Lilliputian Footprints
Sketches for a sociology of México

-by Fernando Escalante Gonzalbo-

translated by D. Ohmans
© copyright 2016

Text imprint Mexico City, Fondo de Cultura Económica, ©2004

Lilliputian Footprints Index
Prologue I. A gigantic fantasy II. The interminable revolution III. The politics of resentment IV. Indispensable virtues V. Meditation on the worried class VI. Our state of nature VII. Praise the village VIII. CrackerJack theory IX. Each to their own X. The anarchists governing us XI. The savages of Lahontan XII. Lilliput seen from afar XIII. The possible Mexican democracy
Prologue LIKE ALL, Mexican society has their fantasies. They can be at times nonsensical or ridiculous, at times dangerous: I also believe they are indispensable. However furthermore they also form part of that which we call reality and they have consequences. One may try to conjure them away, demonstrating that they are nothing but fantasies. It amounts to the same. It is true that we are not a nation who have descended from the Aztecs, is true that our heroes in general have not been heroic and that our civil society has not attained being civil, but this is not it. Certainly no one has ever believed, on bended knee, the simplicities of motherland history; despite everything, a resort to nationalism has an indubitable efficacy. And any venue will do: a soccer match is more useful, even, than the feats of don Benito Juárez. On the other hand, in the demystifying enthusiasm there is also its dose of fantasy. During the last decades of the 20th century our elites were dedicated to denouncing the lies of the official history and the outbursts of nationalism and wanted to make us into another nation, turned upside-down, a disenchanted country, modern and decent. From the movies. There was something almost like an epidemic of cosmopolitan maturity, ostentatiously realist; a few generations of politicians and intellectuals who looked around themselves and managed to see nothing more than contributors, consumers or clients. It was more of less amusing to see them charge windmills; what was wrong is that they were actually charged, that is to say: their illusions, like all, had concrete consequences. Not always happy ones. There was a principle of order in their disenchantment, a consecrated separation of the traditional and the modern. All the anomalies, everything that did not function well, the dirty was placed on the side of tradition, where there was an enormous obtrusive and corrupt state and an infantile society, needy, hurting, yet also irresponsible and whimsical. Taboo. The alternative was the consolation of modernizing it, of occasioning its transit to that other, separate, world of modernity. It needs to be said that the attempt failed. The new nation has remained in the black arts and with reason: our dirtiness is absolutely modern and, in a certain sense, our industrious modernity is something very archaic, perfectly traditional, like the little boxes from Olinalá and pate quesadillas. What is interesting is the insistence--we have done it for centuries--with which one fabricates, now and then, that imaginary country not only superimposed, but also intertwined with the other country and its fantasies. A little later the confusion becomes spectacular. Soon we need to revert to the arcane wisdom of the communicants to recognize the difference and to know whether the outrages of a syndicate or the maneuvers of the Catholic church are modern, whether there might be contamination of cronyism in the organizations of civil society. This book results above all from that perplexity. In fact, the only thing I do is reconstruct fragments of our confused imaginary order, for I cannot determine at first sight the keys to the taboo. I have the suspicion that no one has them either in complete clarity. We create the illusion that scientific methods of research will also allow us scientific knowledge, clearly. The truth is that we know very little and that that little is only conjectural and approximative; it is not that we have answers, but that we do not even know how to ask. It happens to me, at least. That is to say: I would like it if the following pages were to be read above all as a confession of ignorance. They are essays that simply seek a sensible way of asking questions. I say that they are sketches in sociology so that no one will be deceived. It is an exercise in literature, without the ambition of demonstrating anything nor of offering exact information about anything. It is that: only literature. The series was published in the magazine Vuelta in 1997. For this edition I have corrected the drafts, which were at times impassable, and have modified some few allusions to the present (the present of then, it is understood) so that it can be read more easily. In the last essay, which refers to the beginning of the century, I have only changed the verbal times: the situation is, in general, that which could be foreseen since then. It is dedicated--the same as before--to my great master Rafael Segovia. Mexico City, June of 2003 I. A gigantic fantasy IF GULLIVER HAD NEVER appeared it would have been hard for the Lilliputians to become aware of their ridiculous smallness. Nevertheless, it might have occurred to someone to invent him and it would not have been so strange: the company of a cordial, educated and well-disposed giant seems a comfort, enormously tranquilizing. Thus it might be that even people very little prone to daydreaming find such a fantasy agreeable. Surely at the bottom of this one might discover some almost obvious infantile nostalgia. I do not believe that that matters much. Instead, its moral significance plays more of a part, because that can be a resource to annul all moral responsibility: before a monster of such size, nothing that we might do would be very serious. Yet also the excuse would be equally efficacious if Gulliver did not exist; in that case, we still could make him responsible for everything, without discussion and in an invincible manner. It is possible that a fantasy of that sort explains the propensity to imagine exorbitant conspiracies, authentic nightmares, the work of masons, Jews, Jesuits; also the fabulous ideas that are held concerning the State, from Hobbes onwards. In any case, it involves pedestrian substitutes and enough mishaps of divinity, which serve above all because they offer moral relief. It has been happening like this in México for a long while. On the strength of wanting it, we had persuaded ourselves that we live in the shadow of Gulliver: the omnipotence of the Mexican state is an almost unanimous illusion, which convinces both natives and strangers. Some paint him as a constable and others as an oppressor, cruel, suddenly democratic; all are in agreement on fundamentals: it is a giant capable of anything. Thus the most extravagant hyperbole seems reasonable and, according to them, we might have suffered nothing less than perfect dictatorship. According to what is variously alleged, there might be reasons to expect the post-revolutionary State to be a most efficient machine of overwhelming force. Therefore to go into the street becomes a strange, even disconcerting experience: the giant is not there nor does it seem probable that he ever was. The contrast with the common fantasy is violent and disorienting. Of course, in a certain sense the State is an abstract inaccessible thing and thereby cannot be seen, yet is manifested in a very material and concrete fashion whenever one emerges onto the street. And to the very letter. The State and the city have the same history at every point: not only have they grown up together but they maintain deep and complex, almost inextricable, yet also quite obvious connections among themselves. Such that one could not explain one thing without the other. The State expresses itself through the city, that only thanks to the State can exist as such. Expressed this way it might sound confused: in reality it is something very simple that can be appreciated with a simple glance. A city consists basically of a system of streets: an ordered coherent set consisting of streets. And with that one says more than it seems. A street is distinguished as a canyon, as a breach, by its character as a public entity, which gives it a series of functions whose utility is literally priceless. Summarizing everything possible one must say that streets serve to order space--the common and the private space in their multiple uses--and also to order transit. There are, of course, a series of material requirements for a street to exist. They are very obvious and also, in the final analysis, almost trivial: asphalt, paint, some form of lighting, signage indicators, and even certain minimal details of decoration. None of that is sufficient because they do not serve to impose order: they are not decisive, far from it, for establishing how the space is used. For that, laws are lacking; to be more exact, it is lacking that laws are obeyed. To make a city is a huge, interminable legislative task. It would be so even if only the most serious and peremptory matters were regulated: norms concerning land use, concerning private, public, commercial spaces, regulation of traffic, some relative organization of collective transport, certain general criteria of public order and policing. This highly complicated network of laws, regulations and ordinances is what converts the system of streets into a public good: singular, indispensable, so indispensable as only to be discovered when it fails. And fine: what anyone can appreciate in plain sight is that in Mexico City there are no streets. Those that exist as a material thing, with lighting and paint, are frequently impassable and impose a highly approximative, unreliable order. Their existence as public goods is doubtful, in most cases at best intermittent, if not indeed out. It would be something strange and notable if our revolutionary Gulliver were to be forgotten in the city or not be given importance. It seems more as if he cannot do it. There is a superficial and deceitful excuse: the city is enormous. It is true, yet also irrelevant. The streets are impassable due to many causes that have nothing to do with the size of the city. The most obvious and scandalous, that which should provoke greater indignation at the moment, are the routine manifestations, marches, stand-ins, sit-ins, and other massive political attempts. Two dozen lacking conformity with whatever can impose themselves, without much difficulty, closing off transit anywhere. And there is no solution other than waiting for them to become bored. It can be very bothersome and yet in it there is still a glimmer of recognition of the public nature of the street. In theory, a street demonstration is the apex of a political struggle: a confrontation between the citizenry--a fraction of them, it is understood--and public power. To occupy the street has a profound, serious civic meaning. For that reason the matter is usually resolved in the civilized nations with tear gas, rubber bullets and spectacular charges of the mounted police. Among us something like that would be unthinkable and rarely occurs. Neither on one side nor the other do the manifestations offer that epic, sensational aspect. Most of them unite, in effect, two dozen persons who ask for the most puerile and unseasonable things and who interrupt transit one day after another, without consequences worth mentioning. The political dimension comes to be so derisive that the act becomes something distinct, a sort of ritual without dignity, a listless tasteless celebration which impresses above all by its vacuity. They try to occupy the street because they do, because they can. However encumbering it may be, the street clogging ends by being a little ridiculous because any car driver does almost the same--to take the road--and without the need for political pretexts: with complete naturalness. Transit therefor arranges itself according to the urgency, the convenience, the occasion, also upon the audacity or the ineptitude of each. To observe the circulation of autos in Mexico City is a startling spectacle, which suspends the soul. Such a fitting and vigorous manifestation of incivility cannot be other than deliberate: what is seen is neither skepticism nor reluctance, but instead a very positive hostility towards anything public. Undoubtedly the subject has an unfathomable depth: what is certain is that the traffic signals inspire hate and contempt and it must be for something. Although it may seem strange, the result of all that is not an absolute, irreparable disorder. Perfect anarchy is so rare, as difficult to find as discipline: there is something else, it being the quite foreseeable and well- arranged forms of prepotency. In every instance, any citizen knows who can do more, what she can do and what it is which has no cure. One will say that that is the law of the strongest and it is, no doubt; on the other hand, to the degree there is compliance, everyone is. All that is peculiar in this case is that the State not be strongest: that against it many other powers are imposed with gracious ease and, in particular, two enormous political apparatuses - that of the pedestrians and that of collective transport. The vendors and pedestrians decide on the use of the surface and the right of transit without attending to any criterion other than their needs. The impose limits, conditions and service on private property with an efficacy unreachable through the laws and without appeal. In fact, in their mode of appropriation and organization of territory one can recognize the classical attributes of sovereignty, in its correct political sense. With similar power towards their own they impose for their respect on the owners, administrators and conductors of the vehicles of collective transport. It might be, of course, that some of them may find some material and substantive pleasure in the punctual transgression of every rule, as something personal; there are cases of this which do not allow doubts. Nevertheless, what is decisive is the sense of political affirmation that this carries with it and that is not trivial. The predominance of some over others is an overwhelming although relatively pacific, and therefore intriguing, fact. Before a challenge of this sort, that gigantic State, which could be perfectly dictatorial, ought to react with unlimited violence, even with fury: if there was logic, the streets would be the scene of permanent and fierce struggle. It is not like that. The police agents, the inspectors of public routes and the uncountable other functionaries do not fight tooth and nail against the illegality. They can usually be seen lolling about, comfortable and one would say also content. Everyone uses the street as best they can, as if it were a random good or otherwise disposed for their particular appropriation and the functionaries get something more for the part that they take. Surely they are right. They treat the laws as their own resource, the more useful the more nonsensical and impractical, and the same happens to them as to the politicians; they last they would want is an orderly city. For them the State is truly the enemy and in a manner much nearer, more material and understandable. It is not strange that we are fans of the gigantic fantasy of the State. While it remains credible it could relieve us of almost all blame. It would be frankly disagreeable, by contrast, to have to see ourselves reflected in that other order which we have created between ourselves. Thus we are surprised several times every day by vendors, bribery, sit-ins, riots, accidents that with most rare exceptions are appropriate for scandalizing us. However much determination we bring, the illusion continues to exist: we do not have streets and no Gulliver is there to remedy that. II. The interminable revolution IN SCHOOL one usually learns plenty of hogwash and it is natural. The contrary would be rare. However, even the nonsense of great mass may be useful, at times indispensable, to extract some moral that would be difficult to access in another fashion. The children six and seven years old, for example, are taught in México that Porfirio Díaz was bad because "he abandoned the needs of the people." A solemn stupidity, of course, that would be scandalous is the proposition were to teach history: it is not. With that and other similar ineptitudes something more serious and also perhaps simpler is attained: one wants to children to learn to live in this society and know how to accommodate themselves in it. That which the phrase says about Porfirio Díaz in particular is unimportant. What counts is that, by memorizing it, the children discover that there is something extremely serious, definitive, which are "the needs of the people." So serious that it serves as a moral criterion to judge the government and decide the course of its history. The anecdote that gives due weight to said moral is, of course, the Revolution (which was the result of don Porfirio's forgetfulness). Yet its consequences are much greater. If one considers a little, with all its innocent silliness the phrase has an overwhelming efficacy, which stands one's hair on end. It is not strange that violence is celebrated. It can become disagreeable, sad, discouraging, yet strange it is not. With greater or lesser dissimulation it is performed in all the countries of the world. War has always had the most elevated moral