I probably shouldn’t, but I can’t help but point to this web comic, which made the rounds in the hours following Chávez’s triumphal return from Cuba last Friday, rubbing our (opposition) faces in it…
I’m not sure if this was made specifically as a response to his latest return, but it hardly matters. While much of the respectable opposition busily warns its own supporters to respect chavismo’s grief at this difficult time – is it too early to note the gross asymetry of restraint in our public sphere?
OK, ok, it almost certainly is.
But I’ve always been fascinated by a certain brand of chavista that seems to find it less satisfying to win than to see us lose, to be right than to see us be wrong. The politics of cizaña have been growing roots in our country for 14 years now, and they will not be done away with over night.
And while a similar dynamic sometimes plays out in the other direction as well, at least the opposition’s leaders are fully aware of how toxic this brand of playground politics can be to our public sphere, whereas the entire Communicationally Hegemonic Sistema Nacional de Medios Públicos, the whole little world of chavista opinion-making, has gradually morphed into a 24-7 cizaña machine.
The Chávez era has been like putting a particularly noxious internet troll in charge of the country.
As anybody who’s spent any time in forums online knows, it takes a superhuman feat of the will to keep conversations minimally civil in the presence of even one troll. A few manage it, but it’s practically impossible to keep others from following the troll right down the sewer whence he came. Very soon you’re in the middle of a name-calling tit-for-tat, and from then on out you can just forget it: you’ll get plenty of heat out of it, but no light.
And, when you think about it, that’s what Venezuela’s been like since 1999, isn’t it?
Which all goes towards building some context around the (laudable, but hollow) calls to show restraint in the face of the president’s misfortune. As one commenter puts it,
While civility demands Mr Chavez opponents show no mirth or delight on his ill health and poor survival prospects , basically out of good manners towards his supporters , there is no doubt that his own past conduct has so poisoned the atmosphere of public life that it is well neigh impossible for most of his opponents to view his current predicament with anything but glee . Practical considerations may dictate that such glee remain hidden and masked with shows of ‘compassionate concern’ but the irrepressible glee is there . There is a phrase by Borges which notes how tyrannies foster stupidity in people , maybe it should also note how it also fosters dark feelings of delight at an adversary’s miseries . To indulge in those feelings is maybe the price we must pay to be faithful to our own humanity.