The old tale of corruption

The political narrative that justifies any option as a way to end corruption is as old as politics and as old as narrative. In Latin America, it’s a classic genre. It’s only possible to repeat it generation after generation as if it were a novelty thanks to the short memory of the people.

But this narrative, which only serves to consolidate or restore the power of a certain social class, focuses exclusively on minor corruption, such as when a politician, a senator or a president receives ten thousand or half a million dollars to bestow favors upon a large company. Rarely does a poor man offer half a million dollars to a politician to give him a retirement income of five hundred dollars a month.

He who pays a politician a million dollars to increase his company’s profits is corrupt, and the poor devil who votes for a candidate who buys him the tiles for the roof of his house in skid row is corrupt also.

But those who do not distinguish between the corruption of ambition and the corruption of those who desperately seek to survive are themselves even more corrupt. As the Mexican nun Sor Juana Ines de la Cruz said at the end of the seventeenth century, before she was crushed for her insubordination by the powers-that-be of that era:

Who is more to blame,

though either should do wrong?

She who sins for pay

or he who pays to sin?

Rarely do accusations of corruption refer to legal corruption. It does not matter if, thanks to a democracy proud of respecting the rules of the game, ten million voters contribute a hundred million dollars to a politician’s campaign and two millionaires contribute only ten million, a tip, to the same candidate. When that politician wins the election, he will have dinner with one of the two groups, and it is not necessary to be a genius to guess which one.

It does not matter if later on those gentlemen get the congress of their respective countries to pass laws that benefit their businesses (tax cuts, deregulation of wages and investments, etc.) because they will not need to violate any law, the law that they themselves wrote, unlike a damned thief who does not rob ten million honest and innocent citizens but rather just two or three poor workers who will only feel anger, rage and humiliation because of the plundering they witness and not because of the robbery they fail to perceive.

In spite of everything, we can still observe even greater corruption, greater than illegal corruption and greater than legal corruption. It is that corruption which lives in the collective unconsciousness of the people and comes from no other source but the persistent corruption of social power that, like a persistent dripping, eats away at rock over the years, over the centuries.

It is the corruption that lives in the same people who suffer from it, in that tired man with chapped hands or another worn down one with university degrees, in that suffering woman with dark circles under her eyes or in that other lady with a stuck-up nose. It is that same corruption that goes to bed and gets up with each of them, every day, to reproduce in the rest of their family and their friends, like the flu, like Ebola.

It is not simply the corruption of a few individuals who accept easy money for the mysterious shortcuts of the law.

No, it is not just the corruption of those in power, but instead that invisible corruption that lives as a virus feeding off the frustration of those who seek to put an end to corruption with old methods that have themselves proven to be corrupt.

Because corruption is not only when someone gives or receives illicit money, but also when someone hates the poor because they receive alms from the state.

Because corruption is not only when a politician gives a basket of food to a poor man in exchange for his vote, but also when those who do not go hungry accuse those poor people of being corrupt and lazy, as if lazy people did not exist in the privileged classes.

Because corruption is not only when a poor loafer gets a politician or the state to give him alms to devote himself to his miserable vices (cheap wine instead of Jameson Irish whiskey), but also when those in power are convinced and convince others that their privileges were won by them alone and by means of the purest, most finely distilled, most just law, while the poor (those who clean their bathrooms and buy their little mirrors) live off the intolerable sacrifice of the rich, something that only a general or a businessman with an iron fist can put an end to.

Because corruption is when a poor devil supports a candidate who promises to punish other poor devils, who are the only devils that the poor resentful devil knows, because he has crossed paths with them in the street, in bars and at work.

Because corruption is when a mulatto like Domingo Sarmiento or Antonio Hamilton Martins Mourão is ashamed of the blacks in his family and feels infinite hatred for other blacks.

Because corruption is when a self-declared chosen one of God, someone who confuses the fanatical interpretation of his pastor with the multiple texts of a Bible, someone who goes every Sunday to the church to pray to the God of Love, and when he goes outside he throws some coins to the poor. And the next day he marches against the same rights of different people, like gays, lesbians and transgendered people, and does it in the name of morality and of the son of God, Jesus. Yes, the same Jesus who had a thousand opportunities to condemn those same different and immoral people, and never did so, but rather did the exact opposite.

Because corruption is supporting candidates who promise violence as a way to eliminate violence.

Because corruption is believing and fanatically repeating that the military dictatorships that have ravaged Latin America since the nineteenth century and practiced all possible variations on corruption may themselves ever be able to put an end to corruption.

Because corruption is to hate and at the same time accuse everyone else of harboring hatred.

Because corruption is a part of culture and even in the hearts of society’s most honest individuals.

Because the worst corruption is not the kind that makes off with a million dollars but rather the kind that stops our ears to the shrieking cries of history and won’t let us hear them until it is too late.

JM, October 2018.

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The old tale of corruption

The political narrative that justifies any option as a way to end corruption is as old as politics and as old as narrative. In Latin America, it’s a classic genre. It’s only possible to repeat it generation after generation as if it were a novelty thanks to the short memory of the people.

But this narrative, which only serves to consolidate or restore the power of a certain social class, focuses exclusively on minor corruption, such as when a politician, a senator or a president receives ten thousand or half a million dollars to bestow favors upon a large company. Rarely does a poor man offer half a million dollars to a politician to give him a retirement income of five hundred dollars a month.

He who pays a politician a million dollars to increase his company’s profits is corrupt, and the poor devil who votes for a candidate who buys him the tiles for the roof of his house in skid row is corrupt also.

But those who do not distinguish between the corruption of ambition and the corruption of those who desperately seek to survive are themselves even more corrupt. As the Mexican nun Sor Juana Ines de la Cruz said at the end of the seventeenth century, before she was crushed for her insubordination by the powers-that-be of that era:

Who is more to blame,

though either should do wrong?

She who sins for pay

or he who pays to sin?

Rarely do accusations of corruption refer to legal corruption. It does not matter if, thanks to a democracy proud of respecting the rules of the game, ten million voters contribute a hundred million dollars to a politician’s campaign and two millionaires contribute only ten million, a tip, to the same candidate. When that politician wins the election, he will have dinner with one of the two groups, and it is not necessary to be a genius to guess which one.

It does not matter if later on those gentlemen get the congress of their respective countries to pass laws that benefit their businesses (tax cuts, deregulation of wages and investments, etc.) because they will not need to violate any law, the law that they themselves wrote, unlike a damned thief who does not rob ten million honest and innocent citizens but rather just two or three poor workers who will only feel anger, rage and humiliation because of the plundering they witness and not because of the robbery they fail to perceive.

In spite of everything, we can still observe even greater corruption, greater than illegal corruption and greater than legal corruption. It is that corruption which lives in the collective unconsciousness of the people and comes from no other source but the persistent corruption of social power that, like a persistent dripping, eats away at rock over the years, over the centuries.

It is the corruption that lives in the same people who suffer from it, in that tired man with chapped hands or another worn down one with university degrees, in that suffering woman with dark circles under her eyes or in that other lady with a stuck-up nose. It is that same corruption that goes to bed and gets up with each of them, every day, to reproduce in the rest of their family and their friends, like the flu, like Ebola.

It is not simply the corruption of a few individuals who accept easy money for the mysterious shortcuts of the law.

No, it is not just the corruption of those in power, but instead that invisible corruption that lives as a virus feeding off the frustration of those who seek to put an end to corruption with old methods that have themselves proven to be corrupt.

Because corruption is not only when someone gives or receives illicit money, but also when someone hates the poor because they receive alms from the state.

Because corruption is not only when a politician gives a basket of food to a poor man in exchange for his vote, but also when those who do not go hungry accuse those poor people of being corrupt and lazy, as if lazy people did not exist in the privileged classes.

Because corruption is not only when a poor loafer gets a politician or the state to give him alms to devote himself to his miserable vices (cheap wine instead of Jameson Irish whiskey), but also when those in power are convinced and convince others that their privileges were won by them alone and by means of the purest, most finely distilled, most just law, while the poor (those who clean their bathrooms and buy their little mirrors) live off the intolerable sacrifice of the rich, something that only a general or a businessman with an iron fist can put an end to.

Because corruption is when a poor devil supports a candidate who promises to punish other poor devils, who are the only devils that the poor resentful devil knows, because he has crossed paths with them in the street, in bars and at work.

Because corruption is when a mulatto like Domingo Sarmiento or Antonio Hamilton Martins Mourão is ashamed of the blacks in his family and feels infinite hatred for other blacks.

Because corruption is when a self-declared chosen one of God, someone who confuses the fanatical interpretation of his pastor with the multiple texts of a Bible, someone who goes every Sunday to the church to pray to the God of Love, and when he goes outside he throws some coins to the poor. And the next day he marches against the same rights of different people, like gays, lesbians and transgendered people, and does it in the name of morality and of the son of God, Jesus. Yes, the same Jesus who had a thousand opportunities to condemn those same different and immoral people, and never did so, but rather did the exact opposite.

Because corruption is supporting candidates who promise violence as a way to eliminate violence.

Because corruption is believing and fanatically repeating that the military dictatorships that have ravaged Latin America since the nineteenth century and practiced all possible variations on corruption may themselves ever be able to put an end to corruption.

Because corruption is to hate and at the same time accuse everyone else of harboring hatred.

Because corruption is a part of culture and even in the hearts of society’s most honest individuals.

Because the worst corruption is not the kind that makes off with a million dollars but rather the kind that stops our ears to the shrieking cries of history and won’t let us hear them until it is too late.

Brazil: The Eternal Country of the Future Trapped in Its Colonial Past

Days before the elections in Brazil, a young Brazilian approached me and said, “God willing, Bolsonaro to win. He is a military man and will end corruption.” I did not want to answer. I esteem this boy as a good person, maybe too young to be anything else. But these two brief sentences summed up several volumes of Latin American history to its present.

Beginning with the obvious: if there were governments and corrupt regimes on the continent, those were the military regimes. First, because every dictatorship is corrupt by definition, and second, because direct robberies were always massive, by denouncing the disappearances, then only to reappear by floating in a river with evidence of torture. It would suffice to mention the most recent investigation into the fortune of General Pinochet, a military leader who accumulated several million dollars in salary as an unelected president, without mention of such details as the thousands killed and many more persecuted during his rule. There were shams of decorated honors for assuming “moral reserve” and for the “bastion of courage” by owning weapons financed by the people’s work, only to later be threatened by their own armies in “bringing order,” by garrison and cemeteries. That same barbaric culture of innumerable generals, soldiers, and scoundrels boasting to be “macho” and valiant fighters, never won or went to any war against other armies, but dedicated themselves to serving the rural oligarchy by terrorizing and threatening their own people. In the coining of a neologism, millions of thugs are now hidden within their new condition of digital cowangry.

This military mentality applied to civil practice and domestic life (deviates from any raison d’être of an army) is a Latin American tradition born prior to the Cold War and long before the new republics were born and consolidated with corruption, deep in hypocritical racism. This is especially true in Brazil, the last country in the continent to abolish slavery. Even Captain Bolsonaro’s vice presidential candidate, General Mourão, a mulatto man like most of his compatriots, is pleased that his grandson contributes to the “branqueamento da raça (whitening of the race).” Have any of us ever crossed paths with this kind of deep racial and social disregard for 90 percent of their own family? The same historical problems permeate in other regions that stand out for their brutality in Central America and the Caribbean.

The second, and less obvious, is the appeal to God. In the same way that the United States replaced Great Britain in its consolidation of Spanish colonial verticality, the Protestant churches did the same with those ultraconservative societies (limitless landowners and silent masses of obedient poor), which had been shaped by the previous hierarchy of the Catholic church. It took some Protestant sects like the Pentecostals and others at least a century more than the dollar and the cannons. The phenomenon probably started in the Sixties and Seventies: those innocent, presumably apolitical, gentlemen, who went door to door talking about God, should have a clear political translation. The paradoxical effect of Christian love (that radical love of Jesus, a rebel who was surrounded by poor and marginal people of all kinds, who did not believe in the chances of the rich reaching heaven, and did not recommend taking the sword but turning the other cheek, who broke several biblical laws such as the obligation to kill adulteresses with stones, who was executed as a political criminal) ended up leading to the hatred of gays and the poor, in the desire to fix everything with shots. Such is the case of medieval candidates like Captain Jair Messias Bolsonaro and many others throughout Latin America, who are supported by a strong and decisive evangelical vote. These people in a trance are watered in sweat and hysterical cries and say they “speak in tongues,” but just speak their disjointed language of political and social hatred in blind fanaticism that God prefers them with a gun in their hands rather than peaceably fighting for justice, respect for the different, and against arbitrary powers.

