Like measles, mumps or rubella, dogmatism and sectarianism have been early pathologies in Cuban socialism. Although they are not precisely a syndrome of ideology, but of a political culture that has permeated it, and carried by many socialized in that climate, for or against the system, they live in Párraga or Tacubaya, in Hialeah or Lavapiés; believers or atheists, straight or LGBT. Naturally, it is not at all a geriatric syndrome, but rather a chronic one, arising from the youthful ages of these Cubans―although sometimes it improves over time, or at least their symptoms may cease to be acute.
Dogmatism defines a territory divided by fences, which define a two-dimensional space, where the true is inside and the false outside a fixed demarcation.
It rejects as aberration everything that strays from its essential postulates. Strictly speaking, it does not allow us to test, deepen or critically update a way of thinking, or learn or change, but rather to reaffirm its apothegms, to revive, to turn in the circle of what is already known and shared.
Unlike critical thinking, dogmatism does not set out to explain things; find out its origin, causes or trends in certain circumstances; or delve into them. Contrary to the openness and temporariness inherent in critical thinking, the dogmatic vision puts a lock on any subsequent reflection, because it appears at the outset with all its predictable answers and lessons.
Dogma is constituted as revealed truth and builds a fundamentalist vision, although many times the dogmatic substratum of that fundamentalism is not evident. In fact, dogmatic reductionism occurs even if it is based on ideas that are presented based on antidogmatic premises.
Obviously, a dogmatic mentality is not reduced to the old manuals of Marxist-Leninist philosophy, but is also expressed in attitudes that can deny those manuals. What defines the dogmatic approach is the type of reading about the facts it provides, the problems and approaches it adopts, and the phenomena and reasoning it assumes. For this perspective, the complexities of society, thought or politics are reduced to a group of postulates, schemes, and bipolarities, which constitute “regularities,” and offer prefabricated responses, from which moral or ideological lessons are derived, almost always the same.
Characteristically, the dogmatic approach cautiously treats the results of intellectual creation and research. It often mistrusts that production, and quotes the terms “intellectual,” “academic,” and even “scientific,” with a pejorative denotation. By judging drastically, and instantaneously, it is not only extremely vigilant and cautious, but totally suspicious, supposedly in defense of “public health”―that of the “people” or that of “civil society.”
The following are some typical features of a dogmatic mentality:
- The truth is one and only one.
- Demonstrating means looking through the rearview mirror, as reality is cyclical, and its keys are sought backwards (unlike a historian, he believes that history “repeats itself”).
- Any idea or concept coming from outside the adopted doctrine is questionable.
- Any doubt or uncertainty conveys insecurity, hesitation, and a demobilizing effect.
- Criticizing (or debating) other different ideas is to deny them, never dialogue with them, and much less assimilate them.
- All knowledge is reducible to simple schemes and statements, which can be captured, without the need to go into nuances or “complicate things.”
- The truth is legitimized in the majority: the more truth the more it is shared, or the more it fits into common sense, with what “everyone” agrees or seems to believe.
Dogmatism entails a mind reluctant to openness, confrontation or debate, because it only lives comfortably with those who share its premises, even when it bears the flags of scientific knowledge or theory.
Although they sometimes are evasive, and stay as they are, dogmatism and sectarianism produce symptoms of different nature and manifestation. If the first is reduced to a closed mind and an intellectual condition, which affects the way of reasoning and distrusts critical thinking, the second translates into behaviors, judgments and questionings in relation to the nature of people.
As a phenomenon of political culture, sectarianism matches behaviors and reactions that reject everything they perceive as alien, strange, and therefore hostile to the group. Its etiology closely resembles how immune system diseases work, a kind of rheumatoid arthritis of the head.
It would be necessary to differentiate between the sectarianism that reflects certain behaviors and attitudes typical of exceptional circumstances, of crisis or intense confrontation―as in a war―, or some of its lethal or disastrous effects, of the one that, far from disappearing when it returns to “normal conditions,” continues to refer to previous events, as if nothing had changed.
Unlike dogmatism, what defines sectarian behavior is not monolithic, uniform or even impermeable to external influences, but intransigence, discrimination and selectivity in its relationships with others, and its rejection of all those who do not commune with the group’s belief.
Although sectarians sometimes share a dogma, not all dogmatists are sectarian, nor are all sectarians dogmatic. In fact, sectarianism is replicated in expressly antidogmatic groups. Nor is it required that a group be strongly hierarchical, vertical or centralized in its structure to engender sectarianism; this can be expressed, as a phenomenon, in conglomerates of open or decentralized structure, apparently pluralistic. Thus, it is also enthroned in currents understood as iconoclasts, questioners of a certain status quo, to the extent that the behavior of its members is governed by the principle of inside and outside the group, the watchword of identity, of the politically correct (for the group) and what is not, or for becoming custodians of the truth.
