Immigration, History, Politics, and the Latino Vote

2019 Lectures

 

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IMMIGRATION AND THE LATINO VOTE 

January 30, 2019 4:30 pm McKee 113 

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WCU Humanities Initiative

WCU welcomes Uruguayan-American scholar and author Jorge Majfud. 

In the first event, Dr. Majfud will join Dr. Benjamin Francis-Fallon (WCU History) in a panel about Immigration and the evolution of the Latino Voting Bloc in the US. 

Join us also the following day, when Dr. Majfud will engage in a dialogue with Dr. Alberto Centeno-Pulido (WCU World Languages) about immigration, racism, and the role of intellectuals in the public sphere as explorers of the human experience.

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For more information, contact Alberto Centeno-Pulido at acentenopulido@wcu.edu

 

 

  

Los años Trump por venir

French: Les années Trump à venir

La idea de que el futuro está hacia adelante es una construcción imaginaria, como casi todo, y procede de la acción de caminar. Pueblos más contemplativos consideraban que el tiempo fluía desde nuestras espaldas, razón por la cual sólo el pasado se puede ver, no el futuro. Por el pasado juzgamos lo que puede estar por pasar, pero con frecuencia vemos aparecer dragones, unicornios y todo tipo de seres y hechos inesperados.

Nadie puede ver el futuro como vemos el pasado, y quizás por esta razón se deba que el solo intento de predecirlo resulta antipático, sino arrogante. Pero no deja de ser un ejercicio necesario. Empecemos echando una mirada al pasado, que no siempre es del todo nítida.

El llamado nacionalismo islámico que vemos hoy no era tal a mediados del siglo pasado cuando muchos gobiernos de grandes países de África del Norte y Medio Oriente eran seculares y en algunos casos también eran democráticos. Sólo que tuvieron la suertedesgracia de estar sobre grandes reservas de petróleo. Fueron las potencias occidentales las que jugaron un rol decisivo interviniendo, destruyendo sus precarias democracias y estimulando el nacionalismo étnico y religioso a fuerza de humillaciones. La inestabilidad y las guerras civiles y militares terminaron desplazando a millones de personas, una parte menor de ellos hacia Europa.

Paradójicamente, este proceso fue, a su vez, la principal causa de la actual ola de nacionalismos de esas mismas potencias occidentales que, obviamente, toman su inspiración de sus propios pasados, desde las Cruzadas y la Inquisición hasta los fascismos de la convulsionada Europa de los años treinta y cuarenta. Para bien y para mal, Europa y Estados Unidos crearon esa globalización que ahora rechazan por catastrófica para la existencia de sus “esencias nacionales”; se sienten invadidos por los inmigrantes de piel oscura y religiones falsas, robados por el libre mercado que ellos mismos impusieron por generaciones a fuerza de cañón y conspiraciones.

Esta ola de nacionalismos en las potencias militares del mundo (Rusia, Europa, Estados Unidos) se extenderá a otras regiones del mundo como India, China, Japón y, probablemente con menos fuerza, a la región menos nacionalista del mundo: América Latina. Así se comenzará a construir un orden altamente inestable, proclive a nuevas guerras al estilo del siglo XX.

En Estados Unidos, el presidente electo Donald Trump no cumplirá completamente ninguna de sus promesas electorales pero en su intento por hacerlo se encontrará con resultados contradictorios.

Al principio de su mandato, la economía mostrará signos de fortaleza. El parámetro más tradicional y engañoso, el PIB, recibirá un estímulo de no menos tradicionales medidas de la escuela Reagan-Bush (ej. recortes de impuestos), las que en su tiempo mejoraron la economía y aumentaron la pobreza (1981-1993). Por no hablar de los logros del segundo Bush (2001-2009). Pero también aumentarán la inflación y, en consecuencia, la tasa de intereses de la FED, lo cual fortalecerá el dólar haciendo las exportaciones estadounidenses más caras para el resto del mundo y aliviando las industrias del llamado Tercer mundo.

Los intentos de aislacionismo nacionalistas, paradójicamente, aumentarán la agresión internacional de las viejas potencias, ya que dejarán espacios libres a otros protagonistas, como China, para ocupar los mercados vacantes. China necesitará hacerlo desesperadamente, ya que la estabilidad social de su sistema depende de su economía y ésta será seriamente amenazada por una población envejecida. Los inmigrantes serán la peor solución para un sistema comunista autoritario, cerrado a su propia sociedad y abierto al capitalismo que no lo amenaza sino que lo sostiene, como lo ha hecho antes con muchas otras dictaduras de derecha en América latina.

Habrá una recesión económica en el primer periodo de Trump, lo cual creará tensión ideológica y étnica: por un lado los demócratas se beneficiarán en la disputa dialéctica y por el otro Trump responderá con la creación de dicotomías y conflictos internos y externos, al mejor estilo Vladimir Putin.

Dentro de Estados Unidos la antigua herida producida por la guerra civil del siglo XIX se abrirá y sangrará como nunca antes. El sistema electoral que llevó a Trump a la presidencia habiendo perdido la elección general por dos millones de votos, fue creado para preservar los intereses del sistema esclavista del siglo XVIII; ese mismo pasado sobrevive de muchas otras formas.

En el exterior, los conflictos en Medio y extremo Oriente servirán para disimular los problemas económicos y sociales internos.

Como consecuencia, nuevos movimientos al estilo de los años sesenta contra la guerra de Vietnam surgirán de forma más organizada y, en casos, violenta.

A largo plazo, el futuro de Donald Trump es oscuro. Su presidencia estará marcada por los escándalos, esta vez sin el apoyo y la impunidad de una población que quiso castigar a los políticos con alguien peor, con un falso profeta. Grupos cada vez más radicales de corte neonazi y confederados, legitimados y luego marginados por un líder que prometió e incumplirá tanto como presidente improvisado como lo hizo como empresario con un lago historial de bancarrotas y manipulaciones legales.

Trump ha navegado toda su vida entre la ilegitimidad y la discutible legalidad de sus negocios; como presidente se sentirá más protegido, pero estará más expuesto también. Es probable que se haya metido él solo en una trampa y que lo sepa.

Su partido perderá la mayoría en al menos una de las cámaras del congreso y él mismo se enfrentará a intentos de impeachment, no solo por sus propios méritos sino por el deseo de los conservadores de dejar a Mike Pence en el poder, un personaje menos payasezco y un conservador mucho más radical, al mejor estilo Savonarola.

México sentirá la incertidumbre de un Gran Hermano más inestable y más hostil. Su comercio sufrirá al comienzo y más tarde sus industrias se verán beneficiadas por el peso barato. Los mexicanos pobres se repartirán entre nuevos puestos de trabajo en su país y el estímulo de un dólar fuerte del otro lado. En cualquier caso, la reducción de la inmigración ilegal presionará aún más la inflación en Estados Unidos y la caída de competitividad de sus manufactureras que deberán radicalizar el proceso de automatización y despidos de trabajadores –votantes de Trump.

Si no se produce un conflicto sangriento, dentro o fuera de fronteras, Trump no será reelecto en 2020. Un candidato joven de la izquierda sucederá al senador Bernie Sanders y explotará cierto grado de nostalgia por los años de Obama que, luego del descrédito inicial en la Era Trump, comenzará a crecer en las décadas por venir.

Nuevas formas de organización sociales alejadas de las redes sociales buscarán convertir al espectador (apasionado, pasivo y acrítico) de las redes en protagonistas circunstanciales de la historia.

A más largo plazo, este orden basado en nacionalismos étnicos en un mundo globalizado, es suicida. Si sobrevivimos como especie a la catástrofe ambiental, acelerada por los negacionistas, y a las nuevas guerras tribales, la humanidad volverá al camino de la consolidación de una conciencia más global, de una justicia internacional y de democracias más directas y más responsables.

Aunque, claro, con demasiada frecuencia, hasta el más humilde optimismo sobre la especie humana suele probarse exagerado.

 

 

 

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

 

 

 

 

The Candidate

Los lobbies políticos no son tan estúpidos como parecen. Ponen los candidatos adecuados que sean capaces de recoger el dinero de la gente inteligente y los votos de gente que carece de ambas cosas.

 

Political lobbies are not as stupid as they seem. They put the right candidates who will be able to collect money from intelligent people and the votes of people who lack both.

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.

It’s the culture, stupid

“52% Of Mississippi GOP Voters Say Obama Is Muslim” h
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Obama’s Religion Still A Campaign Issue: Many Alabama, Mississippi Voters Believe President Is Muslim

The Huffington Post  |  By Chris Gentilviso Posted: 03/12/2012 11:12 am Updated: 03/12/2012 4:44 pm

US President Barack Obama speaks during a campaign event at Minute Maid Park in Houston, Texas, on March 9, 2012. (JEWEL SAMAD/AFP/Getty Images)

Ask President Barack Obama about his religious affiliation, and he’s a Christian. Ask Mississippi or Alabama voters, and you might find a different answer.

In the midst of tight GOP primaries in both states, Public Policy Polling (PPP) hasreleased information showing that a majority of likely GOP primary voters in the Deep South do not see Obama as a Christian. PPP’s Alabama survey of 600 likely GOP primary voters found that only 14 percent consider Obama a Christian, while 45 percent said he is a Muslim and 41 percent answered that they were not sure.

A similar picture surfaced in Mississippi. Of 656 likely GOP primary voters surveyed, 12 percent said Obama was a Christian, 52 percent classified him as a Muslim, and 36 percent fell in the “not sure” category.

The survey emerges on the heels of a recent stream of public questioning regarding Obama’s religion. Back on Feb. 18, Rick Santorum took aim at the president’s beliefs, charging that his White House decisions are driven by a “different theology.”

“It’s not about your quality of life,” Santorum told supporters at a Tea Party rally in Columbus, Ohio. “It’s not about your jobs. It’s about some phony ideal. Some phony theology. Oh, not a theology based on the Bible.”

Three days later, evangelist Franklin Graham joined the chorus, leaning toward the same opinion of those unsure Southern voters. Obama “has said he’s a Christian, so I just have to assume that he is,” Graham said on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe.”

Facing criticism from prominent black religious leaders, Graham later apologized for his remarks.

“I regret any comments I have ever made which may have cast any doubt on the personal faith of our president, Mr. Obama,” he said in a statement.

Religion rumors are nothing new for Obama. Back in August 2010, a poll showed that almost one-fifth of all Americans believed he is a Muslim. Obama responded in an interview with “NBC Nightly News” saying that “the facts are the facts” regarding his Christian faith.

[Source : http://www.huffingtonpost.com ]

Brain structure differs in liberals, conservatives: study

Animation. Frontal lobe (red) of left cerebral...

Image via Wikipedia

Thu Apr 7

WASHINGTON (AFP) – Everyone knows that liberals and conservatives butt heads when it comes to world views, but scientists have now shown that their brains are actually built differently.

Liberals have more gray matter in a part of the brain associated with understanding complexity, while the conservative brain is bigger in the section related to processing fear, said the study on Thursday in Current Biology.

“We found that greater liberalism was associated with increased gray matter volume in the anterior cingulate cortex, whereas greater conservatism was associated with increased volume of the right amygdala,” the study said.

Other research has shown greater brain activity in those areas, according to which political views a person holds, but this is the first study to show a physical difference in size in the same regions.

“Previously, some psychological traits were known to be predictive of an individual’s political orientation,” said Ryota Kanai of the University College London, where the research took place.

“Our study now links such personality traits with specific brain structure.”

The study was based on 90 “healthy young adults” who reported their political views on a scale of one to five from very liberal to very conservative, then agreed to have their brains scanned.

