Where did chavismo's normal go?

Juan Cristobal’s last post – particularly that one-liner about there being "no one normal left in chavismo" – made a few people in the comments section, myself included, pretty uncomfortable.

Of course, I’m in no position to go around casting first stones when it comes to flipping my shit over something crazy Chávez just said and lashing out with a post I probably wouldn’t have written otherwise. These things happen. I’m pretty sure Juan’ll be the first to admit that post came from the gut more than the head.

But that still leaves the question: did Juan commit a "gaffe" – an involuntary expression of unpalatable truth – or did he just plain old put his foot in his mouth? And, come to think of it, what exactly happened to chavismo’s sense of normality? Where did it go?

I think the difficulty has to do with chavismo’s dual status as both a political movement and something that more and more ressembles a millenarian cult.

While chavismo as a political movement clearly includes millions of normal, sane, decent people who for one reason or another – from gratefulness for social programs to a deep disgust towards the old elite to a general sense that "people like me vote for Chávez" – support the  regime, the not-terribly-comfortable reality is that those aren’t the people who now govern Venezuela. In order to get into a position of political influence and power within the state chavismo has wrought, you need to be a fully signed up member of the Chávez Cult. And while the chavista movement has plenty of normal in it, the Chávez Cult has banished it from its ranks.

We must not mince words here: the structure of belief of the Chávez Cult is not normal. We’ve gone over it in this blog a million times, but it bears repeating:

  • The earnest belief that what is at stake here is "saving the world".
  • The determination to create a "new man" freed from normal human failings.
  • The belief in an earthly utopia that’s just around the corner but can only be attained once the cult’s foes have been crushed.
  • The literal – not figurative – demonization of those foes.
  • The sincere expectation that every single bad thing that happens happens because evil people have conspired to make it happen.
  • The belief in the mystical power of those enemies and the unidimensional assertion of their unalloyed evil.
  • The dualistic structure that arises from splitting the world between two neat, clearly delineated, unambiguously incompatible groups: one that’s completely good, pure and virtuous  ("us") and another that’s unambiguously evil, dirty, vicious out-group ("them").
  • The general indifference, indeed contempt, towards any fact that cannot be reconciled with that dualistic structure.

These are not "political" views in any intelligible sense of that word. This is the belief system of a cult. It’s a way of organizing an understanding of reality that rests not on a set of social beliefs or on a collection of class interests but rather on a metaphysics of conviction: the conviction that you are personally called on to take part in the ultimate, epoch-defining struggle between good and evil and that you will, in the end, be victorious.

And no, it’s not normal. Relativism is deeply misplaced here. Governments that treat politics as a transcendent battle between good and evil are bound to devolve into murderous violence, because the structure of their belief systems demand it.

After all, if you were truly, intimately convinced that you were fighting, literally, to save humanity from evil and usher in an era of universal peace, brotherhood and good will, and that the only thing delaying utopia was the opposition of a devilish fringe of wreckers, wouldn’t you pull that trigger?

Of course you would.