“It’s the rule of terror. Spain is terrified of itself. And if it doesn’t do something to keep this in check soon, it will be on the verge of committing moral suicide.” – Miguel de Unamuno
HAVANA TIMES – We are a people who beat ourselves up with pleasure. At least in Havana, it’s difficult to get something done or just go to a store without being humiliated. This is such a regular occurrence that most of the time we don’t even react when we are being treated badly. Why don’t we?
A society that is based on authoritarianism and arbitrary actions weakens people’s independence, their personal integrity and critical thinking, factors that lead to a feeling of emptiness and impotence which in turn reinforce sadism and destructiveness.
Erich Fromm (1) states that “whether man’s [society’s] dominant passion is love or whether it is destructiveness depends largely on social circumstances,” a “society governed by authoritarian principles gives birth to authoritarian attitudes which in turn create sadomasochistic characteristics”: which essentially means “the authoritarian submits to those who are higher up and steps on those who are below.”
Will Cuba’s “new man” be more sadomasochistic than Communist?
This would help us to explain the vile way we treat our fellow countrymen when we hold the stronger position in any asymmetrical interaction, whether that’s a Party official, member of the police, a Housing bureaucrat or a sales person at the only store selling chicken in the city.
This sadistic and destructive impulse that has stemmed from systemic authoritarianism doesn’t replace economic and political factors as an explanation for this behavior, but it does add to these when we analyze vandalism, widespread theft, job apathy, domestic violence or the subservience we have with foreign tourists or government officials.
The key point I’m trying to make in this article is that the Cuban people’s rebellious behavior nearly always plays out on a horizontal level or going down the pyramid of power, thereby remaining submissive to their superiors, which isn’t normal in any of the West’s individualistic cultures we belong to.
As well as authoritarianism, we have learned helplessness: a disconnection between society and the authority that governs the State using inconsistent logic so that those of us who don’t form a part of this tiny ruling elite (who rule using arbitrary directives and go against the law quite often) comply with them as orders “from above” because this is what the Government needs right now.
This authoritarianism dilutes the little power civic representatives have to stand up to the State and it is better to interact with the latter by using personal influences (someone “well-placed” you might know in the omnipresent and powerful bureaucracy) than try and use the labyrinth-like legal channels that fall on deaf ears.
This formula of authoritarianism, arbitrary actions and helplessness creates a sensation of conformist inertia and a built-up impotence which this sadomasochistic behavior gives, whether you are the cruel or abject one depending on what role you play in each interaction.
It’s very hard for a tourist to pick up on this (even more so if their skin, their stature, accent or dress give away the fact they aren’t Cuban. They will confuse many Cuban’s subservient behavior as a joyful predisposition and will never see how this Cuban who has treated them so sweetly will mistreat a fellow Cuban without any mercy.
This state of anger projected onto equals or inferiors and submission to “superiors” is also one of the possible reasons that Cuba is among one of the top countries in the region with the highest rates of suicide, depression, smoking, anxiety and stress-related disease and alcoholism. Which is something we would expect to see in decadent capitalist societies (according to the Cuban Communist Party’s propaganda), but not in the paradise of the proletariat.
Are we committing moral suicide? I don’t think we are… we’re being morally killed.
1 Marxist pschoanalyst, who was a member of the “Frankfurt School”, an academic who studied destructive impulses and sadism who never stopped denouncing Soviet socialism’s inhumanity.