Friday, August 15, 2008

Do we need more Thomas More?

Since I am not watching the Olympics I got to watch the second season of the very fantasist series the Tudors. Tonight they beheaded Thomas More.

I have had some qualms about the reconstruction of Tudor England: much too clean; a king Henry the VIII well too thin (but sexy) and a Spanish queen whose Spanish is just terrible. Did they have to make her speak Spanish to the fake Spanish ambassador? But still, it is quite dramatic, quite entertaining, quite visual, and best, it is an excuse to revisit an exciting historical period, which I was musing resembles curiously many aspects of our contemporary problems, from justification of light totalitarianism, to free will in an age of political correctness.

And today we beheaded Thomas More. As the movie glosses lightly over the large moral questions that Thomas Moore faced and that led him to the scaffold, one could not help but wonder why was he made a saint. After all, he had no problem sending Lutherans to the pyre, he was not alien to censorship and his most famous work, Utopia, is considered as a commie book by some. No wonder his historical berth made him the patron saint of all politicians, who are certainly in need of role models.

Is thus Thomas More relevant today when he himself was far from blameless? I think he is because of all his qualities constancy and duty to the greater good ranked higher, and led him to the scaffold, a scaffold he could have easily avoided had he wanted to. True, under Henry VIII, a sexually obsessed totalitarian who had no problem destroying the shrine of yet another saint Thomas that run into trouble with a King, maybe More knew he was doomed and he might have decided to get it over with and become a martyr. The Zeitgeist then was about martyrdom and deep public shows of faith. Today Thomas More might accept an easier exit.

As I was watching Thomas More on TV I thought briefly of Leopoldo Lopez. I mean, there is nothing in the imagery of the movie nor in the discourse of the people and even less in the looks of the actors that could possibly remind me of Leopoldo. Why I thought about him is that even though he might be one of the most principled politicians of Venezuela today, he falls way short of the standards of a Thomas More. Never mind the rest of our local pols....

In Venezuela we do have today our own Henry VIII version. He might not be marrying around but he is equally single minded in pursuing his own self interest and pleasures. In an age of mass media we have invented new pleasures and who is to know what good king Henry would have done. After all, with in vitro techniques and antibiotics the succession problem would have been solved with less chopped heads.

Our King Hugo in a way effects the same mood on Venezuela as Henry did on England. You think I am kidding? Venezuela, a country that was deeply attached to the US and its way of life is breaking away in as painful a process, and lasting as long, as the break up of England with Rome. King Hugo suffers as much from his rejection by the US presidents than King Henry suffered from Rome's refusal to oblige him. And the people under them suffer equally form having to take sides. It took two centuries for England to finally settle its religious problems. In this respect it did not do them any good to have Thomas More and watch him beheaded. Henry VIII moved along and the Tudors lasted for over half a century more. Poor Thomas had to wait 4 centuries to become a saint. Justice arrives, but it has no timetable.

Do we have at least the hope of a Thomas More in Venezuela? I am afraid that the days are not favorable to Thomas Mores anywhere, at the Beijing Olympics, in Georgia, flying over Khartoum, negotiating in Harare or visiting Arab country summits. Upright attitudes are actually frown upon today: on TV such people look arrogant, insensitive to "different" cultures and people whose "peculiarities" are too often allowed to rank above basic ethical principles (only the Taliban seem to have missed such defense in the West, not because of what they killed but because of the burkha, a tad too much even for the most P.C. airheads of the world).

In Venezuela in front of our most psychotic president in recent history we have had the bad luck to be totally devoid of a principled great leader, if not political at least moral or cultural. I mean, we do have a whole bunch of luminaries that we should not be ashamed of, such as Padre Ugalde or journalists like Milagros Soccorro who daily stick their necks for us. Even among politicians there are some principled ones such as Teodoro Petkoff. They are all good but I am not sure what it would take for them to walk steadily to the scaffold when the time comes. Not that King Hugo can do a literal scaffold, at least not yet: he contents himself with executions from Alo Presidente.

Should we blame them? Certainly not. After all we saw what we did to the failed leaders of 2002 and 2004. Who talks or cares today about Juan Fernandez, one of the most palatable of the lot? Who is risking his or her career to defend Venezuelan political prisoners? Most are too worried about getting elected mayor of Tucusiapon. True, we should also get elected there, I am all in for that, we need every nook and cranny to build strength against Chavez, but there is something missing somewhere and that is someone who is willing to compromise it all for a political cause that we all know is right, even if many will not agree with it. On this respect the Venezuela people do resemble a lot the English of the XVI century. They all knew in London that it was wrong to behead Thomas More but they all watched and moved on.

Perhaps the most pathetic example today of what I am saying is Leopoldo Lopez. He refused to prepare a Plan B for when he would be barred form running for Caracas mayor. Once he was barred then he decided that he would not support anyone (a me or else moment?). Now he comes up with a second run, an opposition primary to replace him, which we assume that he will manage, and which will also ensure an exit for his protegé in Chacao town hall. I cannot tell you how underwhelmed by Leopoldo Lopez I am now. I cannot think of a faster switch from wanna-be martyr to cheap survivor! One week!

Curiously in the same week we got a new candidate for the Thomas More award. Oh, he is certainly not close to win it but at least he is the one politician that is taking steps towards a productive martyrdom: Ismael Garcia. Yes, that is right. He might have accompanied King Hugo to depths that are unjustifiable, but so did Thomas with Henry for a while. And just like Thomas, when all fell to the King's feet something made him pull back. Ismael showed that in the deepest of him there was still something worth fighting for. Now, alone and still shunned by most folks he does his work, not recoiling in front of anything, going as far as marching in the streets next to Leopoldo Lopez just before this one blew his chance. And guess what? Ismael did not sign up to become Caracas mayor even though many thought he should do it. Maybe that "omission" is part of the strategy, but it was also a dignified gamble.

-The end-

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