by Jorge Majfud
On the silent revolution and reaction of our time. The reasons for ultramodern chaos. On the colonization of language and how traditional authority reacts to historical progress using the anachronistic tools of repetition.
Universal Pedagogy of Obedience
The old pedagogical model was synthesized in the phrase "the letters enter with blood." This was the ideological support that allowed the teacher to strike, with a ruler, the buttocks or hands of the bad students. When the bad student was able to memorize and repeat what the teacher wanted, the punishment would end and the reward would begin. Then the bad student, having now been turned into "a good man," could take over teaching by repeating the same methods. It is not by accident that the celebrated Argentine statist and pedagogue, F. Sarmiento, would declare that "a child is nothing more than an animal that must be tamed and educated." In fact, this is the very method one uses to domesticate any old animal. "Teaching" a dog means nothing more than "making it obedient" to the will of its master, humanizing it. Which is a form of canine degeneration, just like the frequent dehumanization of a man into a dog -- I refer to Osvaldo Dragún's theatrical work.
The social logic of it is not much different. Whoever has power is the one who defines what a particular word means. Social obedience is implicit. In this sense, there are key words that have been colonized in our culture, words like democracy, freedom, justice, patriot, development, civilization, barbarism, etc. If we observe the definition of each one of these words derived from the same power -- the same master -- we will see that it is only by dint of a violent, colonizing and monopolistic "learning" that the term is applied to a particular case and not to another one, to one appearance and not to another, to one flag and not another -- and almost always with the compelling force of the obvious. It is this logic alone that dominates the discourse and headlines of daily newspapers the world over. Even the loser, who receives the semiotic stigma, must use this language, these ideological tools to defend (timidly) any position that differs from the official, established one.
Revolution and Reaction
What we are experiencing at present is a profound crisis which naturally derives from a radical change in system -- structural and mental: from a system of representative obedience to a system of progressive democracy.
It is not by accident that this current reaction against the disobedience of nations would take the form of a renaissance of religious authoritarianism, in the East as much as in the West. Here we might say, like Pi i Margall in 1853, that "revolution is peace and reaction is war." The difference in our time is rooted in the fact that both revolution and reaction are invisible; they are camouflaged by the chaos of events, by the messianic and apocalyptic discourses, disguised in the old codes of reading inherited from the Modern Era.
The Grand Reactionary Strategy
Now, how does one sustain this reaction against radical democratization, which is the invisible and perhaps inevitable revolution? We might continue observing that one form of attack against this democratization is for the reaction itself to kidnap the very idea of "democracy." But now let's mention just a few of the least abstract symptoms.
At the center of the "developed world," the most important television and radio networks repeat tiresomely the idea that "we are at war" and that "we must confront an enemy that wants to destroy us." The evil desire of minority groups -- minority but growing -- is unquestionable. The objective, our destruction, is infinitely improbable -- except, that is, for the assistance offered by self-betrayal, which consists in copying all of the defects of the enemy one pretends to combat. Not coincidentally, the same discourse is repeated among Muslim peoples -- without even beginning to consider anyone outside this simple dichotomy, another typical product of the powers in conflict: the creation of false dilemmas.
In the most recent war, irrigated as always with copious innocent blood, we witnessed the repetition of the old model that is repeated every day and ceaselessly in so many corners of the world. A colonel, speaking from we know not which front, declared to a television channel of the Civilized World, dramatically: "It is on this road where the future of humanity will be decided; it is here where the 'clash of civilizations' is unfolding." Throughout that day, as with all the previous days and all the days after, the words and ideas repeated over and over again were: enemy, war, danger, imminent, civilization and barbarism, etc. To raise doubts about this would be like denying the Holy Trinity before the Holy Inquisition or, even worse, questioning the virtues of money before Calvin, God's chosen one. Because it is enough for one fanatic to call another fanatic "barbaric" or "infidel" to get others to agree that he needs to be killed. The final result is that it is rare for one of these barbaric people not to die by their own choice; most of those eliminated by the virtue of holy wars are innocents who would never choose to die. As in the time of Herod, the threat of an individual is eliminated by assassinating his entire generation -- without ever achieving the objective, of course.
