On Cuba—The Consciousness Of Freedom
“Where the spirit of a man is not filled with the consciousness of Freedom, all spiritual intercourse is interrupted”.
Samuel Taylor Coleridge
In a word, for the smooth and uninterrupted intercourse of the spirit—for the effortless interchange of our soul’s thoughts and ideas—the consciousness of freedom, the awareness of one’s fundamental right to liberty, is a sine qua non. It’s the essence without which the soul cannot speak, the vital power without which a man cannot live.
By what other means, then, if not through the spirit, if not through that ethereal medium by which beauty and truth are conveyed, are we to converse? How will these, the finest of all sentiments—at once heavy with their delicacy, and laden with their light—reach out from one soul, and make contact with another? If not for the spirit, if not for our one, shared, unutterable soul, in what ways would our highest yearnings for liberty and our greatest hopes for justice make themselves known? By what other means, if not those spiritual, would our constant striving for virtue and our earnest want of happiness, peace, universal friendship, and undying goodwill, avoid becoming instantly incommunicable?
Would we, shorn of such fraternity and power, of such warmth in brotherhood and integrity in life, not be suddenly reduced into something quite meager? Would we not be rendered into petty and squabbling children, merely, alike unto those wandering in the plume of Babel’s dust? Would we, suddenly wordless and godless, not, like them, think of little else to do but stumble aimlessly about the rubble of that fallen tower? Would we not still be trapped in the shadow of that lofty edifice, that cloud-piercing building by which God’s underbelly was once brushed? Brushed, indeed it was, but it provoked no tickle, for that humorless God had no occasion to laugh. He instead struck an unsmiling blow at those who dared approach his state.
No—the consciousness of freedom is essential if we, as a species, are to stand resolutely and together, and if our spirits, in the union of their common flight, are to soar in merriment on the trail of an upward breeze. This consciousness is not just useful, but absolutely prerequisite for the spiritual intercourse in which we, as beings half social and half spiritual, have no option but to engage. Part bestial and part divine—a troubled stream from a purer source—we humans can live no other way. In us, the spiritual sense must be refined, and there is no stone by which it’s better whetted than the solid rock of freedom.
Thus, without the consciousness of freedom, the spirit is dulled. Its edge collapses, and its point weakens until it breaks. It remains little more than a crumbling, porous chunk of earth into which every type of corruption easily rushes. If unfilled by freedom, if unsupported by this sturdy patch, something worse takes its place. Thus, does it appear to be the case that not only things natural, but those supra-natural abhor a vacuum. All vacancies need be filled, be they in the physical or the spiritual realm. Finding the unoccupied space, the consciousness of servility, as opposed to that of freedom, quickly moves in.
A nation, not unlike the man to whom it offers its nourishment and protection, around whom it places its boundaries and its arms, is also possessed of a spirit. It too can be filled with, or emptied of, the consciousness of freedom. Hong Kong is such a nation in which that wondrous consciousness exists. So too is Cuba, despite its many years of despotism and grief. These are nations whose troubled spirits are most assuredly filled with the consciousness of freedom, even if their circumstances clip that spirit’s wings, and prohibit its flight.
America’s once joined theirs in being so filled. Indeed, from the time of its glorious origin, till the very recent past, no country could’ve hoped to have attained to a greater consciousness of its freedom than She. She was, as all the world remembers, and as her own citizens so negligently forget, the very paragon of freedom. America was the great quintessence of liberty to which every other nation looked and, having found something unspeakably attractive in the sight across the broad Atlantic stream, shamelessly aspired. They joined in viewing America as, in her very being, beautiful beyond compare, and deserving, if not commanding, of honest imitation.
She was the first nation founded on the grand ideals of the Enlightenment—that earth-bending revolution out of which the modern individual was born. She was the real, living embodiment of its misty abstractions and its daring concepts—things thought too philosophic to be practicable, and too clever to be real. America brought down these rousing notions from the thin, European air about which, from the Highlands of Scotland, to the Alps of France, they swirled, and gave to them substance, solidity, and life. She brought them to the earth, and built upon them a nation.
America’s spirit was, in truth, overfull with the consciousness of freedom. It was so endowed at a time when every other nation lacked that single quality of which America alone had a surplus. It wasn’t long before other countries filled themselves in a like manner, and spiritual intercourse adopted the tone of energy, confidence, and youth. Now, here was a language of which everyone, in every land, was welcome to partake. The community was wide, growing, inclusive. So long as that rudimentary consciousness of freedom flickered, the spirit of liberty would be given voice.
