Cuba and Fidel

I have recently read two works by Fidel Castro. The two works are History will absolve me[ spoken in 1953] & My life: A spoken autobiography [ a collaborative work with Ramonet].

In the two works, that are half a century apart, Fidel remains the same. Always the visionary and very self critical. He says from the onset, which I doubt anyone would disagree, that no one is born a revolutionary, circumstances shape the person and for him this happened at different points in his childhood.

In his book, he talks about the Cuban Missile Crisis, the US supported attempt at counter revolution in 61, 2 years after the revolution. The US support ouster of Chavez, and in many places in Latin America.

He has utmost admiration for Olaf Palme of Sweden, Trudeau Snr, for JF Kennedy, for Juan Carlos of Spain among other leaders through the decades he was the head of the revolutionary council.

He talks about the success of education in Cuba. And how they have managed to achieve that success.

I said at the beginning of this post, he was self critical, yes, he was. In 1952, he says he was a utopian communist. All they knew then was how to carry out a revolution but not how to run a government. In a way, he is glad they didn’t succeed then, arguing that the power arrangements between the USSR and USA at that time would have been disastrous for them and the US would have likely become an occupying force in support of Batista.

He makes no apology for the times they have had to use the death penalty.

He has a good memory. The autobiography was done when he was already advanced in age, but he remembers a lot of things from the past, books he read and so on.

He introduces us, the readers, to great fighters of Cuban independence thought such as Marti, who he has at a pedestal, a saint, if you may.

He talks greatly and fondly of Che.

He is a friend of the third world and of humanity. In a way, he is a great humanist and hoped for a world where we all lived in harmony.

The article and the book are great reading, regardless of how you see Fidel.

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Books and more books

I recently read To Kill a Mockingbird. It talks of racist Alabama where a man is found guilty of a crime he didn’t commit, against common sense and also about a white man who is determined to do the right thing even if it costs him his reputation.

And of Scout and Jem and their neighbours and friends and of the Ewells; poor, dirty and morally bankrupt. Aunt Alex, those nosy aunts you are better off without.

And Atticus, the lawyer, father and friend of his children. He is adorable. He is firm. And he is principled.

If you haven’t read this book and you have time to spare, you should add it to your list.

House of Death by Fyodor Dostoyevsky.

It is a story about prison life in Siberia. If you have bee to prison, I need not tell you how prison life is. If you haven’t been to prison, you may want to hear it from Alexander, that is, if you don’t have friends in prison 🙂

Dostoyevsky writes, about the nature of punishment, that

if it were desired to reduce a man to nothing- to punish him atrociously, to crush him in such a manner that the most hardened murderer would tremble before such a punishment, and take fright beforehand- it would be necessary to give to his a work a character of complete uselessness, even to absurdity.

It should be noted, he thinks work, as long as it has an aim, is tolerable. This is similar to the argument by Nietzsche among others, that work is expiation and that without it, life becomes intolerable.

He writes

No man lives, can live, without having some object in view and making efforts to attain that object.

He was definitely opposed to corporal punishment. About this he writes

the right granted to a man to inflict corporal punishment on his fellow-men is one of the plague-spots of our society. It is the means of annihilating all civic spirit.

And writing about reality, he says

Reality is a thing of infinite diversity and defies the most ingenious deductions and definition of abstract thought, nay, abhors the clear and precise classifications we so delight in.

And talking about men and their hearts,

you’ll never know what’s at the bottom of the man’s mind or heart

and finally, when some convicts who attempted t escape were rearrested and brought back to the convict prison, he wrote

success is everything in this world.

This last statement says a lot about humans.

What is art

There were varied answers to this question in my previous post. Since the days of Plato, philosophers and laymen have attempted to define art. In his book, What is Art, Tolstoy lists these various definitions by different schools.

To Tolstoy, art is the infection by one man of another or of others with the feelings experienced by their infector for example a feeling of delight. For something to pass as art, it must be able to infect others with feeling. He argues further, that art is not a handicraft, its the transmission of feeling the artist has experienced.

