Humility and Civic Spirit

For Ileana

By Armando Chaguaceda

Photo: “We are united to others, of the past and present.”

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.

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Armando Chaguaceda

Armando Chaguaceda: My curriculum vitae presents me as a historian and political scientist. I'm from an unclassifiable generation who collected the achievements, frustrations and promises of the Cuban Revolution and now resists on the island or contributes through numerous websites, trying to remain human without dying in the attempt.

Armando Chaguaceda has 143 posts and counting. See all posts by Armando Chaguaceda

8 thoughts on “Humility and Civic Spirit

  • Son is music, reggae is solely a beat…. Good to know that George III did something sensible! He was usually in Donald Trump’s vernacular: “a loser” who couldn’t pass GO! Come to think of it, they both had German heritage, and neither bi-lingual – except perhaps Donald can quack – the nearest to that in German would I think be quatsch (nonsense).

  • Yes Mr Mac D, I broadly agree with ‘Little Englander’ Brexit point. An example of deluded English-led ‘British exceptionalism’ (I have written about this in the comments on Ben’s post from Honduras). Although I do find it weird that Wales (a net economic beneficiary of being in EU) went marginally in favour of leaving. London (a big net benefactor) voted hugely in favour of remaining. There’s nowt stranger than folk……

    Yes, George III is the reason why you have son rhythms in Cuba and not reggae beats.

  • Oh Nick, it may or may not have been a ‘hospital pass’ but believe me Louis Mountbatten of Myanmar (or Battenburg) loved it with all the ceremony centered upon himself, as it was at his memorial service in St.Paul’s which I attended by invitation. His daughter Patricia once said to me that whereas she thought I was a Conservative, their family was “Liberal” – some claim which certainly could not be spelt with a small l. It was I recall, Iain MacLeod as Colonial Secretary who wrote more Constitutions than any one else in history, mostly African and i think it is those to which you refer.
    In my perhaps biased Scots view, Brexit represented the last hurrah for the ”Little Englanders”. Their continued imagination about their superiority and England’s right to rule, knows no bounds. But sovereigns went out of circulation many years ago to be replaced by the poundlet.
    It is interesting to muse upon what would have happened to Cuba if George III hadn’t swopped it for Florida!

  • Mr MacD you have set me thinking. Which is cool with me as I got a lot of time on my hands for thinking lately !!
    I guess retreat from Empire was both ‘managed’ and ‘mismanaged’.
    Prince Louis of Battenberg, or Lord Mountbatten if you wish, was given a ‘hospital pass’ (to use a football analogy) when he was given the viceroyship. Withdrawal from Empire involved a lot of drawing lines on maps. When the lines were drawn in India, particularly in Punjab, much bloodshed ensued. The ripples are still going on today.
    There were other appalling examples – Kenya, Aden etc
    Other pushes for rightful independence we’re better managed by the British and obviously in many cases the changes occurred peacefully.
    Last Hurrah of The British Empire ?
    The Falklands War ?
    Brexit ??

  • No, if I recall correctly after eighty years, his name was Ross.
    Yes, Versailles was a disaster and Churchill a lone voice at that time arguing against reparations. Extreme political views lurk beneath the surface in all democratic countries. As I have previously said, the big divide is between totalitarianism and multi-party democracy. That is one of the US problems, illustrated by Bernie Sanders, who as a declared democratic socialist had to join the Democratic Party to run for the Presidency. Only two parties is perilous!
    The last hurrah? I knew Mountbatten and his family well. His appointment by Attlee as the last Viceroy of India and the decisions he took in that role, were in my opinion disastrous. Was that actually the last hurrah?

  • Indeed Mr MacD….
    In hindsight, the last great hurrah of the British Empire ??
    To some extent the ‘common enemy’ was perhaps an ‘enemy within’ – fascism was far more widespread in reality than it was in the Hollywood versions. The fact that it grew to such monstrous proportions in Germany was due somewhat to the errors of Versailles. Overly stringent reparations etc.
    To some extent an ‘Enemy Within’.
    To some extent an ‘Enemy Created’.
    The question of to what extent in each case will keep historians busy for ages to come.

    Covid 19 ? That’ll be over before you know it won’t it ?
    Liar-in-Chief trump has a miracle cure already hasn’t he ??

    Australian Pilot/Cricketer – would you be referring to the great Keith Miller ?

  • Thank you Nick. But let us not forget those countries of the Commonwealth (then Dominions and Empire) that also joined in. Being old, I recall us hosting an Australian pilot – who had played cricket for his country, and seeing Sikhs with chains of mules. The similarity was that as with Covid 19, we shared a common enemy. Our determination was to retain freedom and to resist tyranny, eventually supported by others we were successful, but it took almost six years. How long will the battle with Covid 19 last?

  • It is erroneous to state that ‘England’ resisted Hitler in 1940.
    It was the U.K. (United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland) that did thus.
    England was and is merely the largest constituent part thereof.

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