In the midst of the euphoric golden decade of progressive governments, such as Lula’s, we note two mistakes: naive optimism and the dangers of corruption, and the ramifications of a domino effect because corruption was not a creation of any government, but instead a mark of identity of the Brazilian culture. To name just one more case, this is also the state of affairs in neighboring Argentina.

We must add to all this that the traditional social narrators of a more rancid and powerful Latin America can be found in Maduro’s Venezuela where the equally pathetic opposition is never mentioned. As the example, this is the perfect excuse to continue terrorizing about something that almost all the countries of the continent have lived with since the colony: poverty, economic crises, dispossession, impunity, civil and military violence. So it is Venezuela that is exemplifying Brazilian propaganda and not the Brazil of Lula that took 30 million out of poverty, the one with super entrepreneurs, the one of “Deus é brasileiro (God is Brazilian),” the Brazil that was going away to eat the world and had passed the GDP of U.K.

 It was the perfect alibi: for others to believe that corruption did not have 200 years of brutal exercise but had been created by the last five to 10 years of a pair of leftist governments. On the contrary, these governments were an ideological exception within a deeply conservative, racist, classist, and sexist continent. Everything that now finds resonance from Europe to Latin America, to the United States, abandons the ideals of Enlightenment and plunges neurotically into a new Middle Ages.

We still don’t know whether this medieval reaction of the traditional forces in power is just that; a reaction, or a long historical tendency of several generations that began in the Eighties and stumbled 15 years ago.

For the second round in Brazil, the coalition against Bolsonaro has already launched the slogan: “Juntos pelo Brasil do diálogo e do respeito (Together for Brazil for dialogue and respect).” This motto only goes to show that those who oppose Bolsonaro in Brazil, like those who oppose Trump in the United States, do not understand the new cowangry mentality. The cowangry need to know that there is someone else (not them) who is going to return women to the kitchens, gays to their closets, blacks to work on the plantations, and poor to the industries, that someone is going to throw a bomb in some favela (“dead the dog, dead to the rage”). Someone will torture all who think differently (especially poor blacks, teachers, journalists, feminists, critics, educated people without titles, and other dangerous subversives with foreign ideas, all in the name of God) and in that way, someone will punish and exterminate all those miserable people solely responsible for the personal frustrations of the cowangry

 

JM, October 2018

 

Psychopolitics of the scarecrow

Jorge Majfud 

Translated by  Fausto Giudice Фаусто Джудиче فاوستو جيوديشي

 

President Donald Trump has just announced that, to answer the endless list of books that criticize him (especially books written by his former friends and trusted men, who by now are almost all of them), the White House will publish “a real book”. Obviously, he won’t write it, although, in our time, it wouldn’t be absurd for a person who never reads books to publish a book.

Nor is it a coincidence that his Twitter account (which is the main medium where the president of the world’s biggest power announces the decisions that will affect the rest of the world and where he expresses his mood according to the time of day) is @realDonaldTrump, while obsessively repeating that the rest of the world is fake. The world is fake, except me, who is real.

The psychological pattern is consistent and reveals a dark inverse feeling, similar to that of the homophobia of some men who get excited looking at images of men (according to laboratory tests), similar to the consumption, by a majority of women, of pornography where violence is exerted against women (according to the latest Big Data analysis), or the strict and puritanical public celibacy of rapist priests.

Nor could it be a coincidence that, in its etymology and in some of its archaic uses, the word trump means fake, false, invention, the noise produced by the elephant (don’t forget that the elephant is the symbol of the Republican party) with its trunk, a kind of fart or thrombotic noise without content, or a childish act. Of course, the latter could be an over-interpretation, since we are talking about an individual and not an entire linguistic tradition where the patterns leave little room for doubt. At least that the boy Donald has had some information about his wonderful surname, as much as his own children’s readings.

Nor should it be a coincidence that his youngest son is called Baron Trump, exactly like the character in the children’s novels that Ingersoll Lockwood wrote in the late 19th century about a German character (his father was a German illegal immigrant) called Baron Trump. The character, in addition to initiating his adventures in Russia, being a rowdy and fond of insulting each individual who came across him along the way, boasts of his own intelligence.

Too many coincidences, such as winning the lottery four times.

Nor is it a coincidence that it was Trump who made the term “fake news” fashionable. By action or omission, the big media have always manipulated reality, at least since the nineteenth century (we have already stopped on the case of Edward Bernays and many others) but power always finds a way to dispel doubts by mocking its own methods when they reach a point of maximum suspicion. In 1996, the narrative voice of my first novel said something with which I agree: “There is no better strategy against a true rumor than to invent a false rumor that pretends to confirm it”. The logic of the designed distraction is the same (although, in this case, I understand that it is not intentional but part of the inevitable Darwinian nature of power): it invents a visible enemy of power, that resembles true power and that is in such a way that even the very critics of power end up defending the means of power. In simpler words: design a good scarecrow, distract; call the fake real and the real fake.

This logic is tragically confirmed today: the mass media have always been real in their news and fake in the created reality. By the form and by the selection of real facts, they have always manipulated and continue to manipulate reality, even though they now seem to be the champions of the people, of the peoples, of truth and justice. But for a fake president, a ridiculous person like a scarecrow, someone who became president of the most powerful country in the world with fewer votes than his adversary, thanks to an electoral system inherited from the times of slavery, with a medieval discourse, makes decent and reasonable people take sides on the contrary, that is, by defending the traditional means of real power, now “under attack,” those very people who until not long ago defended, supported or, at least, never criticized criminal actions like the Iraq war or like so many other secret invasions and plots everywhere. With honorable and courageous exceptions, it goes without saying, because in every flock there are black sheep.

Power doesn’t even need to think to be great. It is part of its nature.

When someone obsessively calls himself “real” and everything else “fake,” it is because he is obsessively trying to hide a painfully contrary feeling: a repressed consciousness of not being “real,” of being “fake,” of being Trump. Otherwise, there is no need for a consistently obsessive habit. But Trump is just a scarecrow of power. Pathetic, a dangerous amplifier of popular fears and traumas, yes, but not much more than that.

To the traditional powers (the owners of the decisive capital, of the finances, of the business of war and the peace of the cemeteries, of the physical and moral exploitation of those from below), all that confusion, all that perfect inversion of roles comes as a ring to the finger. As if there were a Darwinian logic in the staging and narrative of the power that permanently adapts to survive. Even placing a scarecrow in the power of the world’s greatest power so that crows and seagulls alike remain stressed with an artefact that insists it is the only real thing in a fake world.

 

Courtesy of Tlaxcala
Source: https://majfud.org/2018/09/11/la-psicopolitica-del-espantapajaros/
Publication date of original article: 11/09/2018
URL of this page : http://www.tlaxcala-int.org/article.asp?reference=24055

Do we really owe modernity to capitalism?

The narrature of capitalism

 

One of the claims that the apologists of capitalism most repeat and last question is that which has been the system that has created the most wealth and progress in history. We owe you the Internet, the planes, YouTube, the computers from which we write and all the medical advancement and social and individual freedoms we can find today. Capitalism is not the worst or the least criminal of the systems that have existed, but this arrogant interpretation is also a kidnapping that ignorance makes history.

In absolute terms, capitalism is the period (not the system) that has produced more wealth in history. This truth would be enough if we do not consider it as misleading as when in the 1990s a Uruguayan minister boasted that his government had sold more mobile phones than in the rest of the country’s history.

The arrival of man on the moon was not a simple consequence of capitalism. To begin with, neither public nor private universities are, in their foundations, capitalist enterprises (except for a few examples, such as the Trump University fiasco). NASA was also never a private but a state-owned enterprise and was further developed through the hiring of more than a thousand German engineers, including Wernher von Braun, who had experimented and perfected rocket technology in Hitler’s laboratories. Invested fortunes (certainly, with some economic and moral aid from the great American companies). Everything, money and planning, were state. The Soviet Union, especially under the command of a dictator like Stalin, won the space race by putting for the first time in history the first satellite, the first dog and even the first man in orbit twelve years before Apollo 11 and just forty years after the revolution that turned a backward, rural country like Russia into a military and industrial power in a few decades. None of this is understood as capitalist.

Of course, the Soviet system was responsible for many moral sins. Crimes. But it is not the moral deficiencies that distinguished bureaucratic communism from capitalism. Capitalism is only associated with democracies and human rights by a narrative, repetitive and overwhelming (theorized by the Friedman and practiced by the Pinochets), but history shows that it can coexist perfectly with a liberal democracy; With the genocidal Latin American dictatorships that preceded the excuse of the war against communism; With communist governments like China or Vietnam; With racist systems such as South Africa; With destructive empires of democracies and millions of people in Asia, Africa and Latin America, as in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries were England, Belgium, the United States, France, etc.

The arrival on the Moon as the creation of the Internet and the computers that are attributed to capitalism were basically (and, in cases, only) government projects, not companies like Apple or Microsoft. None of the scientists who worked on such revolutionary technological programs did it as an entrepreneur or seeking to become rich. In fact, many of them were ideologically anti-capitalist, such as Einstein, etc. Most were salaried teachers, not the now revered entrepreneurs.
To this reality must be added other facts and a basic concept: none of this emerged from scratch in the nineteenth century or the twentieth century. Atomic energy and bombs are direct daughters of Albert Einstein’s speculations and imaginary experiments, followed by other wage geniuses. The arrival of man on the Moon would have been impossible without basic concepts such as Newton’s Third Law. Neither Einstein nor Newton had developed their wonderful superior mathematics (none of them due to capitalism) without a plethora of mathematical discoveries introduced by other cultures centuries earlier. Does anyone imagine infinitesimal calculus without the concept of zero, without Arabic numerals and without algebra (al-jabr ), to name a few?

The algorithms used by computers and internet systems were not created by a capitalist or in any capitalist period but centuries ago. Conceptually it was developed in Baghdad, the capital of the sciences, by a Muslim mathematician of Persian origin in the ninth century called, precisely, Al-Juarismi. According to Oriana Fallaci, that culture gave nothing to the sciences (ironically, capitalism is born in the Muslim world and the Christian world develops it).

Neither the Phoenician alphabet, nor commerce, nor republics, nor democracies arose in the capitalist period but tens of centuries before. Not even the printing press in its different German or Chinese versions, an invention more revolutionary than Google, were thanks to capitalism. Neither gunpowder, nor money, nor checks, nor freedom of expression.

Although Marx and Edison are the consequence of capitalism, no great scientific revolution of the Renaissance and Modern Age (Averroes, Copernicus, Kepler, Galileo, Pascal, Newton, Einstein, Turing, Hawking) owed that system. Wild capitalism produced a lot of capital and many Donad Trump, but very few geniuses.

Not to mention more practical discoveries, such as the lever, screw or hydrostatic of Archimedes, discovered 2300 years ago. Or the IX century compass, one of the most transcendent discoveries in the history of mankind, by far more transcendent than any smartphone. Or the wheel, which has been used in the East for six thousand years and has not yet gone out of style.
Of course between the invention of the wheel and the invention of the compass passed several centuries. But the so vaunted “vertiginous progress” of the capitalist period is nothing new. Except for periods of catastrophe such as the Black Death during the fourteenth century, mankind has been accelerating the emergence of new technologies and resources available to a growing part of the population, such as the different agricultural revolutions. It is not necessary to be a genius to realize that this acceleration is due to the accumulation of knowledge and intellectual freedom.
In Europe, money and capitalism meant social progress before the static feudal order of the Middle Ages. But soon they became the engine of colonial genocides and then a new form of feudalism, like that of the twenty-first century, with a financial aristocracy (a handful of families accumulate most of the wealth in rich and poor countries), with dukes and political counts and villains and demobilized vassals.

Capitalism capitalized (and capitalists sequestered) centuries of social, scientific, and technological progress. For that reason, and being the dominant global system, it was able to produce more wealth than previous systems.

Capitalism is not the system of some countries. It is the hegemonic system of the world. Its problems can be mitigated, its myths can be dismantled, but it cannot be eliminated until it enters its crisis or decline like feudalism. Until it is replaced by another system. That in case there is a planet or humanity. Because capitalism is also the only system that has put the human species on the brink of global catastrophe.