He writes that good art is art that transmits the simplest feelings of common life- the art of a people- and this he calls universal art.

On what should be the aim of art, he argues that it should improve individuals, promote union with others, introduce a new feeling into the intercourse of life.

Counterfeit art, he argues, leads to perversion of men, pleasure which never satisfies and the weakening of man’s spiritual strength.

In the same book, he writes about science and notes that it investigates and brings to human perception such truths and such knowledge as the people of a given time and society consider most important and that art transmits these truths from the region of perception to the region of emotion. On the question of what is important is decided by the religious perception of the given time and society, that is, by the common understanding of the purpose of their lives possessed by the people of that time or society.

The end of science is in knowing what we should and shouldn’t believe in, knowing how the associated life and man should and shouldn’t constituted, how to treat sexual relations, how to educate children, how to use the land, how to treat foreigners, animals and much more that is important for the life of man. He continues to argue that science should demonstrate the irrationality, unprofitableness and immorality of war and executions or the inhumanity and harmfulness of prostitution, or the absurdity, harmfulness and immorality of using narcotics or eating animals or the irrationality, harmfulness and antiquatedness of patriotism.

He ends the treatise by arguing that art should cause violence to be set aside and that the highest aim of human life is love.

I think, many Christians living today would not consider Tolstoy a True Christian™. Jesus, to him, did not die for our sins, but rather died fighting for a truth he believed in. That the Old Testament, far from being divine inspiration, is a mixture of bad and good art. He believed strongly in a brotherhood of men.

In the book, What is Art, he argues and I am tempted t agree with him, that which we call art these days, works that can only be appreciated by the artist and an elite group whose tastes have been corrupted, are not art or are counterfeit art. They evoke no feeling in the great majority of people. Nothing would be lost if we repudiated all of it. On the contrary, we would be better for it. He argues also, that, the perversion of art began when the rich class started to patronize art and paid large sums for productions of paintings or plays so that whatever is expensive is considered good art.


Further readings

Tolstoy ( Excerpts)

Tolstoy (PDF)

African Religion

By Laurenti Magesa

The premise of this book is that African religion can only be spoken of in the singular. While acknowledging the diversities of the African people, he says, these are just varieties of expression as we find in other world religions- Islam: Sunnis, Shiites- than basic belief.

In treating of world religions, he argues African Religion has not been treated as a world religion as a result of prejudice of 19th C scholarship, tainted by Darwinism, slave trading and a colonial mentality. He gives an example of Henry M. Stanley’s description of the African person as

Barbarous, materialist, childish and inarticulate creature, almost stupefied with brutish ignorance, with the instincts of man in him, but yet living the life of a beast.

Those who do not recognize African Religion as a world religion argue it has no written scripture. While this is true, it must be noted that all other world religions were orally based before they were codified in writing. The second objection is that it is not a revealed religion. In response to this, the African conceives of his religion as continuing and ever present. It is in this sense more morally based than ethically based. The third objection cited is lack of interest in aggressive proselytizing. This he says cannot hold because Hinduism or Confucianism do not actively proselytize.

In his introduction, the author tells us morality- normative ordering in terms of perceived meanings, values, purposes and goals of human existence- and ethics- the scientific study of such normative order- is of the very nature of religion. Here, religion is described as

A believing view of life, approach to life, way of life, and therefore, a fundamental pattern embracing the individual and society, man and the world, through which a person sees and experiences, thinks and feels, acts and suffers, everything. In short, a system of coordinates by which man orients himself intellectually, emotionally and existentially.

If the above definition is true for other religions, then African Religion must be recognized as one. This recognition is not a concession but a reversal of long held prejudice. African Religion is conceived as a way of life where distinction is not made between religion and other areas of human existence. One can conclude only prejudice and ignorance were the criteria used by early travelers to Africa to conclude the people have no religion.

