Guy WalkingSeptember 23, 2003
Cienfuegos, Cuba

This morning, after breakfast as I was on my way out, the husband of the Casa called me over to introduce me to some friends, a couple, the husband of whom is a philosophy professor. We promised to talk later tonight and so on the way over here I began to think from a philosophical perspective of the differenced between Cuba and the USA. And that train of though brought me to a paradigm for identity construction that I think will be a useful way to examine all sorts of relationships in the social sciences:

Identity (self)

Genetics (biology – deterministic) | circumstance | choice

Genetics, circumstance, and choice (or free will) – that those three factores make up, construct, identity. And furthermore that they are all related. For example, genetics says that my skin is black, circumstance (socio-political climate for example) says that society is racist, however circumstance also puts me into contact with politically active peers who want to make change. Lastly, I use my choice to decide to protest and make change in society (circumstance) in regards to racism. Furthermore, I use circumstance (the potential partners I encounter in my life) and choice (the one I choose) to determine the genetics of my sons and daughters who will be affected by the circumstance of their lives and use choice to change it.

Discussing philosophy without parenthetical statements is as difficult

If that is confusing in English

If my explanation is sloppy in English, I’m sure it was much more so in Spanish but still, the professor caught on and we began to discuss how the different circumstances of Cuba and the United States influenced the choices of their respective citizens.

The political rhetoric of the United States is saturated with allusions to liberty and freedom. "Freedom for all," was the foundation for a political ideology that sought to create a circumstance which allowed for the widest array of choice, irrespective of genetics. Of course, this hasn’t always been the case in reality, but it has remained the official rhetoric since the Declaration of Independence. I would agree – throughout my travels I have never come across another country with as much freedom of choice as Americans are endowed.

What is interesting, however, is how Americans use their choice to construct their identity.

Cubans Americans
1.) Education/Profession 1.) Material Goods (car, clothes, house)
2.) Creative Expression 2.) Education/Profession
3.) Patriotism 3.) "I am"
4.) Partners/Friends 4.) Patriotism
5.) Conversation 5.) Reading/Writing
6.) Enjoyment 6.) Accomplishment

It is difficult to surmise exactly how much these differences are a direct result of Socialism versus Capitalism and to what degree they are consequences of culture.


9:45 p.m.

The professor suggested:

Whereas Americans so often define themselves by the products they make and the products they own ("I am a software programmer, I drive a BMW"), Cubans use their character and talents to allow others to perceive their identities. Identity construction in Cuba is something more subtle, more subcosciouss.

– ¡Exactamente! I said eagerly, nodding my head up and down. I realized I was too enthusiastic and tried to mellow out, but the professor didn’t even flush and continued to look straight at me with patient grandfatherly eyes.

You see, his comment reminded me of another of my psuedo-philosophical theories which I tried to explain to him in a more tranquil voice and without sounding like a jackass.

"I’ve thought for some time that every person in fact has three identities. First is their real identity, which is constructed of the three parts we talked about. Then there is how that identity is perceived by the person’s friends, coworkers, lovers. And finally there is how the person perceives the perception of his friends, coworkers, loves, and family. I explained to the professor that constantly my friends griped to me that their friends do not understand how (or who) they really are, that they are unfailry judged."

For the first time in our conversation the professor let out a laugh and small wrinkles framed around his clouded eyes. "It sounds like even identity has become a commodity in the United States," he said.

Walking throughout the town and along the bay of Cienfuegos that day, I couldn’t help but go over the conversation we had that morning. It is true, as Americans we have an overwhelming amount of choices. Here in Cuba there are three TV channels (news, education, sports + movies) back at home we have 400+ and yet I am sure I spend more time switching channels than watching what’s on them. At home there is an infinitude of soft drink brands, here there is Cola. With the right amount of effort [in the US], anyone can enter any university to study any subject to be whatever they want to be. The land of opportunity.

But with all of that freedom, what are the choices that Americans make? What car to drive, what restaurant is best, what stocks will rally, what computer looks coolest. Why, granted so much freedom, do we choose to concentrate it on consumerist decisions?

%d bloggers like this: