The Colonization of Patriotisms

Juan Carlos Onetti

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La colonización intra-nacional de los patriotismos (Spanish)

The Intra-national Colonization of Patriotisms


Jorge Majfud


Once, in a high school class, we asked the teacher why she never talked about Juan Carlos Onetti.  The answer was blunt: that gentleman had received everything from Uruguay (education, fame) and “he had left” for Spain to speak ill of his own country.  That is, an entire country was identified with a government and an ideology, excluding and demoralizing everything else.

Implicitly, it is assumed that there exists a unique – true, honorable – form for the nation and of being Uruguayan (Chinese, Argentine, North American, French).  If one is against that particular idea of country, of fatherland (patria), then one is anti-patriotic, one is a traitor.

A fundamental requirement for the construction of a tradition is memory.  But never all memory, because there is no tradition without forgetting.  Forgetting – always more vast – is indispensable for the adequation of a determined memory to the present-day powers that need to legitimate themselves through a tradition.  If we assume that national symbols and myths are not imposed by God, we are left with no other remedy than to suspect earthly powers.  Which is to say, a tradition is not simple and innocent memory but convenient memory.  The latter tends to be crystalized in symbols and sacred cows, and there is nothing less objective than symbols and cows.

In the Spain of Isabel and Fernando, exclusion was the basis for a previously non-existent fatherland.  The Iberian peninsula was, at the time, the most culturally diverse corner of Europe and comprised of as many countries as the rest of Europe.  Being Spanish became for many, after the Reconquest, an exercise in purification:  one sole language, one sole religion, one sole race.  Almost five hundred years later, Francisco Franco imposed the same idea of nation based at least on the first two categories of purity.  Camilo José Cela recognized it thusly: “Not one single Spaniard is free to see Jewish or Moorish blood run through his veins” (A vueltas con España, 1973); like they say, “nobody is perfect.”  For centuries the intellectuals sought out, obsessively, the “Spanish character,” as if the absence of a concrete character ran the risk of losing the country.  Américo Castro in Los españoles…(1959) observed: “one will not find anything similar to the Spanish fantasy of imagining Spaniards before they existed.”  He then criticized the patriotic writings that praised what was Spanish about Luis Vives, who, even abroad “never forgot Valencia”: he could not forget Valencia because his family, of Jewish origin, had been persecuted and both his parents burned by the Inquisition.  The celebrated priest Manuel García Morente believed that “for the Spanish there is no difference, there is no duality between fatherland and religion” (Idea de la hispanidad, 1947); “there exists no dualism between Caesar and God.”  “Spain is made of Christian faith and Iberian blood.”  “In Spain, Catholic religion constitutes the purpose of a nationality…”  The ultraconservative taste for essences led him to repeated tautologies of this kind: “the patriotic duty” is to be “faithful to the essence of the fatherland.”  Another Spaniard, Julio Caro Baroja (El mito del carácter nacional, 1970), questioned these functional ideas of power: “I consider that everything that speaks of “national character” is a mystical activity.”  “National characters are meant to be established as collective and hereditary.  Thus, at times, one recurs to expressions like ‘bad Spaniard,’ ‘renegade son,’ traitor to the ‘legacy of the fathers’ in order to attack an enemy.”

This strategy of forgetting and exclusion is universal.  We Chileans, Argentines and Uruguayans constructed a tradition to the measure of our own euro-centric and not infrequently racist and genocidal prejudices.  The authors of various ethnic cleansings (Roca, Rivera) are honored even today in the schools and in the names of streets and cities.  Indigenous people were not only expoliated and exterminated; we also ended up whitewashing the memory of the indomitable savages.  Another Spaniard, Américo Castro, reminds us: “When the people are more believers than thinkers […] it becomes unpleasant to doubt.”

Thus, The fatherland is turned into an idea of nation that tends to exclude all other ideas of nation.  For this reason it usually becomes a weapon of negative domination based on the positive sentiments of belonging and familiarity.  In order to consolidate that arbitrariness of traditional power, other semantic instruments are made use of.  Like honor, for example.

Honor is the symbolic tribute that a society imposes, by way of ideological and moral violence, on those individuals who must exercise physical violence in order to defend the sectarian interests of those others who will never risk their own life to do so.  For this reason, a composite and contradictory ideolexicon like “the honor of weapons” has survived for centuries.  There exists no other way to predispose an individual to death for reasons he is in no position to understand or, if he understands them, he is in no position to accept them as his own reasons.  If it is a matter of a soldier (the most common case) the salary will never be sufficient reason to die.  It is necessary to cultivate a motivation beyond death.  In the case of the religious martyr, this function is fulfilled by Paradise; in the case of a secular society that organizes an army through a secular State, there is no alternative but the retribution of an exemplary death: honor, fulfillment of one’s duty, love of country, etc.  All ideolexicons based on positive, unquestionable meanings.

One honors individuals (paradoxically anonymously) because one cannot honor the war that produces seas of nameless dead, nor can one honor the financial and political reasons, the sectarian interests in power.  This is demonstrated when, each day that fallen soldiers are remembered, the motives that led the now heroes to die are never remembered.  One abstracts and decontexualizes in order to consolidate the symbol and confer upon it an absolutely natural character.  It may be that just wars exist (like an action of defense or of liberation), but even so it remains impossible to think that all wars are just or holy.  Then, why is this perturbing element abstracted from the collective conscience?  Any questioning is (must be) interpreted as an affront to the “fallen heroes.”  In this way, the benefit is quadruple: 1) society washes its sins and its bad conscience; 2) the victims of the absurd receive a moral gratification and meaning for their own disgrace; 3) any radical questioning of the sense of past wars is prevented; and 4) a loan is secured against stock for wars yet to come – for a few but in the name of all.


Translated by Bruce Campbell


The Jesus the Emperors Kidnapped

Icon depicting the First Council of Nicaea.

Image via Wikipedia

El Jesús que secuestraron los emperadores (Spanish)


The Jesus the Emperors Kidnapped


Who will lend me a ladder

to climb up the timbering,

to remove the nails from

Jesus the Nazarene?

(Antonio Machado)


Jorge Majfud



A few days ago the president of Venezuela, Hugo Chávez, referred to Jesus as the greatest socialist in history. I am not interested here in making a defense or an attack on his person. I would only like to make a few observations about a typical reaction caused by his words throughout different parts of the world.

Perhaps saying that Jesus was a socialist is like saying that Tutankhamen was Egyptian or Seneca was Spanish. It remains a semantic imprecision. Nevertheless, those who recently have approached me with a look of horror on their faces as a result of the words of the “bad boy,” did they do so on the basis of some reasoning or simply on the basis of the codes imposed by a dominant discourse?

Personally, I have always been uncomfortable with power accumulated in just one man. But although Mr. Chávez is a powerful man in his country, he is not the one responsible for the current state of the world. For an elite few, the best state possible. For most, the source of physical and, above all, moral violence.

If it is a scandal to imagine Jesus to be socialist, why is it not, then, to associate him and compromise him with capitalist culture and ethics? If it is a scandal to associate Jesus with the eternal rebel, why is it not, in contrast, to associate him with the interests of successive empires – with the exception of the ancient Roman empire? Those who do not argue the sacrality of capitalism are, in large number, fervent followers of Jesus. Better said, of a particular and convenient image of Jesus. In certain cases not only followers of his word, but administrators of his message.

All of us, or almost all of us, are in favor of certain economic development. Nonetheless, why is social justice always confused with economic development? Why is that Christian theology that considers economic success, wealth, to be the divine sign of having been chosen to enter Paradise, even if through the eye of a needle, so widely disseminated?

Conservatives are right: it is a simplification to reduce Jesus to his political dimension. But their reasoning becomes manipulation when it denies categorically any political value in his action, at the same time that his image is used and his values are invoked to justify a determined politics. It is political to deny politics in any church. It is political to presume political neutrality. An observer who passively witnesses the torture or rape of another person is not neutral. Even less neutral is he who does not even want to watch and turns his head to pray. Because if he who remains silent concedes, he who is indifferent legitimates.

The confirmation of a status quo that benefits one social class and keeps others submerged is political. The sermon that favors the power of men and keeps women under their will and convenience is political. The mere mention of Jesus or Mohammed before, during and after justifying a war, a killing, a dictatorship, the extermination of a people or of a lone individual is terribly political.

Lamentably, although politics is not everything, everything is political. Therefore, one of the most hypocritical forms of politics is to assert that some social action exists in this world that might be apolitical. We might attribute to animals this marvelous innocence, if we did not know that even communities of monkies and of other mammals are governed not only by a clear negotiation of powers but, even, by a history that establishes ranks and privileges. Which ought to be sufficient to diminish somewhat the pride of those oppressors who consider themselves different from orangutangs because of the sophisticated technology of their power.

Many months ago we wrote about the political factor in the death of Jesus. That his death was contaminated by politics does not take away from his religious value but quite the contrary. If the son of God descended to the imperfect world of men and immersed himself in a concrete society, an oppressed society, acquiring all of the human limitations, why would he have to do so ignoring one of the principle factors of that society which was, precisely, a political factor of resistance?

Why was Jesus born in a poor home and one of scarce religious orientation? Why was he not born in the home of a rich and educated pharisee? Why did he live almost his entire life in a small, peripheral town, as was Nazareth, and not in the capital of the Roman Empire or in the religious capital, Jerusalem? Why did he go to Jerusalem, the center of political power at the time, to bother, to challenge power in the name of the most universal human salvation and dignity? As a xenophobe from today would say: if he didn’t like the order of things in the center of the world, he shouldn’t have gone there to cause trouble.

We must remember that it was not the Jews who killed Jesus but the Romans. Those Romans who have nothing to do with the present day inhabitants of Italy, other than the name. Someone might argue that the Jews condemned him for religious reasons. I am not saying that religious reasons did not exist, but that these do not exlude other, political, reasons: the Jewish upper class, like almost all the upper classes of peoples dominated by foreign empires, found itself in a relationship of privilege that led it to a complacent diplomacy with the Roman Empire. This is what happened also in America, in the times of the Conquest. The Romans, in contrast, had no religious reason for taking care of the problem of that rebel from Nazareth. Their reasons were eminently political: Jesus represented a grave threat to the peaceful order established by the empire.

Now, if we are going to discuss Jesus’ political options, we might refer to the texts canonized after the first Council of Nicea, nearly three hundred years after his death. The theological and political result of this founding Council may be questionable. That is to say, if the life of Jesus developed in the conflict against the political power of his time, if the writers of the Gospels, somewhat later, suffered similar persecutions, we cannot say the same about those religious men who gathered in the year 325 by order of an emperor, Constantine, who sought to stabilize and unify his empire, without leaving aside for this purpose other means, like the assassination of his political adversaries.

Let us suppose that all of this is not important. Besides there are very debatable points. Let us take the facts of the religious documents that remain to us from that historical moment. What do we see there?

The son of God being born in an animal stable. The son of God working in the modest carpintery trade of his father. The son of God surrounded by poor people, by women of ill repute, by sick people, by marginalized beings of every type. The son of God expelling the merchants from the temple. The son of God asserting that it would be easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to ascend to the kingdom of heaven (probably the Greek word kamel did not mean camel but an enormous rope that was used in the ports to tie up the boats, but the translation error has not altered the idea of the metaphor). The son of God questioning, denying the alleged nationalism of God. The son of God surpassing the old and cruel laws, like the penalty of death by stoning of an adulterous woman. The son of God separating the things of Ceasar from the things of the Father. The son of God valuing the coin of a widow above the traditional donations of the rich and famous. The son of God condemning religious pride, the economic and moral ostentation of men. The son of God entering into Jerusalem on a humble donkey. The son of God confronting religious and political power, the pharisees of the Law and the imperial hells of the moment. The son of God defamed and humiliated, dying under military torture, surrounded by a few followers, mostly women. The son of God making an unquestionable option for the poor, for the weak and the marginalized by power, for the universalization of the human condition, on earth as much as in heaven.

A difficult profile for a capitalist who dedicates six days of the week to the accumulation of money and half a day to clean his conscience in church; who exercises a strange compassion (so different from solidarity) that consists in helping the world by imposing his reasons like it or not.

Even though Jesus may be today the principal instrument of conservatives who grasp at power, it is still difficult to sustain that he was not a revolutionary. To be precise he did not die for having been complacent with the political power of the moment. Power does not kill or torture its bootlickers; it rewards them. For the others remains the greater prize: dignity. And I believe that few if any figures in history show more dignity and commitment with all of humanity than Jesus of Nazareth, who one day will have to be brought down from the cross.