 

JM, July 2017

Rebelión has published this article with the author’s permission under a Creative Commons license , respecting its freedom to publish it in other sources.

http://www.tlaxcala-int.org/article.asp?reference=21088

 

Capotean Interview

by Toni Montesinos (originally published in Spanish here >>)

 

In 1972, Truman Capote published an original text that became the autobiography that has never been written. He titled it “Self-portrait” (in The Dogs Bark, 1973), and in it he gave himself with cunning and brilliance. Those questions that serve to proclaim his frustrations, desires, and customs, now, extracted, for the most part, form the following “Capotean interview”, with which they devote themselves to the other side, that of life, of Jorge Majfud. 

 

If you had to live in one place, never being able to leave it, which one would you choose?

In reality, that place exists: it is childhood. Now, if it were to be a physical, particular place, I think it would be that huge tree on my grandparents’ farm where I could see my loved ones who are no longer there and, somehow, those who were not there yet.

Do you prefer animals over people?

Sometimes. It does not depend on what animals but on what people.

Are you cruel?

So so, like everyone else. Frequently, truth is a form of cruelty and one must decide if it is worth it. Other times, one is cruel only through ignorance or petty passions, such as annoyance or frustration.

Do you have lots of friends?

I have a few friends sure and many friends maybe.

What characteristics do you look for in your friends?

I do not look for anything in particular. Each one is different and friendship, like love, is something that happens without any logic.

Do your friends usually disappoint you?

Yes, like any other kind of human being. But I worry much more about disappointing them.

Are you a sincere person?

I do not think anyone can answer that question sincerely. More than sincere, I try to be honest. 

How do you prefer to spend your free time?

Reading a book that does not kill my time. Talking to someone who does not kill me over time. 

What are you afraid of the most?

The suffering of my loved ones.

What scandalizes you, if there is anything that scandalizes you?

At my age almost nothing scandalizes me. I am disgusted with hypocrisy, the scandal of a kiss and the tolerance of violence, the death of a single child under smart bombs, the oppression of entire peoples, the Lies of Mass Destruction. 

If you had not decided to be a writer, to lead a creative life, what would you have done?

If I were not a writer walking or washing dishes would be a lot less interesting. I don’t know, I have done many different things in my life. Maybe I would have been a physicist. I was always attracted to Theory of Relativity.

Do you practice any type of physical exercise?

If walking on the beach is an exercise …

Can you cook?

No, but I try almost every day.

If Reader’s Digest commissioned you to write one of those articles on “an unforgettable character,” who would you choose?

I would not know who to write about. We are all forgettable.

What is the most hopeful word in any language?

“Sorry”.

And the most dangerous?

“Patriotism.”

Have you ever wanted to kill someone?

Never, even as a child, despite having seen so many people die and kill themselves.

What are your political leanings?

I always resisted all temptations, which were not few, to associate with a political party. The parties split, divide in very arbitrary ways. They are a necessary evil, like the monolineal simplification of left and right. Now, among all the simplifications I prefer the less used up and down and take sides for those below. 

If you could be something else, what would you like to be?

Someone who could abolish pain and death.

What are your main addictions?

Read, drink two beers, travel to the past, imagine what will come, people’s timeless smile … I do not know, so many things. In short, life.

And your virtues?

I hope that I have some, although who knows if this has any importance.

Imagine that you are drowning. What images, within the classical scheme, would pass through your head?

The water, I suppose.

An Open Letter to Donald Trump

Not rapists: just abused*

EnglishFrench

An Open Letter to Donald Trump

 

Mr. President Trump:

Throughout the centuries, long before your mother arrived from Scotland, long before your grandparents arrived from Germany and had a lot of success in the hotel and brothel business in New York, the Mexicans had their families here and they had already named all of the Western states, rivers, valleys, mountains, and cities. The Californian architecture and the Texan cowboy, symbols of the “authentic American” are nothing more than the result of the hybridity—like everything else—of the new Anglo-Saxon culture with the long since established Mexican one. Can you imagine one of the founding fathers coming face-to-face with a cowboy?

When your mother arrived to this country in the 1930s, half a million Mexicans were deported. The majority of them were American citizens but they were very unlucky when the frustration nationwide, because of the Great Depression, got them speaking Chicano. They were blamed for the Depression since their faces looked as foreign as they could be.

Your idea that the Mexicans that come here are rapists, criminals, and invaders it’s nothing new and it couldn’t be farther from the truth. In this country’s prisons, you will find that immigrants—both legal and illegal—are underrepresented. Immigrants in American prisons make up only one-fourth of what would be the total percentage of the immigrant population in the United States.  In case you still don’t understand: the statistics say that “wetbacks” are four or five times less likely to commit a crime than your own beautiful children are, Mr. Trump. Where immigration dominates, the crime rate drops and prejudice and racism increase.

These people were seen as foreigners and rapists (you aren’t the first person to know this) since the United States took possession (it’s best to say it this way so we don’t offend anyone) of half the Mexican territory in the middle of the 19th century. And as those people that were already there didn’t stop speaking such an uncivilized language such as Spanish and refused to change their skin color, were persecuted, deported or simply murdered, accused of being bandits, rapists, and foreign invaders. The real Zorro was dark skinned and didn’t fight against any Mexican despotism (as Johnston McCully depicted the story in order to be able to sell it to Hollywood) but instead he fought against the Anglo-Saxon invaders who took his land. Dark skinned and rebellious like Jesus, even though you see this Nazarene man always depicted as blonde haired with blue eyes and rather docile in the holy paintings. The hegemonic powers of that age that crucified him had obvious political reasons for doing so. And they continued crucifying him three centuries later when the Christians stopped being illegal immigrants and were persecuted so much that they hid in the catacombs. Eventually, they became the official persecutors when they took power.

Fortunately, Mr. Donald, the European immigrants, like your parents and wife, didn’t look like foreigners. Of course, if your mother had arrived forty years before, then maybe she would have been confused with an Irishwoman. Those people certainly did look like invaders. Besides being Catholics, they had hair just like yours, red and curly, something that offended the local white people, and by white people I mean those that, at one time, had been discriminated against by their Polish, Russian or Italian accents. But fortunately, immigrants learn quickly. As González Prada wrote more than a century ago, when an individual rises above the level of his social group he usually becomes its worst enemy.

This is what you and many other people demand, of course: that the immigrants should assimilate to this culture, instead of just integrate into it. But, which culture is that exactly?

In a truly open and democratic society, no one ought to forget who is to be accepted or, as I understand it, the virtuous thing to do must involve integration and not assimilation. Assimilation is violence. In many societies, it’s a requirement, especially in all of the societies where fascism survives in one way or another. 

Mr. President, the creativity that you see among the businessmen and women in this country is admirable even though its importance is exaggerated and many negative aspects are forgotten: It wasn’t businessmen who promoted democracy in Latin American but rather, they did just the opposite. Various successful American businesses promoted bloody Coups d’état and supported a long list of bloody dictators.

It was businessmen like Henry Ford, who made interesting contributions to the industry, but it’s often forgotten that, like many other businessmen, Ford was an Anti-Semitist who collaborated with Hitler. While the US denied refuge to persecuted Jews in Germany—as they now deny it to Muslims today for almost the same reasons—Alcoa and Texaco worked together with the fascist regimes of that time period.

It wasn’t businessmen who developed new technology and science but amateur inventors or salaried professors instead; from the foundation of this country to the invention of the Internet, continuing with Einstein and finally, the arrival of the first man on the moon. Not to mention, the basis of the sciences—which were shaped by those horrible and uncivilized Arabs centuries before—from the numbers that we use to Algebra to algorithms and many other sciences and philosophies that are part of Western civilization today, continuing with the Europeans in the 17th century. None of these men were businessmen, of course.

It wasn’t businessmen who achieved, through resistance and popular activism, almost all the progress with the civil rights that are now known today in this country, when at the time they were demonized as dangerous revolutionists and anti-Americans.

Mr. President Trump, I know you have been all your life too busy making money, so you don’t know this simple evidence: a country is not a business, it’s not a company. As an employer, you can hire and fire as many employees as you wish, for the simple reason that there was a State that gave an education to those people before and there will be a State later on that will be responsible for them when they are fired, with social welfare services —or with the police, as a worst case scenario.

An employer doesn’t know how to resolve any of these externalities. He’s only concerned about his own success that he will later confuse it with the success of the whole country and sell it in that same way because that is what a businessman does best: selling. Call it what you want.

You always boast about being immensely rich. I admire you for your bravery. But, if we consider what you have done starting with what you received from your parents and grandparents—money aside—it could be said that almost any businessman, any worker in this country that has started from nothing—and in many cases incurring enormous amounts of debt from his educational costs—is much more successful than you.

The Turk Hamdi Ulukaya was a poor immigrant when he founded the yogurt company Chobani a few years ago, which is now valued at two billion dollars. That type of story is very common in a country as great as this one, without a doubt. But this creative businessman had the decency to recognize that he didn’t do all of this by himself. That it would have been impossible without his employees and having been in as free of a country as this one. And actually, recently, he donated 10 percent of the company’s stocks to his employees.

In Mexico, there are similar examples to yours. But better ones. The most well-known example is Carlos Slim, the son of Lebanese immigrants, who took advantage of the economic crisis at the time—as any man with money would—now has eleven times your fortune.

Mr. President Trump, democracy has its own Achilles tendons. It’s not the critics, as any fascist society normally considers them—it’s the demagogues. The ones that beat their nationalistic breast in order to abuse the power of their own nations.

Twenty-five centuries ago, the first democratic example, Athens, took pride in welcoming foreigners; this wasn’t her weakness—nor political or moral. Athens had slaves just like your country had for a couple of democratic centuries, and in a way it continued this disgrace with undocumented workers. Athens had its demagogues too: for example, Anytus, a successful businessman who convinced the rest of society, very democratically, so that they would put the thinking mind of their age to death. Socrates’ downfall was questioning everything too much, for believing too little in the gods of Athens and for ruining its youth with doubts.

Of course, almost no one remembers Anytus today and the same thing will happen to you. At least you can double your bet and turn into one of the figures just like we’ve seen in European history of the 20th century with your exacerbated nationalism and your hatred for those people who looked like foreigners without even being so. You will always find followers—because that is also part of the political game—and right now, we don’t have a better system.

 

Jorge Majfud

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/57dc39fee4b0d5920b5b2aac?timestamp=1474051083758

 

 

 

 

10 George Orwell Quotes that Predicted Life in 2014

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George Orwell ranks among the most profound social critics of the modern era. Some of his quotations, more than a half a century old, show the depth of understanding an enlightened mind can have about the future.

“In our age there is no such thing as ‘keeping out of politics.’ All issues are political issues, and politics itself is a mass of lies, evasions, folly, hatred and schizophrenia.”

Though many in the modern age have the will to bury their head in the sand when it comes to political matters, nobody can only concern themselves with the proverbial pebble in their shoe. If one is successful in avoiding politics, at some point the effects of the political decisions they abstained from participating in will reach their front door. More often than not, by that time the person has already lost whatever whisper of a voice the government has allowed them.

“All the war-propaganda, all the screaming and lies and hatred, comes invariably from people who are not fighting.”

Examining the nightly news in the run up to almost any military intervention will find scores of talking heads crying for blood to flow in the streets of some city the name of which they just learned to pronounce. Once the bullets start flying, those that clamored for war will still be safely on set bringing you up-to-the-minute coverage of the carnage while their stock in Raytheon climbs.

“War against a foreign country only happens when the moneyed classes think they are going to profit from it.”

It’s pretty self-explanatory and while it may be hard to swallow, it’s certainly true. All it takes is a quick look at who benefited from the recent wars waged by the United States to see Orwell’s quip take life.

“The very concept of objective truth is fading out of the world. Lies will pass into history.”

My most prized books are a collection of history books from around the world. I have an Iraqi book that recounts the glory of Saddam Hussein’s victory over the United States in 1991. I have books from three different nations claiming that one of their citizens was the first to fly. As some of the most powerful nations in the world agree to let certain facts be “forgotten,” the trend will only get worse. History is written by the victor, and the victor will never be asked if he told the truth.

“In a time of deceit, telling the truth is a revolutionary act.”

Even without commentary, the reader is probably picturing Edward Snowden or Chelsea Manning. The revolutions of the future will not be fought with bullets and explosives, but with little bits of data traveling around the world destroying the false narratives with which governments shackle their citizens.

“Journalism is printing what someone else does not want printed: everything else is public relations.”

Make no mistake about it; if an article does not anger someone, it is nothing more than a public relations piece. Most of what passes for news today is little more than an official sounding advertisement for a product, service, or belief.

