Monday, June 17, 2013

CULTURED PEOPLE (EXCERPT FROM ANTON CHEKHOV'S "LIFE IN LETTERS' TO HIS BROTHER NIKOLAY CHEKHOV)

Anton Chekhov, considered by many to be the greatest short story writer of all time,  on the 8 Qualities of Cultured People

“In order to feel comfortable among educated people, to be at home and happy with them, one must be cultured to a certain extent.”

BY MARIA POPOVA

What does it mean to be “cultured”? Is it about being a good reader, or knowing how to talk about books you haven’t read, or having a general disposition of intellectual elegance? That’s precisely the question beloved Russian author Anton Chekhov (1860-1904) considers in a letter to his older brother Nikolai, an artist. The missive, written when Anton was 26 and Nikolai 28 and found in Letters of Anton Chekhov to his Family and Friends (public domain; public library), dispenses a hearty dose of tough love and outlines the eight qualities of cultured people — including honesty, altruism, and good habits:


MOSCOW, 1886.
… You have often complained to me that people “don’t understand you”! Goethe and Newton did not complain of that…. Only Christ complained of it, but He was speaking of His doctrine and not of Himself…. People understand you perfectly well. And if you do not understand yourself, it is not their fault.


I assure you as a brother and as a friend I understand you and feel for you with all my heart. I know your good qualities as I know my five fingers; I value and deeply respect them. If you like, to prove that I understand you, I can enumerate those qualities. I think you are kind to the point of softness, magnanimous, unselfish, ready to share your last farthing; you have no envy nor hatred; you are simple-hearted, you pity men and beasts; you are trustful, without spite or guile, and do not remember evil…. You have a gift from above such as other people have not: you have talent. This talent places you above millions of men, for on earth only one out of two millions is an artist. Your talent sets you apart: if you were a toad or a tarantula, even then, people would respect you, for to talent all things are forgiven.


You have only one failing, and the falseness of your position, and your unhappiness and your catarrh of the bowels are all due to it. That is your utter lack of culture. Forgive me, please, but veritas magis amicitiae…. You see, life has its conditions. In order to feel comfortable among educated people, to be at home and happy with them, one must be cultured to a certain extent. Talent has brought you into such a circle, you belong to it, but … you are drawn away from it, and you vacillate between cultured people and the lodgers vis-a-vis.


Cultured people must, I believe, satisfy the following criteria:

1) They respect human personality, and therefore they are always kind, gentle, polite, and ready to give in to others. They do not make a row because of a hammer or a lost piece of india-rubber; if they live with anyone they do not regard it as a favour and, going away, they do not say “nobody can live with you.” They forgive noise and cold and dried-up meat and witticisms and the presence of strangers in their homes.

2) They have sympathy not for beggars and cats alone. Their heart aches for what the eye does not see…. They sit up at night in order to help P…., to pay for brothers at the University, and to buy clothes for their mother.

3) They respect other people's property, and therefore pay their debts.

4) They are sincere, and dread lying like fire. They don’t lie even in small things. A lie is insulting to the listener and puts him in a lower position in the eyes of the speaker. They do not pose, they behave in the street as they do at home, they do not show off before their humbler comrades. They are not given to babbling and forcing their uninvited confidences on others. Out of respect for other people’s ears they more often keep silent than talk.

5) They do not disparage themselves to rouse compassion. They do not play on the strings of other people’s hearts so that they may sigh and make much of them. They do not say “I am misunderstood,” or “I have become second-rate,” because all this is striving after cheap effect, is vulgar, stale, false….

6) They have no shallow vanity. They do not care for such false diamonds as knowing celebrities, shaking hands with the drunken P., [Translator's Note: Probably Palmin, a minor poet.] listening to the raptures of a stray spectator in a picture show, being renowned in the taverns…. If they do a pennyworth they do not strut about as though they had done a hundred roubles’ worth, and do not brag of having the entry where others are not admitted…. The truly talented always keep in obscurity among the crowd, as far as possible from advertisement…. Even Krylov has said that an empty barrel echoes more loudly than a full one.

7) If they do possess talent, they value it ... They take pride in it ... they know they have a responsibility to exert a civilizing influence on [others] rather than aimlessly hanging out with them. And they are fastidious in their habits...

8) They work at developing their aesthetic sensibility. They cannot go to sleep in their clothes, see cracks full of bugs on the walls, breathe bad air, walk on a floor that has been spat upon, cook their meals over an oil stove. They seek as far as possible to restrain and ennoble the sexual instinct…. What they want in a woman is not a bed-fellow … They do not ask for the cleverness which shows itself in continual lying. They want especially, if they are artists, freshness, elegance, humanity, the capacity for motherhood…. They do not swill vodka at all hours of the day and night, do not sniff at cupboards, for they are not pigs and know they are not. They drink only when they are free, on occasion…. They don't simply obey their baser instincts. For they want mens sana in corpore sano [a healthy mind in a healthy body].

