The Savage Discourse Revisited


jose_manuel_brice8It’s been eight years since I translated the passages below from the classic (if too-little-read) book by Merideño philosopher/poet J.M. Briceño Guerrero, but I still sporadically go back to them for inspiration. The essays were written over 30 years ago now but, somehow, they only seem to gain in relevance with time.

I realize many newer readers will have missed the original translation – it was posted so long ago. And since Briceño Guerrero’s work touches on some topics we’ve been discussing in comments, I thought the time was ripe for a reprint.

A word to the wise: make sure you have a good 45 minutes of peace and quiet before you dive into what’s below – it’s…pretty hardcore. Trust me, though: it’ll repay the effort.

The Labyrinth of the Three Minotaurs

Three great, underlying discourses govern Latin American thinking. This can be seen in the history of ideas, the observation of political events, and the examination of artistic creativity.

First there is the European rationalist discourse, imported at the end of the eighteenth century, structured by instrumental reason and its outcomes in science and technology, driven by the possibility of deliberate and planned social change tending to realize universal human rights, expressed in the texts of constitutions as well the platforms of political parties and in the scientific conceptions of humanity and their consequent collective manipulation, and invigorated verbally by the theoretical boom of the various positivisms, technocracies, and of socialism, with its doctrinaire rousing of civil or military or paramilitary movements of revolutionary intent. Its key words in the nineteenth century were modernity and progress. Its key word in our time is development. This discourse acts as a screen onto which the aspirations of large sectors of the population, as well as the collective psyche, are projected – but also as an ideological vehicle for the intervention of the great foreign powers in the region and is, in part, a result of that intervention; only in part, however, because it is also, powerfully, a function of Latin American identification with rationalist Europe.

In parallel, there is the Christian-Hispanic Discourse, or Mantuano Discourse, inherited from imperial Spain, in its Latin American version, typical of the criollos (white elite) and the Spanish colonial system. This discourse affirms, in the spiritual dimension, the transcendence of man, his partial belonging to a world of metacosmic values, his communion with the divine through the Holy Mother Church, his ambiguous struggle between transient interests and eternal salvation, between his precarious terrestrial citadel and the firm palace of multiple celestial mansions. But, in material matters, it is linked to a social system of inherited nobility, hierarchy and privilege that found its theoretical justification in Latin America as paideia (the dissemination of western culture to the Americas) while, in practice, it left as the only route for socioeconomic improvement the remote and arduous path of race whitening and cultural westernization through miscegenation and education, exasperatingly slow twin paths, strewn with legal obstacles and incremental prejudices. But, while access to equality with the criollo class was in practice closed off to the majority, the discourse entrenched itself over centuries of colonialism and persists with silent strength in the republican period up and into our time, structuring aspirations and ambitions around the personal and familial (or clan-based) striving for privilege, noble idleness through kinship rather than merit, built on relationships of seigniorial loyalty and protection, grace rather than function and territory rather than official service, even on the fringes of power. The mantuano ethos survives in a thousand new forms and extends through the entire population.

Finally, there is the savage discourse, executor of the wound produced in the pre-European cultures of the Americas by their defeat at the hands of the conquerors, and in African cultures by their passive transfer to the Americas under slavery, executor also of the resentments produced in the pardos (mixed race people) by the indefinite postponement of their aspirations. It is a vehicle for the nostalgia for non-European, non-Western ways of life, a refuge for cultural horizons apparently closed off by the imposition of Europe on Latin America. To this discourse, both the rationalist European and the hispanic-colonial discourses are foreign and strange, strata of oppression, representatives of an alterity that cannot be assimilated and cannot rid itself of the savage’s apparent submission, occasional rebellion, permanent mischief and dark nostalgia.

These three great underlying discourses are present in every Latin American, though with an intensity that varies depending on social class, place, psychic level, age, and the time of day.

Much more after the jump…

The European Rationalist discourse predominantly governs official declarations, thoughts and words that express views on the universe and society, the governing projects of officials and parties, and the doctrines and programs of revolutionaries.

The Mantuano Discourse predominantly governs individual conduct and interpersonal relationships, as well as the sense of dignity, honor, grandeur and happiness.

The Savage Discourse is lodged in the most intimate corners of emotion and relativizes the other two, manifesting itself in humor, in drunkenness, and in a kind of secret loathing for all that is thought, said, and done, to the point that the most authentic friendships are not based on shared ideals or interests, but in a complicity of shame, felt as inherent to the condition of being Latin American.

It’s easy to see that these three discourses penetrate one another, feeding as parasites on each other, encumbering one another in a tragic combat where no victory is possible, and that they produce for Latin America two lamentable consequences.

The first is practical: no one single discourse manages to impose itself over public life to the point of tilting it towards coherent and successful forms of organization, but each is strong enough to frustrate the other two, and the three are mutually incompatible and irreconcilable. While international circumstances reinforce the European Rationalist Discourse and magnify the clamor for accelerated development towards a rational order based on science and technology, the Mantuano Discourse stalks it, negotiating its continuity with the interests of foreign powers that benefit from the status quo, while the Savage Discourse corrodes all projects as it moans contentedly.

The other consequence is theoretical: the three-way contradiction makes it impossible to create permanent spaces for thought, knowledge and reflection. The researchers and thinkers of Latin America either identify with European rationalism, turning their work into a subsidiary of powerful interests located outside the region, or they consume themselves in political activities governed by the Mantuano Discourse, or they yield to the verbalist political impulse of the Savage Discourse. The scientific efforts of universities collapse into mantuano intrigues, anachronistic mantuano scheming can find no contact with reality beyond what’s needed to survive, a kind of chaos-generating nihilism makes it impossible to bring continuity to effort, and the entire situation takes the Latin American ever farther from reaching a complete consciousness of himself, of his social reality, of his place in the world, let alone genuinely confronting the problems that the universe in general, the human condition in general, pose to the woken man.

Faced with this panorama of discourses at war, with no victory in sight, one is left only, from a current perspective, with the cathartic aesthetic frisson of contemplating a tragedy, and, facing the future, with technocratic genocide or the hope for a planetary catastrophe that may allows us to start the ancient game anew.

From this prologue, the book proceeds in three parts: the first two explore the European Rationalist and the Mantuano Discourses, their logic and history, and their role in shaping Latin American culture. Both are fascinating, but I will skip to the last section, what he calls The Savage Discourse.

The reason is simple – most of my readers have a pretty good handle on rationalist and mantuano values, behaviors, and ideas. We are western, after all. It’s the Savage Discourse that baffles us, mystifies us even as it penetrates us, it’s the non-western strand of our culture we tend to repress, and therefore can’t formulate explicitly or understand. So this is the section that struck me as most surprising, lucid, iconoclastic and valuable.

I can’t resist adding an interpretative note at this point: as in the other two sections of the book, the style morphs gradually as the essay progresses. What begins as an academic treatise on the nature of Latin American identity has dissolved, by the end, into a poetic, first person defense of the discourse. This gradual, initially barely-perceptible, but by the end complete, shift in the narrator’s standpoint is, I think, what makes the work so thrilling.

The Savage Discourse

Identity and Discontent

Before starting to observe ourselves, to recognize ourselves and know who we are, before we were old enough to be curious about our identity and the means of expressing it, before that interrogative longing, the answer was given to us: we are Western.

When we were a colony, we were a European colony, a geographical expansion of the European cultural orbit. When we constituted ourselves into republics, we did so for European reasons, with European methods, based on European values. Our liberators wielded swords made in Europe and spoke European words carrying European concepts, feelings, impulses, ideals and fires.

Currently, our countries are a part of the great Western family. Our language and dress, our schools and cemeteries are testimony to our lineage. Our political institutions, scientific activities and individual aspirations openly proclaim our heritage. Particularly our writing – that level of humanity where one’s degree of self-knowledge becomes verb – unequivocally points to our familial belonging.

Our dependence and backwardness do not cast doubt on our cultural kinship. A poor relative is still a relative. What’s more, we all decided long ago that the fundamental task of our generation is development and our plans and projects in this regard conform strictly to the Western style. The development gap will be bridged within the family.

Europe is our essence and our end.


And yet…no. No “and yets.” The answer, previous to any question about our identity, is not up for debate: we are Western.

It’s just that the answer – and this is not meant to cast doubt on it – comes hand in hand with a lament that rings like the disharmony of a musical note. A gripe, a discontent when it comes to “these people” (esta gente, este pueblo.)

So, you hear people say, for instance, “party, party, (bochinche, bochinche) all these people know how to do is party.” “You can’t get anything serious done here because these people don’t have any discipline.” “They’re scared of work and water: they’re lazy and dirty.” “Without a strong government, you get corruption, anarchy and chaos.” “We will have to change the entire socioeconomic and political structure and create a new man, because these people are corrupted.” “The crooks are the least stupid ones.” Etc.

The discontent about “these people” (“esta gente, este pueblo”) seems to point towards the absence of virtues that characterize Western culture. An absence only? Or could it be also the presence of non-Western factors, elements and powers?

Sometimes the blame contained in this complaint is externalized, projected on foreign countries, neocolonial powers, responsible for a certain – though unconfessed – diminished potency of Westernness; the externalization of blame is carried out either through manichean arguments or with an analysis borrowed from political economy.

Or else the gripe is explained by reference to our history, to ethnic superstitions, or through vestiges of geographical determinism.

When we note this disharmony in the affirmation “we are Western” we do not deny the statement. It could well be, quite honorably, that ours is a identity in combat. But then we would have to ask, “against what? against whom?”

So our early and agile answer about our identity is spared: we are Western. But it is still worth questioning the tacit subject: we. We are Western. Who says so? Who says “we”? “We” is a pronoun: what noun does it refer to?

It is the same voice that says “we are Western” that issues the complaint about “these people.” Yet it is those same people we are identifying as Western.

At the same time that they are identified as Western, they are reproached for not being Western.

It’s as though we were speaking rather in the imperative: “be Western” – layered over an unspoken “it would be unbearable not to be so”, all to conceal the strongly repressed sense that “horror, we aren’t!”, which only bolsters the imperative: “become Western right now!” which again becomes indicative, but is now rendered superstitious, magical: “we are Western.”

Is it that our consciousness of being Western is under siege by extraneous forces? Or is it that the will to be Western is countered by a barbarous resistance, unravelled by an actively different strain of human reality?

Tribulation of the European in America

A European visiting our America finds Western style republics, purveying Western culture – he also finds backward aspects and areas, but aspects and areas of Western backwardness, backward manifestations of his own Western culture; at worst, a sense of marginality or colonialism, not of exteriority. If the visitor stays to live in our America, he begins to see and feel something strange, unexpected, undefinable, incalculable in the behavior and the aims of these people, something foreign to his cultural horizon. His friends, whose thoughts, emotions and goals are clear in ordinary Western communication, friends who socialize with confidence and assuredness, even his closest friends can suddenly turn opaque, enigmatic, impenetrable, totally other – only to later recover their “normality.” There’s no easy explanation for those unpredictable changes. “What is that? Who is that?” asks the befuddled foreigner, staggered like someone who has just caught a peak, through the evanescent parting of a curtain, into an unsuspected landscape, faced with the friend who is now once again smiling, welcoming, inspiring his trust.

At the same time, the European of America, responsible for public order, for making political decisions, for implementing plans, for managing businesses, or the church, finds always a mischievous resistance from those delegated to carry out any task. They find, in these people, an undercover opposition to order, to discipline, to study, to work, to responsibility, to punctuality, to truth, to morality, to any commitment, an indefatigable, opportunist, stalking, treacherous opposition, as though they felt the effort needed to maintain civilization to be oppressive.

