Geopolitics

Argentina's Sham Democracy, Serving Only Political Insiders

Argentina's electoral routine fosters inequality and injustice, enabling opportunists to cash in. It's time for a new approach.

A polling station in Buenos Aires. Just for show?
A polling station in Buenos Aires. Just for show?
Ruben Lo Vuolo

-OpEd-

BUENOS AIRES — The representative democracy we have in Argentina is in reality an electoral ritual organized around a two-headed entity, the governing party and its opposition, whose political projects are actually quite similar. It is a system of ongoing confrontation between groups within the elite.

With honorable exceptions, these groups adopt references or identities vaguely related to political parties, but they will readily split from them and negotiate with old adversaries if necessary. In short, they prefer "power strategies" to forging policy platforms. In practice, most political groupings offer a mechanism to ease their members' social and economic ascent, while practically freezing social mobility for the rest of population.

We shouldn't be surprised then that political news is mostly about business and (economic and ideological) corruption. Our political dynamics have the same motivations as those of business: earning money, controlling institutions, crushing the competition, rewarding good employees, selling accumulated "political capital" to the highest bidder, etc.

The actors, of course, try to hide all this behind a political discourse of baseless platitudes — if not blatant lies — that uses superficial imagery typical of advertising and devoid of significant content. The population, meanwhile, has no reliable information to assess the country's social and economic situation.

In our country, political practices and federal functions display both partiality and generalized disinterest. They have neither a moral dimension nor any meaningful social or economic proposals for the collective good.

They neither build nor feed on trust. Instead, they work to line up a supply of "militants" with a carrot-and-stick system. Rewards in the form of future work or public- and private-sector business, on the one hand, are complemented by use of fear and "attendance" checks as a form of social control.

We shouldn't be surprised if Argentina's most profitable economic activities are tied to the mining of natural resources, market control, accessing insider information, real estate speculation, and clinching privileged deals with state officials. These are activities that make easy money for the opportunists who rise up the social and economic hierarchy without merit.

Our current democracy doesn't meet the ideals of a society based on mass participation, equal opportunity and personal freedom. These seemed to be the promise when democracy was restored in 1982. Today the system is built around the interests of certain groups, which make a profit from speaking of and for "the people." They may say one thing, but their minds are focused on maintaining member interests and media profiles, while carefully filtering outsiders wanting to attend their political festivities.

Many people and groups refuse to lend their services to the ignominious cause. And for that they pay a very high price. They must face the dangers of being marginalized from those in power, and they suffer the constant loss of time and effort to resolve problems that should be solved collectively and fairly among all. The logical result of this situation is inequality that is evident in all social groups and practices.

These problems persist because it seems the elites are comfortable with them and concerned mainly with picking candidates at election time.

Their conduct helps explain why, after so many years, the same social and economic problems continue despite electoral cycles and supposed political changes. For a real change to enduring problems, we need to criticize the system right now, and find alternative proposals about how democracy should function in Argentina.

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Ideas

Saving The Planet Is Really A Question Of Dopamine

Our carelessness toward the environment could be due, in part, to the functioning of a very primitive area of our brain: the striatum.

Ad scuba-diver and brain coral

Stefano Lupieri

PARIS — Almost every week, a new scientific study alerts us to the degradation of the environment. And yet, we continue not to change anything fundamental in our systems of production and habits of consumption. Are we all suffering from blindness, or poisoned by denial?

In his popular books Le Bug humain (The Human Bug) and Où est le sens? (Where is the Sense?), Sébastien Bohler, a journalist in neuroscience and psychology, provides a much more rational explanation: The mechanism responsible for our propensity to destroy our natural environment is in fact a small, very deep and very primitive structure of our brain called the striatum.


This regulator of human motivation seems to have been programmed to favor behaviors that ensure the survival of the species.

Addictions to sex and social media

Since the dawn of humanity, gathering information about our environment, feeding ourselves, ensuring the transmission of our genes through sexual intercourse and asserting our social status have all been rewarded with a shot of dopamine, the 'pleasure hormone.'

Nothing has changed since then; except that, in our society of excess, there is no limit to the satisfaction of these needs. This leads to the overconsumption of food and addictions to everything from sex to social media — which together account for much of the world's destructive agricultural and energy practices.

No matter how much we realize that this is leading to our downfall, we can't help but relapse because we are prisoners of the dopamine pump in the striatum, which cannot be switched off.

Transverse section of striatum from a structural MRI image

Lindsay Hanford and Geoff B Hall via Wikipedia

Tweaking genetics 

According to Bohler, the only way out is to encourage the emergence of new values of sobriety, altruism and slowness. If adopted, these more sustainable notions could be recognized by the striatum as new sources of dopamine reward. But there's the challenge of promoting inspiring stories that infuse them with value.

Take the photo-collage exhibition "J'agis ici... et je m'y colle" ("I'm taking action here... and I'm sticking to it"), a collection of life-size portraits of residents committed to the energy transition, displayed on the walls of the French coastal city of La Rochelle.

Backed by the French National Center for Street Arts, photographer Martin Charpentier may be employing artistic techniques, but he's also tinkering with neuroscience in the process.

Les Echos
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