Reflections on Selfishness

Osmel Almaguer

Fidel Castro is back in public. Photo by Estudios Revolución in a recent visit to the National Acuarium.

Fidel Castro’s return to the Cuban television screen generated almost as much interest as the issue he was raising there: the imminence of war in Iran.

The matter had to be very serious for him to interrupt his reclusive and prolonged retirement, whose sole interruptions have been writing op-ed “Reflections” published in our media.

My family —pro-Castro par excellence— had waited eagerly in front of the television to see and hear him.  They were concerned about his health following the ailment that almost cost him his life four years ago.

He looked good, but his voice was almost as unintelligible and his ideas, dispersed and rambling.  Bored after a while, almost everyone left the front room under different pretexts.

My mother needed to step into the kitchen, her husband had to take the motorcycle in from under a heavy thunderstorm, and I remained alone in front of the television, taking advantage of the opportunity to hook up the DVD and to watch one of those Spanish sitcoms that are so popular these days.

Turning off the leader

Every so often my mother and stepfather would take a break from their respective tasks and stick their heads back in the front room.  When seeing me watching my sitcoms, my mother asked, “How could you go and take Fidel off?”  They were scandalized because I had “taken off” the leader.  They couldn’t believe it.

The situation was so laughable that it reminded me of the very old philosophical problem concerning the relationship between the individual and the universal.  Throughout the course of history, these opposing categories have taken on different attire: presented as the individual versus the collective, selfishness versus altruism, socialism versus capitalism; but in the end, these are all the same.

That relationship is a complete mystery for me.  As long as we only know how to look at things in black and white; reality, though, offers us boundaries that are substantially more nuanced and confused.

Each person has selfish instincts that they can or cannot control, to a widely varying degree. Likewise, the individual can be the bearer of altruistic ideals who upholds, pursues or avoids them in diverse measures.  The same deed can hold implicit complications of one type as much as another.

Returning to Fidel, we can infer that his love for humanity, his concern for the collective future and a universal conscience compelled him to forsake his convalescence and to risk his delicate health.  However, what also comes to mind is a possible government strategy aimed at dealing with the critical situation that is putting at risk not only the future of humanity but also the continuity of the Revolution.

Nonetheless, the most selfish aspect of Fidel’s reappearance reveals him once again addressing international problems while ignoring the precarious economic and moral situation in this country.  He has not spoken out regarding these issues, except to demand more “sacrifice,” “efficiency,” “productivity,” without connecting these to any concrete strategies.

While the country is agonizing economically and institutionally, while Cubans are experiencing increasingly more stress in trying to feed their families, and while we spend hours daily at bus stops, our television media dedicated several long minutes simply covering the presence of the leader of the Revolution when he recently visited the National Aquarium.

We are also to blame

However, ordinary people are not exempt from selfishness.  Those of us who don’t decide the destiny of the world, we are also to blame.  We’re able to alienate ourselves in our day-to-dayness without caring about this decisive moment that could be the end of humanity.

We are guilty of having lost faith in justice and order, and of not struggling for them or against the men who govern us, those who —in as much as one decree as in another— use us for a war in which we the poor, ultimately, are the sole victims and enemies.

But the true enemies are those in power.  They are the individuals who when obtaining that status became corrupt and are seen catalyzing that selfishness that is innate within us as a species.  The dilemma must not be whether we opt for the right or the left.

The struggle is not between “good” and “evil,” since no one is born into one or another role; moreover, these can be interchangeable.  Each person struggles for their interests.  Some dominate and others are dominated.  In that conflict resides humanity’s development, but also its probable end.

3 thoughts on “Reflections on Selfishness

  • Fidel Castro is a political and intellectual giant in our time. Whenever he speaks, even his staunch political adversaries are compelled to listen. His vision for the third world and especially Latin America is burgeoning.

  • Looking pretty good here… tho’ pro-imperialist commentators invariably feel compelled to point out his “frailty”, yadda. It’s like the old joke about Castro and the Pope driving along the Malecon — and the response of various World media to Fidel walking on water to retrieve the Pope’s skullcap, which had blown into the sea.

    IMO, Fidel Castro is well and truly *retired* — whatever he and others want to make of his public presence from now on. So I think he has naturally taken-on/slipped-into the venerable rôle of the reminiscing, lesson-giving grandfather, publicly now — and the response of each individual to this change, even by way of mass-communication TV network, tells the tale of their own personal Worldview and relationships, in reflection to the very public ‘grandfather’. And as you point out, the seriously compounding crises of the Cuban Revolution have led to disorganization of all sorts at all levels — which in this case is AFAIC expressed in the (not uncommon at all) example of people giving short shrift to the accumulated wisdom of the aged, as they prefer to go about their own, more youthful, business. Nothing unusual there — in the selfish capitalist World. But in a supposedly socialist context, it is a nasty, pernicious poison indeed.

    AFAIC: a truly socialist society would be so well-organized — and everyone so committed to it, because they understand what’s going on and is required of each individual — that elders would most naturally be highly-prized as sources of ready wisdom, always at hand. Just as it was/is in most pre-capitalist societies, oddly enuff.

    But ya — Fidel Castro should spend some of his precious energy addressing what concerns most cubans most of the time — which isn’t the international situation, however ‘grave’ that may be.

  • Good article. The line about Fidel that struck me the most was that he is “addressing international problems while ignoring the precarious economic and moral situation in this country.”

    Beloved Fidel apparently is isolated from the the creative ideas being put forth in such places as Havana Times for the possible reform of Cuban socialism. Too bad. If he were to engage in public theoretical debate, as did Lenin, Cuba’s problems might be worked out and solved with a new Cuban NEP.

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