dignity and therefore is remembered: its evocation always seems of the most edifying. Because to celebrate the war is above all an educated form of celebrating the power of the State. Among ourselves, however, the encomium to violence is something more ambiguous, and its plausible civic meaning is at least doubtful. Among ourselves what is celebrated and commemorated is the destruction of the State: that of the Porfirian State in one case, of the colonial State in another. It is neither accidental nor petty that one prefers to remember and eulogize the slovenly savagery of Hidalgo much ahead of the conservative, naively authoritarian pragmatism of Iturbide, or that Villa and Zapata are preferred to Carranza and Calles. Correctly seen, it is reasonable that we celebrate the State with discretion, in more of an oblique and even equivocal manner: it suffices to go into the street for anyone to take note that there is not much to celebrate. It is also reasonable, likewise, that the cult of the Revolution be so emphatic and solemn. The existence of the Mexican State is precarious and even dubious, above all when placed in contrast with the solidity of the political arrangement that prevailed during almost the entire 20th century and which in good measure still persists. It is quite an original arrangement, which needs to take account of the formal organization of the State, with the solemn drafting of the laws, but likewise needs to interrupt the logic of its functioning; it needs an institutional apparatus for the collection of taxes, for ordering the management of expenditures, to somewhat regulate intermediation, yet it has to be available, subordinated to the political necessities of the moment. A strange situation that is maintained by the revolutionary nature of the political arrangement. The Revolution at various times has been declared dead, exhausted, despite which primary education (and the rest) continues to be revolutionary. And it is for good reasons, the same as with the rhetoric of almost all our politicians. So then: as extensive and solid as it is, the revolutionary consensus has its difficulties; it particular, it takes work to discover the meaning of the Revolution, to find some unequivocal criterion for judging its success. Thus it is debated--nearly a century later--whether it has concluded or not, whether it has been twisted, betrayed, interrupted, or recovered. Everything depend on whether in its intimate essence it was Maderist, Zapatan or Callesian. The truth is it may have been the three things or none: its effective nature is not decided on that plane, is not a philosophical problem. The defining mania, the preoccupation with revealing (and defending) a doctrinal meaning for the process seems somewhat artificial, a forced consequence of the political rationalism which has remained with us as a legacy of the Enlightenment; at bottom, it obeys the conviction, incredibly ingenuous, that a political movement can only be serious and worthy of consideration if it manages to realize an idea. Attending to the most pedestrian and prosaic materiality of things, the issue becomes much simpler and does not offer such sophisticated doubts. A revolution is, in substance, a change of political personnel (violent, spectacular and sudden); its triumph or failure is decided therein, apart from whether there are better or worse ideas or none whatsoever. So then: to achieve that change agitation must needs be accompanied by characteristic rhetoric, directed in particular at demoting authority, reducing its prestige and dignity. That is why Jorge Cuesta said that revolutions are favorable to vulgarity. Authority needs to be discredited, detracting from its respect not only to destroy it, but also so that the shoemaker become a governor, the schoolteacher made head of State, does not become ridiculous. Yet also lacking is to disqualify the old forms of doing things, to censure the unjust, unfair, abusive ones; because those newly arrived always have other modalities and other political needs. In all that the Mexican Revolution had considerable success, but that is not unusual. In the final analysis, our political tradition is revolutionary, hostile towards all formal authority, against the impersonal dominion of the State. It is so from the Bourbonic reforms forwards and surely for good reasons: wherever it exists, the intractable rigor of legality is imposed only as a consequence, tardy and precarious, of a long process of civilization that is often different from our own. Among ourselves, indigenous as well as ranchers, the military and the priests, the businesspersons, the unions, all have found the pretensions of the State always unjust, unreasonable; and have discovered very worthy and sensible motives for resisting it with every resource imaginable. Instead, Mexican society has wanted and has managed to impose other forms of authority: closer, more flexible and natural. The political arrangement of the 20th century has therefore been stable to the extent that it has been revolutionary yet maintains not only the rhetoric but also the practices that to abbreviate we can call traditional: refractory to the state logic. Rhetoric matters, nonetheless, and has a convincing efficacy, above all for its simplicity. The basic ingredient, perhaps the only one truly essential, in the revolutionary Mexican rhetoric is the needs of the people (those learned by the children with the tale of Porfirio Díaz). It has a kernel--to begin with-- that the people are an indigent monster, comprised of lacks and neediness. For this makes, if not forces, the petitioner's position to be easier and more accessible, more or less painful or angry. What is decisive is that the people come to be a counterweight, a moral adversary to the State. The suitable recourse, for that reason, for conserving the strange equilibrium which our political arrangement requires. So urgent, so indisputable are the needs of the people, that it is obviously just to attend to them above all others, and that they serve as a moral criterion for deciding any controversy. Wherever they are mentioned, because of whatever it may be, there is nothing more to say, for which reason in the end only the revolutionary opinions have validity: the others are immoral; it is right to discard them even with a joke. The recourse has one very notorious virtue: it puts an injunction, in a permanent and irreparable way, on the authority of the State. No other justification is enough to confer legitimacy upon the public power which at every step can be disqualified for the infamous act of being anti-popular. On the contrary, and for the same reason, almost any outrage is pardonable if done in the name of the people, with the intention of relieving its infirmities. From that the recourse to extortion being so easy and attractive follows: demonstrators, strikers, planted or comrades might not have the right to what they demand, but they always have the superior moral authority awarded for the fact of being the people in need. That is why fiats are so frequent: any politician can be pardoned for going over the law, given that they do it for the good of the people. But the revolutionary rhetoric has various other consequences, also advantageous for the political class in general. For instance, that all property titles be suspect and therefore disputable, precarious. Because before the ostensible privations of the people, wealth is indecent, perverse. The conclusion is obvious and most usable: it indicates a very convenient enemy, makes morally impossible his defense and permits the politicians to have in their favor the enormous force of resentment. In general, to keep the people as the moral adversary of the State allows the politicians to surmount the troublesome obstacles that legality usually interposes. The needs of the people decide in every case what is just, and that in an overpowering, definitive fashion; so much that juridical scruples become derisory, if not scandalous. We live completely naturally amidst amnesties, exceptions and extraordinary decrees; nobody really needs to explain why a penal action is suspended, why fines are pardoned or invasions legalized. It is the Revolution in progress. All this the children learn with the story of don Porfirio. They learn to disparage the law, to disbelieve in the authority of the State, to cultivate resentment. Yet none of that makes them anarchists, rebels or the like. Our revolutionary education only procures the discredit of the modern institutions: the market, the law, political representation, the State, in such a way that not even a shadow of bad conscience disturbs the submission to the "natural" forms of authority: the family and force. Those prevail without difficulty, because the revolutionary rhetoric cannot affect them nor do they need any justification to be effective. From them the actual material order of the Mexican political arrangement is forged. III. The politics of resentment MONTESQUIEU SUPPOSED, and it seems sensible, that to each form of government there should correspond a principle, a characteristic virtue, adjusted to the necessities of its political organization. He well knew that there could exist a monarchy without honor or an aristocracy without moderation, a democracy without virtue; he thought, however, that they would be degraded forms, misshapen, of dubious future. It is not mad to imagine, in the same configuration, that the other possible governments, more or less corrupt and mixed, also have their moral principle. In particular if they obtain an appreciable stability and duration, which is the case in our political arrangement. By its order and functioning it corresponds, strictly, to none of the three classic forms of government, though easily recognized in it are typical traits of all; insofar as its moral nature goes, it can harbor many and distinct virtues: tolerance, prudence, reciprocity, yet none of them seem indispensable and none is sufficient to maintain this in motion. Surely the very character of our political configuration derives from the complicated coexistence of a bureaucratic set of modern institutions and some unrelated practices hostile to modernity: to the market, to the rigidity of the law, to the power of the State. With that one stumbles later or sooner upon the most superficial study of what happens in this nation; it continues to be, nevertheless, a sufficiently confused matter. The revolutionary rhetoric serves on occasion to dissimulate the maladjustment; in many others, by contrast, the "needs of the people" are not seen anywhere and the situation does not greatly change. In general, the everyday operation of our political arrangement the modern forms need to be kept and it is necessary to alter, to pervert their functioning in a substantive manner: in each case it is necessary to substitute the impersonal logic of competence, merit or equality, for another with more affinity to the natural forms of authority - the family, force. Something which in a very approximative manner is usually called "corruption" yet that only remotely is a moral problem. Certainly those juggling acts require a good dose of cynicism and occasional shamelessness on the part of politicians, functionaries and other notables: they are neither difficult to find nor exceptional either. What is decisive, truly indispensable, is that the people accept it without anxiety nor bad conscience; even further: that they participate in it willingly. And there is one virtue, let us call it thus, capable of facilitating this very necessary disposition: resentment. It may be possible--and I say it with all caution--that that be the moral principle characteristic of our political form. Resentment is a convoluted metamorphosis of envy that results in the desire to bring down all merit, in denying there is something that is really appreciably valuable. It is a logical and most immediate consequence of some lack, defect or obvious considerable incapacity: it is in fact an attempt to alleviate the pain the humiliation occasioned by that lack and making it insignificant. The resentment resides in the conviction of having been the victim of an irreparable despoliation. It is not one's fault that they lack this or the other, and those who have them have no merit: everything is the product of a fundamental injustice which distorts the natural order or things. Those who have wealth, power, prestige--whatever it may be--are not worth more in any sense; on the contrary, for they are nothing but imposters, lucky usurpers. It concerns a complicated emotion, with many nuances. Consider whether it is so, in the brew of cynicism, pomposity with self-denigration expressed when one says--and it is said a lot--that the Revolution gave them justice. The most disconcerting of the typical features of resentment consists in that, once unleashed, it is hard to put limits on it: it directs itself against all and against everything. The old, remote and even sometimes unconscious wound opens anew at every alien triumph, by whoever, in whatever. From there to the hyperbolic, unmeasured complaints: everyone is a miserable hypocrite, life is unjust. And there is no virtue except in the victims, whose merit consists in being them. The spectacle which that produces is usually little edifying and, in general, considerably lamentable. Indeed, what seems most logical is that it ends, as Nietzsche thought, by fostering a degraded form of humanity, incapable of offering any serious effort. However, it might also have a political utility very worthy of consideration. At the start there are affinities of great prominence between resentment and nationalism; they are emotions that lend to confusion. The naive or belligerent exaltation of the nation frequently involves palming more substantive faults and shortcomings; it is also an indirect resource yet of convincing efficacy for discarding even the most cursory attempt at assessment. Because the first thing that nationalism prohibits is making comparisons: one's own must be appreciated for being their own, that is, for containing the incomparable. Literally: however wrong it is. Seen with cold blood, all nationalism is profoundly ridiculous and absurd, infantile; it usually requires the help of a painful set of weaknesses: pettiness, egotism, myopia, rancor, and it is probably that above all it serves to give satisfaction to less than decorous, if not clearly unpresentable, narcissistic needs. The more ridiculous, nevertheless, the more infantile and lacking in basis, it can also have darker derivations, in particular when the nation, deprived of so many things, appears as the victim. When they begin to talk this way, the dislocation is serious. What remains is the inverted ethic of resentment, for which only the failures are valuable and worthy of esteem, there is only greatness in suffering; now it deals not with the incomparable, but with the moral superiority of the nation, a natural consequence of the heroism with which it has supported unjust conditions. A history of heroic failures, a history of good and evils, where the bad have won. A vengeful, resentful history, which finds justification in past grievances for any atrocity in the present. If it manages to penetrate the soul of the people, which does not take much, victimizing nationalism has desolating effects. In extreme cases it is enough to unleash a war, for dedication to assassination with a clean conscience; what is usual is for it to be used to permit lesser knavery. It is enough to see, let us take as an example, the institutionalization of even the disparagement of foreigners in this country and the delicious satisfactions that that produces. This poisonous, violent derivative of resentment is not exclusive to nationalism. It obeys a very simple mechanism which Freud described in speaking of the personality of those who regard themselves as "exceptions" and spend their lives seeking a way to resuscitate past sufferings, more or less hypothetical. Who think that, for having been victims of an injustice, they are authorized to be unjust. It is something so obvious and so simple that almost any political agitator, from Catiline on, has known how to put their mind to it. There are many things that can be done if resentment is cultivated with sufficient application and patience. Without going further, one can always invent some "expiatory goat" and pasture the people's unquenchable spirit of vengeance. Those who are accustomed to consider themselves victims find the existence of the executioner very logical. Against him anything goes, and with reason. On occasion, some societies are given to battening on the immigrants, the gypsies, beggars, and other small people of the "dangerous classes": it is a sort of natural spasm in processes of decadence. Resentment allows the politicians to risk more, choose better and achieve sensational acrobatics. Because the people prefer, in this case, to take revenge on the powerful, who enjoy that which the rest lack. The greater the wealth, the prestige, the enemy's power, the better: they will be more credible as a usurper and offer a more delightful spectacle when they fall. And that is not a novelty either. But resentment is also utilizable towards many other goals. It helps to conceal errors, to stir mistrust, to discharge responsibilities. The politicians who know their office always know how to take advantage of similar propensities. It will be said that no society