Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Castro: a pharmacological analysis

In the week that a study finds SSRI antidepressants to work mostly through the placebo effect, I find myself wondering: what kind of drug is Fidel Castro?

Because he does seem to have an intoxicating effect on many of the left. Take, for instance, this crushingly stupid and shameful Q&A with Harriet Harman a couple of days ago:

Q. Fidel Castro: hero of the left, or dangerous authoritarian dictator?
A. Hero of the left – but time for Cuba to move on.

No, no, no. Danny Finkelstein provides a useful corrective, listing instances of Castro’s repressive villainy.

Why do Western lefties like him? It can’t just be the fact that he looks like a cross between Father Christmas and Captain Mainwaring, and while the CIA’s inventive failed assassinations can raise a chuckle, that hardly does it either.

Was Castro’s antidemocratic illiberalism just incidental to his economic and social policies? Was his communism a wonder drug with a few unfortunate side-effects? Many seem to think so, but no: the authoritarianism was integral. It should really come as no surprise that when there’s such widespread state control, the state will in fact be controlling.

Castro decided how he wanted his people to live and that the state should impose this on them. The values that might inspire such an idealised way of life quickly become beside the point, though: authoritarianism becomes the defining feature of the regime, maintained regardless of whether it can produce the results that its starry-eyed supporters may have wanted. The end doesn’t justify the means; the means become the end.

And, while his rule wasn’t devoid of achievements that look good, this holds true only in a certain light. As Ian Williams nicely puts it:

Cuban education was indeed successful in effecting near universal literacy - but there are strict limits on what anyone is allowed to read with their skills.

And, indeed, healthcare is pretty good considering how poor Cuba is. But then you have to consider the role of a command economy in maintaining a state of underdevelopment.

So why do some lefties in rich countries admire the man so? Reports of his efficacy on any criterion they’d use to judge their own governments turn out to be flawed. The answer, I think, lies in what he symbolises: socialist resistance to the US global military-industrial complex – the hope of another way. It’s the same reason people now cheer Hugo Chavez.

But this is a mirage: Cuba has offered no viable alternative to the market economy, and provided no notable check on US policies. Never mind the lack of achievement, though; you just have to believe in the possibility to enjoy the benefits of being in the fan club. Fidel Castro has been a placebo for the hard left’s depression.

It’s time to stop taking the tablets – and, as Harman says, to move on.


Matt M said...

Can't see it mentioned in your links section, so I don't know whether you know of the Bad Science blog.

Andre said...

Unfortunately Castro has ensured that the future of Cuba is entrusted with his brother... who is probably more corrupt than Fidel himself.

I've yet to understand why the left admire Castro. Democracy is not an option - it is a pillar of the left.