Argentina: The Indignity of Normalcy

From Boletín La Oveja Negra:

While in various places around the world an incipient aggression begins to materialize, show itself and organize, in the Argentine State the mass of the population is living in a kind of bubble. Simply criticizing the government is enough to put you on one side, and you are put on the other side if you do the same to the corporations. So, although nobody knows for sure what defines one side or the other, there do seem to be two of them…

In recent times, politics has more easily been stripped down to simple questions of identity. The slogan of the broad anti-Kirchner spectrum was “N8: I’m going”[1] while government supporters of all stripes responded with “N8: I’m not going.” But since when is it important to announce that one will not respond to a call for action? Perhaps since the rise of addiction to Facebook and its customs, or since politics has shown itself in its most miserable aspect: the assignment of an identity to everyone, which brings with it the feeling of belonging to a group or faction. In this way, debates are just appendices that are used simply to reinforce a party line chosen in advance, and not one that has been chosen based on its veracity or the strength of its claims. Because they can serve just as well for one end as for another, the point of any argument is not to make sense, but to impose one’s own sensibility. “One’s own” is just a saying here, because these sensibilities are nothing more than the reasoning of one bourgeois faction or the other.

These “debates” that are presented as the center of discussion are nothing more than the unimportant filler in an identity that, when it’s not consuming a religion or a football team, does the same with politics. Personal discussions have taken on the televisual dynamics that nursed them: newscasting formats, pseudo-investigations, and reruns. Neighbors, family members, workmates and Internet communities talk as if they were parts of a televised panel discussion, in which nothing more is at stake than opinions. Meanwhile, everyday life continues on, immutable…

Without the bombardment of the mass media, this mise en scène would be quite different — as many inter-bourgeois struggles would play out in office blocks behind closed doors, or in bank accounts. But both factions have enlisted the pressure of the citizenry — that is to say, the reduction to the category of citizen of everyone who lives in Argentina, without distinction of social class, caught between two options of repression and exploitation. Hence the importance of D7 (December 7th) and the “media law”[2].

Even for the most thoughtful intellectuals — from one faction or the other — the much-criticized “idiot box” would begin to display something more than idiocies, depending on the TV owner.

The importance given to D7, beyond the inconclusive result of the legal conflict, is due to the ability of the two sides to continue fortifying their position, and above all the idea that it is impossible to be outside the “discussion”. Thus, just as the right to vote is defended despite the understanding that “they’re all the same shit anyway”, people talk about freedom of expression but have nothing new to say, and much less desire to generate their own means to express it. As with all democratic liberties, expression is controlled by the State and defined by the Capital. If you want to radically critique their imposed order, it is not recommended to trust legislation in order to do so, in the same way that using the enemy’s media to make your own voice heard has never brought good results.

We are more politicized by the day, but in the worst sense of the term — every day we are more citizen-ized, more institutionalized. The 2001 rebel slogan “que se vayan todos” (“They all must go”) is ridiculed as infantile, thick-headed, as an example of “how bad we were then, and how good we are now,” according to supporters of the government. And when the opposition drags it out as a memory, it simultaneously builds the myth of the glorious Argentine people, who threw down a government. Thus, the cacerolazos (pot-and-pan marches) are removed from their context of assemblies, pickets and organization. They are deprived of their content, and of the real potential held by “que se vayan todos.”

Likewise, two weeks after December 7th and just before the New Year, lootings took place in various places around the country, and brought with them the specter of 2001. The concordance of the dates is suggestive, but does little to help our understanding of the facts.

They say the same things as always, that the looting was organized, that it’s the work of infiltrators, and once again the government and the opposition — in this case in the form of syndicalism — trade accusations. Everything possible is discussed, words are thrown right and left, but what is avoided — voluntarily or involuntarily — is calling the problem by name: capitalism. Which means, at these latitudes, paternalistic politicians[3] as well as despair, hunger and frustration caused by the necessities inculcated by dominant culture, corrupt policing but also legal outrages. The contradictions of capitalism explode in our faces, and nobody wants to take responsibility. Those who live at the expense of the commodities we ourselves produce, and then advertise them by telling us that it would be unfortunate for us if we didn’t obtain them, are the same people who are horrified when the poor steal them.

The great fuss over opining “like they do on TV” doesn’t allow anyone to think clearly about what happened, about the wave of casualties left by this wave of looting. These deaths are caused because the dominant system values a human life less than an LCD flat screen TV, a case of cider or a pack of noodles, when it should not be worth more or less, because a human life should never be compared to an object.

It could be that the looting was nothing less than an act of desperation of those confronted by the material conditions of life, coming to Christmas and the New Year when generalized madness and alienation rise in proportion to the barrage of advertising, summer heat, money that never stretches quite far enough, and the certainty that one more year has passed by while you were immersed in the routine of work or marginal living. What the looting did say is that despite a decade-long circus of progressivism and human rights, the structures of exploitation remain intact. The looting once again brought those who really suffer into the spotlight, canceling out the boring bourgeois “Kirchner or anti-Kirchner” dispute. There exist poverty, overcrowding, drugs, and they are inseparable from a social decomposition in which it is the same to rob a supermarket or your neighbor, the exploiter or the exploited. But even this cannot bring us to join the chorus of indignant voices, shouting to high heaven about these events that happen a few times a year but keeping quiet every other month despite the pillaging of the planet; keeping quiet every other day of the year despite the pillaging of our lives.