is exempt from this class of emotions and surely it is true. Yet there are differences. What is decisive in our case is that resentment contributes to discrediting almost any form of perspective and, in particular, generic impersonal norms. That is to say, above all the typical norms and rules of modernity. As a rule, we shall assume they are rigged. To value is to discriminate, choose, separate the better and the worse. That is what is intolerable. The resenter detests whoever possesses something because he is convinced--in a more or less tortuous fashion--that this, whatever it may be, had been snatched from him, unjustly, so that all valuation performed on that basis seem inequitable and a trap. To celebrate success, even to propose a term for comparison, is to redouble the injustice. It is worse yet if they cling to some effectively universal standard. It is not by chance that the enemies of discrimination take shots, in recent times, against abstract, impersonal norms. But that is grain from another bag. What causes resentment to adjust to the necessities of our political arrangement with such happy exactitude is its tolerance for fraud. Once settled, converted into common sense, it provides a solid indifference toward illegality and the fraudulent arrangements of any sort. It is not hard to convince someone to accept a transaction if they are persuaded in advance that the result will be unjust in any event. If no merit is real or validating, if no criterion for distributing resources or prizes is just, then to subvert the rules, lie, set traps do not matter. Then it is only sensible and equable to force oneself in the more or less shameless bargaining of the "market." And it is well to do it without remorse. Because everybody does it, because there is no alternative, because the market involves, at least, the only indubitable resources: as above, the family and force. With that one manages to cope with the decay of the institutions and the customs. It also gives solidity and a good foundation for the political class, winning in their favor the stolid judging visage of the State. Where there is no merit which matters nor rule that deserves appreciation, all forms of competence are converted, later or sooner, into a political transaction. Neither the judiciary nor the market nor public services escape from this logic, nor even the prize for most mediocre and ordinary. The politicians are scrupulously attentive to this, not ignoring any opportunity. As useful as it is, the mechanism also has drawbacks. The first, that there not being agreement about what is just, nothing can be definitive: the political configuration itself has an air of precarious, provisional being. The second, and for many the more serious, that in our elites, despite all the prizes and awards that are given them, resentment also abounds. And from that sinister, incalculable consequences result. Perhaps that may be, in fact, one of the saddest and most discouraging failures of our arrangements, where one might well ruminate: failure in the formation of the elites. IV. Indispensable virtues IN "LA HORDE ROMAN" by Vicente Blasco Ibáñez there is quite an unappealing character, the protagonist in fact, who while completely disagreeable is also very familiar: an ink-stained pedant, opportunistic and boorish, of mixed reading, a connoisseur of living badly, envious, with more ambition than resources. In his free moments, which are almost all of them, he devotes himself to shining in a social circle evoking his most personal justifying revolution that will consist, taken more or less, in placing himself at the top to adjust the accounts of all the ignoramuses, parasites and scoundrels who have prevented him from scintillating, like he deserved. As a social type he is well-known: a shade of Rousseau, let us say, or of Julien Sorel, yet with neither the genius of the one nor the tragic greatness of the other. Maltrana, as he is named, is above all ridiculous and, for his duplicity, also contemptible. It is disquieting to realize that, among ourselves, he will have everything lacking to triumph. Such a personage, and they abound, will first be a student agitator, then a journalist, union leader, deputy, and will end being a businessperson or intellectual figurehead. And all without losing their country charm. The abundance of these sorts of stories, more or less moving, explains why we see so many newly rich, new politicians, new notables appear. It concerns that which, with a theorist soul, one calls "social mobility" and which, however much it appears desirable, still includes certain inconveniences. Our elites are full of the newly arrived and that is surely good; what is bad are the methods validated to get there: the virtues they have and those that they lack. In any society the elites fulfill a generic function that consists in serving as an example. In modern societies, that do not recognize any natural definitive superiority, this exemplarity is directed at everyone because everyone aspires to climb, like the scribe of Blasco Ibáñez. In the elites the people seek a model of behavior and it is logical: those who want to triumph, enrich themselves, gain power, prestige, influence, pay special attention to those who have already obtained them. That exemplarity of the elites is therefore purely empirical, with no other moral elaboration than success: they appear as models for the fact itself of being elites, whether they want to or not, whether they know it or not. Yet also it is certain that there are things to learn from them. Success, in the measure that it is not random nor predestined, requires some type of effort: a special disposition of the will, an habitual model of conduct. Simplification and being understood requires some virtue. Which is to say that the dominators are in every instance virtuosos of possessing those qualities that a society considers most necessary or estimable, or which simply are more effective. By rewarding astuteness, strength, discipline, austerity, whatever it may be, society dictates a morality, a series of norms for behavior all the more imperative when they are supported by the natural order of things. The general idea does not offer great doubts, as I see it; it is almost a truism. In practice, however, the argument becomes harder to swallow. To bring to mind the virtue of speaking of modern elites seems disproportionate, and suggests a mere--tricky--justification for inequality. If one looks at the Mexican elites, the truth is that their exemplarity appears doubtful at least. It seems with obvious frequency that those who comprise it are not the best nor can they exhibit appreciable virtues. Our triumphant ones impress above all by their mediocrity, if not for very weighty lacks and defects. Where there could be businesspersons, for example, we have only swollen and obtuse moneybags, covetous, kept or minions of the government. People made for quick transactions and monopoly, for soup lines and fiscal evasion: an elite of common usurers with the mentality of shop keepers. Things do not greatly improve if one glances at the other elites; at the journalists and intellectuals, we suggest for instance, among whom are highlighted the general agitators of rentals and university bureaucracies, revolutionaries on a fixed salary in charge of the budget: people skilled above all in draining the account and expert in fabricating regulatory mazes. The new technicians and specialists, seen by a stranger, are distinguished if at all by an infantile, strident, resentful vanity: they are a collection of mediocre little boys, greedy and loud, convinced that they deserve everything. To say nothing of the public functionaries because it is well-known that they do not function except in the management of private interests, and even less about the syndicate leaders, mayors and deputies, for that would be uncharitable. Some might think that my bad opinion of them all is because I view them with a bad eye and I think that is true. To seek in our elites the imaginary virtues of the modern order is something entirely misguided and can even be unjust; if we do so it is because we have not finished adjusting to the idea that this nation is as it is. Our businesspersons do not triumph through their initiative nor our intellectuals through their love of the truth. Nevertheless, one or another triumphs, has success where others--perhaps more austere, disciplined, exacting--fail. And there is no turning that page. It means that there is something in them, some virtue that our arrangement liberally compensates. To better understand the matter and not to make unnecessary rigmarole of it, it is well to be realists, to start in order and attend to what is in effect today. To what our elites are and to what they do. The first thing that leaps into view is the absolute rule of improvisation. Someone who today is a union leader can tomorrow be, without any formalities, intellectual or mayor, the same as a university professor becoming a deputy, a journalist a functionary, a businessperson into a governor and vice versa. It is such that everything is done, as is natural, by approximation and a bit of an emergency plan; hurriedly, furthermore, with one eye on the cat and the other on the scratch pad, for nothing is definitive nor wholly secure. Even those who settle and make a fortress of whatever occupation always have the air of being in something else; they are into something else: in general, on the telephone with a secretary of State or some other old chief. The lack of preparation and the incompetence are certainly noted, and likewise the pressuring, the lack of professionalism. Noted, but they do not have disastrous consequences: they do not annihilate anyone nor keep them from continuing to climb because there are no institutions that require a minimum, objectively measurable performance. There are no common, indisputable criteria for evaluation nor mechanisms for impersonal, mechanical, professional selection. On the contrary: all contribute to hide ineptitude and to lower the requirements. What is most common, almost automatic, is the cronyism and dissimulation, today for you and tomorrow for me. Let us say in summary that what constitutes our elites is not professional skill, specialization or anything related. In fact, it seems that among us all virtue can be substituted, and with profit, with a set of political aptitudes of the second order: prudence and good drinking, capacity for lying and sense of opportunity. Those are needed for having good success and they are learned watching our elites, and one learns to coruscate. Everything is arranged and well disposed so that obfuscation has definitive importance. For those who can surmount without major hindrance characters like the bitter little student of Blasco Ibáñez, clambering for office which in effect they obtain and much to their liking. Much better, of course, than any punctilious, angry and disoriented professional, whom one pretends is appreciated only for their work. Which means that the capacity to deceive is one of the most estimable virtues and surely not by chance. If I am not too mistaken, the key to that mechanism of inverse selection-- which consecrates the players and drowns the rest--is the absence of the State. For where it does not exist it is requisite, indispensable, to posit a political class and it has, by nature, an almost metaphysical, unbelievable voracity. It needs to be in charge of everything. And for this wheeler-dealer elites are most convenient, comprised of mediocre, opportunist and obsequious technicians. The basic procedure to favor the emergence and elevation of the insider elites is of an elementary simplicity. It consists in keeping the body of the state apparatus in a more judicial than legal inertia, and direct it is with a wasteful, welfaristic, arbitrary, obtrusive, erratic spirit. With that it results--and without much cost--that the success of any attempt, whatever it may be, depends above all on political factors. For that the public contracts serve, and the bureaucratic mess of permits, licenses, exemptions, the same as in the astute systems of academic evaluation, in official publicity in the press, or subsidies to seditious civil groupings. Wherever you like, all that can be trusted is punctual and attentive political intermediation: the rest are artificial fireworks and ways to waste time. Thus it also explains why our politicians are so well disposed to negotiate about anything. The most scatterbrained protests obtain, without much effort nor scandal, as a routine matter, some arrangement advantageous above all for the heads. Extortion is therefore one of the surest games and of course the most profitable that can be played; in addition to leading to friends and influence over people with the need for dull morality. The facility with which the politicians concede before any pressure is astonishing. It undoubtedly demonstrates a very lamentable, painful weakness of the State as an institution and also contributes to accentuate it, yet also strengthen--for the same reason--the political class: it increases their resources and permits them to utilize the slightest fissure to put strain on all sides. Encouraging the play of extortion they manage to politicize, let us say, every conflict: to impose another system, another enterprise and organization to the logic of the political class. Without serious threats, just simply through more or less spectacular exhibits of benevolence. Our political arrangement, in the absence of institutions needs rogues, in the absence of the State needs a cumbersome political class. Such that we could hardly bring about with rigorous, professional, disciplined, exacting elites; it produces and rewards that which it lacks, the disposition to coruscate which is, as can be appreciated, the only indispensable virtue. Now that that, if it were true, would lead us to a disconcerting and even stifling conclusion: the only ones who are in their place and do their work well, the only ones who amply fulfill the demands of their office are the politicians. And we all know that that cannot be. V. Meditation on the worried class A GOOD PART of what our politicians do and say in the election campaigns, above all what they do with respect to the press, has the purpose of ingratiating them with the middle class. And that for various reasons: first, because serious nations do it that way; also because they all have the impression that they are difficult, fickle, restless, irresolute, and somewhat distracted. Such that contenting them with more or less hyperbolic and disjointed cajolery does not suffice. Therefore, among other things, they speak about security so much. They deal not only with the extension of delinquency and the excesses of the police. Security for the middle class has a let us say metaphysical value, which speaks to their most serious and irremediable lacks. And politicians do well to utilize the theme, because there is much in play. When the middle classes feel truly insecure they seek comfort in some form of authoritarianism. They seek a chief of indubitable command, want order above all and, if pressed, choose some variant of fascism. Once this point is reached, the politicians have little to do, if they even survive. Of course, something like that among ourselves seems quite improbable: we would have, in any case, an improvised, scrambled fascism, fraudulent and cowardly; despite this, the truth is that the political behavior of our middle class is not one to inspire confidence. It has been consistent above all in its displays of disgust, of discomfort with public education, with the bureaucracy, syndicalism, corruption, with the excesses of public spending and the cuts to public spending in general, with almost everything the government does or leaves undone, with charging taxes in advance. Our middle class is complaining and discontented, it occurs to me, because they feel outside of the fundamental arrangements of our political order. They feel alien to the great deals of the businessmen and the politicians, alien to the corporate ties and benefits and alien too from the miseries of beggars, streetwalkers, microbussers, opportunists, and other small folk. It is quite an uprooted sensation, if not completely unfounded, but very real and most effective. Our middle class feel alien to the corruption and, thereby, alien too from the nation. Curiously, that distance does not seem to be a defect; on the contrary, it is usually even given as a virtue, since the modernizing spirit and the moral severity which our middle class adopts depend on it. There is some part of both, to be sure; middle-class language typically greatly resembles that of the gringos when they become enthusiastic, yet they also exaggerate, because the meaning of their protests is much more ambiguous. What appears indubitable is that our middle class do not feel comfortable: they feel insecure, excluded, out of place. And maybe with reason. Theirs is not a comfortable position. Between the demographic mass of the poor and the monetary mass of the rich, the middle class always seem to be of little weight, insignificant, much despite their effective influence. That precarious location, that discomfort explains, as I believe, some of their vices and automatisms: their slightly hysterical susceptibility, their highly forced, heroic ostentation, their faint-hearted and small-minded rancor, their strident