And so on. That's what cultured people are like ... Reading Pickwick and learning a speech from Faust by heart is not enough if your aim is to become a truly cultured person and not to sink below the level of your surroundings.

What is needed is constant work, day and night, constant reading, study, will…. Every hour is precious for it…. Come to us, smash the vodka bottle, lie down and read…. Turgenev, if you like, whom you have not read.
You must drop your vanity, you are not a child … you will soon be thirty.
It is time!
I expect you…. We all expect you.


ANTON CHELHOV'S  letter to his brother  Nikolay Chekhov--- March 1886

                                    

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

THE HAUNTED HEART OF AFRICA ( CAMEROON)




A specter looms in the lives of every Cameroonian child, man or woman. It is the living president of the land in the middle of Africa, the land that is often referred to as the microcosm of the continent. The specter is President Paul Biya of Cameroon. When rumors spread like wildfire in June 2004 that he had just died, there were widespread scenes of jubilation all across the half a million square kilometer landmass called Cameroon. Days after, he returned home from abroad where  he had been  spending  intermittently about  six months every year  for over two decades , and  then declared to the sycophants waiting to receive him at the airport that there would be a …. “Rendez-vous in 20 years time with those who wish me dead…”

Cameroonians were not the only ones who disbelieved him when he made that pronouncement among other things.  Many of those who follow political developments in the world in general and in Africa and Cameroon in particular, marveled at his audacity. After all, more than 80% of the Cameroonian population loathed his rule; he was already in power for more than two decades as the head of state, after having been the country’s prime minister (1972-1982) or the second most powerful person in the system put in place by the French overlords. But Paul Biya proved everyone wrong. He pulled off another electoral charade and declared himself winner in the October 2004 presidential elections, and then changed his constitution in 2008 that would allow him to run for two more presidential 7-year terms (despite the deaths of 150 protesting Cameroonians caused by his forces), meaning that he could be president until the year 2025 (a record 43 years in power) when he would be 92 years of age.  By the time Biya held another masquerade called presidential elections in October 2011, he had successfully humbled the internationally recognized opposition heads (who are all former members of the country’s sole political party from 1972-1990 that he has been leading since 1984), promised to give them positions in his government and made it known in plain terms that the system and the puppeteer (France) would never allow political change in Cameroon.

The 80-year old Paul Biya is variously described as the Maradona (he fakes and wins elections just like Maradona faked and scored a goal in his “Hand of God” goal) of Cameroonian and African politics, the master of presidential patricide (he devoured his predecessor who handed power to him, leading to first Cameroonian president Ahmadou Ahidjo’s exile, death and burial abroad—Senegal), the absentee president, the vindictive president, the evil president, etc, etc.

As a German colony from 1884-1916, Kamerun was considered an “African Pearl” for its robust economy and highest literacy rate in the continent.  Despite the period of instability during the country’s war of liberation that ended with the French Trusteeship masters handing power to those who never asked or fought for it (the puppets that constitute the system today), agricultural recovery and the discovery of oil in the 1970s saw Cameroon emerge as Africa’s eight largest economy and the world’s second fastest growing in the early 1980s. Its economy was expected to grow twenty times over the next thirty years, but it barely double. Everything changed after Paul Biya was handed power in November 1982 by the first French-installed president Ahmadou Ahidjo. Since then, Cameroon  has experienced the biggest proportionate embezzlement of state funds ever recorded in Africa and it holds the record as the country in Africa that has experienced the worst peacetime impoverishment  since 1960.

Today, president Paul Biya is presiding over a nation where more than 80% of its physicians are abroad, where more than 90% of its doctorate degree holders are abroad, where Cameroonians invest abroad more than at home, where Cameroonians are voting against the system with their feet; today,  Cameroon’s neighbors who before envied its high standards of living and saw  it as a place of refuge and opportunities, now find Cameroonians  envying  them as they forge ahead with a sense of direction while Cameroon lags behind in its spiral towards total, complete and horrifying economic, social and political decay.

