EspañolWhen I and other coordinators of a liberty seminar for recent Cuban exiles arrived at the University of Miami earlier this year, José Azel greeted us and offered a briefing on life in Cuba and what to expect. More than his references to history and the economic wasteland that is Cuba today, his assertions regarding the Cuban psyche resonated.
We were there to share the ideals of a free society, the mission of the Language of Liberty Institute, and Azel noted that many new exiles have no concept of private property, profits, contracts, or even how to write a check. Worse, they have been subjected to totalitarian indoctrination, which makes independent thought and living more difficult.
This manipulated psyche manifests itself with what José calls a schizophrenic view of government. On the one hand, he says, many new exiles are eager to enjoy the wealth and luxuries of a free society: new houses, cars, yachts, electronics, travel, fine dining, etc. However, they remain adamant that the government must offer an array of entitlements: “free” education, medical care, housing, unemployment insurance, food support, daycare, and on it goes.
These two desires are at odds with one another: “a government big enough to give you everything you want, is a government big enough to take away everything that you have.” However, this truism is lost on those who’ve spent decades disconnected from any form of market economy.
That irony of hopes versus realities also permeates Azel’s book, Mañana in Cuba: The Legacy of Castroism and Transitional Challenges for Cuba. He and I crossed paths more recently as I completed the month-long Certificate in Cuban Studies program. He is the lead instructor with the Institute for Cuban and Cuban-American Studies, and his book was one of the two primary course readings — the other being Cuba: From Columbus to Castro and Beyond by Jaime Suchlicki.
This course, which allowed me to meet and interact with the leading Cuban academics and dissidents of the era — including Huber Matos and Yoani Sánchez — exceeded my expectations. It also opened my eyes to the somewhat “depressing” outlook that Azel wrestles with, after more than 50 years in exile.
He continues on, though; “The heart has its reasons of which reason knows nothing,” he notes — a quote from Blaise Pascal. In fact, he splits Mañana neatly into two sections that could easily be titled, “Realities” and “Hopes.”
The first section is a concise overview of contemporary life in Cuba and how it compares with other totalitarian regimes. This content is, to a large degree, conservative and introductory, and it will be familiar to many observers of Cuba. Most important, though, Azel concludes that there is widespread apathy and essentially no likelihood of a bottom up movement — at least not one with sufficient influence — to dislodge the ruling class.
The only two long-term prospects for change he foresees are “reincarnation” or “continuity.” In other words, the Cuban Armed Forces are set to continue ruling Cuba, and any variation will only be a form of branding — be it purely in name only or a slight loosening, with essentially the same individuals and oppressive measures in place.
Given that painful reality, Azel proceeds with what I call his “Hopes” section: “The Reform Process.” Should, by some providence, there be an opening for wholesale reforms, Mañana offers a set of broad policy outlines or discussions for reinvigorating Cuba. This consistent push is for a sophisticated, liberal democracy — with a mixture of libertarianism, “choice architecture” or soft paternalism, and pragmatism.
In doing so, he seeks to reject the notion that Cuba is predisposed to being Marxist or collectivist, despite an acknowledged history of corruption and violence. He even draws on José Martí, the famous Cuban philosopher:
“Man loves liberty, even if he does not know that he loves it. He is driven by it and flees from where it does not exist.”
This is where the reading becomes tough going, however. If you’re already persuaded that the ruling class has a tight grip on power, speculation about how one might enact reforms seems more of an intellectual exercise than anything else.
That is not to say Azel is loose with his analysis and proposals. Rather, they are extremely well thought out and reflect a great familiarity with the research in Cuban relations and human development. Assuming an opportunity to be at the helm in Cuba, one would surely do well to recruit Azel.
Going by its objectives — a meaningful, accessible, and interdisciplinary overview of Cuba, and a set of preferred policy strategies — Mañana hits its target. However, the severe challenges of a weakened, oppressed populace and an aging exile population mean this book cannot help but reveal a bleak outlook.
For further discussion, I recommend this presentation from Azel, from when Mañana first came out in 2010.
