Every now and then I read something that reminds me the consumerism-free paradise I occasionally invoke in more bombastic utopian moments may in fact already exist in the from of Castro’s Cuba. The recent history of Cuba suggests that one can only banish the various modes of manipulative, sneaky, disingenuous and dishonest anxiety-inducing persuasion aimed at citizens by corporations and advertising agencies and their various proxies by supplanting it with a far less subtle form of political “persuasion,” aka the repressive police state.
The April 2005 Harper’s has an interesting article about Cuba, detailing the rise of small-scale farming, which has been forced upon Cubans by the rest of the world’s refusal to trade with them. By being forced out of economic globalization, Cuba has managed to provide a working vision of what environmentallly conscious food production on a nationwide scale might look like, a back-to-the-future organic farming style employing oxen and natural bacteria and specially bred pest-eating insects and some folk wisdom retrieved from Victorian-era agricultural manuals. While author Bill McKibben clearly wants to celebrate these developments, he’s careful to dutifully remind us that they are possible only because Castro’s repressive dictatorship prohibits the country’s entry into the global market, and he stresses that the people aren’t especially happy being forced to farm. They aren’t free in freedom’s contemporary meaning, that is, free to consume in the most wide-open markets from the most diverse array of consumer goods the planet can provide. They are not free to “vote with their dollar” the way (wealthy) Americans are.
I won’t say that I would rather live in Cuba, or rather have the dictatorship of the proletariet here in New York. But this organic farming phenomenon demonstrates the good things that happen when monstrous economies of scale are inhibited (although this inhibition can be brutal) — how suddenly intelligence is respected instead of mocked, education becomes specifically useful rather than a boring distraction brand-name-recognition training, food becomes healthy and diverse rather than monolithic and leeched of flavor and nutrients, people work together to fulfill their shared needs, and so on. Cubans had to undergo nearly a decade of starvation before they were willing to reorganize their farming system. What will have to happen to us to make us change?