Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Mr Chavez goes to heaven...or to hell...

Whatever else he achieved in life, Mr Chavez certainly contrives to divide opinion with a starkness that is crystalline.

Either he is at the vanguard of democracy and socialism struggling against evil elites (and the dark hand of the United States) or he is a quasi fascist figure utilising the dark arts of charm, largesse and media manipulation to maintain power over the enthralled masses (and the cowed middle class). Take your pick and then manipulate your narrative accordingly!

I have to confess to having an innate distrust of anyone who imagines they should appear on television once a week for up to twelve straight hours and expect to be listened to (methinks a touch of narcissism there)...

But that prejudice aside, I confess to simply not knowing, so ideologically charged has the battle become that no honest assessment seems likely to emerge for a long time. When it does, I expect, it will be more colourful than the black and white tones of hagiography (or demonology) allow.

There was a very powerful sentence in Wes Jackson's 'Consulting the Genius of the Place' that has been playing in my mind all week. It is one where he comments that 'energy distorts perspective' (the energy might be actual energy or the energy of money or indeed of power). It enables you to do things now (by spending at a deficit) that are not sustainable, that you do not recognise, because they disguise, limits. Some of this may be necessary, some of it may enable you to invest in a future that does return you to equilibrium, but the temptation is always to get lost in the excitement of the energy and fantasise that the limit is either gone or too distant to notice.

In the language of sin, this would have been called 'lust' to which, like every other sin, the answer would be 'humility' (from the Latin word humilitas, a noun related to the adjective humilis, which may be translated as "humble", but also as "grounded", "from the earth", or "low", since it derives in turns from humus (earth)).  I can think of no better word for consulting the genius of a place than the word 'humility' in fact.

It appears to me that this is what all our political systems presently lack - humility - the sense that they have, we have, necessary limits.

A great leader, one genuinely worthy of admiration, would be one who could mirror our rage against limits and allow us to begin to see the need for humility (and they themselves would have to embody that). The only problem with being such a leader is that, if by chance they came to power, we would probably dispense with them quickly. The only US President in recent memory to try it - Jimmy Carter - was quickly dispatched and then canonised so we could admire him without enduring any change!

My only running criteria for a great leader now is did he or she help us to recognise and reorganize for limits? Did they so arrange their societies current advantages to achieve this necessary transformation? Where are the indicators that suggest that was so? Sadly, as presently constituted, very few within the world's leadership would pass muster - Mr Chavez, may he rest in peace, included.

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