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Something hopeful for a change

In this post I want to discuss something positive. This past week something good happened in the world of politics for a change. And it’s only fair that someone as jaded (I like to think, realistic) as I, take stock of it. Leopoldo López, a historic figure of the Venezuelan opposition, and someone who has endured jail, house arrest, persecution, and torture by the Venezuelan regime of Nicolás Maduro, managed to rejoin his family in exile in Madrid.

I was having breakfast telling my wife Beatriz (a Catalan) what realistically could and could not happen politically because of his exit, when she asked me point blank: “But you are happy that he escaped, right?”.

It struck me that I have become very adept at separating my personal feelings from the politics I analyze. I have even incorporated into my routine steps to make sure I don’t confuse what I would like to happen from what is likely to happen. I have been very successful in my analysis because of it. I like to think it keeps it fresh and insightful, if sometimes cold and unfeeling. Companies pay me to tell them what is like to happen, however harsh that reality comes across, because my responsibility is helping them prepare for the unthinkable. No executive has ever asked me how I feel about something, only what I think.

But I have two kids, Emma (5) and Lucas (3), and over the years when I took a moment to think about López’s sacrifice as a man – spending years in jail away from his family, enduring the abuses of a regime – it was I who sometimes found it unthinkable. I have become really good at standing back, separating myself from events, and maybe I flatter myself a bit too much that this is a talent (I still think it is).

But a bigger takeaway here is the concept of sacrifice. Growing up in wealthy democratic societies makes us too comfortable, which means it is rare to find people willing to sacrifice their lives to preserve their freedoms. It’s paradoxical isn’t it? Too much freedom makes us less ready to defend freedom. And bad political actors take advantage of the fact that liberal democracies have become too soft (but this is material for a future post). As Francis Fukuyama pointed out in his book The End of History: “Men with modern educations are content to sit at home, congratulating themselves on their broad mindedness and lack of fanaticism.”

I have long thought that a century of oil abundance has left Venezuela with a new generation of opposition leaders who are mostly decent, democratic folks, who believe in the rule of law, but are unwilling to sacrifice lives to oust a ruthless dictatorship.

I grew up in El Salvador in the middle of a Cold War-inspired civil war, and I often think that, in that ruthless country, with the highest murder rate in the world, people would have risen up in arms to try to oust a dictator like Maduro. They would have tried to assassinate him several times now (I’m not saying that’s a good thing). But what is objectively inspiring is to see a politician that grew up in abundance, sacrifice years of his freedom and comfort, to achieve an almost impossible outcome.

Whatever López does in the future, his actions up to this point offer an undeniable lesson of tenacity and sacrifice to his kids (who had to make do without a father for years), and for the kids of other people who still believe in liberal democracy.

What I’m (Re)Reading

I have been thinking lately of A Clockwork Orange, a novel by Anthony Burgess published in 1962. The book describes a dystopian future where gangs of youngsters go about beating people up, just because they can. The novel is innovative in part because Alex, the protagonist, speaks in Nadsat, a made-up argot, a kind of English tinged with Russian.

The book depicts a reality that prompts us as readers to ponder if violence stems from nature or nurture. The crudely violent Alex lives in a largely decent, democratic society which believes that confused and dangerous young people like him can be reformed, peacefully and rationally, even medically.

This progressive attitude prompts the ruthless Alex at some point to say (I translate his words in parenthesis): “I had a real horrowshow (fantastic) smeck (laugh) at everybody’s like innocence, and I was smecking (laughing) my gulliver (head) off.”

One of the best things about this book is the controversy over its ending. When first published in the US, the editors left out chapter 21 – the author’s intended ending – because they reasoned it was unrealistically hopeful. Cutting off the last chapter gave readers a more thoughtful, if less positive, view of humanity – namely that it’s very hard to change human nature (I’m not going to ruin it by saying too much). I am decidedly a chapter 20 ending kind of guy, a believer in tough realities. But this week I would like to think that we should all read through the more upbeat 21st chapter.

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