Saturday, August 30, 2008


This is an expression of skepticism and perhaps also contempt. For some years now I have grown a certain animosity against democracy. I think it easily proves to be counterproductive. I felt this for the 2000 elections in the US and Mexico, as well as 2006 in the latter. Now the ghost comes back. Americans are about to elect the next president of the world. Nobody seems to talk more about anything else but the elections. Not even the weather.

It seems clear to me that Barack Obama is, by far, the best option. I will not present any arguments for this claim as I take it to be obvious. Yet, I fear. As the days go by, and the non-arguments come and go, I begin to fear that John McCain will win. This is why I don’t often believe in democracies.

Democracy seems to make two important claims. On the one hand, as seems morally demanded, everyone should count. On the other hand, as seems rational, every counting vote should be knowledgeable. I think this last claim is very difficult, if not impossible, to meet. There might be fanatics that would cherish the relevance of ‘everyone’s’ vote even at the cost of self-deprecation. I don’t. I believe democracy can only work in certain contexts and that it makes no sense when it gets citizens to vote against themselves.

Democracy is perhaps the ideal form of government. But that is exactly the problem. It works better the closer we are to the ideal society. This is not news. Anti-democratic skepticism has been around, at least, since Plato. If democracy’s second claim, that the counting votes should be knowledgeable, is not met, then we can expect democracy to deliver the worst. Democracy can have fantastic results (e.g., name your democratic hero) but it can also have incredibly bad ones (e.g., Hitler).

What does it mean to have knowledgeable votes? Well, at the very least it means that the voters should know ‘enough’ in order to vote. What is enough? I’m unsure here. At the very least something like the ability to understand and give sensible arguments. Unfortunately, our species has not evolved enough to have this as a biological given. We need to be educated into thinking critically, as opposed to stupidly and narrow-mindedly.

Is this too much to ask for? Well, it depends. If your domain of voters is limited enough, say, Victor and his friends, the demand will be easily met. But if your domain is more than two hundred million individuals, most of which do not have even the slightest idea of what it is to think, understand, and argue, then yes, it is too much to ask for.

Western countries seem to have moved increasingly closer to this ideal form of government, but only half-heartedly. They have met the first demand by granting voting rights to everyone. But they have failed to meet the second demand by not granting everyone with the educational scaffolding they need to be cognitively capable for a democracy. This has been obvious in Mexico for over a decade now, in the US for the past eight years at least, and (I fear) will come up again in this election.

The US (Mexico, and perhaps any other country) seems to be two different countries. There’s the great elite of highly educated people, a humongous crowd of thoughtful, reflexive, and very democratic individuals, and there’s the group of intellectually undernourished individuals who are, not surprisingly, the majority. This will not do for democracy. When most of your counting votes come from intellectual misery, you should expect miserable results.

Barack Obama is clearly, almost painfully so, the best candidate for the intellectual elite of a real democracy. But he might just be too much for the undernourished. I fear, with all my heart, that he will not outstand in a field of misery where narrow-mindedness and near-sightedness rule over arguments.

Democracy might just be too much of an ideal for our real world.

I HOPE I'm wrong!

Friday, August 29, 2008

Contra Gombrowicz

En su nota de un viernes del 53, Gombrowicz confiesa: “Escribo este diario con desgana.” Su molestia hacia lo que habría de considerarse su obra mayor (i.e.,el Diario), es intrigante. La nota es explícitamente autobiográfica (a diferencia del resto, que sólo lo son de manera implícita). En tres cuartillas, Gombrowicz alcanza una meta seriamente complicada: presentarse a sí mismo en sus múltiples caras.

Comienza por quejarse del género mismo de un diario que, lejos de ser íntimo, se publica periódicamente. No hacen falta más de dos párrafos para descubrir que éste no es el problema. Lo incómodo, dice Gombrowicz, es que no haya una correspondencia entre “su” género creativo y el que ahora practica, i.e., un diario-periódico. Luego admite que, más bien, el problema radica en su incapacidad de encontrar una correspondencia entre el Gombrowicz creativo de “Cosmos” y “Ferdydurke” y el Gombrowicz confesor del “Diario”.

Pero no, éste tampoco es el problema. Después resulta que el problema radica en la falsa molestia del diario público. Gombrowicz quisiera dejar salir los sentimientos que guarda hacia sí mismo. Eso que otros, modestos falsos, llamarían “arrogancia”. La explosiva combinación de un diario público lo obliga a limitarse. Gombrowicz no puede pagarse a sí mismo lo que tanto se pide. Esto es molesto porque el artista tiene que ser, por naturaleza, pretensioso, porque, a fin de cuentas, “escribir no es otra cosa que una lucha llevada por el artista contra los demás por su propia celebridad..”

Pero éste no puede ser el problema. No hay impedimento alguno para quien quiera hacer de su diario, por público que sea, la más paradigmática ilustración del narcisismo. Gombrowicz bien podría mostrar sus pretenciones y su arrogancia. El problema, bien visto, es otro.

