Thursday, September 29, 2022
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OPINION AND ANALYSIS | 09-09-2022 10:48

The problem is not other people, but us

Following the attack on Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, the only thing on which both sides agree is that the blame belongs to the discourse of hatred which the other side foment.

The man who pointed a gun at Cristina Fernández de Kirchner’s head is the first culprit of what happened and the courts will have to determine the real reasons for what he did. But over and above the judicial case, the underlying question is how the hotbed for such a deed was generated.

It is always other people who do the hating. The government’s initial response has already been heard – it’s the fault of the opposition and the media which incite hatred. Within the opposition there were leaders who did not repudiate the attack and directly affirmed that it was staged by the government. The only thing on which both sides agree is that the blame belongs to “the discourse of hatred which they [the other side] foment.”

The fact that both the government and the opposition mutually accuse each other of generating a discourse of hatred at least reveals a mutual recognition that such discourse exists, only that one side sees in the other what the other sees in them.

The media which best reflect the polarisation also agree that the opposing journalists are to blame for spreading so much hatred in society.

The statement read for last Friday’s march accused (with much reason) the communication media of “yielding air time to speeches of hatred,” recalling the demonstrations showing body-bags, coffins and guillotines to insult the vice-president.

It should be added that some pro-government media during Cristina’s 2007-2015 presidency displayed the same conduct deserving repudiation when they insulted the then opposition, celebrating the marches in which those who thought differently were spat at.

The absence of self-criticism is consistent with the incapacity to detect the beam in their own eyes – any obligation for repentance is non-existent because the other is always to blame. 

 

Two wrongs… 

Among the most polarised social sectors the same narrative is reproduced. One example is a former friend of the assailant, whom he described as a disturbed and marginal person guided by the intention of assassinating Cristina Fernández de Kirchner. Nevertheless, he then gave his own opinion: “Unfortunately he did not practise beforehand … That would have meant less taxes.” That sinister side which he saw in his former friend, he could not see in himself.

There are those who believe that they are seeing infernal things through a window but it’s not a window – it’s a mirror. 

The people marching in Recoleta might seem similar but some see evil as embodied by Cristina through their “window,” while others see evil as personified by Mauricio Macri. It is logical enough for leaders to resemble those they represent but one might suppose that their job is to add some degree of rationality to the passion.

That is not what has been happening in recent years in which the leaders of the grieta chasm added their passion to the passion of those below. They recycle and reload it with a  mix of similar insults – chorro/a (“thief”), corrupto/a, gato (“cat”), yegua (“mare”) – exchanging accusations of applying economic models which only pursue their own benefit and the destruction of the country.

 

Hell is other people

Far from functioning as a rational filter of passion, a few days before the Thursday night attack, one opposition lawmaker went as far as demanding the death penalty for Cristina while the government threatened a popular rebellion if the court should dare to convict her. The rashness of both sides hides the fear each has for the other. Jean-Paul Sartre thought that hell is other people while Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel wrote that you are as others think you are. Understanding other people, placing yourself in their shoes, is not easy. The nature of other people is a complex philosophical debate.

In an interview with Jorge Fontevecchia last year, Richard Bernstein (a philosopher of fallibilism, which among other beliefs holds that any moral or political affirmation is subject to correction and criticism), developed ideas which we have tried to transmit from this media company about other people and the idea of pluralistic commitment.

“The commitment to pluralism implies much more than the passive tolerance of what strikes us as strange and different,” he said. “It requires a serious effort to arrive at a mutual understanding, being ready to listen to the other without denying or trying to suppress the other’s otherness. It implies a constant vigilance against the temptation to reject what others say and to think that we can easily translate the strange into our own familiar vocabularies.”

 

Giving up on hatred, not critical thinking

Argentina is undergoing a moment of transition between the era of polarisation and an era of conciliation. After the insane attack on Cristina, it becomes easier to understand the hatred of some against the hatred of others, which cannot be anything very different from what has just happened – perhaps worse.

Relinquishing hatred is not the same as losing any sense of criticism against either the government or the opposition. Retreating from hatred is to advance in a sense of criticism when making the effort to analyse what others say without the passionate prejudices thinking of what can be said to hurt.

Political leaders, opinion-makers and we journalists have some responsibility towards dismantling the passions overrunning certain sectors of society. The verbal violence and gestures emanating from part of the political class and the media is not innocuous. The cries and insults hurled from soapboxes and microphones can be transformed into material deeds even more serious than that Thursday.

In the same way but in an opposite direction it is possible to take advantage of the commotion of what happened as a turning point between the grieta and what comes next.

That most parties joined the generalised repudiation is the first step. The next step must be recognition of shared responsibility for the high level of aggression of public discourse in the last decade. A shock of maturity which permits us to recognise the existence of other people without demonising or dreading them.

Passing from the perfect futures of the sectorial imagination to a future imperfect but feasible as a synthesis of the aspirations of a broad majority in the search for an agreement towards balancing dissatisfaction, trimming the satisfactions sought by each sector.

That is not a utopia. In the face of the extreme situations now arousing the country, dogmatisms are usually left aside and prejudices weakened, almost as a natural instinct of self-preservation. That was what happened in the second quarter of 2020 when an unknown pandemic swept the planet. The leaders closed ranks behind the common objective of survival. And most of society understood and celebrated the efforts of its representatives to listen and find consensus.

 

Another opportunity

Now there is another opportunity to understand that the crisis of the last decade was marked by a grieta which not only crippled the economy but is also the hotbed for violence.

It is true that the ongoing corruption cases and the electoral race could make agreements difficult but the precipice is always the worst option. For everybody. A political non-aggression pact between the main leaders, moderating their styles, toning down their voices and decompressing the passion of their bases, would show a leadership conscious of what is at stake.

That is not a utopia. In the face of the extreme situations now arousing the country, dogmatisms are usually left aside and prejudices weakened, almost as a natural instinct of self-preservation. That was what happened in the second quarter of 2020 when an unknown pandemic swept the planet. The leaders closed ranks behind the common objective of survival. And most of society understood and celebrated the efforts of its representatives to listen and find consensus.

Now there is another opportunity to understand that the crisis of the last decade was marked by a grieta which not only crippled the economy but is also the hotbed for violence.

It is true that the ongoing corruption cases and the electoral race could make agreements difficult but the precipice is always the worst option. For everybody. A political non-aggression pact between the main leaders, moderating their styles, toning down their voices and decompressing the passion of their bases, would show a leadership conscious of what is at stake.

Returning to Bernstein: “The time has come to heal the wounds from the ideological battles, to recognise how myopic and sterile thinking in terms of division is.”

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Gustavo González

Gustavo González

Presidente y CEO de Editorial Perfil. En Twitter: @gonzalezenzona

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