In recent times we have been witnessing a dangerous polarisation of political and ideological camps all over the world, and particularly in Latin America. The different positions are becoming more radical, moving down the path of verbal violence, disqualification and dehumanisation of the adversary, sliding dangerously towards physical violence in some cases. In general, it is the right wing that foments social destabilisation based on hatred, because, riding on instability and fear, they then try to impose policies of social and economic “order” in accordance with their interests. It is the economic power of the right that can finance the media to promote social rifts, and profusely disseminate all kinds of fake news through social networks. But it is not only because of its firepower that the right-wing advances, it also counts on the fragility and dispersion of the opposing side, which lacks a defined identity and project: is it left, is it progressivism, is it social democracy, is it socialism, is it populism, is it Keynesian capitalism, it is not clear, because there is no coherent comprehensive project, but rather a list of demands that more or less coincide and sometimes converge. This lack of identity on the left is exploited by the right to stigmatise it, with the repetition of disqualifying slogans, very crude but very effective in dividing societies. For their part, those who identify with progressivism are trapped in an obsolete ideological dogmatism that prevents them from having a more integrating vision, and from understanding the demands of certain sectors of the population that are generally seduced by the right.
The factions are a prison of thought, built within the walls of dogmas and taboos. All propositional foundations, when submerged in one side, lose the quality of an argument (contrastable, debatable, analysable and relative), to become a dogma of faith; and from this mental rigidity, the dogmas of the other side are concepts-taboos that make no sense to analyse. Just as god-fearing religious fanatics would never dare to doubt their beliefs for fear of divine punishment, so too those who corset their ideas into the mould of one side, lose all capacity for self-criticism and understanding when they configure their representation of otherness from prejudice and Manichean reductionism.
One of the most common manifestations of this mental alienation is the use of double standards to weigh similar facts, depending on where they come from. Human rights violations, corruption, injustice and other human calamities are severely questioned when practised by the opposing side, and minimised, relativised and even denied when practised by one’s own side.
In other times, such polarisations ended in civil wars; let us hope that nowadays we do not reach such extremes of violence, but how is it possible to live in a divided society in which we are convinced that half of it is made up of a group of imbeciles, evildoers or thieves, who at the same time think similar things about us? Moreover, this is not the particular situation of an isolated country, it has become a global phenomenon. And of course, these divisions are often functional to the political and economic powers that seek to manipulate societies, but we would not discover anything new by analysing such strategies; what we should try to change is the behaviour of populations.
We could then talk about the need to reconcile people with each other, so that they discover that their real enemy is not the other, but the concentrated powers. But it happens that in order to be able to reconcile, one must first understand, and that is when the self-censorship of sides limits our thinking and capacity for reflection. It is common to disqualify an argument by affirming that it is right-wing or left-wing, when in reality what we have to analyse in the arguments is whether they are true or false. Those who assume themselves to be on the left cannot be concerned with the problem of insecurity, because such issues are right-wing; and those who assume themselves to be on the right cannot think about how to resolve the issue of inequality, because such concerns would place them on the left. If you are on the left, you must criticise US imperialism, but not Russian or Chinese imperialism. If you are on the right, you should denounce the restrictions on democracy in Cuba or Venezuela, but never the coup plotters in Bolivia, or the ‘destituyentes’ in Brazil. We could continue with the examples, and we would see that for each issue there is a dogma, a slogan, a cliché, a menu of options from each side that shapes our opinions, our reasoning, our affinities and our susceptibility. We then decide (decide?) to be informed by certain media that coincide with and reaffirm the beliefs for which we opt (opt?).
It is appropriate to recall at this point that principle enunciated by Silo regarding sides: “It does not matter on which side events have put you, what matters is that you understand that you have not chosen any side”. While this wise principle may have different levels of depth in the understanding of human behaviour, it is very appropriate for the case we are dealing with now. There are many who believe they think and feel like free citizens, while repeating the slogans and arguments of opinion formers in the media and networks, or in the social environment with which they identify.
Four years ago, in the article “Left and Right facing an identity crisis”, we anticipated part of what we are now describing; and in these four years we have seen how once again the pendulum has continued to swing, albeit with its axis increasingly shifting to the right. Progressivism is increasingly moderate and adapted to the System, and the right is increasingly xenophobic and ultra-liberal. The progressive camp’s discourse boringly repeats its old politically correct slogans, while fascist, libertarian and anarcho-capitalist groups emerge with force, waving the anti-System flag, a System that also includes this pseudo intellectual and decaffeinated progressivism (the latter is very well described in Pablo Stefanoni’s book “Has rebellion become right-wing”).