There is no choice: "it is necessary to win this war." But it turns out that this war will produce no victors, only losers: peoples who do not trade in human flesh. The strangest thing is that "on this side" the ones who favor every possible war are the most radical Christians, when it was none other than Christ who opposed, in word and deed, all forms of violence, even when he could have crushed with the mere wave of his hand the entire Roman Empire -- the center of civilization at the time -- and his torturers as well. If the "religious leaders" of today had a miniscule portion of the infinite power of Jesus, they would invest it in winning their unfinished wars. Obviously if huge Christian sects, in an historic act of benediction and justification for the insatiable accumulation of wealth, have been able to pass an army of camels through the eye of that proverbial needle, what wouldn't they do to the difficult precept of turning the other cheek? Not only is the other cheek not offered -- which is only human, even though it's not very Christian -- but instead the most advanced forms of violence are brought to bear on distant nations in the name of Right, Justice, Peace, and Freedom -- and of Christian values. And even though among them there is no recourse to the private relief of Catholic confession, they often practice it anyway after a bombardment of scores of innocents: "we are so sorry. . . ."
On another television program, a report showed Muslim fanatics sermonizing the masses, calling upon them to combat the Western enemy. The journalists asked professors and analysts "how is a Muslim fanatic created?" To which each specialist attempted to give a response by referring to the wickedness of these terrible people and other metaphysical arguments that, despite being useless for explaining something rationally, are quite useful for feeding the fear and desire for combat of their faithful viewers. It never occurs to them to consider the obvious: a Muslim fanatic is created in exactly the same way that a Christian fanatic, or a Jewish fanatic, is created: believing themselves to be in possession of the absolute truth, the best morality, and law and, above all, to be executors of the will of God -- violence willing. To prove this, one has only to take a look at the various holocausts that humanity has promoted in its brief history: none of them has lacked for Noble Purposes; almost all were committed with pride by the privileged sons of God.
If one is a true believer, one must start by not doubting the sacred text which serves as the foundation of the doctrine or religion. This, which seems logical, becomes tragic when a minority demands from the rest of the nation the same attitude of blind obedience, usurping God's role in representing God. What operates here is a transference of faith in the sacred texts to faith in the political texts. The King's minister becomes the Prime Minister and the King ceases to govern. In most of the mass media we are not asked to think; we are asked to believe. It is the advertising dynamic that shapes consumers with discourses based on simplification and obviousness. Everything is organized in order to convince us of something or to ratify our faith in a group, in a system, in a party. All in the guise of tolerance and diversity, of discussion and debate, where typically a grey representative of the contrarian position is invited to the table in order to humiliate or mock him. The committed journalist, like the politician, is a pastor who directs himself to an audience accustomed to hearing unquestionable sermons and theological opinions as if they were the word of God himself.
These observations are merely a beginning, because we would have to be very naïve indeed if we were to ignore the calculus of material interests on the part of the powerful, who -- at least so far -- have always decided, thumb up or thumb down, the fate of the innocent masses. Which is demonstrated by simply observing that the hundreds and thousands of innocent victims, aside from the occasional apology for mistakes made, are never the focus of the analysis about the wars and the permanent state of psychological, ideological, and spiritual tension. (As an aside, I think it would be necessary to develop a scientific investigation regarding the heart rate of the viewers before and after witnessing an hour of these "informational" programs -- or whatever you want to call them, since, in reality, the most informative part of these programs is the advertisements; the informational programming itself is propaganda, from the very moment when they reproduce the colonized language.)
