Friday, March 04, 2005

Cuba: Socialist Utopia or Fake Paradise

Via Anti-idiotarian Rottweiler a connection to a post from Babulublog, a Cuban American, takes on a socialist video journalist, who recently did a PBS special in which he portrayed Cuba as a happy, utopian paradise. Babulu was not amused.

Matthew Glesne, the videographer:

I found Cuba the most enchanting place I have ever been. Havana is the most beautiful city in the Western Hemisphere, due to lack of capitalism and strong preservation laws.

Babulu disposes of his fantasy:

Yes, Cuba is enchanting, and Habana was the most beautiful city in the western hemisphere. It is but a mere shadow of what it once was and what it could have been.

And these strong preservation laws you speak of, what are they? I see pictires of today's Havana and I see ruins. Buildings from which you could hear screams of "DERRUMBE!! DERRUMBE!!" Beautiful city, strong preservation laws my ass.

Go over an read it in its entirity. When you are don, come back and go to the inner sanctum where you will find that, after I commented at Babulu's regarding false utopias, Matthew struck up an email conversation with me and I am placing it here for reading and discussion. Since Matthew distinctly wrote in his email that he would have commented publically at Babulu's except he was banned, I consider that his email is open for public display and comment and did not ask his permission directly.

My original comment (please pardon the > marks as I was too lazy to remove them from my rich text email)

>'re a socialist/communist apologist with an agenda.
>I was reading everything you said right up until the little screed about the "model of social justice and equality" etc, etc.
>You saw what you wanted to see because that is what you think it is. It goes along with your own ideology about the terrible greediness of the rest of the world and how wonderful it would be to live in utopia where no one wanted for anything, nor dreamed of being more because what little they have is enough.
>The problem with utopias is that, in order to hold people down to one level of "social justice and economic equality", anyone that dares to try to rise from their position must be hammered down or they will give the rest of the people, being cared for by the care taker government that is needed to keep them all equal, the idea that they can rise too.
>And, rise people do. Utopia is not possible, not because there are a few greedy men who will always destroy it but because human nature, as a whole, is based on striving, evolving, becoming more. That is the Darwinian/evolutionary theory that most folks in your position subscribe to (to avoid creationism). Yet, at the same time, you miss the entire point of Darwin. The survival of the fittest means that people must be free to become more than they are, to evolve.
>The lovely experiment you call Cuba Magnifica the very few have the power and decide how the many live. I suppose if you really looked at it, that's the survival of the fittest at its most extreme.
>I must, at this point tell you that you should leave here immediately and go live in Cuba Magnifica. I'm sure your view point will not change though because, as an American expat in Cuba, you will be the feted trophy of Senor Castro and you will never have to really see what real Cuba means. You can bask in the sun of your patio watching the happy children run around barefoot and never wonder if they want more because they have just enough, per your estimation.
>Hurry along. But, don't forget, even in Nazi Germany the children were happy and flew kites while the murdering was done at that quaint town with a quaint little camp just over the hill with an incendiary/crematorium that disposed of the evidence so the rest of the folks like you could not be bothered with the thought that somethine was not right.
>And, as for your points about how many people come from these other countries, what is your point? Cubans still come, whether they are the most or not, they come at 20 and 30 per dinghy, making boats out of trucks and barrels. Of course, to you that's not a sign of desparation. That is probably just another manifestation of their quaintness and social/economic justice.
>I must also wonder why it is I haven't met a Cubano escapee yet who longs to go back to your utopia of equality and social justice. Maybe they are all just greedy bastards like you say?
>Go sir. Hurry. We wouldn't want you to be tainted by the greediness of we lesser mortals.