Different African societies have their cosmogenic myths that we won’t care to enumerate. It is important to note however that they all begin with god as the great ancestor or progenitor of life. God is conceived as father or mother, accentuating the positive qualities of fatherhood or motherhood.

It is important at this point to note that African religious behavior is centered mainly on man’s life in this world, with the consequence that religion is chiefly functional.

African Religion underlines the fact that the earth is our home, and the prolongation of humankind is ultimately bound to the earth’s fecundity. The implications of this include the view the earth is a gratuitous gift to humanity who possess an equal claim to it. To callously disturb created order by abusing it disrespectfully means nothing else, ultimately, than to tamper dangerously with human life.

What constitutes misuse of the universe? Greed.

In the African Religion, the purpose of life is to produce and perpetuate more life. Therefore, to fail to perpetuate life in every way possible intentionally is worst moral wrong against self, community and society in general. In this view, a marriage that does not lead to procreation, should not have been entered in the first place. This also explains why different communities allow the brother in law to marry the brother’s widow to sire children if they didn’t have any and to bring them up. These children belong to the deceased and inherit his property. A widow in some societies is considered a ‘man’ and any children she has with any man belong to her dead husband and become members of his clan.

For the African, existence is communal. The implication of this is that without community one no longer has the means of existence. This unity is seen fully in the unity of the living, living dead (remembered dead) and yet to be born.

Morality, as defined above, is presupposed to be life-centered.

When the believes talks of sanctity of nature, they should be understood not to mean nature worship but treating it with respect. There should be no cruelty to animals. One should not destroy forests, pollute the earth, since there is no telling what calamity will befall the community.

Taboos, as they exist in African communities, is to make sure that the moral structure of the universe remains undisturbed for the good of community.

In matters to do with family life, conception is the assurance for parents of their possibility of living after death, of becoming ancestors. That is, in their children, there is the possibility of their being named and thus joining the group of the remembered dead. The communal unity referred to above, is expressed again in conception. Every individual is the outcome of human act, god’s creation and ancestral blessing. When the birth is uncomplicated, then there is tranquility in the universe, the ancestors are pleased, the parents are of good moral standing and finally it is a sign of defeat of bad people. Where the birth is complicated, it is believed the rights of deities have been contravened, there is illegitimacy, a crime has been concealed or some moral wrong among many others.

Death, to the believer is not to be feared. The beginning of life already carries the end. The dead are to be treated with respect. The pregnant woman is sacred. She carries in her future life. And as I pointed out earlier, perpetuation of life is the chief purpose of life, so to treat a pregnant woman badly threatens future life.

The author notes that whereas Africans are monogamous, it is not by choice, but rather is a result of certain constraints. It is a moral requirement that apart from showing material capacity to take care of an extra wife, one should be convinced he is able to treat them equitably. The social/ religious ideal is polygamy. The author notes that active homosexuality is morally intolerable as it frustrates baby making. Paradoxically, homosexuals sometimes do play unique social and religious roles.

While discussing incest, the author gives the range covered by incest to include sex with a parent or child, grandparents or grandchild, sister, half-sister, brother, half-brother, aunt/ uncle, sister or brother in law (while either couple is alive), sister, brother, half-sister/ brother of a man or woman with whom one has had sexual relations and any woman whose milk a man has suckled.

Regarding sin and evil, the author notes these do not exist in human experience except as perceived in people. He notes, regarding morality, that pursuance of right behavior rather than avoidance of wrong is what distinguishes the authentically good person and one who is not truly so. He reminds us everyone is capable not only of harbouring wrong and destructive thoughts but of acting them out as well. This view has, in my opinion, a big part in how we deal with wrongdoers.

It is noted that divination, in African Religion, is a way of knowing. The diviner is sought to explain why things are the way they are and this is done through divination.

Finally, as mentioned earlier, regarding community, entertaining people is both a social and moral duty that affirms and enhances life.