Translated by Bruce Campbell


An Imperial Democracy

Parthenon from west

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Una democracia imperial (Spanish)

An Imperial Democracy

Jorge Majfud

Translated by Bruce Campbell

Judging by the documents that remain to us, Thucydides (460-396 B.C.) was the first philosopher in history to discover power as a human phenomenon and not as a virtue conferred by the heavens or demons. He was also aware of the principal value of money in defeating the enemy in any war. We can add another: Thucydides never believed in the principle that those with no trust in arguments are so fond of repeating in revisionist criticism: “I know what I am talking about because I lived it.” We once noted that this idea was easily destroyed with two contradictory observations by those who experienced the same event. Thucydides demonstrated it thusly: “Investigation has been laborious because the witnesses have not given the same versions of the same deeds, but according to their sympathies for some and for others or they followed the memory of each one.” (Ed. Gredos, Madrid 1990, p. 164)

According to Thucydides, in order for Sparta, the other great city state, to go to war against the dominant Athens, the Corinthians directed themselves to their assembly with a portrait of the great enemy democracy: “they [the Athenians] are innovators, resolute in the conception and execution of their projects; you tend to leave things as they are, to say nothing and to not even carry out that which is necessary” (236). Then: “exactly as it happens in techniques, novelties always impose themselves.” (238)

Hearing of this speech, the Athenian ambassadors responded with the following words: “by the very exercise of command we saw ourselves obligated from the beginning to take the empire into the present situation, first out of fear, then out of honor, and finally out of interest; and once we were already hated by the majority […] it did not seem safe to run the risk of letting go.” (244) The law that the weaker be oppressed by the stronger has always prevailed; we believe, besides, that we are worthy of this empire, and that we appeared so to you until now, calculating your interests, you set about invoking reasons of justice, reasons that no one has ever set forth who might obtain something by force in order to stop increasing their possessions. […] in any case, we believe that if others occupied our place, they would make perfectly clear how moderate we are”; (246) “if you were to defeat us and take control of the empire, you would quickly lose the sympathy which you have attracted thanks to the fear that we inspire.” (249)

Its pride provoked, the conservative and xenophobic Sparta decides to confront Athenian expansionism. The Athenians, convinced by Pericles, refuse to negotiate and face by themselves a war that leads them to catastrophe. “We should not lament for the houses and for the land – advises Pericles, repeating a well-known topic of the period – but for the people: these goods do not obtain men, but rather it is men who obtain goods.” (370)

Nonetheless, the war extends death over Greece. In a funeral speech, Pericles (Book II) gives us testimony of the ideals and representations of the ancient Greeks, which today we would call “humanist precepts.” Refering to the Spartan custom of expelling any foreigner from their land, Pericles finds a moral contrast: “our city is open to the whole world, and in no case do we turn to expulsions of foreigners” (451) In another speech he completes this ideological portrait, repeating ideas already formulated by other philosophers of Athens and which today’s conservatives have forgotten: “a city that progresses collectively turns out to be more useful to individual interests than another that has prosperity in each one of its citizens, but is being ruined as a state. Because a man whose private affairs go well, if his fatherland is destroyed, he goes equally to ruin with it, while he who is unfortunate in a fortunate city is saved much more easily.” (484)

But humanist egalitarian that Pericles was, he did not escape from oppressive patriotism. As if Greek foresight had become myopia by extending the gaze beyond the limits of his own homeland. Radical democracy at home becomes imperialism abroad: “Realize that she [Athens] enjoys the greatest renown among all men for not succumbing to disgrace and for having expended in war more lives and effort than any other; know that she also possesses the greatest power achieved until our days, whose memory, even though we now may come to cede a little (since everything has been born in order to diminish), will endure forever in future generations; it will be remembered that it is we Greeks who have exercised our dominion over the greatest number of Greeks, who have sustained the greatest wars against both coalitions and separate cities, and who have inhabited the richest city in every kind of resources and the largest. […] To be hated and prove a nuisance for the moment is what has always happened to those who have attempted to dominate others; but whomever exposes himself to envy for the most noble motives takes the correct decision.” (491)

In his critical introduction to this same Gredos edition, Julio Calogne Ruiz recalls that Sparta’s objective was “to put an end to the progressive increase of the Athenians’ markedly imperialist power. Given that all of Athens’ power came from the tributes of its subjects, the pretext that Sparta gave to go to war was the liberation of all Greek cities.” (20) Then he speculates: “many ordinary Athenians must have realized that their well-being basically depended on the continuity of domination over the allies without thinking about whether this was just or unjust.” (26)

The question of power in the Fifth Century is – continues Calogne Ruiz – the question of the imperialism of Athens. For three quarters of a century Athens is an empire and nothing in Athenian life can be removed from that reality.” (80)

Nonetheless, this reality, which at times is explicitly named by Thucydides, is never expressed as a central theme in the major works of ancient thought and literature.

In The World, the Text, and the Critic Edward Said, referring to the literature of recent centuries, reflects on the false political neutrality of culture and the so-called “absolute freedom” of literary creation: “What such ideas mask, mystify, is precisely the network binding writers to the State and to a world-wide ‘metropolitan’ imperialism that, at the moment they were writing, furnished them in the novelistic techniques of narration. […] What we must ask is why so few ‘great’ novelists deal directly with the major social and economic outside facts of their existence – colonialism and imperialism – and why, too, critics of the novel have continued to honor this remarkable silence.” (p. 176)

Jorge Majfud

The University of Georgia

Mayo, 2007

Monthy Review (New York)

Fear of Freedom: On the Left and the Right

Edward Said

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El miedo a la libertad, Sobre izquierdas y derechas (Spanish)


Fear of Freedom: On the Left and the Right


Jorge Majfud


Generally, an historical phenomenon is naturalized thanks to an absence of memory (hence the political value of neutrality and forgetting). Obviously not always for political reasons: it was once assumed that a nerve originating from the heart ended in one of the fingers of the left hand, which is why the wedding ring is worn there today. A man takes his bride to the altar with the left arm because centuries ago other grooms had to keep the right arm free in order to grasp the sword aimed at skewering the enemy. Carriages drove down the left side of the road: the driver’s right hand took up the weapon needed to defend himself against other drivers. For political reasons, revolutionary France and North America chose to drive on the other side and Napoleon confirmed it, not because he was revolutionary but because he was left-handed. Greeting with the right-handed handshake or handwave was able to signify the same thing: it was a friendly way of verifying that one was not armed.

Despite the fact that the right hand signified violence, symbolically it was associated with all of the virtues. The knight who alone or with other nobles crossed the countryside of Europe and the Middle East valued his right hand for many reasons, among which was its identification with defense. In a violent world, the right served for self-defense, and therefore possessed a value superior to the left hand and to reason. There was no argument about the fact that the right served to defend against other right hands in a culture of violence. In the same way, armies are justified even today for the defense of the homeland and of honor and not for assaults on other homelands and other honors. Right, righteous, rights, rightwing, righthand man, have come to be synonyous with virtue while the left is identified with the sinister (from the Latin sinister, meaning “on the left” or “unlucky”).  Culture nourished the superstition that a left-handed man was a partner of Evil and school children’s left hand was tied down and they were forced to write with their right hand.

At the same time, as Saussure would observe, there is no reason for a sign to have any necessary relationship with its signified. The fact that the Jacobins and Girondins would sit on one side or the other of the National Assembly of revolutionary France was merely circumstantial.

What is not accidental is the creation of semantic fields (the establishment of ideolexicons) in the struggle for social power.

Twenty or thirty years ago in the Southern Cone declaring oneself a leftist was enough to send you to prison or lose your life in a torture session. Nearly the majority of citizens and almost all the media took pains – in different ways – to identify themselves with the right. Being on the right was not only politically correct but, also, a requirement for survival.

The valorization of this ideolexicon has changed dramatically. This is demonstrated by a recent trial taking place in Uruguay. Búsqueda, a well-known weekly magazine, has taken to court a senator of the republic, José Korzeniak, because he characterized the publication as “on the right.” If this attitude were generalized, we would have to say that censorship no longer extends from political power toward the communication media, as before, but from the media toward the politicians in power. Which would be an interesting historical rarity.

The trial represents another rarity. The judge in the case had to call different witnesses to define what is on the right and what is on the left. It is assumed that the judicial process must resolve a philosophical problem that has never been closed or resolved. Dialectical exercise is completely healthy, but the form and place are proving to be surrealist at the very least.

I suppose that if it is demonstrated that Búsqueda is not on the right the senator will lose the trial, but if the opposite is demonstrated, he would be absolved of his crime. Nonetheless, another problem arises here. Is freedom of expression a crime now? What does it matter if Búsqueda is on the right or on the left as far as the law is concerned? Why should it be considered an insult or a civil crime to be on the right? Is not all opposition to the government on the right, and who knows if the government itself as well from some more radical point of view?

We will dispense with pretensions of independence, of neutrality or of objectivity, because those superstitions have already been demolished by thinkers like Edward Said. Nothing in culture is neutral, even though the will to objectivity might be a utopian virtue which we should not renounce. Part of intellectual honesty consists of recognizing that our own point of view is human and not necessarily the point of view of God. Historically political neutrality is prescribed only when it works in favor of a status quo, since every social order implies a network of political values imposed through the violence of their alleged neutrality.

Whether the senator is on the left or on the right, whether this or that daily paper is on the left or the right, that is up to each citizen to judge. The only thing that every citizen should demand of the law, of justice, is that it respect and protect their right to whatever opinion they like and their right to do so in any medium. In an open society, censorship should only result from reason or the strength of arguments. If a social consensus were possible about theme X, this should be derived from the most complete freedom of expression and not from any authority’s imposition of force or from the fear of “crime of opinion.”

Is it that we Uruguayans, who are so proud of our democratic tradition, are still not able to overcome the mental parameters of the dictatorship? Why such fear of freedom?

In many of our countries, trials for reasons of “honor” are still common. The stamp of the duel to the death – heritage of the violent knights of the Middle Ages – projects its image onto an anachronistic mentality. Like the famous “honor of weapons,” a paradoxical ideolexicon, if such a thing exists, since there is nothing less appropriate to a demonstration of honor than instruments of death.

Someone might argue that if Juan insults me that stains my honor. Nonetheless, even in that extreme, in an open society I would have the same right to respond to the hypothetical offense using the same means. But the very idea that someone can offend another person by recourse to insult is a flawed construction: anyone who insults gratuitously insults his own intelligence. If we knew how to develop a culture of freedom and uproot the implicit fear of debate and dissidence, the insult would be an undesired option just as it is today to assault each other in a ridiculous weapons duel. For the same reason, we would stop confusing criticisms with personal affront.

I can understand that defense of the crime might be considered a crime in itself, but we still have not been able to demonstrate clearly that naming someone or an organ of the press with the title “on the right” is a defense for the crime. First, because being on the right does not lead necessarily (directly or deliberately) to theft or criminality. Second, because we know people who honestly believe that being on the right is a virtue and not an insulting defect. Third, because nobody is safe from acts and opinions on the right.


Translated by Bruce Campbell




Why the name of Latin America?

Latin America (orthographic projection)

Image via Wikipedia

What does “Latin America” mean?

Why the name of Latin America?

By Jorge Majfud

The essentialist component of the ancestral search for identity as part of nationalistic projects – which kept intellectuals busy for such a long time, being Octavio Paz one of them- has not completely disappeared or has become a commercial relation of struggling signs in a new global context. And as usual, reality is a byproduct of mistakes of their own representations.

What does “Latin” mean? For many years, the typical Latin American – which is another way to say “the stereotypical Latin American” – has been represented by the indigenous person of Aztec, Maya, Inca, or Quechua origin, who preserves their ancestral traditions and mixes them with the Catholic rites. It was the Castilian language and the violence of colonization what these peoples had in common. However, to European and North American eyes, and even to their own eyes, they were monolithically defined as “Latin Americans”. Those who lived in the region of Río de la Plata were called by Anglo Saxons “Southern Europeans”.

If we go back to the ethimology of the Latin word, we will find a great contradiction in this former identification: none of the indigenous cultures found by the Spaniards in the new continent was related with Latin. On the contrary, other regions further south lacked this ethnic and cultural component. The greatest part of their population and culture came from Italy, France, Spain, and Portugal.

In Valiente Mundo Nuevo (Brave New World), Carlos Fuentes says: “We are in the first place a multiracial, policultural continent. For this reason, the term “Latin American”, invented by the French in the 18th century to include themselves in the American territory, is not employed. The most complete description is used instead: Indo-Afro-Iberian-America. But in any case, the Indian and the African components are present, implicit.”

To this objection of the Mexican essayist, Koen de Munter gives an answer of the same kind, observing that the indigenistic discourse has become fashionable as long as it refers to the defense of certain politically harmless, folkloric groups, so as to forget the very many people who massively migrate to cities and blend in a sort of compulsory mixed race groups. This mixed race thing, in countries like Mexico, would only be the central metaphor of a national project that began in the 90s as such. This source believes that we were lucky to be colonized by the Spanish and not by the English, which gave place to this mixed race in the continent. But Koen de Munter understands this discourse as being part some Hispanophile demagogy, a “mixed race ideology” as a result of which the unacceptable conditions of the current Latin American reality are overlooked. According to the author himself, Hispanophile makes these intellectuals forget about the colonial racism of the Spain that fought the Moors and the Jews as they made their way into new continent. In short, rather than mixed races, we should talk about “multiple violation”.

Maybe because the term that had been suggested was too long, Carlos Fuentes decided to use “Iberian America”, being this, in my view, more specific than the one “interestedly” suggested by the French, since it excludes not only the French migration waves to the southern hemisphere and to other regions of the continent in question; it also excludes other immigrants, more numerous and as Latin as the Iberian peoples: the Italians. It would be enough to remember that, by the end of the 19th century, eighty percent of the Buenos Aires population was Italian, as a result of which someone defined the Argentineans –again generalizing- as “Spanish speaking Italians”.

