Devaluation / Yoani Sanchez

Strictly Prohibited: Drinking alcohol, Animals, Ball games, Skimpy clothing

It’s difficult for a cell to maintain its health inside a sick organism. In an inefficient society the bubble of functionality bursts. In the same way, certain ethical values — selected and filtered — cannot be strengthened in the midst of a debacle of moral integrity. Rescuing codes of social conduct implies also accepting those that clash with the prevailing ideology.

We are now being called upon by the official media to recover lost values. According to the version put forth by the commentators on TV, responsibility for the deterioration falls mainly on the family, a portion on the schools… but not at all on the government. They talk about bad manners, rudeness, lack of solidarity and the extent of bad habits such as stealing, lying and laziness. In a country where for half a century the educational system, the entire press, and all the mechanisms of cultural production and distribution have been monopolized by a single party, one can only ask: what is the source of such impoverishment?

I remember that when I was a little girl no one dared to address another person as “señor” — mister — because it was a bourgeois throwback. As the use of “compañero” — comrade — is associated with an ideological position, many of us began to adopt new forms: “cousin,” “young man,” “hey you,” “Pop”… along with a long list of phrases derived from vulgar speech. Now they complain on TV that when we address others we are insulting, but… who started this deterioration?

The Cuban system opted for social engineering, and toyed with individual and collective alchemy. The most perfect example of this failed laboratory was the so-called “New Man.” This Homus Cubanis would supposedly come of age in sacrifice, obedience and loyalty. His uniformity was incompatible with the particular ethics of each home. So to achieve him, millions of Cuban children were removed — as much as they could be — from the family environment.

We went to daycare centers just 45 days after we were born; the Pioneer Camps took us in right after we learned our first letters; we went to schools in the countryside as soon as we left childhood, and spent our adolescence in high schools in the middle of nowhere. The State believed it could take over the formative role of our parents, thought it could exchange the values we brought from home for the new communist moral code. But the resulting creature deviated greatly from the one they had planned. We didn’t even manage to convert ourselves into the “New Man.”

They also launched themselves against religion, ignoring that dissimilar creeds transmit a share of the ethic and moral values that molded human civilization and our own national customs. They made us denigrate those who were different, we insulted the presidents of other countries with obscenities, mocked historic figures from the past, stuck our tongues out or blew raspberries when passing a foreign embassy.

They instilled in us the “Revolutionary promiscuity” that they themselves had already practiced in the Sierra Maestra, and incited us to laugh at those who spoke well, were deeply cultured, or showed any kind of refinement. This was carried out with such intensity that many of us faked speaking vulgarly, left off syllables when we talked, or shut up about our reading, so no one would notice that we were “weirdos” or potentially “counterrevolutionaries.”

One man — from the podium — screamed at us for fifty years. His diatribes, his hatred, his inability to listen calmly to an opposing argument, were the “exemplary” postures we learned in school. He instilled in us the gibberish, the constant tension, and the authoritarian index finger when we address others. He — who thought he knew everything but in reality knew very little — conveyed to us the pride of never asking forgiveness and of lying, that deception of rogues and scam artists that he was so good at.

Now, when the ethical picture of the nation looks like a mirror shattered against the floor, they call on the family to fix it. They ask us to shape values at home and to pass on order and discipline to our children. But how can we do it? If we ourselves were shaped to disrespect every code? How can we do it? If there’s no process for the powers-to-be to criticize themselves, for those who played at social engineering with our lives to recognize what they did?

Ethical codes are not so easily reassembled. A morality devalued by public discourse can’t be put back together overnight. And now, how are we going to fix  this disaster?

7 March 2014