Whilst this review is not comprehensive, it does highlight the major areas of community life that the author addresses. I have not addressed the political life, which the author argues must be seen as not being separate from religion but as interlinked for the end of political organization is to promote life. The author argues, and I think I agree, the African convert to Muslim or Christianity, is only so on the surface. His/ her thinking and action is deeply African.

I would recommend this book to anyone interested in comparative religion or who is curious about African Religion as I am.

 

The Damned

A novel by Algernon Blackwood in which tells the story of a haunted house.

Towards the end, there is an interesting dialogue on beliefs and thinking. He writes

“What is the world,” she told me, “but thinking and feeling? An individual’s world is entirely what that individual thinks and believes –interpretation. There is no other. And unless he really thinks and really believes, he has no permanent world at all. I grant that few people think, and still fewer believe, and that most take ready-made suits and make them do. Only the strong make their own things; the lesser fry, Mabel among them, are merely swept up into what has been manufactured for them. They get along somehow.

Bill then says

None of us have Truth, my dear Frances

to which she responds

“Precisely,” she answered, “but most of us have beliefs. And what one believes and thinks affects the world at large. Consider the legacy of hatred and cruelty involved in the doctrines men have built into their creeds where the sine qua non of salvation is absolute acceptance of one particular set of views or else perishing everlastingly–for only by repudiating history can they disavow it–

Frances says

“Trying to get out of it,” she admitted, “perhaps they are, but damnation of unbelievers–of most of the world, that is–is their rather favorite idea if you talk with them.”

If the whole book was just these few paragraphs, I would have loved it just as much.

The African origin of civilization

Myth or Reality by Cheikh Anta Diop, a review.

I promised to do this at the earliest opportunity and so here we are. For the purposes of this review, we will not dwell on whether the Egyptians were a “black White people”, a “reddish brown white” or whatever other shade of white you can think of. All we will mention here that they depicted their god, Osiris, as black.

Diop argues that the only place or rather to the only people that circumcision/ excision made any sense were those of ancient Egypt. He argues, to these ancients, just as their gods were hermaphrodite, babies too were. So by removing a small part from the male or female organ, these children became male or female. Before circumcision, they were all like gods.

He says the evidence available to us shows the Egyptians were to pray to their gods at minimum 7 times a day. In this respect, the Mohammedians only sought to reduce the burden of the people by making the minimum number of prayer times 5.

He argues because of their settled lifestyle as a result of abundant food supplies along the Nile valley, they had the luxury to worship gods. He also argues these societies were matriarchal. And that patriarchy started with the nomads, that is, almost everyone else except the Egyptians.

From his works, one can arrive at the conclusion that the Bible/ Torah is legend based on the stories the Jews had heard laced with creative imagination.

It’s an easy to read book. Well written. He has attempted to provide documentary support for his many claims from Egyptian frescoes to statements from those who interacted with Ancient Egypt such as Herodotus. It’s a book I would recommend to anyone.

La Mattrie

In Man_ Machine writes, among other things,

Let’s not get bogged down in ·attempts to think about infinity; we aren’t built to have the slightest idea of it; and we’re absolutely incapable of tracing things back to their origin. And it makes no difference to our peace of mind whether matter is eternal or was created, whether there is or isn’t a God. It is stupid to torture ourselves about things that we can’t know and that wouldn’t make us any happier if we did manage to know them.

And elsewhere

I am told to read the works of the defenders of Christianity; but what will they teach me? Or rather, what have they taught me? There’s nothing to them but boring repetitions by zealous writers who add to each other only verbiage that is more apt to strengthen than undermine the foundations of atheism. The arguments that people base on the spectacle of nature aren’t made any stronger by their sheer quantity:

And continues to write

•destroying chance isn’t •proving the existence of a supreme Being, for there may be something that is neither chance nor God—namely, nature, the study of which can only produce unbelievers, as is shown by the way of thinking of all its most successful observers.’

If you haven’t read the book and you have some time in your hands, you should.