On the other hand, the idea of including the indigenous component (“Indo”) together with the name “America” implies that they are two different things. Similarly lucky has been the prudorous and “politically correct” reference “Afro-American” to refer to a dark- skinned North American who is as African as Clint Eastwood or Kim Basinger. We could think that the indigenous peoples are the ones to vindicate the denomination of “Americans”, but the term has been colonized as the earth, physical space, and cultural space were. Even today, when we say “American” we refer to the people from a specific country: The United States of America. As to this term, it is as important to define what it means as it is to define what it does not mean. And this definition of the semantic frontiers is not only derived from its ethimology, but from a semantic dispute in which the exclusion of all the non- North American has won. A Cuban or a Brazilian could provide a long list of reasons why they too should be called “Americans”, but the definition of this term is not established based on the intellectual will of some, but on the power of cultural and intercultural tradition. Although the first creoles who lived south to the Rio Grand, from Mexico to the Rio de la Plata, called themselves “Americans”, the geopolitical power of the United States grabbed this term, forcing the rest to use an adjective in order to differentiate themselves.

This simplification may also be the result of the predomination of the other´s perspective: the European. Not only Europe and the United States have been historically self-centered and self-loving, but also the colonized peoples have. Few in America, with no important ideological influence, have looked at and studied the indigenous cultures as they have done with the European. That is, our simplified and simplifying definitions of “Latin America” may be the result of the natural confusion that the other´s look projects: all Indians are the same: Mayas, Aztecs, Incas, and Guaranies. Only in today´s Mexican territory, there was – and is- a wide spectrum of cultures that only our ignorance can confuse and group in the term “indigenous”. These differences were usually discussed by going to war or by sacrificing the other.

Anyway, even if Latin America is considered a prolongation of the West (as extreme West), their names and identities have represented a negation, mainly since the 19th century. In July, 1946, Jorge Luis Borges observed, in Sur (South) magazine, this same cultural habit restricted to Argentineans. Nationalists, “however, ignore the Argentineans; they `refer to define them in ways of some external fact, as the Spanish conquerors (let us say) or some imaginary Catholic or Anglo Saxon imperialist tradition.”

Latin American republics were successive literary inventions of the intellectual élite of the 19th century. Defining, prescribing, and naming are not minor details. But reality also exists, and it never completely adapted to their definitions, despite the fertile imagination of violence. The difference between the Conception and the reality of the people were sometimes as big as injustices, exclusions, and violent revolts and rebellions dating back from centuries, which never reached the category of revolutions. What is represented remains weaker than its Representation.

Translated by Cubanow

February 22, 2008

¿Cuál es el nombre de América Latina?

Jorge Luis Borges, escritor argentino

Image via Wikipedia

Why the name of Latin America? (English)

¿Cuál es el nombre de América Latina?

El componente escencialista de la antigua búsqueda de la identidad como parte de diferentes proyectos nacionalistas —y que ocupó tanto tiempo a intelectuales como Octavio Paz—, no ha desaparecido completamente o se ha transmutado en una relación comercial de signos en lucha, en un nuevo contexto global. Y como siempre la realidad es un subproducto de equívocos de sus propias representaciones.

¿Qué significa «latino»? Por años, el latinoamericano típico —que es otra forma de decir «el latinoamericano estereotípico»— fue representado por el indígena de origen azteca, maya, inca o quechua que conservaba sus tradiciones ancestrales mezclándolas con los ritos católicos. Lo que tenían en común estos pueblos era la lengua castellana y la violencia común de la colonización. Sin embargo, todos, a los ojos europeos, norteamericanos e, incluso, ante sus propios ojos, eran definidos monolíticamente como «latinoamericanos». A los habitantes de la región del Río de la Plata se los llamaba, por parte de los anglosajones, «los europeos del Sur».

Si volvemos a la etimología de la palabra latina, veremos una fuerte contradicción en esta identificación anterior: ninguna de las culturas indígenas que encontraron los españoles en el nuevo continente tenían algo de «latino». Por el contrario, otras regiones más al sur carecían de este componente étnico y cultural. En su casi totalidad, su población y su cultura procedía de Italia, de Francia, de España y de Portugal.

En Valiente mundo nuevo, Carlos Fuentes nos dice: «Lo primero es que somos un continente multirracial y policultural. De ahí que a lo largo de este libro no se emplee la denominación ‘América Latina’, inventada por los franceses en el siglo XIX para incluirse en el conjunto americano, sino la descripción más completa Indo-Afro-Ibero-América. Pero en todo caso, el componente indio y africano está presente, implícito».

A esta objeción del ensayista mexicano, Koen de Munter responde con la misma piedra, observando que el discurso indigenista ha pasado a ser una moda, siempre y cuando se refiera a la defensa de pequeños grupos, políticamente inofensivos, folklóricos, de forma de olvidar las grandes masas que migran a las ciudades y se mimetizan en una especie de mestizaje obligatorio. Este mestizaje, en países como México, sería sólo la metáfora central de un proyecto nacional, principalmente desde los años noventa. Fuentes que sostiene que afortunadamente fuimos una colonia española y no inglesa, lo que permitió un «mestizaje» en el continente. Pero Koen de Munter entiende este tipo de discurso como parte una demagogia «hispanófila», de una «ideología del mestizaje» por la cual se soslayan las condiciones inaceptables de la actual realidad latinoamericana. Según el mismo autor, la hispanofilia de estos intelectuales no les permite recordar el racismo colonial de la España que luchó contra moros y judíos al tiempo que se abría camino en el nuevo continente. En resumen, más que mestizaje deberíamos hablar de una «multiple violation».

Al parecer porque el término propuesto era demasiado largo, Carlos Fuentes se decide por usar «Iberoamérica», siendo éste, a mi juicio, mucho más restrictivo que el propuesto «interesadamente» por los franceses, ya que se excluye no sólo a las oleadas de inmigración francesa en el Cono Sur y en otras regiones del continente en cuestión, sino a otros inmigrantes aún más numerosos y tan latinos como los pueblos ibéricos, como lo fueron los italianos. Bastaría con recordar que a finales del siglo XIX el ochenta por ciento de la población de Buenos Aires era italiana, motivo por el cual alguien definió a los argentinos —procediendo con otra generalización— como «italianos que hablan español».

Por otra parte, la idea de incluir en una sola denominación el componente indígena («Indo») junto con el nombre «América» nos sugiere que son dos cosas distintas. Semejante, es la suerte de la pudorosa y «políticamente correcta» referencia racial «afroamericano» para referirse a un norteamericano de piel oscura que tiene tanto de africano como Clint Eastwood o Kim Basinger. Podríamos pensar que los pueblos indígenas son los que más derecho tienen a revindicar la denominación de «americanos», pero se ha colonizado el término como se colonizó la tierra, el espacio físico y cultural. Incluso cuando hoy en día decimos «americano» nos referimos a una única nacionalidad: la estadounidense. Para el significado de este término, tan importante es la definición de lo que significa como de lo que no significa. Y esta definición de las fronteras semánticas no deriva simplemente de su etimología sino de una disputa semántica en la cual ha vencido la exclusión de aquello que no es estadounidense. Un cubano o un brasileño podrán argumentar fatigosamente sobre las razones por las cuales se les debe llamar a ellos también «americanos», pero la redefinición de este término no se establece por la voluntad intelectual de algunos sino por la fuerza de una tradición cultural e intercultural. Si bien los primeros criollos que habitaban al sur del río Grande, desde México hasta el Río de la Plata se llamaban a sí mismos «americanos», luego la fuerza de la geopolítica de Estados Unidos se apropió del término, obligando al resto a usar un adjetivo para diferenciarse.

Es posible, también, que esta simplificación se deba al predominio de la perspectiva del otro: la europea. Europa, como Estados Unidos, no sólo ha sido históricamente egocéntrica y egolátrica sino también los pueblos colonizados lo han sido. Pocos en América, sin una carga ideológica importante, han estimado y han estudiado las culturas indígenas tanto como la europea. Es decir, es posible que nuestras definiciones simplificadas y simplificadoras de «América Latina» se deban a la natural confusión que proyecta siempre la mirada del otro: todos los indios son iguales: los mayas, los aztecas, los incas y los guaraníes. Sólo en lo que hoy es México, existía —y existe— un mosaico cultural que sólo nuestra ignorancia confunde y agrupa bajo la palabra «indígena». Con frecuencia, estas diferencias se resolvían en la guerra o en el sacrificio del otro.

De cualquier forma, aún considerando América Latina como una prolongación de Occidente (como extremo Occidente), sus nombres y sus identidades han estado, principalmente desde mediados del siglo XIX, en función de una negación. En julio de 1946, Jorge Luis Borges observaba, en la revista Sur, este mismo hábito cultural restringido a los argentinos. Los nacionalistas «ignoran, sin embargo, a los argentinos; en la polémica prefieren definirlos en función a algún hecho externo; de los conquistadores españoles (digamos) o de alguna imaginaria tradición católica o del imperialismo sajón».

Las repúblicas latinoamericanas fueron sucesivos inventos literarios de la elite intelectual del siglo XIX. Definir, prescribir y nombrar no son detalles menores. Pero la realidad también existe y ésta nunca se adaptó del todo a sus definiciones, a pesar de la violencia de la imaginación. La diferencia entre la concepción y la realidad del pueblo muchas veces tuvo el tamaño de centenarias injusticias, exclusiones y violentas revueltas y rebeliones que nunca llegaron a la categoría de revoluciones. Lo representado sigue siendo más débil que su representación.

Where Does the Voice of the People Come From?

Lego People

Image by Joe Shlabotnik via Flickr

¿De dónde viene la voz del pueblo? (Spanish)


Where Does the Voice of the People Come From?

Jorge Majfud

If naïve is not the opposite of genius, it is also not its substitute. This is the origin of fables and parables. Or of sophisms like: “I can resist anything, except temptation” (attributed to Oscar Wilde); “a communist is someone who has read Marx; an anti-communist is someone who has understood him” (Ronald Reagan); or Groucho Marx’s smartest bits. The sophism is a miniscule piece of naivety that frequently stands in for or pretends to cover up the absence of a more complex thought.

Lincoln’s hopeful and popular statement, “you can fool all the people part of the time, and part of the people all the time, but not all the people all the time,” is similar to Churchill’s, “never before have so many owed so much to so few.” Perhaps phonetic geometry – “…all the people part of the time, and part of the people all the time, but not all the people all the time” – conspires against historical truth. It depends on the meaning of “part of the time” and “part of the people.” For despots and dictators perhaps a couple of decades might be “so few” but to those who must suffer them a half an hour might be “so much time.”

For centuries, the idea that the Sun revolved around the Earth was unanimous. Ptolemy’s old system – pretty new if we consider that other Greeks believed that in reality the Earth moved around the Sun – was the “vox populi” on cosmology. The calculations that took Ptolemy’s model into account were able to predict eclipses. That cosmological model was overturned, bit by bit, beginning with the Rennaissance. Today heliocentrism is the “vox populi.” It at least sounds ridiculous to say that in reality the Sun revolves around the Earth. Nevertheless, this reality is undeniable. Even a blind man can see it. From the point of view of an earthling, what revolves is the Sun, not the Earth. And if we consider the first Einsteinian principle which holds that there is no privileged point of view nor solitary system of observation in the Universe, there is no reason to deny that the Sun revolves around the Earth. The heliocentric idea is only valid for a (imaginary) point of view outside the solar System, a simpler and more aesthetically accomplished point of view.

One of the first written mentions of vox populi, vox Dei is made by Flaccus Albinus Alcuinus more than a thousand years ago, precisely in order to refute it: …tumultuositas vulgi semper insaniae proxima sit (“…the good sense of the common people is more like madness”). Its pagan and perhaps demagogic roots authorize the people in the name of God but/and are used by a whole range of atheists or anti-clericals. On the other hand, the bureaucracy that has been invented for God in order to assist him in administering his Creation, has practiced historically the opposite slogan: “the power of the king originates from God.” At least from Tutankhamen through to the generalísimos and (not) very Catholic Franco, Videla, Pinochet and the U.S. neo-conservatives. Nor has the Vatican ever taken recourse to the “vox populi” in order to elect the “vox Dei.” How could God have given us intelligence and then demanded from us the conduct of a herd?

Since the times in which feudal and theocratic propaganda reined and in the times of the absolutist monarchs, the “vox populi” was a creation of (1) pulpits and school desks and of (2) popular stories about kings and princesses. Not very different from (2) are the most current soap operas and the magazines about the Rich&Famous where the elegant miseries of the dominant classes are placed on exhibit for the moral consumption of the people. Different from (1), although not by much, the “vox populi” is formed today on the political stage and in the dominant mass media.

Not very different from that first black-and-white Nixon-Kennedy debate. Does the candidate exist who dares to defy the sacred “public opinion”? Yes, only the one who knows that he has no serious likelihood of winning and is not afraid to stick his finger in the wound. But politicians with a chance cannot afford the luxury of making that “vox populi” uncomfortable, for which reason they tend to accommodate themselves to the center – the ideological space created by the media – in the name of pragmatism. If the ultimate goal is angling for votes, does anyone dare to say something that he knows, beforehand, will not be well received by the voting masses? Candidates do not debate; they compete in seduction, as if they were “singing for a dream.”