Naturally, sectarianism does not depend on the size of the group, nor does it necessarily tend to weaken when it is manifested, as a shared attitude, in large conglomerates. The stigmatization and repression of minorities by majorities throughout history accounts for this feature in an exemplary manner. In fact, a sectarian attitude towards different individuals (defined in some way as such) can be hegemonic among large social groups, even if it is challenged or even not publically considered correct.
As an attitude of a majority, the sectarian order creates a favorable environment for authoritarian leaders, opinion leaders or influencers to manipulate the majority and induce their ideas, even if they lack a foundation that is not purely emotional.
When sectarianism is the expression of a minority, the group is shielded around a shared experience that is taken as nontransferable (in the manner of religious sentiment), processes it inward, entrenching it, instead of dealing with it and developing strategies of communication with the other groups that think and behave differently.
However, we should not confuse sectarianism with a simple xenophobia, which addresses only strangers to the family, but attacks those current or former members perceived as violating certain norms accepted by the group, and often does so with more zeal and harshness than before the enemies. He who separates himself from the group’s opinion, by definition, deviates, and therefore, can be more dangerous, because he is or has been in the ranks, than that enemy himself.
From a sectarian logic, unanimity around certain key issues is an absolute value. Internal discrepancies, real or apparent, can be tolerated around topics that are not central; but when it comes to issues that are perceived or defined as principles―such as these are conceived by sectarian leaders―everything that affects unanimity is seen as disintegrating and contrary.
That allergy also responds to the interest of those who call the shots to perpetuate themselves, not simply by discrepancy, but by stigmatization of any divergent individual opinion, which they disqualify.
The sectarian style does not dispute an argument, but it rebukes its opponents, whom it can accuse of “sold out” or “mercenary,” as well as guilty of “silence in the face of abuse” or “self-censorship.” A sectarian summons his former colleagues, and asks them to “define themselves,” which means abandoning their positions and taking as the only dignified one that which he (or she) offers them, so that they atone for “their shameful mistake.”
Hence, sectarianism highly values the unconditional and uniform; and understands the exchange of ideas and dialogue as war by other means.
In short, some typical features of a sectarian mentality and behavior include the following:
- Within the group, almost everything; outside the group, nothing.
- Those who don’t share the accepted criteria and norms are not only wrong (as dogmatism says), but have deviated, are dangerous, or unworthy.
- Those who think differently don’t make mistake or ignorance (as dogmatism says), but deserve punishment (exclusion, stigma, contempt).
- Those who distance themselves in the long run ally with “that block of the enemy (be it imperialism or Party-State).”
- Purging the ranks and ideologically aligning the “inconsequential” is morally justified in any circumstance, in the name of “the truth.”
- Confrontation, aggression and personal adjectives go through debate of ideas, and are valid as substitutes for lack of arguments.
- Every different individual attitude involves a dark motive, weakness of character or principles.
I have limited myself here to a kind of clinical commentary on these pathologies, seen from Cuban civic culture and experience.
Some readers will tell me that they exist everywhere, no matter the system or the political regime; and that some are characteristics of certain personalities. Regarding the latter, I note that I have not mentioned pride, pedantry, arrogance or freshness, since they are rather traits of character, not of any particular civic culture. And although I grant that they are not exclusive to the Cuban, I argue that in this they present some particular features.
In any case, it can be noted that the rigidity and closed attitude characteristic of dogmatism are not limited to certain ideological approaches, ignorance or manual teaching of Marxism-Leninism; nor are sectarian behaviors reduced to the intolerance of certain outdated institutions or political styles.
The great historian of Stalinism and the Soviet Union, Isaac Deutscher, clearly distinguished between those who, on the one hand, disagreed with verticalism, hypercentralization, locked doctrinalism, and those who defended the right to think differently, and who, according to him, updated thought and mentalities, and even enriched the doctrine itself, which he called heretics; and on the other hand, those who renounced all their previous ideas, and stood against them, with the same Stalinist dogmatic and sectarian attitude, which he called renegades. His analysis of “the conscience of ex-communists” contributes a lot to our clinical practice, as well as to the different meanings between disagreeing and dissenting.
Naturally, many Cubans, socialist or not, have survived these pathologies or have been immunized, not so much for having been vaccinated but because they have lived and experienced the costs. Among them, many young people, who, contrary to the prevailing common sense, are interested in politics, and whose vision is not that of the prodigal children of dogmatism and sectarianism, afflicted with the same evil as their ancestors, regarding prejudices and toxic rhetoric.
Now then, to what extent has this political culture entered a phase of real change, from the transformations that are taking place in social relations, in the microphysics of power and its internal and external irradiations?
Investigating what is happening to this society, on a basis of equanimity, intelligence and dialogue, requires keeping in mind what Braudel called the speed of historical time and its deadlines, because as happens with childhood diseases when they are contracted by those who are over 25, they can lead to bad complications.