mercredi 11 février 2015
MARCEL MAUSS, THE CONCEPT OF THE GIFT AND THE CURRENT DAY CUBAN SOCIETY
MARCEL MAUSS AND HIS LESSONS FOR CURRENT DAY CUBA
Marcel Mauss, considered the Father of Modern Ethnology was the nephew of Emile Durkheim, considered the Father of Modern and French Sociology. His book, The Gift, published in 1925 remains one of standard texts in Social Anthropology and the theories have had a long standing impact.
I had been impressed with the idea of his, the archaic forms of exchange and I see that on everyday life of American Indians, despite their Americanization and incorporation into the modern market economy. But their ancient forms of prestations, still direct their lives, incorporating rituals and social connections.
While living in Paris, I noticed the way they give gifts to each other, in an almost elaborate ritualistic fashion and suddenly occurred to me that, as Marcel Mauss had mentioned nearly a hundred years earlier: it is a diluted form of the archaic form of exchange in which the gift giver obligates the recipient to an equal form of reciprocity. Unlike in the archaic societies no status declaration is involved. It is slightly different in the USA where gifts do carry a status, and puts the gift giver in a superior position in relation to the recipient.
From the concept of obligation and social coherence in the archaic societies without a market economy, the concept of Networking in the modern societies may have risen.
With a gift, in the modern societies, the question asked is; what can you do for me?
In archaic societies, the question asked is: What can I do for you?
Here is an example of Solidarity, Archaic Exchange and reciprocacity shown in a Gift, among the INUIT of Alaska.
Cuba is a society which has gone an experiment in Socialism in the past 50 plus years after the triumph of the Revolution led by Jefe Comandante Fidel Castro. It was a classical revolution in the sense of overthrowing an unjust, illegal, oppressive, tyrannical regime by an uprising of the people. Che Guevara, a Doctor turned Revolutionary, had outlined some of the ideas for a future society in his book: Socialism and Man
It is very often heard, in a derogatory sense, that Cubans make only very little as paid out as salaries. It is an individualistic concept in that Cuba takes care of so much for each and every man in the society, does not leave any one out. Why is that no one in Miami ever mentions the fact that Cuba does not have homeless people or people sleeping under bridges? You don’t see children or adolescents wandering around streets during the day because they are in school! (as Fidel explained to Rigoberto Menchu, when she asked the Comandante why there were no children on the streets) And that there is medical attention to everyone and anyone at any time of the day or night, within reach ? The idea is that Cuba tries to make sure that every one is looked after in society, not just certain members of the society ( as Republicans in the USA proclaim in their actions, taking care of just the rich of the society)
The capitalistic, oppressive, manipulative, fraudulent elements of the society who thought more about themselves than the value of the society or the people in general did migrate to Miami (where they continue to commit these crimes. The Economist recently named Miami as the Capital of Fraud in America! Thanks to these Cuban Immigrants and their descendants)
While the loss of a class of skilled people was a blow to Cuba, they soon recuperated from it, by educating the population and within a few years reached the status of the most educated society in the Americas including USA.
But the economic realities of a socialist state confronted by an enemy in the North, people had to make do with a system of communal good put before individual gain. This to me, this solidarity, is one of the principle strong characteristic of the Cuban society today.
And it fits well with the Concept of The Gift and the archaic form of exchange as outlined by Marcel Mauss.
People familiar with Cuba would know that it is rare that a person goes hungry in Cuba, thanks to the forms of sharing, at the governmental and social levels.
Instead of griping that Cuban professionals are paid only limited amounts of Cash, it might be good to look at what they do with that cash.
Here is an example:
A doctor in training at a hospital gets 1200 Cuban Peso (think of it as 1200 dollars, as the official exchange rate is 1 to 1)
She gives 500 to her mother, so that her retired mother who lives with her grandparents, both of whom are alive, can live in comfort in the village where she was born in the eastern part of the island. She gives another 300 to a caretaker who looks after the sister of her grandfather, as a token of appreciation.
Yes she is left with very little money for herself but what about the satisfaction? Even though she is young, the years of education in the socialist society of Cuba has left her with deep ideals of GIFT. She makes herself member of the greater society of Cubans, not by thinking of migrating to Miami, but thinking of becoming a member of an International Team of Cuban Doctors who go to all parts of the world to offer humanitarian medical missions. She wishes to serve her country by being part of its future, not serve herself by migrating thus becoming part of its past
Some ignorant people in Miami talk about Democracy (of their definition) as a precondition for lifting of the Economic Blockade of Cuba. What if Cuba insisted that they would have relationship with USA only if USA adopted a more human approach to the population as current in Cuba? What if the Cubans demanded that there be no people sleeping under the bridges in Miami? That everyone in America can have access to good health care and education without facing financial ruin?
The words of Prof Jose Altshuler ring in my ears:
If you are interested in the welfare of yourself over the welfare of others, I recommend you go to the USA, where you would be amply rewarded. If you are concerned about others, and willing to give and take, you have come to paradise, it is Cuba.
It was Paris for Hemingway, the moveable feast.
For me, the moveable feast of emotions and affections remains La Habana and Cuba.