People with a large amygdala are “more sensitive to disgust” and tend to “respond to threatening situations with more aggression than do liberals and are more sensitive to threatening facial expressions,” the study said.

Liberals are linked to larger anterior cingulate cortexes, a region that “monitor(s) uncertainty and conflicts,” it said.

“Thus, it is conceivable that individuals with a larger ACC have a higher capacity to tolerate uncertainty and conflicts, allowing them to accept more liberal views.”

It remains unclear whether the structural differences cause the divergence in political views, or are the effect of them.

But the central issue in determining political views appears to revolve around fear and how it affects a person.

“Our findings are consistent with the proposal that political orientation is associated with psychological processes for managing fear and uncertainty,” the study said.

Political Orientations Are Correlated with Brain Structure in Young Adults

Current Biology, 07 April 2011
Copyright © 2011 Elsevier Ltd All rights reserved.
10.1016/j.cub.2011.03.017

Authors

Ryota Kanai,Tom Feilden,Colin Firth,Geraint Rees See Affiliations

 

  • Highlights
  • Political liberalism and conservatism were correlated with brain structure
  • Liberalism was associated with the gray matter volume of anterior cingulate cortex
  • Conservatism was associated with increased right amygdala size
  • Results offer possible accounts for cognitive styles of liberals and conservatives

Summary

Substantial differences exist in the cognitive styles of liberals and conservatives on psychological measures [1]. Variability in political attitudes reflects genetic influences and their interaction with environmental factors [2,3]. Recent work has shown a correlation between liberalism and conflict-related activity measured by event-related potentials originating in the anterior cingulate cortex [4]. Here we show that this functional correlate of political attitudes has a counterpart in brain structure. In a large sample of young adults, we related self-reported political attitudes to gray matter volume using structural MRI. We found that greater liberalism was associated with increased gray matter volume in the anterior cingulate cortex, whereas greater conservatism was associated with increased volume of the right amygdala. These results were replicated in an independent sample of additional participants. Our findings extend previous observations that political attitudes reflect differences in self-regulatory conflict monitoring [4] and recognition of emotional faces [5] by showing that such attitudes are reflected in human brain structure. Although our data do not determine whether these regions play a causal role in the formation of political attitudes, they converge with previous work [4,6] to suggest a possible link between brain structure and psychological mechanisms that mediate political attitudes.

fuente >>



The Privatization of God

Blaise Pascal first explained his wager in Pen...

Image via Wikipedia

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)

Rock Democracies, Paper Freedoms, Scissors Securities

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Democracias de piedra, Libertades de papel, seguridades de tijera

Rock Democracies, Paper Freedoms, Scissors Securities

Jorge Majfud

The University of Georgia

Ten years ago, contradicting the postmodernist wave, we developed in Crítica de la pasión pura (Critique of Pure Passion) the idea of morality as a form of collective conscience.  In the same way that a school of fish or a swarm of bees acts and develops as one body, in the same way that James Lovelock understood Gaia – Planet Earth – as one living body, we could also understand Humanity as one conscience in development, with some common and basic values that transcend cultural differences.

These values are based, overwhelmingly, on the renunciation of the individual in favor of the group, on the conscience that supercedes the more primitive precept of the survival of the fittest, as mere individuals in competition.  That is how the representation of the hero and of any other positive figure emerges throughout history.

The problem, the betrayal, is produced when these values become myths at the service of classes and sects in power.  The worst thing that can happen to freedom is for it to be turned into a statue.  The “conflicts of interests,” normally presented as natural, from a broader perspective would represent a pathology.  A culture that supports and legitimizes this betrayal of the conscience of the species should be seen – to use the same metaphor – as a self-destructive phobia of that species conscience.

Probably a form of radical democracy will be the next step humanity is ready to take.  How will we know when this step is being produced?  We need signs.

One strong sign will be when the administration of meaning ceases to lie in the hands of elites, especially of political elites.  Representative democracy represents what is reactionary about our times.  But direct democracy will not come about through any brusque revolution, led by individuals, since it is, by definition, a cultural process where the majority begins to claim and share social power.  When this occurs, the parliaments of the world will be what the royals of England are today: an onerous adornment from the past, an illusion of continuity.

Every time “public opinion” changes brusquely after an official speech, after an electoral campaign, after a bombardment of advertising – power that always flows from the money of a minority – we must understand that that next step remains far from being consolidated.  When publics become independent of the speeches, when the speeches and social narrations no longer depend on the powerful minorities, we will be able to think about certain advance toward direct democracy.

Let’s look briefly at this problematic of the struggle over meaning.

There are words with scarce social interest and others that are disputed treasure, territory claimed by different antagonistic groups.  In the first category we can recognize words like umbrella, glycemia, fame, hurricane, nice, anxiety, etc.  In the second category we find terms like freedom, democracy and justice (we will call these ideolexicons).  Reality and normal are also highly conflictive terms, but generally they are restricted to philosophical speculation.  Unless they are instruments – like the definition of normal – they are not direct objectives of social power.

The eternal struggle for social power creates a partisan culture made visible by the so-called political parties.  In general, it is these same parties that make possible the continuity of a particular social power by creating the illusion of a possible change.  Because of this culture, we tend to adopt a position with respect to each social problem instead of a dispassionate analysis of it.  Ideological loyalty or self love should not be involved in these cases, but we cannot deny that they are fundamental pieces of the dialectical dispute and they weigh on us all.

All conflict is established in a present time but recurs obsessively to a prestigious, consolidated past.  Recurring to that same history, each antagonistic group, whether in Mexico or in the United States, will seek to conquer the semantic field with different narrations, each one of which will have as a requirement the unity and continuity of that narrative thread.  Rarely do the groups in dispute prove something; generally they narrate.  Like in a traditional novel, the narration does not depend so much on facts external to the story as on the internal coherence and verisimilitude possessed by that narration.  For that reason, when one of the actors in the dispute – a congressional representative, a president – recognizes an error, this becomes a greater crack in the story than if reality contradicted him every day.  Why?  Because the imagination is stronger than reality and the latter, generally speaking, cannot be observed except through a discourse, a narration.

The difference lies in which interests are moved by each narration.  A slave receiving lashes of the whip and giving thanks for the favor received is not the same as another version of the facts which questions that concept of justice.  Perhaps objectivity does not exist, but the presumption of reality and, therefore, of a possible truth will always exist.

One of the more common methods used to administer or dispute the meaning of each term, of each concept, is semantic association.  It is the same resource that allows advertising to freely associate a shaving cream with economic success or an automotive lubricant with sexual success.

When the value of racial integration found itself in dispute in the social discourse of the 1950s and 1960s in the United States, various groups of southern whites marched through the streets carrying placards that declared: Race mixing is communism (Time, August 24, 1959).  The same placard in Poland would have been a declaration in favor of racial integration, but in the times of McCarthy it meant quite the contrary: the word communism had been consolidated as a negative ideolect.  The meaning was not disputed.  Anything that might be associated with that demon was condemned to death or at least to failure.

Recent history tells us that that association failed, at least in the collective narration about the value of “racial integration.”  So much so that today the banner of diversity is used as an inarguable axiom.  Which is why the new racists must integrate to their own purposes narratives of diversity as a positive value in order to develop a new narration against immigrants.

In other cases the mechanism is similar.  Recently, a U.S. legislator, criticized for calling Miami “third world,” declared that he is in favor of diversity as long as a single language and a single culture is imposed on the entire country, (World Net Daily, December 13) and there are no “extensive ethnic neighborhoods where English is not spoken and that are controlled by foreign cultures.” (Diario de las Américas, November 11)

All hegemonic power needs a moral legitimation and this is achieved by constructing a narration that integrates those ideolexicons that are not in dispute.  When Hernán Cortés or Pizarro cut off hands and heads they did it in the name of divine justice and by order of God.  Incipiently the idea of liberation began to emerge.  The messianic powers of the moment understood that by imposing their own religion and their own culture, almost always by force, they were liberating the primitive Americans from idolatry.

Today the ideolexicon democracy has been imposed in such a way that it is even used to name authoritarian and theocratic systems. Minority groups that decide every day the difference between life and death for thousands of people, if indeed in private they don’t devalue the old argument of salvation and divine justice, tend to prefer in public the less problematic banner of democracy and freedom.  Both ideolexicon are so positive that their imposition is justified even if it is intravenously.

Because they imposed a culture by force the Spanish conquistadors are remembered as barbaric.  Those who do the same today are motivated, this time for sure, by good reasons: democracy, freedom – our values, which are always the best.  But jast as the heroes of yesterday are today’s barbarians, the heroes of today will be the barbarians of tomorrow.

If morality and its most basic extracts represent the collective conscience of the species, it is probable that direct democracy will come to signify a form of collective thought.  Paradoxically, collective thinking is incompatible with uniform thinking.  This for reasons noted previously: uniform thinking can be the result of a sectarian interest, a class interest, a national interest.  In contrast, collective thinking is perfected in the diversity of all possibilities, acting in benefit of Humanity and not on behalf of minorities in conflict.

In a similar scenario, it is not difficult to imagine a new era with fewer sectarian conflicts and absurd wars that only benefit seven powerful riders, while entire nations die, fanatically or unwilling, in the name of order, freedom and justice.

February 2007

Translated by Bruce Campbell

Humanism, the West’s Last Great Utopia

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El humanismo, la última gran utopía de Occidente (Spanish)

Humanism, the West’s Last Great Utopia

Jorge Majfud

The University of Georgia

One of the characteristics of conservative thought throughout modern history has been to see the world as a collection of more or less independent, isolated, and incompatible compartments.   In its discourse, this is simplified in a unique dividing line: God and the devil, us and them, the true men and the barbaric ones.  In its practice, the old obsession with borders of every kind is repeated: political, geographic, social, class, gender, etc.  These thick walls are raised with the successive accumulation of two parts fear and one part safety.

Translated into a postmodern language, this need for borders and shields is recycled and sold as micropolitics, which is to say, a fragmented thinking (propaganda) and a localist affirmation of  social problems in opposition to a more global and structural vision of the Modern Era gone by.

These regions are mental, cultural, religious, economic and political, which is why they find themselves in conflict with humanistic principles that prescribe the recognition of diversity at the same time as an implicit equality on the deepest and most valuable level of the present chaos. On the basis of this implicit principle arose the aspiration to sovereignty of the states some centuries ago: even between two kings, there could be no submissive relationship; between two sovereigns there could only be agreements, not obedience.  The wisdom of this principle was extended to the nations, taking written form in the first constitution of the United States.  Recognizing common men and women as subjects of law (“We the people…”) was the response to personal and class-based absolutisms, summed up in the outburst of Luis XIV, “l’Etat c’est Moi.”  Later, the humanist idealism of the first draft of that constitution was relativized, excluding the progressive utopia of abolishing slavery.

Conservative thought, on the other hand, traditionally has proceeded in an inverse form: if the regions are all different, then there are some that are better than others.  This last observation would be acceptable for humanism if it did not contain explicitly  one of the basic principles of conservative thought: our island, our bastion is always the best.  Moreover: our region is the region chosen by God and, therefore, it should prevail at any price.  We know it because our leaders receive in their dreams the divine word.  Others, when they dream, are delirious.

Thus, the world is a permanent competition that translates into mutual threats and, finally, into war.  The only option for the survival of the best, of the strongest, of the island chosen by God is to vanquish, annihilate the other.  There is nothing strange in the fact that conservatives throughout the world define themselves as religious individuals and, at the same time, they are the principal defenders of weaponry, whether personal or governmental.  It is, precisely, the only they tolerate about the State: the power to organize a great army in which to place all of the honor of a nation.  Health and education, in contrast, must be “personal responsibilities” and not a tax burden on the wealthiest.  According to this logic, we owe our lives to the soldiers, not to the doctors, just like the workers owe their daily bread to the rich

At the same time that the conservatives hate Darwin’s Theory of Evolution, they are radical partisans of the law of the survival of the fittest, not applied to all species but to men and women, to countries and societies of all kinds.  What is more Darwinian than the roots of corporations and capitalism?