The European of America, whether he runs a guerrilla column or an army barrack, a whorehouse or a convent, a band of robbers or a business, parliament or the horse racing workers’ union, a cabinet meeting or a seminar on political economy, the noble European of America, buttress of the culture of these people, confronted incessantly with that deaf, cowardly, unnegotiable, hypocritical, surreptitious opposition, the virtuous European of America says to himself during his sleepless nights “we’ve got to hold this place together moment by moment, without a break…otherwise, it comes apart at the seams, it dissolves” and he wonders “what do these people want? It isn’t the end of civilization, because they never push quite hard enough to destroy it. Could it be that they want to hold it to a minimum, and no more? but why?” But he doesn’t question himself far beyond that, or not seriously. Ultimately, he doesn’t much care about the cause of that opposition, it’s enough for him to know how to crush it, it’s enough to know his duty and carry it out.

The situation seen from the other side.

Let us question farther.

We are Western, no doubt about it, but we have to accept the presence of a non-Western resistance in Latin America. The majestic sweep of Western discourses in the institutions and the history of Latin America has found interference, here and there, has at times been encumbered and even disfigured, though never truly interrupted, by what seem to be discourses of a barbarous nature.

What does this situation look like from the other side?

A great defeat, now sunk almost entirely out of memory, has left us with the oppression we now suffer. We know the whip of the victor, and continually we recognize his superiority, tried and tested every single day.

It’s not difficult to shake off this or that official, this or that policeman, but long ago we realized that they represent a larger power. When they die, others come to take their places, and in larger numbers, if need be. Behind them lie armies, headquarters, barracks, fortresses, the firepower of armored divisions, splendidly decked out halls where chiefs make decisions. The cop on the beat is only the farthest sensor of an acute nervous system, the last reach of a robust musculature. I bow my head when I see him, or I walk down a different street. Even if I’ve done nothing wrong, I carry an original fault that justifies any aggression at any time: the fault of having defeated ancestors.

That priest, those old nuns who watch over me tirelessly – I can’t say to them “I will do what I find good and just, I will do what gives me pleasure, what wells up in me spontaneously, I will do what the joy of life dictates.” No, they represent official morality based on a catechism I never quite learned, and they have the means to impose it. Plus, they have God on their side, the undisputed source of eternal punishment. All pleasure is banned, hidden, underground – its home is the night. I confess, repent, and even so I’m always dirty, blameworthy. When the priest dies, another priest will come, when the nuns die, other nuns will come. Behind them lie the bishops, the archbishops, the cardinals, the pope, the celestial throne, the hordes of angels and an invisible sword that secretly wounds the organs of my body to distribute the various forms of death. When I see the priest, I kneel, “bless me, father”, when I see the nuns, I bow my head, “yes, doña María, yes doñita.” Their benevolence can alleviate the disgrace of being who I am, it can make my condition less intolerable.

Penetrating in his domination more than all the others is the school teacher, because he oppresses from within, he reaches into the intimacy of my consciousness to sweep away and reconstruct according to the interests of the victor.

His most efficient weapon is the alphabet, when he teaches me to read and write he breaches my soul to allows the lords of logos, the subtlest spirits of conquest, to invade and conquer: science, literature, philosophy. Spirits that don’t live out in the open air of the spoken word, but in an artificial sphere constructed by writing, a monstrous expansion of memory. All that lives, all that has been lived, turns spectral through the alphabet. It accumulates, it builds up in layers over centuries and it interposes itself with growing density between man and life, between man and man, between man and his actions.

The rain comes and goes in cycles, the tides ebb and flow, the ardor of passions wanes like the full moon and is appeased, but the growth of the written word knows no limits, the avenue of what is registered has no end, the hypertrophy of mechanized memory will require, in time, city-sized libraries, country-sized libraries, planetary libraries.

From those registers flow norms, trials, technologies, progress and the words of wisdom and poetry that say beautifully, for me, everything I would want to say, even if I say it I can only say it badly, even if I can’t say it completely and it ends up half stammered.

From those files emanates an exhaustive array of possibilities concerning every problem, the end of all suspense, the solution to captivating enigmas, an ancient fount of millenarian experience that knows all ways and end-points; but I want to play the game of life without cheating, I want to lose my way and wander, I want to fight my struggles with no rear guard and no caution, I want to die my death rather than live another’s life, a life run by others.

Science, literature, philosophy: three unextinguishable intruders entering the soul through the breach opened by the school teacher, ripping us apart wantonly, with malicious intent, with his alphabet, exploiting the vulnerability of childhood. But it would do no good to kill him, the reproductive organ of the subtler spirits of the empire reproduces itself continually and has the ever-renewed backing of academic texts and testicles, of research, explorers, map-makers, computers.

The teacher is strong, his blow astute. He turns my world into a screen, he turns my life into string of concepts, my songs into notation systems, he trades my innocence for the possibility of survival. Those who have not suffered his violence barely manage to survive within the conditions created by the empire.

And I, when I see his abominable face, sheepishly say “yes, teacher. Yes, professor. Yes, master. Yes, doctor. Yes, poet!” as I stalk him. Sunk in the shame of my defeat, smeared by mental sperm, broken and bowed, I gaze at him, I stalk him over time, even if all I can do for the moment is put thumb-tacks on his chair and water in his ink bottle.

The hills, the forests, the fields, the animals and the plants have masters, they have owners. I walk on someone else’s land, where I am tolerated as a servant; and there is no place I can call my own. With my work I barely manage to pay for the things I consume and the rent of the ones I use. I use and consume the worst there is, and even so I barely survive. All things are exchanged for money; my work as well. But the amount of money I get isn’t enough to buy the things I need. I walk around in rags and I raise sickly children fated to sell their blood.

Sometimes the masters have the faces of landowners, or bosses. I say to them “yes, master, yes boss, whatever you say, chief, right away Don Ra-amón.” But more and more often they have no face and they’re called corporation, ministry, institute, central committee, transnational corporation – I deal only with foremen or officials. It does me no good to kill the masters because their heirs come to take possession; it does me no good to kill any foremen or officials because they immediately appoint others, who could be worse; to say nothing of the punishments and reprisals.

I know my presence is repugnant to them, that I disgust them, that if they could do without my work (replacing me with machines, for instance) they would eliminate me physically, they’d exterminate me like a rat.

I walk shrunken, with my head bowed, reverent, as though I must apologize for existing on the land where my ancestors walked proud and breathd in deep the air of their world in the comfort of their homeland; but there was a combat, and they were defeated. They fought and they lost; we inherited the shame of their defeat just as they, the others, the ones from on high, those at whose mercy we serve, inherited the privileges of victory. Can we set the stage for another combat, to get our own back, an open battle, horns and all, on a brilliant day of flags and shining metal, or shall we persevere in this sordid resentment, this sabotage, this duplicity, this repressed hatred, this envy, this charade?

What we are, what we were, what we can be is not found in the memory and the hands of God, but rather in files; there must be a file on God himself. IDs, contracts, property titles, diplomas, protocols, mortgages, appointments, wills, dismissals, permissions, receipts, bills, decrees, resolutions, authorizations, sentences, letters, safe-conducts, credentials, resumes, work records, court briefs, payment rolls, black lists, bank cards, credit cards, military cards, hanging folders, memos, forms, applications, notices, citations, agreements, bulletin boards, orders (of payment, arrest, eviction) certificates (of birth, marriage, death.)

Our destiny has a face of paper, a tint of registry, a smell of drawers, the voice of a bureaucrat; its threads are ink, it flies with pens, walks with printing press feet; its house is the bureaucratic labyrinth. Can I light a fire and burn it?

I want that fire now. Violent revolution. Spilled blood. The destruction of that entire order. Break down the chains. Victory or death.

But this ardent desire makes me the victim of a new form of oppression and exploitation which adds itself cruelly to the others as it promises to suppress them: the revolutionary struggle.

To understand the mechanism of the revolutionary trap, let’s take a bird’s eye view of our society. It’s made up, first of all, of the lords, the powerful, the ones on high, the masters; let us call them whites. Second, there are those who, even if they are not masters, have varying stakes in society’s well-being, they’re the foremen, managers, teachers and professors, small businessmen, policemen, professionals: let us call them pardos. They can rise within their category, and some can even leave it to reach the ranks of the whites. Third, there’s us, that is, “the indians and the blacks”, those below and outside.

Quite often, fights break out between whites – fights between lords. Then they use us, they organize us politically or militarilly with a revolutionary ideology, with revolutionary plans, with promises of radical changes. They make us fight and when they’ve achieved their goals, when they’ve settled their white men’s scores, they get rid of us little by little through delays, deferrals, intrigues, divisions, partial rewards and, sometimes, with the help of their now reconciled adversaries.

Also quite often, ambitious pardos want to quicken their ascent within their category, they want to reach the upper echelons through extraordinary means. Then they use us, they organize us politically or militarilly with a revolutionary ideology, with revolutionary plans, with promises of radical changes. They make us fight and, when they manage to reach important positions where they can be comfortable, they distance themselves from us or keep us organized in the lower levels of reformist political parties, as clients and shock troops.

In the effort I make on behalf of this struggle I commit myself more fully than in my work in the fields, domestic service, construction or the factories; I give myself over completely, I risk everything. My wages are the illusion of triumph, that fleeting exaltation, the catharsis of the momentary assaults and its cries. But I can’t realize my longing. On the contrary, my rebelliousness is co-opted by the dynamism of the system of oppression, it serves and strengthens it. The danger I embody is only diminished and retarded by that periodic masturbation.

But they, they manage to reach their goals; not only do they keep me under control, but they channel my torrent towards their mills, they use me like a stepladder.

Revolutionary leaders mint my fury to buy themselves power. They stuff their pockets with the surplus value from that business known as the revolutionary struggle, where I exhaust my combat strength, my capacity for sacrifice, my agony. Revolutionary surplus value.

Haven’t you noticed how the revolutionary leaders are always whites or pardos? Black and indian revolutionary caudillos have always been “antelopes working for alligators.”

I’ve also seen – and I wish I hadn’t – that the revolution, when it’s carried out seriously and succeeds, brings forms of injustice and oppression even more abominable than the current ones. I’ve seen those new forms of injustice and oppression in the eyes and the words of the most sincere, hardest working, most loyal revolutionary leaders. They feel themselves messianic saviors, avatars of history; they think they know my interests, my wishes, my needs, better than I do; they don’t consult me or listen to me; they’ve struck off on their own as my representatives, as vanguards in my struggle; they are paternalist tutors; they pre-configure today that future olympus where they will make all decisions for my well-being and my progress; they’ll make the decisions and they’ll impose them on me in my name, through fire and blood in my name. I bow my head saying “yes, comrade, yes, compañero, that’s what we must do, you’re right, viva.” I play along so they don’t strike me and so they don’t get discouraged: they can produce those moments of disorder, of chaos, when the vigilance of the gendarmes slackens, when the foundations of order shake, when I can unload my rancor, my repressed fury, my hatred without punishment; after all, that sporadic relief makes up the meager wages I get from the revolutionary tumult, as I await worse days – the days of revolutionary triumph.

Nostalgia for barbarism and catastrophe

The thing is that there’s a nostalgia for the pre-Western past, a nostalgia that allies itself with the nostalgia for childhood and for paradise lost, a nostalgia – I want to return, return, return – that grows as the difficulties of today and the uncertainties about tomorrow grow.