prudery, two-faced and sappy. All explicable and even natural in those who cannot avoid the suspicion they are extra, that they are superfluous. They spend life in demonstrating (and demonstrating to themselves) that they are indispensable. What is most curious is that probably they are that, are indispensable, although they do not stop believing it. Because someone must be manager in the aisles of the supermarkets and someone must provide advice in the hospitals; some human material is needed to read the newspapers, to fill the halls of the UNAM and the hotels of Acapulco. They are not the owners, whatever illusions they possess, yet not the dispossessed either, though at times they lament as if they were. Humboldt said that in those places where civilization is little advanced or regresses the tiniest prerogatives of race or of origin are often highlighted. He said so because in New Spain he saw that "a white, although riding the horse barefoot, imagines themself the nobility of the country." Today things are different, of course, because no one goes on horseback. Also because the racial mix has become homogeneous, general. Yet with different signs, we are back at the same. Our middle class is roughly a cultural estate: they study in the university, read the newspapers, consume the foreign, and live on credit. And they turn as far as possible to look over their shoulder, with labored and candid snobbery, at those remaining. This gratuitous aristocratic gesture, this eagerness to distinguish oneself is perhaps the most typical of their characteristics and one of the most revealing. Considering it it occurs to me that perhaps the sensation of distancing and alienation, that feeling on the margin of the general arrangement might not be an accident and not only a direct consequence of the material situation of the middle class, but instead also a form of psychological compensation and a resource of identity, one of the necessary premises to support their problematic class consciousness. The components of our middle class enjoy with aplomb and ease advantages that would be unimaginable in other countries. They benefit, to start with, from a literally inexhaustible offer of personal services, at primitive capitalism or insider prices. To no one would it seem a big thing to contract with a cook and a nanny, laundress, gardener, and chauffeur; it is something affordable and habitual for a manager, an area director and employees in similar, definitely modest posts. In the worst of cases, of lesser means, they obtain a girl for everything, which suffices to liberate them from the indignity of washing the clothes or scrubbing the floor. As important as that or more is the facility that exists to clamber, to set oneself with a little post as chief (or almost), middle level in a newspaper or a place in the university. Our professional class is so meager, so lazy and mediocre that even a renowned dullard, a notorious loose cannon and the like can advance opening the way for their own to climb. All that is lacking is to make friends and wait, coruscate with application and seek the moment. Of course, good success is not assured and almost never immediate; it often occurs that someone else may have plotted the little post with more finesse. Then one can really appreciate the temper of our middle class: when one sees the envy, the ambition, the cowardice which together soon generate images of 19th century conspirators. One understands that such characters are even capable of revolutionary raptures. Nevertheless, later or sooner the climb is achieved and from the little post the world offers a totally different aspect, much more agreeable. Because almost always it allows one to hold the illusion of having arrived for professional merit, cleanly, and because then they have influence. Another of the perks for the average, whose importance is decisive. The influence of the great personages, the notables of politics or of business is of no great interest, because it usually looks similar everywhere. What is particular to us is the small influence of the more or less common individual, with medium hair; that which suggests to other functionaries with medium hair that they can grasp them one by one without haste. Between one thing and the other, our middle classes usually enjoy very appreciable consideration. One the part of those without a horse, it is understood. In the office, in the taxi, in the supermarket, they are all those characters who talk about you, with very careful deference. If the occasion permits them to also leave a tip, satisfaction is complete: the obligatory and opportune shows of respect on the part of this so distant fellow produces the impression of being in a high and ancient aristocracy. And that has no price. In light of all that, their non-conformity seems strange at first. However, it is most natural. A possibility for that trashy little gentleman if perhaps the uncomfortable sensation of being out of place sharpens. For things do not end being how they should be. The world of the middle class is a professional, accelerated world, modestly cosmopolitan but frankly modern, above all in their style of consumption: needing credit cards, electro-domestic appliances, procedures and contracts, licenses, all sorts of computers and telephones. The result is that that world, between ourselves, does not function. There are dozens of occasions every day to detest this nation or at least to despair about it. The simplest banking operation can convert itself into a demented net of commissions, posts, signatures, and vague threats; to repair a refrigerator, to cash in the guarantee on some product, to attach some tiles or re-paint a facade, the most insignificant incursion into the market becomes at least unpredictable. And this without mentioning the indescribable desolation produced by flicking a switch and discovering there is no light. Politics, the bureaucracy, the police, the system of procuring justice produce very serious disenchantment. Just the aspect of the offices and rickety cubicles, apart from the lines, the waits, the bovine movements that are the rules, inspire in almost anyone a profound, irreparable sadness; to give a bribe, furthermore, although it attains its object and permits one to emerge with their own, always carries a humiliation. Above all by the contrast with the seignorial, unworried, elevated life which seems the norm for others. Perhaps what seems most depressing in public offices is the inconsideration, which is completely, equitably, universally distributed: yet is much more resented, as is logical, by our modern little gentlemen. I imagine, though I do not have a firm basis to suppose it, that if a class arrangement were to be established in the administration, with entrance fees instead of the personal haggling of the mordida, our middle class could even reconcile with the politicians. For now, there is no way. Because all that disarray, the imperfections and insufficiencies of our improvised modernity redound, in an unfailing manner, to the detriment of the politicians' image, suspects of having robbed everything left. Guilty also, having confessed to making deals with the rich, with the poor, with the unions and the foreigners, with everyone except with the middle class, who seemed not to need them. It is surely unjust and even a little infantile to think like this, yet it happens. Something can always be saved by playing the nationalist string the efficacy of which is a little paradoxical. Our middle class would like to live in another nation, in a modern, decent and functional nation, but for that very reason cannot avoid a movement of instinctive envy towards the foreigners, gringos and Europeans in particular. The exaggerated susceptibility, the xenophobic tinges, the paranoiac and aggrieved patrioteering translate that envy; also perhaps consciousness--remote but certain--that the image offered of a barefoot rider might be ridiculous. Our middle class would like to live in another country, where things were to function. Yet without renouncing the easy little deference that this offers, just as it is. Without them having to have a demanding professional competence, without having to wash the clothes, without dismounting from the horse. The problem is that, as is most probable, one does not go without the other. It that lies, if I am not mistaken, the radical, unconcealable ambiguity of the political conduct of the middle class: the stridencies of their labored and candid snobbery, their restlessness and their equivocal nationalism. They would like to reform the nation a little, but without moving it from its place. For that it is convenient to promise them, above all, security. VI. Our state of nature OUR CENTURY'S END has been one of exasperated, grandiloquent and frivolous moralism. It is seen in almost everything, but our attention is especially called to a set of publicity campaigns for inspiring enthusiasm and responsibility, love of the nation, the family and the law. Minimal sermons beneath the rubric of very picturesque advertisements, for they advertise nothing. I think in particular of a group of "shorts" for radio and television conceived to promote civility. It is a series of who knows how many instances in which improbable scenes appear: a grandfather and his grandson insulting each other with shouts, a son offering a bribe to his father and others of similar style. I suppose that this pretends they are fables, parable or something like that; the result is so sad that it is not easy to understand. Just in case, the moral is made explicit. All conclude in a solemn voice, implying scoldings suffered, saying more or less: "You would not permit something like this to occur in your house or with your family. Why do you allow it to happen outside? It is an extravagant campaign, well-intentioned, bold and very costly, which deserved some type of prize, if someone were to give prizes for folly. It is something between ridiculous and monstrous, that inspires all sorts of questions. Put in the simplest terms, the advertisements say two things in an explicit manner: that in public life, in the street, "outside," we Mexicans are quarrelsome, irresponsible, shameless, and deceitful; that in the family, on the other hand, we are different and of properly exemplary virtue. The first part is true or so it seems, at least, at first sight; the second is much more dubious. At the moment, however, that is beside the point. What is curious is that the advertisements suggest that public behavior might be compared to that of the family, or even that that should be so. A very unique idea, that surely results from analogical reasoning or from some other similar automatism. The situation is that starting from there the creators of the campaign want to induce the change by provoking in the people a sense of shame at having behaved as is done when one is "outside"; therefore the voice of moralism sounds, apart from scolding, hurt. That concrete proposition, good as it may seem to some, turns out to be nonsensical, directly impossible. Shame is an intense, dark, complex sentiment, that is experienced as a consequence of having interiorized a demand of special severity, a prohibition, a duty almost inseparable from self-esteem. It is thus the solidest mechanism that civilization has to defend itself; and usually, not improvised nor capable of being capriciously transferred from one place to another. The equivocation that explains the attempt is obvious enough, yet by no means trivial; it consists in assuming that virtues of the family order--some of them, at least--could also be applied in other places, with other people. Let us say, for example, that one ought to be equally courteous, loving, considerate, and attentive with Mama and with any other lady; stated thus, almost any Mexican must find it monstrous. The family, here and everywhere, is organized starting from a principle of simple, evident, extremely natural exclusion. All its profiles and its characteristic functions depend upon that. In the family relations are ordered according to criteria that elsewhere become insignificant or even absurd, because gender and age have a definite weight, but also trivia like having been born one year earlier or later; furthermore, some typical virtues are also required in the family that only are possible through exclusion: varieties of confidence, honesty, also forms of interchange and assistance which cannot be generalized at all. Yet the supposition, mistaken or not, is not trivial. In fact it manifests an important and I think decisive trait of the Mexican spirit, of that that with pompous scientific modesty is called political culture: the organization of the elements of social life starting from a simple opposition of the family to everything else. A concrete opposition, which indicates different practices, resources of identity, forms of relation, yet also a moral opposition that is almost that of the pure and the impure. The main idea of the advertising whizzes assumes not only that the family is a model place full of virtue, but also that it is the basic moral spring, the only one capable of inspiring the feelings of guilt and shame that constitute the moral conscience. Of course, possibly it is like this: the scolding tone is of a depressing infantilism, but the worst is that perhaps it is not totally misguided and what works in México is, "What would your mama say?" That which the commercials say about the family is actually little and above all negative, abstract, of an intractable vagueness. About others, that which occurs outside, they are much more explicit, though they limit themselves to presenting ridiculous examples; they say, in effect, that the people should be quite uncivil: gross, abusive, deceitful. That is the kernel of the campaign: something ugly, disagreeable to mention, of bad bourgeois and even aping taste, yet perhaps also true. Civility is a disposition of the soul favorable to good relations, decorum, moderation and that imagines it is the generic condition of the inhabitants of the civilized nations. From there to civil society, civics, citizenship, civilization, which all go more or less together. Materially it is a compound of various lesser virtues, pedestrian and prosaic, of slight spectacle and not comparable to heroism, abnegation or sanctity. Virtues, if not for around the house, for in the street without a fuss: a distant courtesy, formal, of pure process, with a modest grade of honesty, care and consideration barely enough to not incur wastes in any part and approximately obey the rules of traffic. It is not much and certainly nothing heroic. It concerns the characteristic and most superficial virtues of urban agglomerations. Those which are lacking when one cannot count on the material and immediate pressure of the community. In a village a swindler does not live two days in peace, can neither pass anyone without greeting the neighbor nor without rubbing shoulders when it is necessary; the village consciousness, massive and small-hearted, is not concerned whether people are good: it prefers that they behave well. The city is something else, has always been a place of rogues, freeloaders, hookers, thugs, and abusers, and therefore those small, mediocre virtues are indispensable in her. A city is a dense difficult network, vulnerable and very fragile, a web of interdependencies of incredible extent. To live in a city, in any, and not necessarily Mexico City, is a delirious, monstrous and completely senseless experience. As if to survive the senselessness it is necessary to develop very rigorous and demanding mechanisms of self-control--prudence, moderation, calculation, patience--and that unspecified part of the discipline which Durkheim called "organic solidarity." From those materials civility is produced. It is not an easy matter, nor anything natural. In fact, the civilized ambiance results from a long, painful and sometimes catastrophic process in which intertwined, almost always in the worst manner, are the history of the State and that of the market. From one or the other, with the materially lethal severity of one or the other, passing their time the human beings learn two or three basic, uncomfortable and indispensable things; and learn them the hard way, with a lot of work, with disgust and begrudgingly. Let us put it as follows: after some centuries of walking beneath clusters of the hanged, the people acquire good table manners, stop at the streetlights and are careful to give exact change. A sorry history, certainly, that says nothing very flattering about our species. But there does not appear to be a happier or more edifying one. It would be more worthwhile, for the rest, more colorful, were the scarce heroic virtues of sacrifice, self-denial, valor, bravery to serve for something. But no. With very little heroism or without a plan, we too can arrange them; without the other virtues it is more difficult. For it so happens that that minimum of honesty, the mediocre honesty of the shopkeeper, of the market can become a sensational mess, the risk causing the credits to be inaccessible, mistrust multiplying the laws that are not obeyed thus increasing the mistrust which et cetera. It turns out that without that item of responsibility and consideration any collective enterprise sinks: a condominium, a university, a union, only support a small proportion of parasites; when the parasitism is universal, not even bones