Matt responds:

>From: "Matthew Glesne"
>Date: Thu, 03 Mar 2005 17:30:49 -0800
>As I've ben kicked off Babalu (notice the tolerance) I'll respond directly.
>I am a proud socialist. I am not a Communist. I have no agenda, other than trying
>to figure out how to make this world more livable - and know unfettered capitalism
>is at the root of most problems.
>You actually are correct that I think paradise would be a place free from want...
>I'm rather Buddhist (or even Christian) in that way. You lose me when you imply
>that is the same as "not dreaming of being more" or requiring "hammering people
>down." Let's be clear though. What you are referring to is the freedom to become
>rich, not becoming more free or a better person or evolution or whatever other
>platitudes you hide this belief behind. And you totally lost me with your Darwinism
>comparisions.... thought that had to do with changing biology over thousands of
>But actually I like you idea of "men becoming more than they are." This I think
>actually sums up socialism's goals quite well. We differ in what this actually means.
>Again, I believe you mean money, power and prestige while socalism strives for
>developing the true human potential that is too often stifled by the modern world
>where social predjudices and economic obstacles hinder growth. Now a rich
>person in this country may very well reach both, but a poor person has no chance.
>Under socialism, the ability to be free to choose one's destiny is real. If you have
>the talent you can become an artist, a musician - and live - or a social worker
>or nurse - and be respected, etc. In Los Angeles ½ can't finish high school let
>alone follow their dreams, because they are needed to work to help the family pay
>the bills. Any talented poor person who wants to follow their non-money making
>dreams is simply a dreamer here. Here is is only the rich that can afford to be
>If you are suggesting that man is incapable of living under anything but free market
>capitalism, ala 2005 I would hop you realize the folly of that argument. Men have
>lived under all types of systems and are remarkably resilliant. No one wants to be
>a businessman. They may want to make money, because that is the great goal
>pounded into our heads here and paying the rent is no joke. But everyone wants
>to help people, to use their talents to better the world, to make a difference, to
>not have their vision distorted by the needs of the marketplace. My girlfriend is an
>immensely talented designer who can't find a job that she can feel good about at
>night... she's been looking for years. I am fortunate. But do you think people here
>are happy? Look at the studies, Americans are the least happy people - and it is
>because it does not take long before corporate America crashes our dreams of
>living fully.
>Cuba is the only place I could live my dreams. I want to open a music library for
>poor youth, where they will be able to listen and check out cool music - or read good
>magazines or watch good movie. Here that is simply impossible - where is the money
>going to come from to pay the rent? In Cuba, these inpromptu spaces of people helping
>people are everywhere.
>I have yet to meet an "escapee" who isn't deeply conflicted (but they can't admit why).
>Of course an immigrant who takes such a risk can not even let the thought of making
>a mistake enter their brain, but it is there formenting beneath. When one sees a picture
>of Cuba they cry and don't know why. When they hear about the murder down the block,
>or get stopped by the police, or realize their children are not learning, or are not accepted
>by other Latins... they know.
>It is not they greedy I despise. It is capitalism that encourages and rewards unethical greed
>while punishing moral behavior that I hate.

And finally, me again.


Thank you for responding directly. I will attempt to do the same. I am a free market capitalist because yes, I do believe that social "equality" in the way in which utopians operate, often breeds, not stability, so much as stagnation. Which would be interesting to contemplate in the garden of eden style utopia most people dream of, where nothing ever changes, there is always enough food, never overpopulation and always harmony among the denizens and the habitat, but which can never exist.

Whether you believe in the Christian version of the Eden story or any number of ancient and cultural stories regarding the downfall of man and the loss of "Eden", each of them has a moral. That is that man is never happy with what he has and is always seeking something more. Obviously, in these ancient stories, there is the warning about never being happy and the loss that can incur, but, I believe the greater point is the ancient understanding of man's psyche and basic nature.

My point in Darwin's theory, while much of his theory was regarding physical evolution, it co-exists with this moral regarding utopian eden. Darwin also pinpointed the psychological evolution as well as the social structure which evolves and revolves around any group of species. This is generally referred to as survival of the fittest and is often limited in understanding by many as referring to the physical. In most people of ideals, it is limited to the idea of brute strength. However, any person who has studied nature, if not man, knows that the fittest do not survive by brute strength alone, but intelligence, cunning and even ingenuity which is sometimes reflected in the animal kingdom through physical evolution, such as the introduction of legs, claws, or, for instance, webfooting on an otter who used his webfooted claws to build his "dam" and learned to do it better than the others to insure that the predators cannot unearth him and eat him and he survived. You may note that the otter that does not learn this lesson is most likely a mountain lions dinner.