Together with that nostalgia for the pre-Western past, there is a longing for catastrophe formulated in the story that the west will end, whether through atomic war, or any other armageddon, or ecological chaos, or massive earthquakes or astronomical accidents; expressed in the expectation of total desertion, of the irresistible aversion of Westerners towards their own culture, and in the trivial observation that in the long term the west will end because everything comes to an end. Some with impatience, others with very much patience, the hopeful nostalgics sit by the door of their pained souls expecting to see the corpse of the west and to dream for a new beginning, for the game of history to start from scratch.

They are right, in part. Evolution and progress are high-risk pursuits. The west is not shielded from some exogenous catastrophe, nor can it guarantee that its momentum will not run out. Moreover, one can be sure it will continue to transform itself, it will change, its current form will perish just as pre-Western cultures have perished.

But today’s embittered rebels fantasize like unjustly grounded children. The hated father can be run over by a train, murdered by criminals, die in a fatal duel, commit suicide; it is also true that even if no such tragedy befalls him, one day he will die and we will remain alone with the mother. But in the meantime, it is he who holds the scepter of power, the keys to its origin, the mother’s bed, and it is grand and beautiful and intensely loved.

The apocalyptic fantasy secreted by nostalgia works as evasion and consolation, but it can’t change the real situation or diminish its horror: the real isolation of a culture is, today, impossible; the west has interlinked all the regions of the planet; the food depots of big business and the cargo of heavy industry have penetrated all cultures; all cultures want to consume Western products and allow themselves to be consumed by the west. The destiny of the earth dissolves into the destiny of the west; the destruction of the west would mean the destruction of humanity.

Western progress as domination

The development plans, projects, programs and policies are expressions of the will of the west, e pluribus unum, panta hen. We recognize them right away. They can’t understand why we won’t collaborate with them, seeing how they’re meant for our benefit, they pretend not to understand our resistance. They are their plans, projects, programs and policies. We are forced laborers; since we don’t like the enterprise, we don’t take care of it, instead we sabotage it, as much as our condition of domination allows.

Dominated. Faced with the superior strength of the west, our defeated ancestors had to choose between slavery and death. Many died fighting. Others accepted servitude, they bowed, knee to the ground, they lowered their gaze to survive. It is from they that we descend, it is from they that we inherited that disgraceful love of life, greater than our love of liberty and honor. We don’t understand heroic values, we can’t comprehend how anything can be more important than life. To live on your knees is still to live, and while there’s life there’s hope. We inherited the cowardly rejection of death, but also the mischievousness, the astuteness, the long term resistance masquerading as servitude, the careful aggressiveness always ready for a coup de grace or a retreat. Dominated, but existing. We conserve our identity. We are us. Other, different from them, the dominators; such that they haven’t truly dominated us, they haven’t assimilated us, they haven’t integrated us into their being. They oppress us, repress us, compress us, depress us and squeeze us, but ultimately they can’t impress themselves upon us or suppress us. And there’s a light at the end of the tunnel. We can dream of the splendorous day when the roofs of the greenhouses will cave in and the zoo cages will burst open; the plants and animals will escape their taxonomies; all machines will start their long, slow return to their home in mother earth and through the broken fragments of conceptual buildings we will see the growth of myth and song liberated.

The fourfold path (rebellion-submission-astuteness-return to the home country) and the way of walking

My rejection of the west has followed a fourfold path

First: open rebelion. As a “black”, “indian”, and “zambo” I’ve recurred, throughout the history of Latin America, to risings, to armed revolt, assault, confrontation on an open battlefield with no rear guard and no caution. I’ve been decimated and defeated. In some regions I’ve been physically exterminated. But this path is and will always be open. Those who propose our death and organize expeditions to destroy us act lucidly: so long as we exist there’ll be the threat of violent rising.

Second: submission. By accepting a lord and master one affirms one’s existence, one’s difference through servitude, guaranteeing one’s cultural identity and safeguarding the channels of creativity. Hegel missed this harmonic variant in his master/slave dialectic, even though history is strewn with examples of it.

The last two hundred years, marked by ideologies and wars of “liberation”, have obscured the fact that the master-slave relationship is not always and necessarily disgraceful. The good master and the good slave have been forgotten. The good slave accepts his lot without rancor and without any sense of sacrifice or injustice; he longs not for the advantages of the master, he wouldn’t know what to do with them, he has other tastes. The good master respects the slave’s culture, his idiosyncrasy, his creativity, he recognizes him as other, he doesn’t butt into his private life and he doesn’t mistreat him.

The master-slave relationship, and the consequent stratification of society, may be in the future – it already has been in the past at various times and places – the most adequate solution to the problem of coexistence in society. These days the clamor of the ideologists and propagandists of equality, the agitation for democracy, hides the virtues of slavery; but he who wants to truly know the reality of this world must dare to look beyond the prejudices of his century. In pre-columbine America, in Africa, Asia, in Europe itself there were successful and satisfactory forms of servitude, far superior as a form of coexistence to the gulag or the worker-owner relationship, whether the owner comes in the guise of a private business or a socialist state.

I must recognize, however, that our good slaves often have not found the good masters needed to build a successful system of servitude on a society-wide level. But they doggedly seek him and at times they find him, at least as an individual solution. There’s nothing exceptional about the loyal maid, who’s like part of the family; the noble farm-hand, who you can depend on always, onto death, even without if you don’t pay him; the devoted and efficient secretary, who remains a celibate spinster through love of her boss, willing to give him her savings and even help him with his erotic adventures; the volunteer body-guard, loyal and sleepless watch-dog, untouchable, undoubting. Isn’t there something profoundly human, moving, beautiful in all of this?

The good slave is anti-Western because he rejects the work-salary nexus. The good master is anti-Western because he prefers the loyalty-protection nexus, but these terms are poor, insufficient to sketch out the relationship. The good master is like a good shepherd, the good shepherd looks lovingly over his sheep; he will gives his life for them.

In our violent uprisings, one of the motivations is the longing, the painful nostalgia for the good master, the absence of that hard, soothing, paternal shelter, of that trusted destination that the Western world has only limpid and inefficient substitutes for, cancerous placebos called political leader, revolutionary leader, manager, commissary, dean, congressman…

We are not impressed by the mean-spirited Western slander against slavery; we understand that the path of submission to a good master is not sterile but bountiful for our survival and actualization, so we seek it with indefatigable tenacity.

It was necessary to write at length on this much-maligned path. These days anyone can understand rebelliousness, because it’s fashionable. Only a chosen few understand submission. Believing themselves free and rebellious, most assiduously serve unworthy masters.

Third: Rise within the ranks and false assimilation. A poor animist, lost in a strange society and subjected to its laws, its dynamics, its mechanisms, I’ve decided to appropriate it for myself, to take it from the inside.

As a pardo, accepting whitening and transculturation, in fact actively seeking it, I slowly penetrate the entire structure of that society, I rise little by little through all its strata.

And I’ve achieved noteworthy results. At the top, more than a few blond heads of hair have been curled by me. My hands, long and flexible, very flexible (I can bend my joints over backwards) sign decrees in the centers of power. From the depths of blue eyes I inspect (I inspect, note it carefully, I inspect) important public works. I’ve definitively imposed my very own hip and shoulder movements throughout the dance floors. I set the agenda for a thousand meetings, and I make sure they aren’t followed in nine hundred and eighty two. I set stains and double over figures in the works of painters. I enthusiastically embrace the ideas of the Europeans, I bring them so close to my heart, I make them so mine that they can’t recognize them when they see them again. In the poems the poets write you find my rhythms, my cadences. I inhabit the literary forms of the west as lord and master, I turn them into latrines. I sneak also into the labs – look at me in my white coat – and I make scientific discoveries, inventions, I the animist appropriating the society where I am lost, from the inside, all the while remaining myself, without allowing myself to be assimilated. I imprint a new sense on that culture, on that society, without destroying it. I imprint my sense on that enormous, alien machinery that imprisoned me in a trap and can now become a vehicle for my soul. I, son of the traitor, son of the slave, son of a whore, loosening the shackles, changing around the measures, redistributing the materials, until I manage to turn my straightjacket into a suit, a suit suitable to the freedom of my movement, to my natural elegance.

Brother of all or nothing, humble brother, pure brother, do not judge harshly that transitory contamination. It is a form of appropriation. The house I conquer is also for you.

Fourth: Return to the home country. I want to return to my origins. I want to return, return, return. I undertake my return riding on songs, scientific studies, on board secret magical rituals handed down to me by my ancestors, pushing forth political projects. In the house of the father, work and bread, even when bitter, are sweet because they are ours. Enough exile. Let us abandon that metallic womb to these foreign cities. Let us part.

Towards the east. The home country where the sun rises. Hence we were brought over by force. May we now complete, voluntarily, the return journey, enriched by several centuries worth of experience. Let us bring stories and exotic gifts to the elephants and gazelles. Let us bring weapons to the old gods. Crystal balls for the dawn.

Towards the west. The home country where the sun sets. Hence we came in multicolored canoes. Let us return with the sun, to scatter among the islands and the coral reefs until night brings us the rest of depth.

Downward. From every point in the compass, countering winds and currents our voyage is towards the earth, hence we came, from which we are made up. Village. Hamlet. Cattle. Field. Home country. The jungles, the prairies; the coasts, the mountains; the rivers big and small. Maize and yuca. Tapir and llama. The jaguar. Towards the clay and the place we were kneaded, towards the home and the hearth where the vessel of our soul was forever shaped.

Backwards. Towards the past. Let us sail against the current of time, or invert it. Each year, each generation, has taken us farther from the source. The home country is located back before the bayonet. Towards the islands of primordial reality that history has not dragged and corrupted, towards the unblemished relatives. I will say to them, “we have returned. We are your brothers. May the ties that bound us to illusions and lies burn. We return naked. Welcome us.”

Upwards. The home country shines beyond the clouds, in the Presence. Hence we fell. Hence came the instructors. Hence shall come our succor. Hence come the gods when we invoke them. Let us prepare our return: all that is not light is a burden. Let us concentrate our longing and our will so we do not backslide or lose our way among the clouds.

Forward. The home country lies in the future. We have no homeland, we are not yet born. The home country is a burning desire and a project, not a memory. We exist as potential, we seek our arrival. Radically foreign, foreign in all worlds, we must engender our world. What is the womb, when is the birth? Everything is foreign, nothing belongs to us. We are not heirs, but we are and we must give being. To future. Let us future the home country. Let us world. Let us ancestor.

The fourfold path is the sphere of my rejection and my assertion. Rebelliousness, submission, astuteness and nostalgia are its four dimensions and they guarantee its availability. And so, my way of walking is not pathetic except in extreme situations, and only for a short while; in general, it’s a joyful strut, a festive, humorous, playful walk. A profound seriousness based in the radical, mortal seriousness of my situation which makes everything else lose seriousness and then that radical, mortal seriousness itself becomes funny. I’m left only with symbolic objects. I can shuffle, switch, bewitch. I am the master of formlessness. My ultimate weapon, perhaps my only real weapon, is laughter, so boisterous at times that it can soften the ire of destiny, so understated at times that you see it only as a small thunder in the depths of my eyes.

Seismic doubt and its antidote

There is, however, a seismic doubt, a doubt that shakes me sometimes, that blunts my laughter, that darkens the depths of my eyes: the possibility that the west may be, if not the end-point of humanity, at least a necessary stage in human development, necessary if transitory; the possibility that the west may be the necessary stage of human development in our times, that we shall all have to Westernize to go forward, that today the choice given us is between Westernness and stagnation, or perhaps between Westernness and chaos.

But when I’m shaken by this doubt I pull myself together telling myself that, if that’s the case, I would choose stagnation and chaos. I feel myself whole again and sharpen my laughter again thinking of heterodox or banned currents and coherences. Then, once again, lightning zigzags through my eyes.


