Pope Francis v. President Macri: A Simmering Argentine Beef

A combination of political differences, bungling of protocol and lack of sensitivity seem to have further gnarled relations between Argentine President Mauricio Macri and fellow countryman Pope Francis.

Francis and Macri - a bit tense at Saturday's encounter at the Vatican
Francis and Macri - a bit tense at Saturday's encounter at the Vatican
Richard Roa


BUENOS AIRES â€" Words are only one way we communicate. So much can be said with silence. There are gestures, glances, the time we give someone and the posture we strike when we do. No words were necessary to see that Pope Francis and his kinsman, conservative Argentine President Mauricio Macri, didn't see eye to eye in their recent meeting that some described as "frosty."

Pope Francis gave expand=1] the president a shorter audience than any other head of state â€" a mere 22 minutes â€" and much less time than what the religious leader has afforded his political friends from Argentina.

A day before, from his residence at the Vatican, the Pope denounced the role of the rich in the world and the consequences of capitalism and wealth. Many viewed the comments as a preamble to his meeting with the newly elected Macri.

It's difficult to understand why the Pope is so uncomfortable with the new government that has just begun to administer Argentina. Personal issues may be at work here, in addition to growing religious discord rooted in opposing postures Macri has taken with the Church.

There is probably also some outright irritation related to the the Pope's Peronist sympathies, which put him politically closer to the last government of Cristina Fernández de Kirchner. It's as if he's keeping Peronism's soul alive at the Vatican. Was one cause of the pontiff's distress the presence of Rosana Bertone in the Macri cortege? She is the newly elected governor of the Tierra del Fuego province, a Kirchner supporter but also the niece of Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, believed to be an "arch enemy" of the Pope.

Another explanation for the cool papal reception, which surprised Macri, could be the format the president chose for the meeting. Macri went to the Vatican following diplomatic, rather than political, protocol, meaning he handled the engagment as if it were a meeting of two heads of state.

When Macri arrived, the president greeted "Francis," not Father Jorge (the Pope's name is Jorge Bergoglio) or Your Holiness or any of the respectful ways people typically greet the Pope. There were no words or gestures to show the Supreme Pontiff that Macri was among his flock.

The Argentine foreign ministry clearly fumbled the occasion. Pope Francis isn't just another head of sate. He is a global religious leader and interacts with rulers from that position, and expects recognition of that particular role.

Macri behaved at the Vatican like a talkative, focused engineer. It's clear now that the Vatican isn't looking for engineers. Macri has tried, and failed, to open up the relationship with the Argentine pope.

There must also be some ideological reasons at play. Macri is heading a center-right, secular and pro-Capitalist coalition. Pope Francis wants to be the voice of those who have nothing, which smacks of leftist populism. Between these currrents, there is mistrust, in part for the conduct and legacy of the outgoing leftist government and its base of social support.

These are just interpretations. It would all be much clearer if Francis would just tell us what's going on with Macri. But then, a Pope would never do that.

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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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