Power relations are changing. In the first two decades of the twenty-first century, they have experienced three mutations: they have dematerialized, conventional territorial boundaries have overflowed, and institutional channels have been crossed or omitted. Such changes obviously do not imply in any way their domestication, nor their weakening. On the contrary, what we are seeing today are extremely diffuse but at the same time extremely intense and wuthering power relations. That’s why a drop of water, anywhere in the ocean, can lead to a tsunami of social mobilizations. Everything is potentially conflicting. In fact, neutral and peaceful spaces are becoming scarcer.
In the first section I will proceed to outline each of the above changes. It is pertinent to anticipate that they are imbricated and mutually assumed, so it is inevitable to incur repetitions when explaining them. In the second section I will ask myself whether it is possible, on a personal level, to resist or make a veronica, like a bullfighter, the onslids and horns of intimidating power relations arising from the eaves of cultural changes in recent decades.
Power relationship mutations
In recent times, material resources have progressively lost importance in power relations. These are no longer gravitatingly determined by the sum of physical resources available to actors. Resources such as material wealth, war artifacts and purely muscular strength are becoming less and less prominence. Today the intangible dimension of power relations has been accentuated to levels that are only comparable to those of the medieval world. If in the pre-industrial era—that is, prior to the predominance of mechanical artifacts operating on matter—the greatest fear was the invisible power of God, in the post-industrial world what most intimidates a human being is the possibility of being excommunicated from the earthly city or, if preferred, fear of social ostracism, of the escrache. This is because today one of the things that causes the most chills is existential loneliness, which is materially harmless because it is invisible. Such a change is explained—in part—because now man is not only afraid of death, he is also afraid of life.
Unlike the pre-religious world, communities are not currently necessarily active in a particular geographic location, nor can their members interact solely by virtue of body closeness. Now its members can be physically separated, but virtually united, and their assessments can find sympathies anywhere in the world by virtue of media omnipresence. Thus, communities have both local, virtual and potentially global existence. Therefore, the magnitude of the might of any community, however small, is hardly measurable.
The media has turned planet Earth into something like the Aleph that Jorge Luis Borges imagined: a small sphere in which you can see everything that exists, only that the privileged observer is not Carlos Argentino, but anyone who has an internet connection with the option to mark preferences or rejections. The gaze of the world intimidates, but it can also greatly empower those who know how to interpret it to their advantage. His eyes catch the strongest and make him weak. In turn, the weak, by virtue of that same gaze, can be transmuted into powerful. An emblematic example—and a preview of such a change—was what happened in China on June 05, 1989, when an anonymous ordinary citizen managed to stop, with only a cloth, the advance of a column of tanks that was on his way to intimidate Tiananmen Square protesters. Note that a completely unarmed person was able to impose his will—and therefore paralyze and defeat—on a column of highly sophisticated war machines.
Power relations are sweetened, disguised, or coated with rhetorical clothing. As Tucidides of Athens said it in Classical Antiquity: the powerful consider what they like and just what suits them honorable. Always, in essence, has been like this. However, the novelty is that its success in the contemporary world has undergone two mutations. First mutation: the strongest is not necessarily the most powerful, as is evident in the case referred to above. Second mutation: the rhetoric that accompanies p-relationshipsOder began to use a Manichean language for three decades, which, as such, has a high potential for conflict. This is, in particular, speech that exacerbates an exclusionary dichotomy that crystallizes values versus anti-values in duality. Behind that speech lies a zero-sum game that incites polarization. When that game format is successfully transferred to the field of politics, citizens have to choose between being with good or being with evil. His language is bellicose or at least polemogenic. Why is it confrontational? Because an assessment along with blessing something, at the same time, curses something. What do you reject? Generic response: some entity. That something can be an anti-value or just a worthless one. The problem is that behind that something there is always someone who is concrete. Who’s that someone? It can be a natural person or a collective entity that as an antivalue deserves to be penalized or annihilated.
