Sunday, May 19, 2019

Cuban Reflections, the Future of Democracy and Words from Baltasar Gracian


Been away for a few days to a country where everyone gets “free” health care (including abortions) and all education, including college and graduate programs are “free,” where no one (other than the police) have guns and religion is totally a personal matter.  Of course, Cuba is a communist nation, with the resulting lack of the personal freedoms we have in the United States. Sixty percent of the population is, in some way, on the government payroll and private enterprise is very limited. Despite government programs including free housing, poverty and hunger are common.  This is not good.

Just 90 Miles South of Florida
There is no great abundance of natural resources, like oil, to create wealth, and the contributions of rum, cigars and tourism (Americans can visit only for educational, cultural and humanitarian purposes.) to the Cuban economy are limited.  Yet the people seem to be content.  Their infrastructure, often centuries-old, is crumbling and in some places beyond repair.  Cuba is ripe for change.  The Russians and the Chinese are well-aware of this and have economic footholds there.  Our failure to act similarly will ultimately turn the Monroe Doctrine into a worthless bit of history, unless we better our political and economic relationships with that country, only 90 miles from our shores.

Note:  Seventy percent of the local commuter buses used in Cuba as well as the sleek, deluxe, modern, air-conditioned tour buses used there were manufactured in China. Since 2005, Cuba has purchased 6,800 of these vehicles from China.  (In my opinion, Cuba couldn't afford to buy them without financial aid from China, possibly via a bond issue which was totally subscribed to by Beijing?)   There’s a message there, Donald.

Jack Lippman


The Glory that was Greece
Democracy ran its course and did not survive in ancient Greece nor in the Roman Empire.  Historically, democracies throughout Europe, Africa, Asia and South America, when encountering economic and social problems, have failed and been replaced by more authoritarian regimes.  The heyday of democracy in the United States, the periods that those longing to “Make America Great Again” seek to regenerate, were fueled by Nineteenth century expansion westward in our 

Wagons Westward

country and more recently, by tremendous technological and economic growth here once the pressures of the Great Depression and the Second World War were history.  They just did not “happen.”  They were “caused.” But those motivations are not necessarily present today.  Without them, can democracy survive in the United States or will we share the fate of Greece, Rome and so many failed nations throughout the world? 

What do you think?


Quoting from the cover notes of a book to be described shortly, “Throughout the centuries, mankind has produced three great, timeless “wisdom” books:  Machiavelli’s “The Prince,” Sun-Tzu’s “The Art of War” and Baltasar Gracian’s “The Art of Worldly Wisdom: A Pocket Oracle.”  The last two are far easier reading than “The Prince,” but I recommend that followers of the blog to try to at least taste all three.

Gracian’s book consists of 300 paragraphs (Aphorisms) offering words of advice.  Here are two of them.  Read them and try to relate them to things going on today, politically or otherwise.  Gracian, a worldly Jesuit priest, was ultimately given a less public assignment by the Church after publishing this kind of material in mid-Seventeenth century Spain.

  •  #130: Do but also seem: “Things do not pass for what they are, but for what they seem.  To excel and to know how to show it is to excel twice.  What is invisible might as well not exist.  Reason itself is not venerated when it does not wear a reasonable face.  Those easily duped outnumber the prudent.  Deceit reigns, and things are judged from without, and are seldom what they seem.  A fine exterior is the best recommendation of inner perfection.”
  • #159: Know how to suffer fools: “The wise are the least tolerant, for learning has diminished their patience.  Wide knowledge is hard to please.  Epictetus* tells us that the most important rule for living lies in knowing how to bear all things: to this he reduced half of wisdom.  To tolerate foolishness much patience is needed.  Sometimes we suffer most from those we most depend upon, and this helps us conquer ourselves.  Patience leads to an inestimable inner peace, which is bliss on earth.  And the person who does not know how to put up with others should retire into himself, if indeed he can suffer even himself.”

          *Greek philosopher who advocated “stoicism.”

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Jack Lippman 

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