|A Time to Think?
(Dr. Martin Canavan, Friends of Cuba, Newcastle, co. Down, North. Ireland)
In recent years the majority of people have experienced an erosion of their capacity for critical self-reflection - thinking. We are all born with the ability to think, but our capacity to think, both individually and collectively, has been progressively undermined by an array of forces and agencies. A "world-view" is currently being peddled which suggests it is perfectly reasonable to live in a society of vast inequalities in wealth and power, and an ever-widening gap between the rich and the poor. To challenge or question the ways things are invites ridicule, marginalization and the labels "awkward" and "dreamer".
The majority of people are conditioned from an early age to accept these things as natural; beyond the power of human beings to change. Our children are processed through an education system, for example, that revolves around storing up support for middle-class values and practices. Increasingly, education is simply about maximising the number of exam passes. To this end students are “taught” to “toe the line”; to merely echo the views of their teachers and examiners. The outcome is a result-orientated culture of conformity that leaves little or no room for intellectual self-reflection and development. It is only a slight exaggeration to say that we are producing a generation of unthinking conformists whose main concern is to cloth themselves with the latest design labels.
Sections of the media, politicians and an array of other “respectable” figures reinforce this culture of bland conformity. To function effectively in today’s economy and society, moreover, we are encouraged “to play the game”. To do otherwise is to invite negative consequences for our children and ourselves. Economic pressures lock us into a work-centred life-style that promotes conformity and support for the status quo. We are encouraged to get a mortgage and consume using credit cards, for example. Actions which lock people into a situation where they have a clear incentive to actively support the current economic system – not to “rock the boat”- lest their position as respectable working home-owners is threatened.
This culture of unthinking conformity is reflected in many peoples’ attitude towards Cuba. The usual refrain of many goes something like this: Cuba is communist like the former USSR; communism did not work in the USSR, therefore it does not and cannot work in Cuba; Cuba should therefore embrace capitalist marker forces. Firstly, this implies that capitalism works. Yet, anyone who actually thinks about what capitalism does, quickly reach the conclusion that it does not work for the vast majority of the worlds’ population. We are told that capitalism will deliver lasting improvements in people’s lives – in reality is has consigned millions of people worldwide to a life of poverty, deprivation, recurrent wars and famines. Indeed, capitalism is designed in such a way as to ensure a small powerful minority gets very rich on the backs of the improvised majority. Additionally, people need to be reminded that the revolution in Cuba arose out of a desire to remove an American-sponsored dictator that treated the Cuban people as mere sources of cheap labour deprived of human rights. Conversely, the gains secured by the revolution need to be highlighted. For example, since the revolution Cuba established and maintained a health system far superior to the British NHS, and an education system that is far superior to many comparable systems in the developing and developed world.
On a broader level, reflecting upon the Cuban experience can serve
as a means through which we may rediscover our capacity to think critically
about our situation in the West. Such reflection should encourage us to
ask questions, to challenge the received wisdom, to forward alternatives
to the status quo. Bland acceptance of the way things are must be replaced
by a culture of critical reflection that challenges the inequalities and
exploitation generated by current arrangements. In short, we need to rediscover
and develop our capacity to think.