When I was in high school two of the many words used as insults shocked me. One of them was “self-sufficient.” Its stigma came from the mea culpa processes to join the Young Communists Union, where the candidates criticized themselves for not behaving — always — as part of a collective. Another pejorative terms was “conscious” or “aware,” which in that context referred to someone too intellectual, too devoted to books, too engaged in learning. The good students were labeled “super-conscious” and the natural leaders who emerged in each group also felt the taint of self-sufficiency. Better not to excel, not to overexert yourself… these disqualifiers seemed to warn us.
Worshiping individual mediocrity generates mediocre societies. Vilifying the talented and entrepreneurial hinders the development of a nation. Professional capital is not constructed only with titles, degrees and post-graduate degrees, but with the need that arises from a population that reveres knowledge. It is also imperative that intelligence is not something to be hidden, almost with embarrassment or shame. We are all potential scientists and discoverers, in need of an environment where our capabilities find respect. A country of scientists should be able to show off its laboratories and vaccines; but also ensure that ordinary people can patent their achievements and be rewarded — materially and spiritually — for their ingenuity.
There may be many university graduates in Cuba, but as long as these people do not find true social and legal recognition and salaries commensurate with their work, we can hardly call ourselves a nation of science. It’s sad that more statues are raised and more plazas dedicated to people who have wielded machetes or weapons, than to those who have saved lives with their microscopes and syringes. The prodigious milligram* of knowledge needs an environment where it can multiply. That fertile soil that carries the seed of education, the irrigation to imagine a better life through scientific discovery and the essential fertilizer of freedom.
* “An ant censured for the subtlety of its loads and its frequent distractions, found one morning, on straying once again from the road, a prodigious milligram. Without stopping to think about the consequences of the discovery, it took the milligram and put it on its back. Happily it discovered that it was the perfect load just for her. The ideal weight of that object gave her body a strange energy: like the weight of their wings on the bodies of birds.” (Taken from “The Prodigious Milligram,” Juan José Arreola, Complete Works, Mexico, Alfaguara, 1997)
** Thanks to Universal Thinking Forum for provoking this reflection … and much more.
6 October 2013