remain to gnaw. Without at least a principle of self-control, however rudimentary it may be, the streets would be impassable, and any public place becomes a dump... As the slogan says: without the prosaic virtues of civility what results is Mexico City. Those of us who live here know the consequences. There is no alternative, in that case, to living unresolved and on guard, prepared against trespassers, bums, characters and parasites, in a fierce interminable scramble. Life becomes, as Hobbes said, solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short. For which reason we decide to join and confer all our power upon an entity, on the mortal god to whom we owe our peace and our defense: the family. VII. Praise the village THE MAJORITY of Mexicans are equivocally progressive, by default, in the best of cases through curiosity: through the impulse to push the red button, to see what happens. The same can become revolutionaries through inertia, which is a very rare thing yet happens. With the elites it is different: for their most westernized and cosmopolitan portion, and for almost the entire middle class, progressivism is a nervous disorder, which results from the anxious urgency to live in another country. From one thing to another, from time to time and with jolts, the nation progresses. In its fashion, it modernizes. In passing irrevocably occasioning the most curious misunderstandings. We are eagerly modern yet without clarifying what that means. Modernity consists at times in painting things yellow and gaudy red, to write inserting many accents and a variety of apostrophes and quotation marks, it consists of Roberto and Juanito, the two bricklaying bunglers from long ago, now form a business that offers "guaranteed integrity maintenance." For the middle class of a progressive spirit it is something else, consisting in that said enterprise pay taxes, submit invoices and have a minimum of professional competence. Modernization, in México or wherever, is a disagreeable process, comprised of violence and repression, with a concentrated, centralized, disciplinary, and Jacobin inertia. By necessity--and at times also by choice--it provokes all sorts of ravages to the habitual order of things and overturns the relaxed traditional life in a definitive, irreparable way. Such that in general it neither occurs spontaneously nor can happen in peace, without anyone protesting. It is usually proposed as a deliberate, explicit political enterprise, on the part of a more or less recently endowed elite, with juvenile and sometimes even irresponsible enthusiasm, infected with progressivism, a disoriented and poorly established elite. Since they have no other resources nor a better remedy, they usually extend their hand to the State to reform and straighten out society; with bad luck, the army or some club or more or less dreamy revolutionaries take charge of the task, or perhaps a revolutionary army, of which there have been. In other cases it is attempted by force or bureaucracy, police and court chambers. The long-term consequences are similar. As is logical and understandable, every time a process of modernization is launched in earnest anywhere, the people react against it. It is for no other reason except that the modernizing proposition is almost literally inhuman and, of course, anti-natural; it is a grave disorder that can turn life upside down. The people seek the protection of the community, of the family, the Church, even informal and corporate links from what has existed all one's life and for that reason offers an illusion of security (and frequently much more than an illusion). Among ourselves, lacking as we are of an aristocracy or a Church with sufficient force, the reaction will usually be provincial and federalist. Every time that the world becomes incomprehensible to us we become nostalgic, village peoples, and discover anew the virtues of the ranch and the endearing richness of "our own," yet the nearest of our own, the most immediate and material that is suddenly necessary to defend against the incursion of the foreign and impersonal force of progress. The modernizing disease comes to us more or less every 100 years. It is a long repeated history that began with the Bourbonic reforms: a typical product of a handful of French and impertinent would-be French, who came to do away with the rosary of the Aurora (which did end very badly). Against them the wars of independence were fought which, apart from defending the dignity of the oppressed nation, contributed to establishing the places of Guerrero, Bravo, Guzmán, Álvarez and the other local leaders, wise and patiently involved with their people. The second struggle was longer and also more painful. It began with the enthusiasm of Juárez's clique, with furiously optimistic legislation, whose destructive efficacy persisted even despite the very prudent accommodations of Porfirio Díaz. Thus the Revolution was also federalist, municipal and at times directly village-oriented; so much so that to impose some order they needed to create political machinery capable of negotiating everything, available for the use of bosses, notables and leaders: that which through very convenient ambiguity is called Mexican presidentialism and whose logic consists in concentrating all the power so that it will not be used, in particular that it will not be used to impose fulfillment of the law. The third modernizing fever came to us relatively recently and is having consequences very similar to the above; as has always happened, the attempt has been in general celebrated and denounced with more enthusiasm than good reasons. The clique of president Salinas--much resembling that of Juárez--embarked upon a process of general modernization: urgent, imperious, even neurotic, to change our country from top to bottom. It was an assault that disturbed many of the involved mechanisms of intermediation upon which the traditional political arrangement depended and not by accident but instead in a deliberate fashion; indeed, it gives the impression that it was done almost with joy, with the illusion characteristic of the reformers. There were economic changes, shocks and disorders of incalculable importance, and there were also political changes: controls, cuts, new rules whose effect was to leave a considerable portion of the political class almost helpless. Meanwhile, the temperamental inclinations of the president accentuated the concentrating, centralizing and authoritarian aspects of the process; as often occurs with reformers--Peter the Great for example comes to mind--he liked to lead with a paternal, capricious and impatient command, obtrusive and even violent. The result was a chaos of angry reactions: riots, desertions from the PRI, protests by unions, by peasants, by businesspersons. And that in such a way that most practical, the only one sensible, was to revert to direct action, to pronouncements: to overleap the barricades and pens of the old system so as to negotiate directly with the Presidency. Because no one else had everyone with him. What followed after that is easy to understand. Instead of the tumult he inherited, president Zedillo had no alternative but to go forward: he could not recover the confidence of the political class nor restore the old understanding, such that it only remained to continue with the reforms, procure the dismantling of the latest forms of ordered, client-based, parasitical distribution, and dedicate oneself to applying the law (without neglecting the bankers, because one cannot). He needed to give his authority an incontestable basis, that would not depend on haggling and extortion, for he did not have anything to haggle over, nor could the old bosses offer him the type of support he needed. This explains the ambiguity of the relationship of the president with his party. In a very precise and understandable sense the PRI was an obstacle to modernization, as well as a considerable moral liability. Yet nevertheless it was needed. Let us put it in its simplest terms: the possible efficacy of Zedillo's government depended upon the PRI; its legitimacy--in the eyes of the press and the opposition--depended on him keeping his distance from it, even for him to attack it in a explicit manner. What that caused was straying from the middle road and relying on the rhetoric of legality, which offered the only escape: to push the reforms, rule the party, moderate the opposition and, at the same time, augment the autonomy of the Presidency. The trouble is that the people felt unconnected and with reason: they and others asked for justice to be done, as always, and the president offered nothing more than the law. This way there were no prospects. What follows, with the presidency of Vicente Fox, is a government at once progressive and reactionary, to give us the illusion that we are already definitely modern and can finally stop the carousel of modernization. In this approach, like the previous, the political class resents the changes in a very particular way, because they have ever less with which to negotiate, less room to maneuver and almost no guarantee for their affairs. The intermediaries see their influence diminished and, worse, run the risk of being ridiculous. There is no reason to be surprised; in fact, modernization will occur despite them. It is the will to impose a mechanical, bureaucratic order, of foreseeable and uniform moments: a standard human material is required, almost a harmony of nuts and bolts. And there is no worse or greater obstacle for this endeavor than the nuanced, ambiguous, irregular order that is produced by the politicians. Among ourselves, like anywhere, resistance acquires many forms, some tragic, senseless. Direct action is attempted above all, the least political way of performing politics, and in strange multiple alliances, that concentrate on trivial matters with a fixity which seems neurotic: the "great national problems" are condensed, suddenly, into a strike of the busses from Route 100, into the firing of the Villahermosa street sweepers, into the construction of a golf club in Tepoztlán, into the expropriation of the commons in Atenco. Because the general problem, the true motive of the protest is almost inaccessible; in any case, unpresentable: we do not want the law to be obeyed, but instead for justice to be done. Scandalous as it might be, that agitation is also superficial, of short impact. In substance, as on past occasions, the reaction is fundamentally a federalist, even municipalist movement, of returning to smaller spaces, where there are familiar faces and things are arranged almost as a family. The usual, yet which today has a democratic, progressive, modern air. On a say, cultural plane, the reaction is nostalgic, patriotic and rustic, full of the value of what is ours, the familiar love and an emphatic, over- riding solidarity. It is manifested above all by a very characteristic propensity to allow oneself to be moved by all the topics of revolutionary (that is, traditionalist) rhetoric: our land, our indigenous, our culture; everything applies, from Tehuan outfits to Social Security, the mystical aura of El Tepozteco or pass-fail at the UNAM. They all want to remove the perverse foreigners. Political discourse, on the other hand, is easy for them. According to the situation, it is provincial or even populist; in any form it tries to reproduce the simplistic, emotional scheme of us and the others. With the advantage that the nearest government always seems the most legitimate, most popular, with the authoritarianism of the "center" on the other side. Thus the "we" is ever smaller, more local, immediate, evident; we of the north, in particular those from Chihuahua, concretely those in Ciudad Juárez, and the others who, of course, do not understand and try to impose on us with candidates or laws. Rhetoric suits both the government and the opposition, because here they have-- ever more--similar interests. In practice, what results is to transfer all sorts of resources and attributes to the states. That the decisions concerning public spending, education, health, as much as possible remain in the office of the governors, in the hands of those who hold the real control. Such that they might return to doing politics in peace and without alarums and excursions: that the president modernize, if he wishes, but without dragging everyone else besides. With a broadened political class, that cannot be encompassed in a general principle, that dispersion of resources, that multiplication of the spaces for negotiation, is indispensable. And it is also a way of relieving the Presidency of the pressures that, without the apparatus which the PRI offered, become unmanageable. It is a transaction with a real country, with a political class for whom a Jacobin president will not do. A triumph, this time pacific and partial, of our Chouans. VII. CrackerJack theory TO SAY THAT SOMETHING has been made "a la Mexicana" is not usually a eulogy. It is equivalent to saying that it has been improvised, rigged, made with a little prayer to God and above all without paying attention to the rules. The idea surely corresponds with what the sociologists call a self-denigrating stereotype, yet the problem is not this, but that it also seems to be true. I mean to say: it is an expression that is immediately understood, with a lot of common feeling, and sounds strange to no one. To arrange a transaction a la Mexicana, to draft a law, win a contest, to do business a la Mexicana are things that do not sound very edifying. Although they do not say it--for those things are not said--the whole world thinks it. That is why it earns laughter to speak of rigorous compliance and unrestricted respect, of the Honorable Congress and other things in that style. We have the conviction, or at least the very reasonable suspicion, that there are few things in this nation that are serious, unequivocal and transparent, that do not include duplicity and more and something hidden in the background. In particular the businesses, bureaucracies, rules and services that to abbreviate would have to be called modern (and which never stop being so). We know that almost everything can, even should, be arranged a la Mexicana: from the payment of taxes to contracting with a professional to the administration of a market, the election of a mayor, the end of a strike, the drafting of a plan for study. In everything there is a characteristic turbidity--here a bribe, there the exertion of influence--or an immediately recognizable way of twisting the procedures; dealing with whatever, in everything there is an air of family: which is what is meant precisely, by doing things a la Mexicana. From a certain viewpoint, the subject offers no complications; what exists is the predominance of shamelessness, immorality and corruption. But it is such a persistent mode of proceeding, so costly and at times irrational, that more than one has striven to find in it a genetic, even metaphysical basis, something like "the essence of the Mexican." The truth sounds a little exaggerated, improbable. For my part, I have the idea that that incapacity to comply with the rules, or that habit of skirting them, in effect obeys a general though more modest cause; in my opinion it stems from the basic form in social relations in Mexico being muégano. Be assured that the technicality becomes accessible and will be understood without great difficulty. Indeed it is no more than an extension, by analogy, of the accepted use of the term: a sweet made of a honey, molasses or caramel base which is stuck to pasta fragments; for Santamaría it is an "inexplicable form," however derived from the Spanish nuégado which, in Covarrubias' Treasure, is a "sure confection to calm the children, that is made of honey and walnuts, although also used are almonds, hazelnuts, pinions, and hemp seeds." In the technical sense that I want to give it, the muégano is a form of sociability characterized by agglomeration, onto a personal base, of economic, family, professional, political links, whose mixture results in a confusion of functional domains which, in theory, should each respond to their own distinct principles. CrackerJack involves the people in a dense and confused system of personal relations whose limits are quite imprecise and would require much work to specify. What is decisive, in any event, is that the structure of CrackerJack procures the generalization of a series of personal obligations, which prevail over any other criteria at the hour of making decisions. Thus it results that, in general, the rules are not obeyed or that it is so easy to set them aside. One must always attend, before anything else, to the needs of the godfather, the godson, one must repay a favor from Fulano, enlist Mengano's loyalty and take account of the lineage of everyone. And no one has any reason to take it badly: that is how things are done. According to some of its attributes, CrackerJack should be assimilated to the family, at least on a rhetorical or symbolic plane. And in effect between both forms there are certain affinities of much weight: their personal nature, almost forced and superior--or previous--to all functional differentiation. Occasionally the family also serves as a model or resource for justification, as when one says of somebody they are like "one of the family," when one speaks of the "revolutionary family" and the like. However, it is well to make clear that, as a form of sociability