It is worth asking, then, whether the recent advances of the right mean a regression of humanist sensibility, not necessarily because the transversality of some demands that were previously the exclusive banner of the left blurs the limits. Some time ago, the “perfect rightist” could be defined as individualist, xenophobic, sexist, homophobic, capitalist and conservative. While the “perfect progressive” was defined as supportive, anti-capitalist, environmentalist, respectful of minorities, and defender of the weak. But it turns out that all countries are now capitalist, with the exception of Cuba and North Korea, (despite the anti-capitalist clucking of many empty-speaking, deep-pocket progressives). It also turns out that there are members of the LGBT community who discriminate against immigrants and love capitalism; while there are also those who defend immigrants, but contradict themselves when they belong to a misogynist, homophobic or conservative culture. And then there are environmentalists who love nature and loathe people. In short, what we have is a great confusion generated by the complexity of reality, the obsolescence of the narratives of the sides and the urgencies of populations, which are increasingly complicated, whoever governs.
Because while it is true that within the progressive spectrum there is a predominance of humanist sensibilities, today it seems that the greatest aspiration of progressive governments is to try to put some cold compresses on the wounds left by neoliberal governments, and to cushion the blows dealt by the system. But the system continues to advance, whoever governs; wealth continues to concentrate, the environment continues to be destroyed, populations continue to be marginalised, violence continues to grow. We are passengers on a train that is taking us towards the abyss, some train drivers speed up and others go a little slower, but no one substantially changes the direction; the sides fight for the position of train driver, but it doesn’t even occur to them that we have to change the track.
To change the direction of this train, one must first be able to imagine a different future, and to be able to have the freedom to imagine, one must get rid of the dogmas of the factions, their clichés, their half-truths, their taboos, their prejudices, their grudges and their blinders. It could be argued that factions make it possible to consolidate identities capable of bringing together human groups whose combined strength makes it possible to advance faster than a sum of free-thinkers trying to reach agreement. Well, we will have to look for another way to accumulate forces, because with factions it is clear that we are getting worse and worse. But it is true that it is necessary to define a category, a common denominator that facilitates convergence and organisation in order to be able to gather forces and change direction. We have talked about the fact that humanist sensitivity, empathy for others, can be a dividing line when it comes to convergence, and we trust that this sensitivity will predominate in the majority of humanity.
But we must also be able to translate that sensitivity into definitions on each issue, and that is where we must free ourselves from dogmas, clichés and prejudices, which may be within us, but which are also present in much of the literature we turn to for enlightenment, in the media where we inform ourselves, and in the “common sense” of our environment.
Perhaps we need to change the language, redefine concepts and rename them from a different perspective.
Perhaps the old concept of solidarity, closely associated with humanitarianism, could be changed to the concept of reciprocity, in which there is no superior who is benevolent towards an inferior, but rather there are peers who help each other by establishing agreements, with rights and commitments.
Perhaps the concept of equal opportunities, which the left is sometimes reluctant to use because it is associated with the liberal meritocratic conception, but which at the same time the right has also abandoned because they know that what there is least in liberal society is equal opportunities; perhaps this concept should be revitalised until it becomes a legally enforceable right.
Perhaps the concept of private property, from a certain scale, should cease to be an absolute right and become a right conditioned to a social function and collective economic development.
Perhaps many concepts of democracy, economics, rights, education and many other issues need to be redefined so that ordinary people no longer feel that all they hear are just empty words and worn-out slogans.
The ordinary citizen is caught between a right that does not want to and a left that cannot. They perceive the gulf between cliché-laden speeches and their daily reality. Fed-upness and impotence often lead him to adhere to more radical and even violent slogans, or he simply lets himself fall into nihilism. We must find new images, a new language and a new approach that leaps over the sides if we want society to be enthusiastic about a project.
We know that both right-wing governments and a good part of their ideologues and militants do not pretend to reason about their positions, but rather to defend the interests of the concentrated powers, and their arguments will always seek to justify such defence. But we also know that many people who believe in the right-wing narrative, and even some of its militants, are trapped in the logic of the sides and from there they give their opinions and act. And on the part of those who adhere to the narrative of progressivism or the left, although they show greater social sensitivity, they are also trapped in the dogmas of the sides, and block any line of argument that departs from the permitted canons. There is much discussion about how to win the cultural battle to come to power, but little discussion about what to do once in power, and we end up repeating over and over again the old story of frustration and disenchantment, either because structural transformations are not carried out, or because old self-destructive recipes are applied.
But it is not a question of looking for culprits or of disqualifying certain militancy, or certain rulers, because in reality we are all submerged in this trap of sides, and it is the whole of humanity that needs to make a qualitative leap to be able to imagine the future from a mental space free of taboos, dogmas and slogans. Perhaps we are not so far from that moment, because the acceleration of the pendulum between left and right in the alternation of governments, the weariness of the populations, the generalised confusion and the emerging irrationality may prove to be the chaos from which the new emerges.