For the suspiciously celebrated professor of Harvard, Samuel Huntington, “imperialism is the logic and necessary consequence of universalism.”  For us humanists, no: imperialism is just the arrogance of one region that imposes itself by force on the rest, it is the annihilation of that universality, it is the imposition of uniformity in the name of universality.

Humanist universality is something else: it is the progressive maturation of a consciousness of liberation from physical, moral and intellectual slavery, of both the opressed and the oppressor in the final instant.  And there can be no full consciousness if it is not global: one region is not liberated by oppressing the others, woman is not liberated by oppressing man, and so on.  With a certain lucidity but without moral reaction, Huntington himself reminds us: “The West did not conquer the world through the superiority of its ideas, values or religion, but through its superiority in applying organized violence.  Westerners tend to forget this fact, non-Westerners never forget it.”

Conservative thought also differs from progressive thought because of its conception of history: if for the one history is inevitably degraded (as in the ancient religious conception or in the conception of the five metals of Hesiod) for the other it is a process of advancement or of evolution.  If for one we live in the best of all possible worlds, although always threatened by changes, for the other the world is far from being the image of paradise and justice, for which reason individual happiness is not possible in the midst of others’ pain.

For progressive humanism there are no healthy individuals in a sick society, just as there is no healthy society that includes sick individuals.  A healthy man is no possible with a grave problem of the liver or in the heart, like a healthy heart is not possible in a depressed or schizophrenic man.  Although a rich man is defined by his difference from the poor, nobody is truly rich when surrounded by poverty.

Humanism, as we conceive of it here, is the integrating evolution of human consciousness that transcends cultural differences.  The clash of civilizations, the wars stimulated by sectarian, tribal and nationalist interests can only be viewed as the defects of that geopsychology.

Now, we should recognize that the magnificent paradox of humanism is double: 1) it consisted of a movement that in great measure arose from the Catholic religious orders of the 14th century and later discovered a secular dimension of the human creature, and in addition 2) was a movement which in principle revalorized the dimension of man as an individual in order to achieve, in the 20th century, the discovery of society in its fullest sense.

I refer, on this point, to the conception of the individual as opposed to individuality, to the alienation of man and woman in society.  If the mystics of the 14th century focused on their self as a form of liberation, the liberation movements of the 20th century, although apparently failed, discovered that that attitude of the monastery was not moral from the moment it became selfish: one cannot be fully happy in a world filled with pain.  Unless it is the happiness of the indifferent.  But it is not due to some type of indifference toward another’s pain that morality of any kind is defined in any part of the world.  Even monasteries and the most closed communities, traditionally have been given the luxury of separation from the sinful world thanks to subsidies and quotas that originated from the sweat of the brow of sinners.  The Amish in the United States, for example, who today use horses so as not to contaminate themselves with the automotive industry, are surrounded by materials that have come to them, in one form or another, through a long mechanical process and often from the exploitation of their fellow man.  We ourselves, who are scandalized by the exploitation of children in the textile mills of India or on plantations in Africa and Latin America, consume, in one form or another, those products.  Orthopraxia would not eliminate the injustices of the world – according to our humanist vision – but we cannot renounce or distort that conscience in order to wash away our regrets.  If we no longer expect that a redemptive revolution will change reality so that the latter then changes consciences, we must still try, nonetheless, not to lose collective and global conscience in order to sustain a progressive change, authored by nations and not by a small number of enlightened people.

According to our vision, which we identify with the latest stage of humanism, the individual of conscience cannot avoid social commitment: to change society so that the latter may give birth, at each step, to a new, morally superior individual.  The latest humanism evolves in this new utopian dimension and radicalizes some of the principles of the Modern Era gone by, such as the rebellion of the masses.  For which reason we can formulate the dilemma: it is not a matter of left or right but of forward or backward.  It is not a matter of choosing between religion or secularism.  It is a matter of a tension between humanism and tribalism, between a diverse and unitary conception of humanity and another, opposed one: the fragmented and hierarchical vision whose purpose is to prevail, to impose the values of one tribe on the others and at the same time to deny any kind of evolution.

This is the root of the modern and postmodern conflict.  Both The End of History and The Clash of Civilizations attempt to cover up what we understand to be the true problem: there is no dichotomy between East and West, between us and them, only between the radicalization of humanism (in its historical sense) and the conservative reaction that still holds world power, although in retreat – and thus its violence.

Translated by Bruce Campbell

Ten Lashes Against Humanism

Erasmus in 1523, by Hans Holbein

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Diez azotes contra el humanismo (Spanish)

Ten Lashes Against Humanism

 

Jorge Majfud

A minor tradition in conservative thought is the definition of the dialectical adversary as mentally deficient and lacking in morality. As this never constitutes an argument, the outburst is covered up with some fragmented and repetitious reasoning, proper to the postmodern thought of political propaganda. It is no accident that in Latin America other writers repeat the US experience, with books like Manual del perfecto idiota latinoamericano (Manual for the Perfect Latin American Idiot, 1996) or making up lists about Los diez estúpidos más estúpidos de América Latina (The Top Ten Stupid People in Latin America). A list that is usually headed up, with elegant indifference, by our friend, the phoenix Eduardo Galeano. They have killed him off so many times he has grown accustomed to being reborn.

As a general rule, the lists of the ten stupidest people in the United States tend to be headed up by intellectuals. The reason for this particularity was offered some time ago by a military officer of the last Argentine dictatorship (1976-1983) who complained to the television cameras about the protesters marching through the streets of Buenos Aires: “I am not so suspicious of the workers, because they are always busy with work; I am suspicious of the students because with too much free time they spend it thinking. And you know, Mr. Journalist, that too much thinking is dangerous.” Which was consistent with the previous project of General Onganía (1966-1970) of expelling all the intellectuals in order to fix Argentina’s problems.

Not long ago, Doug Hagin, in the image of the famous television program Dave’s Top Ten, concocted his own list of The Top Ten List of Stupid Leftist Ideals. If we attempt to de-simplify the problem by removing the political label, we will see that each accusation against the so-called US leftists is, in reality, an assault on various humanist principles.

10: Environmentalism. According to the author, leftists do not stop at a reasonable point of conservation.

Obviously the definition of what is reasonable or not, depends on the economic interests of the moment. Like any conservative, he holds fast to the idea that the theory of Global Warming is only a theory, like the theory of evolution: there are no proofs that God did not create the skeletons of dinosaurs and other species and strew them about, simply in order to confuse the scientists and thereby test their faith. The conservative mentality, heroically inalterable, could never imagine that the oceans might behave progressively, beyond a reasonable level.

9: It takes a village to raise a child. The author denies it: the problem is that leftists have always thought collectively. Since they don’t believe in individualism they trust that children’s education must be carried out in society.

 

In contrast, reactionary thought trusts more in islands, in social autism, than in suspect humanity. According to this reasoning of a medieval aristocrat, a rich man can be rich surrounded by misery, a child can become a moral man and ascend to heaven without contaminating himself with the sin of his society. Society, the masses, only serves to allow the moral man to demonstrate his compassion by donating to the needy what he has left over – and discounting it from his taxes.

8: Children are incapable of handling stress. For which reason they cannot be corrected by their teachers with red ink or cannot confront the cruel parts of history.

The author is correct in observing that seeing what is disagreeable as an infant prepares children for a world that is not pleasant. Nonetheless, some compassionate conservatives exaggerate a little by dressing their children in military uniforms and giving them toys that, even though they only shoot laser lights, look very much like weapons with laser lights that fire something else at similar targets (and at black people).

7: Competition is bad. For the author, no: the fact that some win means that others lose, but this dynamic leads us to greatness.

He does not explain whether there exists here the “reasonable limit” of which he spoke before or whether he is referring to the hated theory of evolution which establishes the survival of the strongest in the savage world. Nor does he clarify to which greatness he refers, whether it is that of the slave on the prosperous cotton plantation or the size of the plantation. He does not take into account, of course, any kind of society based on solidarity and liberated from the neurosis of competition.

6: Health is a civil right. Not for the author: health is part of personal responsibility.

This argument is repeated by those who deny the need for a universal health system and, at the same time, do not propose privatizing the police, and much less the army. Nobody pays the police after calling 911, which is reasonable. If an attacker shoots us in the head, we will not pay anything for his capture, but if we are poor we will end up in bankruptcy so that a team of doctors can save our life. One deduces that, according to this logic, a thief who robs a house represents a social illness, but an epidemic is nothing more than a bunch of irresponsible individuals who do not affect the rest of society. What is never taken into account is that collective solidarity is one of the highest forms of individual responsibility.

5: Wealth is bad. According to the author, leftists want to penalize the success of the wealthy with taxes in order to give their wealth to the federal government so that it can be spent irresponsibly helping out those who are not so successful.

That is to say, workers owe their daily bread to the rich. Earning a living with the sweat of one’s brow is a punishment handed down by those successful people who have no need to work. There is a reason why physical beauty has been historically associated with the changing but always leisurely habits of the aristocracy. There is a reason why in the happy world of Walt Disney there are no workers; happiness is buried in some treasure filled with gold coins. For the same reason, it is necessary to not squander tax monies on education and on health. The millions spent on armies around the world are not a concern, because they are part of the investment that States responsibly make in order to maintain the success of the wealthy and the dream of glory for the poor.

4: There is an unbridled racism that will only be resolved with tolerance. No: leftists see race relations through the prism of pessimism. But race is not important for most of us, just for them.

That is to say, like in the fiction of global warming, if a conservative does not think about something or someone, that something or someone does not exist. De las Casas, Lincoln and Martin Luther King fought against racism ignorantly. If the humanists would stop thinking about the world, we would be happier because others’ suffering would not exist, and there would be no heartless thieves who steal from the compassionate rich.

3: Abortion. In order to avoid personal responsibility, leftists support the idea of murdering the unborn.

The mass murder of the already born is also part of individual responsibility, according to televised right-wing thought, even though sometimes it is called heroism and patriotism. Only when it benefits our island. If we make a mistake when suppressing a people we avoid responsibility by talking about abortion. A double moral transaction based on a double standard morality.

2: Guns are bad. Leftists hate guns and hate those who want to defend themselves. Leftists, in contrast, think that this defense should be done by the State. Once again they do not want to take responsibility for themselves.

That is to say, attackers, underage gang members, students who shoot up high schools, drug traffickers and other members of the syndicate exercise their right to defend their own interests as individuals and as corporations. Nobody distrusts the State and trusts in their own responsibility more than they do. It goes without saying that armies, according to this kind of reasoning, are the main part of that responsible defense carried out by the irresponsible State.

1: Placating evil ensures Peace. Leftists throughout history have wanted to appease the Nazis, dictators and terrorists.

The wisdom of the author does not extend to considering that many leftists have been consciously in favor of violence, and as an example it would be sufficient to remember Ernesto Che Guevara. Even though it might represent the violence of the slave, not the violence of the master. It is true, conservatives have not appeased dictators: at least in Latin America, they have nurtured them. In the end, the latter also have always been members of the Gun Club, and in fact were subject to very good deals in the name of security. Nazis, dictators and terrorists of every kind, with that tendency toward ideological simplification, would also agree with the final bit of reasoning on the list: “leftists do not undertand that sometimes violence is the only solution. Evil exists and should be erradicated.” And, finally: “We will kill it [the Evil], or it will kill us, it is that simple. We will kill Evil, or Evil will kill us; the only thing simpler than this is left-wing thought.”