Now, does all this mean that the people have the authority to impose a behavior on their own candidates? Does it mean that the people have power? In order to respond we must consider whether that public opinion is not frequently created, or at least influenced by the large communication media – a title self-evidently false and at times demagogic – just like in the Middle Ages it was created and influenced from the pulpit and communication was reduced to the sermon and the message was, as today, fear.

Obviously, I am not going to defend freedom of the press in Cuba. But on the other hand the repeated freedom of the press of the self-proclaimed “free world” does not shine under close inspection. I am not referring only to the democratic self-censorship of those who fear losing their jobs, or to the unemployed politicians who must disguise their ideas in order to convince a potential employer. If in the “unfree” countries the press is controlled by the State, who controls the means (or media) and the ends in the free world? The people? Someone who does not belong to the select family of the large media that exercise “world coverage,” who can say what kind of news, what kind of ideas should dominate the air, the land and the seas like our daily bread? When it is said that ours is a free press because it is governed by the free market, is one arguing for or against the freedom of the press and of the people? Who decides which news and which truths should be repeated 24 hours a day by CNN, Fox or Telemundo? Why is it that Paris Hilton crying over a two-week jail stay – and then selling the story of her crime and of her “moral conversion” – is frontpage news but thousands of dead as a result of avoidable injustices are an item alongside the weather prediction?

In order to complete the (self)censorship in our culture, each time that someone dares to examine things closely or scribble out a few questions, they are accused of preferring the times of Stalinism or some corner of Asia where theocracy reigns at its whimsy. This is, also, part of a well-known ideological terrorism about which we must be intellectually alert and resistant.

History demonstrates that big changes have been driven, foreseen and provoked by minorities attentive to the majority. Almost as a rule, national peoples have been more conservative, perhaps owing to the historical structures that have imposed on them a leaden obedience. The idea that “the people are never wrong” is very similar to the demagoguery of “the client is always right,” even though it is written with the other hand. In the best (humanistic) sense, the phrase “vox populi, vox Dei” can refer not to the idea that the people necessarily are right, but to the idea that the people is its own truth. That is to say, every form of social organization has the people as subject and object. Except in a theocracy, where this rationality is a god who regrets having conferred free will on his little creatures. Except in the most orthodox mercantilism, where the end is material progress and the means to the end human flesh and blood.

Translated by Bruce Campbell

March 2008


One Bolivia, White and Wealthy

Vista de uno de los mercados de la Ciudad de L...

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Una sola Bolivia, blanca y próspera (Spanish)


One Bolivia, White and Wealthy


The rapid Conquest of Amerindia would have been impossible without the Mesoamerican and Andean cosmology. Otherwise two mature empires, with millions of inhabitants and brave armies would never have succumbed to the madness of a handful of Spaniards. But it was also possible due to the new adventurer and warrior spirit of the medieval culture of a Spanish Crown victorious in the Reconquest of Spain, and the new capitalist spirit of the Rennaissance. From a strictly military point of view, neither Cortés nor Pizarro would be remembered today if it had not been for the bad faith of two empires such as the Aztec of Moctezuma and the Incan of Atahualpa. Both knew they were illegitimate and this weighed upon them in a manner that it weighs upon no modern governor.

The Spaniards first conquered these imperial heads or crushed them and cut them off in order to replace them with puppet chiefs, privileging the old native aristocracy, a story that may seem very familiar to any peripheral nation of the 21st century.

The principal strategic legacy of this history was progressive social and geographic division. While at first the cultural revolution of the United States, based on utopian theories, was admired and then later simply its muscular power, which resulted from unions and annexations, the America of the south proceeded with the inverse method of divisions. Thus were destroyed the dreams of those today called liberators, like Simón Bolívar, José Artigas or San Martín. Thus Central America and South America exploded into the fragments of tiny nations. This fragmentation was convenient for the nascent empires of the Industrial Revolution and of the celebrated Creole caudillismo, whereby a chief representative of the feudal agrarian culture would impose himself above the law and humanist progress in order to rescue the prosperity of his class, which he confused with the prosperity of the new country. Paradoxically, as in the imperial democracy of the Athens of Pericles, both the British and American empires were administered differently, as representative democracies. Paradoxically, while the discourse of the wealthy classes in Latin America was imposing the ideolexicon “patriotism,” their practice consisted in serving foreign interests, their own as minority interests, and submitting to exploitation, expropriation and contempt a social majority that were strategically considered minorities.

In Bolivia the indigenous people were always a minority. Minority in the daily newspapers, in the universities, in the majority of Catholic schools, in the public image, in politics, in television. The problem stemmed from the fact that that minority was easily more than half of the invisible population. Somewhat like how today black men and women are called a minority in the southern United States, where they total more than fifty percent. To disguise that the fact that the Bolivian ruling class was the ethnic minority of a democratic population, one pretended that an indigenous person, in order to be one, had to wear feathers on their head and speak the Aymara of the 16th century, before the contamination of the colonial period. Since this phenomenon is impossible in any nation and in any moment of history, they were then denied Amerindian citizenship for the sin of impurity. For that, the best resource now consists of systematic mockery in well-publicized books: they mock those who would claim their Amerindian lineage for speaking Spanish and for doing so over the Internet or on a cellular telephone. By contrast, it is never demanded of a good Frenchman or of a traditional Japanese that they urinate behind an orange tree like in Versailles or that their woman walk behind them with her head lowered. Which is to say, the Amerindian peoples are out of place except in the museum and in dances for tourists. They have no right to progress, that thing which is not an invention of any developed nation but of Humanity throughout its history.

Bolivia’s recent separatist referenda – let’s dispense with the euphemism – are part of a long tradition, which demonstrates that the ability to retain the past is not the exclusive property of those who refuse to progress but those who consider themselves the vanguard of civilizing progress.

If medieval (which is to say, pre-humanist) cultures and ideologies defended until recently with blood in the eyes and in their political and religious sermons differences of class, of race, and of gender as part of nature or of divine right and now they have change their discourse, it is not because they have progressed thanks to their own tradition but despite that tradition. They have had no other recourse than to recognize and even try to appropriate ideolexicons like “freedom,” “equality,” “diversity,” “minority rights,” etc. in order to legitimate and extend a contrary practice. If democracy was an “invention of the devil” until the mid-20th century, according to this feudal mentality, today not even the most fascist would be capable of declaring it in a public square. On the contrary, their method consists of repeating this word in association with contrary muscular practices until it is emptied of meaning.

It is easy to point out why one patriotism or nationalism can be fascist and the other humanist: one imposes the difference of its muscular power and the other claims the right to equality. But since we only have one word and within it are mixed all of the historical circumstances, we usually condemn or praise indiscriminately.

Now, the muscular power of the oppressor is not sufficient; the moral defect of the oppressed is also necessary. Not long ago a Miss Bolivia – with some traces of indigenous features for an outer glance – complained that her country was recognized for its cholas (indigenous women) when in reality there were other parts of the country where the women were prettier. This is the same mentality as an impure man named Domingo Sarmiento in the 19th century and the majority of the educators of the period.

Military colonialism has given way to political colonialism and the latter has passed the baton to cultural colonialism. This is why a government composed of ethnic groups historically repudiated at home and abroad not only must contend with the practical difficulties of a world dominated by and made to order for the capitalist system, whose only flag is the interest and benefit of financial classes, but also must struggle with centuries of prejudice, racism, sexism and classism that are encrusted beneath every pore of the skin of every inhabitant of this sleeply America.

As a reaction to this reality, those who oppose it take recourse to the same method of raising up the caudillos, individual men or women who must be defended vigorously. From the point of view of humanist analysis, this is a mistake. However, if we consider that the progress of history – when it is possible – is also moved by political changes, then one would have to recognize that the theory of the intellectual must make concessions to the practice of the politician. Nevertheless, again, even though we might suspend this warning, we must not forget that there is no humanist progress through struggling eternally with the instruments of an old, oppressive and anti-humanist tradition.

But first things first: Bolivia cannot be divided in two based on one rich and white Bolivia and another indian and poor Bolivia. What moral foundation can a country or an autonomous region have based on acute mental and historical retardation? Why were these separatist – or “decentalized union” – boundaries not arrived at when the government and society were dominated by the traditional Creole classes? Why was it then more patriotic to have a united Bolivia without autonomous indigenous regions?


Jorge Majfud, Phd. The University of Georgia.

Translated by Bruce Campbell


The Fragments of the Latin American Union

This political cartoon (attributed to Benjamin...

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Los fragmentos de la desunión latinoamericana (Spanish)

The Past Hurts But Does Not Condemn

The Fragments of the Latin American Union

Jorge Majfud

Lincoln University


In Latin America, in the absence of a social revolution at the moment of national independence there were plenty of rebellions and political revolts. Less frequently these were popular rebellions and almost never were they ideological revolutions that shook the traditional structures, as was the case with the North American Revolution, the French Revolution, and the Cuban Revolution. Instead, internal struggles abounded, before and after the birth of the new Republics.

A half century later, in 1866, the Ecuadorian Juan Montalvo would make a dramatic diagnosis: “freedom and fatherland in Latin America are the sheep’s clothing with which the wolf disguises himself.” When the republics were not at war they enjoyed the peace of the oppressors. Even though slavery had been abolished in the new republics, it existed de facto and was almost as brutal as in the giant to the north. Class violence was also racial violence: the indigenous continued to be marginalized and exploited. “This has been the peace of the jail cell,” conclued Montalvo. The indian, deformed by this physical and moral violence, would receive the most brutal physical punishments but “when they give him the whip, trembling on the ground, he gets up thanking his tormenter: May God reward you, sir.” Meanwhile, the Puerto Rican Eligenio M. Hostos in 1870 would already lament that “there is still no South American Confederation.” On the contrary, he only saw disunion and new empires oppressing and threatening: “An empire [Germany] can still move deliberately against Mexico! Another empire [Great Britain/Brazil] can still wreck Paraguay with impunity!”

But the monolithic admiration for central Europe, like that of Sarmiento, also begins to fall apart at the end of the 19th century: “Europe is no happier, and has nothing to throw in our face with regard to calamities and misfortunes” (Montalvo). “The most civilized nations—Montalvo continues—, those whose intelligence has reached the sky itself and whose practices walk in step with morality, do not renounce war: their breasts are always burning, their jealous hearts leap with the drive for extermination.” The Paraguay massacre results from muscular reasoning within the continent, and another American empire of the period is no exception to this way of seeing: “Brazil trades in human flesh, buying and selling slaves, in order to bow to its adversary and provide its share of the rationale.” The old accusation of imperial Spain is now launched against the other colonialist forces of the period. France and England – and by extension Germany and Russia – are seen as hypocrites in their discourse: “the one has armies for subjugating the world, and only in this way believes in peace; the other extends itself over the seas, takes control of the straits, dominates the most important fortresses on earth, and only in this way believes in peace.” In 1883, he also points out the ethical contradictions of the United States, “where the customs counteract the laws; where the latter call the blacks to the Senate, and the former drive them out of the restaurants.” (Montalvo himself avoids passing through the United States on his trip to Europe out of “fear of being treated like a Brazilian, and that resentment might instill hatred in my breast,” since “in the most democratic country in the world it is necessary to be thoroughly blonde in order to be a legitimate person.”)

Nonetheless, even though practice always tends to contradict ethical principles—it is not by accident that the most basic moral laws are always prohibitions—the unstoppable wave of humanist utopia continued to be imposed step by step, like the principal of union in equality, or the “fusion of the races in one civilization.” The same Iberoamerican history is understood in this universal process “to unite all the races in labor, in liberty, in equality and in justice.” When the union is achieved, “then the continent will be called Colombia” (Hostos). For José Martí as well, history was directed inevitably toward union. In “La América” (1883) he foresaw a “new accommodation of the national forces of the world, always in movement, and now accelerated, the necessary and majestic grouping of all the members of the American national family.” From the utopia of the union of nations, project of European humanism, it comes to be a Latin American commonplace: the fusion of the races in a kind of perfect mestizaje. The empires of Europe and the United States rejected for such a project, the New World would be “the oven where all the races must be melted, where they are being melted” (Hostos). In 1891, an optimistic Martí writes in New York that in Cuba “there is no race hatred because there are no races” even though this more of an aspiration than a reality. During the period advertisements were still published in the daily newspapers selling slaves alongside horses and other domesticated animals.

In any case, this relationship between oppressors and oppressed can not be reduced to Europeans and Amerindians. The indigenous people of the Andes, for example, also had spent their days scratching at the earth in search of gold to pay tribute to those sent by the Inca and numerous Mesoamerican tribes had to suffer the oppression of an empire like the Aztec. During most of the life of the Iberoamerican republics, the abuse of class, race and sex was part of the organization of society. International logic is reproduced in the domestic dynamic. To put it in the words of the Bolivian Alcides Arguedas in 1909, “when a boss has two or more pongos [unsalaried worker], he keeps one and rents out the others, as if it were simply a matter of a horse or a dog, with the small difference that the dog and the horse are lodged in a wood hut or in a stable and both are fed; the pongo is left to sleep in the doorway and to feed on scraps.” Meanwhile the soldiers would take the indians by the hair and beating them with their sabres carry them off to clean the barracks or would steal their sheep in order to maintain an army troop as it passed through. In the face of these realities, utopian humanists seemed like frauds. Frantz Tamayo, in 1910 declares, “imagine for a moment the Roman empire or the British empire having national altruism as it foundation and as its ideal. […] Altuism! Truth! Justice! Who practices these with Bolivia? Speak of altruism in England, the country of wise conquest, and in the United States, the country of the voracious monopolies!” According to Angel Rama (1982), modernization was also exercised principally “through a rigid hierarchical system.” That is to say, it was a process similar to that of the Conquest and the Independence. In order to legitimate the system, “an aristocratic pattern was applied which has been the most vigorous shaper of Latin American cultures throughout their history.”

