Sunday, May 06, 2007

poniendo a prueba la naturaleza humana

"En una dictadura no sabes quién se esconde en la sombra"

today there is an interview with Romanian author Norman Manea, titled as above, and which translates as "in a dictatorship you don´t know who is hiding in the shadows". i have been thinking about these things of late, prompted by a series of readings in the past year or so. but also, last Friday i went with friends to watch "The Lives of Others" ("Das Leben der Anderen" in its original German, "La vida de los otros" to Spanish friends). on the one hand i wondered then how you must feel if as a German one watches the movie. i mean, yes, some points in the movie are funny in an absurd way e.g. where an informer puts his/her spin on events that the observed persons are engaging in. but looking beyond the two+ hrs of entertainment that a movie brings, the sad truth at base is that the scenarios depicted in the movie was what people had to live with for decades. the link between the movie and the Norman Manea interview is the following: he says that a close friend of his had spied on him. but the friend had told him from the get-go. but still that this does not change the fact for the effect that it had, because the sense of intimacy of the private life is lost in this kind of circumstance. think about it for a second; put yourself in his shoes. he might sit back and think: my best friend is informing on me, but he has confessed to doing so. am i supposed to feel better for having received the confession? after all, still intimate details of my life get passed on to others.

which brings me to a question about national psyche. as i had asked a friend the other day: how does a nation recover where almost everyone (and i think the statistics would indicate (if i remember Timothy Garton Ash correctly re the Stasi and its system of informers -- as many as three out of four persons were informers (i might be wrong with this stat) ) is spying on their loved ones, friends, and neighbours, how do you, as a nation, get over that? yes, you can rather clinically state that when the infrastructure that supported such a system is no longer there; when people lack the incentive, the behaviour does not persist. but still, how do people start to trust one another? surely a lack of trust persists somehow? for instance, Manea says in the interview
(legend: R = his reply; P = interviewer´s question; my translation in brackets)

R...En un sistema totalitario, todo el mundo sospecha del otro, no sabes quién se esconde en la sombra.
(in a totalitarian system, the whole world suspects the other, you don´t know who´s hiding in the shadows)

P. Como en la película La vida de los otros.... (like in the movie The Lives of Others...)


P. Las dictaduras ponen a prueba la naturaleza humana.
(dictatorships put to the test human nature)

R. Una prueba muy difícil. Y es mejor no poner a prueba a las personas. Te juegas la vida, la de tu familia, la de tus hijos... Es difícil encontrar una solución aceptable con la que puedas vivir sin sentir vergüenza.
(a very difficult test. and it is best to not test people. you play with their lives, the lives fo their families, their children... it is difficult fidning an acceptable solution with which you can live without feeling ashamed)

P. ¿Cómo le afectó a usted esto?
(how did this affect you?)

R. La censura siempre estaba cambiando las reglas. El sistema era una pirámide absurda, y era imposible expresarse de manera crítica. Pertenecías al Estado. Para trabajar necesitabas el permiso del partido. Te entrenaban para ser prudente, suspicaz, inhibido. Y tampoco te sentías seguro en la intimidad.
(censorship always changed the rules. the system was an absurd pyramid, and it was difficult to express yourself critically. you belonged to the State. to work you needed the party membership card (or also translates as: you needed permission from the Party). you were trained to be prudent, distrustful, inhibited. and even in the sphere of the intimate did you not feel secure.)

P. ¿Hasta en la intimidad? (even in the private sphere?)

he then goes on to describe the case of a close friend informing on him. to me, the question is of interest because i do wonder how nations recover. i mean, yes, in south africa we had "truth and reconciliation", but still, sometimes people still don´t know how to trust one another. i´ve seen this most pressingly in cases, very much post-apartheid, where we had attempts at regional cooperation, but where the levels of distrust were such that cooperation was very difficult. even today, so many years later, this can still apply.

i guess, and zooming out a bit, you have this notion of "how to trust" in any society where there has been division of some sort.

moving to another point:
today i was reading about the case of a judge in Spain whose reputation has been brought into question by the Spanish opposition party, the Partido Popular. the latter had said that the judge had effected a certain judicial action so as to create a diversion from something else which was happening on the Spanish political scene and which was damaging to the current ruling party. today, the Spanish president responds that he is concerned by the kind of opposition politics that the opposition were entering into; that their questionning of the integrity of the judicial system was damaging for the state of democracy in Spain. the details are somehow irrelevant, in that the point i want to bring in here is that some time ago i had attended a public lecture by Ronald Dworkin. a lot of the talk espoused the arguments set forth in his book "Is Democracy Possible Here?" one of the main points he made was of how the level of political debate e.g. in the US, in Britain, needed to be raised, since latrerday politics had devolved into mutual acts of mudslinging, which then becomes (unfortunately) the popular standard for a notion of democracy, a là "if i can sling mud, then we must have a healthy democracy (because in non-democratic regimes you don´t even get to sling mud of course). i remember speaking with friends after, and i´d commented that this same US/UK view of politics got exported to other parts of the globe, and imported then wholesale into young democracies (e.g. Spain, e.g. South Africa). and people then in these places adopted the same reasoning of "well, we must be a healthy democracy if we can sling mud". moreover, the error being that the mudslinging is mistaken for (or masquerading as) engaging political debate.

so, my half-baked thoughts then. i´m sure i could re-write what´s above if i re-read what´s there. weave through some other pertinent thoughts. adding coherence, etc. but no. not now.

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