As far as residences go, I’m proud to have many. I live not only in the “indians” and the “blacks” and the pardos of every skin tone, but also the mantuanos and the rationalist whites and, most particularly, those who hate me and persecute me in others because they cannot extricate me from their own hearts.

I don’t want to exercise power continuously. I’m content to take it by storm, suddenly, paralyze some actions, introduce some perturbances, dazzle with flashing revelations, and then retreat to my stalking grounds, where I revel in my visceral existence, digest my venom and lick my wounds.

Final screed

The non-Western in Latin America feels closer to the lizards and the rocks than to European rationalism. It is unstable, rough, omnipresent. It claims unjustifiable license with the language to make plays on words that are not just innecessary but ugly and incorrect. It happily contradicts itself. Are we facing another mask? Couldn’t all of this hide something more terrible and flammable than a defense of cultural identity, something deeper than cultural differences? Doesn’t it express with symbolic ambiguity something less respectable and more dangerous than the rebelliousness of the oppressed? May not those strings be pulled by some unnamed, frightful will?


But we would then enter, if not into the ineffable, at least into the unwritable.

There are secrets that can only be revealed in the integral communion of two friends during some form of drunkenness, but such experiences leave only imprecise memories. Or between two enemies in the lucidity of hand-to-hand combat onto death or orgasm.

Beyond that abyss, however, we can say without ambages: we are western, cómo no.

Caracas Chronicles is 100% reader-supported. Support independent Venezuelan journalism by making a donation.


  1. Very interesting indeed. It reminds me somewhat of Octavio Paz’ book “The Other Mexico: Critique if the Pyramid, which I think is better known among Anglos. This book is out of print, it seems, and that’s a shame.

    • The chapter on the European Rationalist Discourse is in some ways just as good. Parts of it are just a little bit dated, but other parts read like an X-Ray of my soul. It was scary as shit reading it, really.

      BTW, I think in 2006 or 7 the book was republished in its original form – as three stand-alone short-volumes. I think it should be easy-ish to get in Caracas…

      • Tu juras.
        I’ve been looking for this book for an insourmountable amount of time in brm, val & ccs with no success.
        Good luck finding a copy.

        • You are just about right. I bought the last copy for a Cuban friend this afternoon, in a “Librería del Sur”… a forgotten one they had… they didn’t even had the price! I had to wait for the employee in charge to call MonteÁvila, until they “charged” that last copy into their inventory, and a little more until the price got into the system… About 45 minutes looking at awful titles like “Qué es el Kirchnerismo” and other beautiful stuff…

          It’s Out of Print. It won’t be reprinted… por ahora…

          Go to a library and get it copied… Maybe there is a surviving volume in some “out of the way” “Librería del Sur” in Caicara del Orinoco or in Tapipa… MonteÁvila hasn’t paid the printers they use since 2009… so no way it will be reprinted soon. La Universidad de los Andes is editing his selected works, but, so far, they’ve only got the first volume out… and there’s only one of the three essays there… I know. I spent the day looking for the book today…

  2. Reading that 2007 post was very informative. It seems to me this fellow is really quite underappreciated in the Anglosphere, at least. It’s a long time since I was in grad school, but I don’t remember him being assigned even in the courses which required Spanish for Latin American studies. That seems really a pity.

    • It really is too bad. I mean, it’s crazy but even today the only translation to English of his work is the one in this post!

      I can sort of understand it because, well, after 1981 his work took a turn to the obscure. Very obscure. His fiction in the 80s and 90s is totally impenetrable. I mean, if you know Latin and Greek very well you may be able to make sense of it, but I certainly can’t.

      He really shut himself off from participating in public intellectual life after that point. Which goes hand-in-hand with the character I met in Paris that one day: he’s not at all interested in being a “public intellectual” – somebody the newspapers interview and people refer to in discussing public affairs. It’s just not his style. The one policy idea I’ve seen him advocate in the rare occasions when he’s interviewed is a screwball call to teach all Venezuelan schoolchildren at least one indigenous language alongside Spanish, as a way – I guess – to reconnect with aspects of our identity too long repressed by the Manutano and European Rationalist Discourses. It’s a beguiling idea but, obviously, totally eccentric and not really applicable.

      I don’t think that matters to him that much. Briceño Guerrero’s just a guy who wrote a staggeringly powerful book in 1979-1981, and then moved on to other pursuits. Hey, that’s his prerogative, right?

      • Maybe because it is only powerful to those inclined to believe what he is saying? I actually find it to be in line with much early 20th century Venezuelan thought, the kind of Romulo Gallego, Uslar Pietri-type cultural explanations for Venezuela’s economic problems. This just doesn’t fly in development studies today, and for good reason, because what it boils down to is a kind of racism.

          • Funny how Toro loves to play the intellectual philosopher type…. but just until his theories are shown for what they really are… then he collapses back into childishness again. Could it be his “Savage Discourse” taking over? Or is this more of the Mantuano type of thing? Jeez, I’m confused….

          • GAC you are NOT showing anyone anything, you say Guerrero’s theories are racist and yet you don’t explain how or what other explanation there is, you will go back to blaming the IV or some other stupid thing… I am so fed up with you… what a waste of bits everything you write…

          • No, I am showing that I don’t think is worth engaging with you, I rather share my ideas with other commenters on this blog. You are simply a nuisance I have to accept because I like the blog and the other readers, tu eres simplemente como un moscon dando vueltas y vueltas con ese ruido tan fastidioso pero no tienes la habilidad para causar nada mas que breve irritacion…

          • “Of course its not worth engaging when you have no argument. That’s why all you can do is insult.”

            Sort of like discarding someone’s theory because it sounds “racist.”

          • Nope. That’s called engaging a theory, and drawing conclusions about it based on what it implies: that some societies have not advanced due to an inferior culture.

            In order to do what you, Toro, and Moraima are doing, I’d just sling insults at Briceño Guerrero, and not actually engage anything he’s saying.

          • I am engaging what was included in this post, as is everyone else. But nice attempt at disqualifying my interpretations because you don’t like them.

            Ad hominem means you attack the person instead of attacking what they are saying. Nowhere have I attacked Briceño Guerrero as a person. I’ve simply responded to what he’s saying. You, on the other hand, have done exactly the opposite.

            Congratulations on being the most hypocritical and pathetic commenter here.

            Y con respecto a mi español, debe ser que no lo hablo después de vivir años en Venezuela. Solo un idiota completa diría eso, especialmente cuando aquí mismo he hecho referencia a autores como Gallegos y Uslar Pietri… La diferencia es que no todos nos creemos gran cosa por poder hablar otra lengua… pajúo…

            Ou se você quiser, podemos falar em português…

            So eat shit Juan, you aren’t so special because you speak two languages.

          • Jaja, ahora borraste tu comentario. ¿Por qué será Juan? ¿Te diste cuenta que habías dicho una estupidez? Ay, pero el habla y lee en español y por eso se cree gran vaina. Más patético imposible.

          • Borré mi comentario porque me di cuenta que no tenía razón y que tú si. El tema de si BG es o no racista es un punto válido. Por favor deja las vulgaridades.

          • I said that kind of thought doesn’t fly in development studies today. Did you want to actually engage what I said?

  3. This is an interesting theory, Toro. But in the end I think you’d have a hard time explaining how it doesn’t come down to a racist explanation for underdevelopment. If I am not misinterpreting this, it sounds like what he is trying to say is that Latin America is the way it is (underdeveloped), because of a constant conflict between these three discourses.Yes, that’s a gross simplification, but essentially that’s what he’s saying.

    But then the question arises: why were other societies able to overcome the legacies of their history and rise above the cultural factors that held them back? Or are Latin America’s cultural factors just much more difficult to overcome? And if that is the case, you are basically saying that Latin America is underdeveloped because it has an inferior culture. And its not a very feasible explanation either, given that the global South suffers from nearly identical economic problems, yet with a wide range of vastly different cultures.

    • Yes, this book says that culture is to blame to a large extent, but at no point does it trivialize oppression. The more I learn about the world and history the more culture seems important. Why are all the indebted countries in the EU catholic? Why are all the confusian countries so organized? Why are 99% of african presidents feudalist? Why are latin-american and caribbean countries so violent in peace-time?
      Obviously, culture is influenced by and influences oppression, imperialism etc, which should not be ignored. But to ignore culture is just blind.
      By the way, thanks to this blog I discovered and read the book, which revisits my thinking everyday here in Caracas, and it also taught me so much about my own culture. Like it was mentioned above, the sections on Europe are brilliant.
      GAC, do you think the japanese would be where they were today if they screamed racism? No, they analyzed their culture, found problems, and fixed them. Everytime I play PS3 I’m so thankful for that 🙂

      • So capitalist development took root in Japan because they “analyzed their culture, found problems, and fixed them”??

        The question you then have to answer is why haven’t Africa, Latin America, and a good part of Asia done that too? Are they less capable than the Japanese? They Japanese as a “race” are somehow more capable of fixing their errors than others?

        What you have brewing there is a racist explanation.

        • The question you are asking is the correct one. Why haven’t LatAm, Africa and other Asian countries done it too? Well, I did not mention race anywhere. In Europe’s case I would doubt very much that a genetic racial difference between Catholic and non-Catholic Europe accounts for the cultural difference, given the mix and sharing of the European gene-pool.
          Yes, LatAm, Africa and South-Asia have been less capable that the Japanese, because those cultures are different, as well as their historical trajectories. Not being Briceno Guerrero, it is a bit hard to precisely explain this, but I will give it a try.
          Africa: the feudal aspect of society was never successfully challenged and subdued. LatAm: oppression and cultural genocide (against indigeneous peoples and africans) and abuse has obstructed the development of the nation as a positive collective worth sacrificing for. South-east Asia: I don’t really know this region too well. India: Caste-thinking obstructs collective rational development.
          If you take off your racism-fear glasses you will see that history consistently supports my argument. I’ve been to Africa several times and studied two African languages. I don’t believe in the superiority of race or culture, but I do believe in the useful of certain cultural concepts to achieve certain common goals in society, and history proves me right. This is the protestant-capitalist era. A culture which successfully aligns with that prospers. I don’t think it is the end of history, but it is where we are now.

          • An interesting book is Jared Diamond’s, Collapse: How Societies Succeed or Fail. He attributes the success of Japan to none other than sensible forestry practices. Similarly Haiti and the Dominican Republic are distinguished. Worth a read. No obscurantist hocus pocus.

          • “I don’t believe in the superiority of race or culture, but I do believe in the useful of certain cultural concepts to achieve certain common goals in society”

            You don’t believe in the superiority of race or culture, you just believe that some cultures and races were more capable of “achieving certain common goals”. In other words, some cultures are more capable, meaning others are less capable.

            You are arguing exactly what you claim you aren’t arguing. Indeed, we’ll all have to take off our “racism-fear glasses” if we’re going to understand this….. because its racist.

          • “If you take off your racism-fear glasses you will see that history consistently supports my argument.”

            The funny thing is that history doesn’t support your argument at all. East Asia and the Middle East were the most developed parts of the world only a few centuries ago. Then a great divergence occurred less than 200 years ago in which a few Western countries (and Japan) suddenly excelled past the rest.

            Are we supposed to believe that those cultures of the Middle East and Asia were superior 300 years ago, but suddenly inferior 200 years ago?? I’d suggest studying a bit more history before declaring victory and saying “history proves me right”.