Was our history really any different from these calamities during the military dictatorships of the end of the 20th century? Now, does this mean that we are condemned by a past that repeats itself periodically as if it were the a novelty each time?


Let us respond with a different problem. The popular psychoanalytic tradition of the 20th century made us believe that the individual is always, in some way and in some degree, hostage to a past. Less rooted in popular consciousness, the French existentialists reacted by proposing that in reality we are condemned to be free. That is, in each moment we have to choose, there is no other way. In my opinion, both dimensions are possible in a human being: on the one hand we are conditioned by a past but not determined by it. But if we pay paranoid tribute to that past believing that all of our present and our future is owed to those traumas, we are reproducing a cultural illness: “I am unhappy because my parents are to blame.” Or, “I can’t be happy because my husband oppressed me.” But where is the sense of freedom and of responsibility? Why is it not better to say that “I have not been happy or I have these problems because, above all, I myself have not taken responsibility for my problems”? Thus arises the idea of the passive victim and instead of fighting in a principled way against evils like machismo one turns to the crutch in order to justify why this woman or that other one has been unhappy. “Am I sick? The fault is with the machismo of this society.” Etc.

Perhaps it goes without saying that being human is neither only biology nor only psychology: we are constructed by a history, the history of humanity that creates us as subjects. The individual—the nation—can recognize the influence of context and of their history and at the same time their own freedom as potential which, no matter how minimal and conditioned it might be, is capable of radically changing the course of a life. Which is to say, an individual, a nation that would reject outright any representation of itself as a victim, as a potted plant or as a flag that waves in the wind.

Translated by Bruce Campbell

Respect Without Rights: The Privatization of Morality

The Pope with American President Ronald Reagan...

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Respeto sin derechos: la privatización de la moral (Spanish)

Respect Without Rights: The Privatization of Morality

Jorge Majfud

Despite the violent reactions of the owners of the world, the humanist wave that radicalizes the recognition of fundamental equality among human beings will not stop.  But the price paid in the last seven centuries has been very high.  Like any change in values, even when pointing to the center of the humanist paradigm (in part accepted by conservative discourse, very much despite itself), it must necessarily be considered “immoral.”

Just one example.

The very definition of “marriage between two people of the same sex” hides a preconceived idea: if the body possesses a penis and testicles, it is a man; if it possesses a vagina and ovaries it is a woman.  Biological sex is identified with gender.  We know that gender is a cultural construction; there is nothing biological about the fact that little girls are dressed in pink and boys in sky blue or that teenaged girls would die to look and act like a barbie doll while their brother is out looking for a scar or a prostitute to confirm his manhood

Paradoxically, it is understood that in order to be a “man” or “woman” it is not enough to possess a virile member or a reproductive womb: it is necessary, first of all, “to behave like” such, according to the naturalized formulas.  At the same time, in order to confer the category of sin upon a sexuality different from our own (supposing that all of us heterosexuals practice sex in the same manner), it is alleged that that person has chosen to be that way.  To respond to this accusation, the partisans of gay rights allege that their sexual condition is not rooted in a choice but in an innate, genetic fact.  The most repeated argument in support of this idea is formulated as a rhetorical question: “Have heterosexuals chosen their heterosexuality?”  A new paradox is derived from this argument: in order to defend a right to freedom, freedom is annulled as a legitimating principle

Now, although we can accept two antagonistic categories, nature and culture, we must observe how both concepts are manipulated to the benefit of one sector or another.  For example, the ability to give birth (in Spanish “dar a luz,” to bring to light, one of the more beautiful metaphors) is proper to women, therefore we could define it as a “natural faculty.”  The problem arises when that faculty is interpreted by other members of society according to their own values, which is to say, according to their own interests.  Thus arise feminine roles that have never been dictated by nature but by social power

Recently, a legislator from my country repeated on the radio a well-known rationale. 1) He supported the right of lesbians and homosexuals to “be different.” 2) For this reason, he would not vote in favor of legislation that attempted to extend to them the same legal rights we heterosexuals enjoy because 3) he was in favor of the defense of family and values.  4) The defense of heterosexuality is the defense of nature, he concluded

We should observe that to allege a defense of values, without specifying to which values one refers, constitutes a new ideolexicon.  The implication is that it is possible not to possess or not to be in favor of “values.”  Nevertheless, nobody lacks a determinate system of values.  Even criminals and even more so organized crime are based on a determinate system of values.  Very traditional values, if we review the history of crime, whether private, religious or governmental.

We can say the same when the noun values is made more precise with the adjective family: “we defend family values.”  But, which family?  “The traditional family,” comes the response, supposing an absolute, ahistorical, natural category.  And to which tradition does one refer?  In the face of this kind of questioning, there is a quick retreat to safe ground: the Holy Scriptures.  I say “safe” for social reasons, not because of its theological implications, since from the latter point of view there is nothing less unanymous than interpretations of the sacred books.

If the defense is of “the values of the traditional family,” we might understand that the speaker is in favor of the oppression of women, of the denial of interracial marriage, interreligious marriage, etc.  But I do not believe that many people support this position, since this kind of “traditional values” has been defeated in the historical struggle in favor of a secular (not necessarily irreligious) humanism.  Because if many present day religions defend gender and racial equality (and although primitive Christianity also did so in a radical and revolutionary degree for its time), a millenarian history demonstrates the contrary.  We owe to progressive humanism and not to “traditional values” those principles of which even the most reactionary among us now boast.

When one assumes that the prescription of heterosexuality is a defense of nature in order to deny marriage rights to people “of the same sex” there is no explanation of why homosexuals (almost) always came from heterosexual families.  Even more curious: in the need to legitimate the denial of others’ rights, a Catholic priest praised the Uruguayan legislator for defending nature.  This demonstrates the immersion of the priest in the humanist paradigm.  It would have been more logical and traditional to take recourse to the will of God (assuming that anyone can arrogate to himself this right) or some Mosaic law, like those that Jesus used to abolish.  Since it is recognized that the State of an open society should be secular, one recurs to the paradigms of humanism.  But, how does one speak of natural when we are talking about the least natural animal of all the species?  What is natural about the celibate man, sexual abstention or the wearing of skirts in the style of the Middle Ages?

Yes, at least the Catholic Church has a long tradition of recognizing faults and errors.  Which is a virtue and the humanist recognition that ideas like the “Papal infallibility” decreed by the Vatican was an authoritarian fantasy.  The problem lies in the fact that those who hold traditional power recognize their errors a hundred years later, when it no longer matters to the victims.  As if errors were always in the past and never in the present.   As if repentance were part of the strategy of that power in the face of the rise of contrary values.

Since when can a right I possess be perceived as threatened because a peer demands it in the same measure?  Or is it that that peer is a peer but not as much of a human being as I because he arrived later in the world?  What right do some of us equals have to organize a State in order to exclude other equals at the same time that we brag about the diversity of our societies?  Why do we believe we are doing others a favor by tolerating them, instead of recognizing that they are the ones doing us a favor by not rebelling violently in order to finally recoup those rights that we deny them?

Because the right to be different does not consist of having different rights but, simply, the same.

Translated by Bruce Campbell

The Perversions of a System

Cantando por un sueño (song)

Image via Wikipedia

Las perversiones de un sistema (Spanish)

The Perversions of a System

When the State Loses its Raison D’Etre

Jorge Majfud

Translated by Bruce Campbell



One of Mexico’s most popular television programs, Singing for a Dream (Cantando por un sueño, TelevisaUnivisión, 2006), also available on cable in the United States to a large audience, consists of the well-known formula of a competition between amateur singers who seek to initiate a successful artistic career.  In principle, there is nothing wrong with this kind of circus fare and we might even say that most of the participants demonstrate special singing talent.  The problem arises when we recognize another common characteristic of our times.  Just as in a similar series where the competitors danced instead of singing, each one does so “for a noble cause,” which is also one of the rules of the game: one needed the prize money in order to pay for the treatment that would restore his father’s eyesight, another so that his paralyzed brother might walk again, another so that his wife’s terrible cancer, covering half her face, could be treated, etc.  The most common cases involve extreme illnesses and part of the entertainment spectacle consists in showing the suffering victim, with the competitor and the audience on the verge of tears as they imagine how good, sensitive and supportive we all are when faced with someone else’s misfortune.  This morbid sadism, camouflaged as teary sensitivity, is consistent with those other contemporary competitions where, instead of the best of a group of five or ten participants, it is instead the worst who is selected – generally using the democratic vote of the audience – and then humiliated by being taken out of the competition.  Like a Miss Universe contest that begins by electing the ugliest of all the women in order to watch her retreat, disillusioned and humiliated under the bright lights and the cameras, until  arriving at the most beautiful of the contestants, at which point  morbid fascination has anesthetized any aesthetic expectation and the coronation no longer possesses the importance it once had.  In the end, it’s the same as always: our capitalism rewards desire but punishes pleasure.

In principle we might think that the program in question is a way of helping someone who otherwise would receive no help.  In fact this is exactly the argument that is repeated from center stage.  Even accepting this circumstantial truth, we should ask ourselves about the root of the problem.  Why would they “otherwise receive no help”?  Why must a person who lays prostrate in a bed suffering day to day the torture of a terrible illness expose themselves to the audience and hope that their defender might sing better than the others (and that the judges and finally the audience take pity on the victim and at the same time be captivated by the contestant’s voice) in order to be able to survive?  Is this spectacle not comparable to the old and barbarous custom of castrating young singers in order to shape the perfect voice?  Or that other barbaric custom of taking out birds’ eyes with a nail so that they stop singing in their cages?  Paraphrasing Horacio Guaraní, though not without deep scepticism, one would have to recite:


If the singer falls silent, life is silenced

because life, life itself is all a song

if the singer falls silent, all is gone

all hope, and light and happiness

the dock workers cross themselves

who will fight for their wages?

This programming is one of the worst examples of the morbidity promoted by capitalism and of the perversion of the obedient and consumerist masses.  Numbed by the dream of “individual liberty,” we consumers are nothing but that: devourers of products, trained and anesthetized by the same system that produces these Roman-style circuses, where cruelty is not only part of the entertainment spectacle but, even worse, is dressed up as compassion and generosity.  A system that moralizes and teaches that this type of spectacle as well as the final act of charity are proof of surprising and humane good will.  One applauds the generosity and good intentions of the donations that the program and the television channel will make to one or two of the seven victims.  We will not sit in judgement of the good faith of everyone involved; but let’s also not make the mistake of believing that the enterprise and its employees will lose any money on this “noble act,” which pretends to remedy the ethical abyss in the economic system they serve.

Once the singer who competed for a brain operation for his brother wins, the agonizing wife of the loser must resign herself to hearing that somehow, in a manner not established by the rules of the game, they are going to help her too.  So, why the competition?  Why so much suspense?  One might argue that it is necessary in order to raise money.  But this argument is additional proof of the perversion of the system (i.e. late capitalism) and a slap in the face for millions of people who believe themselves to be generous when they vote for one of the contestants, giving hope to one and plunging into despair the other, who takes his cancer home with him when the lights go out, and with them the fleeting memory of the generous consumers.  Like those emails we receive every day with images of someone who appears to suffer from some terrible illness (although it is never clear exactly who they are, or if any of the information can be trusted), appealing to charity to save a life.  Like that army of lepers in India  who showed us their mutilated limbs, covered with open sores, in exchange for a donation – which, by the way, demonstrates that this perversion is older than capitalism, although the latter has added stage lights and melodrama, abundance and hypocrisy.

Amid all this absurdity we must not only point the finger at a decadent system, but also, and especially, at every State that serves it.  I am familiar with the classic objection: “Why must we always be dependent on the State?  Why must we always expect the State to provide a solution to social and individual problems?”  As far as I am concerned, the ideal would be for societies not to have to rely on any State – nor even to have one at all. At least not that traditional apparatus, a nest of vertical power and corruption, resource for the aristocracy and depository of national apologies.  Nevertheless, I have always been struck by the fact that those who raise this kind of rhetorical question as their only ideological tool tend to be radical partisans of traditional capitalism.  I am struck, I say, not because I believe that capitalism is the worst of all systems, but because I recognize that both communism and capitalism are systems that could not survive without the existence of a central State.  Refering back to the problem posed at the beginning of the essay, why don’t we ask: Why not take recourse to the State in these cases?  If the State is required to guarantee the smooth functioning of the stock markets (for which purpose it incurs astronomical expenses), roads and communication networks, why not require that it take care of a dying man who, through the State’s aid, might enjoy a full life? Most economic activity – from the useless propagation of  cellphone calls inform the spouse that one has returned home and in that instant sticking the key in the front door, from the “minute-to-minute update” on a football game, to the most banal necessities ever invented in history – has as its purpose the development of a sector of the economy and not exactly coming to the aid of those in need.  There is no better proof of that than the inefficient health systems of countries as wealthy as the United States, where a considerable part of the population can spend a hundred dollars a week on clothes for their dogs and three hundred for a visit to the veterinarian, and are offended when one reminds them that south of the Río Grande there are children who spend less in a year.  Because, how is it possible for someone to doubt my sensitivity if I care for a dog as if it were a person?