CrackerJack is not a family. First, because the possibility of belonging to it does not depend upon consanguinity nor other sort of parentage; almost the contrary occurs: that there is no rigid principle of exclusion. The greatest virtue--the most characteristic--of CrackerJack is its sticky nature, its capacity to grow adding intimates, parents, relatives, parents of acquaintances of intimates, and adoption contacts: such as a gardener, a shopkeeper, a police person, a secretary of State. For all of which also serve, of course, the marriages, godfathering and the other strategies of parentage: they are not sufficient, nor even necessary. Yet there is something more. As opposed to the family, the CrackerJack has nothing to do with intimacy; its links and relationships, being personal, are of a scarce emotionality, superficial and gratuitous, non-transcendent. In what matters, they are objective linkages, in a public and fundamentally pragmatic sense: they are made and maintained above all for their utility and not for the love which the gardener, the bureaucrat or the mister secretary might inspire in one. That does not mean that we live in a Benthamite paradise, dominated by the pure and innocent calculation of interests. CrackerJack has its morality: objective, particularistic, of a considerable hardness. For it good intentions, without being absolutely useless, and dispensable; what is required is much more concrete, material and provable. Its "contacts" are judged by their relative efficacy and their loyalty and not by anything else; esteemed for their decision to favor their own over the others who have waited their turn, who have their papers in order, who have the needed qualification, yet are outside. Thus it is said that CrackerJack works because it generates confidence and offers a minimum of security whereas the institutions do not manage to do so. Where there are almost no guarantees of any sort for impersonal, anonymous relations. Now then: because of that it is a strange form of confidence, imperative, imposed almost by the force of things and above all very resistant to deceptions. Nothing guarantees that my man will do better work, be a better professional or even an average professional, yet I prefer him, have to prefer him and protect him for other reasons, because that offers another type of security. It would be worse than unjust, disoriented and almost stupid to judge him with the same criteria as those to judge an unknown. Which is to say: CrackerJack can produce disastrous results from a technical or overtly rational viewpoint, can be more or less inefficient (in general, is quite inefficient) precisely because it allows ignoring the rules to be countenanced. Since it always places personal loyalty in front of any other consideration. What is most interesting is the flexibility and the versatility of that basic connection. The same serves to perform a negotiation or procedure as to obtain employment, win an election, control a union. Personal favors, like molasses, become sticky, and at the slightest disregard produce obligations at second and third hand, and remote, involved, indiscernible consequences. Also, the growth of CrackerJack is accidental because of that. A foreign, preconceived rationality cannot be imposed on it, nor can it be reduced to simply a domain, because it occurs in every opportunity. Anybody can know that one has enthusiastically endorsed some loser who promised so very much. Be that as it may, its growth is predictable in some measure because the logic of its mechanism favors the concentration of power. Someone powerful who knows how to do favors--today for you, tomorrow for me--is assured to the highest degree of a comfortable and settled future; power and influence today, used in the service of the CrackerJack, of the parents, intimates, friends, relatives and minions, guarantee influence and power for tomorrow and the day after, to as far as possible. The profit is for the group, it is understood, and therefore can accumulate. The same principle, however, serves in practice to place limits upon the exercise of power: oblique, perhaps perverse, yet certain. No one has everything with them, because no one has created themself nor could survive on their own account, much less become powerful; from which results the moral order of CrackerJack and its material implications impose explicit (and at times very bothersome) servitudes upon the influential leaders of the day. There will be few among us who do not know the headache of a brother, a member, an eccentric godfather of whom there is no alternative but to protect. Certainly to that is due, it is said in passing, the inflamed contempt inspired in us by the individualism of the United States or Europe; also the imaginative idea that we Mexicans have more solidarity, are more generous. That which is certain is that among us, nothing survives alone, like it or not. Our idealized Mexican friendliness is a way of making a virtue out of necessity, an illusion like any other. Certainly the loyalty of which we speak has nothing to do with discipline; even moves, as a tendency, in an opposite sense. It is not imposed in a generic manner, is not automatic, does not derive from the needs of a post, of a function; rather it is opposed to all that. In a word, from the viewpoint of any institution with clear, formal rules, CrackerJack loyalty runs the risk of being confused with relaxation. To understand each other, let us say in general that muégano, as a form of social organization, prevents and impedes specialization, interferes with the normal, autonomous functioning of the different domains to the extent that it can subordinate them to its own logic. That makes it immoral and also, in a certain sense, irrational; yet alone, it persists, for it is hard for us to admit morality and its rationality, which seem to us unpresentable. That basic function perhaps explains something of its nature. CrackerJack serves to counteract some typical consequences of the modernization process: in order to avoid excessive disciplinary requirements or of professional capacity, to moderate market risks, compensate for the monstrosities regarding juridical equality, the impertinent requirements of the State. Yet that does not mean that it is a traditional form; no transcendent sanction is needed nor is it a residue of a communitarian nucleus or ancestral practice. It emerges and prospers along with modernization and as a consequence of it, as a parasitic excrescence of the modern institutions. It would have no reason to be the emblem of the traditional order. I conclude without the concluding spirit. If something of this were true, we could begin to understand some of the mysteries of our corruption, our authoritarianism and, of course, our picturesque "civil society." IX. Each to their own MEXICO IS a juridical society. Not to exaggerate, probably no more than others, yet the truth is that our preoccupation with justice is almost neurotic though also in general diffident, passive, with a vague fatalistic accent. And it is possible that one goes with the other: every day we discover so many injustices that we are not going to launch a revolution to remedy each one of them; we are accustomed, for the rest, that the State take charge (something that entails many other and complicated consequences, which are to be treated separately). Yet we begin from the beginning, to see if some order can be imposed. Our sense of justice is sharp, subtle, enormously susceptible to agitation from almost any cause. Grade school teachers, for example, protest because they want an increase in salary; the most obvious way to protest, that which is nearest to hand consists in organizing pickets to obstruct traffic: in the Paseo de la Reforma, in the beltway, wherever. The drivers, converted into hostages, rumpled, sweaty, view them not only with patience but with frank and explicit sympathy. They assume prima facie that the teachers are within their rights, and furthermore, suppose that they are right: it is unfair that they make so little. Objectively speaking, what this means is not so obvious. It occurs to no one to think that in that as in any other case the salary is a function of the productivity, the capacity, of the supply and demand for work, of the profitability and utility of the enterprise. Or it may be: of the training of the teachers, of their alternatives for employment and of the taxes with which we pay their salary, that is to say, the problem refers to the structure of public expenditures and above all to the logic of the market, to the salary that we make and to the taxes which we pay. In fact, to put things this way sounds impertinent so we say it less. Without more complications, it is assumed that the State should pay them more because they make little, because it would be desirable for them to live better: because they simply need it. That which this says is not much, yet nor is it useless. There seems to be, in principle, a disconnection between our idea of justice and the principles that organize the functioning of the market, which in itself implicitly carries a criterion for deciding success, that is: a notion of justice. A notion perhaps cruel, mechanical, inhuman if one likes, absolutely insufficient, yet also absolutely real. Let us consider another instance, also frequent: the protests--sometimes violent--that result from the entrance exams to the UNAM. As is natural, given that it concerns the latter, some approve and others not. Every so often those who have been rejected organize to complain, identifying themselves as the "rejected." And they easily find a more or less general favorable opinion: it is not fair that they remain out of the university. The agreement there is about that is impressive, yet the judgment has nuances that it is not idle to note. There are those who, without lying about anything, consider that the exam is unjust in itself; according to their idea, everybody who wishes should be able to enroll at UNAM. A simplicity usually reasoned (as a slogan) giving way to an imprecise revolutionary phraseology, with more or less picturesque constitutional inserts about the right to an education. There are also those who consider it unjust for the examination to be so difficult, given that the youths arrive lacking in preparation. It is to say: it would have to be made easy, so that everyone could pass; approximately the same as there being no exam or it being a joke. One would have to say, certainly, that the difficulty of the exam is logical and natural, indispensable in fact, for it deals with selection. In any event, if the problem were the lack of preparation of the rejected, it would be more sensible to protest at the preparatory schools or at the primary level. Once again, to say this seems an impertinence. In one mode or another, in both attitudes what there is is an explicit condemnation of any form of selection or qualification, any mechanism that permits discriminating. We say that the idea of justice that animates this depends upon an emotive, irrational egalitarianism which contradicts the most elementary needs for order in a complex society. But there is a more elaborate judgment about this. That of those who consider the examination unjust because in general the poor get worse grades. Or it is: academic discrimination is unjust because it comes associated with economic discrimination; an argument of obvious liberal imprint whose criterion of justice seems to be equality of opportunity. What is strange, so much that it seems a contradiction, is that the critique centers on the exam, that is, on the mechanism of equalization; it is considered unjust that the poor and the rich be evaluated with the same criterion. Something which is not only defeatist, but also ostensibly ingenuous. Material inequality always find mechanisms to reproduce itself and can do so with much more naturalness if the few areas where it might be transcended are annulled. Put into a phrase: if we made a university for the poor, with very simple exams (for the poor), accessible materials (for the poor) and automatic graduation (for the poor), it would be completely useless as a resource for "equalization." The rich would have their own. Apart from the defects that it might have in practice, the reasoning is interesting because it shows again a disconnect between the idea of justice and the institutional mechanisms of modernity, in this case the principles that organize the functioning of academic and professional life. Against the criteria of impartiality, formal equality, evaluation of capabilities, a substantive, partial criterion of justice is imposed, focused above all on material equality, on the equality of results. Without entering into a discussion of whether the propensity can be reasonable or sensible, we can recognize that it is a fact. And it has consequences. The first, the most obvious, is that it indicts the whole juridical order, which becomes unjust precisely for its formality, because it ignores the material characteristics that are decisive for common opinion. Think about a quite typical case: the government moves to expel a group of squatters on the land, those who formerly were called "parachutists"; opinion reacts immediately and does so to say it is unjust. Even though everyone is treated according to the law. This does not concern private property being unjust; in the last analysis, what is defended is the property of the occupiers, as opposed to the title- holders by law. Let us put it this way: a form of appropriation is defended characterized in the first place by material possession and this is done because it is assumed that a need is manifested by it. If it is fair that the squatters become owners it is because they are there and in they want to view that as evidence that they need it (the invasion in practice can also be a negotiation, yet opinion, as is logical, judges a little wholesale and without pausing over details). Overall the reasoning is similar to that used to protect the ambulatory vendors: it is unjust to move them, to expel them from the streets, because they need to work. It is appealing, noted by the way, that in their protest marches the vendors bring with them a band of children whom they exhibit to allege, with disarming conviction, that they need to work to maintain their offspring: as if this gesture of exoneration were to give still more force to their reasons. It is not them but their children instead who need to eat. Our sense of justice is easily irritated; so it seems, at least. Yet it also happens that reality offers grounds for irritation. Perhaps not because it may be much worse than elsewhere, not because it may be intolerable in an absolute fashion, but instead that their general situation does not reconcile with what we consider just. I believe that this is so at least in two fundamental aspects: the order of the market and that of the State. They could give you many reasons to explain the fact and they would be true. One strikes me as obvious: the material everyday tension that results from our steady process of modernization. For which reason everything appears to be out of place. Some basic recourses of our feeling of justice are traditional, even have a rural air: a vocation for the concrete, the material, and hostility towards all impersonal forms and mechanisms. They also have, above all in their rhetorical expression, the indistinct socialist profile of the Mexican Revolution. The most characteristic, however, is its mixed, imprecise character, which is a product of modernization. For it does not imply a massive and unequivocal rejection of modernization, but that it assimilates some imperative, criteria, typically modern ideas: university education, property, consumption, although in practice they make them almost impossible. The basic defect (or the basic virtue, it is difficult to decide) of our idea of justice is its lack of realism: to want it all, now. Thus it appears, on occasion, as an almost infantile reaction. In the idea, for example, that it is unjust for the functionaries and the politicians to make so much money. I am not speaking of corruption, but instead of the legal salaries and incomes that, whenever they are made public, provoke scandals. The problem is that the terms of comparison that are chosen are exorbitant: the minimum wage or the social budget. It is not fair, they say, that the politicians make so much if the people make so little. It is not fair that they make so much if schools and hospitals are lacking. The disproportion in both instances is such that it is judged senseless; very much in order, indeed, to nourish demagogic harangues, yet absolutely disorienting and imaginary for what concerns notions of the State or of public functioning. It might also be mentioned that everyone enters the discussion with their pace changed. Including the functionaries who defend themselves saying that their salaries are not a big thing if compared with that which is offered by private industry. The functional and symbolic distinction that comprises the public counts for nothing: the reference point is what others materially earn. In general, our justice is an issue at once moral and political, yet simplistic, a matter of authority. We want a benevolent, paternal State, and we want heroic, selfless politicians, but also results: with boots on the ground, as the right says, with power to people, as the left says. For our