November 15, 2007

Comments are back...

Quico says: ...sanity isn't.

I've been trying to think of stuff to post recently (no, really, I have) but drawing a string of blanks. The country's too far gone.

Sitting down to blog about Venezuela these days reminds me of going to visit my grandmother during the last years of her life. She had Alzheimer's, poor thing.

If you've ever seen someone battle Alzheimer's you know how gradual and drawn out the descent can be. At first it was just a vague feeling that something wasn't quite right with grandma. Then, as the disease became clearer and deeper, an increasing desperation to communicate, coupled with a growing awareness of the difficulties involved. And then, at some point - years after it had all started, but still years before she finally passed away - that hideous certainty that the line between us had been cut, that she would never again recognize me, that the possibility of communion between us had gone for good. She was still alive but, for me, the process of mourning had already begun.

That's more or less how I see Venezuela's democratic public sphere these days. It's still "going," in some sense, but has reached such an advanced level of dementia that you can no longer interact with it in any meaningful sense. Like my grandmother, it becomes less coherent and more repetitive each and every day. Words that may once, long ago, have made sense are repeated mindlessly, devoid of any context, appearing more and more like symptoms of pathology and less and less like meaningful utterances. Fears that may, arguably, have once been rooted in reality get decontextualized, blown out of all proportion and repeated endlessly.

The process has been slow, cruelly gradual, and it could go on for many years to come. By now, the most we can hope for is a crude imitation of democratic deliberation. And we know it can go on like this, getting a very little bit worse day after day after day until, eventually, there's nothing left to get worse and the patient passes away physically, as well as mentally.

And that, I fear, is what's really original about the Venezuelan Path to Totalitarianism. If the German and Russian and Cuban roads were like massive strokes, ending all free political debate in one violent convulsion, our path is degenerative, gradual, and all the more cruel for it.

The cruelest moment - or, given the nature of the disease, the cruellest string of identical moments - in an Alzheimer's patient's progression is when he reaches a panicked insight into the nature of his own condition. When the terrifying clarity of what is happening strikes him, along with the awareness that there's simply nothing he can do to stop or even slow it. For those who have witnessed it from the outside, it's a moment of indescribable pathos.

As I see it, that's more or less where Venezuela is now. In any case, it's certainly where I am.