In this context it is worth remembering that values are human creations, they are social precipitates, that they are not worth themselves. Who’s going to stand them? The men who capture them, either those who subscribe to them unrestrictedly, or those who endorse them with their adherence. They ultimately impose them compulsively, through coercion. In other words, whoever dictates, who imposes, values are certain men and do so against—or in demeaning—of other men. By the way, for value to be made—that is, for it to transit from power to act—it requires power, which ultimately involves exerting coercion on others.
Rationalism, especially modern ones, has forged assessments to which it assigns ubiquitous and uctronic validity. That is probably not known by the man on the street, the citizen who mobilizes by a planetary crusade, because he is not aware of it, but operates on it. These assessments, as such, aspire to be universally unconided. Those who subscribe claim for them were worth it in any space and in any historical time. For this reason, the pressure that their standard-bearers—the faithful executors—exert to grant them worth is not limited to a limited space. It is therefore not unusual for digitized and politically mobilized citizens to judge (in good faith) urbi et orbi and, moreover, without historical contexts. In other words, since the valuations they enarbole have timeless validity, they judge facts of the present and also of the past with a single standard, and since the assessment has claims of universality extends its scope of validity to all spaces. In the age of digital globalization, the prosecution and sentencing is a virtual court. Its members are not individualized or geographically localized. No matter is alien to him, they all potentially concern him, and his scope of competence is global. Such are the assumptions with which anonymous judges operate, know it or not.
Since the validity of valuations is no longer limited to space or a certain time, this discourse—along with other factors—contributes not only to intensifying power relations and radicalizing political struggle, but also to placing them on a horizon without limits and presenting them as a war between good and evil , that is, in a confrontation between values and anti-values. Thus, any local conflict can potentially raise the supranational interest and intervention of actors who were originally outside the conflict. Such a struggle soon infarfies state institutions and erodes social forms.
For the reasons set out in the preceding paragraphs, power relations have been deinstitutionalized. They, in fact, are increasingly departing from the preset procedures as regards the means of exerting influence or pressure. The vehemence of the assessments encourages the regular duct to be omitted. Institutional means are replaced by coercion and sometimes simply coercion. It is also increasingly common for those who consider that their assessments have been offended, or that their interests have been injured, to dispense with institutional procedures for paying grievances. In fact, it is not unusual for the injured persons themselves to proceed with a sentence to compensate for the evils suffered, according to their own judgment of justice. In addition, they themselves choose the means to serve the sentence, one of the most frequent being the escrache that in Chile is called funa.
The bull and the bullfighter: horned and veronica
Panic associates and dissociates with equal intensity. What unies us is not love but fright, said Jorge Luis Borges, at constat the fragility of human affairs. For his part, Thomas Hobbes imagined a compromised scenario of fear in which the bonds between men are impossible. Certainly, there is a fear that cohesives the group and in doing so empowers it as a group. But there is also a fear that pulverizes the unity of the group and extinguishes its power. There is also a paralyzing, radically inhibitory dread that despots both individuals and collective entities. The scare is like this: it unies and separates; power and despotence; incites aggression and absolute submission.
Clearly, fear has a huge, if overlapping, prominence in personal and collective life. Terror can magnify real dangers to delirium. To ward off overwhelming threats, men often create a power greater than the dread they feel. They can create, for example, a Leviathan. Thus, the fear of the intimidating power of others is countered by the power of a super Other (with lowercase and uppercase, respectively). It is clear that fear and power are twin brothers. They are strictly congeners.
But panic is not only aroused by concrete threats; because it, by itself, can also cause unrealistic dangers. When this happens, it gives enormous power to the fictional entries that it has created. Those who are terrified do not warn that such ers are chimeras; in fact, he interprets them as objective realities. Today, political propaganda and advertising marketing capciously exacerbate and manipulate the terrors that have been created. Terrors that once activated generate enormous anxieties and anxieties that take little time to settle in speeches and concrete behaviors, which are not without violence.
Questions such as the following can be asked in the face of such a bleak picture: Can fear and manipulation be conjured? How can we resist power relations that are increasingly tempestuous and invasive? Is it possible to circumvent with a veronica the horns of power? In the light of the foregoing, those questions would, in the first instance, have a negative answer, however, the possibility of resisting that type of power relations is also perfectly possible.
