Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Of the limits of intellectuality

The translation of the Moises Naim interview in El Nacional has raised some questions in my esteemed colleague Juan Cristobal at Caracas Chronicles.  Serious enough in fact that for once I must break a golden rule, never open this blog to private issues except the ones I have against Chavez.

Now, before you get too excited about reading intra-opposition blog feuds (you know who you are) be aware that I have too much respect for the great work of JC to blast him over a single post on something that rubbed him the wrong way.  In fact, even as I think he took the wrong angle and that I disagree with him, his post or rant, your choice, is constructed which is more than can be said for any chavista page still floating around in search of serious readers.  Thus this is not a rebuttal, nor, of course, an acknowledgment of putative mistakes on my part as readers are perfectly able to decide on their own which of the two interpretations of the interview they agree with: all the necessary elements have been posted.

If I reply in such way it is because unwillingly Juan Cristobal offers us a way to rethink once again why the heck he and I keep blogging day in and day out.  Well, not a wholesale discussion of the motivation, rather a questioning on how far we should go in our blogging.

The parts from JC post that seems to summarize best his displeasure would be:
Naím was asked to give a diagnosis of the country. .... his expert diagnosis is “the same as all Venezuelans have.” .....Not content with his non-answer, he goes on a riff, counting off the many ways in which he thinks the Venezuelan economy is screwed up. We have lots of energy but no electricity. We have money but we give it away. We have inflation, unemployment, and murders.....What Naím failed to do was answer the question. An economist, when asked to give a diagnosis of a country, needs to bring to the task the clarity of mind and conceptual precision that his training affords him. He needs to talk ..... the way the cross-cutting links between them affect the country's prospects. [my editing and emphasis]
When asked what should be done instead, he skirts the question by saying it’s “not even worth talking” about what should be done....giving an inconsequential, intellectually timid response.
In other words, for not explaining ways to get out of our problems,  JC implies that Moises Naim has committed the sin of non-intellectuality and I am guilty by association.

I am not going to discuss his position, he might even be right for all that I care.  What I am going to criticize JC is not to have a more solid grasp of Venezuelan reality, of committing the sin of non-reality-thought.

It does not matter how we dice it now: the problem of Venezuela is Chavez and as long as Chavez is in office any time we spend in discussing what to do in an after Chavez era is simply a waste, a misuse of any intellectual power best used elsewhere.


Because every month that Chavez remains in office is an additional month of destruction of the country, either in its moral fiber or in its capacity to dig from under the disaster that is falling to us.  Any plan that we might painfully devise today will be a moot point in three months from now.

True, there are some parameters that we all know and can discuss on ways to dealing with once Chavez is out because those are evils he has left us with: extreme political division, corrupt army, paramilitary structures that will cause trouble once Chavez is expelled, corruption, etc...  but it is simply a waste of time to discuss in details plans to evaluate our ways in a post Chavez era.  The only useful thing at this point is study what is going on, understand it and find ways to make electoral promises that can resonate with the reality in order to get Chavez out of the picture.  It does not matter what we promise for next September or for 2012, once the books are studied all of our plans will likely be useless.  Ask Greece's Papandreou for a recent example.For that matter, any promise of Chavez will be equally useless as he finishes off the country.

It is not for me to speculate on why Moises Naim came to the conclusion that there is no point in discussing a post Chavez era until we are sure he is on his way out.  But I understand his conclusion because I have long ago reached the same one.  That is why my blog is about reporting the offenses of chavismo, the outrage of the day based on logic and ethics.  My blog is about listing the offense for which in a post Chavez era a few dozen people will need to stand trial and account for their crimes so that no one will be able to claim "I did not know!".  That is why my blog is not about the intellectual reconstruction of the country because frankly I do not know how, frankly it is a waste of time and frankly I am not the one that will do it, being too old for that and not being among those politicians that will have to take charge.


  1. Daniel,

    Thanks for the response, I´m honored.

    If Chàvez has indeed managed to quash our thirst to intellectually engage the tough issues our country is dealing with, then indeed he has won and we should just wave a white flag. Because at that point, he will have expropriated our minds as well.

    It's your choice to let him do that. It's mine not to.

  2. Juan Cristobal

    I am sorry that you misinterpret my words. My choice is not to drop my intellectual parameters which I cannot do as I am a scientist by training. I just prefer to use it elsewhere, even on my blog on occasion, but not on topics of "reconstruction". For example, electorally my analytical record is hard to match, be it on explaining the why of things or the "what to do". Maybe you missed these posts.

    I think you sell us short: that we have been able to endure for so long with a coherence not matched even in our local press speaks volumes of our "intellectuality" in considering the issues. Without a coherent intellectual structure we could have never done what we have done since 2002. Indirect proof is found in what happened to chavista pages.

    It is always a risky proposition to consider the approach of problems of other people as lesser or greater just because we do not understand them well or because we do not agree with them.

  3. "It is not for me to speculate on why Moises Naim came to the conclusion that there is no point in discussing a post Chavez era until we are sure he is on his way out. But I understand his conclusion because I have long ago reached the same one."

    I reached the same conclusion way back in 2002, after the April crisis I knew we just stepped into the twilight zone.

  4. Roger9:12 AM

    It's hard to be intellectual when people have already gone to prison for saying the same things. Also, journalists work with facts and the statements of others. Thats why media outside of Venezuela is so important. Delicadenza is not required!

  5. torres11:08 AM

    From my perspective JC's post was in one way a compliment to Naim: JC's main argument is that Naim didn't meet JC's expectations in that interview. So JC had high expectations. In a later commment JC mentions that he's looked up to Naim for a long time. That's very complimentary.

    In another way, JC's post seemed a lot like psychological projection. He criticizes Naim for the very things of which JC is guilty. JC has often sidestepped analyzing proposals and discussing the criticisms of the few he has recommended in his own area of economics. Perhaps JC was simply hoping (counting on) Naim filling the void of answers that JC, and others, have not filled, either.

    I agree with JC in that Naim did not "diagnose" Venezuela any further than the diagnosis most Venezuelans already agree is final: acute chavezitis. And it seems JC didn't expect a different diagnosis. What JC seems to have wanted Naim to do is to talk economic advice. Your point is "what for?" Until chavez is gone, economic analysis and advice is wasted.

    I wonder how these posts would have been different if Naim had proposed something that, clearly, cannot work unless chavez is out of the picture? Or better, if he had proposed something that would help take chavez out of the picture, like daily cash distribution? Hmmm, let me diagnose this thought...


  6. JC,

    With all due respect for your informed opinion I have to disagree.

    First of all, none of us have ANY idea what Venezuela will be like after Chavez has gone, so any detailed proposals have to be tentative at best.

    At this point we are so far away from getting rid of Chavez that it would divert our energies to indulge in extensive debates on policy questions that often lead to disagreements and DISUNION,and disunion only benefits Chavez.

    Better to use any intellectual faculties available presently to defeat Chavez and establish a more 'United Front'.

    In this sense Daniel's focus on extensively analyzing the electoral situation in different parts of the country and then coming up with strategies is far more realistic and appropriate for our circumstances.

    Also too many intellectual debates in the face of the time schedule we are on, will only produce inaction.In Venezuela inaction has always been a primary flaw.Too much talk and not enough action gets us nowhere.

    It is interesting that even the very intellectual Naim,sees this point.


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