People unfamiliar with the Cameroonian situation would be wondering why such an abysmal situation persists. Well; the answer is simple. Cameroon finds today in a quicksand situation because of the anachronistic system put in place by Gaullist France when General Charles De Gaulle returned to power in 1958 and decided to make France's former colonies and territories members of the United Nations Organization (UNO) while controlling them with transparent or invisible strings this time is round. French Cameroon and British Southern Cameroons achieved independence and reunification, only for the people to find that the new country is quasi-independent under a broader French template of control variously described as FrancAfrique. The system has traumatized, demoralized, divided and dehumanized the Cameroonian people over the years.

The Gaullist system in place was put by the French to exclude from political power the nationalists advocating for the reunification and independence of the divided territories of the former German Kamerun, nationalists who commanded the support of more than 80% of the populations of both territories of British Cameroons and French Cameroun. The system is a partnership of French imperial interest in Africa (economic and political) otherwise known as Francafrique and its Cameroonian collaborators (the renegades and anti-nationalists who never opposed and who do not object to French neo-colonial stranglehold of Cameroon.)

The system has been effective in infecting the minds of many Cameroonians, reducing them to a state of hopelessness and luring them to direct their energy not at the Biya regime and the system, but at their neighbors. The system has successfully elevated corruption and the divide-and-rule strategy into an art—it has promoted the notion of settlers and indigenes, it has encouraged ethno-centrism, tribalism, clannishness, regional jingoism, sectarianism and other forms of division. We see a total and complete absence of strategic or even tactical planning when it comes to the economic and social development of the nation. We see a complete absence of social solidarity.

To compound the division and confusion among the people who reject the Biya regime and the French-imposed system, the so-called opposition leaders these freedom-craving Cameroonians  had been looking  up to  have now been absorbed back into the system, leaving the struggling Cameroonian masses  distrustful of politicians in general. Today, the down-trodden Cameroonian people are in a state of political lethargy.

When Paul Biya called for the holding of senate elections in April 2013, eighteen years after his parliament promulgated a law to create one; most Cameroonians thought it would be another charade, as usual.  It made no sense for the so-called opposition parties with a semblance of representation in parliament to glorify the charade with their participation. Most Cameroonians knew the system was sustaining these so-called opposition leaders financially and that some of them were in the government; but Cameroonians were not prepared for the extent to which these politicians would go to insult their intelligence. But deals between the ruling party and the opposition were made all right, the electoral masquerade took place and the people saw the ruling party campaigning for the so-called main opposition (Social Democratic Front—SDF) in some regions of the country; and the SDF in the words of its chairman or president John Fru Ndi …one good turn deserves another...”, openly backed the ruling party, thereby ensuring its victory in other regions of the country.

How could that have happened? Politically-shocked Cameroonians have been asking themselves ever since the April 2013 open fornication between the ruling party and the so-called opposition political parties.

To prevent chaos and ensure a smooth succession, SDF spokes-persons and apologists quip. Paul Biya has a deal with the SDF to hand over power to one of its members, echoes some anonymous voices from the SDF.

If you ask me, my answer is that what was supposed to be a Cameroonian revolution that began on on May 26, 1990, became a political comedy played by former members of the system, a political comedy that has gone full circle.  The worldwide wind of change generated by Mikhail Gorbachev’s Glasnost and Perestroika that swept away authoritarian systems in Eastern Europe and Africa, and that stirred the vast majority of Cameroonians in the 1990s to risk their lives in the streets demanding political change, was effectively controlled by the system. The desire for change that more than 80% of Cameroonians have has been hijacked by the authoritarian system in Cameroon and the so-called leaders of the opposition.  The people got taken for a ride.

The biggest mistake made by Cameroonians was that when the clamor for change began, they followed Cameroonians  who had no democratic credentials, people who hardly a year before were in the upper echelons of  power in the  system, but  who at the time claimed they had the left ruling party and now opposed it.  All the so-called heads of what the world knows today as the prominent opposition parties in Cameroon (John Fru Ndi of the SDF, Bello Bouba Maigari of the UNDP, Ndam Njoya of the CDU etc) were members of the ruling party right up to the year 1990, when the system was forced to accept multi-party politics in Cameroon. Like the Pied Piper, these so-called opposition leaders lured freedom-starved Cameroonians into greater despondence and political lethargy. Such a feat was achieved only because Cameroonian union-nationalists, revolutionaries, democrats and patriots who had always  rejected the system, thought these so-called heads of the so-called new opposition, these people who  were the first to make the moves  to create political parties, shared the vision of the “New Cameroon” that Cameroonians fought, died and voted for, a vision that  achieved  the land's reunification and independence ( though it has never been real because it got usurped by the evil system  that today is under the leadership of Paul Biya and his  French puppeteers.), but that is yet to realize  democracy, freedom, liberalism, progress, justice, equality and  development.