Word of Power.

 

What Is an Ideolexicon?

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¿Qué es un ideoléxico? (Spanish)

What Is an Ideolexicon?

Jorge Majfud

I have been asked several times to define what I mean by ideolexicon. I have never given the same response, but that is not due to the idea being ambiguous or undefined but quite the contrary.

Although this term is a neologism, I do not believe that at root the idea is original: everything that occurs to us others have already intuited before. It is sufficient to read those ancient Greeks in order to discover there the first indications of Darwin’s theory of evolution (Empedocles), Dalton or Bohr’s atoms (Leucippius or Democritus), Einstein’s mass-energy equivalency (Heraclitus), modern epistemology (idem), Freud’s bicephalic psyche (Plato), Derrida or Lyotard’s poststructuralism (the Sophists), etc.

I suspect that the Italian Antonio Gramsci could have broadened the ideolexicon concept in the 1930s (perhaps he had already done so in his Quaderni del carcere, although I have not been able to find that precise moment among the more than two thousand pages of this disarticulated work). One of Gramsci’s observations with regard to Marxism was the warning of a certain autonomy of the superstructure. That is, if previously it was understood that the infrastructure (the productive, economic order) determined superstructural reality (culture in general), later it was seen that the process could not only be the inverse (Max Weber) but simultaneous or dialectical (Althusser). For me, examples of the first are slavery, modern education, feminism, etc. Humanist ideals that condemned slavery existed centuries before they would be transformed into a social precept. A Marxist explanation is immediate: only when the industry of the developed countries (England and the northern United States) found an economic problem with the slavery system was the new morality (and practice) imposed. The same with universal education: the uniformity of the children’s tunics, the rigorous compliance with schedules do nothing more than to adapt the future worker to the discipline of industry (or the army), the culture of standardization. For which reason today the universities and education in general have begun a reverse process of de-uniformization. Feminist demands are also ancient (and part of humanism), but they do not become a moral exigency until capitalist society and the industrialized communist societies needed new workers and, above all, new female wage workers.

Anyway, we can understand that, although these advances have not been obtained by an ethical conscience but by initial interests of the oppressors (like the universal vote for a people easily manipulable by the caudillo and propaganda), at any rate the road travelled “forward” is not walked backward so easily, even if those interests that made it possible were to change. Power is never absolute; it always must make concessions in order to maintain itself.

In our time, even though the use of brute force like in the times of Attila is not entirely looked down upon, it is no longer possible to lay waste to peoples and oppress other men and women without a legitimation. Much less in a global society that, though still submersed in the traditional networks of information, progressively tends to snatch from sectarian powers the narration of its own history. These legitimations of power may be farcical (they still trust in the fragile memory of obedient nations, or nations terrified by physical and moral violence), but their strength is the power of semantic manipulation to produce a determined reality: when a bomb is dropped from a plane and tens of innocents die, terms are used like “defense,” “liberation,” “collateral effects,” etc. If the same bomb is placed by an individual in a market and it kills the same quantity of innocents, that act is defined as “terrorist,” “barbaric,” “murderous,” etc. From the other side, the ideolexicons will be different: some are imperialists, other rebels or patriots.

In the 19th century, the Argentine D.F. Sarmiento defined José Artigas as “terrorist” (for others he was liberator, rebel), while the general Julio Argentino Roca became a military hero, in multiple bronze statues, because of the ethnic cleansing that his army carried out against the original owners of Patagonia (“There was no battle, it was a parade beneath the Patagonian sun and we achieved 1600 dead and another 10,000 of the rabble. It was the fate of a savage race that was already defeated,” informed the venerated general Roca).

Which is to say, an ideolexicon is a word or a combination of terms (extremist, radical, patriot, normal, democrat, good manners) that has been colonized in its semantics with a politico-ideological purpose. This colonization generally is carried out by a hegemonic culture, but its greatest particularity is rooted in the discursive manipulation of a hegemonic political power that is disputed by resistant ideologies. The qualification of “radical” or “extremist,” by possessing a negative valorization, will be an instrument of struggle: each adversary – the dominant and the marginal – will seek to associate this ideolexicon (whose valorization is not found to be in dispute) with those other ideolexicons whose valorization is unstable, like progressive, feminist, homosexual, liberal, globalization, civilization, etc.

In summary, an ideolexicon is a semantic weapon with a political (or socio-political) usage and at the same time it is the object of dispute of different groups in a society. When one of them is consolidated as a negative or positive value (ex., communism), it comes to be an instrument of colonization of other ideolexicons that are in social and historical dispute.

In its turn, each ideolexicon is composed of a positive semantic field and a negative one whose limits are defined according to the advance and retreat of the social groups in dispute (for example, justice, freedom, equality, etc.). That is, each group will seek to define what is meant and what is not meant by “justice,” “freedom,” at times using classical instruments like deduction and induction, but generally operating a kind of ontological declaration (A is B, B is not C) by way of association or interception of the semantic fields of two or more ideolexicons (racial integration=communism; equality+freedom=justice, etc.). When in the 1950s in the United States racial integration was in dispute, those who opposed this change demonstrated in the streets with placards: “race mixing is communism.” The word “communism” – like “Marxism” in Latin America – had been consolidated in its negative, demonized, values. Its meaning and valorization were not in dispute. When the soldiers of the Latin American oligarchies would murder a priest or a journalist or a unionist, whatever the case they justified themselves by adducing that the victims were Marxists, without having ever read a book by Marx and without having any more idea of what Marxism was than what they had received through strategic daily repetition.

Translated by Bruce Campbell

The Terrible Innocence of Art

Borges in L'Hôtel, Paris

Image via Wikipedia

La terrible inocencia del arte (Spanish)

The Terrible Innocence of Art

Jorge Majfud

The idea that art exists beyond all social reality is similar to the disembodied theology that proscribes political interpretations of the death of Jesus; or to the nationalist mythologies imposed like sacred universal values; or the templars of language, who are scandalized by the ideological impurity of the language used by rebellious nations. In all three cases, the reaction against social, political and historical interpretations or deconstructions has the same objective: the social, political and historical imposition of their own ideologies. The very “death of ideologies” was one of the most terrible of ideologies since, just like the other dictatorial states of the status quo, it presumed its own purity and neutrality.

In the case of art, two examples of this ideology were translated in the idea of “art for art’s sake” in Europe, and in the Modernismo of Spanish America. This latter, although it had the merit of reflecting upon and practicing a new vision with regard to the instruments of expression, soon revealed itself to be the “ivory tower” that it was. Not without paradox, its greatest representatives began by singing the praises of white princesses, non-existent in the tropics, and ended up becoming the maximal figures of politically-engaged literature of the continent: Rubén Darío, José Martí, José Enrique Rodó, etc. Decades later, none other than Alfonso Reyes would recognize that in Latin America one cannot make art from the ivory tower, as in Paris. At most, in the midst of tragic realism one can make magical realism.

Ivory towers have never been constructions indifferent to the rawness of a people’s reality, but instead far from neutral forms of denial of that reality, on the artists’ side, and of consolidation of its state, on the side of the dominant elites (politically dominant, that is). There are historical variations: today the ivory tower is a watchtower strategy, a secular minaret or belltower raised by the consumer market. The artist is less the kind of his tower, but his labor consists in making believe that his art is pure creation, uncontaminated by the laws of the market or with hegemonic morality and politics. At the foot of the stock market tower run rivers of people, from one office to another, scaling in rapid elevators other glass towers in the name of progress, freedom, democracy and other products that spill from the communication towers. All of the towers raised with the same purpose. Because more than from contradictions – as the Marxists would assert – late capitalism is constructed from coherences, from standardized thought, etc. Capitalism is consistent with its contradictions.

The explanation of the most faithful consumers of commercial art is always the same: they seek a healthy form of entertainment that is not polluted by violence or politics, all that which abounds in the news media and in the “difficult” writers. Which reminds us that there are few political parties so demagogic and populist as the imperial party of commercialism, with its eternal promises of eternal youth, full satisfaction and infinite happiness. The idea of “healthy entertainment” carries an implicit understanding that fantasy and science fiction are neutral genres, separate from the political history of the world and separate from any ideological manipulation. There are at least five reasons for this consensus: 1) this is also the thinking of the literary greats, like Jorge Luis Borges; 2) mediocre writers frequently have confused the profundity or the commitment of the writer with the political pamphlet; 3) it is justifiable to understand art from this purist perspective, because art is also a form of entertainment and pastime; 4) the idea of neutrality is part of the strength of a hegemonic culture that is anything but neutral; lastly, 5) neutrality is confused with “dominant values” and the latter with universal values.

At this point, I believe that it is very easy to distinguish at least two major types of art: 1) that which seeks to distract, to divert attention (“divertir” means to entertain in Spanish). That is to say, that which seeks to “escape from the world.” Paradoxically, the function of this type of art is the inverse: the consumer departs from his work routine and enters into this kind of entertaining fiction in order to recuperate his energies. Once outside the oneiric lounge of the theater, outside the magical best-seller, the work of art no longer matters for more than its anecdotal value. It is the forgetting that matters: within the artwork one is able to forget the routine world; upon leaving the artwork, one is able to forget the problem presented by that work, since it is always a problem invented at the beginning (the murder) and solved at the end (the killer was the butler). This is the function of the happy ending. It is a socially reproductive function: it reproduces the productive energy and the values of the system that makes use of that individual worn out by routine. The work of art fulfills here the same function as the bordello and the author is little more than the prostitute who charges a fee for the reparative pleasure.

Different is the problematic type of art: it is not comfort that it offers to whomever enters into its territory. It is not forgetting but memory that it demands of he who leaves it. The reader, the viewer do not forget what is exhibited in that aesthetic space because the problem has not been solved. The great artwork does not solve a problem because the artwork is not the one who has created it: the exposition of the existential problem of the individual is what will lead to departure from it. Clearly in a consumerist world this type of art cannot be the ideal prototype. Paradoxically, the problematic artwork is an implosion of the author-reader, a gaze within that ought to provoke a critical awareness of one’s surroundings. The entertaining artwork is the inverse: it is anasthesia that imposes a forgetting of the existential problem, replacing it with the solution of a problem created by the artwork itself.

I mean to say that, recognizing the multiple dimensions and purposes of a work of art – which include entertainment and mere aesthetic pleasure – means also recognizing the ideological dimensions of any cultural product. That is to say, even a work of “pure imagination” is loaded with political, social, religious, economic and moral values. It would suffice to pose the example of the science fiction in Jules Verne or of the fantastical literature of Adolfo Bioy Casares. Morel’s Invention (1940), considered by Borges to be perfect, is also the perfect expression of a writer of the Argentine upper class who could allow himself the luxury of cultivating the starkest imagination in the midst of a society convulsed by the “infamous decade” (1930-1943). A luxury and a necessity for a class that did not want to see beyond its narrow so-called “universal” circle. What could be farther from the problems of the Argentina of the moment than a lost island in the middle of the ocean, with a machine reproducing the nostalgia of an unbelievably hedonistic upper class, with an individual pursued by justice who seeks a Paradise without poverty and without workers? What could be farther from from a world in the midst of the Holocaust of the Second World War?

Nevertheless, it is a great novel, which demonstrates that art, although it is not only aesthetics, is not only politics either, nor mere expression of the relations of power, nor mere morality, etc.

Freedom, perhaps, may be the main differential characteristic of art. And when this freedom does not turn its face away from the tragic reality of its people, then the characteristic turns into moral consciousness. Aesthetics is reconciled with ethics. Indifference is never neutral; only ignorance is neutral, but it proves to be an ethical and practical problem to promote ignorance in the name of some virtue.