          • Like I already mentioned, we are currently in the protestant-capitalist era (although possibly transforming into the start of post-scarcity). In this era, the Middle East and East Asia were left in part by the productive capacity of capitalism, and the failure to implement it. Do those cultures still have valuable cultural contributions to make? In my eyes yes.
            Of course some cultures are on average superior to other culture when you look on a specific aspect of achievement. If you cannot see that we could just as well dismiss sociology, anthropology and any other study of groups as worthless, because in your eyes all culture is irrelevant beyond taste. I worked in a company with a lot of German engineers, and I was really impressed by how they value discipline and how that helped their work, so I guess that makes me a racist against Norwegians.
            When you stop studying history from a resentment/looser/apologist/vulgar-leftist Galeano perspective, and start looking for solutions you might actually learn something useful to help the people (which I am sure you believe you want). Do you think it was easy for Japan to embrace Western values and political ideas? No, it was extremely traumatic. Same with China. But, if you ask the Chinese or the Japanese today, the huge majority of them would say that it was a good thing that their governments incorporated some useful cultural and political constructs from the West.

          • “Like I already mentioned, we are currently in the protestant-capitalist era (although possibly transforming into the start of post-scarcity). In this era, the Middle East and East Asia were left in part by the productive capacity of capitalism, and the failure to implement it.”

            You aren’t saying anything here. The question is if this was due to cultural differences, or if was due to other factors. Simply saying “this is the protestant-capitalist era” doesn’t say anything about why some societies excelled past others (not to mention many of those who excelled weren’t protestant).

            “If you cannot see that we could just as well dismiss sociology, anthropology and any other study of groups as worthless”

            The funny thing is that these disciplines dismissed these kinds of cultural explanations for divergent development a long time ago.

            ” in your eyes all culture is irrelevant beyond taste.”

            Nope, just irrelevant for explaining divergent development outcomes.

            “Do you think it was easy for Japan to embrace Western values and political ideas? No, it was extremely traumatic. Same with China.”

            You are assuming that “embracing Western values” is what led to their development. But it patently isn’t, given even the most cursory evaluation of the Japanese Meiji period, or the current period in China for that matter. Neither of them embraced “western values” or “political ideas” any more than Latin American countries. In fact, Latin America’s political systems are drastically more “Western” than Meiji Japan, or China today.

          • So you claim culture is “irrelevant for explaining divergent development outcomes”. According to you, what IS relevant? Imperialist oppresion and degree of statism? Take this graph (world values survey) and put it next to an HDI graph or similar and tell me it is all coincidence? Why is it that Norway, which was a dirt-poor colony until 1905, today shares basically the same development level as it’s colonizer Denmark, Germany (completely destroyed in 1945, then rebuilt), the Netherlands (ex-colonial power) and Australia (warm climate, ex-colony)? Protestant culture beneficially aligned these countries with capitalism. Note that I did not claim that any westernization would achieve the same. LatAm is pretty western in a lot of senses, but key aspects of the society and culture have not been aligned.
            I don’t claim culture is the only factor of development, and culture itself merges into economy, social structure etc. If there has been one huge failure in development thinking it has been to not take culture into account.
            I did not claim that all societies that suceeded were protestant, I am talking about compatibiity (e.g. Confusian cultures have shown to be more compatible with Capitalism).
            China first embraced communism (ultra-European), then capitalism (ultra-Western). Yes, they maintain a lot of non-Western culture, but go to Beijing and see traditional Chinese architecture be replaced by skyscrapers (an ultra-Western construction) all over the place, and tell me that is not the result of Westernization.
            The Meiji period in Japan crucially included the introduction of Western-style representative democracy, the industrial revolution, Western-style constitution etc.
            It is not possible to absolutely prove the correlation between culture and development, but that does not mean it is not useful to see it as likely. Africa tried both communism and capitalism but a feudal power culture always prevailed. GAC, please answer why do you think that is?
            The temperature influence on culture thesis is interesting. The fact that Australia is a warm country does not change that it’s culture arose in a cold climate.
            GAC, I challenge you to not just critize my arguments, but also tell us, that if culture is irrelevant what REALLY is?

          • You wasted a lot of words trying to prove wrong something that I never said. On the other hand, I’m enjoying watching your explanations get dumber and dumber. Now we’re supposed to believe that China has adopted Western values because they have skyscrapers. But I heard they also eat rice in Europe. Could it be Europe has adopted “asian values”???

            Since you’ve finally asked, what really is relevant is agriculture. Arthur Lewis explained this decades ago. Countries that underwent agricultural revolutions and dramatically increased agricultural productivity are the ones that developed, industrialized, and entered into a process of sustained growth. Those that didn’t continued with the same problems of low productivity that plague Latin America, Africa and parts of Asia still today. Agricultural revolutions occurred in places where land became highly commodified.. you can read Polanyi or Marx for descriptions of how this happened in Western Europe.

            It has virtually nothing to do with culture for the very reason that where it happened it was mostly a mistake. It was not in the immediate interests of anyone for land to become commodified. But it came about accidentally, first in England and later in a few other countries, and created this tremendous revolution in agricultural productivity.

          • Of course agriculture is relevant, but which cultures have managed to convert agricultural productivity into industrialization? Confusian and Western countries predominantly.

          • But you missed the point. Not all Western countries have been able to do so, and those that did succeed did so largely because of historical accidents. The fundamental basis for the agricultural revolutions in 18th Century Europe was not in the interests of anyone, and in fact both peasants and lords under feudalism fought against the changes that led to land markets. In other words, attributing it to culture is just completely false. The changes happened DESPITE the efforts and desires of the population, not BECAUSE of them.

          • All Western (European plus predominantly anglo-protestant countries) and Confusian which did not turn to Communism managed to industrialize (and most Communist countries also, in their inefficient way), and China did it after leaving behind fundamentalist statism. Industrialization challenged and changed existing culture yes, and culture was not the sole factor and maybe not even the main factor, and often resisted industrialization, but there were profound values and behavioural patterns and values that helped and permitted the process of industrialization (a lot of them especially strong in protestant and Confusian cultures), and certain cultural traits strongly obstaculize industrialization. I know this is very general, and although not perfect I will try to mention a trait I think is central (don’t have time right now to write as much as I would like). For example, the somewhat wilful subordination of the individual to the laws or traditions of the greater Society (not just the Family) in benefit of the greater good. Granted, this trust did not exist in pre-industrial protestant societies (and less in non-protestant societies), but what did exist was the subordination to follow gods laws beyond what you would benefit from and not just punished for not doing. This is not horribly precise, but it if you visit protestant and catholic European countries you can clearly perceive a different perception of lawfulness, and even more so in a lot of non-European, non-Confusian cultures. Also, it might very well be that protestantism developed to a strong economic growth factor after industrialization began, and not served as a cause.

            But in any case, the relations between Western culture and industrialization in no way denies that there are obstacles in Venezuelan culture to industrialization. The universal or almost universal resistance of some collections of cultures to industrialize is clear, even if the exact relationship between the culture and that resistance is hard to prove, and a lot of other factors are at play.

          • Ho ho
            Very original from your part, you could cite the author of “your” theory at least : Andre Gunder Frank ReOrient: Global Economy in the Asian Age
            Are you capable of answering anything without another question????

          • This discussion is about Briceño Guerrero’s theory. Not about any other theory that I may or may not support.

            Gunder Frank is a dependency theorist, which in my mind was proven wrong in the debate of the 1970s.

          • Oh really?
            Gunder Frank a dependency theorist? I know you know because you cited his work as if you were so clever to reach that conclusion on your own
            Very smart.

          • I’m beginning to see your logic, Get a clue, it’s analogous to anyone expressing an opinion different to yours gets called stupid…

          • Actually I haven’t called anyone stupid. But if you can’t add anything to the discussion, just don’t comment.

          • Well, maybe not “stupid”, but if your read the following, they are all quotes from your comments in just three posts; they seem to point to stupid, or idiot, or something:

            …, try to use your brain a little.

            Holy Christ, I find it hard to believe that people like … even exist…

            You should just stick to ad hominem to begin with, because your arguments are idiotic.

            Nice work genius.

            Anyone who says “I don’t know if capitalism is bad for the environment” is clearly clueless.

            Its all pretty infantile.

            Once again, you’re wrong. This must be some kind of world record for being wrong the most times in a short period of time.

            So, once again, you are full of shit.

            Wrong again genius:

            Do you enjoy getting everything ass backwards? Or is this just a bad day for you?

            Anyone with a brain can see it, and anyone with a brain can see that you are incapable of recognizing basic facts.

            Everything you’ve said here so far today has been proven wrong. You have zero credibility.

            Let’s be clear here. You’re an idiot.

            you’re just a simple idiot.

            This argument is so stupid I shouldn’t even waste my time.

            I’d suggest you do less commenting on blogs, and do more studying.

            So it is completely idiotic to say …

            Once again, your arguments are retarded and backwards. I can honestly say that I am now stupider for having read them.

            You oppo-hacks are killing it here today!

            Maybe you’re the asshole?

            Well, you ARE showing everyone something: that you have no argument.

          • Funny, nearly all of these things were taken from other threads. And in the ones that were taken from this thread I’m not calling anyone stupid.

            So, thanks for proving yourself wrong.

            But really Torres, if you can’t actually discuss the topic at hand, just don’t say anything at all. You’re just wasting everyone’s time trying to discredit me because you can’t actually refute my argument.

          • Well, you did say that something JCN posted was “una estupidez”…

            Like I said, you may not be using the word “stupid”, but you are pointing to it by certainly using synonyms and it’s definitions, and only because people disagree with your opinion.

          • So now I’m using “synonyms and it’s [sic] definitions”??

            Once again Torres, its clear you have no argument.

          • No, Get a clue, not now, when you made those other comments. 😉

            So, now you don’t count estupidez as a way of using the word stupid?

        • I haven’t read the book , and for what it’s worth, I didn’t even know about its existence. It always bothered me the fact that we were lacking this sort of intelectual engagement. For what I read in the blog, this work is even much more complicated than the most compicated parts of “El Laberinto de la Soledad”, a work still widely prized on Latin American circles both in the States and in UK. So negligence is the only word that fits its absence from specialised shelves.
          Having said that, what it troubles me about your comments is your lack of respect towards the author of the blog but yet, you are able to claim Moraima’s only capability is to insult. Furthermore, you discharge “a priori” the book’s thesis as racist, and at the same time your only engagement is a sort of shallow counterargument in which you answer with a question. This is your typical counter:
          “So capitalist development took root in Japan because they “analyzed their culture, found problems, and fixed them”??”
          No argument whatsoever, just a disdainful explanation below as to achieve mockery. And an even shallower explanation “the question you then have to answer…”
          So let me guess what your line of argument is; the guy spent his time writing a piece of scholar racism, but your biggest engagement so far is to put a picture of the author next to Chavez…
          I’ve got the impression that you prefer to loiter in Caracas Chronicles than wasting your time in Aporrea. If that is the case, do us a favour and limit yourself to say something worth a reply

          • Calling a person’s theory “racist” doesn’t imply a failure to engage the thesis. Rather, it is a conclusion that I’ve drawn after reading and engaging what Toro posted above.

            The logical response to me calling it “racist” would be for you to tell me why you think it is not racist. This is what it means to debate about something. Instead, you all prefer to attack and insult me.

            Fine by me. It just shows that you have no argument.

          • Lo más cómico es que los argumentos no me brotan por la piel. He dicho un solo argumento aquí, pero aún así no has podido responder. El argumento es que la teoría es racista debido a que intenta explicar el subdesarrollo de algunos país con decir que tienen una cultura inferior. Los insultos simplemente demuestran tu falta de respuestas.

          • What???
            Can you underline where your argument is? Because I have read the whole comments section and I haven’t found it..
            You said is racist. Full stop.
            The only moment in which you said something similar to an answer, you cited Gunder Frank theory of Asia as the heart of the global economy previous the Atlantic era, and therefore, after the decline of Atlantic empires.