Un párrafo más tarde aparece la respuesta. “Al ponerme en evidencia deseo dejar de ser para ustedes un enigma demasiado fácil de descifrar.” Gombrowicz tiene miedo de ser comprendido. Eso es todo. Como si fuera poco. Y esto lo obliga a satisfacer sus sueños muy en su contra. Se muestra esquivo, inconsistente, complejo. Logra darse una imagen demasiado complicada de sí mismo. Prefiere ser leído con el misticismo de las obras de ficción, acaso tan sólo porque así (¿erróneamente?) se imagina cubierto, incomprensible, inalcanzable. ¡Cuánta arrogancia!

La escritura y el arte son pretensiosos, sin duda. Pero no más pretensiosos que cualquiera otro gran proyecto humano. Los creadores se dan en todo ámbito, desde las letras hasta la venta de chicles. La pretensión existe, cierto. Pero no tiene por qué ser una lucha por la cúspide, no tiene por qué ser la imposición de la celebridad propia. Ver así las cosas no es más que pervertir la naturaleza misma de la creación: satisfacer el vacío.

El ser humano, como tal, es creador. Lo es simplemente por naturaleza. Porque imagina y no sólo observa. Porque comprende y no sólo utiliza. Pero, principalmente, porque esa mezcla de consciencia, imaginación y memoria, lo cansan, lo aburren. El vacío es ontológico. Porque el mundo no está completo, creamos. Porque le hace falta eso mismo que estamos por hacer. Por eso creamos. Lo hicimos, lo hacemos y lo seguiremos haciendo sin importar si uno alcanza o no la celebridad.

No obstante, Gombrowicz tiene razón en algo. Esa peligrosa mezcla de imaginación y consciencia, impone límites a la creación. Comienza a crear y terminarás por reinventarte. Sucumbir, estrictamente hablando, es otra forma de la recreación. Y es que este género, el humano pues, “no se puede practicar a salto de mata, o los domingos y días festivos.”

Dice Gombrowicz, enderezando sus entuertos, que “no se puede ser una nulidad toda la semana para ponerse a existir el domingo.” Habrá que trabajar más en esto del aburrimiento.

Friday, August 15, 2008

The Olympic Problem

I love Aristotle. Thanks to Victor, I learned how to convince myself and agree with him (Aristotle, that is). Or vice versa. Yet, there’s something odd, something inflexible, something I can’t and don’t want to be convinced of: his take on happiness. Granted, I don’t know the details of the Aristotelian story about happiness. It’s at the end of that difficult road of his story on virtues. I believe I got there only once and did not have the patience to stay.

But that’s exactly the problem. You see, happiness can’t be at the end of the story. It just makes no sense. Or, should I say, it takes the sense out of all of the midway. Yes, sure, propositionally speaking, the whole argument works. Everything is done for a goal, even our goals, except for THE goal of happiness, which is an end in and of itself. But this is absurd. This makes of our goals, all and most of them, simple mediums for THE goal. And when you don’t find THE one, all of the rest become just nonsense.

The error, I think, is a very basic one. My hunch is that Aristotle, strangely, missed the very nature of happiness. Happiness is not a theoretical goal, it’s a practical one. Perhaps this, Aristotle’s miss, is owed to his more general view on… everything. Perhaps he did think that there was something at the end of the road, something new and different. It seems, however, that there’s no such thing. At the end of the road there’s nothing but the road behind you.

We’ve probably been asking the wrong question. We need to know how to be happy, as opposed to knowing what happiness is. Human experience seems to falsify Aristotle’s thesis. We can know a lot of things, we can have an almost ideal description of the world in the head or, as one is inclined to put it, we can know every single proposition that is true, and yet be miserable. Theoretical wisdom does not translate into happiness and, in so far as it can mess up with your practical life, ignorance can in fact be a bliss.

I now realize I’ve been Aristotelian for a long time now. I hope it’s not too long. It’s so easy to get lost that way! It’s like gymnasts at the Olympics, those games created by the same ethical view as Aristotle’s. You see Nastia Liukin win the Gold medal for the all-around and the first thing you think is “This girl must hate what she does. There’s not a single thread of happiness in her face, not a smile, no sign of emotions, no joy.”

And then you wonder, “why would someone do this to herself? Why would someone put so much time, so much preparation, so much discipline, so much energy and effort into something that, in the end, that same person takes to be just another ordinary task?”

Well, it’s easy, if you take all your Goals to be goals, i.e., simple mid points in your way to heaven (i.e., the nobel prize, eight gold medals, NYU Philosophy, you name it) there’s no way to stop it. You’ll be as emotionally numbed as Phelps winning his tenth, eleventh, twelfth or thirteenth gold medal. He doesn’t even smile anymore. Even worse, he is disappointed because he could have done better. It’s so, so absurd.

That’s what happens when you take happiness to be a theoretically reachable goal. You can always IMAGINE doing more. But there’s only so much you can DO.