Translated by Bruce Campbell

Fear of Freedom: On the Left and the Right

Edward Said

Image via Wikipedia

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

 

Fear of Freedom: On the Left and the Right

 

Jorge Majfud

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Translated by Bruce Campbell

 

 

 

katrina: la hiperrealidad de la imagen

Post-Katrina School Bus

Image by laffy4k via Flickr

Hurricane Katrina and the Hyperreality of the Image (Spanish)

La hiperrealidad de la imagen


En el siglo XVI, fray Bartolomé de las Casas escribió una apasionada crónica sobre la brutal conquista del Imperio Español en el nuevo mundo. La denuncia de este cristiano converso (es decir, “de sangre impura”) a favor de un humanismo universal, provocó las Juntas de Valladolid (1550) en la cual se enfrentó, ante el público y ante el rey, a Ginés de Sepúlveda. Usando una cita bíblica tomada de Proverbios, Juan Ginés de Sepúlveda y sus partidarios defendieron el derecho del Imperio a esclavizar a los indios, no sólo porque lo hacían en nombre de la “verdadera fe” sino, sobre todo, porque la Biblia decía que el hombre inteligente debía someter al tonto. Como siempre, sólo una minoría promovía una nueva ética basada en “principios”. Se debió esperar hasta el siglo XIX para que estos “principios” se convirtieran en realidad por la fuerza de la “necesidad”.

Poco después, Guamán Poma Ayala denunció una historia semejante de violaciones, torturas y matanzas. Pero lo hizo, además, con una colección de dibujos, que entonces eran una forma de crónica, tan válida como la escrita. Su impacto e interés fue mínimo en su época, a pesar de la crudeza de las imágenes. Por entonces, al igual que en los tiempos de la Edad Media, las imágenes tenían una gran utilidad porque la mayoría de la población no sabía leer. No obstante, y por ello mismo, se puede explicar por qué no tuvo consecuencias de gran importancia: porque la “masa”, la población, no contaba como agente de cambios. O simplemente no contaba. La rebeldía podía encabezarla un cacique, como Tupac Amaru, pero la población no era protagonista de su propia historia.

Ahora a lo que voy: este proceso se ha revertido hoy en día. La “masa” ya no es “masa” y comienza a contar. No obstante, la lucha radica en este frente: como la masa (ahora sujetos de rebeldía) cuenta en la generación de la historia, aquellos que aun pertenecen al viejo orden buscan dominarla con su propio lenguaje: la imagen. Y muchas veces lo logran a la perfección. Veamos.

Nuestra cultura popular occidental está basada (y a veces atrapada) en códigos visuales y en una sensibilidad visual. Sabemos que la cultura de las clases dirigentes (dominantes) se sigue basando en las complejidades del texto escrito. Incluso los expertos en imágenes basan sus estudios y teorías en la letra. ¿Por qué la imagen es un “texto” básico para las sociedades capitalistas? Porque su “consumo” es rápido, desechable, y por lo tanto es confortable. El problema surge cuando esta imagen (el signo, el texto) deja de ser confortable y complaciente. En este momento el público reacciona, toma conciencia. Es decir, el entendimiento, la conciencia, entra por los ojos: una fotografía de una niña huyendo de las bombas de napalm en Viet Nam, por ejemplo. Por la misma razón se “recomendó” no mostrar al público las imágenes sobre la guerra de Irak donde aparecían niños destrozados por las bombas, los féretros de los soldados americanos regresando al país, etc. Por el contrario, el caso Terri Schiavo ocupó el tiempo y la preocupación del público americano durante muchas semanas, día a día, hora a hora. Hasta que esta pobre mujer se murió para descansar en paz de tanta imagen obscena de las cuales fue víctima e instrumento involuntario. Sin embargo, durante esas mismas semanas continuaron muriendo cientos de iraquíes e, incluso, de soldados americanos y ni siquiera fueron noticia, más allá de las estadísticas diarias que se publican. ¿Por qué? Porque no son personas, son números para una sensibilidad que sólo se conmueve por las imágenes. Y esto quedó demostrado con las fotografías de Abú Graib y con un video que mostraba a un soldado americano disparando contra un herido. Esos fueron los dos únicos momentos en que el público americano reaccionó indignado. Pero debemos preguntarnos, ¿alguien piensa que en la guerra no pasan esas cosas? ¿Alguien cree todavía en ese cuento posmoderno de las guerras higiénicas, donde existen “efectos especiales” pero no sangre, muerte y dolor?

Lo mismo podemos analizar sobre el problema reciente de Nueva Orleáns. La catástrofe no fue comprendida mientras los meteorólogos advirtieron de la escala de la tragedia, varios días antes. Tampoco se tomó conciencia del problema cuando los reportes hablaban de decenas de muertos. De igual forma, una contradicción dialéctica (una mentira revelada, por ejemplo) carece de consecuencias porque es “invisible”. Hoy, cuatro días después, sabemos que los muertos pueden ascender a centenares. Probablemente miles, si consideramos aquellos que morirán por falta de diálisis, por falta de insulina y otras medicinas de emergencia. Pero la televisión no ha mostrado ningún muerto. Cualquiera podrá recorrer las páginas de los principales diarios de Estados Unidos y nunca encontrarán una imagen “ofensiva”, una de esas fotografías que podemos ver en diarios de otras partes del mundo: cuerpos flotando, niños muriendo “como en África”, violencia, violaciones, etc. Porque si algo no faltan son las cámaras digitales; pero sobra “pudor”. Pudor propio, no ajeno, porque publicar en la tapa de una revista los cadáveres de una hombruna en África es tan tolerable como no censurar los senos de una africana y sí los de una mujer blanca o, al menos, “civilizada”. No soy partidario del morbo gratuito, ni de mostrar sangre repetidas veces y sin necesidad: soy partidario de mostrarlo todo. Como dijo alguien, refiriéndose a la guerra, “si fuimos capaces de hacerlo debemos ser capaces de verlo”.

Una tragedia natural como ésta (como el tsunami en Asia) es una desgracia de la cual no podemos responsabilizar a nadie. (Dejemos de lado, por un momento, la cuota de responsabilidad que tienen las sociedades en el calentamiento global de los mares.) Sin embargo, la tragedia de Nueva Orleáns está demostrando que una superpotencia como Estados Unidos puede movilizar decenas de miles de soldados, la más alta tecnología del mundo, la máquina más efectiva de ataque conocida hasta ahora en la historia de la humanidad para quitar a un presidente (o dictador) extranjero, pero no ha podido acceder hasta donde están miles de víctimas del huracán Katrina, en una ciudad que está dentro de su propio país. En Nueva Orleáns, en este momento, se están produciendo actos de vandalismo, violencia, violaciones y caos general mientras las víctimas se quejan que ni siquiera han visto un policía o un soldado que los ayudase, en un área que se encuentra bajo la ley marcial. Este reclamo lo hacen delante de las cámaras, por lo cual podemos pensar que al menos los periodistas sí pudieron acceder a esos lugares. Unos saquean por oportunistas, otros por desesperación, ya que comienzan a experimentar una situación de lucha por la sobrevivencia que no es conocida en el país más poderoso del mundo. Ayer el presidente G. W. Bush apeló a la ayuda privada y esta mañana ha dicho que no es suficiente. Falta de recursos no hay, claro (la guerra de Irak costó más de trescientos mil millones de dólares,  diez veces más de todos los destrozos producido por el huracán en esta tragedia); el parlamento ha votado una ayuda económica de diez mil millones de dólares para las víctimas. Pero éstas siguen muriendo, atrapados en estadios, en los puentes, viviendo a la intemperie, dando una imagen que no se corresponde con un país cuyos pobres sufren problemas de sobrealimentación, donde a los mendigos se los multa con mil dólares por pedir lo que no necesitan (ya que el Estado les provee de todo lo necesario para sobrevivir sin desesperación en caso de que no puedan hacerlo por sus propios medios). Una tragedia doble la sufren los hispanos indocumentados: no son objetos de compensaciones como sus vecinos, pero pierdan cuidado que serán ellos los primeros que pongan mano a la reconstrucción. ¿Quién más si no? ¿Qué otro grupo social de este país tiene la resistencia física, moral y espiritual para trabajar bajo límites de sobrevivencia y desesperanza? ¿O todavía creemos en los cuentos de hadas?

El pueblo norteamericano tomará conciencia de los objetivos y prioridades de este gobierno cuando compare la eficiencia o ineficiencia en diferentes lugares y momentos. Pero para ello debe “verlo” en sus televisores, en los medios de prensa de Internet escritos en inglés, a los cuales suelen acudir por costumbre. Porque de nada o de poco sirve que lo lean en los textos escritos, como no sirven los críticos artículos del New York Time que, con un gran número de brillantes analistas anotaron uno por una las contradicciones de este gobierno y, en vano, tomaron partido público en contra de la reelección de G. W. Bush. Ahora, cuando se produce un “cansancio” en la opinión pública, la mayoría de los habitantes de este país entiende que la intervención en Irak fue un error. Claro, como decía mi abuelo, tarde piaste.

La “opinión pública” norteamericana tomará conciencia de lo que está ocurriendo en Nueva Orleáns (y del por qué está ocurriendo, más allá del fenómeno natural) cuando puedan ver imágenes; una parte de aquello que están viendo las víctimas y narrando oralmente para un público que escucha pero no se conmueve por la narración oral, como no se conmueve por un análisis dialéctico que no apela a imágenes o a metáforas bíblicas. Se darán real cuenta de lo que está sucediendo cuando vean las imágenes “crudas”, siempre y cuando no confundan esas imágenes con el caos en algún país subdesarrollado.

El genial educador brasileño, Paulo Freire, expulsado por la dictadura de su país “por ignorante”, publicó en 1971 Pedagogía del oprimido en una editorial de Montevideo. Allí mencionó una experiencia pedagógica de una colega. La profesora mostró a un alumno un callejón de Nueva York lleno de basura y le preguntó qué veía. El muchacho dijo que veía una calle de África o de América Latina. “¿Y por qué no una calle de Nueva York?”, observó la profesora. Poco antes, en los años ’50, Roland Barthes había hecho un interesante análisis de una fotografía en la cual un soldado negro saludaba “patrióticamente” la bandera del imperio que oprimía a África (el imperio francés), y de ahí concluyó, entre otras cosas, que la imagen estaba condicionada por el texto (escrito) que la acompaña y es éste el que le confiere un significado (ideológico). Podemos pensar que el problema semántico (semiótico) es algo más complejo que esto, y depende de otros “textos” que no son escritos, que son otras imágenes, otros discursos (hegemónicos), etc. Pero la imagen “cruda” también tiene su función reveladora o, al menos, crítica. ¿Qué significa esto de “crudo”?  Son, precisamente, aquellas imágenes que el discurso hegemónico ha censurado (o reprimido, para usar un término psicoanalítico). Razón por la cual aquellos que usamos la dialéctica y el análisis relacionado históricamente con el pensamiento y con el lenguaje, debemos reconocer, al mismo tiempo, el poder de aquellos otros que manejan el lenguaje visual. Para dominar o para liberar, para ocultar o para revelar.

Una vez, en una aldea de África, un macúa me contó cómo una hechicera había transformado un saco de arena en un saco de azúcar y cómo otro hechicero había bajado volando del cielo. Le pregunté si recordaba un sueño extraño de los últimos tiempos. El macúa me dijo que había soñado que veía su aldea desde un avión. “Ha viajado alguna vez en un avión”, pregunté. Obviamente, no. Ni siquiera había estado cerca de alguno de estos aparatos. “Sin embargo usted dice que lo vio”, observé. “Sí, pero era un sueño”, me dijo. Los espíritus en cuerpos de leones, los hombres voladores, la arena convertida en azúcar no eran sueños. Historias como éstas podemos leerlas en las crónicas de los españoles que conquistaron América Latina en el siglo XVI. También podemos verlas hoy en día en muchas regiones como América Central. Mi respuesta a mi amigo macúa entonces fue la misma que les daría a los “evolucionados” norteamericanos: tengamos siempre presente que no es verdad todo lo que se ve ni se ve todo lo que es verdad.