“In real life it is always the anvil that breaks the hammer…”

In every conflict, it is not the side that can inflict the most damage, but the side that can sustain the most damage that ultimately prevails. History is full of situations in which a military “won the battles but lost the war.”

“The nationalist not only does not disapprove of atrocities committed by his own side, but he has a remarkable capacity for not even hearing about them.”

Haditha. Panjwai. Maywand District. Mahmudiyah. These names probably don’t ring a bell, but it is almost a certainty that the reader is aware of the brutality that occurred in Benghazi. The main difference is that in the first four incidents, those committing the acts of brutality were wearing an American flag on their shoulder.

“Threats to freedom of speech, writing and action, though often trivial in isolation, are cumulative in their effect and, unless checked, lead to a general disrespect for the rights of the citizen.”

Everyday there is a new form of censorship or a new method of forcing people into self-censorship, and the people shrug it off because it only relates to a small minority. By the time the people realize their ability to express disapproval has been completely restricted, it may be too late. That brings us to Orwell’s most haunting quote.

“If you want a picture of the future, imagine a boot stamping on a human face—forever.”

Once the people are indoctrinated with nationalistic beliefs, and the infrastructure to protect them from some constantly-changing and ever-expanding definition of an enemy is in place, there is no ability for the people to regain liberty. By the time all of the pieces are in place, not only is opportunity to regain freedom lost, but the will to achieve freedom has also evaporated. The reader will truly love Big Brother.

Republished from  TheAntiMedia.org under a Creative Commons license. Written by Justin King.

El pasado siempre vuelve

 

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What good is culture?

What Good Is Culture, Anyway?

Spanish: “¿Para qué sirve la cultura?”

It is understandable that in times of crisis, all sectors of a society suffer budget cuts and reduced profits. It is not totally comprehensible, but it is easy to understand that the first casualty of these cuts is culture. We accept that if we do not read a book, or if we deprive ourselves of a classic film, we will not be as bad off as if we stopped eating or dressing. While in the short term this is true, in the long term it is a very dangerous trap. 
In what sense? Take for example the practice of “sunset” rules.  These were known to the legislators of ancient Rome and preferred by the great political strategists, the parasites of democratic systems: establish a law or a rule, such as tax cuts for investors with specific expiration date, which makes it appear temporary. Usually that date falls in an election year, which means that no one will propose a tax increase and the law will likely be extended again. However now it has the advantage of being consolidated within the political discourse and the social narrative.

The problem of what is superfluous and what is not becomes multiplied when we pass from individual to public life; from a time measured in days or weeks to a social time measured in years; or to an historical time measured in decades. 
The men and women who access governments all around the world always use the dreams and hopes of their voters, then justify their unpopular government decisions not as dreamers but indeed the opposite: they repeat, they have real responsibilities (but with whom?); they are pragmatic people and those who disagree are dreamers; delusional, irresponsible street protesters that have nothing productive to do.

Therefore, the weapons of these pragmatic people is to point at the weakest flank of any government: first culture, then education. Actually, there are countless more useless items than culture and education, such as large sections of the administration itself. Nevertheless, we obviously need a strong administration when we do not have enough education or we have a precarious and primitive culture. This is true both in the so-called developed world and in the never-named underworld as well. 
It is natural that in times of economic crisis, culture is the first victim of these snipers, since it usually is even in good times: for example, to strip or strangle public programs such as state television channels, radio, symphony orchestras, stimulus to the various arts, to thought, to the humanities in general, and science in particular.

Why? It is argued and easily accepted that it is not fair, for example, that a private TV program on the sexual weaknesses of some entertainment producer or the entire industry of popular entertainment  must cope on its own, while other programs that have a small audience, like a series about the First World War or about Hemingway novels, unfairly receive government support. That is money from the rest of the population that does not look or is interested these cultural programs . It’s not fair, they argue, that a government could favor Don Quixote to Harry Potter, Leonard Cohen to Lady Gaga, or Tennessee Williams to Big Brother, and so on and so forth.

That is what is eloquently called free competition, which is nothing more than the tyranny of the market forces on the rest of human life. In fact, the central argument, explicit or sweetened, is that culture must also submit to the same rules to which we all are subjected, we all who that are dedicated to “more productive” activities (as if the productivity activities in consumer societies were not, in fact, a tiny minority.) If we do a study to identify those items actually “productive” or essential to human life, we probably will not reach ten percent of all the economic activity revolving around us.

Now, I understand that leaving culture in the hands of the market forces would be like leaving agriculture in the hands of the laws of meteorology and microbiology. Nobody can say that excessive rains, drought, locust invasions, worms, pests, and parasites are less natural phenomena than the always elusive and suspicious “invisible hand” of the market. If we were to abandon agriculture to its own fate, we would perish of hunger. Just like this, we need to understand that if we abandon culture to the hands of the market forces, we would perish from barbarism.

Jorge Majfud

Jacksonville University

Eduardo Galeano

Eduardo Galeano

“The Hoariest of Latin American Conspiracy Theorists”

 

Although I would say that the article “The Land of Too Many Summits” by Christopher Sabatini (Foreign Affairs, April 12, 2012) is right on some points, it nonetheless fails to give little more than unproved opinions on other matters — or as Karl Popper would say, certain statements lack the “refutability” condition of any scientific statement — and is inaccurate in terms of its overall meaning.

For years I have argued that Latin American victimhood and the habit of blaming “the Empire” for everything that is wrong is a way to avoid taking responsibility for one’s own destiny. Mr. Sabatini is probably right in the central point of his article: “If the number of summits were a measure of the quality of diplomacy, Latin America would be a utopia of harmony, cooperation, and understanding.” However, Latin American leaders continue to practice antiquated traditions founded upon an opposing ideology: a certain cult of personality, the love for perpetual leadership positions, the abuse of grandiloquent words and promises, and the sluggishness of concrete and pragmatic actions and reforms, all of which are highly ironic features of governments that consider themselves “progressive.” Regardless, not all that long ago, when conservative dictatorships or marionette governments in some banana republic or another manifested such regressive characteristics, it didn’t seem to bother the leaders of the world’s wealthiest populations all that much.  

On some other basic points, Sabatini demonstrates factual inaccuracies. For example, when he states that Eduardo Galeano “wrote the classic screed against the developed world’s exploitation and the region’s victimhood, Open Veins of Latin America, read by every undergraduate student of Latin America in the 1970s and 1980s,” he forgets — I cannot assume any kind of intellectual dishonesty since I don’t know much about him, but neither can I accuse him of ignorance, since he has followed “Latin American politics for a living” — that at that time Latin America was not the magic-realist land of colorful communist dictators (with the exception of Cuba) as many Anglo readers frequently assume, but rather the land of brutal, conservative, right-wing military dictatorships with a very long history.

Therefore — anyone can logically infer the true facts — that famous book was broadly forbidden in that continent at that time. Of course, in and of itself, the widespread prohibition against it made the publication even more popular year after year. But such popularity did not primarily stem from the book’s portrayal of the self-victimization of an entire continent — which I am not going to totally deny — but was more in response to Galeano’s frank representation of another reality, not the false imaginings of certain horrible conspiracy theorists, but rather the reality created throughout Latin American history by other hallucinating people, some of whom became intoxicated by their access to power, although they themselves did not actually wield it in the formal sense.

Therefore, if Eduardo Galeano — a writer, not a powerful CEO, a commander in chief of some army, another drunken president, nor the leader of some obscure sect or lobby — is “the hoariest of Latin American conspiracy theorists,” then who or what is and was the de facto hoariest of Latin American conspirators? Forget the fact that Galeano is completely bald and try to answer that question.

Regrettably, it has become commonplace for the mass media and other supporters of the status-quo to ridicule one of the most courageous and skillful writers in postmodern history, and to even label him an idiot. However, if Eduardo Galeano was wrong in his arguments — no one can say he was wrong in his means, because his means have always been words, not weapons or money — at least he was wrong on behalf of the right side, since he chose to side with the weak, the voiceless and the nobodies, those who never profit from power, and consequently, we may argue, always suffer at its hands.

He did not pick white or black pieces from the chessboard, but instead chose to side with the pawns, which historically fought in wars organized by the aristocracy from the rearguard (kings, queens, knights, and bishops). Upon the conclusion of battle, that same aristocracy always received the honors and conquered lands, while the pawns were forever the first to die.

Thus has it been in modern wars. With the ridiculous but traditional exception of some prince playing at war, real soldiers are mostly from middle and lower classes. Although a few people have real money and everyone has real blood, as a general rule, only poor people contribute to wars with their blood, whereas only rich people contribute to wars with their money — not so hard to do when one always has abundant material means, and even less difficult when such a monetary contribution is always an interest-bearing investment, whether in terms of actual financial gain or perceived moral rectitude, both of which may well be considered as two sides of the same coin.

Is it mere coincidence that the economically powerful, the politicians in office, the big media owners and a variety of seemingly official self-appointed spokespersons for the status quo are the ones who continuously repeat the same tired litany about the glory of heroism and patriotism? It can hardly be a matter of chance, considering that such individuals have a clear need to maintain high morale among those who are actually going to spill their own blood upon the sacrificial altar of war, and have an equally evident motive for demoralizing to the greatest extent possible those skeptics or critics such as Eduardo Galeano who cross the line, and who never buy those jewels of the Crown.

 

Jorge Majfud

 The International Political Review >>

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Another conservative paradox

FDRoosevelt

FDRoosevelt (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Politicians who are the champions of private businesses as the only motor of the American (or any) economy and the best social organizers (forget F.D. Roosevelt, the 4 term “socialist” president who saved and refunded the country) always blame the government for not doing better in the economy. That is why they want to take the government over. So, why do they never blame private business when they permanently fail to be successful enough.

 

Another conservative paradox

Recently released: US GDP grew 1,5 % in the second quarter, the 12th growth in a row after G.W. Bush historic recession. From a narrow “econometric” point of view, it is not that bad, if we consider all the crises, deep recessions and slow dawns around the word.

However, what is quite interesting is that the right-wing politicians are happy with this seeming “Obama’s failure”. Well, they say, Mitt Romney will do it better. The politicians who are the champions of private businesses as the only engine of the American (or any) economy and as the best social organizers (forget F.D. Roosevelt, the 4 term “socialist” president who saved and refunded the country) always blame the government for not doing better in the economy. That is why they want to take the government over. So, why do they never blame private business when they permanently fail to be successful enough. Perhaps they know that even the most successful cases have been subsidized by the government (that is, by taxpayers) as IBM, Microsoft, etc. (who did actually invest in computer research for decades?), and now GM, etc?

So, guys, if the economy is not doing better, perhaps you have to blame billionaire private business, bank inefficiency and corruption, corporate greed, some crazy speculators, and so on and so forth… at least once in history. Are they ideologically untouchable? Are they responsible only when thing are ok? We know that the governments are always bad. But based on facts, private empires are much more populist and responsible for almost every social chaos than the government that is just preventing the population to do something that the big guys wouldn’t like to experience.

The patriotism of the rich

(en) John Boehner and President Bush in Troy, ...