idea of justice is also imperious, urgent. In general, the disciplinary, mechanical, inhuman, and blundering rigor of the bureaucracy, whichever of them, exasperates us. With reason, it must be said, for if it is obtuse in itself, it is much more so in the conditions of penury, disorder and lack of preparation that pertain among us. It seems offensive, insulting to us, that a transaction cannot advance simply because a paper is lacking, for being expired, yet it seems directly unjust to us that a notorious delinquent be absolved for lack of proofs, that an agrarian litigation is prolonged for years, that a strike be declared illegal due to a technicality. Our idea of justice requires a prompt, decisive action in favor of the good causes. It is probable that this last is not so rare; almost anywhere, the image of justice has little to do with the tortuous rituals of judicial or administrative proceedings (justice, said Valéry, is a theatrical idea). Among ourselves perhaps it is greater solely because our mistrust towards judges, functionaries, police seems insuperable. For better or worse, we prefer the personal command of a chief who takes charge and decides, over the dizzying paper chase of the subordinates. It may not be too much to insist that that notion of justice which I attempt to sketch is surely reasonable. I want to say: it is a logical consequence of the modernization process; not the only attitude possible, but indeed a more or less sensible and to a certain point appropriate one. Before the catastrophic ups and downs of the economy, the turns in interest rates, let us say, it is all the less strange that the people sympathize with the protests of the debtors, who think it is not fair for them to be asked for more than they can pay; and something similar occurs with the vendors, squatters, the rejected, or strikers. In a very logical manner, our idea of justice is opposed to the automatisms of modernity which, in circumstances like ours, have devastating consequences. It is therefore material, substantive, concrete, an enemy of formalities, abstractions, mechanical or bureaucratic procedures; it is also particularistic because there are few things that seem to be universal, universalizable truths. It is above all associated with necessity: with the scarcities imposed on us with the urgent harshness of the inevitable. As a result of it we have had, we have, a juridical revolutionary regime, that simultaneously tries to push modernization and sabotage it where it could be more aggressive. Governments of ambiguous and voluminous rhetoric, whose legitimacy derives in good measure from the anti-statist inclinations and whose stability is maintained at the cost of sharpening that radical contradiction: to be modern and juridical, reformist and popular. The situation is not too exaggerated, nor even should it surprise anyone: that contradictory compromise is one of the most recognizable traits of the politics of modernization in Mexico as in India, in Spain or Algeria. In any case, it does not concern me now except as a plausible explanation of the emergence, more or less recently, of another notion of justice: imprecise, which still is confused with our traditional idea, yet which is, as a tendency, of the opposite sign. It begins to occur, in effect, that one thinks it unjust that, charging taxes, the State does not offer services of average quality; that the arbitrariness of bureaucrats and functionaries is not just; that it is unjust for the public budget to depend on corporate bargaining, that it is unjust for revolutionary rhetoric to serve to fatten parasites: student agitators, leaders of the ambulatory and squatters, syndicalist cliques. We insist: in practice it is possible for the two versions to be confused, because both coincide in complaining about the contradictions of the government, of the parties and the rest of the political apparatus. It is well not to confuse them, for they represent a social antagonism whose gravity we can barely divine. That other idea of justice which is prefigured, much more modern, is equally fantastic. To put it badly and quickly, it is the idea of a middle class that feels foreign to the rest of the nation and who would wish for it to be changed completely and right away, beginning with the politics. X. The anarchists governing us WE ALL HAVE known for a long time that the bureaucracy is bad. Obtuse, uncomfortable, threatening, hateful: bad. There would be few things, in fact, that are so universally antipathetic. The simple idea of performing a transaction usually inspires horror and it is natural: confronting the bureaucracy we are all defenseless, subjected to a logic that does not seem so and from which we cannot escape, because there is no exit. What is bad is that another solution does not occur to us, when one deals with administering public resources without creating a bureaucracy: to organize a hierarchy, to separate functions and competencies, establish uniform principles, general rules. Now then: what may be bad, is inevitable. It derives from its nature and would be very difficult to change. Let us say, to begin, that the worst part it has is the exaggerated rigidity of its procedures, which are of an almost ritual, intransigent formality, completely incapable of contemplating exceptions: it is obligatory to be there from eight to eleven, have the record certified, have the signature of the director and the green receipt copy from the Depot. If not, there is nothing to be done. The problem is that, given the case, we are all exceptions: because we cannot at that hour, the record was misplaced, the director was on vacation and at the Depot they gave us the pink copy. There is nothing to be done. Of course, it would be most difficult, unthinkable, to create an apparatus capable of handling each case in an individual and separate manner. But no one will take that desire from us. Also it is bad that its decisions are mechanical and irreversible: they take us from one office to other files, without anyone being able to sensibly resolve it to advantage, with no one being responsible, capable of deciding in the general interest. From which results the sensation, typically Kafkaesque, of having gotten into a grinder; and a crazy one as well, which functions without purpose. Without there being anyone who could detain the machinery and return things to their places: in the last analysis nothing happens without one having the pink copy of the receipt. Undoubtedly it would be worse to depend on anybody's whim. It would be much worse if the decisions were arbitrary, unpredictable, personal. But the other way cannot be avoided. The result is the grinder. On a more general, even a more abstract plane, the turns out to be expensive and too frequently corrupt. The bureaucrats, their offices, their archives, their machines cost what they cost, and what they cost all of us is time employed attending to its requirements: that hidden tax of which Gabriel Zaid speaks and which is incalculable directly. Yet there is also the corruption. The more rules, regulations, obstacles, procedures, the more occasions for corruption. Here indeed, if we cheapen the bureaucracy by paying them less, we make them more corrupt; if we reduce their number we lengthen the lines and increase the hidden tax. What is interesting is that in this for once, the eager managers who have governed us for a long while are completely in agreement with all of it. They detest the bureaucracy like anyone else. They are convinced that the administrative apparatus of the State is costly, irrational, corrupt, inefficient, and in the end useless. And more: their hatred towards the bureaucracy comes to acquire an obsessive character. Yet everything has its catch. They give the impression that along the way, blinded by their aversion, they have forgotten the reasons that made the bureaucracy bad and end by worsening it (which can always be done). Also it may be that everything might be calculated. It might be that we are in the hands of a dangerous group of anarchists, after doing away with the State in the most spectacular manner. Their crusade against the bureaucracy has continued long enough and has been truly splendid: in it neither ingenuity nor energy have been spared and, for trying, almost everything has been tried. The first was direct, of an astonishing simplicity, and consisted in firing a considerable number of bureaucrats; a decision of indubitable value yet also quickly disorienting. It will occur to anyone, and is very sensible, that to end the bureaucracy the bureaucrats must be eliminated, without further process. What is bad is that for this path, so long as all are not fired, nothing has been done. Afterwards the attempt recurred, very attractive and imaginative, of creating another apparatus, a sort of debureaucratized bureaucracy, of whose strategy it is unknown whether it attempted to impose a model, ridicule the usual bureaucrats, provoke a depression by negating them, or to serve as embryo for something else that we still have a desire to try. It was an agreeable effort, as I said, that consisted in sharing the social expense in the style of Dirty Harry: to you because it is so, to you because I thought of it, directly and without further red tape. The bad part is that that came to rest in swampy waters. Yet I am being unfair. The description appears too grey and is not at the level of the effort put into it. We shall try to describe that in appropriate language. So they had the war against the bureaucrats for the sins that they had committed and with which they caused the people to sin, provoking the wrath of the heavens; they were decimated in their tracks and many were expelled from their caste, those who had ransacked the treasure and those who did not because nothing was left and everything had been ransacked. And they shed many innocent tears in the grand manner, until filling the country from end to end, and there was none who did not fear for their life nor repent of their deeds. The year was '82 and the war lasted many years and the president was Miguel de la Madrid. But the bureaucrats did not listen nor did they amend their works. And they made war again to sweep away all their abominations. They broke the statues and tore down the buildings and removed the treasures which the bureaucrats held as their own, which were given to others who would remain loyal. The war lasted many years and Carlos Salinas was the president. When Ernesto Zedillo began to govern the ills were so great and such was the blundering and the iniquities of the bureaucrats that the wrath from on high spoke and its mouth uttered: we have here such bad reports on the bureaucracy and the bureaucrats that whoever hears them will stop up both ears; no one will be safe from the prevaricators, the malefactors, the parasites; and I shall abandon the rest of them and deliver them to the hands of their enemies, and they shall be captive and you stripped of all your adversaries, who have done the offense before my eyes and have provoked my ire, from the day when their forefathers emerged from the Revolution until today. Fine: this is how the second Book of Kings reads, in the corresponding chapters and verses. But the final attempt, more twisted and darker, deserves to be treated separately. It consists, put in a very direct manner, in destroying the administrative apparatus of the State by provoking a cancer in it. That is, at least, the material result and it strains belief that it is accidental. The origin of the strategy is in an idea of lovely simplicity: the bureaucrats are corrupt and unnecessary, yet very difficult to erode. It acquires an epic tinge through a pair of additional assumptions, that imply a certain sophistication. The first, that every employee of a public office is a bureaucrat; they second, that the only activity of the public offices is bureaucratic. Seen in this way, the task ahead is only comparable to the cleaning of the Aegean stables. Since one cannot be made good, they attempt to lay siege to the bureaucrats, besiege them, fight a positional war and defeat them through boredom; if one cannot prevent there being corruption in bureaucratic work, what is tried is to impede that bureaucratic work. That is where the strategy results from real masterly brilliance. What has been materially decided is to confront the problem of unhinging the bureaucracy by creating another bureaucracy for it. One that approaches as much as possible the ideal of a pure bureaucracy: an apparatus that offers no service nor is occupied with anything substantive except bureaucratic activity; an apparatus that exists because bureaucrats exist and which is dedicated to bureaucratic fixing of bureaucratic procedures. The possibilities for the idea are fabulous. It can create a process for archiving archival procedures, in an office for vigilance over auditors who oversee the audits for authorizing the exercise of authorization expenses for the exercise of spending; fine, possibly it already exists, but that is not an obstacle to imagining many other complications and opens innumerable windows. With the motto of transparency one can embroil everything including folly. The first impression one gets in contemplating that labyrinth of exact and thorough uselessness is that it deals with a rancorously premeditated revenge: to make the bureaucrats subject to bureaucratic procedure. Its scope is greater and more serious. Like all, bureaucracy for the control of bureaucracy is regulationist, rigid, of an intractable formality; it knows not nor can know of the substantive functions of the public offices, and likewise those cannot take account of the peculiarities of each one of us. There are deadlines, schedules, rituals, the signature of the director and the pink copy from the Depot. It amounts to the same whether a unit produces oil, fines, construction permits, books, statistics, or engineers; each case, certainly, would have to be an exception and would require, like all of us, a procedure cut to measure. And that cannot be. Such that the bureaucrats suffer, like any son of a mother, the grinder. We say nothing of the corruption and the arbitrariness, because that is already known. Both increase in direct proportion to the increase in rules, prohibitions, requisites. Nowadays it already happens that, before attending to the contributors who line up before his window, each bureaucrat might in turn line up at another window; before authorizing anything she should ascertain that the appropriate authorization is given. Like a cancer, the new bureaucracy controls ever more irrationally, or that is, with a rationality so purely sublime as to be incomprehensible. The most obvious material consequence, so obvious that it seems deliberate, is the destruction of the administrative fabric. The slowness of the procedures is ever greater, the decisions more remote, such that their substantive functions become so distorted as to be impossible. It is ever more expensive to do ever less and in a worse manner. It is as if we were governed by a handful of anarchists with the fixed idea of shattering the State. Being oblique, the road appears, notwithstanding, effective. To create a fabulous, alienated, solipsist bureaucracy, capable of absorbing everything, with an absolute, directly despotic power, so as to do nothing more than celebrate one's own capacity to control oneself. And to hope that one day--perhaps not too long coming--everything will stop. That the State will remain nothing more than a harried line of bureaucrats, walking in circles, waiting for someone to authorize them to authorize, silently. XI. The savages of Lahontan IN THE YEAR 1793 a little book appeared in France titled Dialogues de Monsieur le baron de Lahontan et d'un sauvage dans l'Amerique; it is a pamphlet--aggressive, superficial, hurried--that for us has an almost purely anecdotal interest. There there are all the commonplaces that comprise the idea of the noble savage: the eulogy of sylvan life, the spontaneity, the frankness, the equality, and the freedom. In order to be better appreciated, the merits of savageness appear in contrast with the meaningless vices of civilization. The effect is curious. Above all because the image of the kind baron of Lahontan--who signs the pamphlet--appears a little ridiculous. One cannot understand the aplomb with which he mocks the modalities, habits, prejudices that are indubitably his own; or likewise the security with which he defends and celebrates a way of life, of sympathetic hordes frolicking naked, which for himself should have seemed impossible from every point of view. Like Rousseau somewhat later, Lahontan discovers that the origin of all ills is in the perverse distinction between mine and yours. To be sure, he did nothing to remedy that: in particular, with regard to yours. Nevertheless, the hypocrisy is not yet laughable and does not prevent our considering him very well-intentioned. Of course, the savages of Lahontan never existed. They are no more than a fantasy. A useful invention to denounce the deformities of French society. Nonetheless, a fundamental objection would have to occur to any aware subject: precisely for being impossible, the starting point invalidates the critique. At the least, it obliges looking with suspicion at it. It is not a grand thing to say that in the civilized world there is not the spontaneity, the frankness, the natural equality that is impossible to