Perhaps the temptation to give a negative answer to the above questions lies in the fact that in our midst there is a somewhat materialistic and mechanistic conception of power relations. Such a conception omits the subjective dimension that is connatural to the human being. It is an obvious fact, but easily forgotten, that not everyone swells the ego with the same things. This implies that not all of us react identically to the same stimulus. However, the chances of human beings reacting as standard to the same call increase to the extent that they are formatted in series by hegemonic cultural devices and, above all, because they have little self-awareness. On the contrary, people who have higher levels of self-awareness of their uniqueness—that is, to the extent that they are more individuals—are less likely to react in a coy and mechanical way to certain stimuli. This is because they are people who have a more developed subjectivity, reflexivity— in short, an individuality. That’s why they interpret the world differently and, for the same reason, react differently to their horns and appeals.
It is true that it has never been an easy task to become an individual, that is, a different person and aware of his uniqueness. Those who are, before they are, have had to confront themselves simultaneously and with the world. They lived their own odyssey in which they met and conjured the anxieties that besathed them. These people have had to navigate within themselves and explore and overcome the inner fears that are complicit in the panics that come from abroad. Whoever overcomes scares away hostile powers. Those powers that are in and out of us. Whoever has conjured the inner dread increases the chances of mitigating the influence of external powers and therefore widening their spaces of freedom.
Whoever knows himself—that is, who went through the fire of the crucible, depured and acquitted himself—appreciates himself. Self-esteem, as a variant of self-love, is how we value ourselves as unique people. Genuine self-esteem is anchored in the knowledge of our being and under it we are worthy people. Self-esteem—which is socially transferred as dignity—does not make us invulnerable to the judgment of others, but it is more resistant to the pullazos and horns of it. In this sense, it gives us a strength to navigate in the eraseswaters of hostile and adverse opinions. Clearly, those who prefer to disagree with the city to be in dissonance with themselves, as Socrates would say, have a consolidated self-esteem. In short, they are people who, when it comes to having to choose between political correctness or internal coherence, opt for the latter.
Today, self-esteem, understood as a profound ethical reality, does not go through a good time. She has been progressively displaced by heteroestima. What is heteroestima? It is the estimation, the appreciation that comes from outside the person, but which she appreflexively appropriates, perhaps, by selflessness. Metaphorically, the person does not look at himself with his own eyes; but does so with other people’s eyes, with the eyes of others. By the way, she sees herself as others see her. He’s not an autonomous person, in fact, he’s not free. Its existence is subsidized by the group that welcomes and values it. It has no existence of its own. Her identity, like the worth she assigns to herself, is a consequence of others’ opinion of her. Such a person is extremely sensitive to other people’s judgments. Since its identity and worth are subsidized by the status assigned to it by the reference group, when the group is questioned or attacked in its emblematic ratings its reaction is extreme, because it is its existence that is at stake. She—that is, his identity and worth—is almost entirely dependent on him. She exists because of him. You could well say it’s nothing without him. And it is preferable to have a subsidized existence than to be nothing.
Conjure fear or power?
As you can see, the uncertainties and fear caused by new power relations are largely due to their chaotic, volatile and anarchic character; against which conventional preventions and safeguards have become obsolete. Indeed, institutions have been overwhelmed and the patterns of legitimacy that ordered and emulsified contentious interactions have been swept away by new modes of exercise of power. Add to this the folly—and sometimes deliberate provocative eagerness—of some socio-political actors, the picture is not encouraging.
As a result, such relationships have become more abrasive and exasperating, thus accentuating the levels of anger and fear that are connatural to them. Therefore, making adjustments to institutionality is not a ballad, it is an imperative of circumstances, since the evaporation of the patterns of legitimacy exposed the essence of power, namely fear. For this reason, the central problem today is not how to conjure power, but how to conjure fear.
The content poured into this opinion column is the sole responsibility of its author, and does not necessarily reflect the editorial line or position of El Mostrador.