Wednesday, December 3, 2008

The Contradictions of Life in a Developing Nation:

Where the state cannot guarantee the safety of its citizenry, so everyone goes about armed, a people at war with itself.

Where education is in such low esteem that the poor who attend school learn just enough to stay poor, and the rich who attend private school, learn what they already know, that god and government exist to serve their interests.

Where telecommunications are among the best in Latin America, but there is no electricity to run it all.

Where a peon rides into town on a mule, and a baseball player rides out in a hummer.

Where the public realm is an arena in which private interests clash in a drama regulated by the conventions of a telenovela.

Where a president exercises the prerogatives of strong man politics in order to preserve and amplify a democratic state.

Where a pliant god colludes in the failings of mankind, since, after all, whatever happens, it is his will: Si Dios quiere.

Where progress is a gravy train for the elite and an opiate for the masses, stoned by the light of its televised spectacle.

Where ideas are censored not by the Church or State, but by the free market and the exorbitant price of books.

Where the simple virtues of country life are praised above all others, and everyone frantically tries to escape them.

Where white is the color of money, and no one is black.

Where the eternal rhythms of life are still manifest, and may be ended abruptly by the thief who kills for a cell phone.

Where a peasant will regale a guest with a meal worth three times the pocket change he would deny that same guest.

Where a mulatto people obsessively pursue a regimen of self-improvement: they straighten what is curled, they bleach what is blackened, they trade chacabanas for jeans, sombreros for baseball caps. . . . Pero no se puede corregir lo que nace doblao.

Where the beat of palos echoes through the culture, but no one is African.

Where language expresses ideology instead of ideas: like the dealings of government, it is opaque, the better to obscure the relation between intentions and actions. Appearances count for everything and conspicuous consumption is next to godliness. Xmas begins two months early to make more room in the temple for the usurers.

If it is true, as Galeano once wrote, that we are what we do to change ourselves, that our identity consists in the synthesis of our daily contradictions, then life in a developing nation may be said to be the suspension of this process, its paralysis. Thesis and antithesis forever staring at one another across the breach in which we all dangle.