          • I cannot engage your “argument” because simply there is no such a thing.
            Rather than limiting your wise intelect on the question of why the book’s argument is racist, you should enlighten us as to why we are fucked then.

          • “El argumento es que la teoría es racista debido a que intenta explicar el subdesarrollo de algunos país con decir que tienen una cultura inferior.”

          • Let’s see, I have read but what it is in the blog, I don’t particularly think that that suffices to paint the whole story about the book. I’ll try to get the book in Caracas and read it, then I will open my mouth.
            Stop snailing everyone in the blog, and visit your brainless pals in aporrea
            Los comunistas deben estar rezando el rosario de las tres por el coma andante…

      • Paal,

        I completely agree with you. As I said in other comment, culture is not the only cause, but it is a very important cause. I believe we are were we are because we really don’t understand our culture.

        I think we have a design issue. How we designed our institutions. Our institutions are working against us. Our institutions, social contracts, etc, should be designed in a way that our good traits such as joy, creativity, entrepreneurship, etc thrive and our negative traits are held in check (like paternalistic needs, lack of trust in others, etc.).

        I see opportunities everyday for improving both process and institutions.

    • Get a Clue, you come up with a correlation and assume a causation. The only reason for jumping to race conclusions if you are thinking in racist terms, making you the racist. Personally, I think weather is one of the greater of several factors. Nations with winter tend to force cultures to develop differently.

      • Yes, which is why Russia is so much more developed than Australia, for example. I can tell you’ve put a lot of thought into this.

        Anytime one says that a certain country has not been able to develop due to cultural reasons, you are saying that their culture is somehow deficient, or inferior to other cultures. You may try to frame it in non-racist terms, but in the end you are blaming it on the people, the way they act, the way they think, etc. It is hard to not see that as at least “racially tinged” as Bill Bass puts it down below.

        Of course, the larger problem with that argument is that there are dozens of countries among the global South that suffer from very similar economic problems, yet have vastly different cultures.

        • Russia and all it’s eastern European colonies had it’s development partially arrested by Communism. Culture and Weather is not the only factor, but there are strong indications that they are factors.

          • There are strong indicators that have no idea what you are talking about. Communism did not come to Russia until after 1917, and one could argue it took years to actually take root. By 1917, Western European countries like England were already massively more developed and industrialized than Russia.

            The fact that you think weather is a part of the explanation only further demonstrates how clueless you are. Even your buddy Mayke recognized that down below.

          • Culture is important, so is technology, climate, famines, wars, etc. Underdevelopment is probably a multivariate result, in which culture plays a big part. There are many dependencies and through history, for a certain nation, culture played a big role, in a similar culture maybe a war, and in the example you give, it was very likely technology development. England when ahead by quite a bit by developing the steam engine and other types of mechanisms.

            It is funny how you would complain about ad hominem comments? No one does that more than you.

          • ok…im calling bullshit on you….obviously u have a lack of historical background in your curriculum to make this last statement…fact: between 1750 and 1920 (ish) Russia was “THE” place to go for wealthy people from western Europe…its arts and entertainment :dance, poetry, painting…were the envy and the delight of Europe…its authors and philosophers were quoted far and wide. the culture and mystique of its countryside and people were explored and sampled at every opportunity. its education systems and libraries were incredibly advanced compared to western Europe (thanks in large part to Catherine the great)….it was the communist influence post 1920’s that destroyed what had been up until that point a vibrant and growing culture. the whole “winter” issue also has the utmost importance in the discussion bcause it was this seasonal change which forced agriculture and other industries to plan ahead and “make hay while the sun shone)
            do some research…and get a clue b4 u flap ur useless pie hole

          • Mike,

            Development is not typically measured by arts and entertainment, poetry or painting. Nor is it measured in education systems or libraries.

            Development economists typically measure it in terms of GDP per capita, and by that measure Russia was far behind Western Europe throughout the 1800s.


            Next time you want to “call bullshit”, you should be sure you know what you’re talking about.

          • Russia was not Europe’s most developed country in 1917, you are correct. But it did develop quite a lot under Communism despite it’s problems today. The difference in development level between similar countries who were either capitalist or communist becomes apparent. E.g. Finland vs Estonia (although Estonia is improving a lot in some segments lately), Finland and Sweden vs the rest of the baltics, East Germany vs West Germany, Austria vs Hungary. Outside of Europe we could mention North vs South Korea. I said “partially arrested” because Communism did bring some important benefits, for all it’s flaws and bloodshed. Of course it is counter-factual history to talk about what Russia could have been, but the development tendencies both during Communism and in neighbouring non-Communist Western countries suggest that Russia does not deny the Weather thesis (which I agree is not a total thesis).

            In the end, I am not saying culture is all or weather is all, main crop cultivated in the country is all, and looking for one single model or explanation is not useful or correct. But I believe there are sufficient indications to take culture into account when planning for further development of developing and even industrialized countries.

        • Get a Clue, In Australia there were factors that made up for what the weather did not, for example, the more extreme survival conditions.

          By the way, pointing out differences in culture does not imply superiority. That’s in your head. Also, you seem to think culture and race are interchangeable. They’re not, which means you’re the one who has race in your head. Finally, going from distinguishing between cultures and race does not make culturist nor racist, for those one would have to be prejudging persons based on their culture or race, which is very distinct from making judgement of the culture or the race itself.

          You need to get a clue.

          • “By the way, pointing out differences in culture does not imply superiority. That’s in your head.”

            It certainly implies superiority if you are claiming that one society’s culture is what has allowed it to prosper, while another society’s culture is what has kept it mired in poverty. One is clearly superior than the other because it has brought prosperity.

            You are right that culture and race are not interchangeable, and blaming it all on culture does is not necessarily racist. But, like I said above, it certainly has a racist tinge given that you are blaming underdevelopment on how people act, think, behave, etc. It makes it sound like you are saying some people just aren’t as good as others, in that they just can’t seem to figure out how to create prosperity, where others have.

          • We are claiming that one culture is better than another one only in that one culture is more prone to have economic success. Yes, this is superiority, but it’s only superiority in one dimension which is economic development. There are more factors on which to evaluate a country’s culture other than economic success.

          • Yes, but its not just economic success. It is also about building institutions in general, the capacity to focus on the deeper problems at hand (which is what Briceño Guerrero alludes to), the capacity to adopt a well-functioning political system, the capacity to make reforms, the capacity to overcome history and “analyze the problems and fix them” as Paal says up above.

            When it comes down to it, you’re saying that one culture is vastly inferior to another on all these fronts. Call it what you want, but to me that borders on racism.

            But even if you don’t think its racist, its not even a feasible explanation. As I’ve said above, the economic problems that Venezuela suffers from are also present in dozens of other countries across the world, with vastly different cultures. And those countries that have undergone development also have vastly different cultures and institutions. Racist or not, its just not a very viable theory.

          • I hate talking about personal achievements.
            All I can assure you that weather does nothing to do with the modern or contemporary conception of development studies. Unless we are talking about adaptation to climate change; which I think, was not your point.
            Your idea reminds me of this romantic conception Europe had of the New World, brilliantly put it by Thomas More in Utopia. A place where working is not necessary, where indigenous people live in paradise. Likewise, for some “intellectuals” of the 19th century, Europe was Europe because historically, weather pushed civilization further; winter forced people to work to survive. The conclusion is that since we didn’t need to work; not in the European sense of the word, therefore we were lazy (!).
            It would be good if you take a book of development theory and scan it. Let me know where the chapter about weather is.

          • Mayke Santos, so, in short, you don’t properly know that weather has nothing to do with development? You see, billl bass picked up on it quickly, you’ll have a very hard time proving the negative of weather having nothing to do with development, which is what struck me of your statement. Point to the information regarding someone ruling weather out.

            If you think lack of rain doesn’t affect cutural aspects of nations worldwide, or tornados, or volcanos, or different food sources –heck, if you don’t think oil has affected the Venezuelan culture– you’re ruling out nurture so you’re down to genetics, so you’re going to think every discussion about cultural development is racist, too, like Get a clue.

          • “so you’re going to think every discussion about cultural development is racist, too, like Get a clue.”

            More nonsense distortion. I’ve simply said that culture is irrelevant to explaining divergent development outcomes, not that every discussion about cultural development is racist.

            But hey, when you can’t defeat the argument, just distort it right? Classic Torres nonsense.

          • Get a clue, you didn’t just simply say… You were the one who pointed out racism when someone mentioned Japanese development. Besides, just because one distinguishes races and can discuss their differences, does not equate to racism. You’re the one who brought up superiority and inferiority. You seem to continue to interchange culture with race. Of course cultures affect development, both individual and group development. That is what culture does. It’s part of a person’s nurture. Are you arguing that there can’t be expressed differences in cultures without making it some kind of competition? Go get a clue.

          • What’s hilarious about this whole “weather affects development” nonsense is that it wasn’t until about 200 years ago that large development divergences began to occurr between Europe and non-European societies. It wasn’t until the 19th Century that an explosion of sustained economic growth occurred in places like England, US, Germany, etc.

            Funny, I suppose the weather must have drastically changed from the 18th century to the 19th century in these places. Western Europe was about on par with China and Western Europe in the 1500s, but suddenly a couple centuries later. I suppose the weather changed?

            Or take Japan, which was poorer than Mexico until the 1940s. I guess weather really changed in Japan in the 1950s, causing them to rapidly develop and become a culture more fit for development…

          • I guess weather did not affect any of the early humans leaving Africa, you know, just a few years before 200 years ago…

            Even today, I guess weather doesn’t affect the engineering requirements of buildings and transportation infrastucture. No wonder we have power outages from wildlife! Those environmental things shouldn’t affect the way we think about or do things…

            Why, even the foods people eat. Clearly, the Swiss have been dipping their plantain chips in their fondues for centuries…


          • btw, I agree with extorres that, grosso modo, weather is a component of development. I have no studies on the topic, for sociology has never been my area of focus. But my years of living in several climates and my common sense tell me that weather cannot be ignored as a factor in the development of a nation. Of course, the pinkos will out-argue God in order to put forth their notion that we are all the same under the sun. That geography, that history, that politics, that distances, none of these things matter … it’s all so predictable.

      • It was Toynbees view that the development of civilization was in large part due to the need for people inhabiting a challenging natural enviroment (e.g one with harsher weather ) having to develop greater discipline , sense of organization , resilience in order to survive . But that if conditions where too harsh ( Eskimos) then the enviroment could squash their attempts at building a civilization . Sadly Toynbees views are today not considered very credible by most scientist . There is another theory which attributes to the extra mental effort needed to grow certain demanding crops ( e.g rice) as forcing people to develop mental habits which ultimately helped them become more resourceful . This would presumably explain why asian inmmigrants do so well academically in the US even better than people who have had greater advantages There is a company with thousand of employees world wide who has developed sophisticated statistical techniques to measure the capacity of people in different countries to become over achievers , they discovered statistically that people from curacao were much less gifted and hard working than people in Venezuela , they couldnt explain it , a hypothesis was advanced that maybe this was due to the fact that Curacao was a reception centre for slaves coming from africa to be sold into the mainland and that those that couldnt be sold remained as cast off slaves in curacao . Slaves recieve no rewards for their efforts so they try to work as little as possible and see themselves as engaged in a game of wits to deny their masters the punishing effort the latter demand from them, as a result throught the years they develop ingrained habits of thought and behaviour passed on from generation to generation to avoid all work they can and to cover up among themselves for their work absences , their undeachievement is not the result of race but of being the descendant of slaves !!. a cultural fact accidentally linked to a racial factor

        • One thing is environmental determinism, with which I disagree not because the environment has been ruled out, but because its determinism has been ruled out. Do you have any links regarding the environment not being an important factor?