How this fits with our discussion of Cuba, let me explain. In Cuba, while it gives every appearance through your eyes of a social paradise, rife with equality and justice, the fittest, just in Darwins theory, survive and rule the country. They do so in the same manner in which we do, but it is limited to a few. Worse yet, the few who rule never change, therefore, the evolution of ideas or of the fittest to a leadership role never occurs. How do they do this? It is hardly through the will of the people, through evolving intelligence of ingenuity or through natural selection, so much as they do fit the base understanding of Darwin's theory of survival of the fittest through brute strength. If not, leadership would have changed many times over and Cuba would hardly be "quaint", which is the natural course of any evolution.

In which case, even your social paradise is a parasite on capitalism. Without trade or tourism, dollars spent by capitalists, the Cuba Magnifica Socialist Eden of your dreams does not exist. Not even in the moments of its first breath because it recognized that it could not live on its own resources and had to trade with capitalist countries. Even more so, this social paradise does not exist because the very existence of a ruling elite, living in mansions and having maids (which they do), completely negates the fantastical utopia of social equality. Thus proving my point and disproving your idealism.

In every society, there are those that will always want more because it is bred into our genes through millions of years of evolution. There will always be those who ARE more, whether that is materially, socially, physically or intellectually. There will always be those who ARE less because they do not possess the same genes or the same drive. In your utopia, those who are more would naturally provide to those who are less. Once again, it leaves out the basic nature of man or beast, which is to never be satisfied with their lot and to feel fettered by those who do not share their drive. You also, in utopia, forget that those that strive less and are given to equally by those that strive more, tend not to see the strivers as role models that should be emulated so much as their care takers and they need not do more than they are to achieve survival.

In every case, when this utopia is enforced (and that is the only way in which it is achieved because man cannot change his basic nature, hence my comments about the boot that holds the Cubanos down), it does not cause an evolution of even physicallity, much less intellect, but a stagnation. This you refer to as the quaintness of their buildings through "preservationist" laws, yet you cannot have missed that the water treatment and sewage and other such necessities to maintain an orderly and healthy life are equally quaint, or should I say, antiquated? And, in reality, unable serve the needs of a growing population, which in turn effects their over all health. Except, of course, those that can afford to live in homes that are built on separate sewage systems and separate water treatment plants or wells and who get the best food from market (they are certainly not eating the same food as those quaint, happy, socially equal people you saw on the streets). Which, in turn, negates your idea that this is some ideologically repleat utopia.

I believe you believe that the lifting of the embargoes set in place would fix that, but, I must tell you that this negates your premise of a socialist utopia because, again, it means that this utopia cannot really exist unless it eats from the plate of capitalism. They survive on capitalist largesse, whether it comes from the US, Europe or even South America.

In regards to your comment about other socio/economic systems that have existed prior to capitalism and free market, you are correct, yet you do not recognize their inherent ancestry, if not remarkable resemblence, to this system. The most basic form of economic systems and the most ancient recognized is the barter system which allowed men (and women) to trade the products of their labor for some goods, whether clothing, weapons, housing materials, etc. The first time a caveman figured out how to make a skinning knive from flint and was able to trade it to the caveman who knew how to tan hides for materials to clothe himself and make a coverings for his feet, this was the beginning of capitalism. Through the ages, the tools and the materials may have changed, but the system has not.