© Jorge Majfud, 2 de setiembre de 2005

The University of Georgia

Hurricane Katrina and the Hyperreality of the Image

by Jorge Majfud

Translated by Bruce Campbell

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

© Jorge Majfud, september 2006.

La privatización de Dios

Blaise Pascal first explained his wager in Pen...

Blaise Pascal

The Privatization of God (English)

La privatización de Dios

A la medida del consumidor

En el siglo XVII, el genial matemático Blaise Pascal escribió que los hombres nunca hacen el mal con tanto placer como cuando lo hacen por convicciones religiosas. Esta idea —de un hombre profundamente religioso— tuvo diferentes variaciones desde entonces. Durante el siglo pasado, los mayores crímenes contra la humanidad fueron promovidos, con orgullo y pasión, en nombre del Progreso, de la Justicia y de la Libertad. En nombre del Amor, puritanos y moralistas organizaron el odio, la opresión y la humillación; en nombre de la vida, los líderes y profetas derramaron la muerte por vastas regiones del planeta. Actualmente, Dios ha vuelto a ser la principal excusa para ejercitar el odio y la muerte, ocultando las ambiciones de poder, los intereses terrenales y subterrenales tras sagradas invocaciones. De esta forma, reduciendo cada tragedia en el planeta a la milenaria y simplificada tradición de la lucha del Bien contra el Mal, de Dios contra el Demonio, se legitima el odio, la violencia y la muerte. De otra forma, no podríamos entender cómo hombres y mujeres se inclinan para rezar con orgullo y fanatismo, con hipócrita humildad, como si fuesen ángeles puros, modelos de moralidad, al tiempo que esconden entre sus ropas la pólvora o el cheque extendido para la muerte. Y si sus líderes son conscientes del fraude, sus súbditos no son menos responsables por estúpidos, no son menos responsables de tantos crímenes y matanzas que explotan cada día, promovidos por criminales convicciones metafísicas, en nombre de Dios y la Moral —cuando no en nombre de una raza, de una cultura y de una larga tradición recién estrenada, hecha a medida de la ambición y los odios presentes.

El imperio de las simplificaciones

Sí, podemos creer en los pueblos. Podemos creer que son capaces de las creaciones más asombrosas —como será un día su propia liberación—; y de estupideces inconmensurables también, disimuladas siempre por un interesado discurso complaciente que procura anular la crítica y la provocación a la mala conciencia. Pero, ¿cómo llegamos a tantas negligencias criminales? ¿De dónde sale tanto orgullo en este mundo donde la violencia aumenta cada vez más y cada vez más gente dice haber escuchado a Dios?

La historia política nos demuestra que una simplificación es más poderosa y es mejor aceptada por la vasta mayoría de una sociedad que una problematización. Para un político o para un líder espiritual, por ejemplo, es una muestra de debilidad admitir que la realidad es compleja. Si su adversario procede despojando el problema de sus contradicciones y lo presenta ante el público como una lucha del Bien contra el Mal, sin duda tendrá más posibilidades de triunfar. Al fin y al cabo la educación básica y primaria de nuestro tiempo está basada en la publicidad del consumo o en la sumisión permisiva; elegimos y compramos aquello que nos soluciona los problemas, rápido y barato, aunque el problema sea creado por la solución, aunque el problema continúe siendo real y la solución siga siendo virtual. Sin embargo, una simplificación no elimina la complejidad del problema analizado sino que, por el contrario, produce mayores y a veces trágicas consecuencias. Negar una enfermedad no la cura; la empeora.

¿Por qué no hablamos de los por qué?

Tratemos ahora de problematizar un fenómeno social cualquiera. Sin duda, no llegaremos al fondo de su complejidad, pero podemos tener una idea del grado de simplificación con el que es tratado diariamente, no siempre de forma inocente.

Comencemos con un breve ejemplo. Consideremos el caso de un hombre que viola y mata a una niña. Tomo este ejemplo no sólo por ser uno de los crímenes más aborrecibles que podemos considerar, junto con la tortura, sino porque representa una maldita costumbre criminal en todas nuestras sociedades, aún en aquellas que se jactan de su virtuosismo moral.

En primer lugar, tenemos un crimen. Más allá de los significados de “crimen” y de “castigo”, podemos valorar el acto en sí mismo, es decir, no necesitamos recurrir a la genealogía del criminal y de su víctima, no necesitamos investigar sobre los orígenes de la conducta del criminal para valorar el lecho en sí. Tanto la violación como el asesinato deben ser castigados por la ley, por el resto de la sociedad. Y punto. Desde este punto de vista, no hay discusiones.

Muy bien. Ahora imaginemos que en un país determinado la cantidad de violaciones y asesinatos se duplica en un año y luego vuelve a duplicarse al año siguiente. Una simplificación sería reducir el nuevo fenómeno al hecho criminal antes descrito. Es decir, una simplificación sería entender que la solución al problema sería no dejar ni uno solo de los crímenes impunes. Dicho de una tercer forma, una simplificación sería no reconocer el fenómeno social  detrás de un hecho delictivo individual. Un análisis más a fondo del primer caso podría revelarnos una infancia dolorosa, marcada por los abusos sexuales contra el futuro abusador, contra el futuro criminal. Esta observación, de ningún modo quitaría valoración criminal al hecho en sí, tal como lo anotamos más arriba, pero serviría para comenzar a ver la complejidad de un problema que amenaza con ser simplificado al extremo de perpetuarlo. A partir de este análisis psicológico del individuo, seguramente pasaríamos a advertir otro tipo de implicaciones referidas a su propio contexto, como por ejemplo las condiciones económicas de una determinada clase social sumergida, su explotación o su estigmatización moral a través del resto de la sociedad, la violencia moral y la humillación de la miseria, sus escalas de valores construidas según un aparato de producción, reproducción y consumo contradictorio, por instituciones sociales como una educación pública que no los ayuda más de lo que los humilla, ciertas organizaciones religiosas que han creado el pecado para los pobres al tiempo que los usan para ganarse el Paraíso, los medios de comunicación, la publicidad, las contradicciones laborales… y así sucesivamente.

De la misma forma podemos entender el terrorismo de nuestro tiempo. Está fuera de discusión (o debería estarlo) el valor criminal de un acto terrorista en sí mismo. Matar es siempre una desgracia, una maldición histórica. Pero matar inocentes y a gran escala no tiene justificación ni perdón de ningún tipo. Por lo tanto, renunciar al castigo de quienes lo promueven sería a su vez un acto de cobardía y una flagrante concesión a la impunidad.

No obstante, también aquí debemos recordar la advertencia inicial. Entender un fenómeno histórico y social como la consecuencia de la existencia de “malos” en la Tierra, es una simplificación excesivamente ingenua o, de lo contrario, es una simplificación astutamente ideológica que, al evitar un análisis integral —histórico, económico, de poder— excluye a los administradores del significado: los buenos.

No vamos a entrar a analizar, en estas breves reflexiones, cómo se llega a identificar a un determinado grupo y no a otros con el calificativo de “terroristas”. Para ello bastaría con recomendar la lectura de Roland Barthes —por mencionar sólo un clásico. Vamos a asumir el significado restringido del término, que es el que han consolidado los medios de prensa y el resto de las narraciones políticas.

No obstante, aún así, si recurriésemos a la idea de que el terrorismo existe porque existen criminales en el mundo, tendríamos que pensar que en los últimos tiempos ha habido una cosecha excesiva de seres malvados. Lo cual se encuentra explícito en el discurso de todos los gobiernos de los países afectados por el fenómeno. Pero si fuera verdad que hoy en nuestro mundo hay más malos que antes, seguramente no será por gracia de Dios sino por un devenir histórico que ha producido tal fenómeno. Ningún fenómeno histórico se produce por azar y, por lo tanto, creer que matando a los terroristas se eliminará el terrorismo en el mundo no sólo es una simplificación necia, sino que, al negar un origen histórico al problema, al presentarlo como ahistórico, como producto puro del Mal, incluso como la lucha entre dos “esencias” teológicas apartadas de cualquier contexto político, económico y social provocan un agravamiento trágico. Es una forma de no enfrentar el problema, de no atacar sus profundas raíces.

En muchas ocasiones no se puede prescindir de la violencia. Por ejemplo, si alguien nos ataca parecería lícito que nos defendamos con el mismo grado de violencia. Seguramente un verdadero cristiano ofrecería la otra mejilla antes que promover una reacción violenta; no obstante, si reaccionara con violencia ante una agresión no se le podría negar el derecho, aunque esté en contradicción con uno de los mandamientos de Cristo. Pero si una persona o un gobierno nos dice que la violencia se reducirá derramando más violencia sobre los malos —y afectando de paso a inocentes—, no sólo está negando la búsqueda del origen de ese fenómeno, sino que además estará consolidándolo o, al menos, legitimándolo ante la vista de quienes sufren las consecuencias.

Castigar a los culpables de la violencia es un acto de justicia. Sostener que la violencia existe sólo porque existen los violentos es un acto de ignorancia o de manipulación ideológica.

Si se continúa simplificando el problema, sosteniendo que se trata de un conflicto producido por la “incompatibilidad” de dos concepciones religiosas —como si alguna de ellas no hubiese estado ahí desde hace siglos—, como si se tratase de una simple guerra donde el triunfo se deduce de la derrota final del enemigo, se llevará al mundo a una guerra intercontinental. Si se busca seriamente el origen y la motivación del problema —el “por qué”— y se actúa eliminándolo o atenuándolo, seguramente asistiremos al relajamiento de una tensión que cada día es mayor. No al final de la violencia y la injusticia del mundo, pero al menos se evitará una desgracia de proporciones inimaginables.

El análisis del “origen de la violencia” no tendría mucho valor si se produjese y se consumiese dentro de una universidad. Deberá ser un problema de titulares, un problema a discutir desapasionadamente en los bares y en las calles. Simultáneamente, habrá que reconocer, una vez más, que necesitamos un verdadero diálogo. No reiniciar la farsa diplomática, sino un diálogo entre pueblos que comienzan peligrosamente a verse como enemigos, como amenazas, unos de otros —una discusión, más bien, basada en una profunda y aplastante ignorancia del otro y de sí mismo—. Es urgente un diálogo doloroso pero valiente, donde cada uno de nosotros reconozcamos nuestros prejuicios y nuestros egoísmos. Un diálogo que prescinda del fanatismo religioso —islámico y cristiano— tan de moda en estos días, con pretensiones de mesianismo y purismo moral. Un diálogo, en fin, aunque le pese a los sordos que no quieren oír.

El Dios verdadero

Según los verdaderos fieles y la religión verdadera, sólo puede haber un Dios verdadero, Dios. Algunos afirman que el verdadero Dios es Uno y es Tres al mismo tiempo, pero a juzgar por las evidencias Dios es Uno y es Muchos más. El verdadero Dios es único pero con políticas diferentes según los intereses de los verdaderos fieles. Cada uno es el Dios verdadero, cada uno mueve a sus fieles contra los fieles de los otros dioses que son siempre dioses falsos aunque cada uno sea el Dios verdadero. Cada Dios verdadero organiza la virtud de cada pueblo virtuoso sobre la base de las verdaderas costumbres y la verdadera Moral. Existe una sola Moral basada en el Dios verdadero, pero como existen múltiples Dios verdadero también existen múltiples Moral verdadera, una sola de la cual es verdaderamente verdadera.