Dialogue has been cut off and the positions have polarized, poisoned by the hatred distilled by the big media, instruments of traditional power. "They are the incarnation of Evil"; "Our values are superior and therefore we have the right to exterminate them." "The fate of humanity depends upon our success." Etcetera. . . . To make success possible, we must first guarantee the obedience of our fellow citizens. But it remains to be asked whether "success in the war" is really the main objective or instead a mere means, perpetually extendable, to maintain the obedience of one's own people, those who were threatening to become independent and develop new forms of mutual understanding with other peoples. For all of this, propaganda, which is the propagation of hate, is indispensable. The beneficiaries are a minority; the majority simply obey with passion and fanaticism: it is the culture of hate that sickens us day after day. But the culture of hate is not the metaphysical origin of Evil, but little more than an instrument of other interests. Because if hatred is a sentiment that can be democratized, in contrast private interests to date have been the property of an elite. Until Humanity understands that the well-being of the other does me no harm but quite the opposite: if the other does not hate, if the other is not oppressed by me, then I will also benefit from the other's society. But try explaining this to the oppressor or to the oppressed; they will quickly come to an agreement to feed off that perverse circle that keeps us from evolving together as Humanity.
Humanity will resist, as it has always resisted, the most important changes in history. Resistance will not come from millions of innocents, for whom the benefits of historical progress will never arrive. For them is reserved the same old story: pain, torture, and anonymous death that could have been avoided, at least in part, if the culture of hate had been replaced by the mutual comprehension that one day will be inevitable: the other is not necessarily an enemy that I must exterminate by poisoning my own brothers; what is to the benefit of the other will be to my benefit also.
This principle was Jesus's conscience, a conscience that was later corrupted by centuries of religious fanaticism, the most anti-Christian Gospel imaginable. And the same could be said of other religions.
In 1866, Juan Montalvo testified to his own bitterness: "The most civilized peoples, those whose intelligence has taken flight to the heavens and whose practices are guided by morality, do not renounce war: their breasts are ever burning, their zealous heart leaps with the impulse for extermination." And later: "The peace of Europe is not the peace of Jesus Christ, no: the peace of Europe is the peace of France and England, lack of confidence, mutual fear, threat; the one has armies sufficient to dominate the world and only for that reason believes in peace; the other extends itself over the seas, controls every strait, rules the most important fortresses on earth, and only for that reason believes in peace."
Exits from the Labyrinth
If knowledge -- or ignorance -- is demonstrated by speaking, wisdom is the superior state in which a man or a woman learns to listen. As Eduardo Galeano rightly recommended to the powerful of the world, the ruler's job should be to listen more and speak less. Although only a rhetorical recommendation -- in the sense that it is useless to give advice to those who will not listen -- this remains an irrefutable principle for any democrat. But the discourses of the states and the mass media, created to create soldiers, are only concerned with disciplining according to their own rules. Their struggle is the consolidation of ideological meaning in a colonized language divorced from the everyday reality of the speaker: their language is terribly creative of a terrible reality, almost always through abuse of the paradox and the oxymoron -- as one might view the very notion of "communication media." It is the autistic symptom of our societies that day after day they sink further into the culture of hate. It is information and it is deformation.
In many previous essays, I have departed from and arrived at two presuppositions that seem contradictory. The first: it is not true that history never repeats itself; it always repeats itself; it is only appearances that are not repeated. The second precept, at least four hundred years old: history progresses. That is to say, humanity learns from past experience and in the process overcomes itself. Both human realities have always battled each other. If the human race remembered better and were less hypocritical, if it had greater awareness of its importance and were more rebellious against its false impotence, if instead of accepting the artificial fatalism of the Clash of Civilizations it were to recognize the urgency of a Dialogue of Cultures, this battle would not sow the fields with corpses and nations with hate. The process of history, from its economic roots, is determined by and cannot be contradictory to the interests of humanity. What remains to be known is only how and when. If we accompany it with the new awareness demanded by posterity, we will not only advance a perhaps inevitable process; above all, we will avoid more pain and the spilling of blood and death that has tinged the world with hatred incarnadine in this greatest crisis of history.