John Boehner and President Bush

US Politics and Economics: the patriotism of the rich

Almost nowhere in the world do the rich emigrate. They rarely form part of the armies that they send off to wars, and that they then cover with honours and applause, and they curse the state that sucks their blood. When the economy is doing well, they demand tax cuts to maintain prosperity, and when things do badly they demand that the accursed state bail them out–with tax money, of course.
Since the financial crisis of 2008, the US middle classes have been worried about the deficit and unemployment, both inherited from the Republican government of George W. Bush. Within this party, the splinter known as the Tea Party has risen with such force as to dominate the discourse, but which could put paid to the Republican Party’s chances to win an election, which in principle would seem in their favor. Their banner is the Reagan-Thatcher ideology and opposition to any tax increases. They assure us that it is wrong to penalize the successful, the rich, with taxes, since it is the rich who create jobs when the riches trickle down from above. In a debate in 2008, Obama noted that those who propose this theory (or rather, this ideology) learned when the crisis struck, that when one waits for the riches to trickle down in droplets, the pain rises up from the bottom.
Contemporary data – to go no further – contradicts the “trickle down” theory which was brought to extremes by the last Republican government, since (1) the avarice of those on top has no limits, it is infinite, and (2) unemployment has not decreased in the last few years, on the contrary it has risen.
Even though the 700.000 jobs that were lost every month a couple of years ago has not continued, the creation of new jobs is extremely weak (between 15.000 and 250.000 monthly; a healthy rhythm to bring down the 9.2 per cent of unemployment would require 300.000 new jobs every month).
On the other hand, during the last year productivity has increased in much larger proportions, and above all, the profit levels of the big companies. Each week one can read in the specialized press the results of a financial, industrial or service giant that has increased profits by 30, 50 or 60 per cent, as something perfectly normal, even routine. Any of these percentages come to several billion dollars. This even includes the once fallen motor industries of Detroit. Without going into details as to how the middle classes, through the State, have financed the rescue of these giants, without an election and under the threat that if this were not done, worse things would happen.
Since the 1980s, wealth continues to accumulate at the top while unemployment, since 2009, continues at historical levels. Studies have demonstrated that the gap between rich and poor (Bureau of Economic Analysis), characteristic of Latin American economies, has grown significantly under the trickle down ideology.
Long before the crisis of 2008, when there was still a surplus inherited from the Clinton administration, the Republicans managed to lower taxes for the richest sectors of the economy, among others the oil companies. This period of grace is to end this year and was extended by Obama under pressure from the Republicans, shortly after the Democrats lost control of the House of Representatives. At that time Obama was strongly criticized from within his own party for granting concessions to the Republicans without gaining anything in return.
Nevertheless, in recent weeks the positions have polarized. In one of the last meetings with Republicans Obama, who never loses his cool, stood up to them with the threat: “don’t try me.”
In face of negotiations to increase the debt limit (a normal practice in the United States and in many other countries; the Bush administration had done this seven times) the Republicans continue to attempt to suspend and eliminate various social programmes even as they deny any rise in taxes to the richest citizens (in many cases, billionaires).
On their part, the Democrats and President Obama oppose the reduction of social services and demand an increase in taxes for the very wealthy. I have heard a few millionaires asking why they shouldn’t pay more taxes when it is they who have more to contribute when the country needs it. When the country from the middle on down is in need, we might point out. But apparently these millionaires are not the ones who lobby the legislatures of the rich countries.
In any event, in spite of all this Republican mise-en-scène, I have no doubt that before the second of August Congress will vote to raise the debt limit. Why? Because this is good for the gods of Wall Street. Not because there are unemployed workers or soldiers without legs hoping for help from the State that sent them to the front in exchange for some speeches and a few medals.
– Jorge Majfud, Jacksonville University
(ALAI Amlatina, 18/07/2011. Translation: Jordan Bishop).

Osama and the Dangers of Tunnel Vision

Tunnel Vision

Tunnel Vision

Osama y los peligros de la perspectiva cónica (Spanish)

Osama and the Dangers of Tunnel Vision

Without meaning to do so, in 1690 the famous Mexican poet Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz demonstrated, with her life and death, that a person can be terribly censured by means of the publication of her own texts. Something similar could be said for the censorship of the media. It isn’t necessary to silence someone in order to censure her. Nobody prohibits a fan from yelling in a stadium filled with people, but neither is anyone, or hardly anyone, going to listen to her. If she had something important to say or yell out, it would be the same or practically the same situation as for someone who has been gagged in a silent room. 

Something similar happens with regard to the importance of every global event. In this century, it is almost impossible to have a twentieth-century-styled dictatorship, let’s say an absolute dictatorship led by some general in some banana republic or a great country like the United States or the Soviet Union where there were different ideas about freedom of expression; in one, the State owned the truth and the news; in the other, the millionaires and the operators of the great media chains were the owners of almost all freedom of expression. 

With the arrival and practical installation of the Digital Age, those models of censorship also became obsolete, but censorship itself did not. Individuals demanded and in many cases obtained a certain level of participation in the discussion of the important topics of the day.  Except that now they seem like that soccer fan who yells out in the middle of a roar-filled stadium. Her voice and her virtual words are lost in oceans of other voices and other words. From time to time, almost always because of some kind of relevant frivolity such as the ability to lick your own elbow or owing to the unique distinction of writing the worst song in the world or coming up with the best conspiracy theory (impossible to either prove or disprove), some people get a sudden and fleeting taste of the fifteen minutes of fame that Andy Warhol used to talk about. I have always suspected that conspiracy theories are created and promoted by those who are supposedly implicated by them. As one of my characters in the novel Memorias de un desaparecido (Memoirs of a Missing Person, 1996) says, “There is no better strategy against a true rumor than to invent yet another false one that claims to confirm it.”

But of course, this theory about a “conspiracy factory” nonetheless still belongs to the same genre of conspiracy theories. The mechanism and the deception are based upon a premise: Among every one thousand conspiracy theories, one is, or must be, true.

Once theory X has entered the public discourse, it cannot be suppressed. The best thing to do is to make it disappear in a sea of superficially similar absurdities.

For now, let’s put aside the matter of whether or not there is a group, government or agency responsible for manipulating perspectives worldwide (which is the same thing as manipulating reality itself). We’ll assume that our common reality is a collective creation that we all participate in, like a macro-culture, like a civilization or like a supernatural system that tends to receive different names, some of them quite shopworn.

Instead, we can concentrate on the facts. For example, one fact is that, just like at any other period in history, “we are the good guys and they are the bad guys,” which justifies our brutal course of action or explains why we are victims of the system in question.

But if we return to the specific matter of censorship (one of the main instruments of any dominant power), we will see that in our time a possible form of it, highly and devastatingly effective, has remained: the promotion of “what’s important.”

One quick and recent example is the death or assassination of Osama bin Laden. I must admit that, like other writers, I did not decline to respond to radio interviews broadcast from several countries and even in various languages. In every case, this was more as a gesture of goodwill than as an expression of personal conviction. However, this time I refrained from writing on the topic.

In my modest opinion, it appears that once more the mechanism of contemporary censorship has been employed — the excess of discussion, and the passion with which differing sides dispute the truth regarding a topic, have robbed us of the ability to concentrate on other topics. Above all, these factors keep us from appreciating how much more important certain topics are than others. It’s as if someone or something decided what is important and what is not, like someone or something deciding what style or what color of clothing must be worn during a particular season.

For example, there was no means of communication by which journalists, readers and interested persons of all types, skin colors and nationalities might, over a period of weeks, passionately debate the legitimacy of bin Laden’s execution. Of course, everything can and should be taken into account. But even though this kind of debate is legitimate, it becomes tragic on a global scale when we observe that the focus of attention has determined and defined what is important. However, does it matter whether or not a harmful character (fictitious or real) such as bin Laden was properly or improperly executed, when the undeniable facts are not even mentioned: the murder of children and other innocent persons as customary collateral damages?   

In the case of bin Laden’s execution, at least this time the United States proceeded in truly surgical fashion, as has been falsely proclaimed on other occasions. The lives of the children who dwelt in the house were obviously safeguarded beyond the moment of what was for them a traumatic experience. Beyond the fact that this option was necessarily strategic rather than humanitarian, let us not forget that only a few years or months ago, the standard decision was to bomb the objective without concern for “collateral damages,” that is, without attaching any importance to the presence of innocent persons, quite often children. This tragedy has been so common throughout contemporary history that the affected authorities have done little more than demand better explanations for ever more horrible atrocities before tossing them into the dustbin of our collective forgetfulness.

To avoid taking this topic too far, it would be enough to mention the recent NATO bombing of Libyan dictator (or whatever you want to call him) Muammar Qaddafi. As a consequence of this bombing, the “objective” did not die. The so-called surgical operation killed — assassinated — several people, among them Qaddafi’s son and three of his grandchildren. But whether or not you can believe it, these children had names and ages: Saif, 2 years;Carthage, 3 years; Mastura, 4 months. Even worse, they are not the exception — they are the rule. 

Who remembers their names? Who cares?

There are no relativisms in this: a child is an innocent being regardless of circumstances, identity, religion, ideology or any action committed by her parents. A child is always — always — innocent, and is such without any qualifiers, no matter how much they may cause us, their parents, to lose patience with them time and time again.

If the police forces of any of our civilized countries were to toss a bomb into the house of the worst murderer or worst rapist of all, and by doing so kill three children, there would surely be a popular outcry in that country. If the government had given the order for such a procedure, it would surely fall in less than twenty-four hours and the persons responsible would be brought before meticulous courts of law.

But since the same thing was done to children belonging to supposedly barbarous, savage and backwards peoples, then the action is simply converted into “collateral damage,” and those who carried it out are valued as responsible and valiant leaders who defend civilization, freedom, and most definitely the lives of the innocent.   

And in order to keep this discussion from taking priority over all other discussions, somebody or something decides that what is really important is to have a discussion about the manner in which an individual was executed, or the legitimacy of his execution — an individual whose actions, it is supposed, had sufficiently merited the way he met his end.

Jorge Majfud

May 11, 2011

JacksonvilleUniversity

Translated by Dr. Joe Goldstein

Washington University Political Review (USA)

The Age of Barbaria

Bronze_coin_of_Pontius_Pilate_Jerusalem_mint_2...

Bronze coin of Pontius Pilate

La Era de Barbaria (Spanish)

The Age of Barbaria

Annual trips back to the year 33 began in the Age of Barbaria. 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 weren’t 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 the marvel of traveling through time possible was called Axa. Acting at the request of the High Chief of Technology, who suggested infinite profits through “tourism services,” Axa transported groups of thirty people each to the year 33 in order to witness the death of the Nazarene, much as the tourist commoners did long ago when at each equinox they would gather at the foot of the pyramid of Chitchen-Itzá 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 attend the event at one time, thus hampering the millions in profit expected by the investors. For this reason the group maximum was gradually raised to forty-five, at the risk of attracting the attention of the ancient residents of Jerusalem. That figure has been maintained at the request of one of the company’s principal stockholders, 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 to the facts, it could result in an abandonment of general interest in carrying out this kind of travel.

Over time it has been proven that each historical alteration of the facts, no matter how small, is nearly impossible to repair. Such damage occurs whenever one of the travelers fails to respect the rules and attempts to take away some memento of the place. The most well-known was the case of Adam Parker who, with incredible dexterity, was able to cut out a triangular piece of the Nazarene’s red tunic, probably at the moment the latter collapsed from fatigue. The theft did not signify any change in the holy scriptures, but it served to make Parker rich and famous, since the tiny piece of canvas came to be worth a fortune, and more than a few of the travelers who have since taken on the trouble and expense of going back thousands of years have done so to see where the Nazarene is missing “Parker’s Triangle.”

A few have posed objections to this kind of travel, which, they insist, will end up destroying history in ways beyond our notice. In effect, it has: for each change introduced on any 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 facts. There might be a possibility of tracing each change by projecting other trips to years just prior to the Age 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 might not be catastrophic for the human species, but could potentially 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 Evangelicals belonging to the True Church of God in 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 charged by Axa per ticket. What no one has yet been able to confirm are the group’s intentions. It’s been said they will 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 and would turn to Christianity in the year 33. The entire world would live in the Kingdom of God, just as described in the Gospels.

Others dispute this as conspiracy theory, or they question how the travelers could 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 for 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 failed to see in his path. It has been calculated that the improvement won’t 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 lawsuits brought by clients who have spent a fortune and have returned unsatisfied. 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 weren’t written under its quality control, but instead are only historical documents and, therefore, are exaggerated. There where the Nazarene really dies, instead of 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

The Humanist (USA)

Ron Paul and Right-Wing Anarchy

Ron Paul et l’anarchisme de droite (French)

Ron Paul y el anarquismo de derecha (Spanish)

Special Reports

Ron Paul and Right-Wing Anarchy

by Jorge Majfud

Scandalized by the misery that he had found in the poorer classes of the powerful French nation, Thomas Jefferson wrote to Madison, informing him that this was the consequence of the “unequal division of property.” France’s wealth, thought Jefferson, was concentrated in very few hands, which caused the masses be unemployed and forced them to beg. He also recognized that “the equal distribution of property is impracticable,” but acknowledged that marked differences led to misery. If one wanted to preserve the utopian project for liberty in America, no longer for reasons of justice only, it was urgently necessary to insure that the laws would divide the properties obtained through inheritance so that they might be equally distributed among descendants (Bailyn 2003, 57). Thus, in 1776 Jefferson abolished the laws in his state that priveleged inheritors, and established that all adult persons who did not possess 50 acres of land would receive them from the state, since “the land belongs to the living, not the dead” (58).

Jefferson once expressed his belief that if he had to choose between a government without newspapers and newspapers without a government, he would choose the latter. Like the majority of his founding peers, he was famous for other libertarian ideas, for his moderate anarquism, and for an assortment of other contradictions.

Ron Paul: Carrying Jefferson’s torch in a hostile environment?