It seems easy to see the looters as scapegoats of this decadent society. And we always hear the same “argument”: If they were hungry, they wouldn’t steal a TV. Maybe those who formulate this cheap critique are working in order to buy nothing but bread and ramen? If we are going to be meticulous, those who buy TVs and those who steal them both risk their health and their lives, whether the threat is the fast bullets of the cops or the slow deterioration that routine life works on the body; neither of them cares whether their TV was assembled by a worker with health insurance or a juvenile in chains, and once they get it they’ll watch the same eleven imbeciles run after a ball, or the same implanted breasts… so then, whether you break a window to loot or open your wallet to pay, is just details anyway. The “indignation,” the “horror” come from those who have been imbued with bourgeois morals of sacrifice, an ad nauseam flag-waving of those who never tire of talking about those “negros de mierda” (“shitty blacks”) while they lick their lips thinking about buying stolen TVs at bargain prices in the nearest slum.

Those who show indignation about these acts, and about not the daily injustices, have an a priori hatred for the poor. Once again “arguments” are something extra with which to fill their chosen identity, which suits the powerful just fine.

In the case of Bariloche[4], society is literally divided: the Bajo is rich, tourist-focused and Swiss-looking while the Alto is where every villero[5], worker, Mapuche, Bolivian and “chilote”[6] is found. Two years ago, when “the blacks” came down because of the murder of 15-year-old Diego Bonnefoi by a trigger-happy officer in June 2010, the police repressed them leaving two more dead, slaves who prepared food in the expensive hotels of the Bajo. Now once again the “barbarian hordes” that live in precarious housing and survive freezing temperatures without gas heating, came down to the Bajo. They were accused by Miguel Pichetto, senator of the Frente para la Victoria[7] in Rio Negro, of being “hard-line groups originating from the extreme left, with anarchist beliefs and delinquent tendencies.” Meanwhile, in Buenos Aires the vice-minister of Security Sergio Berni said that “there is a faction that loves chaos and wants to stain Argentina with blood during these festivities.” The establishment represented by the ruling party, which repeats as automaton that it does not repress protests, did not hesitate to send 400 border guards with firearms and tear gases. What twisted rhetoric must they have used in “6, 7, 8”?[8]

The possible solutions that were thrown into this sea of opinions are also worthy of mention. They reduce the problem to one of poor administration, placing the blame on “the Kirchners” or “the socialists.” They call to “democratize democracy,” as if this weren’t democracy and as if democracy wasn’t a criminal order. Then come the various different euphemisms, all the ways to say that it’s necessary to discipline the poor. In this the Left and the Right are in agreement: almost inhuman schools styled after prisons, competitive sports, art as alienation from creativity. They fill their mouths with words about the poor, but really want them to be normalized, ordered, and fulfilling their democratic duties in silence. Every one in their place: those who can pay cash or in installments, with the poor as a far-off reminder that it can always get worse.

Indignation is having to either work every day for the Capital, look for work, or beg for money. Normalcy, the murders and imprisonments due to the private property system must cause indignation. The “looting problem” is that we are still waiting for the great looting in which we will recuperate our lives.

Translators Notes:

As of this writing, all persons arrested after the events in December 2012 as well as their solidarians who were caught (including three anarchist comrades) have been released.

[1] A mass protest was held on November 8th, 2012 against the continued government of Cristina Fernández de Kirchner.

[2] The Audiovisual Communication Services Law, passed by the Kirchner administration in 2009, which expanded government control over broadcast media — at least partially in response to intense media criticism of the government, primarily from opposition political parties. The law would require some media conglomerates to sell off or cede some of their properties. Media conglomerates, notably the Clarín media group, filed injunctions against the law, which led to a Supreme Court ruling that established December 7th, 2012 as the date on which an appeals court would make a final ruling. However, the appeals court deferred the decision, prolonging tension between the government and media multinationals.

[3] In the original punteros políticos, an Argentine name for caudillos — the on-the-ground representatives of State power, who co-opt local organization and dispense paternalistic benefits.

[4] A ski resort town that was the site of some of the fiercest rioting and harshest repression in the end of 2012.

[5] Someone that lives in a shanty town; also used to insult a person as a synonym of disgusting.

[6] A racist term for people of Chilean descent living in Argentina; the name comes from the inhabitants of the islands of Chiloé on the Chilean coast.

[7] “Front for Victory”, a leftist Peronist party.

[8] State-run political discussion TV show launched in 2009 to combat the supposed bias of media networks against the Kirchner government, and to propagandize journalistic deontology.