As is customary for me on especially sunny Sunday mornings, I placed on a small breakfast table in my shaded mini-balcony, overlooking Sandals and the world’s most beautiful land-locked harbor, three books by my favorite authors to which I’m giving equal time; my beloved lightweight laptop; and a bowl of mixed fruit, enough to fill even the biggest belly in the House!
My intention is to indulge my egregious Sunday morning habit of eating breakfast while I surf the Internet for the latest word on my current pre-occupations: Miley Cyrus, Paul of Tarsus, Shakira, post-911 Middle East (Iraq, in particular), movie reviews, the Daily Mail, the Guardian, Jesus (his life story—minus the miracles!—has long fascinated and inspired me!), anything by or pertaining to Christopher Hitchens and his lifetime best friend Martin Amis.
For those interested in such irrelevant details, I hasten to add my stated interests have not necessarily been listed in order of importance!
There was a time, before laptops, when I spent my Sunday mornings with James Baldwin, Truman Capote, Tennessee Williams, Pauline Kael, Gore Vidal, and Nora Ephron (her classic essay, ‘A Word About Breasts,’ first appeared in a 1972 edition of Esquire, when my abiding interest was in ripped Mr. Universe pecs!).
I figure I already know all there is to know about the above mentioned; at any rate, all I care to know. Nowadays, whenever I feel the itch to revisit the sadly departed sextet I scratch away the urge with more self-servings of Walcott’s What the Twilight Says, in particular his review of one of my favorite books by Naipaul that contains the following:
“The Enigma of Arrival calls itself a novel. But unless we are meant to take the novel to be the enigma of all autobiography—that everything recorded by the act of memory is inevitably a fiction, that in life there is no such thing as a hero because a hero presumes a plot—the book is negligible as a novel and crucial as autobiography. Or vice versa, if you like transparent puzzles.”
As they say (does anyone know who they is? Or are?), even the best-laid plans often take their own contrary route. Which is precisely what happened three days ago: I was picking up my borrowed copy of an account of the life of Josephus when a forkload of papaya en-route to my mouth somehow collided with the massive volume.
As it landed near my feet, my makeshift bookmark, comprising several typed sheets of paper stapled together, flew out of the balcony—aided and abetted by a cool sea breeze—into an avocado tree left of where I was planted. Should I let it stay there?
In a flash Kris Kristofferson’s ‘Sunday Morning Coming Down’ came to mind, as did the British raconteur Henry Breen, some of whose observations about Saint Lucians appear in ‘The Cradle of the Deep’ by Sir Frederick Treves. Following, a small sample:
“Breen had so long an experience of the West Indian negro that his account of him is worthy of attention. He describes the black man as gay, good-humoured, docile and sober, generous and fond of children, submissive but never obsequious, active but not laborious, superstitious but not religious, addictive to thieving without being a rogue, averse to matrimony yet devoted to several wives.”
Breen (the darling of some oft-cited local best brains) had not only written about the West Indian negro’s “profound capacity for indolence” but he had also supplied an arresting illustration:
“A negro espies his fellow at the end of the street, and rather than join him in a tête-à-tête he will carry on a conversation with him for several hours at the top of his voice, to the unspeakable annoyance, perhaps the scandal, of all those who may occupy the intermediate houses. Should the wind blow off his hat he will continue the conversation, and let someone else pick it up for himself; or if he condescends to notice the occurrence will walk leisurely after it until it meets with some natural obstruction.”
Kristofferson’s ‘Sunday Morning Coming Down’ describes a drug freak’s predicament the morning after a Saturday night of bingeing, when he discovers himself “with no way to hold my head that didn’t hurt.”
Though they had nothing to do with getting high, I had my own aches and pains that had robbed me of the Sunday morning pleasure of cavorting around my rocky backyard with my dogs. But that didn’t mean I was about to prove Breen correct.
Gingerly I rose from my breakfast table, limped in the direction of the avocado tree and rescued my makeshift bookmark. And boy was I glad I did. As it turned out, my bookmark was actually a typed copy of a speech made several years ago in the presence of the Guyanese economist William Demas, when he made a special visit to Saint Lucia for the particular purpose of selling to a largely UWP invited audience the government’s so-called OECS Unity Initiative.