Pero ¿cómo saber cuál es la verdadera verdad? Los métodos de prueba son discutibles; lo que no se discute es la praxis probatoria: el desprecio, la amenaza, la opresión y, por las dudas, la muerte. La muerte verdadera siempre es el recurso final e inevitable de la verdad verdadera, que procede del Dios verdadero, para salvar a la verdadera Moral y, sobre todo, a los verdaderos fieles.

Sí, a veces dudo de lo verdadero y sé que la duda ha sido maldecida por todas las religiones, por todas las teologías y por todos los discursos políticos. A veces dudo, pero es probable que Dios no desprecie mi duda. Debe estar muy ocupado entre tanta obviedad, ante tanto orgullo, entre tanta moralidad, detrás de tantos ministros que se han apropiado de su palabra, secuestrándolo en un edificio cualquiera para actuar puertas afuera sin obstáculos.

 

© Jorge Majfud

Athens, diciembre 2004

The Privatization of God

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.

Translated by Bruce Campbell.

Jorge Majfud is a Uruguayan writer. His most recent novel is La Reina de América (Baile de Sol, 2002).

Η ιδιωτικοποίηση του Θεού

Η ιδιωτικοποίηση του Θεού του ΧΟΡΧΕ ΜΑΧΦΟΥΝΤ* […] Κατά περιόδους έχω τις αμφιβολίες μου για το τι είναι αληθινό, και ξέρω ότι η αμφιβολία έχει καταδικαστεί από όλες τις θρησκείες, από όλες τις θεολογίες και από όλους τους πολιτικούς λόγους. Κατά περιόδους έχω τις αμφιβολίες μου, αλλά είναι πιθανό ότι ο Θεός δεν περιφρονεί την αμφιβολία μου. Πρέπει να είναι πολύ απασχολημένος με την τόση βεβαιότητα και υπερηφάνεια, την τόση ηθική, πίσω από τόσους πολλούς εκπροσώπους που έχουν πάρει τον έλεγχο του λόγου Του, κρατώντας τον όμηρο κάπου σε ένα κτίριο, ώστε να είναι σε θέση να κάνουν τη δουλειά τους δημόσια, χωρίς εμπόδια…

http://www.monthlyreview.gr/antilogos/greek/periodiko

 

 

Η ΙΔΙΩΤΙΚΟΠΟΙΗΣΗ ΤΟΥ ΘΕΟΥ

Θεός, επί παραγγελία για τον καταναλωτή

Οι άνθρωποι ποτέ δεν κάνουν κακό με μεγαλύτερη ευχαρίστηση απ’ όταν το κάνουν με θρησκευτική βεβαιότητα

ον 17ο αιώνα, ο Μπλαιζ Πασκάλ, μια μεγαλοφυΐα των μαθηματικών, έγραψε ότι οι άνθρωποι ποτέ δεν κάνουν κακό με μεγαλύτερη ευχαρίστηση απ’ όταν το κάνουν με θρησκευτική βεβαιότητα. Αυτή η άποψη –από έναν βαθιά θρησκευόμενο άνθρωπο– έχει βρει έκτοτε ποικίλες εφαρμογές. Κατά τη διάρκεια του τελευταίου αιώνα, τα μεγαλύτερα εγκλήματα ενάντια στην ανθρωπότητα έγιναν, με περηφάνια και πάθος, στο όνομα της προόδου, της δικαιοσύνης και της ελευθερίας. Στο όνομα της αγάπης, οι πουριτανοί και οι ηθικολόγοι οργάνωσαν το μίσος, την καταπίεση και την ταπείνωση.

Του Jorge Majfud*

Στο όνομα της ζωής, οι ηγέτες και οι προφήτες έσπειραν το θάνατο σε απέραντες περιοχές του πλανήτη. Προς το παρόν, ο Θεός έχει φτάσει να είναι η κύρια δικαιολογία για ασκήσεις μίσους και θανάτου, καθώς πίσω από τις ιερές επικλήσεις υποκρύπτονται πολιτικές φιλοδοξίεςγήινα και σατανικά συμφέροντα. Κατ’ αυτόν τον τρόπο, ανάγοντας κάθε τραγωδία του πλανήτη στη χιλιαστική και απλουστευτική παράδοση της μάχης μεταξύ Καλού και Κακού, Θεού εναντίον Διαβόλου, το μίσος, η βία και ο θάνατος νομιμοποιούνται. Δεν μπορεί να εξηγηθεί αλλιώς το πώς άνδρες και γυναίκες τείνουν να προσεύχονται με φανατική περηφάνια και υποκριτική ταπεινότητα, ως αγνοί άγγελοι, πρότυπα ηθικής, ενώ εντωμεταξύ κρύβουν πυρίτιδα στα ρούχα τους ή μια θανάσιμη απειλή. Εάν οι ηγέτες γνωρίζουν την απάτη, τότε οι υπήκοοί τους ευθύνονται ακόμη περισσότερο για την ίδια την ανοησία τους, για τις εγκληματικές μεταφυσικές πεποιθήσεις τους στο όνομα του Θεού και της ηθικής (ή της φυλής και του πολιτισμού), εμπνεόμενοι από μια μακρά παράδοση σε μίσος και φιλοδοξία, που πρόσφατα επανήλθε στην επιφάνεια ανανεωμένη.

Η αυτοκρατορία των απλουστεύσεων

Ναι, μπορούμε να πιστέψουμε στους ανθρώπους. Μπορούμε να θεωρήσουμε ότι είναι ικανοί για τα πιο εκπληκτικά πράγματα (όπως, μία των ημερών, για την ίδια τους την απελευθέρωση) και επίσης για αμέτρητες ηλιθιότητες, τις οποίες πάντοτε κρύβει ένας αυτάρεσκος και εγωκεντρικός λόγος, κατορθώνοντας να ακυρώσει την κριτική και να κατευνάσει τη μη καθαρή συνείδηση. Πώς φτάσαμε όμως σε τέτοια εγκληματική αμέλεια; Από πού προέρχεται τόση πολλή περηφάνια σε έναν κόσμο όπου η βία αυξάνεται καθημερινά και όλο και περισσότεροι άνθρωποι αξιώνουν ότι έχουν ακούσει τη φωνή του Θεού;

Η πολιτική ιστορία καταδεικνύει ότι η απλούστευση είναι ισχυρότερη και πιο εύληπτη για τη μεγάλη πλειοψηφία της κοινωνίας από τον προβληματισμό. Για έναν πολιτικό ή για έναν πνευματικό ηγέτη, παραδείγματος χάριν, είναι επίδειξη αδυναμίας να αναγνωρίσει ότι η πραγματικότητα είναι σύνθετη. Εάν ο αντίπαλος εξαλείψει από ένα πρόβλημα όλες τις αντιφάσεις του και το παρουσιάσει στο κοινό ως μάχη μεταξύ Καλού και Κακού, είναι αναμφισβήτητα πιθανότερο να θριαμβεύσει. Σε τελική ανάλυση, το πρωταρχικό μάθημα της εποχής μας θεμελιώνεται στην εμπορική διαφήμιση ή στην ανεκτική υποταγή: εκλέγουμε και αγοράζουμε ό,τι λύνει τα προβλήματά μας για μας, γρήγορα και φτηνά, ακόμα κι αν το πρόβλημα συνεχίζει να είναι πραγματικό, ενώ η λύση δεν είναι ποτέ κάτι περισσότερο από εικονική. Εντούτοις, η απλούστευση δεν αποβάλλει την πολυπλοκότητα του εν λόγω προβλήματος αλλά, αντίθετα, δημιουργεί μεγαλύτερα προβλήματα, και μερικές φορές τραγικές συνέπειες. Με το να αρνούμαστε μια ασθένεια δεν τη θεραπεύουμε, αντιθέτως τη χειροτερεύουμε.

Γιατί δεν συζητάμε το «γιατί»;

Ας προσπαθήσουμε τώρα να προβληματιστούμε πάνω σε κάποια κοινωνικά φαινόμενα. Αναμφισβήτητα, δεν θα φτάσουμε στο πλήρες βάθος της πολυπλοκότητάς τους, αλλά μπορούμε να αποκτήσουμε μια άποψη για το βαθμό απλούστευσης με τον οποίο αντιμετωπίζονται σε καθημερινή βάση, και όχι πάντα αθώα.

Ας αρχίσουμε με ένα σύντομο παράδειγμα. Σκεφτείτε την περίπτωση ενός ανθρώπου που βιάζει και σκοτώνει ένα νέο κορίτσι. Φέρνω αυτό το παράδειγμα όχι μόνο επειδή είναι, μαζί με τα βασανιστήρια, ένα από τα πιο αποτρόπαια εγκλήματα που μπορεί κανείς να διανοηθεί, αλλά επειδή αντιπροσωπεύει μια κοινή εγκληματική πράξη σε όλες τις κοινωνίες, ακόμη και σε εκείνες που καυχώνται για τις μοναδικές ηθικές αρετές τους.

Καταρχήν, έχουμε ένα έγκλημα. Πέρα από τη σημασιολογία του «εγκλήματος» και της «τιμωρίας», μπορούμε να αξιολογήσουμε την πράξη καθαυτήν, χωρίς δηλαδή να πρέπει να ανατρέξουμε στη γενεαλογία του εγκληματία και του θύματός του, ή να ερευνήσουμε τα βαθύτερα αίτια της συμπεριφοράς του εγκληματία. Ο βιασμός και η δολοφονία πρέπει να τιμωρηθούν από το νόμο και την υπόλοιπη κοινωνία. Τελεία και παύλα. Σε αυτό το σημείο δεν χωρά συζήτηση.

Πολύ καλά. Τώρα φανταστείτε ότι σε μια δεδομένη χώρα ο αριθμός βιασμών και δολοφονιών διπλασιάζεται κάποια χρονιά και διπλασιάζεται έπειτα πάλι τον επόμενο χρόνο. Μια απλούστευση θα ήταν να υποβαθμίσεις το νέο φαινόμενο στην εγκληματική πράξη που περιγράφτηκε παραπάνω. Δηλαδή, απλούστευση θα ήταν να θεωρηθεί ότι η λύση στο πρόβλημα σημαίνει να μη μείνει κανένα από αυτά τα εγκλήματα ατιμώρητο. Διατυπώνοντάς το με έναν τρίτο τρόπο, απλούστευση θα ήταν να μην αναγνωριστούν οι κοινωνικές πραγματικότητες πίσω από τη μεμονωμένη εγκληματική πράξη. Η πιο σε βάθος ανάλυση της πρώτης περίπτωσης θα μπορούσε να μας αποκαλύψει μια οδυνηρή παιδική ηλικία, που στιγματίστηκε από τη σεξουαλική κακοποίηση του μελλοντικού βιαστή, του μελλοντικού εγκληματία. Αυτή η παρατήρηση δεν θα ανέτρεπε με κανέναν τρόπο την εγκληματικότητα της ίδιας της πράξης, ακριβώς όπως αξιολογείται παραπάνω, αλλά θα μας επέτρεπε να αρχίσουμε να βλέπουμε την πολυπλοκότητα ενός προβλήματος που η απλούστευση απειλεί να διαιωνίσει. Ξεκινώντας από την ψυχολογική ανάλυση του ατόμου, θα μπορούσαμε βεβαίως να συνεχίσουμε να παρατηρούμε άλλα συμπεράσματα που προκύπτουν από την περίπτωση του ίδιου εγκληματία, όπως, παραδείγματος χάριν, οι οικονομικοί όροι μιας συγκεκριμένης κοινωνικά κατώτερης τάξης, η εκμετάλλευση και ο ηθικός στιγματισμός της από την υπόλοιπη κοινωνία, η ηθική βία και ο εξευτελισμός της αθλιότητάς της, οι κλίμακες ηθικών αξιών που κατασκεύασε σύμφωνα με ένα σύστημα παραγωγής, αναπαραγωγής και αντιφατικής κατανάλωσης, το οποίο στηρίζεται από κοινωνικούς θεσμούς όπως ένα δημόσιο εκπαιδευτικό σύστημα που βοηθά τους φτωχούς λιγότερο απ’ ό,τι τους ταπεινώνει, ορισμένες θρησκευτικές οργανώσεις που προορίζουν την αμαρτία για τους φτωχούς, χρησιμοποιώντας τους για να κερδίσουν τον παράδεισο για τον εαυτό τους, τα μέσα μαζικής επικοινωνίας, τη διαφήμιση, τις αντιφάσεις της εργασίας… και τα λοιπά.

