

If you are the sole person in your office who doesn’t want to gossip, prefers to smile, admits mistakes etc., and your colleagues all gossip, never admit mistakes, never volunteer etc., guess what’s going to happen to your cheery face?

This does not mean that there are no good persons in government, or that no one person can make a difference, just that they may have to suspend their ethical practices to get things done, to affect change, or even survive.

This I think was what Tommy Lee Jones’ character did in the movie Lincoln when he denied his belief that equality for slaves or coloured people should extend to all aspects of life not just freedom from slavery.

Don’t forget that people who try to mess things up for the rest of us crooks—those of us who are benefitting from the status quo—will often go to great lengths to keep things the way they are.

Including murder!

Remember the Kennedy’s or Martin Luther King.

A ray of sunlight

So is there really no way out of a brutality cascade?

Of course there is.

The American revolution overthrew a corrupt colonialist power against overwhelming odds, and New York city came back from the abyss of criminality and corruption.

We can too, but it will take everyone of us to do so.  Don’t depend on heroes in Government. The brutality cascade depends on us remaining silent, being fooled and allowing the brutes to overwhelm the Batman.

It’s up to each and everyone of us to stand up and demand transparency, and justice (not vengeance).  Not only must we  get involved, but we must also acknowledge that we have been part of the problem.

When we criticise the Prime Minister for hiring her friends (Reshmi Ramnarine), but on the other hand are vexed that our government contact—who we helped get elected—did not get us a job or contract, then we should acknowledge that as the hypocrisy that it is.

We can’t criticise the government for nepotism and favouritism when we seek it ourselves.

We shouldn’t seize upon the worst possible explanations, listen to gossip and worse yet: repeat it.

We should get involved. It’s easy to criticise but much harder to roll up our sleeves and actually contribute to a solution.

Answer these questions:

  • What are you doing to make a difference?  (Doesn’t have to be on a grand scale, just think of the people you interact with.)
  • Who are you mentoring?
  • Where do you give of your time to help other human beings?
  • Are your criticisms  constructive?

If your answers to these questions are negative then you’re letting the brutes win.




Any thoughts? Contributions/acknowledgments welcome.