For all I know, mine is the only surviving copy of the speech that had introduced Demas to his Pointe Seraphine audience. The man who delivered it and also served as MC on the occasion was then top dog at the OECS secretariat: none other than Vaughan Lewis, once again making local headlines.
Back at my breakfast table, I turned off my laptop and forgot about Cyrus & Company to concentrate instead on what Lewis had said at the remembered event, some ten years before he decided to reinvent himself as a professional politician with all that entails.
Suffice it to know the Lewis speech brought me back to his most recent spiel that sought to explain his employer’s decision to abstain from voting on the UN Assembly’s Ukraine resolution. Yes, I know we went there last weekend but does that mean we shouldn’t bring it up again, especially when the nation still has not been told the reasons for the abstention that had been secret (here we go again, reminiscent of Grynberg) until Allen Chastanet blew the whistle?
Besides, I had yet to discover his authority for unabashedly stating: “There are two aspects of International Relations. There are beliefs and there are realities of interaction that has to do with the assistance we want from institutions and countries.” [My italics]
Is Lewis here suggesting a people’s beliefs—religious, ethical and otherwise—are naturally subservient to “the realities of interaction” based on economic assistance? And if he is, where did he pick that up?
On Sunday I sought to find out. Along the way I learned that “aspects of international relations have been studied as early as the time of the ancient Greek historian Thucydides.”
“As a separate and definable discipline, however, it dates from the early 20th century, when the first organized efforts were made to find alternatives to wars in nation-state international behavior.
“Two schools of thought quickly developed. One looks to strengthened international law and international organizations to preserve peace; the other emphasizes that nationals will always use their power to achieve goals and sees the key to peace in a balance of power among competing states.”
Though I devoted the rest of day to the endeavor, I could not find anything remotely supportive of Lewis’ beliefs-versus-assistance philosophy. On the other hand, there was quite a lot available about once thriving countries now burdened with corrupt, talentless, failed and desperate politicians whose survival depended exclusively on what Tennessee Williams referred to as “the generosity of strangers,” always at a price—including the unconscionable sacrificing of the core beliefs that once had made their people special.
Indeed, from all I read on Sunday, I formed the impression that a people bereft of beliefs are but zombies without souls. A people rendered, if you ask me, downright dangerous—and not only to themselves!
I should add that I am fully acquainted with the rise and fall of the House of Lewis. No need to revisit such sadness. Still I imagined there might be something I may have missed, something that might possibly explain the absolutely discombobulating metamorphosis from the respected early 90s Vaughan Lewis to the version that serves as a shameless shill for the man most responsible for his less than flattering public image.
Two surprises awaited me, courtesy the Internet. The first was a previously unread 2013 interview with W. Andy Knight, by no means a boat rocker. Some random gems from the interview:
K: What made you become an academic?
L: There was a generation of my schoolboy associates who took a very active interest in debating politics and political ideas, and by 1956, of course, Dr. Eric Williams had appeared on the scene in Trinidad. In those days we could hear the Trinidad radio stations; we did not have radio stations of our own . . . and we took an active interest in listening to the debates in parliament. We were very conscious at this time that the debates in parliament were led by a man of great intellectual significance, Dr. Eric Williams . . . I also knew, of course, that my uncle W. Arthur Lewis, who was a professor in those years at the University of Manchester, had an association with Eric Williams in the realm of economics . . . Nothing
much was going on in Saint Lucia . . . but we were able to listen to what was happening in Trinidad and read about it. So that awakened us [Lewis and his two brothers] to the idea that there existed the combination of Arthur Lewis and Eric Williams, and this in turn awakened us to the idea of prominent West Indians who had become, as it were, world-renowned academic intellectuals.
K: And that led you to think about going into academia?
