If one thing characterizes the space of politics today, it is the polarization that is spreading in societies. We live in a time of malice. I speak of that aversion that makes ill will against someone or something a whole life project. Until paroxysm. Just think, for example, of the chill we feel when we see the thousands of supporters of Jair Bolsonaro invading the Brazilian Congress or the mob of supporters of Donald Trump that stormed the Capitol in Washington two years before. The context, the flags and the paraphernalia of the masses changed, but we all saw that the way to reject with such belligerence an electoral result that had not favored their candidate was very similar.
In the end, Trump and Bolsonaro are only a symptom of the disaffection that has swept the world since the financial crisis of 2008. The question is to think about what kind of pathos or conditions have to crystallize so that these and other fanatics of their own can persuade and come to power democratically. That backdrop is what makes us fear new aftershocks. And it is that in these areas the visceral staging of the raiders —at both ends of the American continent— forms a central part of the message and effect that they seek to spread among the disenchanted in other countries: do it yourself. I don’t think there is a more grotesque x-ray of the discontent with democracy and the crisis of representation than those coup leaders sublimating their impotence by forcing the doors of congress, destroying their deputy’s chair and taking a triumphant selfie.
Polarization is correlated with mistrust. A few weeks ago, the result of an international barometer was released, which not only reflects disagreement with the management of governments and political institutions, but also a growing pessimism about what the future holds after the economic slowdown caused by the pandemic and conflicts such as that of Ukraine. This mixture of restlessness and irritability in the face of rising inflation and inequality, for example, ends up feeding the internal division of societies and favoring the withdrawal of identity. A whole breeding ground for the rise of authoritarianism and the proliferation of openly exclusive, racist, xenophobic discourses.
It is precisely this drive to define borders and repeatedly invoke the opposition between us and they which makes one wonder if it would not be better to stop talking about polarization and call it tribalism instead. Especially when the growing lack of hope seems to expand the fascination for an idealized past and the desire to have —and if you don’t have it, you build— a clear enemy. This kind of offensive reminds me again and again of Freud’s warning in The malaise of culture: it will always be possible to link a large number of men to each other “on condition that there are others left over to unleash the blows on”.
The politics of resentment and the desire for separation forces us to wonder if it is not possible to assert and mobilize other emotions from an emancipatory perspective. Otherwise, one suspects that our democracies will continue to be hijacked by characters who strive to present themselves as outsiders, spur enmity and politically instrumentalize sad emotions or passions —to say it with Spinoza— such as fear, frustration, hatred, nostalgia or anger. It is no coincidence that as soon as he announced his third presidential candidacy for the United States, Trump vociferated that he was “angrier” than ever. Nor that far-right parties like Vox make anti-immigration and anti-feminism their political flag.
It is evident that the discomfort with democracy can only be counteracted with social and economic policies that effectively combat inequality, corruption, impunity, and social injustice. The point is that it is sometimes overlooked that reconstituting the social fabric also has as a condition of possibility that the members of the community themselves feel affected by the misery, pain and fragility of others. And it is difficult to imagine that kind of sensitivity and political involvement without being able to seduce dissatisfied and atomized subjects with an alternative way of seeing, doing and feeling the common that brings them closer and shelters them.
The production of emotions is not —and should not be— the exclusive patrimony of the new authoritarianisms, populisms, and neo-fascist platforms. Every political community is, above all, a community of affections and desires. Otherwise they couldn’t settle, endure and imagine a livable future together. An indication of the abandonment of a common life project, as Antoni Domènech has shown, is the extent to which fraternity has been eclipsed by freedom and equality as a democratic value. I believe that confronting tribalism and the politics of resentment involves rescuing from oblivion that third republican value, which is nothing more than affection.
I suppose that for some, talking about fraternity or care will sound naive or anachronistic. That’s how it goes A time of marked interdependence forces us to think of ourselves as relational beings. We have known for a long time that our bodies and vital trajectories are exposed, whether we like it or not, to others. And vice versa. It is precisely this shared vulnerability —expressed to the extreme with the ravages of the pandemic or climate change— that requires rethinking the common and cultivating a contrapuntal perspective. This does not imply, of course, trying to eliminate disagreement and conflict. Neither deny the plurality and the need to be recognized as different that constitutes us. That is only aspired to by monolithic, persecutory and crazy regimes in which no one here wants to live.
In the case of Latin America, I believe that the deep malaise in the face of social inequality, corruption and the violence that we suffer forces us to problematize that approach that leads us to insist and obsessively expand everything that separates us. In the case of Mexico, it would be convenient to understand that social and political transformation —that is, a good future— will not come from systematically labeling and disqualifying as conservative or adversary anyone who does not agree with or fully falls into a narrow category of us. The republican thing would be to spend that energy in appealing to a shared participation and commitment —regardless of what each one is or believes to be—, as well as in cultivating an affectivity that crosses the ideological, generational, nationalist gaps. Marina Garcés is right, taking a position is much more than taking sides.
This kind of social and affective involvement that goes beyond the expected limits is not a chimera. I think of the Chilean outbreak in October 2019. How those protests were born when hundreds of students decided to demonstrate against the increase in public transport fares in Santiago. It is significant that said increase did not contemplate any change in the price of the student ticket; If those girls and boys took to the streets and jumped over the subway barriers, it was to protest and stand up for all those neighbors and workers who for years have been living poorly in one of the most unequal countries in Latin America.
This gesture of solidarity that goes through regardless of age or zip code is just a sample of the new political sensibility that has emerged in recent years and that enhances the meeting. While governments and leaders of various kinds continue to market with antagonism, the new generations are appearing and allying themselves in the streets of Chile, Colombia, Cuba, Peru, Argentina or Mexico to express their weariness outside of political parties. It is enough to read some testimonies collected in the chronicles of the book Rage to recognize that it is precisely that emotion —and others such as pain, indignation or mourning— that have summoned and mobilized thousands of Latin Americans to protest against the criminalization of abortion, the abuse of power, state violence or impunity of the femicides.
Since Hobbes, fear —and its first cousin hate— has concentrated the analysis of the political around emotions. The very idea of the social contract is anchored in it. That dominance hasn’t changed much in the age of social media and post-truth. I think it is time to shake off that bias and pay more attention to the place of other affects and emotions in contemporary public life. If Spinoza is right, fear and resentment will only be suppressed by a stronger, contrary affect. Perhaps if we stop underestimating what a body can do and think more seriously about the political scope of fraternity, trust or laughter, we could aspire to more supportive and just societies. To stop seeing sensitive reason as an oxymoron and with it promote our action.
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