Maybe nowadays Ron Paul is a type of postmodern incarnation of that president and erudite philosopher. Perhaps for that same reason he has been displaced by Sarah Palin as representing the definition of what it means to be a supposedly good conservative. In addition to being a medical doctor, a representative for Texas, and one of the historic leaders of the Libertarian movement, Paul is probably the true founder of the non-existent Tea Party.

If anything has differentiated neoconservative Republicans from liberal Democrats during the last few decades, it has been the former’s strong international interventionism with messianic influences or its tendency to legislate against homosexual marriage. On the other hand, if anything has characterized the strong criticism and legislative practice of Ron Paul, it has been his proposal to eliminate the central bank of the United States, his opposition to the meddling of the state in the matter of defining what is or should be a marriage, and his opposition to all kinds of interventionism in the affairs of other nations.

A good example of this was the Republican Party debate in Miami in December of 2007. While the rest of the candidates dedicated themselves to repeating prefabricated sentences that set off rounds of applause and stoked the enthusiasm of Miami’s Hispanic community, Ron Paul did not lose the opportunity to repeat his discomforting convictions.

In response to a question from María Elena Salinas about how to deal with the president of Venezuela, Ron Paul simply answered that he was in favor of having a dialogue with Chavez and with Cuba. Of course, the boos echoed throughout the venue. Without waiting for the audience to calm down, he came back with: “But let me tell you why, why we have problems in Central and South America — because we’ve been involved in their internal affairs for a long time, we’ve gotten involved in their business. We created the Chavezes of this world, we’ve created the Castros of this world by interfering and creating chaos in their countries and they’ve responded by taking out their elected leaders…”

The boos ended with the Texan’s argumentative line, until they asked him again about the war in Iraq: “We didn’t have a reason to get involved there, we didn’t declare war […] I have a different point of view because I respect the Constitution and I listen to the founding fathers, who told us to stay out of the internal affairs of other nations.”

In matters of its internal politics, the Libertarian movement shares various points with the neoconservatives, for example, the idea that inequalities are a consequence of freedom among different individuals with different skills and interests. Hence, the idea of “wealth distribution” is understood by Ron Paul’s followers as an arbitrary act of social injustice. For other neocons, it is simply an outcome of the ideological indoctrination of socialists like Obama. Subsequently, they never lose the opportunity to point out all of the books by Karl Marx that Obama studied, apparently with a passionate interest, at Columbia University, and all of the “Socialist Scholars Conference” meetings that he attended (Radical-in-Chief: Barack Obama and the Untold Story of American Socialism, Stanley Kurtz). Nonetheless, according to the perspective of the libertarians, all of this would fall within the rights of anyone, such as smoking marijuana, as long as one doesn’t try to impose it upon everyone else, which in a president would be at the very least a difficult proposition.

The sacred cow of neoconservative North Americans is liberty (since according to them liberalism is a bad word), as if it had to do with an exalted concept separate from reality. In order to attain it, it would be enough to do away with or reduce everything called state and government, with the exception of the military. Hence, the strong inclination of some people for keeping guns in the hands of individuals, so that they can be used against meddling government power, whether their own or that of others.

Fanatics for total liberty either do not consider or minimize the fact that in order to be free, a certain amount of power is needed. According to Jefferson and Che Guevara, money was only a necessary evil, an outcome of corruption in society and a frequent instrument of robbery. However, in our time (the Greeks in the era of Pericles already knew this), power stems from money. It is enough, then, to have more money in order to be — in social rather than existential terms — freer than a worker who cannot make use of the same degree of liberty to educate his children or to have free time for encouraging his own personal development and intellectual creativity.

At the other extreme, in a large part of Latin America, these days the sacred cow is the “redistribution of wealth” by means of the state. The fact that production can also be poorly distributed is often not considered or is frequently minimized. In this case, the cultural parameters are crucial — there are individuals and groups who create and work for everyone else and who therefore cry out because of the injustice of not getting the benefits that they would deserve if social justice existed. Which is as if a liar were to hide behind a truth in order to safeguard and perpetuate his vices. According to this position, any merit is only the outcome of an oppressive system that doesn’t even allow the idle to put their idleness behind them. So, idleness and robbery are explained by the economic structure and the culture of oppression, which keep entire groups shrouded in ignorance. Which up to a certain point is not untrue. However, it is insufficient for demonstrating the inexistence of perpetual bums and others who are barely equipped for physical or intellectual work. In any case, there should not be redistribution of wealth if there is not first redistribution of production, which would partly be a redistribution of the desire to study, work and take on responsibility for something.

These days, states are necessary evils for protecting the equality of liberty. But at the same time they are the main instrument, as those revolutionary Americans believed, for protecting the privileges of the most powerful and for feeding the moral vices of the weakest.

Jorge Majfud, Jacksonville University.

Washington University Political Review >> Washington University.

http://www.wupr.org/?p=3185

Translated by Dr. Joe Goldstein, Georgia Southern University.

What good is literature? (II)

Julio Cortázar

Image by Nney via Flickr

¿Para qué sirve la literatura? (II) (Spanish)

À quoi sert la littérature ? (French)

What good is literature? (II)

Every so often a politician, a bureaucrat or a smart investor decides to strangulate the humanities with a cut in education, some culture ministry or simply downloading the full force of the market over the busy factories of prefabricated sensitivities.

Much more sincere are the gravediggers who look at our eyes, and with bitterness or simple resentment, throw in our faces their convictions as if they were a single question: What good is literature?

Some wield this kind of philosophical question, not as an analytical instrument but as a mechanical shovel, to slowly widen a tomb full of living corpses.

The gravediggers are old acquaintances. They live or pretend to live, but they are always clinging to the throne of time. Up or down there they go repeating with voices of the dead utilitarian superstitions about needs and progress.

To respond about the uselessness of literature depends on what you comprehend to be useful and not on the literature itself. How useful is the epitaph, the tombstone carved, a reconciliation, sex with love, farewell, tears, laughter, coffee? How useful is football, television programs, photographs that are traded on social networks, racing horses, whiskey, diamonds, thirty pieces of Judas and the repentance?

There are very few who seriously wonder what good is football or the greed of Madoff. There are but a few people (or have not had enough time) that question or wonder, “What good is literature?” Soccer and football are at best, naïve. They have frequently been accomplices of puppeteers and gravediggers.

Literature, if it has not been an accomplice of puppeteers, has just been literature. Its critics do not refer to the respectable business of bestsellers or of prefabricated emotions. No one has ever asked so insistently, “what good is good business?” Critics of literature, deep down, are not concerned with this type of literature. They are concerned with something else. They worry about literature.

The best Olympic athletes have shown us how much the human body may withstand. Formula One racers as well, although borrowing some tricks. The same as the astronauts who put their first steps on the moon, the shovel that builds also destroys.

The same way, the great writers throughout history have shown how far and deep the human experience, (what really matters, what really exist) the vertigo of the highest and deepest ideas and emotions, can go.

For gravediggers only the shovel is useful. For the living dead too.

For others who have not forgotten their status as human beings who dare to go beyond the narrow confines of his own primitive individual experience, for condemned who roam the mass graves but have regained the passion and dignity of human beings, for them it is literature. ∎

Hurricane Katrina and the Hyperreality of the Image

Post-Katrina School Bus

Image by laffy4k via Flickr

Katrina y la hiperrealidad de la imagen (Spanish)

Hurricane Katrina and the Hyperreality of the Image

by Jorge Majfud

Translated by Bruce Campbell

September 2, 2005

In the 16th century, the Dominican brother Bartolomé de las Casas wrote an empassioned chronicle about the brutal conquest by the Spanish Empire of the new world. The denunciation by this Christian convert (which is to say, “of impure blood”) in behalf of a universal humanism, resulted in the Juntas de Valladolid (1550) in which he faced off, before the public and the king, with Ginés de Sepúlveda. Using a biblical quotation taken from Proverbs, Juan Ginés de Sepúlveda and his partisans defended the right of the Empire to enslave indigenous peoples, not only because they did it in the name of the “true faith” but, above all, because the Bible said that the intelligent man must subjugate the idiot. We will not go into who were the intelligent men. What matters now is knowing that over the centuries, a debate resulted among the “chroniclers” (the only literary genre permitted by the Spanish Inquisition in the Americas). As always, only a minority promoted a new ethics based on ethical “principles.” In this case the humanists and defenders of the “natural right” of the indigenous peoples. One had to wait until the 19th century for these “principles” to become reality by the force of “necessity.” In other words, the Industrial Revolution needed wage laborers, not free labor that competed with standardized production and that, besides, had no consumption power. From that point on, as always, “necessity” quickly universalized the “principles,” so that today we all consider ourselves “anti-slavery,” based on ethical “principles” and not by “necessity.”* I have explained this elsewhere, but what is important to me now is to briefly analyze the power of the written text and, beyond this, the power of dialectical (and sometimes sophistic) analysis.

Using the denunciations of father Bartolomé de las Casas, a nascent empire (the British) quickly found writers to create the “black legend” of Spain’s colonial enterprise. Then, like any new empire, it presumed an advanced morality: it presented itself as the champion of the anti-slavery struggle (which – what a coincidence – only became a reality when its industries developed in the 19th century) and pretended to give moral lessons without the necessary authority, which was denied by its own history of brutal oppression, equally as brutal as that of the old Spanish empire.

Shortly after the De las Casas-Supúlveda controversy and following the approval of the New Laws governing treatment of the indians as a consequence (although the laws weren’t worth the paper they were printed on), Guamán Poma Ayala denounced a similar history of rapes, torture and mass murder. But he did it, in contrast, with a collection of drawings, which at the time was a form of chronicle as valid as the written word. These drawing can be studied in detail today, but we would have to say that there impact and interest was minimal in their own time, despite the starkness of the images. In those days, just as during the Middle Ages, images had a special usefulness because the majority of the population did not know how to read. Nevertheless, and for that very reason, it is easy to explain why Guamán Poma’s chronicle was of no great consequence: because the “masses,” the population, didn’t matter as an agent of change. Or it simply didn’t matter. Rebellion might be headed by a cacique, like Tupac Amaru, but the population was not a protagonist of its own story.

Now here’s where I’m going with this: this process has been reversed today. The “masses” are no longer “masses” and have begun to matter: citing Ortega y Gasset, we might say that we had a “rebellion of the masses” but now can longer speak of “masses” but of a population composed of individuals that have started to question, to make demands, and to rebel. Nonetheless, the struggle is rooted on this front: as the masses (now subjects in rebellion) matter in the generation of the story, those who still belong to the old order seek to dominate them with their own language: the image. And often they succeed to perfection. Let’s take a look.

Our Western popular culture is based (at times trapped) in visual codes and a visual sensibility. We know that the culture of the ruling (or dominant) classes continues to be based on the complexities of the written text. Even the experts on images base their studies and theories on the written word. If in Latin America public opinion and sensibility are strongly conditioned by an ideological tradition (formed from the time of the Conquest, in the 16th century, and exploited by opposing political groups in the 20th century), here, in the United States, the relationship with the past is less conflict-oriented, and hence the lack of historical memory can, in some cases, facilitate the work of the proselytizers. We will not get into that issue here. Suffice it to say that the United States is a complex and contradictory country, and therefore any judgement about “Americanness” is as arbitrary and unfair as speaking of “Latinamericanness” without recognizing the great diversity that exists within that mythological construct. We must not forget that all ideology (of the left or of the right, liberal or conservative) sustains itself via a strategic simplification of the reality it analyzes or creates.

I understand that these factors should be taken into account when we want to understand why the image is a basic “text” for capitalist societies: its “consumption” is quick, disposable, and therefore “comfortable.” The problem arises when this image (the sign, the text) ceases to be comfortable and pleasant. When this happens the public reacts, becomes aware. That is to say, the understanding, the awareness, enters through the eyes: a photograph of a girl fleeing the napalm bombs in Viet Nam, for example. For the same reason it was “recommended” to not show the public images of the war in Iraq that included children torn apart by bombs (see the daily papers of the rest of the world in 2003), the coffins of American soldiers returning home, etc. By contrast, the Terri Schiavo case occupied the time and concern of the American public for many weeks, day after day, hour after hour; the president and governor Bush of Florida signed “exceptions” that were rejected by the judiciary, until the poor woman died to rest in peace from so many obscene images of which she was the unknowing and unwilling victim. Despite it all, during thos same weeks hundreds of Iraqis, as well as American soldiers, continued to die and they didn’t even make the news, beyond the publication of the daily statistic. Why? Because they aren’t persons, they are numbers for a sensibility that is only moved by images. And this was proved by the photographs of Abu Graib and with a video that showed an American soldier shooting a wounded man. Those were the only two moments in which the American public reacted with indignation. But we should ask ourselves, does anyone really believe that these things don’t happen in war? Does anyone still believe in that postmodern story about hygienic wars, where there are “special effects” but no blood, death and pain? Yes. Many people do. Lamentably, a majority. And it’s not due to lack of intelligence but to lack of interest.