While tribal societies may have hunted together and picked berries together to share amongst themselves, in true Darwinian form, it was the strongest and the best who had food to last through the winter and by products like horn, bone, teeth, etc to trade for things (yes, material things) to make his life more comfortable such as buffalo hides to warm himself, paint and feathers to decorate himself, his home, his family, his horse. The tribal man in America would capture as many horses, obtain as many blankets, beads and other materials for which to trade for his comfort items, for food, for other things he valued, even for his wife. It was capitalism in its basic form sir, not social justice and equality.

Even in the most utopian tribe, there were haves and have nots, those that would and could and those that would not or could not. It was only those that could not that were ever treated with any respect or care. those that would not were shunned.

Maybe you believe this is socialism at its earliest and finest and something to repeat. We do, sir, in its most basic form by providing largesse to those who cannot through healthcare, welfare and other charitable institutes that have, by necessity of sheer population and distance, taken the place of this insular tribal structure we once adhered to. However, it was and still is not some workers paradise that allows for this largesse to be distributed. It is through the constant striving for more, yes material more that you decry, as well as intellectual growth, that allows for those of us to achieve a state of comfort from which we can provide for those that cannot. But it is usually we who strive the most that cannot stand those that will not, but applaud those that at least try and, hopefully, succeed.

This is not a product of capitalism, so much as the product of the nature of man. It is simply that capitalism and free market, the newest form of the barter system, allows for those who have the will to better themselves, yes, even materially, but just as importantly, intellectually, to do so and rise above where fate may have placed him.

Otherwise, he is a slave, waiting for his turn in the bread line, doled out by those that will go home to the house on the hill with their ten loaves of bread while he returns to his two room shack or apartment with his ailing wife and ten children which he will never be able to help because your form of social equality insures that his ailing wife is not treated any differently than anyone else and, with limited supplies, will equally get the little bit of treatment that the other ailing members get, who will equally not have adequate care and, therefore, will be equally likely to die and leave him with ten motherless children.

That is the reality of your equal society.

I would hazard a guess, as much as you espouse your socialist ideas, you are a product of capitalism and free market yourself. Without it, you would not have been able to go to school, travel or make this documentary about your socialist utopia. Your entire dream is based on ignoring that from which you take. Capitalist free market.

I would also hazard a guess, had you truly had a private moment with the Cubano on the street living with his wife and ten children in that two room shack or apartment and asked him if he preferred his equal social station of living there as opposed to living in the nice house with four rooms up on the hill, he would prefer the house on the hill. Because, that is human nature. You may call it greed or materialism, but he may call it improving his condition and taking care of his family. If he tells you differently it is because a) he has lived in this condition for so long he has resigned himself to his fate or b) he believes you are part of the apartchek or a member of such is nearby and will turn him in for voicing an opinion that is not approved in social utopian paradise.

You don't have to believe me. Try this experiment the next time that you go. Look into his eyes while he is talking to you. While he may not beg for money nor pick your pocket, when he is looking at you, you cannot tell me that he is not thinking what it would be like to be you, to have what you have, to live your life and own your materials.

While you write about me and people like me, commenting on our striving for material things and causing the word "materialistic" to drip with invective and disdain, I note that you are writing me an email, probably on your own computer. Tut, tut, sir, that is a tool of capitalist materialism, built by and with the ingenuity and technology of a capitalist free market. Of course, you will tell me that you need it to do your job, propagandizing for the social equality and utopia you espouse. Do you think that the average Cubano in Cuba Magnifica would not like to have your computer? Where is the social justice in that? Of course, he probably has little need to actually use your computer in social utopia, but I imagine he wouldn't mind taking it and selling it or trading it on the blackmarket (of capitalism) in order to buy his ailing wife some medicine, his children some better clothes, some better bedding, fix his ancient car or just add some food to the larder.

What I find somewhat amusing, if not ironic, is that it is always those who are the most comfortable and considerably more well off, having experienced the benefits of a capitalist free market, and not the poor living in social justice and equality that seem to promote it the most. Actually, its not just ironic, it is, with as little invective as I can muster, hypocritical.