Μπορούμε να κατανοήσουμε την τρομοκρατία στην εποχή μας με τον ίδιο τρόπο. Η εγκληματικότητα μιας τρομοκρατικής πράξης δεν είναι ανοικτή προς συζήτηση (ή δεν πρέπει να είναι). Η δολοφονία είναι πάντα ντροπή, μια πανάρχαιη μάστιγα. Αλλά η δολοφονία αθώων και σε μεγάλη κλίμακα δεν μπορεί να έχει δικαιολογία ή συγχώρεση οποιουδήποτε είδους. Επομένως, το να απαξιούμε να τιμωρήσουμε όσους ενθαρρύνουν την τρομοκρατία είναι μια πράξη δειλίας και μια απαίσια παραχώρηση στην ατιμωρησία.

Εντούτοις, πρέπει επίσης να θυμηθούμε εδώ την αρχική προειδοποίησή μας. Η κατανόηση ενός κοινωνικού και ιστορικού φαινομένου ως συνέπεια της ύπαρξης των «κακών» στη Γη είναι μια εξαιρετικά αφελής απλούστευση ή, αντιθέτως, μια ιδεολογικά έξυπνη απλούστευση που, με την αποφυγή της ολοκληρωμένης ανάλυσης (ιστορικής, οικονομικής, πολιτικής), απαλλάσσει τους διαχειριστές της έννοιας του «Κακού»: τους καλούς.

Δεν θα αρχίσουμε καν να αναλύουμε, σε αυτές τις σύντομες σκέψεις, πώς κανείς φτάνει να προσδιορίσει μια συγκεκριμένη ομάδα και όχι άλλες με το χαρακτηρισμό «τρομοκράτης». Επ’ αυτού, σας συνιστώ να διαβάσετε τον Ρολάν Μπαρτ – μία κλασική πηγή από τις πολλές. Εδώ αναφερόμαστε στη στενή έννοια του όρου, την οποία άλλωστε χρησιμοποιούν ο Τύπος και οι κυρίαρχες πολιτικές αφηγήσεις.

Ακόμα κι έτσι, εάν καταφύγουμε στην ιδέα ότι η τρομοκρατία υπάρχει επειδή υπάρχουν στον κόσμο εγκληματίες, θα έπρεπε να σκεφτούμε ότι τον τελευταίο καιρό αφθονούν οι κακοί άνθρωποι (μια αντίληψη εμφανής στον επίσημο λόγο όλων των κυβερνήσεων των χωρών που επηρεάζονται από το φαινόμενο). Αλλά εάν είναι αλήθεια ότι στον κόσμο μας σήμερα υπάρχουν περισσότεροι κακοί από πριν, σίγουρα ένα τέτοιο φαινόμενο δεν οφείλεται στη Θεία Χάρη αλλά στις ιστορικές εξελίξεις. Καμία ιστορική συγκυρία δεν είναι τυχαία. Επομένως, η άποψη ότι το να σκοτώνουμε τρομοκράτες θα εξαλείψει την τρομοκρατία από τον κόσμο δεν είναι μόνο μια ανόητη απλούστευση, αλλά (με την άρνηση της ιστορικής προέλευσης του προβλήματος, με την ανιστόρητη παρουσίασή του ως προϊόντος του Κακού αποκλειστικά, ακόμη και ως μάχης μεταξύ δύο θεολογικών «ουσιών» αποστασιοποιημένων από οποιοδήποτε κοινωνικό, οικονομικό και πολιτικό πλαίσιο) συνεπάγεται την τραγική επιδείνωση της κατάστασης. Είναι ένας τρόπος να μην αντιμετωπίσουμε το πρόβλημα, να μην επιτεθούμε στις βαθιές ρίζες του.

Σε πολλές περιπτώσεις η βία είναι αναπόφευκτη. Παραδείγματος χάριν, εάν κάποιος μας επιτεθεί, θα φαινόταν νόμιμο να υπερασπιστούμε τον εαυτό μας εξίσου με τη βία. Βεβαίως, ένας αληθινός χριστιανός θα προσέφερε και το άλλο μάγουλο πριν καταφύγει στη βία. Εντούτοις, εάν επέλεγε να αποκριθεί βίαια σε μια επίθεση, κανένας δεν θα μπορούσε να του αρνηθεί το δικαίωμα, ακόμα κι αν ερχόταν σε αντίθεση με τις εντολές του Χριστού. Αλλά εάν κάποιος άνθρωπος ή μια κυβέρνηση μάς πει ότι η βία θα περιοριστεί με το να εξαπολυθεί βία κατά των κακών –προσβάλλοντας έτσι και τους αθώους–, κάτι τέτοιο όχι μόνο αρνείται την αναζήτηση μιας αιτίας για τη βία, αλλά επιπλέον θα την ενισχύσει, ή τουλάχιστον θα τη νομιμοποιήσει στα μάτια εκείνων που υφίστανται τις συνέπειες.

Η τιμωρία των υπεύθυνων για τη βία είναι μια πράξη δικαιοσύνης. Ο ισχυρισμός ότι η βία υπάρχει μόνο επειδή υπάρχουν βίαιοι άνθρωποι είναι μια πράξη άγνοιας ή ιδεολογικής χειραγώγησης.

Εάν κανείς συνεχίσει να απλουστεύει το πρόβλημα, επιμένοντας ότι συνίσταται σε μια σύγκρουση που παράγεται από το «ασυμβίβαστο» δύο θρησκευτικών απόψεων (λες και μια από τις δύο δεν υφίσταται για αιώνες, λες και είναι θέμα ενός απλού πολέμου όπου η νίκη επιτυγχάνεται μόνο με τη συνολική ήττα του εχθρού), θα σύρει ολόκληρο τον κόσμο σε έναν διηπειρωτικό πόλεμο. Εάν κάποιος πραγματικά αναζητά την κοινωνική προέλευση και το κίνητρο του προβλήματος –το «γιατί»– και ενεργεί για να το εξαλείψει και να το μειώσει, σίγουρα θα δούμε μια εξασθένηση της έντασης που κλιμακώνεται αυτήν την περίοδο. Δεν θα δούμε το τέλος της βίας και της αδικίας στον κόσμο, αλλά τουλάχιστον θα αποφευχθεί δυστυχία αφάνταστων διαστάσεων.

Η ανάλυση της «προέλευσης της βίας» θα ήταν άχρηστη εάν παραγόταν και καταναλωνόταν μόνο μέσα στα πανεπιστήμια. Πρέπει να είναι το πρόβλημα των πρωτοσέλιδων, να συζητείται απροκατάληπτα στα μπαρ και στους δρόμους. Ταυτόχρονα, θα πρέπει να αναγνωρίσουμε, για άλλη μια φορά, ότι χρειαζόμαστε έναν γνήσιο διάλογο. Όχι μια επιστροφή στη διπλωματική φάρσα, αλλά έναν διάλογο μεταξύ των λαών που έχουν αρχίσει επικίνδυνα να βλέπουν ο ένας τον άλλο ως εχθρό, ως απειλή – μια διαφωνία, στην ουσία, βασισμένη σε βαθιά και συντριπτική άγνοια του άλλου και του ίδιου του εαυτού. Αυτό που επείγει είναι ένας επίπονος αλλά θαρραλέος διάλογος, όπου καθένας μας θα μπορέσει να αναγνωρίσει την προκατάληψή μας και την εγωκεντρικότητά μας. Ένας διάλογος απαλλαγμένος από τον θρησκευτικό φανατισμό (μουσουλμανικό και χριστιανικό) που είναι τόσο της μόδας αυτές τις μέρες, με τις μεσσιανικές και ηθικολογικές αξιώσεις του. Ένας διάλογος, εν ολίγοις, ενάντια στους κουφούς που αρνούνται να ακούσουν.

Σύμφωνα με τους αληθινούς πιστούς και την αληθινή θρησκεία, μπορεί να υπάρξει μόνο ένας αληθινός Θεός: ο Θεός. Κάποιοι αξιώνουν ότι ο αληθινός Θεός είναι ένας και τρεις συγχρόνως, αλλά, κρίνοντας από τις μαρτυρίες, ο Θεός είναι ένας και πολύ περισσότεροι. Ο αληθινός Θεός είναι μοναδικός αλλά με διαφορετική πολιτική, ανάλογα με τα συμφέροντα των αληθινών πιστών. Καθένας είναι ο αληθινός Θεός, καθένας στρέφει τον πιστό ενάντια στον πιστό των άλλων θεών, οι οποίοι είναι πάντα ψεύτικοι θεοί ακόμα κι αν καθένας είναι ο αληθινός Θεός για κάποιον. Κάθε αληθινός Θεός οργανώνει την αρετή του κάθε ενάρετου λαού βάσει των αληθινών εθίμων και της αληθινής ηθικής. Υπάρχει μόνο μία ηθική βασισμένη στον αληθινό Θεό, αλλά, δεδομένου ότι υπάρχουν περισσότεροι από ένας αληθινοί θεοί, υπάρχουν επίσης περισσότερες από μία αληθινές ηθικές, μόνο μία από τις οποίες είναι αληθινά αληθινή.

Αλλά πώς ξέρουμε ποια είναι η αληθινή αλήθεια; Οι ενδεδειγμένες αποδεικτικές μέθοδοι είναι αμφισβητήσιμες. Αυτό που δεν αμφισβητείται είναι η τρέχουσα πρακτική: περιφρόνηση, απειλές, καταπίεση και, σε περίπτωση αμφιβολίας, θάνατος. Ο αληθινός θάνατος είναι πάντα το τελικό και αναπόφευκτο όπλο της αληθινής αλήθειας, που προέρχεται από τον αληθινό Θεό, προκειμένου να σωθούν η αληθινή ηθική και, προπάντων, οι αληθινοί πιστοί.

Ναι, κατά περιόδους έχω τις αμφιβολίες μου για το τι είναι αληθινό, και ξέρω ότι η αμφιβολία έχει καταδικαστεί από όλες τις θρησκείες, από όλες τις θεολογίες και από όλους τους πολιτικούς λόγους. Κατά περιόδους έχω τις αμφιβολίες μου, αλλά είναι πιθανό ότι ο Θεός δεν περιφρονεί την αμφιβολία μου. Πρέπει να είναι πολύ απασχολημένος με την τόση βεβαιότητα και υπερηφάνεια, την τόση ηθική, πίσω από τόσους πολλούς εκπροσώπους που έχουν πάρει τον έλεγχο του λόγου του, κρατώντας τον όμηρο κάπου σε ένα κτίριο, ώστε να είναι σε θέση να κάνουν τη δουλειά τους δημόσια, χωρίς εμπόδια.