We can analyze the same process at work with the recent problem of New Orleans. The catastrophe was not grasped when the meteorologists warned of the scale of the tragedy, several days before. Nor was there broad awareness of the problem when reports spoke of tens of dead. Four days after, we knew that the number of dead could rise into the hundreds. Possibly thousands, if we consider those wuo will die for lack of dialysis, lack of insulin and other emergency medicines. But television did not show a single dead person. Anyone can search the pages of the principal daily newspapers of the United States and they will not find an “offensive” image, one of those photographs that we can view in daily papers from other parts of the world: bodies floating, children dying “like in Africa,” violence, rapes, etc. Because if there is one thing in abundance it is digital cameras; but there is even more “modesty.” I am no advocate of morbid gratuitousness, nor of showing blood over and over again unnecessarily: I am an advocate of showing everything. As a U.S. citizen said with reference to the war, “if we were capable of doing it we should be capable of seeing it.”

A natural tragedy like this one (or like the tsunami in Asia) is a disgrace for which we cannot hold anyone responsible. (Let’s set aside, for a moment, the share of responsibility that societies have in the global warming of the oceans.) Nonetheless, the tragedy of New Orleans demonstrates that a superpower like the United States can mobilize tens of thousands of soldiers, the most advanced technology in the world, the most effective machinery of assault in human history in order to remove a foreign president (or dictator), but prove incapable of reaching thousands of victims of Hurricane Katrina, in a city within its own country. In New Orleans, there were acts of vandalism and violence, rapes and general chaos while victims complained that there were no policemen or soldiers to help them, in an area that found itself under martial law. This complaint was made in front of the cameras, and so we can believe that at least the journalists were able to gain access to those places. Some loot because they are opportunists, others out of desperation, as they begin to experience a situation of struggle for survival previously not seen in the most powerful country in the world. On September 1 president G.W. Bush appealed for private aid and on September 2 he said it was not sufficient. There is no lack of resources, of course (the war in Iraq cost more than three hundred billion dollars, ten times more than all the damages produced by the hurricane in this tragedy); the Congress voted for economic aid of ten billion dollars for the victims. But the latter continued to die, trapped in stadiums, on bridges, without shelter, offering up a jarring image for a country whose poor suffer from problems of overeating, where beggars are fined a thousand dollars for asking for things they don’t need (since the State supposedly provides them everything necessary to survive without desperation in case they can’t do so by their own means). Undocumented Hispanics suffer a double tragedy: they will not receive compensation like their neighbors, but rest assured that they will be the first to take up the task of reconstruction. Who else? What other social group in this country has the physical, moral and spiritual toughness to work under conditions of survival and hopelessness? Or do we still believe in fairy tales?

The people of the United States will become aware of the objectives and priorities of this government when they compare its efficiency or inefficiency in different places and moments. But for that to happen they must “see it” on their television sets, in the English-language news media on the Internet, to which they turn out of habit. Because it is of little or no use for them to read it in written texts, since the critical analyses of the New York Times are seemingly useless – a paper that, with a large number of brilliant analysts noting one by one the contradictions of this government, took sides publicly against the the reelection of G. W. Bush. Now, when there is a “fatigue” in public opinion, the majority of the country’s population understands that the intervention in Iraq was a mistake. Of course, as my grandfather used to say, you chirped too late.

U.S. public opinion will become aware of what is happening in New Orleans (and of what is happening beyond the natural phenomenon) when people can see images; a part of what the victims see and tell orally to a public that listens but is unmoved by a dialectical analysis that doesn’t appeal to images or biblical metaphors. The U.S. public will realize what is happening when its sees “raw” images, as long as they don’t confuse those images with the chaos of some underdeveloped country.

The brilliant Brazilian educator, Paulo Freire, exiled by the dictatorship of his country “out of ignorance,” published in 1971 The Pedagogy of the Oppressed with a publishing house in Montevideo, Uruguay. He mentioned there the pedagogical experience of a colleague. The teacher had shown to a student an alley of New York City filled with garbage and asked him what he saw. The boy said that he saw a street in Africa or Latin America. “And why not a street in New York City?” observed the teacher. A short timearlier, in the 1950s, Roland Barthes had done an interesting analysis of a photograph in which a black soldier saluted “patriotically” the flag of the empire that oppressed Africa (the French empire), and concluded, among other things, that the image was conditioned by the (written) text that accompanies it and that it is the latter that confers on the image (ideological) meaning. We might think that the semantic (or semiotic) problem is a bit more complex than this, and arises from other unwritten “texts,” other images, other (hegemonic) discourses, etc. But the “raw” image also has a revelatory, or at least critical, function. What do I mean by “raw”? “Raw” images are precisely those images censored (or repressed, to use a psychoanalytic term) by the dominant discourse. For this reason those of us who use dialectics and analysis related historically to thought and language must recognize, at the same time, the power of those others who control visual language. To dominate or to liberate, to hide or to reveal.

Once, in an African village, a Macua man told me how a sorceress had transformed a sack of sand into a sack of sugar, and how another sorcerer had come flying down from the sky. I asked him if he remembered any strange, recent dream. The Macua man told me he had dreamed that he saw his village from an airplane. “Have you ever flown in a plane?” I asked. Obviously not. He hadn’t even been close to one of those machines. “But you say that you saw it,” I observed. “Yes, but it was a dream,” he told me. Spirits in the bodies of lions, flying men, sand turned into sugar aren’t dreams. Stories like these can be read in the chronicles of the Spaniards who conquered Latin America in the 16th century. We can also see them today in many regions of Central America. My response to my Macua friend was the same as I would give to the more “evolved” U.S. public: we must always be aware that not everything we see is true, nor is can everything true be seen.

*This same principal that I call “necessity” was identified in the 19th century by Bautista Alberdi, when he recognized that laicism in the Rio de la Plata was (and had to be) a consequence of the great diversity of religions, a product of immigration. It was not possible to expel or engage in “ethnic cleansing,” as Spain did in the 15th century, since in Alberdi’s time we were in a different arena of history, and of the concept of “necessary resources.”

Translated by Bruce Campbell

If Latin America Had Been a British Enterprise

His family was originally from Serantes, Ferro...

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Si América Latina hubiese sido una empresa inglesa (Spanish)

If Latin America Had Been a British Enterprise

Jorge Majfud

In the process of conducting a recent study at the University of Georgia, a female student interviewed a young Colombian woman and tape recorded the interview.  The young woman commented on her experience in England and how  the British were interested in knowing the reality of Colombia.  After she detailed the problems that her country had, one Englishman observed the paradox that England, despite being smaller and possessing fewer natural resources, was much wealthier than Colombia.  His conclusion was cutting:  “If England had managed Colombia like a business, Colombians today would be much richer.”

The Colombian youth admitted her irritation, because the comment was intended to point out  just how incapable we are in Latin America.  The lucid maturity of the young Colombian woman was evident in the course of the interview, but in that moment she could not find the words to respond to the son of the old empire.  The heat of the moment, the audacity of those British kept her from remembering that in many respects Latin America had indeed been managed like a British enterprise and that, therefore, the idea was not only far from original but, also, was part of the reason that Latin America was so poor – with the caveat that poverty is a scarcity of capital and not of historical consciousness.

Agreed: three hundred years of monopolistic, retrograde and frequently cruel colonization has weighed heavily upon the Latin American continent, and consolidated in the spirit of our nations an oppositional psychology with respect to social and political legitimation (Alberto Montaner called that cultural trait “the suspicious original legitimacy of power”).  Following the Semi-independences of the 19th century, the “progress” of the British railroad system was not only a kind of gilded cage – in the words of Eduardo Galeano -, a strait-jacket for native Latin American development, but we can see something similar in Africa: in Mozambique, for example, a country that extends North-to-South, the roads cut across it from East-to-West.  The British Empire was thus able to extract the wealth of its central colonies by passing through the Portuguese colony.  In Latin America we can still see the networks of asphalt and steel flowing together toward the ports – old bastions of the Spanish colonies that native rebels contemplated with infinite rancor from the heights of the savage sierras, and which the large land owners saw as the maximum progress possible for countries that were backward by “nature.”

Obviously, these observations do not exempt us, the Latin Americans, from assuming our own responsibilities.  We are conditioned by an economic infrastructure, but not determined by it, just as an adult is not tied irremediably to the traumas of childhood.  Certainly we must confront these days other kinds of strait-jackets, conditioning imposed on us from outside and from within, by the inevitable thirst for dominance of world powers who refuse strategic change, on the one hand, and frequently by our own culture of immobility, on the other.  For the former it is necessary to lose our innocence; for the latter we need the courage to criticize ourselves, to change ourselves and to change the world.

Translated by Bruce Campbell

* Jorge Majfud is a Uruguayan writer and professor of Latin American literature at the University of Georgia.

The Fall of an Empire

Bartolome de las casas

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Cómo se derrumba un imperio (Spanish)

The Fall of an Empire


Jorge Majfud

The University of Georgia

The same day that Christopher Columbus left the port of Palos, the third of August of 1492, was the deadline for the Jews of Spain to leave their country, Spain.  In the admiral’s mind there were at least two powerful goals, two irrefutable truths: the material riches of Asia and the perfect religion of Europe.  With the former he intended to finance the reconquest of Jerusalem; with the latter he would legitimate the looting.  The word “oro,” Spanish for “gold,” spilled from his pen in the same way the divine and bloody metal spilled from the ships of the conquistadors who followed him.  That same year, the second of January of 1492, Granada had fallen, the last Arab bastion on the Iberian Peninsula.  1492 was also the year of the publication of the first Castilian grammar (the first European grammar in a “vulgar” language).  According to its author, Antonio de Nebrija, language was the “companion to empire.”  Immediately, the new power continued the Reconquest with the Conquest, on the other side of the Atlantic, using the same methods and the same convictions, confirming the globalizing vocation of all empires.

At the center of power there had to be a language, a religion and a race.  Future Spanish nationalism would be built on the foundation of a cleansing of memory.  It is true that eight centuries before Jews and Aryan Visigoths had called for and later helped Muslims replace Roderick and the rest of the Visigoth kings who had fought for the same purification.  But this was not the principal reason for despising the Jews, because it was not memory that was important but forgetting.  The Catholic monarchs and successive divine royalty finished off (or wanted to) the other Spain, multicultural and mestizo Spain, the Spain where several languages were spoken and several religions were practiced and several races mixed.  The Spain that had been the center of culture, the arts and the sciences, in a Europe submerged in backwardness, in the violent superstitions and provincialism of the Middle Ages.  More and more, the Iberian Peninsula began closing its borders to difference.  Moors and Jews had to abandon their country and emigrate to Barbaria (Africa) or to the rest of Europe, where they integrated to peripheral nations that emerged with new economic, social and intellectual restlessness.1 Within the borders were left some illegitimate children, African slaves who go almost unmentioned in the better known version of history but who were necessary for undignified domestic tasks.  The new and successful Spain enclosed itself in a conservative movement (if one will permit me the oxymoron).  The state and religion were strategically united for better control of Spain’s people during a schizophrenic process of purification.  Some dissidents like Bartolomé de las Casas had to face, in public court, those who, like Ginés de Supúlveda, argued that the empire had the right to invade and dominate the new continent because it was written in the Bible (Proverbs 11:29) that “the foolish shall be servant to the wise of heart.”  The others, the subjugated, are such because of their “inferior intellect and inhumane and barbarous customs.”  The speech of the famous and influential theologian, sensible like all official discourse, proclaimed: “[the natives] are barbarous and inhumane peoples, are foreign to civil life and peaceful customs, and it will be just and in keeping with natural law that such peoples submit to the empire of more cultured and humane nations and princes, so that due to their virtues and the prudence of their laws such peoples might throw off their barbarism and reduce themselves to a more humane life and worship of virtue.”  And in another moment: “one must subjugate by force of arms, if by other means is not possible, those who by their natural condition must obey others but refuse to submit.”  At the time one did not recur to words like “democracy” and “freedom” because until the 19th century these remained in Spain attributes of humanist chaos, anarchy and the devil.  But each imperial power in each moment of history plays the same game with different cards.  Some, as one can see, not so different.