How is it possible for a State – any State, in any country – to invest millions of dollars in urban “beautification”, millions more in political propaganda, comparable sums to protect luxury hotels and casinos and not take care of those citizens who are in agony with a terminal illness?  Why should a girl, faced with a bed-ridden life unless she receives a spinal operation or has a cyst removed from her eye, have to turn to raffles, or television programs that publicize her terrible circumstances in order to emotionally motivate potential donors while the States look on impassively, worried more about the insatiable growth of the Gross Domestic Product?  If the State imposes a tax charge in order to pay the salaries of its bureaucrats, its chauffers, its coffee servers and, what is worse, its unelected political appointees, why not raise a little more money in order to save the lives of those who have fallen undeservedly into misfortune?  Why are useless militaries sustained by compulsive tribute and yet to save a child with cancer one must turn either to the generous heart of some good Samaritan or to the Church?

Dying of cancer or going blind due to some reversible disease is a potential circumstantial misfortune for any individual, but it is a regular and constant fact of life for any society. A government might be excused for not foreseeing an earthquake or the explosion of a damned bomb on a train, but how does one excuse a government and an entire society from attending to those thousands of innocents who predictably fall, year after year, into misfortune through no fault of their own?  How does one forgive a president and his legislators who are watching a gruesome television spectacle where the competition is between a cancer and a tumor, between a paralysis and a blindness, who are satisfied with the good will of their nation because advertisement revenue from commercial products will finance the rehabilitation of one of the afflicted?  Afflictions that the program’s host, with his voice noticeably breaking, must repeat every week in the language of mass entertainment:  “Juan and María are competing for a dream; Juan’s dream is to win so that the tumor destroying his wife’s face can be removed; what a beautiful dream.” The capitalist system isghoulish, but it does have its modesty. Except when it casts aside subtlety and airs a promotional preview for an exhausted public in the middle of the work week saying, with the agitated voice of a soccer announcer and the harangue of a boxing commentator: “Juan left María’s brother with no hope to ever see again, and now he faces Pedro, who competes for his own dream.”

And notice that they haven’t got the courage to put into the competition a malnourished child, though I assure you such candidates abound in our long-suffering America.  This may be because in that case the prize would be a daily plate of food, and what the entertainment spectacle requires is a $50,000 dollar operation, a real effort capable of revealing the great strength of a people when it comes together for a noble cause.

It is in moments like these when the over-used word “solidarity” finally runs aground.  Because it is not the solidarity of charity that makes a society virtuous but the solidarity of a system that places a higher priority on the lives of its inhabitants than on the luxury or convenience of so-called economic growth.  Because, as it turns out, economic growth is built on this kind of perverse civic morality, and when we can enjoy that we are so corrupt the only thing we think about is perpetuating, proudly, the vices that have brought us success.



Jorge Majfud

The University of Georgia, junio 2006.





Jorge Majfud was born in Uruguay, in 1969. From an early age he read and wrote fiction, but chose to major in Architecture and in 1996 he graduated from the Universidad de la República in Montevideo, Uruguay. His university studies and interests led him to travel to more than forty countries to gather, in an obsessive and continuous way, pages that would later become part of his novels and essays. He was a professor at the Universidad Hispanoamericana de Costa Rica and at Escuela Técnica del Uruguay, where he taught Mathematics and Art. In 2003 he entered the University of Georgia, where he also began postgraduate studies in the Department of Romance Languages. Master of Art in Literature, he currently teaches Latin American Literature at The University of Georgia.

Some publications: Hacia qué patrias del silencio (memorias de un desaparecido), novel published for the first time in 1996, by Editorial Graffiti, Montevideo (latest edition: Baile del Sol, Spain 2001); Crítica de la pasión pura, essays 1998, Editorial Graffiti, Montevideo (2nd edition –selection-: 1999, HCR, Virginia, USA; 3rd edition: 2000, Editorial Argenta, Buenos Aires); La reina de América, novel (Baile del Sol, Tenerife. 2002). He has contributed to the issue Entre Siglos-Entre Séculos: Autores Latinoamericanos a Fin de siglo, edited by Pilar Ediçoes (Brasilia) and Bianchi Editores (Montevideo), in 1999. 9 viajes (Ed. Trilce, Montevideo, 2002), El tiempo que me tocó vivir (Ed. Miguel de Cervantes, España), Los significados ideológicos de América Latina (CEPAL, Santiago de Chile, 2006). His stories and articles have been published in daily newspapers, magazines, and readers, such as El País and La República of Montevideo, Rebelion, Hispanic Culture Review of George Mason University, Resource Center of The Americas, Tiempos del Mundo, Jornada, etc. He has been the founder and editor of the magazine SigloXXI-reflexiones sobre nuestro tiempo. He is a habitual collaborator in Bitácora, weekly publication of the daily newspaper La República of Montevideo, La Vanguardia of Barcelona and of other daily and weekly newspapers in Uruguay, Argentina, Chile, Mexico, Venezuela, Spain, France, Sweden, Canada, and the United States. He is a member of the International Scientific Committee of the magazine Araucaria in Spain and The Honor Society of Phi Kappa Phi

He was distinguished in different international contests, for example: Honor Mention in the XII Certamen Literario Argenta, in Buenos Aires in 1999, for the first drafts of Crítica de la pasión pura. Mention at Premio Casa de las Américas, in Habana, Cuba in 2001, for the novel La Reina de América, “because it stands out as an intense writing regarding the established powers by the use of parody and irony,” according to the panel of judges composed of Belén Gopegui (Spain), Andrés Rivera (Argentina), Mayra Santos Febres (Puerto Rico), Beatriz Maggi (Cuba), and José Luis Díaz Granados (Colombia). Segundo Premio Concurso Caja Profesional 2001, for the story Mabel Espera, “for its posing of annotated, harsh reality written with valuable literary strategies,” in the opinion of the panel of judges made up of Sylvia Lago, Alicia Torres, and Mario Delgado Aparaín. Excellence in Research Award, UGA, United States 2006.

His essays and articles have been translated into Portuguese, French, English and German.


The Original Frustration

A printed circuit board inside a mobile phone

Image via Wikipedia

La frustración original (Spanish)

The Original Frustration

Jorge Majfud

Lincoln University


There are at least three dreams that were persistent from my childhood: in the first one I would try desperately to say something, but I would open my mouth and the words would not come out; in the second one I would try to walk and even though I would lean exaggeratedly forward my legs would not respond in a coordinated way; in the third one I could talk and walk, but the central theme was an endless flight, a mixture of fear and pleasure from escaping the aggression of a mob of people, probably representatives of the law, who did not understand my arguments of innocence. Looking back, I see that this last theme of the series is also central to my three novels. In all of them there is some kind of enclosed space and someone imagining exits. But now I am interested in outlining the problem of the first dream.

My son just turned one year old and in this time of close living I have been recognizing those obsessive dreams, my first frustrations, in his. By helping him to walk I have re-lived my own frustrated desire to do so harmoniously. Certain vertigo panics, falls, his body exaggeratedly leaning forward to aid in producing a step that is not produced, hands and feet that don’t respond the way we want. But without doubt the greatest frustration for this little one, like my own and – I suppose – like the frustration of women and men throughout history, is the precariousness of communication. During the entire first year of life, a person only has one sign for expressing what is most important: crying. Even with all it possible variations, for two adults who have forgotten that first metaphysical language, it is always the same or almost the same crying. A cry to say that they are hungry, to ask for water, to say that they are ready to sleep, to say that the stomach hurts, or the head, the teeth, or the hands those teeth have bitten, to say that they are hot or cold, to say they have a fever or don’t know what they have. Only one sign to say they are frustrated because only one sign is not sufficient for so much emotional complexity. Little by little laughter is incorporated, first as an expression of joy and later, likely, as a self-interested sign of complicity. The game with a little baseball that the child throws from his crib and bursts with laughter – one of his first belly laughs – when he discovers that he can share with his father or his mother a couple of basic rules, becomes a fact of communication. The ball (the tool, the dendrites and axones) is like a new word that is integrated to a new language, the rules of the game. Mere ludic pleasure cannot explain that shout of satisfaction. That fullness that he did not encounter playing alone, signifies the phenomenon of having created or discovered another form of communication, of liberation from his own limits. What else is culture but the radicalization of this attempt at liberation of the individual that often ends in the oppression of oneself or others? The little one has discovered a secret that he projects beyond the fundamental frustration, suspending it in the game. But in the most intense moments of his life, crying remains the principal sign, like an indiscriminate and simultaneous mixture of all words and all languages. In his adult life, like all of us, he will be obligated to make much use of laughter and smiling. In almost every photograph he will be obligated to smile, to demonstrate that he is happy even though he is not; he will repress the crying and, as in childhood, he will reserve it only for certain intense moments of his life, which we all hope will be as few as possible.

Somehow the child’s communication is produced, but the frustration is a perhaps indelible experience, and perhaps the first of all frustrations in life and the frustration that unleashes all the rest: language, writing, the building of bridges, houses, automobiles, political speeches, crimes of passion, declarations of love. Now, how is this communication anxiety reproduced in society? Does some relationship exist between the development of an individual and the development of history? We can sustain the hypothesis that communication in our global world expresses a need for survival as ancient as the invention of writing in Sumeria or of the signs and myths in the Paleolithic period. But this functional necessity is also the reflection of a psychological fixation, product of the “original frustration” of communication. Most, if not all, religious texts, aside from the particular ideological interests of the moment, in general structure their narration of human history as the consequence of the lack of communication of the Father. Nevertheless, the theological reading of each group in power will interpret this human condition as simple disobedience, not only because this can be a sensible theological interpretation for a God like the Judeo-Islamo-Christian God but rather, above all, because it is a convenient interpretation for those who narrate from within a space of social power. Thus, “wanting to know” and “sin of disobedience” have been linked recurrently from the cosmogonic myths to the most sophisticated political myths.

What proportion of the hours of cellular telephone use, e-mail or any other public activity is strictly necessary in its production and reproduction function? Perhaps a negligible part. Most of the time we dedicate to communicating for the exercise of communication itself. Communication forms part of our “inter-ego,” the we that is never fully achieved. In some cases, as in the present historical moment, it would appear that the main obsession is not rooted so much in communication as a medium but as an end: the frustration resulting from the unspoken word translates into an interminable monologue. On occasions, when two people speak by telephone, in essence they effect the superimposition of two monologues. In the monologue, the individual expects the satisfaction of being listened to and satisfied. Listening is not as important as being listened to; in a blog, in a forum of discussion, reading is not as important as being read, which is demonstrated by the immediate opinion of the reader who didn’t complete the reading of the article under discussion. In any case the attention paid by the alienated individual to the other is a social requirement in order to be listened to, in order to be on display in a progressively narcissistic culture. As with a domestic argument, where communication is equally frustrated, as with the child’s crying: what is important is not to listen but to be listened to, to make one’s own arguments prevail. But both dialectical contestants attempt the same thing, the only mutually shared thing is frustration, if not the illusion of a frustrated communication.

Perhaps this phenomenon is a logical reaction against the previous culture, where for centuries one listened to and read infinitely more of what was written or asserted as anti-establishment opinion. With the new cultural and technological tendency, the proportion has been altered in such a way that one might say, exaggerating slightly, that today more is written than what is read, more opinion is expressed than what is listened to, researched and analyzed. Looking at this model, it would not be absurd to imagine another swing of the pendulum, product of a maturation of a culture that might cease to view the new technologies as toys and begin to see them as tools of its own liberation.

It is likely that we are in a stage of history where we have already learned to speak but not yet to communicate. And our arguments fall into the nothingness, which obliges us to flee endlessly. It is likely that the slogans on the T-shirts, with which we believe we express our social ideas in three or four words – or those thoughts and emotions pre-fabricated by Microsoft – are nothing more than that mute cry that others hear by don’t know how to interpret correctly. Is it likely that the eternal and feverish political and religious proselytism is the fiercest expression of this cry?

If the desire for justice proceeds from this frustration of communication, what role does power play in this relationship? Perhaps silence is the form that social power has – the blind voice of the father, of the older brother –of resolving the lack of communication by force, radicalizing it, alienating individuals in a nature deceptively balanced and in peace. And this reaction, that of imposed silence, is new fuel on the fire of the original frustration of the failed communication and of desire, frequently violent, for justice on the part of the one held incomunicado.


Translated by Bruce Campbell


Men of the Cybernetic Caves

Campaign Poster of Bertrand Russell for the ca...