Alas, America’s tongue has swollen thick. Its throat is in a palsy as its vocal cords quiver. It no longer speaks with the same strength, sonority, and confidence by which the resounding oratory of its past leaders—women and men, politicians and poets—was once known. Now, when asked to remark on its history of, and its contribution to, freedom, she can hardly offer a whisper. There is no conviction in her own defense, no fire in her words. Her spirit, reflecting that implanted in her people, is no longer filled with the consciousness of freedom. Like a restless gas to which a hole has become suddenly apparent, such a precious thing has silently escaped. What remains is a sight by all to be pitied: the tattered remnants of the American spirit, and a civic body, utterly deflated.
In some ways, her spirit has been breathed to countries both far afield, and distressingly close to her borders. As mentioned, the spirit of Hong Kong is filled with the consciousness of freedom. For many years prior to the outbreak of the Wuhan virus, out of which, as an aside, the world now seems ready to emerge, Hong Kong was in a constant state of unrest. The agitation had many mothers, chief among them the despotic new laws issued by the Chinese government. This, the CCP, is the hungry behemoth in whose waxing shadow the small country of Hong Kong precariously lives.
Long-established rights were curtailed, peaceable students detained, prominent voices silenced, and every semblance of sovereignty dissipated in the dark and baleful night. Hong Kongers took to the streets to demonstrate their displeasure. They waved American flags as they absorbed rubber bullets. They shouted for democracy as their throats constricted in response to the taste of noxious gas. They looked to America as their bleary eyes burned with the peppered-sting of acrid fumes. They hoped, in so doing, to evoke the spirit of America—a spirit once filled with the consciousness of freedom, a spirit by which they hoped their own flagging efforts might be raised, and their homeland, protected.
The spirit of Cuba, as we’ve come to learn, is likewise touched by the consciousness of freedom. We mustn’t be surprised by the places to which this consciousness decides to travel, and the valiant people in whom, with its vigorous flame, it opts to settle. The convex Caribbean state, arching its sugary spine so near to Florida’s tropical tip, is undergoing a drastic change. For the first time in ages, it’s witnessing open protests in the streets. These are demonstrations the likes of which the small, very tightly-regulated island has very few examples.
The reason for these protests is clear: conditions on the island have gone from bad to worse. Now, unrest—the brazen child of impatience—is maturing and taking foot right before our eyes. As it grows larger, finds its step, and recognizes its untapped strength, it will lash out at its oppressors in predictably violent ways.
It does so for many reasons. Food on the island is scarce. This is not a problem of recent origin. It’s not the unhappy consequence of a single bad harvest to which simple expedients can be quickly applied. It’s a chronic issue, rather, to which the famished people of that island have, with no small amount of pain, all but adapted. There, in Cuba, despite its agricultural bounty, and the innumerable spices to which its fertile soil gives birth, hunger is the herb by which every paltry dish is seasoned. In this most fecund of all nations, a land over whose prolific soil countless conquerors fought, hardly a single person’s appetite is regularly sated.
Medicine is just as unforthcoming. For a nation constantly lauded by supporters for its generous availability of healthcare and its selfless distribution of aid, its citizens are ailing. Its response to the pandemic has not been particularly good, but these issues preexist the arrival of the Wuhan virus. The supposed “wellbeing” of its citizens offers no real proof of their waning health. Aside from the inadequate provision of food and medicine, the education system in Cuba is failing. One strains to identify the island’s most recent scholar. As for the economy, to call it inert would be to oversell what is a terrible joke. The prospects of the youth are grim, and the hopes of the elderly are fading.
And all of this wretchedness is supervised by a dictator unanswerable to the people’s suffrage. Miguel Diaz-Canel, two years ago declared president, and this year, leader of the Communist party, is deaf to the cry of the Cuban people’s voice. Perhaps, with any luck, he’ll be less immune to their collective and fully-justified wrath.
But what of America? Are her ears not also closed to the shouts of the Cubans? Is her gaze not diverted from the images of Hong Kong? Has her spirit lost its consciousness of freedom? Can her spiritual intercourse with these desperate nations persist?