Might I suggest, again and as kindly as I can, instead of trying to change my world, my system which I appreciate and prefer, that you throw off your citizenship (American?), throw away your material goods and move to your social utopian paradise of Cuba Magnifica so that you may experience it as a life choice rather than a two week tour. I imagine, if you did so, you would be welcomed with open arms, found a nice little house, in decent repair, where you will get your allotted food, and, like a strange bird in a gilded cage, taken out once in awhile so you can parrot the social justice and equality government's beliefs. But, if you are as you seem by your words, even you would begin to chafe at such lack of freedom. You may even begin to note some things that you do not agree with and then you would break the line and speak your mind. Having done that, you would become an embarrassment, a discomfort to the government of social justice and equality, then you would either find yourself on the next plane out, helped by an official of the government of social justice and equality or, you would become a dissident, like the 50 recently consigned to prison for life or the three recently consigned to death.

This, sir, is what has become of every utopia of social justice and equality. There is always someone behind the curtain of paradise, pulling the strings, maintaining the order, however they can, including the boot, however invisible or "soft" you may perceive it, ensuring their own place at the top of the heap while the rest remain in "equality".

This is why, someone like me, more than prefers my materialistic life in my ugly capitalist free market because, if I don't like it, I can change it. Your idealistic Cubano can never do so.

Do you really think that the Cubano driving a taxi through Havana, past all those nifty tourist shops that are making money hand over fist, listening to music and singing along, seemingly happy and content with his lot, isn't looking at that tourist shop thinking how nice it would be to own it and not have to drive that taxi from dawn til dusk and how much better he and his family would live if he had that income? Matthew, you are completely ignoring the nature of man. While you are raging blindly at corporate America and the alleged unhappiness it has brought, you totally ignore the fact that it is not corporate America who created us, but we who created them.

In regards to your girlfriends lack of fulfilling and happy job, it is very likely that, somewhere in Cuba Magnifca, there is a Cubano who is doing something to make a living that he would most likely prefer not to, but he does because that is how he supports himself and his family. Job satisfaction is a bogus ideology forced on us from people who think we should be happy in everything and never feel a moments discomfort. You were born in a moment of discomfort. This ever lasting, all encompassing happiness does not exist. There will always be things that are uncomfortable or do not fulfill, in toto, what we believe would make us whole or happy. They didn't create that cliche "when given lemons, create lemonade" for nothing.

Utopia is a dream and nothing more. It is the rainbow you see on the horizon, but chasing, you can never reach. It is the perfect snow flake that melts when it lands on your finger. It is the treasure you search for and once found, is never as perfect or exciting as the next treasure hunt. The only fulfillment of any part of the dream is in the striving. All happiness is what you made of it while you were.

Where ever you are, where ever you go, how ever you live, you make your own happiness. This is why, when you meet a Cubano on the streets of Cuba, he seems happy. He has made it for himself. In that respect, you are correct, happiness is not about materials, however, one does not have to live like a monk in a monastary, nor excoriate himself in a fake utopia to figure that out.

Please forgive me for the long email and any offense I may have given. I appreciate the opportunity to exchange thoughts and ideas with someone who does not agree with me and in a relatively civilized manner. I hope you enjoy the exchange as well since the best of ideas are always developed through the free exchange of ideas.

If you do choose to go to Cuba, might I suggest that you become friends with some folks from a European consulate who may be able to assist you either in your endeavors to open your youthful music school or to protect you if necessary. I mean that in all sincerity.

Kathleen Henry

1 comment:

madtom said...

" I want to open a music library for
>poor youth, where they will be able to listen and check out cool music - or read good
>magazines or watch good movie. Here that is simply impossible - where is the money"

What a complete fool you are, Here in the US what you want to build is called a public library, are you so stupid that you don't know that if you even tried to put such a thing in Cuba you would be arrested thrown in to a jail with only a kangaroo court, and that they would sentence you to 25 years. That you would then have to depend on your family to bring you food so that you would not starve to death. Try it for your self, go to Cuba and open a library like the one you mentioned, Please.