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Hombres de las cavernas cibernéticas (Spanish)

Men of the Cybernetic Caves

Jorge Majfud

Every time someone complains about ideas that fall outside an arbitrary and narrow circle called “common sense” (also known in English as “horse sense”), they do so by brandishing two classic arguments: 1) the philosophers live in another world, surrounded by books and eccentric ideas and 2) we know what reality is because we live in it. But when we ask what “reality” is they automatically recite to us a list of ideas that other philosophers placed in circulation in the 19th century or during the Renaissance, when those philosophers were branded by their neighbors, if not jailed or burned alive on the holy bonfire of good manners in the name of a common sense that represented the fantasies or realities of the Middle Ages.

The Cuban poet Nicolás Guillén, still in the name of what his detractors could frivolously call “populism” – as if a dominant culture were not simultaneously populist and classist by definition; what is more demagogic than the consumer market? – critiqued the idea that the poet must repeat what the people says when “misery attempts to pass itself off as sobriety” (Tengo, 1964). Then he recalled something that turns out to be obvious and, therefore, easy to forget: the “common man” is an abstraction if not a class formed and deformed by the communication media: film, radio, the press, etc.

Perhaps common sense is the inability of that common man to see the world from provinces other than his own. The first time that a common man like Colombus – common for his ideas, not for his actions – saw a Caribean, he saw the scarcity of weapons of war. In his diary he reported that the conquest of that innocent people would be easy. It is no accident that the violent enterprise of the Castilian Reconquest would be continued in the Conquest of the other side of the Atlantic in 1492, the same year the former was completed. The Cortéses, the Pizarros and other “advanced” men were unable to see in the New World anything other than their own myths through the insatiable thirst for domination of old Europe.

The old chronicles recall a certain occasion when a group of conquistadors arrived at a humble village and the indigenous people came out to meet them with a banquet they had prepared. While they were eating, one of the soldiers took out his heavy sword and split open the head of a savage who was trying to serve him fresh fruits. The comrades of the noble knight, fearing a reaction from the savages, proceeded to imitate him until they retreated from that village leaving behind several hundred indians cut to pieces. After a brief investigation, the same conquistadors reported that the event had been justified given that a welcome such as the one they had witnessed could only be a trick. In this way they inaugurated – at least for the chronicles or as slander – the first preemptive action on behalf of civilization. The popular idea that “when the charity is great even the saint is suspicious,” makes heaven complicit in that miserable human condition.

In the same way, both science fiction and the plundering of resources by colonizing new planets are nothing more than the expression of the same aggressive mentality that doesn’t end up solving the conflicts it provokes at each step because it is already undertaking the expansion of its own convictions in the name of its own mental frontiers. The conquistadors (of any race, of any culture) can neither comprehend nor accept that supposedly more primitive beings (native Americans) as well as more evolved beings (possible extraterrestrials) might be capable of something more than a close-minded military conduct, aggressively exploitative of the barbarians who don’t speak our language.

That is to say, mass consumer science fiction – that innocent artistic expression, made popular by the disinterested market – is the expression of the most primitive side of humanity. The basic scheme consists of dominating or being dominated, killing or being exterminated, like our ancestors, the Cromagnons, exterminated the big-headed Neanderthals – later turned into the mythological ogres of the European forests – thirty thousand years ago. This genre could be understood especially in the Cold War, but it is as old as our culture’s thirst for colonization. It is not surprising, therefore, that the extraterrestrials, supposedly more evolved than us, would be out there playing hide and seek. It is quite probable, besides, that they know the case of the Nazarene who took the precaution of using metaphors to preach brotherly and universal love and was crucified anyway.

Presently, while conflicts and wars ravage the whole world, while the environment is in its most critical state, scientists are charged with finding life and water on other planets. NASA plans to use greenhouse gases – like carbon dioxide or methane – to raise the temperature of Mars, melting the frozen water at its poles and forming rivers and oceans. With this method – already tested on our own planet – we will stop buying bottled water from Switzerland or from Singapore in order to import it from Mars, at a slightly higher price.

We are not able to communicate with one another, we are not able to adequately conserve the most beautiful planet in the galactic neighborhood, and we will manage to colonize dead planets, discover water and encounter other beings who probably do not want to be found by intergalactic beasts like us.

Nor is it by accident that the objective of video games is almost always the annihilation of the adversary. Playing at killing is the common theme of these electronic caves filled with Cro-Magnon men and women. If indeed we could imagine a positive aspect, like the possibility that the exercise of playing at killing might substitute for the real practice, there still remains the question of whether violence is an invariable human quota (psychoanalytic version) or can be increased or decreased through a precise culture, through a psychological and spiritual evolution on the part of humanity. I believe that both are surviving hypotheses, but the second one is the only active hope, which is to say, an ideology that promotes an evolution of the conscience and not resignation in the face of what is. If ethical evolution does not exist, at least it is a convenient lie which prevents our cynical involution. The Romans also used to express their passions by watching two gladiators kill each other in the arena; some Spaniards also discharge the same passion by watching the torture and murder of a beast (I am referring to the bull). Perhaps the first replaced the imperial monstrosity with soccer; the second are in the process of doing so. A few weeks ago, a group of Spaniards marched through the streets carrying slogans like “Torture is not culture.” Protest is a valiant resistance to barbarism disguised as tradition. We are better off not noting that history shows that, in reality, torture is a culture with a millenarian tradition. A culture refined to the limits of barbarism and sustained by the cowardly refinement of hypocrisy.

Bertrand Russell used to say that the madness of the stadiums had sublimated the madness of war. Sometimes it is the other way around, but this is almost always true. It is not less true, of course, that the culture of violence carries with it two hidden purposes: 1) with the supposedly violent libido sublimated in sports, films and video games, the greater violence of social injustices (injustice, from a humanist and Enlightenment point of view) remain unchallenged by the exhausted and self-satisfied masses; 2) it is a form of anaesthesia, of moral habit-forming, in the periodic return of the brute, prehistoric violence of the electronic wars where one neither kills nor murders but suppresses, eliminates. This cybernetic primitivism seduces by its appearance of progress, of future, of spectacle, of technological exploits. Human ignorance is camouflaged in intelligence. Poor intelligence. But it continues to be ignorance, although more criminal than the simple ignorance of the cave-dweller who split open his neighbor’s head in order to avenge a theft or an offense. Modern wars, like the genre of science fiction, are more direct expressions of a race of cave-dwellers that has multiplied dangerously its power to split open its neighbor’s head but has not committed itself to the courageous enterprise of universal conscience. Instead, it defends itself against this utopia by taking recourse to its only dialectical weapon: mockery and insult.

Translated by Bruce Campbell

Patriarchy with a Woman’s Face

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El patriarcado con rostro de mujer (Spanish)

Patriarchy with a Woman’s Face

Jorge Majfud

The same day that Joe Biden is selected as candidate for the vice presidency by the Democratic Party, the campaign of John McCain reproduced several videos of Hillary Clinton sharply attacking Obama. Probably these ads were designed with a selection of Clinton in mind instead of Biden. But even though this expectation was not fulfilled, Republican Party strategists must have thought that such critical work should not be thrown away and chose to put it on the air anyway. Immediately afterward, McCain’s advertising called explicitly for Clinton’s sad supporters to vote for the Republicans, just as the old democratic candidate Joe Lieberman does now, allying himself with his ex-rival from the 2000 elections, George Bush, in support of McCain with the argument for the latter’s greater experience.

Shortly before the Republican candidate was to announce his selection for VP, a radio station called me to talk about this process. At that moment there were three names in play, all men, but considering the electoral market it was my opinion that McCain’s vice presidential candidate would be a woman. Since then we have not stopped hearing women’s groups and Sarah Palin appeal to women’s consciousness in order to gain power. If it is indeed true that there is still a long way to go to eliminate the arbitrary inequalities of power, perhaps one particular woman is not the best substitute for women in general.

There are still feminists today who take pride in Margaret Thatcher for having been a woman of steel in power in one of the old empires, even though women who ordered their black slaves whipped had already been abundant for centuries. It remains paradoxical that it was precisely Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher who put the brakes on the progressive movements, among them the feminists, that appeared in the 1960s and which represented a rebellion of minority groups and of the oppressed (although in reality this was only a consequence of a long historical process initiated, in my view, in the 15th century).

All of that, which was barely the visible and ambiguous face of a deeper historical change, was reversed by the conservative wave that, in my opinion, will be coming to an end in the next decade but which can be slowed down in its movement, depending on the success or failure of some political changes around the world, especially in the United States. In whatever form, even if postponed, inexorable generational change will not depend on any political party. But right now possibility matters.

Sarah Palin is recognized as one of the most conservative among the conservative politicians. She is associated, for example, with “pro-life” groups. The latest slogan prays “Pro-Life, Pro-Palin,” in the assumed ideolexicon suggesting that others are not in favor of life. This defender of life supports unconditionally the war in Iraq and anywhere else it might be necessary. She is a member of the powerful National Rifle Association. She can be seen in photographs posing together with her children, smilling as beautifully as Diana, with a rifle in hand next to a moose she brought down herself, lying in a pool of blood in the snow. It is likely that the fondness for hunting and weapons on the part of the governor of Alaska and “pro-life” conservatives is not for fun or for sport, but out of necessity.

Significantly, the major stir that Sarah Palin has produced in recent days came with revelations of the pregnancy out of wedlock of one of her daughters. The scandal of the revelation, not of the pregnancy, is attributed to leftist press like the New York Times. Nonetheless, the fact must be of interest to conservatives, who are always concerned about the sexual life of sinners. However, the diverse groups of conservative women, among them Jane Swift, the ex-governor of Massachusetts, declared that all of the criticisms of Palin are sexist, since Palin is a woman. It is not sexist that, according to Hillary Clinton, it is acceptable to McCain and the conservatives that a woman receives a lower salary for the same work as a man because women are less educated than men.

From the conservative wing of the U.S. political spectrum, to which Palin belongs, have come theories that can in no way be called progressive and where being feminist is an insult as serious as being gay, liberal or an intellectual. In fact the intellectuals of this ideological region hate intellectuals in general and their books, and with a deep psychological need to police they dedicate themselves to making black lists of people, almost always colleagues, who they subsequently call “dangerous” or “stupid,” as if a stupid intellectual could be dangerous at the same time, the way a stupid president can be. From their pens have come impoverished but well publicized theories, like the theories of the return of patriarchy according to which the fact that a woman complies with the fixed role of stay-at-home mother produces families with many children, and consequently sustains the hegemony of an empire. Toward this end they cite not only the decline of the Roman Empire but the high birth rate of conservative families in the southern states in comparison with the low birth rate of liberal families in the north (e.g., Phillip Longman).

One cannot say that this is a campaign filled with rhetoric because it does not even amount to that much. Everything is reduced to the repetition of six or seven clichés whenever possible and even whenever irrelevant. One of the preferred clichés consists in emphasizing the experience of the candidate and their family values. Question: “What is the central idea of your candidate?” Answer (eyes fixed on the camera, face impassive): “The other candidate does not have the necessary experience.”

Experience is the other supreme virtue that is attributed to Sarah Palin when it is suggested that she has none. Almost as much as George Bush, who has had more than enough experience even before the beginning of his career and who has been so unjustly criticized and attacked by Democrats and avoided by his own party, but recognized by the conservatives for his family values and for his respect for his self-sacrificing wife. A man who from the beginning stood out not only for his incredibly broad political experience but also for his intelligence and his culture, although to these last two faculties one might add the generous virtue of discretion.

In summation and in their own words, conservatives are defenders of the values of the family. That is, authority proceeds from the father and fathers have the biblical right to define what is a family and what are its values. They are respectful and do not invade the private life of gays and lesbians as long as gays and lesbians do not attempt to obtain the same civil rights as decent people. The traditional role of the woman has been established by tradition and questioning that is part of the corruption and lack of values, all characteristics of the “bitter leftists,” liberals, and feminists.

Nevertheless, according to the polls, millions of women who previously supported Hillary Clinton have gone over to the Republican side. The electoral market, like on other occasions, is nourished by the contradictions of its consumers: those women who passionately defend in the media and in the cafes their support for a woman as a strategic advantage for the feminist movement without caring that that woman represents the exact opposite, may signify for the more sophisticated a demonstration of false consciousness, of complete manipulation. Something along the lines of women’s liberation through the consolidation of patriarchy, or the feminization of feminism.

We hope, in this context, that such brilliant masters of political chess will continue then to promise more freedom, democracy, and justice, and to always speak the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.

Translated by Bruce Campbell


Roman Apocrypha

A street of Pillars at the ruins of the city S...

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Apócrifo romano (Spanish)


Roman Apocrypha

Jorge Majfud


At the edge of the Empire and of the world, an old man lamented day and night and futilely awaited death. While he waited he told this story to those willing to venture out so far:


I have discovered that in the subsoils of the Empire my name is cursed. It would be useless to pursue those who remember me and would only augment the sad fame that will extend my shadow to the end of time. They will remember me for only one day, snuffed out forever in Palestine.

When the protests began (not against my government nor against the Empire, but against one lone man) I never thought of the seriousness of such an insignificant deed. I knew that the Caesar would only care about order, not justice; besides, the rebel was not Roman.

I will say that I, in some way, knew my fate, like someone who has received the revelation of an absurd dream which is quickly forgotten. During the protests I thought, time and again, about the memory of that distant people I governed. I also knew of the case of a Greek prisoner, philosopher or charlatan by profession, who had been condemned to death and the intellectuals remembered him more than they did Pericles. I learned in that now far away land that Eternity depends on the fleeting and confusing moment which is life. Rome is not eternal and one day it will be nothing more than a memory of stones and books; and what the future remembers will not be the best of the Empire.

