To begin the day reading the news in Venezuela is a complex experience. To keep on browsing through newspapers like Últimas Noticias filled with government propaganda is a sign of either bravery or folly. Lately, it’s made me go from shock to fits of laughter. On the 9th of this month Mariano González Gómez wrote a piece that will, I believe, stand the test of time as a wonderful example of bolivarian Big Brother newspeak. He called it “How to wait in line sin amargarse la vida” – without getting cranky.
It is a hilarious text of positive thinking stupidity that tells people to just take it easy in the unending queues venezuelans have had to endure in recent months to buy almost any necessity because of the economic nightmare we’re in.
“Whatever the reason” that we are having to suffer this reality, he argues, you will still have to do your time in line so you might as well make the best of it. He writes: “for those who follow a religion or spiritual practice or philosophy, it is a wonderful opportunity to put to test how advanced your state of consciousness and spirituality is.” I do suppose he isn’t referring to a state of consciousness in a marxist sense. The image that pops into my mind is of happy faced Venezuelans levitating for hours under the scorching sun as they wait to buy toilet paper.
The “power of positive thinking” is another of our bolivarian revolution’s strategies to minimize the state of profound shit we are in. Mariano might or, at least, should work at the Vice-Ministry for the Supreme Social Happiness of the People that, unbelievably, still exists hidden somewhere among the innumerable absurd ministries our country flaunts.
In a fascinating critical review of positive thinking and its deleterious effects titled “Smile or Die”, Barbara Ehrenreich, examines among other things, the role positive psychology buffs played in the market crash of 2008. She documents the amounts of money wasted on positive thinking coaches and look-on-the-bright-side self-help gurus and how the financial sector looked down upon and isolated those who predicted the downfall, urging the party poopers to get a better attitude. She describes “investment fund sickness” and executives trapped in a narcissistic upbeat optimism brought on by early successes that convinced them that if they always looked for the positive, they would always come out on top. Positive thinking can end up as license for untrammelled stupidity and denial.
Our curious brand of Venezuelan new age happiness recommended by a number of chavistas, shows how positive psychology is not only a product of “neoliberal individualist, all-you-need-is-the-right-attitude” cliché, ghastly as that may be. Turns out you can just as well wheel it out in defense of revolutions.
The preposterous combination of revolutionary and positive thinking rhetoric is not only dumbfounding, it is also symptomatic. “The pretty revolution” as it calls itself, or the “peaceful but armed revolution”, filled with military hugs and loving acts of repression is a combination of horror and kitsch, a tropical brand of good humoured authoritarianism. But it’s also a symptom of how chavismo is trapped in its own contradictions. On the one hand the rhetoric of revolution invites “the people” to stand up for themselves and fight, on the other it counsels them to take it easy, accept things as they are, see the glass half-full. Truth seems to be that chavismo is stuck on a high speed course to oblivion.
In contrast to the puffed up claims of positive psychology, critical psychologist Erica Burman writes “that to be distressed in an unjust and oppressive society is a more politically healthy condition than to be happy”. One would think that a person who has experienced the hour long queues to find half empty shelves in a country where people are dying of easily curable illnesses because of lack of medicines and food and recommends good humoured acceptance is close to delusional. But it is not so. Because the editor of a major national newspaper also finds that article fit to publish. Caught up in the trap they’ve built for themselves, they share the capacity to dismiss the horror we are experiencing.
In “How to wait in line sin amargarse la vida” the nauseating combination of psychopathy and romantic light-headed stupidity at the heart chavismo finds its fullest expression. Maybe the best description was written by Nabokov, who knew a bit about totalitarian traps. Mariano González Gómez seems, like Humbert Humbert and many fellow chavistas, to be: “as naive as only a pervert can be”.