October 23, 2014
Euphemisms, violence and danger
For the Herald
If there is one thing this country must not tolerate, it is violence
The strike called by the right and left — Argentina’s latest oxymoron — ended all too predictably with no more achievements than the overacted joy of Messrs. Hugo Moyano and Luis Barrionuevo, as well as the discreet delight of Luis Etchevehere, the president of the Rural Society. But also pickets and threats, minor sabotage in the Metropolitan Underground, the intimidating presence of goons at the service of the worst of traditional Argentine trade unionism and some violent skirmishes. It is the latter which inspires these line because if there is one thing this country must not tolerate, it is violence.
In order to reflect on this issue, it is first necessary to understand that we face a vocabulary which has been systematically distorted. Euphemisms always confuse and those who specialize in fuelling the flames (especially some media groups) are also responsible for how difficult it is to live peacefully in Argentina. There they team up with a certain political leadership which, incapable of producing its own ideas, dances to the tune of that tendentious journalism that daily practises textual and oral violence while it accuses the democratically elected authorities of being violent.
At least since the dictatorship, our country has been popularizing new euphemisms. Saying one thing for another — to evade it or to tone it down, to disguise or hide it — is an old Argentine tradition. And although we cannot cover everything here, it should be briefly recalled that this started to become a serious danger in the times of the military juntas and afterwards during the government of Carlos Menem. And evoking this is a must these days because every euphemism, even the most seemingly innocuous, is as violent as it is elusive, deceptive and slimy.
Almost 20 years ago and in another newspaper, I had a fierce argument with the historian Osvaldo Bayer about the controversial legitimacy of “killing the tyrant.” And I seem to remember that about the only point on which we agreed was that violence is a trauma which permeates all our bloodstained history — and when I say “all,” I am including the 19th and 20th centuries in their entirety.
But if violence has constituted a national trauma which can only be transcended if recognized in its totality, it must also be recognized that here and now euphemisms and violence have bred a wretched style of political construction which deserves repudiation. It is both necessary and urgent to lay this to rest via the only path which democracy can permit — strict obedience to the law without false laxity or synthetic harshness.
Hence the enormous importance which the also necessary and urgent approval of the new codes — the Civil and the Penal — acquire. It is evident that they are being delayed by nothing more than the tenacious and even violent rhetoric of Argentine political leaders who present themselves as “young” and “modern” but who are ideologically ultra-conservative. It is no coincidence that these same leaders took their time before categorically condemning the recent lynchings. And it is legitimate to suspect that they were under pressure from their spin doctors for reasons of image, not conviction.
Just a couple of weeks ago the murder of David Moreira in Rosario, and the successive lynching attempts against presumed criminals, had an obvious and fairly miserable repercussion in the media, the product of which deepened and aggravated the miscarriage of justice. All of which is very serious because the lack of condemnation compounded what can be seen in everyday life as an irresponsible stimulation of copycat lynchings. Once again the vile euphemisms are heard such as “taking justice into their own hands,” “a vigilante thrashing,” “beating up the criminal” and “he who kills must die.”
Thus the word “punishment” ceases to be “the penalty imposed on somebody who has committed a crime” to become a “violent vengeance which we ourselves apply as a civilized gang (another oxymoron) because we are fed up with being robbed and nobody doing anything about it.” That “nobody” automatically implies an accusation of the authorities and the three branches of power. And, of course, “doing something” means killing, liquidating, annihilating.
The incredible thing is that even legislators who seem apostles of peace permanently fall into apocalyptic and thus violent rhetoric, often without realizing that the media giving them space are using them to generate more collective fury.
It is also striking — and this can be appreciated in any conversation with friends — how the discourse of hate promotes a kind of subconscious violence in normally peaceful people. Any citizen today can see how hitherto calm and respectable friends, triggered by an inexplicable resentment, suddenly turn to justifying any barbarity. It is astounding to see how they justify with euphemisms atrocities which until then they themselves would have harshly and rightly condemned.
“Taking the law into your own hands” does not exist as justice according to the law of the land. It is all about co-existence. And in Argentina it is urgent to put the issue back on track, to rewrite it into the constitutional canons and teach civic science. Any distractions on this point are too dangerous.