Despite an initially favorable reaction from King Carlos V and the New Laws that prohibited enslavement of native Americans (Africans were not considered subject to rights), the empire, through its propertied class, continued enslaving and exterminating those peoples considered “foreign to civil life and peaceful customs” in the name of salvation and humanization.  In order to put an end to the horrible Aztec rituals that periodically sacrificed an innocent victim to their pagan gods, the empire tortured, raped and murdered en masse, in the name of the law and of the one, true God.  According to Bartolomé de las Casas, one of the methods of persuasion was to stretch the savages over a grill and roast them alive.  But it was not only torture – physical and moral – and forced labor that depopulated lands that at one time had been inhabited by thousands of people; weapons of mass destruction were also employed, biological weapons to be more specific.  Smallpox and the flu decimated entire populations unintentionally at times, and according to precise calculation on other occasions.  As the English had discovered to the north, sometimes the delivery of contaminated gifts, like the clothing of infected people, or the dumping of pestilent cadavers, had more devastating effects than heavy artillery.

Now, who defeated one of the greatest empires in history, the Spanish Empire?  Spain.  As a conservative mentality, cutting across all social classes, clung to a belief in its divine destiny, as the “armed hand of God” (according to Menéndez Pelayo), the empire sank into its own past.  The society of empire fractured and the gap separating the rich from the poor grew at the same time that the empire guaranteed the mineral resources (precious metals in this case) allowing it to function.  The poor increased in number and the rich increased the wealth they accumulated in the name of God and country.  The empire had to finance the wars that it maintained beyond its borders and the fiscal deficit grew until it became a monster out of control.  Tax cuts mainly benefited the upper classes, to such an extent that they often were not even required to pay them or were exempted from going to prison for debt or embezzlement.  The state went bankrupt several times.  Nor was the endless flow of mineral resources coming from its colonies, beneficiaries of the enlightenment of the Gospel, sufficient: the government spent more than what it received from these invaded lands, requiring it to turn to the Italian banks.

This is how, when many countries of America (what is now called Latin America) became independent, there was no longer anything left of the empire but its terrible reputation.  Fray Servando Teresa de Mier wrote in 1820 that if Mexico had not yet become independent it was because of the ignorance of the people, who did not yet understand that the Spanish Empire was no longer an empire, but the poorest corner of Europe.  A new empire was consolidating power, the British Empire.  Like previous empires, and like those that would follow, the extension of its language and the dominance of its culture would be common factors.  Another would be publicity: England did not delay in using the chronicles of Bartolomé de las Casas to defame the old empire in the name of a superior morality.  A morality that nonetheless did not preclude the same kind of rape and criminality.  But clearly, what matters most are the good intentions: well-being, peace, freedom, progress – and God, whose omnipresence is demonstrated by His presence in all official discourse.

Racism, discrimination, the closing of borders, messianic religious belief, wars for peace, huge fiscal deficits to finance these wars, and radical conservatism lost the empire.  But all of these sins are summed up in one: arrogance, because this is the one that keeps a world power from seeing all the other ones.  Or it allows them to be seen, but in distorted fashion, as if they were grand virtues.

Jorge Majfud

The University of Georgia

February 2006.

Translated by Bruce Campbell

(1) It is commonly said that the Renaissance began with the fall of Constantinople and the emigration of Greek intellectuals to Italy, but little or nothing is said of the emigration of knowledge and capital that were forced to abandon Spain.

The Privatization of God

Blaise Pascal first explained his wager in Pen...

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The Privatization of God


by Jorge Majfud

The University of Georgia

Custom-made for the consumer

In the 17th century, the mathematics genius Blaise Pascal wrote that men never do evil with greater pleasure than when they do it with religious conviction. This idea – from a deeply religious man – has taken a variety of different forms since. During the last century, the greatest crimes against humanity were promoted, with pride and passion, in the name of Progress, of Justice and of Freedom. In the name of Love, Puritans and moralists organized hatred, oppression and humiliation; in the name of Life, leaders and prophets spilled death over vast regions of the planet. Presently, God has come to be the main excuse for excercises in hate and death, hiding political ambitions, earthly and infernal interests behind sacred invocations. In this way, by reducing each tragedy on the planet to the millenarian and simplified tradition of the struggle between Good and Evil, of God against the Devil, hatred, violence and death are legitimated. There is no other way to explain how men and women are inclined to pray with fanatical pride and hypocritical humility, as if they were pure angels, models of morality, all the while hiding gunpowder in their clothing, or a check made out to death. And if the leaders are aware of the fraud, their subjects are no less responsible for being stupid, no less culpable for their criminal metaphysical convictions, in the name of God and Morality – when not in the name of a race, of a culture – and from a long tradition, recently on exhibit, custom-fit to the latest in hatred and ambition.

Empire of the simplifications

Yes, we can believe in the people. We can believe that they are capable of the most astounding creations – as will be one day their own liberation – and also of incommensurable stupidities, these latter always concealed by a complacent and self-interested discourse that manages to nullify criticism and any challenge to bad conscience. But, how did we come to such criminal negligence? Where does so much pride come from in a world where violence grows daily and more and more people claim to have heard the voice of God?

Political history demonstrates that a simplification is more powerful and better received by the vast majority of a society than is a problematization. For a politician or for a spiritual leader, for example, it is a show of weakness to admit that reality is complex. If one’s adversary expunges from a problem all of its contradictions and presents it to the public as a struggle between Good and Evil, the adversary undoubtedly is more likely to triumph. In the final analysis, the primary lesson of our time is grounded in commercial advertising or in permissive submission: we elect and we buy that which solves our problems for us, quickly and cheaply, even though the problem might be created by the solution, and even though the problem might continue to be real while the solution is never more than virtual. Nonetheless, a simplification does not eliminate the complexity of the problem in question, but rather, on the contrary, produces greater problems, and sometimes tragic consequences. Denying a disease does not cure it; it makes it worse.

Why don’t we talk about why?

Let’s try now to problematize some social phenomenon. Undoubtedly, we will not plumb the full depths of its complexity, but we can get an idea of the degree of simplification with which it is treated on a daily basis, and not always innocently.

Let’s start with a brief example. Consider the case of a man who rapes and kills a young girl. I take this example not only because it is, along with torture, one of the most abhorrent crimes imaginable, but because it represents a common criminal practice in all societies, even those that boast of their special moral virtues.

First of all, we have a crime. Beyond the semantics of “crime” and “punishment,” we can evaluate the act on its own merits, without, that is, needing to recur to a genealogy of the criminal and of his victim, or needing to research the origins of the criminal’s conduct. Both the rape and the murder should be punished by the law, and by the rest of society. And period. On this view, there is no room for discussion.

Very well. Now let’s imagine that in a given country the number of rapes and murders doubles in a particular year and then doubles again the year after that. A simplification would be to reduce the new phenomenon to the criminal deed described above. That is to say, a simplification would be to understand that the solution to the problem would be to not let a single one of these crimes go unpunished. Stated in a third way, a simplification would be to not recognize the social realities behind the individual criminal act. A more in-depth analysis of the first case could reveal to us a painful childhood, marked by the sexual abuse of the future abuser, of the future criminal. This observation would not in any way overturn the criminality of the deed itself, just as evaluated above, but it would allow us to begin to see the complexity of a problem that a simplification threatens to perpetuate. Starting from this psychological analysis of the individual, we could certainly continue on to observe other kinds of implications arising from the same criminal’s circumstances, such as, for example, the economic conditions of a specific social underclass, its exploitation and moral stigmatization by the rest of society, the moral violence and humiliation of its misery, its scales of moral value constructed in accordance with an apparatus of production, reproduction and contradictory consumption, by social institutions like a public education system that helps the poor less than it humiliates them, certain religious organizations that have created sin for the poor while using the latter to earn Paradise for themselves, the mass media, advertising, labor contradictions… and so on.

We can understand terrorism in our time in the same way. The criminality of an act of terrorism is not open to discussion (or it shouldn’t be). Killing is always a disgrace, a historical curse. But killing innocents and on a grand scale can have no justification or pardon of any kind. Therefore, to renounce punishment for those who promote terrorism is an act of cowardice and a flagrant concession to impunity.

Nevertheless, we should also remember here our initial caveat. Understanding a social and historical phenomenon as a consequence of the existence of “bad guys” on Earth is an extremely naive simplification or, to the contrary, an ideologically astute simplification that, by avoiding integrated analysis – historical, economic, political – exempts the administrators of the meaning of “bad”: the good guys.

We will not even begin to analyze, in these brief reflections, how one comes to identify one particular group and not others with the qualifier “terrorist.” For that let it suffice to recommend a reading of Roland Barthes – to mention just one classic source. We will assume the restricted meaning of the term, which is the one assumed by the press and the mainstream political narratives.

Even so, if we resort to the idea that terrorism exists because criminals exist in the world, we would have to think that in recent times there has been an especially abundant harvest of wicked people. (An idea explicitly present in the official discourse of all the governments of countries affected by the phenomenon.) But if it were true that in our world today there are more bad people than before, surely it isn’t by the grace of God but via historical developments that such a phenomenon has come to be. No historical circumstance is produced by chance, and therefore, to believe that killing terrorists will eliminate terrorism from the world is not only a foolish simplification but, by denying a historical origin for the problem, by presenting it as ahistorical, as purely a product of Evil, even as a struggle between two theological “essences” removed from any social, economic and political context, provokes a tragic worsening of the situation. It is a way of not confronting the problem, of not attacking its deep roots.

On many occasions violence is unavoidable. For example, if someone attacks us it would seem legitimate to defend ourselves with an equal degree of violence. Certainly a true Christian would offer the other cheek before instigating a violent reaction; however, if he were to respond violently to an act of aggression no one could deny him the right, even though he might be contradicting one of the commandments of Christ. But if a person or a government tells us that violence will be diminished by unleashing violence against the bad guys – affecting the innocent in the process – not only does this deny the search for a cause for the violence, it also will serve to strengthen it, or at least legitimate it, in the eyes of those who suffer the consequences.

Punishing those responsible for the violence is an act of justice. Claiming that violence exists only because violent people exist is an act of ignorance or of ideological manipulation.

If one continues to simplify the problem, insisting that it consists of a conflict produced by the “incompatibility” of two religious views – as if one of them had not been present for centuries – as if it were a matter of a simple kind of war where victory is achieved only with the total defeat of the enemy, one will drag the entire world into an intercontinental war. If one genuinely seeks the social origin and motivation of the problem – the “why” – and acts to eliminate and attenuate it, we will most assuredly witness a relaxing of the tension that is currently escalating. We will not see the end of violence and injustice in the world, but at least misfortune of unimaginable proportions will be avoided.

The analysis of the “origin of violence” would be useless if it were produced and consumed only within a university. It should be a problem for the headlines, a problem to be discussed dispassionately in the bars and in the streets. At the same time, we will have to recognize, once again, that we need a genuine dialogue. Not a return to the diplomatic farce, but a dialogue between peoples who have begun dangerously to see one another as enemies, as threats – a disagreement, really, based on a profound and crushing ignorance of the other and of oneself. What is urgent is a painful but courageous dialogue, where each one of us might recognize our prejudice and our self-centeredness. A dialogue that dispenses with the religious fanaticism – both Muslim and Christian – so in vogue these days, with its messianic and moralizing pretensions. A dialogue, in short, to spite the deaf who refuse to hear.

The True God

According to the true believers and the true religion, there can be only one true God, God. Some claim that the true God is One and he is Three at the same time, but judging by the evidence, God is One and Many more. The true God is unique but with different politics according to the interests of the true believers. Each one is the true God, each one moves the faithful against the faithful of other gods, which are always false gods even though each one is someone’s true God. Each true God organizes the virtue of each virtuous people on the basis of true customs and the true Morality. There is only one Morality based on the true God, but since there is more than one true God there is also more than one true Morality, only one of which is truly true.

But, how do we know which one is the true truth? The proper methods for proof are disputable; what is not disputed is the current practice: scorn, threats, oppression and, when in doubt, death. True death is always the final and inevitable recourse of the true truth, which comes from the true God, in order to save the true Morality and, above all, the true believers.

Yes, at times I have my doubts about what is true, and I know that doubt has been condemned by all religions, by all theologies, and by all political discourses. At times I have my doubts, but it is likely that God does not hold my doubt in contempt. He must be very busy concerning himself with so much certainty, so much pride, so much morality, behind so many ministers who have taken control of his word, holding Him hostage in a building somewhere so as to be able to conduct their business in public without obstacles.

Jorge Majfud

Translated by Bruce Campbell.

Monthly Review (New York)