          • With all respect ,,ex torres negative proofs are very difficult to make so in most systems of logical discourse they are not allowed . To follow thru on your request we would also have to prove that many other factors cannot be disproven as important which would sadly make your request an exercise in futility . I myself would be agreeable to admitting that geographical conditions will sometimes be important while other times they will be unimportant depending on many other concurring circumstances . To compound the difficulty haphazard chance can often play a big role in how things actually turn out. although most people dislike noting it , We all want certainties!! However if in my reads I find something that helps your argument I will gladly let you have it !!

          • I am aware of the difficulty of proving negatives… That is exactly why I was interested in the comment implying that weather had been so properly known to have nothing to do with development.

            Within the age old nature vs. nurture debate, Get a clue is trying to twist comments made regarding nurture effects into comments regarding people’s natures. My weather argumentation has to do with pointing out that there are sufficient nurture factors that may have effects such that it is not unreasonable to make cultural criticisms without having Get a clue’s racist mentality, let alone his poor definitions of superiority.

          • Sorry I didnt get your point before , your exchanges with GAC have gotten so convoluted that I lost track of the are attempting to make . Still something tells me that GAC has tried really hard to lead your thoughts stray by playing the culture is racist card.
            Maybe another take is needed , Just as different experiences and upbringing cause individuals to develop different personalities or personality traits , historical, enviromental and other factors can cause social groups ( which may or may not include an ethnic element) to develop particular personality traits which translate into cultural patterns of behaviour and thought , Historical observation has shown that people in social groups subject to the influence of certain cultural influences display character and behavioural traits that come to be associated with that form of social achievement known as Development . Among the traits that appear to aid Development are a strong sense of discipline , responsability , self control , a strong work ethic , a capacity and taste for order and organization , for the development of structured hierarchical relations, for being careful and calculating and shrewly practical in the pursuit of their most cherished endevours , a shunning of waste a loe of economy etc etc Some of the cultures which are most emblematic of this kind of social character traits are those associated with Confusian Values in the East and the protestant work ethic in the west . There are of course other cultures which contain some of these traits or have been capable of emulating them so as to achieve Development . Social groups that historical or enviromental happenstance have caused to develop cultures lacking in the above traits find it more difficult to achieve Development . This may be the case of the cultures which characterizes marginal social groups ( whatever their racial make up) in Venezuela and other thrid world countries. If this explanation is thought to be tinged with racial overtones though sh…t! , thats the way it is !!.

          • “Among the traits that appear to aid Development are a strong sense of discipline , responsability , self control , a strong work ethic , a capacity and taste for order and organization , for the development of structured hierarchical relations, for being careful and calculating and shrewly practical in the pursuit of their most cherished endevours ”

            Wrong. These traits appear in people as a RESULT of capitalist development, not the other way around. People show strong discipline, responsibility, self control, work ethic, when the market OBLIGATES them to do so as they are forced to compete in the market.

            This is why all of your cultural explanations are completely backwards. Not to mention the fact that they don’t even make sense. Capitalist development is a very recent phenomenon that suddenly exploded in a handful of countries about 2 centuries ago. Trying to explain that through culture is just completely ahistorical. Was it the same culture that made many of those countries terribly poor before that?

            Mexico was more developed than the United States and on par with Japan in the 1700s. Then suddenly in the 1800s this situation was drastically reversed. What happened? Did their cultures suddenly change?

            Ironically, people used to use these same cultural explanations to explain why the Chinese and the Koreans were poor. It was all about them having inferior cultural traits. Now suddenly people say the opposite. South Korea developed because of their superior culture…. China is growing because they are a disciplined people…. blah blah blah. It’s complete nonsense.

          • Japan was actually on par with Mexico until the 1950s, then suddenly it completely reversed and Japan jumped way ahead.

            So Mexico and Japan maintained very similar levels of development for hundreds of years, going back 500 years, but then suddenly Japan jumps way ahead in the last 50 years and you are going to try to tell me that it is a product of “culture”??

            What is hilarious is that people like you used to say that the Japanese were poor because of their “inferior culture”. Now they are rich because of their “superior culture”.

            This is why culture explanations have been completely rejected by serious scholars. But this would’t be the first time you all simply disregard academia.

          • GAC,

            Is not that culture leads to underdevelopment. The issue arises when you have institutions that are not designed for a specific culture and the changing times. Like I said before; technology, circumstances and a multitude of factors can lead to development.

            Why can’t we have the german institutions? Well, because we are not german. Is not that they are superior, it is just that they designed their social system to work with who they are, and we should do the same.

            We keep imitating many anglo institutions and processes because we see them being successful elsewhere, not really grasping (or spending any time to think) how do Venezuelans behave.

            Why is communism a fail system where it has being attempted? Well, because no culture will be able to adapt to that system.

          • Rodrigo,

            Empty assertions aren’t arguments. You’re just saying what you think, without giving anything to back it up.

            Did Germans get together and design their institutions based on how Germans “behave”?? Is that how you understand the process of state formation in early modern Prussia?? Because I haven’t heard a single scholar attempt to give such an absurd explanation. Could you please provide a citation to any scholarship that supports that?

          • That’s funny, because the constitution of the German Empire wasn’t drafted until 1871, whereas German industrialization and development is typically dated at 1850.

            Not to mention the fact that most countries, including Germany, widely adopted ideas from other countries and societies in drafting their constitutions. Nowhere have I seen anyone claim that they evaluated the way their own people “behave” while writing the constitution.

            But I’ll keep waiting for you to cite a single scholar that supports the idea. I won’t hold my breath.

          • From Get a clue’s response to you, do you now see what I mean? He’s the one with inferiority/superiority and race in his head, but he projects it on others.

          • As always, Torres can’t refute the argument so he takes to attacking the person that’s making the argument. Classic loser’s strategy.

          • Get a clue, I’m not attacking you, Im pointing out your attacks on others as projection. You’re the one who made claims of superiority and inferiority of cultures, and of implications of race. No one else brought those out. I did make arguments, which you sidestepped to start insulting me. If, unlike most others here, you have time on your hads to waste, go back and reread the thread.

  4. These 3 tendencies are present in all societies in different degrees depending on the ethnic makeup of any given society, and within each person there are all these same 3 tendencies in varying degrees as well whether we recognize it or not.

    Western rationality hides itself in fear as its primary emotion : fear of not being able to control and understand the environment and a desire to do so.

    Mantuanism is based on emotional pride and shame as its primary emotions with a concomitant desire to protect one’s image in public.

    ” The Savage” discourse has as its base emotion anger, and its driving force is to protect one’s territory, or to hold one’s ground.

    It is highly important for us all to see these tendencies as both negative and positive depending on how they are used and for what purpose, and for us not to see any of them as alien.

    • Fig, excellent point, it might be a theory applicable to other cultures (i.e arabic world?) but I find it fascinating the way he applies it to our history. I think it’s very valuable, but a little obscure and difficult to explain in simple terms and not very useful to help define public policy. That’s why I always go back to the poverty study by UCAB because that’s an analisis made with the idea of helping solve the problem. From the little that Quico translated it seems that Briceño describes the situation but does not give much hope of what can be done to integrate these tendencies in some productive way. If we subscribe to his theories wholeheartedly then we would probably retreat to the world of poetry and literature too, because it’s damn frustrating to have to deal with a messed up political sphere. But since we read and write in this blog constantly I guess we still hope something can be done.

    • I have a theory which has absolutely no scientific basis whasoever except anecdotal data from my brain and the limited blogs and news I read.
      Part of the problem we face in Latin America is gender inequality. Machismo por su nombre. Femine qualities are looked down uppon and are not desirable attributes in men or even so in women.
      It has been show (in a study I read somewhere sometime) that when social programs target young girls and women, the outcomes for society are much better, you can feel the effects much quicker.
      I think it means much more than equal opportunities for both sexes. It is not turning women into men, infusing “typical” “male” attributes to women and making women forego or even renounce their femininity. I think it means raising to the same level female attributes, and recognizing that those “typical” “female” attributes are in fact as necessassary to society as their male counterparts.
      I remmember Quico asking once, in a post, why did the oppossition have much less women in their groups as oppossed to chavismo. I think part of the problem is that it is a male dominated field that does not open up in a way that it can include women comfortably. For example, How many rallys and meetings have a special area so Mom politicians can leave their kids taken care of and assist the rallies?
      I think countries that tend to have gender equality fare better off because their citizens are in touch with both of their polarities, they fight when they need to, and they nurture when they need to. Perhaps they are more balanced in this aspect.
      (aaaand I didn’t spell check this, bear with me).

      • A wise person recently said to me that judges in Canada have become far better prepared (and show up for work sober) since they started hiring women to these positions. Just an anecdote. But it has a ring of truth to it.

      • Astute observation, adry. In JMBG’s poetic path to his self-understanding, and by extension, his environment, he makes scant mention of 51% of the population, regardless of race/perspective. His blink-of-an-eye mention focuses on the agents of submission: the nuns.

        Perhaps elsewhere in his labyrinthian writings does JMBG deal with the imposed passivity accorded to female members of the society he so laboriously tries to analyze. But certainly not in this excerpt.

        This leads me to a Godwin. One of the fundamental reasons that the Nazis lost the war was due to their designation of women as passive comforters (and baby manufacturers — literally), rather than as active combattants, as there were among the Ruskies.

        That is an extreme comparison. However, from my shared observation with adry, I’d say that: When a society does not address genders with equality, in terms of human rights that don’t require brute strength, conception, or giving birth, when one half of that society has not been fully educated, nor is fully respected as capable in spheres, beyond that of a vessel, that society will take much longer to progress at a competitive level, if it can do so at all.

        Enough said. For now.

      • I totally agree with you on this one adrytatoo , but I think you are addressing a different aspect of culture than what BG addresses in his book.

        In any case Moraima makes a good point when she says that BG is just describing what is and not offering a remedy.I would agree with that completely however remedies for these kinds of things have more to do with a given population becoming conscious rather than anything a government might do other, than provide a good example.

        A good example is rarely offered by government officials and politicians and real growth takes time- it is not achieved over night.It’s about baby steps, and about improving , not about totally transforming a country over night .

          • a ver, según tus lineamientos sociológicos … en cada hogar, cada matriarca crea de la nada y en forma simultánea, el aplastante motor de la sociedad civil venezolana. Por ello podemos determinar la responsabilidad por el desarrollo de leyes que favorecen más al hombre que a la mujer (y sus hijos). Por ello se le otorga muucha más libertad al hombre que a la mujer. Todo esto es obra del matriarcado.

            Cuéntame otra de vaqueros..

          • ¿En qué país vives tú?
            Este es un país donde a la mujer sólo le falta conquistar la presidencia. El sistema judicial está completamente gobernado por mujeres: Tribunales, fiscalía, Procuraduría General, Defensoría del Pueblo, Contraloría, etc…
            Te acuerdas de la barragana de Lusinchi? De Blanca Ibañes? De que el programa más visto en Venezuela es el miss Venezuela?
            La sociedad venezolana es un matriarcado. En una casa con dos hijos, uno hembra y otro varón; ¿quién tiene que lavar platos y cocinar? No es exactamente el hijo. Las mujeres siempre tienden un tratamiento preferencial al hijo. SI la hija juguetea con dos muchachos es una puta; si al hijo lo buscan varias carajitas a la vez, es un galán. Si de niño juegas con una muñeca tu mamá sale corriendo a quitártela, porque el mariconeo es una conducta aprendida (Miguel Bose dixit). Si la niña juega con un carrito es un machorro.

