Why tyranny can be good for the soul

10 03 2009

buenos-aires-taxi-02

So anyway, I was in this taxi cab in Buenos Aires, crammed in with five other seminarians on a Sunday afternoon. On the radio, the Boca vs. River Plate game was blaring, and at one point, a news break was played during an intermission. Hugo Chavez was very much in the news back then (around 2002), and the direction of the conversation in the cab was steered towards politics. The taxi driver, in the midst of the country falling apart one more time*, said that he wished the dictators would just come back to restore order.

“At least it was safe to walk the streets at night back then.”

(* – There is another cute story from seminary years regarding the political turmoil in Argentina in 2002. As you well know, the presidency of that country changed hands a few times that year. At an informal supper in the refectory, we saw a dog outside howling incessantly for no apparent reason.

“What’s wrong with that dog?” one priest asked.

Another priest responded: “They must have changed the president again. The animals are always the first to know”.)

I am often at a loss when I hear people discuss American politics in any sort of forum, virtual or otherwise. Perhaps the main reason is that the only governments I have studied in depth have been really messed up ones. Getting a degree in Latin American Studies at U.C. Berkeley, you get to study political turmoil in all of its permutations and flavors. Torture, upheaval, massacres, and revolutions are what you were interested in, and you were used to thinking of governments not in terms of what was ideal, but rather in terms of what was possible and least objectionable. Sure, Latin America has always been full of idealists, but those idealists usually end up dead, in prison, or selling out and putting other people in prison or mass graves. And as for fiscal and monetary policy, it is usually determined by a third party (Uncle Sam, the IMF, United Fruit, or whoever the neo-colonizer of the month happens to be).

So in these times of uncertainty, though I have as much if not more anxiety than most, I am probably ideologically better prepared to cope than the average American. I would like to think that I have sufficiently inoculated myself from idealistic impressions of what America “should be”. I know that “free markets” have always been a misnomer (someone has to pay for them; in imperialist countries, that someone usually doesn’t live here, and if he does we keep him quiet). I know that the line between “right” and “privilege” is a thin one indeed; lots of people in Latin America assumed they had inalienable rights to such things as being able to assemble peaceably, a free press, to walk down the street and chew gum, or breath. Often, and in a blink of an eye, such rights turned into privileges that were contingent on “good citizenship”. This was not due to cultural differences, a lack of enlightenment, or the absence of Weber’s Protestant ethic. It was due to the fact that society could no longer “afford” them. “Rights” became a luxury that the government could no longer offer.

Now, I am not implying that I have seen the future of this country, and it is scary. I am the last person in the world to play doomsday prophet. But the money trail doesn’t lie, and I have seen this too many times, in Allende, Perón, Cárdenas, etc., to not see the parallels. An economy in shambles, a progressive government that aims to do more than is feasible, creditors pushing for economic reforms from the outside. I may no longer be a Marxist, but the class struggle and laws of motion of social change don’t lie, comrade. Something will have to give. Either we will get out of this, or…. welcome to Weimar America.

The good news is that we will probably survive this. If I learned anything from the Argentines, it is that even the “middle class” has a much different attitude towards life than we have. For them, life centers around working just enough to get by, maybe having an “estancia” out on the pampa (it’s not that expensive) where you can go on the weekends to have a barbecue and play soccer, and maybe spend your time in bookstores reading Beowulf  like Jorge Luis Borges. And as Christians, we tend to thrive in periods when the government isn’t that friendly to us. My advice, if something does happen, keep close to your family, do your job, and try to keep your mouth shut. You may think making a stink about it will get you somewhere, but trust me, it won’t. And I have studied the question, so take my word for it.


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4 responses

31 10 2011
control de flotas

Clearing up your internet image…

In regards to search engine listings, we’ve found out it is extremely important to enjoy a sparkling universal net brand in this field around the word wide web….

13 03 2009
Lucian

Low-down, anti-Catholic shot… 8)

13 03 2009
Manuel

As far as colonizers, often locals play the game with the imperialist. Plenty of examples of this in Mexico (this is the latin American nation I am most familiar with). People are born free, but being free takes a lot of work so we just rather cheer on those that promise the most and shut up when our neighbors start dissapearing.

10 03 2009
Leah

As hard as it is for most Americans to believe, if given the choice, most people in the world prefer living under some form of authoritarianism. As the Iraq War as the mess in Afghanistan demonstrate, the notion that the world is filled with Jeffersonian democrats yearning to breathe free is empirically false. This love affair with individual liberty seems to be confined only to the Anglophone sphere and nowhere else. In any event, the material conditions in which Americans have been living for the past 60 years have been a historical anomaly, one which may be coming to an end. When faced with true crisis, this could mean a shift in the mortibund intellectual life in the Church away from the dreary neo-con/modernist dichotomy that we’ve been subjected to for the last 30+ years. Or we could just get another Fr. Coughlin.

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