Sunday, May 27, 2012

The Cuban Intelligentsia: Debate or Hide / Yoani Sánchez

The Cuban Intelligentsia: Debate or Hide / Yoani Sánchez
Translator: Unstated, Yoani Sánchez

What is an academic? What is an intellectual? These are some of the
questions that have haunted me for years, even before I graduated in
Hispanic Philology. Immersed in adolescent insolence, I thought at some
point that to be one or the other it was necessary to assume certain
poses, gestures, even modes of dress, or to smoke. With time I
understood that erudition need not be accompanied by a pointed goatee, a
haughty look, some glasses halfway down your nose, nor one of those
tilted berets our students like so much. I knew people who brought,
along with their knowledge, audacity, wisdom and spontaneity, an immense
wealth of culture and a commendable humility. Many of them didn't even
manage a college degree, nor did they publish a single book. I also
noticed that, frequently, the Cuban intellectual world does not
structure itself on the basis of wisdom, but on opportunism and
ideological fidelity. Examples abound of "honorary degrees" awarded as
prizes to militants, instead of honoring them for their professional
skills. Also abundant, lamentably, are those expelled or relegated to
research for reasons based strictly on politics and not on science.

But beyond appearances, as a mark of a wise fraternity or as
demonstrations of loyalty to the government professed by so many of our
illustrious, there is a characteristic that recurs alarmingly in our
national intelligentsia: it is their inability to sustain a debate with
people from within the Island who do not belong to the institutions
sanctified and created by the powers-that-be; their ineptitude when it
comes time to accept the challenge of a discussion with those who think
differently. An old Cuban academic traveled from Havana to San Francisco
and tolerated from the public there that any American could pose
questions he never would have entertained nor even listened to in his
own country. He took a plane to participate in the 2012 Latin American
Studies Association conference and seemed disposed to sit on a panel
where there are liberal perspectives, as well and democratic and
anti-totalitarian ones, which he would never allow a place here. What's
more, his presentation uttered outside our borders is, clearly, several
degrees more daring and critical than what he would say to his students,
his readers or his colleagues in Cuba. However, once he returns to the
island territory, if he is called to an exchange of ideas from civil
society, the opposition, or the alternative scene, he acts like he
didn't hear the invitation or insults his counterpart. He denigrates
them, has a fit, calls on Daddy State to defend him; all this and more
rather than accept the exchange of arguments and positions that is so
urgently needed in our country. In short, he hides.

Thus, the time has already passed of looking in dictionaries and manuals
for a definition of what is a wise man. I am not going to describe here
all the points that help me get a very personal idea of the culture of
each person, but I will tell you what characteristic heads my very
subjective list. It is a person's art for polemics and controversy, his
disposition to listen to even the most antagonistic theses or the most
conflicting opinions. I admire those who are capable of debating with
their ideological opponents without falling into arrogance, verbal
violence or personal offense. It doesn't bother me if some dress in what
they believe is the garb of an intellectual, nor that they say they
agree ideologically one hundred percent with the government which,
coincidentally, pays their salary. What irritates and disappoints me is
that, being supposedly at the vanguard of the words and thought of this
nation, they refuse to use their words and ideas in debate, evading
their scientific commitment to seek the truth taking into account all
the variables.

26 May 2012

No comments:

Post a Comment