Worse than Bad Spelling

Erasmo Calzadilla

Statue in Havana. Photo: Rafique

A while ago, poking around in etymology, I found out that “orto” (a word from Old Greek) means straight.  Orthography could be broken down as “straight-writing,” just as an orthopedic is someone who “straightens” out one’s bones so they function properly.

A short while after my linguistic discovery, a spelling rage broke out across our country; campaigns and diagnostic exams were initiated that revealed alarming findings in terms of the incorrect use of language, a form of poverty that included even students in higher education.

Since then, a spelling and writing exam has been instituted at the end of every student’s university studies – and if they don’t pass, they don’t graduate.

My relationship with spelling is not no great either. To me, in most cases its rules are arbitrarily established by the language academy.  My mind refuses to record elements that make absolutely no sense, which is a “defect” in my brain that I celebrate.

Wasn’t the relaxing of the linguistic norm the bridge between Latin and the modern dialects?  Being a cultured person without the consciousness of alternatives can in the long run be more harmful and more paralyzing than heresy.  I hope that in the 21st century many people are now convinced of this.

But today I want to speak about another form of poverty, not linguist but political.

If an exam on politics was required for graduation, soon this would be a country without any new professionals.  However, something makes me think that in this case those people in charge of the educational system would prefer to maintain and cultivate our rampant intellectual poverty.

“State socialism” can produce people who are deloused, well fed, experiencing long life spans and even high qualities of life, people who are well educated and even cultured.

But despite all this, if people continue being illiterate in the political environment, if they cultivate a type of submissiveness before the State or the leader who makes them fat or skinny, if they don’t become active figures and transformers behind each decision that affects their lives, if they surrender to scientists and good decision-makers —in short— if they don’t recognize themselves as free beings in the full sense of the word, then (from my point of view) the final balance is negative and even worse than the aggressive capitalism awakened by the insurgency.

To my understanding, political poverty was the main cause —if there was just one— of the collapse of the “socialist” camp.  It would be laughable if it was not so sad that the rhetoric used in Cuba is that the cause of their downfall was de-politicalization.  Therefore, so as not to fall in turn, the Communist Party of Cuba (PCC) had to work more arduously in the political training of our people.

(An example of how the PCC trains our people politically can be appreciated in the national proliferation of billboards and posters with the face of Fidel followed by his concept of revolution, as well as in the daily televised broadcast of the Round Table, stacked beforehand with Party adjutants.)

Capitalism generates its own gravediggers, but “State socialism” is more efficient at that.  With its aim of domination over the mind, when it finally it achieves this, everything ends.  “State socialism,” like the early church, lives thanks to —and not in spite of— its heretics.

Note: When I speak of political culture, I do not mean an accumulation of political knowledge of —for example— past or present constitutions, types of governments, political figures, international conflicts, Marxism-Leninism, etc. Political culture, to my understanding, is that which transforms people into active co-transformers who are aware of their environment.  It is also the knowledge that alerts us to the blatant or obscured paths used by others to rob us of our shares of power for conducting our own lives.

2 thoughts on “Worse than Bad Spelling

  • There has to be a development plan which takes into account the different levels of education & understanding — of all types — of people in “actually-existing” socialist society: & which encourages — not coerces — people to continually improve themselves, & move ‘up’ the ‘levels’ thruout their lives. This is all tied up with the material productivity of the entire society, of course.

    But of course too: people without the lifelong commitment to better society will likely be happy to reach a certain level for themselves & simply ‘coast’ there; but people with a larger commitment to socialist society will easily understand too, the ‘never-ending’ goal of reaching higher & higher levels for themselves & others. & so then society itself can systematically aim at that future communist society, where the level of knowledge & organization of ALL the citizens will have a base-level that is far higher than that reached by even most educated professionals in the World today.

  • No, the main cause of the collapse of the socialist camp was *material* poverty. Political poverty followed directly from that — and you don’t have to study Marx to see the logic behind this connection.

    That aside: throwing bureaucracy at problems of the organization of human society is ‘sub-optimal’, to say the least. With a proper social and theoretical understanding of the nature of Reality and human knowledge and learning, a proper, positive, dialectical approach would take the place of this ‘herding’ of people — who are supposedly free socialist citizens, after all. Part of this understanding is grasping that both the organization of society and human learning/understanding are *open-ended* and *evolving* — so there is ALWAYS a level of ‘ignorance’: for both organizations/society and individuals. And so education obviously has to be open-ended and ongoing/permanent as well. This understanding has to be built into the curiculum and into the social polity.

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