            Tú cuéntame una de vaqueros a mí.

          • En la Vzla de hoy, hay más mujeres en el gobierno que durante la IVa, y por supuesto, antes. Pero dudo que sean (y perdóname el chavismo que sigue) [email protected] más [email protected] en la Corte del Dedazo, menos en la politiquera, cosa muy distinta.

            La cultura hogareña de siglos y siglos sigue favoreciendo a los machos. Creo que tomará unas 2 o 3 generaciones para cambiar la óptica, aunque nunca completamente, por razones que van más allá de la simplicidad de tus argumentos.

            Dices que Vzla es un matriarcado, con la responsabilidad singular de haber formado el machismo. Lamento que no comparto esa miopía. Yo lo veo como un tema mucho más profundo. También veo por tus escritos que no quieres ver esa profundidad.

            Referente a la Miss V, este concurso tiene sus peculiaridades, como sus beneficios comerciales. Y seguramente no te tengo que recordar que ha sido un cubano — el gerente mejor pagado de toda Vzla — quien ha manejado — literalmente y figurativamente — las medidas de este concurso, llevándolo a niveles mundiales de promoción y comercio. Acaso Cuba también es un matriarcado?

      • [N.B.: I’m late to this thread — hadn’t checked the blog in days so I was just catching up to the whole issue].

        I understand your concern, but trying to blame patriarchy for our predicament is completely off base and contradicts most of the evidence. The Protestant nations that head started in modernity and “became developed” first had strongly patriarchal cultures, probably even stronger than those of Southern Europe. Ideals like Kinder, Küche und Kirche were extremely popular and resonated well into the mid-20th century. Hell, Japan is by far the most patriarchal (and xenophobic, and nationalistic, and *insert any other PC anti-value here*) developed country one can think of.

        Gender egalitarianism is a recent, late modern phenomenon that is exclusive to developed, secularized Western nations. Far from being a cause of development, it’s an effect.

  5. what one find mistifying in any racially tinged explanation ( which doesnt mean a racist explanation) is that in Venezuela at least the mestizaje process was really so deep and the aborigine and african element of our culture so comparatively marginal that its difficult to credit racially tinged cultural influences with all much punch in our ultimate cultural make up . Then there are a whole set of factor too easily overlooked , our aborigines where very different in temper and culure from aborigines from other places , then again sometimes even within a race men and women are so different that its almost as if they belonged to different races . for example the arawak men where very lazy and haughty , while women where very hard working and humble ( we owe the arawac men that great contribution to modern venezuelan life : the chinchorro!) , and even when we look at a deeper genetic level the genes from different races dont mix equally in every country . Axel Capriles reports on a study that shows Venezuelan men genes to be more european that other countries arround us ( similar to uruguays) and the womens to be equally european and amerindian with only a thrace of the african , much lower than expected. cultural patterns come from a very difficult to sort out brew of many different factors and influences !! Ive read JMBG with great interest in my youth and revisited him every couple of years since , his prose is compelling and his ideas enticing and yet I get the impression that there is a loose nut somewhere in the machinery of his thoughts , that the explanion is much more complicated.

  6. I hate to point out the obvious but I hate this thread even more. Culture != Race, FFS.
    I thought this kind of cultural relativism had gone out of style in the late 90’s.

  7. This is NOT a matriarcal society. Because as I have said before the very nature of femininity is frowned uppon. Women do not tend to form close knits with one another, they do not nurture female qualities in their male offsprings (much the opposite, God forbid they have a homosexual son), they are constantly judged by their looks (which is in someways measuring their reproductive capacity meaning they are perceived as usefull only as much as they can bear children) they hold on to dear life by grasping on to their male children since historically that was the only way women could gain power in society. We are living in a machismo society doing machista things.

  8. Wonderful discussion all thanks to FT’s introduction of JMBG ideas into this blog , too bad about the unwarranted insults some participants like to pepper their postings with , whatever the merits of JMBG’s views on the three strands of Venezuelan culture we musnt forget how malleable cultural idioms can be when they enter the emotional vocabulary of different national psyches . Think of how Rome took wholesale the cultural idiom of ancient Greece but transformed it into an altogether different kind of cultural discourse which reflected the Romans unique character traits , same thing with the way Japan took wholesale big chunks of Chineses culture and developed with it a totally different kind of live cultural vocabulary . Latin became italian , french , spanish and roumanian , while remaining faithful to its roots . Capitalism in china has a different face and development than in Brittain and capitalism in Japan a different face and development from that in Brasil , and yet were supposed to see capitalism as having a single face and historical identity . The tempation to oversimplify , to go overboard with great magnificent abstract all encompassing colourful explanations is one of the greatest of intellectual sins although one which the more primitive side of our minds cant help but fall for .

      • firepigette : you are in good company in your preference for simplicity , Albert Stein was much bothered by the perplexing complexities of Quantum Theory giving rise to his celebrated statement ‘god does not play dice with the universe ‘ , and yet he not any one else has been able to disprove quantum theory , Sometimes the truth is uncomfortably ambivalent and subtle and not elegantly simple as we would prefer.

        • Bill Blass

          I understand your point but nuance and simplicity are not contradictions as illustrated by the above debates which have nothing to do with the theme of this post, and show a complete lack of understanding of the book, however complicated the debate.

          Staying in the state of not knowing something does not imply complication
          either, it just implies a lack of complete understanding.Which is good, because honesty demands that.But if we really understand the steps we took to get where our thought lead us, we can keep it simple.

          • If your point is that people through their all too passionate interactions make things more complicated than they need be , I’m completely on you side , the above exchanges being a proof of that !! Perhaps what bothers me with many smart peoples fondness for simple elegant explanations is that when some topics or problems carry an intrinsic element of equivocity (sounds better in spanish) that element gets lost when you approach such topics in too dry cut a manner . Any way I’m also a great fan of Ockams Razor so maybe I think too much!!

    • well said, bb. It’s unfortunate that certain elements in society cannot handle diversity, complexity, nor even space vacuums of thought — God forbid. Are these the afflicted with attention deficit disorder, or other imbalances, that seek to create uniformity and impose a dumbing down for the lowest common denominator? For I can only think that their demand for over-simplification arises from a need to camouflage their weakness. (Misery loves company.)

      I’m reminded of the comment from one father to his daughter: “Who lied to you and told you life was fair?” (Substitute fair for simple.)

  9. If all cultures are equal, we should consider adopting the superior Muslim values of:
    -Treating women like cattle, for example, putting them in beekeeper’s suits and justly stoning them to death for complaining about it.
    -Take the holy scriptures literally, and i mean, really literally. If you see your neighbor mowing his lawn on a Sunday, its your duty to jump over his fence and behead him. Also, strap bombs on your kids and send them on suicide missions against the infidels, its the highest honor one can achieve in the name of Allah!
    -No premarital sex, smoking, drinking, taking drugs or showing happiness in public.
    -Democracy? Elections? What are you, a Jew? Theology and Theocracy all the way!
    -Last but not least, if you see some idiot insulting the one religion of peace and tolerance on the internet, well, you have the right to slit his throat in broad daylight on the middle of the street.

    • …y después del cafecito… could you summarise for those of us who are coming in a bit late? I really wanna read it, but don’t think I can… 96 comments!

  10. I’m a bit confused. Merideño seemed to me to be making qualitative survey of Latin-American society and the various cultural dynamics and the psychological conflicts buried within. However, I couldn’t tell if he was taking a moral position or propounding a preference toward any path or solution. It seemed maybe nihilistic or disinterested to me. Am I missing something?

    • Based on my reading, I would probably describe it as a description of a “quagmire” of cultural resentment creating a kind of social paralysis.

        • I re-read it. It still appears to be a treatise that examines the competing perspectives of his own mind, as an example of the pervading Hispanic psyche. However, his approach seems to me to be primarily using what he calls the “European rationalist discourse”, because his observations, logic, perspective seem to show (to me) a desire to be objective and a conscious resistance to the filters of emotion, comfort, or any personal agendas to persuade the reader. I personally find it to be compelling, insightful and useful. If I were to post any criticism, it would be that it seems “dark” and looks at society as being largely “agonistic”, and doesn’t regard governance as much of a force for “empowerment” of those without personal means. “Empowerment” provides resources for individuals to determine their own course. This concept seems to be lost.

        • Francisco, I just re-read it again, a third time. I think there is a dimensions to society that Merideño might not be differentiating well. That is the “agonistic” dimension of society which is largely about individuals and groups “competing” to get what they want, and another dimension in which individuals find “cooperate” to find more complex ways to help fill “each other’s” needs.

          I find Merideño’s treatise helpful for me to understand the behaviors and the motives behind the various political movements acting in Venezuela today. If Merideño has a position, I think it could be that “development” should not be the measure of progress in Venezuela or elsewhere in Latin America. If anything, perhaps Merideño’s message should be that mutual understanding and universal empowerment (where everyone is free to find their own path) to an “undefined” future that relaxes these cultural tensions he describes and provides space for everyone to find their own place, secure, with peace and personal fulfillment. What do you think?

  11. Rigobon et al carried out a correlation study between development and other variables and is my memory serves me right, the stronger correlation found to be inverse to the distance to the ecuator, and also whether the modern day nation had been an ex-colony of the british-something to do with boiling their drinking water….

    BTW I picked up the Briceno book many yearsa go when quico first mentioned, read it through and found it quire in sync with my own positions and intuitions. A good book to get insights from.

    Get a Clue, you are an idiot.
    Others, do not engage with the troll! please.

    • I think I can actually be sure you bought the thee copies in Altamira Metro Station, in la “Librería del Sur” that’s there. They got the last four copies from MonteÁvila, and somene told me (I have my contacts into chaveco circles… I ran to buy all of them. It’s a book I want to give to some people I know…
      The problem was that, with perfect chavista bureacratic processes, they only registered THREE on their on-line system. Hence, they only sold you the three they had on the inventory. That’s why I has to wait for them to charge the fourth one into the inventory… So it is I that got the last one…

      • Congratulations man! Well done.
        But I didn’t quite understand the update if you already said you got the last one.
        You were lucky to get the fourth, because I could have bought it, would it be on the system. And actually, the copies are for friends in Europe. Would anybody appear to be interested, I could not sell them.
        I think your details regarding whereabouts are not appropriate for this media.

  12. Gosh if capitalism is what makes people hard working , thrifty , disciplined , orderly , law abiding , , responsible productive and develop all those other wonderful virtues that go with these cultural traits (GAC dixit, see his comments ut supra) then we all should be trying hard to push capitalist economic dominance to the hilt . On the contrary if we want to have people remain or become slovenly , disorderly , spendrift , irresponsible , lawless and unproductive sloths then we should make sure they become good communists . On reflexion perhaps there may be an element of truth in this if we look at how our regime so eloquently and spiritedly sponsors socialism ( or as Mr Castro would have it: Communism) in Venezuela and the kind of values it fosters in its followers and government leaders .. Who would have thought that GAC is a crypto capitalist propagandist in disguise !!,

  13. You are right there !! However Ive read quite a bit about Marx and find many of his ideas both fascinating and acute , He was a very smart man !! Of course he had a very passionate temperament and was too caught up in the hegelian German BS of creating one great system that gave all the answers which led him stray , i.e led him to develop bombastic one size fit all explanations quite a few of them totally hallucinatory . Still I feel that there is probably some profit to be gained in really following through on some of his insights . Too bad he’s become so politized and has historically attracted such brutish unsavory band of followers.


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here