Photo: Cristian Hernández

I just had an hour-long conversation with a Venezuelan friend now living in Argentina. We’ll call him Daniel. He’s a student, and barely scrapes by each month, fortunately with a little help from friends, because he doesn’t yet have his work permit. Like so many Venezuelans, he left the country because he was hungry; he didn’t want to depend on the government for a living; he wanted to improve his life and the life of his family; he couldn’t live any longer in fear. You know the story. 

The other night, he told me, he had dinner with a group of people who his housemate invited over. “And they were all leftists.” 

At first, he said, they seemed like nice people. He made arepas and everything got off to a good, friendly start. But in the course of the conversation, naturally, the subject of Venezuela came up. Then when Daniel let his (anti-chavista) views be known, the conversation turned sour. Daniel’s housemate mentioned that he knew Daniel received money from the United States. Others implied that he was privileged somehow—although it was clearly they who had the privilege of Argentinian citizenship, and with it, the ability to work and enjoy all of the other benefits. 

But in the course of the conversation, naturally, the subject of Venezuela came up. Then when Daniel let his (anti-chavista) views be known, the conversation turned sour.

These Argentinians weren’t particularly unique, nor was their reaction to Daniel. Like most people, Daniel’s company that night live in that narrow slice of awareness between their confirmation and disconfirmation biases. For them, it was more important to protect their leftist identity as socialist/anti-imperialist than it was to understand the facts about Venezuela that Daniel, with his lifetime of experience, could offer. And to protect their identity, they were forced to find ways to “disconfirm” his information, just as Maduro and his underlings were forced to do when Michelle Bachelet released her report recently. Readers will recall that when this “socialist sister” dared to criticize the Bolivarian government, she suddenly became an “agent of the imperialists” and a “right winger.”

Daniel’s evening in the lion’s den was archetypal, in the sense that he faced the two most common arguments leftists use to dismiss the historic diaspora of Venezuelans. The first is that these emigres are somehow apátridas already, not just stateless as the more than three million now living abroad, but disloyal to their country, traitors, and worse still, “agents of the empire.” Such a lowlife should be dismissed, right?

Second, the “class card.” Given that, in their minds, “class struggle is the motor of history” and the “middle-class” is somehow not a “working class,” all those leaving Venezuela must be “middle-class” with interests opposed to the working-class government of the bus-driving President Maduro. Forget that some 90% of Venezuelans live in poverty, or that Daniel, like many other Venezuelans, is only two generations from the campesinado, and one generation from the working class from which he has yet to emerge. 

Or that those ruling Venezuela today are largely from the middle or even upper classes. 

These objections, or other relevant questions—like, “but what’s the truth about Venezuela?”—didn’t count for the left-wing visitors that night, because they’re more interested in protecting their identity, and the ideology from whence they derive it. And forget the millions of more unfortunates who haven’t the resources to flee with their loved ones from the socialist regime of Maduro. They don’t exist. For Daniel’s guests, ideology is used not to understand the world, but to keep it from intruding into their narrow line-of-sight. They’re using their ideology as blinders.

For Daniel’s guests, ideology is used not to understand the world, but to keep it from intruding into their narrow line-of-sight.

Of course, real right-wingers are equally capable of this, and right-wingers and left-wingers who operate this way look, in the real world, very much alike. They cling with a death-grasp to their ideology because, with the conception of ideology-as-axiom, one never sees the actual world, but only an image projected onto it like an opaque overlay.

The alternative to this approach we could call “ideology as a hypothesis.” With such an approach, the Argentinian students would have held their view of Venezuela as a working theory and met Daniel and other Venezuelans in exile (many of whom are in Argentina) with questions rather than accusations. They would have tested their theories of a country about which they knew little, by asking the native expert. This new, disconfirming information could then have been used to reformulate their theory and therefore their ideological hypothesis. After conducting this process over time and meeting with a number of people (from different social classes,) they would likely draw very different conclusions from those they held. And throughout the investigation, of course, they would’ve assumed goodwill on the part of their “informant” until such a time as his or her statements could be proven false.

This is the approach to understanding the reality of a situation scientists and all those pursuing truth undertake. But not everyone, not even the majority, are interested in truth: too many are more interested in confirming their biases.

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