By Armando Chaguaceda
HAVANA TIMES – I took a break in my everyday accounts, my chronicles of the pandemic in these recent and intense weeks. I decided to go back to reading things I had on the backburner for a while now. A biography by Hannah Arendt, the Analects of Confucious, compilations by Leynes and Nehru. I have also finished two essays that are to be published soon, as well as a book summary.
On a different note, I also dedicated extra time to talking, without more (or better) pleasure than listening to the voices of friends I haven’t heard from in a while and remembering old anecdotes. Luckily, pretty much all of them are OK. Otherwise, we’re doing good with our provisions at home – in the third week of our lockdown – and my wife and our puppy are in a reasonably good mood. The plants on the terrace are looking bright with life, and it’s sitting among them that I write these lines.
Let’s be honest. With the global pandemic we have today, almost nobody knows anything for sure. But, we question everything (at least in our modern sociability). The consensus is too basic: that we need social distancing to prevent Coronavirus from spreading, that we will end up returning to “normal” the day after next to save the economy – and thereby civilization with it – from collapsing. There aren’t many other things that are certain.
That’s why we continue to judge everything in our (real and virtual) republics. Especially our clumsy rulers. As the alternative to that is authoritarian censorship (which doesn’t help with our uncertainty or help end the pandemic), I much prefer the chaotic hullabaloo to the unappealable order of silence, a thousand times over. With that said, what do I expect from humanity, from myself?
A combination of humility and civic spirit. Humility of the statesperson, leaving populism behind, listening to expert opinions and calling on citizens to face the difficult times we are living in. Civic spirit for us, exercising out rights – including the right to doubt and criticize – with the same passion that we do our duties.
To the State and our fellow humans. Defining a strategy is hard when things are blurry. But in order to overcome this pandemic, without sacrificing freedom for safety, we need greater national and sectorial dialogues – in different formats and quantitative goals – a more (concrete) responsibility of business owners, better public policy and greater solidarity with the poorest in society.
I doubt that shutting borders and health or macroeconomic measures taken in the heat of the situation will succeed and last; ignoring the dimension of social justice that the present calls for.
There won’t be any dignified and efficient solutions from a possessive individualism, that is just as questionable and precarious as punitive authoritarianism. Like that rebellious clone once said in “Cloud Atlas”: “Our lives are not our own. We are bound to others, past and present, and by each crime and every kindness, we birth our future.”
Specific formulas of the past won’t be any good now, but maybe successful methods might be. We’ll look back at critical moments in history – the Great Depression, for example – where common sense won out over the unchanging, redefining the way we connect with institutions, markets and other people. We will regain the spirit of those contemporary societies which, attacked by merciless and victorious enemies – such as 1939 Finland against Stalin and 1940 England against Hitler – resisted democratically without confusing social cohesion with servitude.
We will challenge the fatalisms that condemn us – culture, class, ethnicity or religion – growing fond of unchanging habits. Just like the Indians did in 1947, building a democracy, developing and gaining sovereignty after their colonial past and tyrannical temptations. Just like South Africans in 1994, burying the disgrace that was Apartheid in ashes and local squares. It is always possible to improve the collective management of our country, like the creation of the United Nations proved when the League of Nations failed.
I am beginning to the shadow of the epidemic in the faces of people I love, I don’t know whether I’ll escape it, just like you don’t. I look after myself, and am looked after, because I have what you call a “risk factor”. It’s a condition that I am calm about: in this battle, hysteria and depression are bad company. Nevertheless, I long to survive this and I hope that we all end up a little less conceited, arrogant and preachy. More creative, free and sustainably human.