When everyone was demanding that I crucify the rebel and nobody knew why, I asked for the counsel of others less great than I. The Romans did not care or were distracted, and so I had to turn, several times to Joachim of Samaria, a wise man who I had previously made use of to try to understand his people.

“Tell me, Joachim,” I asked him that day or the day before, “What can I do in these circumstances? I must be a judge and I am not able to distinguish clear water from bad. Is there even anything I can do? I have heard that the rebel himself has announced his death, just as others among your people announced his arrival.”

“The world is in your hands,” said the old man.

“No!” I shouted, “…it is not yet in my hands. First I will be Emperor of Rome.”

“Perhaps Rome and all the Romes to come will remember you for this day, my king.”

“And what will they say about me?”

“How could I know? I am a blind man,” answered the old one.

“As blind as anyone. I would give my eyes to see the future!”

“Even if you had a thousand eyes you would not see it, my king, because the future does not exist for men. It only exists in God who encompasses all things.”

“If your god knows it, then doesn’t the future exist somewhere?” I reasoned. “If God or the rebel can predict what will occur, what is to be done was already done…” I concluded, eloquently. I felt satisfied with that triumph over the wise foreigner.

When the rebel was brought before me, I began to interrogate him, stammering; I knew that was unfitting for a future Caesar and I could almost not contain my anger.

“So you are king?” I asked.

“You have said it,” stated that dark man, serene as if nothing mattered to him. “I came to this world to bring the Truth. And those who can understand it will listen to me.”

“And what is the truth,” I hurried to ask, certain that his answer would not be so great.

There was an infinite silence in response. Immediately the impatient multitude exploded again: “Release the son of man!,” the crowd began to shout, referrng to another prisoner who had used weapons against Rome, not words. And the Caesars will always fear words more than weapons.

I tried to be careful. I calculated my options. I understood that if I chose poorly, Palestine would go up in flames. So many people could not be wrong, and therefore there could only be one decision in the clear mind of a king.

When the soldiers finished whipping the rebel, I took the prisoner out again and said to the people:

“Look, here he is, I have taken him out so you can see that I find no crime in him.”

But the people insisted again:

“Kill him, crucify him!…”

“Better that you take him and crucify him yourselves,” was my answer.

“No, we cannot,” they yelled again, almost as one voice. To one side, the lords of the Law waited patiently for the inflamed masses to restore the sacred order.

Then, I saw the Rebel enter and I asked him:

“Where are you from, that you put me on this crossroads?”

But the Rebel did not answer this time, just like he hadn’t answered the last time.

“Are you not going to answer me? Don’t you know that I have the authority to crucify you or to set you free?”

“You would have no authority if God had not given it to you.”

So I, the governor of Palestine, finally yielded to the crowd, or to the arrogance of that prisoner. I decided for the good of the Pharisean Law and for the peace of Rome.

I delivered the dangerous rebel for the cross, and since his was not a crime against the gods but against the politics of the Caesar and of our allies, I had him executed along with other thieves.

The cries of that day long ago reached all the way to the palace. The people and their priests were satisfied. Except for an infamous minority. The same minority as always.

They crucified him at noon and, until mid-afternoon, the whole land fell dark. A deep cold covered the palace and perhaps the entire city.

“What is happening, my king?” asked Joachim, from some dark corner.

“You cannot see it, but the whole Earth has gone dark and it is because of the Rebel,” I murmured.

“Rome and the World will remember you for this day,” the blind man said.

“How can I be the guilty one? Did you not say that God knows what happened and what is to come? If your God knew that today I would err, how could I be free not to do so?”

“Listen, my king,” said the blind man, “I cannot see the present that you see. Nor can I see the future.  Nevertheless, now I know, almost before the rebel knew it, that you made a mistake. But this knowledge, oh, my king, does it suppress something of the freedom you had today to choose?”

Perhaps that is what fate and freedom are together. Now I only have the consolation that one day that handful of men and women will be the people of Rome. My fame will extend, dark and damned the world over, but I will become once again the honorable governor of a province of the Empire, freely deciding on behalf of its fate. And I will be once again remembered in infamy by another handful of prisoners, simply for fulfilling my divine duty. Now I know definitively my other fates. But I will believe once again that I am free, vested with all of the power of Rome.


Translated by Bruce Campbell


The Age of Barbaria


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La Era de Barbaria (Spanish)

The Humanist (USA)

The Age of Barbaria

Jorge Majfud

In the year of Barbaria began the annual trips to the year 33.  That year was selected because, according to surveys, Christ’s crucifixion drew the attention of most Westerners, and this social sector was important for economic reasons, since trips to the past were not organized, much less financed, by the government of any country, as had once happened with the first trips into space, but by a private company.  The financial group that made possible the marvel of traveling through time was Axa, at the request of the High Chief of Technology, who suggested infinite profits through the offering of “tourism services,” as it was called in its moment.  From then on, various groups of 30 people traveled to the year 33 in order to witness the death of the Nazarene, much as the tourist commoners used to do long ago when at each equinox they would gather at the foot of the pyramid of Chitchen-Itzá, in order to witness the formation of the serpent from the shadows cast down by the pyramid upon itself.

The greatest inconvenience encountered by Axa was the limited number of tourists who were able to attent the event at a time, which did not generate profits in accordance with the millions expected by the investors, for which reason that original number was gradually raised to 45, at the risk of attracting the attention of the ancient residents of Jerusalem.  Then the figure was maintained, at the request of one of the company’s principal stock-holders who argued, reasonably, that the conservation of that historic deed in its original state was the basis for the trips, and that if each group produced alterations in the facts, that could result in an abandonment of general interest in carrying out this kind of travel.

With time it was proven that each historical alteration of the facts, no matter how small, was nearly impossible to repair.  Which occurred whenever one of the travelers did not respect the rules of the game and attempted to take away some memento of the place.  As was the most well-known case of Adam Parcker who, with incredible dexterity, was able to cut out a triangular piece of the Nazarene’s red tunic, probably at the moment the latter collapses from fatigue.  The theft did not signify any change in the Holy Scriptures, but it served to make Parcker rich and famous, since the tiny piece of canvas came to be worth a fortune and not a few of the travelers who took on the trouble and expense of going back thousands of years did so to see where the Nazarene was missing “Parcker’s Triangle.”

A few had posed objections to this kind of travel which, they insist, will end up destroying history without us being able to notice.  In effect, so it is: for each change that is introduced on a given day, infinite changes are derived from it, century after century, gradually diluting or multiplying its effects.  In order to notice a minimal change in the year 33 it would be useless to turn to the Holy Scriptures, because all of the editions, equally, would reflect the blow and completely forget the original fact.  There might be a possibility of tracing each change by projecting other trips to years prior to the year of Barbaria, but nobody would be interested in such a project and there would be no way of financing it.

The discussion about whether history should remain as it is or can be legitimately modified also no longer matters.  But the latter is, in any case, dangerous, since it is impossible to foresee the resulting changes that would be produced by any particular alteration.  We know that any change could potentially not be catastrophic for the human species, but would be catastrophic for individuals: we might not be the ones who are alive now, but someone else instead.

The most radical religious groups find themselves on opposing sides.  Barbaria’s information services have recently discovered that a group of evangelists, belonging to the True Church of God, of Sao Pablo, will make a trip to the year 33.  Thanks to the charity of its faithful, the group has managed to gather together the sum of several million that Axa charges per ticket.  What no one has yet been able to confirm are the group’s intentions.  It has been said that they intend to blow up Golgotha and set fire to Jerusalem at the moment of the Crucifixion, so that we thus arrive at  the greatly anticipated End Times.  All of history would disappear; the whole world, including the Jews, would recognize their error, they would turn to Christianity in the year 33 and the entire world would live in the Kingdom of God, just as descrived in the Gospels.  Which is disputed by other people.

Others do not understand how the travelers can witness the crucifixion without trying to prevent it.  The theological answer is obvious, which is why those least interested in preventing the martyrdom of the Messiah are his own followers.  But or the rest, who are the majority, Axa has decreed its own ethical rules: “In the same manner in which we do not prevent the death of the slave between the claws of a lion, when we travel to Africa, neither must we prevent the apparent injustices that are committed with the Nazarene.  Our moral duty is to conserve nature and history as they are.”  The crucifixion is the common heritage of Humanity, but, above all, its rights have been acquired totally by Axa.

In fact,the changes will be increasingly inevitable.  After six years of trips to the year 33, one can see, at the foot of the cross, bottle caps and magic marker graffiti on the main beam, some of which pray: “I have faith in my lord,” and others just limit themselves to the name of who was there, along with the date of departure, so that future generations of travelers will remember them.  Of course, the company also began to yield in the face of pressure from dissatisfied clients, leading to a radical improvement in services.  For example, Barbaria just sent a technical representative to the year 26 to request the production of five thousand cubic meters of asphalt and to negotiate with Pontius Pilate the construction of a more comfortable corridor for the Via Dolorosa, which will make less tiresome the travelers’ route and, besides, would be a gesture of compassion for the Nazarene, who more than once broke his feet on stones that he did not see in his path.  It has been calculated that the improvement will not mean changes in the Holy Scriptures, since there is no special concern demonstrated there for the urbanism of the city.

With these measures, Axa hopes to shelter itself from the storm of complaints it has received due to alleged inadequacies in service, having to confront recently very costly law suits brought by client who have spent a fortune and have not returned satisfied.  The cause of these complaints is not always the intense heat of Jerusalem, or the congestion in which the city is entrapped on the day of the crucifixion.  Above all the cause is the unsatisfied expectations of the travelers.  The company defends itself by saying that the Holy Scriptures were not written under its quality control, but instead are only historical documents and, therefore, are exaggerated.  There where the Nazarene really dies, instead of there being a deep and horrifying night the sky is barely darkened by an excessive concentration of clouds, and nothing more.  The Catholics have declared that this fact, like all those referenced in the Gospels, should be understood in its symbolic meaning and not merely descriptively.  But most people were satisfied neither by Axa’s response nor by that of Pope John XXV, who came out in defense of the multinational corporation, thanks to which people can now be closer to God.

Translated by Bruce Campbell

Bruce Campbell is an Associate Professor of Hispanic Studies at St. John’s University in Collegeville, MN, where he is chair of the Latino/Latin American Studies program.  He is the author of Mexican Murals in Times of Crisis (University of Arizona, 2003); his scholarship centers on art, culture and politics in Latin America, and his work has appeared in publications such as the Journal of Latin American Cultural Studies and XCP: Cross-cultural Poetics.  He serves as translator/editor for the «Southern Voices» project at, through which Spanish- and Portuguese-language opinion essays by Latin American authors are made available in English for the first time.


Emir Sader cai sem assumir Casa de Rui Barbosa após críticas à ministra da Cultura, Ana de Hollanda

Emir Sader apoia Dr. Rosinha

Image by Dr. Rosinha via Flickr

RIO – O Ministério da Cultura informou nesta quarta-feira que o sociólogo Emir Sader não vai mais assumir a presidência da Fundação Casa de Rui Barbosa, conforme antecipou o colunista do GLOBO Ancelmo Gois . A ministra da Cultura, Ana de Hollanda, desistiu de nomeá-lo depois queSader a chamou de autista em entrevista ao jornal «Folha de S.Paulo«. Em nota, o ministério informou que o nome do novo dirigente será anunciado em breve.

( Leia o artigo de Elio Gaspari criticando a indicação de Emir Sader para o cargo )

O sociólogo foi indicado pelo PT para a presidência da fundação, mas a nomeação não chegou a ser publicada no Diário Oficial. A fundação é vinculada ao Ministério da Cultura. Antes da escolha de Ana de Hollanda, Sader era cotado para assumir o comando do ministério.

Na entrevista, Sader criticou o comportamento supostamente passivo de Ana de Hollanda diante dos cortes no orçamento do ministério.

«Desde março não se repassou nada aos Pontos de Cultura. Teve uma manifestação em Brasília (contra os cortes). Está estourando na mão da Ana porque ela fica quieta, é meio autista», disse o sociólogo à «Folha».

Ele também teria desdenhado das críticas de Caetano Veloso às suas supostas «cantilenas» contra a mídia e em defesa de petistas acusados de envolvimento com o mensalão. Segundo Sader, Caetano «é conservador, ziguezagueia e fala qualquer coisa». O ex-ministro Gilberto Gil seria muito mais articulado e coerente que o colega compositor.

Num texto divulgado no blog que mantém na internet, Sader negou que tenha criticado a futura chefe. «As referências, antes de tudo à ministra da Cultura, mas também ao Gil e ao Caetano, apareceram de forma totalmente deturpada», disse Sader.

Segundo ele, «não houve intenção nenhuma de desqualificação, seguir polemizando nesses termos é ser vítima desse tipo de matéria, de que todos já fomos vítimas: dizer que disseram que alguém disse».

O sociólogo provocou ainda reação nos meios intelectuais ao anunciar, numa entrevista ao GLOBO, um redirecionamento dos estudos e pesquisas patrocinadas pela fundação.


[Fuente O Globo: >>]