Quote of the week

[Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro] possesses, however, few of his predecessor’s resources, lacking not just oil revenue but Chávez’s surplus of charisma, humour and political skill. Maduro, unable to end the crisis, has increasingly sided with the privileged classes against the masses; his security forces are regularly dispatched into barrios to repress militants under the guise of fighting crime. Having lost its majority in Congress, the government, fearing it can’t win at the polls the way Chávez did, cancelled gubernatorial elections that had been set for December last year (though they now appear to be on again). Maduro has convened an assembly to write a new constitution, supposedly with the objective of institutionalising the power of social movements, though it is unlikely to lessen the country’s polarisation.

Greg Grandin
London Review of Books
3 July 2007

¨Them¨ and ¨Us¨ mindset primitive

Ok, I promise this is the last word on the topic. I have now finished the tome by Ronald Suresh Roberts on the train back from Machu Picchu and a few things strike me about this vigorous defense of President Thabo Mbeki.

According to the unlikable Mr. Roberts, President Mbeki is always right and his detractors always pig headed settlers from the colonial tradition – no matter what the topic. This seems rather simple minded and unbelievable. No person – no matter how well disposed to the President – could believe every word of this book. It is just too over the top.

It is also interesting that Roberts, who often lauds Mbeki for his subtlety, and obviously thinks that subtlety is a virtue, does not do subtle himself. The most grating and intellectually problematic aspect of the book is the duality set up between ¨them¨ and ¨us¨.

He argues that one is either a native (a sort of state of mind that flows from one never criticising the President) or one is a settler (which means one criticizing the President or one has family who once slept with somebody who criticized the President).

Of course, anyone who has read any 20th century Continental philosophy or who has some common sense (native or otherwise), would cringe at such a simplistic dichotomous analysis. Surely we know that there are always far more than two sides to any question or controversy.

He does a disservice to the President by arguing in this way because it suggests the President is not subtle at all, but is a bit of a paranoid bully, who sees the world in stark terms but hides it from time to time to outfox the settlers. If this is true, well, then rather Jacob Zuma.

Mr. Roberts refuses to see issues as complex and refuses to admit that one can criticize the President without being a racist colonialist pig. He often goes on an entertaining riff about the colonial or imperialist mindset and I cheer him on. But then, in a lazy sleight of hand he links the critic of the President to this analysis to prove the bad motives of the critic, sometimes in the most tenuous way.

But what is lacking is an engagement with the actual critique. A settler´s arguments is invalid per se.

This kind of them or us arguments are insulting to the intelligence of the reader and will discredit the good points made in it about the often implicit racism and assumptions of white/European superiority that forms part of our public discourse.

Having said all this, I am intrigued enough to want to spend a night at a dinner party with a lot of red wine and Mr. Roberts as an adversary. It will be highly entertaining. It will also allow me to question him on those passages in his book that suggests that he might have a bit of native homophobia in his bones.

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