L: Not really. I had a sister who had gone to UWI in Jamaica to study, which at that time was the only campus. I wanted to study something to do with what we call today ‘social sciences.’ I knew that my uncle was a social scientist and a prominent economist. So I went to the University of Manchester to do a BA in Economics . . . Certainly as a young boy I was always interested in the social arrangements of the country, partly because of my father’s influence. He sat on the legislative council and as I said earlier, he was chairman of the city council and also chairman of the Labour Party. These things certainly impinge on you. Even though I have brothers, one of whom is a geneticist and the other a medical man, we all have an intense interest in politics.
K: What made you decide to enter electoral politics?
L: I don’t even talk of those things anymore. In 1982 I was asked to head the OECS, which had just been established, as director general. I welcomed the opportunity because up to then I had for some time disconnected myself from what was going . . . But I naturally had an interest in the country. In Saint Lucia we had political changes and that gave me the opportunity to really put into practice some of the notions I had developed as an academic. I rather grabbed the opportunity to do that.
K: So that was your entrée into politics?
L: The fact of the matter is that when I went back to Saint Lucia it was within the framework of being a diplomat . . . But of course, working in Saint Lucia meant I was called upon more often than not by the leadership of the country . . . to assist in various ways . . . In 1995 I had decided to retire from the OECS after 13 years. But [John] Compton intervened and told me he was thinking of retiring himself and he wondered if I would come into his party. The government had come under tremendous pressure, as had he personally . . . Fortunately my father was no longer alive because I don’t think he would’ve approved. I was a grown man of course but
still you have to take cognizance. So I told Compton I would do it.
K: How was the transition, from intellectual to prime minister?
L: It wasn’t easy. I went in as a stranger to the political life of the country. I was known because of my family’s name but as I said, I had scrupulously avoided any intervention in the play between the political parties . . . No matter how intently I followed the politics, there was a difference between the political campaign and the reality on the ground. It was not an easy campaign, because the opposition knew they were leading in the polls. They had by then recruited Kenny Anthony, who, like myself, had been at the University and in the integration system, and to cut a long story short—we got wiped out after one year!
K: How do you now occupy yourself in retirement?
L: I’m only partially in retirement. Since the return of the SLP government I have taken on a function for another year and half or so in Saint Lucia, as special advisor to the Ministry of External Affairs. This allows me some, I wouldn’t say influence, but play, in the evolution of foreign relations in the country . . .
K: If you had to look at the leadership today in the Caribbean, which one would you admire?
L: I’ll think about it!
Obviously, W. Andy Knight—a former editor of ‘The Economist’—had not yet clapped eyes on At the Rainbow’s Edge. As for my second surprise (actually, my first): it greeted me as soon as I Googled Vaughan Lewis—a list of his books.
Slack-jawed, I read the several titles, among them ‘Bioethics: Principles, Issues and Cases’ (2012); ‘The Power of Critical Thinking: Effective Thinking About Ordinary and Extraordinary Claims’ (2012); ‘The Moral Life’ (2010); ‘Moral Issues and Contemporary Issues’ (2010).
What! Before I had got halfway through the several listed titles I was ready to eat almost every word I’d ever written remotely critical of the man John Compton had described both as “pedigreed” and as an individual on
whom was lost the difference between political opponent and enemy—and who, by his current employer’s measure, was the closest thing to amoral!
Then my eyes fell upon the final title that nailed me to the cross of remorse: How to Think About Weird Things: Critical Thinking for a New Age (2010).
To think that all these years I had underestimated Vaughan Lewis.
All of a sudden I could conceive of no one better placed to direct our government on foreign relations policy than the published authority on weird thinking. Who was I to quibble if he said, contrary to everything I’d read on the subject by acknowledged authorities, that there were only two facets to internal relations: beliefs and whatever else he chose to identify?
But just as I was about to abandon this piece in midstream, my tail tucked between my legs, I scrolled absent-mindedly back to the top of the page, where it said “books by Lewis Vaughn.”
Damn, I growled, Lewis Vaughn! So much for the widely imagined infallibility of Google. It turned out that Lewis Vaughn had never been a prime minister of anywhere.
Or for that matter anything political. Lewis Vaughn is actually “an independent scholar and freelance writer living in Amherst, New York, a former editor of Free Inquiry Magazine, and a former executive editor and co-founder of Philo.
At any rate, if you continue to have faith in Google!