False are the statements by members of the compromised opposition that had they not openly embraced the Biya regime and the system, chaos would have ensued in Cameroon incase Biya exited the political scene.  The statement is false because the system in Cameroon is authoritarian, not autocratic.  


Authoritarian regimes are usually coated with a sublime idea (that could be political—Stalinism/Marxism/Communism, Fascism etc—or that could be religious—Iranian and Taliban theocracy etc) or with an interest arrangement (FrancAfrique). In Cameroon, the system is built around preventing those who believe in the Cameroonian struggle (the union-nationalists, otherwise called the Kamerunists) from attaining power. The system in Cameroon is a collection of individual interest groups, bringing together the propagators of French neo-colonialism and their collaborators in Cameroon. Paul Biya is the head of the collaborationists. And in many ways, he has been acting over the years as an absentee president. Meanwhile, the state has been functioning zombie-like during his quasi-presence. Though the mortifying arrangement suited the interest of the puppeteers and the beneficiaries of the system, it exposed the system to popular uprisings since that translates as the beneficiaries of the system not being clearly or functionally organized. With the advent of social media, globalization, the maturity of post-independence generations that never benefited from the system; and with the soldiers of the 1990s phase of the struggle dissociating themselves from the so-called opposition leaders; the authoritarian system now finds itself even more vulnerable.  The authoritarian system would be faced by a new political force that never associated itself with the system, a new political force that embodies the spirit of the  century old struggle for  the “NEW KAMERUN” or “NEW CAMEROON”  that confronted  German colonial control, stood up to French duplicity in the land  in a war that decimated more than half a million of its supporters;  the authoritarian system would be faced by a new force that embraces the  legacy of those who fought  and voted for the independence and reunification of Cameroon, a new force that rejects all the values of the system  that the French put in place to control the destiny of Cameroon , a six-decade old  evil system that can only lead the country to abyss.

Now, as the open and hidden collaborators of the system openly embrace one another (the ruling party and the so-called heads of the so-called opposition parties) starting with the recent senatorial charade, the system is encouraging the creation of elite groups of beneficiaries who see or think that their political and economic survival rests only in a continuation or sustenance of the system.  We are observing the evolvement of a system that is shedding any pretense of limited political pluralism; we are observing the entrenchment of a system that openly views the people as its number one enemy. Such a system then becomes autocratic.

In a nutshell, Cameroon’s so-called opposition political parties that are in symbiosis with the authoritarian system are aiding the system in its gradual transition into an autocratic system, thereby ensuring its survival in a morphed form.  The rapidly changing system needs a strong man to be truly autocratic. This would be someone who has hands on the job to act as the president, someone who the French puppeteers would like to portray as the benevolent despot.

It is the place of post-independence Cameroonians to reject whatever farce the system comes up with as change when power passes down to the generation after Paul Biya. By absorbing former members of his party who for decades identified with the opposition, Biya is trying to give Cameroonians and the rest of the world the impression that Cameroon’s opposition is in sync with his vision for the political evolution of Cameroon. Unfortunately, the system does not intend to let the majority of Cameroonians participate or have a say in Cameroon’s political development.


The New Cameroon will be founded. Not by beneficiaries of the system (past and present) but by those who always rejected it as an evil system that has been leading Cameroon into abyss.

But then, in founding the New Cameroon, patriotic, honest, democratic, unbiased and progressive  minded Cameroonians would have to reconcile a  country  where:
  •  the system made sure that most of its historic figures who dedicated their lives and even died for the cause for Cameroon's reunification and independence got killed  and buried like dogs,
  • the bodies of some of these historic figures that got buried abroad are missing,
  • a few of the historic figures who thought they could contribute in nation-building got sidelined, cowed  and humiliated by the system,
  • its first head of state died and is buried abroad,
  • and where the people have been insulted for more than five decades by the regimes of Ahmadou Ahidjo and Paul through an imposed minority system that sowed the seeds of division, corruption, mediocrity, fear and despondence.
The ideals of the New Cameroon hatched by the country's historic nationalists and developed over the years by post-independence union-nationalists is Cameroon's only bargain with the future. It is the only nucleus around which Cameroon can reconcile with its turbulent past; it is the nucleus that all the strata of Cameroonians society can connect to in the process of nation building; it is the only nucleus around which a free, democratic, liberal, fair and prosperous Cameroon can be built. The New Cameroon would lead the country to take its merited place in the central African region, Africa as a whole and the world at large. That would be possible only if we confine the legacies of the Ahidjo-Biya regimes and the suffocating French-imposed system to the dustbin of history.




Janvier Tchouteu              06/04/2013