Phil Robertson's controversial comments about homosexuality highlight a cultural divide between secular urban dwellers and rural Christians. This divide affects the liberty movement, whose members range from conservative Christians to radical libertines. On a personal level, this concerns my family as well. My relatives live in a variety of geographical regions, throughout the United States and Mexico, and they hold differing opinions about politics and religion. These dual concerns have motivated me to explore effective communication strategies to bridge that divide. While it’s tempting to dismiss Robertson as an uneducated, backwater yokel, with little impact on life within the big city, to do so would underestimate the prevalence of anti-gay beliefs. It also undermines the opportunity to positively influence those who share his beliefs, possibly persuading them to cultivate a more accepting attitude toward gays. Conservative Family Members My family is culturally mixed, with some family members living in remote areas of Mexico, others in Appalachia (pictured in white), and many, myself included, in urban areas that include Los Angeles and New York. Considering that I have relatives who would agree with Robertson’s characterization of homosexuality as “sin,” I’m inclined to seek understanding of their beliefs in the hopes of keeping familial relationships intact while discussing the issue. Those family members from rural areas seem, not surprisingly, more inclined toward traditional Christian attitudes, where life revolves around religion and family. In the small village where my mother grew up, the church is literally at the center of the community, built near the government buildings around the town square. These remote areas tend to be more culturally homogenous, where religious tenets are often accepted without question. In contrast, my relatives in urban areas, such as where I live, are accustomed to living amongst openly gay individuals, and they tend to display more tolerant attitudes. As for me, I find nothing offensive about homosexuality, so there’s nothing to tolerate. Most people that I associate with are openly supportive of gay rights. I tend to take this for granted. But in reality, many people still believe that homosexual activity is a sin. Among these, some seem to get offended by the very existence of homosexuals, as they believe that gays are significantly contributing to the downfall of society. (Sadly, they seem to miss the damaging role that statism plays in our societal problems, but that’s a rant for another day.) While I’m disheartened to learn about the pervasiveness of anti-homosexual views, I’m more worried about the vitriolic comments from the people that claim to support gay rights. Urban “Liberals” and Their Quest for “Tolerance” Reading the many news reports, blog posts, and tweets about the controversy, I found my impatience rising at such hypocritical intolerance and prejudice toward traditional Christians who happen to reside in rural areas. While Robertson’s anti-gay comments are despicable, so too are the cringe-worthy epithets such as “redneck,” “hick,” and “murica.” (Not to mention the geographically incorrect classification of Robertson as a “hillbilly,” when he actually resides on a flood-plain within the deep south.) "Duck Dynasty" fans are losing their minds on Facebook and it is thrilling to watch http://t.co/jyell8f0kD— HuffPost Tech (@HuffPostTech) December 21, 2013 These writers who claim to be working toward a more peaceful and tolerant society are actually doing a disservice to the movement. The people whose minds they are trying to change have stopped listening. They’ve retreated back into their insular world, reinforcing each other’s views about gays and the “liberal" (collectivist) left. Resentment toward the Left Here’s where I find commonality with conservatives, besides a shared disdain for left-wing politics. This may be born out of values that come not from religion, but from my family background. I too find it challenging to relate to the liberal left because they can be elitist toward middle-American culture in the United States, undervaluing the benefits that come from bucolic living. As a result, they often lack sense when it comes to survivalism and nature. Most of these hyper-educated people don’t know how to properly hold a gun, let alone defend themselves with it, yet they claim to know the solutions that would keep people “safe.” They dismiss preppers as kooks, as if all faith should be placed in FEMA to rescue them in the plausible event of civil unrest or major disaster. They may eat meat, but look down on hunting, as if it’s more humane to eat animals who live their entire lives in tiny, disease-ridden cages. Imagine air-dropping them into the backwater country that the Robertsons live in; they wouldn’t last 48 hours. Also, there’s a certain attitude of political correctness that I also find maddening. It’s a culture of self-censorship that they try to impose on everyone else, whether it’s through “speech codes” at public universities or attempts to place legal bans on “hate speech.” Here’s where conservatives have a legitimate complaint about First Amendment violations. Of course the current situation, in which A&E suspended Robertson for his remarks, is not an oppression of free speech. Conservatives who cry foul have no legal basis, but I suspect that their misplaced complaints stem from resentment about previous cases of speech oppression by the liberal left. Effective Communication I'm guessing that my more liberal friends would get annoyed that I'm not going far enough in my condemnation of Robertson’s anti-gay comments. But I'm not interested in being a perfectly PC liberal, I'm interested in living in a tolerant and peaceful society. Toward that end, I want to find solutions. We won't get there by dismissive comments about "hicks," because that will result in them dismissing us. Witness the Robertson family sticking together more closely than ever, now. Their fans have also united in support, buying up all kinds of Duck Dynasty merchandise and spreading the word via social media, posting mini-rants using the #standwithphil hashtag. All these diatribes from liberal media outlets are having a counterproductive effect. Instead, start by trying to understand their perspective, suspending judgement while encouraging dialog to find common ground. Most importantly, set an example by remaining respectful, avoiding condescension, and not stereotyping conservative Christians. How This Relates to Liberty There are some libertarians who feel that social issues, so long as they aren’t controlled by the government, are none of our concern, but I contend that wrong-headed thinking can lead to bad policy. Resistance to gay marriage is a prime example of this. As a libertarian, I tend to think "no victim, no crime," or "mind your own business." Personally, I think it's self-harming to ingest simple carbs, such as from bread and sugar, and there's good evidence to support that. But it’s your body, and I’m not your nanny, so I’ll let you decide. Similarly, with sexual behavior, an individual should enjoy freedom of choice. Assuming reasonable measures are taken to prevent disease and pregnancy, consensual sexual activity does not inflict any such harm on the body. I’m pretty sure that consensual sexual practices won’t lead to the collapse of society. But when it comes to overbearing statist policies, that’s another matter. Therefore, I want the liberty movement to work. It’s imperative that we get along with each other, even when we disagree on sensitive topics. The current approach by media professionals, as well as most people participating in the conversation via social media, impedes any progress in the discussion. Instead of persuading, these finger-waving rants only speak to the already converted, further exacerbating the problem. Like my family, I value the liberty movement very dearly. I want to keep it together and keep it functional. By bridging this cultural divide we can encourage a society that’s more tolerant, peaceful, and free.