have in any case. What is strange is that this has never or almost never been noticed. The fantasy of the noble savage is quite an obvious manifestation of the malaise in the culture. It is one of the most artificial and decadent products of civilization: nostalgia for the barbaric. Yet there is more. It is not solely entertainment for aristocrats, but also serves as support for a relatively new sort of political radicalism, which necessitates the alibi of purity. The history of political ideas is full of this, in particular that of the last two hundred years. With the dynastic, religious, aristocratic justifications dethroned, the problem of the legitimacy of power has become unmanageable because it is a moral issue yet one that lacks a sure criterion. Against that which common sense might suggest, in general the politicians obtain legitimacy above all through their good intentions, yet usually lacking is some mythological addition: the memory of the Golden Age, a patriotic legend, or at least the Nation of Plenty or of Ease. Among ourselves, one of the preferred recourses of the politicians has been the indigenous past. In the first two lines of the Independence Declaration it says the following: "The Mexican nation that, for 300 years, has never had free will, nor free speech, today emerges from the oppression under which it has lived." And no one is given to laugh. Signing the text are a collection of Creoles, urban western people, who at least knew how to sign, and to nobody does it seem ridiculous. Of course no one pretended, even by a trace, to identify themselves with the indians nor to resemble them in anything: what is most probable is that they appeared as remote, more or less incomprehensible threats. Another course was to present themselves as heirs, descendents of other indians, even more remote and almost abstract. Because that allowed them to justify their rupture with the Spanish monarchy and feel absolutely foreign to it; it was, let us say, a sort of mystical baptism of political power, a form of purifying it. Approximately the same as the baron of Lahontan did with the portrayal of his savages. Ever since then, all our leaders have supposedly been descendents of the indians from before and thus heroes and commanders without ceasing to be victims. It is well known and even boring to repeat, the glorious pre-Hispanic past is a rhetorical refrain of the political class whose fantasy has a foreseeable apotheosis in the anthropological museum, with its Aztec-centric disposition (not to diminish the latter). It has been said and with reason that what is involved in it is national identity and therein is its grace. For the plural with which one speaks of our antecedents, our ancient heroism, implicates everyone in the simulation. Nor is that strange. The virtue of political rhetoric, which can give legitimacy to domination, consists in creating a common language or, more better, a common world in the language. A system of signals, automatisms, implications, a net of almost inevitable complicities. What is well to notice in our case is that the important occurrences, those that underlie that common world, belong to a past not only distant but also uncertain, unreal. A past in which we all were victims and which for that reason serves to cultivate resentment and to direct it elsewhere: to offer, let us say, more of less non-transcendent substitutes, to cultivate, that is, an inoffensive and gregarious resentment. The choice, in any event, is not a bad one. If the basic justification for power is in the past, progress is less important than continuity. Furthermore it is incontestable. Yet above all it happens that the indigenous past is specifically remote and somewhat mysterious, foreign, monumental, petrified, monstrous, and for all that contains something of the essence of power. In fact, the pyramids, the figure of Coatlicue or the Calendar Stone cannot speak--to ourselves--of anything other than power. The addition of victimism, moreover, has its importance. Terrible, frightening as that power can be, it keeps being an expression of victims and hence morally acceptable. To criticize it, on the other hand, is to situate oneself on the side of the oppressors, of the invaders. In the fantasy of the country's history the indians are, in a definitive and emblematic manner, the defeated, for which reason they become irremediably good. Let us put it this way: from that imaginary past follows a mythical irradiation from which our politicians secure impregnability. And I assume, in an almost automatic, even instinctive manner. That is the image of power in México: its archetype. Entirely artificial, certainly, antiquated and pretentious, yet effective (with that irrational efficacy of images that endure) and furthermore inevitable, being the condition for speaking in the first person of the plural. In its time it was a revolutionary recourse. It is indubitable, however, that the form of legitimacy which it can produce is dynastic. That is to say, which is founded upon the idea of an effective link of ancestry, in the authenticity of a lineage. The lineage of the defeated. I suppose that that can seem abstract, improbable. But its meaning is very concrete: there is an authentic power, that of the heirs, our own, which is defined by opposition to the usurpers. That is good because it is ours, period. The problem is that the lineage is entirely imaginary and therefore ambiguous. With more justification because there will always be those who can claim the legacy presenting themselves as the true victims. In the same museum of anthropology is exhibited, very explicitly, that secret ambiguity of the victimistic rhetoric. There is no continuity--it cannot exist--between the powerful archaeological past of the first floor and a colorful and picturesque ethnographic present on the second (which I almost never have a desire to visit); they are very close, however. The more pure, the more authentic, the more our own. The new indigenism derives its attraction, its capacity to persuade, from this fact. What is openly proposed is, to put it thus, the vindication of the second floor of the museum as a source of legitimacy; apart from that, the rhetoric greatly resembles that of the adversaries because its basis is the same. Let us consider it slowly. The new indigenism results from a more or less lucky mix of the old sentimental indigenism, the basic resort for the usual nationalism and variable doses of multiculturalism and moral relativism. This, in what it has that is peculiar and characteristic. For the rest: the preoccupation with development, equality, violence, it shares with any other political group in the nation. Its touchstone is the defense of the usages and customs of the indigenous peoples, the demand that they be protected through some juridical mechanism of autonomy. Rarely, it all must be said, does this defense have sufficient empirical content to be able to be seriously discussed. Two or three particular traits are alluded to that may be more or less agreeable or moving and in all cases inoffensive while they pass, as if on tenterhooks, over the subjects that might present difficulties. But that affects above all the intellectual honesty of those making the allegations and, at this juncture, need to be discussed. What one notices, at the start, is the slightly ridiculous position in which our indians usually remain. They plead with energy, with emotion, for a way of life that would seem impossible even to themselves; they all are literate, urban and cosmopolitan, and live freely in a modern, liberal capitalist order, which to others--in particular for the indians--seems undesirable for them. A non sequitur similar to that of the baron of Lahontan. Curiously, in this case as in the other, that hypocrisy does not prejudice their public fame; on the contrary, it seems to reinforce their good intention. There are some more cautious and, in fact, more coherent in their relativism, who deny all possibility of comparison and, as someone says, manage to swim and keep their clothes dry (the relativism can usually be very useful for that). Those argue that the traditional order is better or more fitting for the indians because they are indigenous, or that is: for no other reason except that it is theirs. Like all extreme relativism, this is nothing more than a facile recourse for ending any discussion. To the small extent that they pursue their arguments seriously they appear contradictory, inconsistent, if they do not acquire an unmistakable air of infantile wrongheadedness. In reality it is trivial. Also no one ever took seriously the Aztec lineage of our leaders, nor the absurd kindliness of the savages of Lahontan; it was not about that. What the new indigenists attempt is to occupy the place of the victim, to benefit from the moral superiority that belongs to the authentic spokespersons for the defeated. So then: to do so they need to displace the usual commanders from there, to label them as imposters, and the defense of today's indians is the more appropriate instrument for that. Therefore it results that all the discussion revolving around the indigenous theme becomes basically irrational. Because it deals with authenticity, with purity; it deals with the mythical justification of power. For many reasons, the old dynastic legitimacy has been eroded and become slightly less than incredible; the invocation of our glorious past is a decadent ritual, which perhaps even inspires some shame. Yet our political rhetoric continues being moralistic, keeps requiring mythological augmentation, keeps being victimist, fantastic, resentful. The conditions are given for the renewal that the new indigenism represents. For it to be lifted as against the usurpers, the virtuous power of the victims, purified in the indigenous Jordan, like always: remote, mysterious, authentic. XII. Lilliput seen from afar SEEN FROM AFAR, Lilliput appears much smaller and more ridiculous, truly insignificant. It almost cannot be seen and it is hard to seriously pay attention to it. The first impression one has from a hurried glance at the news that arrives, from far away, is of a collection of little chiefs of Pygmy tribes haggling over four baubles. Something that is not understood very well. What one sees are above all the dead, assassins of unbelievable stupidity, a corruption that blends into pure savagery. These and those calling each other assassins, thieves, scoundrels, in quite confused shouting. Images on television of coffins and pistols and crying women, the chieftains with their friendless face, soldiers who come from everywhere, soldiers and misery. Now there are those who find this image outrageous, unjust. Because this (pardon) small nation is much more than that. Certainly. Yet that is not my issue: it does not seem bad to me that none of that is filmed or published, without there being material to do it. The image held of far away Lilliput is superficial, or rather approximate, uncertain, yet not entirely false and not much more unjust than that which we have towards the United States, Spain or Guatemala, for example. With distance these things occur. Furthermore, with all its simplicities, the image usually is corroborated by the opinion of our notables. But that must be discussed further on, so as not to lose the thread. What is curious, what calls for attention, is the tone of the news, the chronicles, reporting, analysis, which are all emotional, moving, picturesque, with a trace of heroism, as in a movie. Practically the same schema is repeated in the news from Algeria, Indonesia, Peru, all similar nations because stirring stories can be told about them. Much has been written, in various ways and with different intentions, about the nature of journalistic information, the communication media, its stereotypes, its characteristic deformations. It has been completely theorized upon in complicated and substantial books which, in large part, I still must fully understand. Thus I am not going to talk about that. What interests me is something more coarse and perhaps more superficial, a simplification certainly: that the reporting, the editorials that refer to these (pardon) small nations usually have as a general rule the basic ingredients of an adventure film. The first is the indispensable item of exoticism, the colorful. That which the movies have when the people leave the theater saying it has "very good photography." Dirt serves very well for this purpose, also anecdotes of corruption, the ineptitude of the bureaucrats, the dead from extremely violent deaths of course, strange customs, and the wild, threatening landscapes. Then there is what is called "human drama." The narration of a concrete story, a sad and indignant story, possibly of being with women and children and some villain. This latter is important. The stories of natural disasters can serve, above all if they recall something like the Titanic or the San Francisco earthquake, but they begin to become boring by force of repetition; additionally, with them there is nothing to be done nor anyone with whom to be indignant. It is much better that there be someone personally responsible for whatever misfortune: a bizarre dictator, some general of chief of police, a millionaire perhaps, even the leaders of a party, a more or less terrorist sect of partisans, for instance, neo-nazis or the like. Finally, the touch of heroism: the possibility of at least glimpsing the forces of good. That day by day, unfailingly, they are those who struggle in favor of democracy and human rights. That is how one knows they are good (without having to enter into detail). It is not the only requirement, however. No government can count itself among the good ones, no chief of State; the hero should be almost alone before the danger and present an attitude, if not of total defenselessness, of relative weakness: opponents may be used, guerrillas, journalists, heads of civic associations, even some priest is not lacking. The positive ideal is an individual with a more or less spectacular personality, with an acrobatic or in some other sense exemplary biography: someone of the type of Mandela, Havel or Ernesto Guevara, for example. Better yet if their struggle can be coded into quite a sonorous slogan, a magic word: the San Andrés Accords, let us say, while no one know what is written, yet they come to be like the Lost Arc of Indiana Jones, the Holy Grail. Overall they are usually moving and considerably effective. Appropriate for a public who do not ask for many explanations or are interested in the nuances, yet who do want stirring stories. It is to say: stories that do not demand too much attention and which permit one to feel good, compassionate, a little heroic, a dispenser of justice. Things which daily life does not usually provide. The drama that results as an explanation is, in the majority of cases, a sort of degraded, tawdry conspiracy theory, of disarming simplicity; in others, a tale of indians and cowboys, with their unpardonable offenses (the Serbs, let us say for example) and their innocent victims. In any event, a Manichean argument, pre-cooked and without cholesterol, from the movies. Which is precisely what is missing; otherwise, nothing would be understood. Also, the explanation in itself is the least of it: what is fundamental is that the sensation of "being there" is transmitted, in the midst of the danger. And to safety. As if all of that were a moral equivalent to high risk sports. In a summary account, that which exists is a pretentious and sentimental, poignant gaze. Because there is a pretentiousness of pain, of heroism, like there is the pretentiousness of love or of nature. And Lilliput seen from afar is pretentious, more than anything else. So then: adventure films also have moral skeleton, assume that one is a friend of the good ones, that one suffers with the victims and is desirous of seeing a happy ending, which includes punishment of the bad ones. On that the minimum complicity depends which is lacking for the spectators to follow the drama with some interest. Pure pretentiousness, yes, but of an overwhelming force. On a more general plane, moral cinematography is reduced to a vague humanism, inconsequential, scandalous, sentimental. That, a pretentious humanitarianism, constructed on the basis of common places, of false candor and pure stupidity, appropriate for suffering more comfortably with the victims, to applaud with good conscience the outrage of the affirmers when the final happiness comes. It is possible, certainly, that the end of ideology consists in that, in the definitive victory of pretentiousness as a substitute for morality. It is what it is: that to be convincing today one need not offer good, coherent reasons, adduce substantive proofs, because all that can appear suspicious or, much worse, boring. The public is accessible only for more immediate, emotional, spectacular forms of persuasion. Nowadays one convinces through displaying (and inspiring) positive feelings. For which, as fools say, a picture is worth more than a thousand words. Maybe I am exaggerating with this. It does not actually concern persuading or convincing in the old sense of the word; it does not demand that anyone follow an argument nor form a sure opinion about anything. What is obtained is something simpler and more ephemeral, a sort of instantaneous sentimental signal which, for that reason, is also indisputable. Lilliput seen from afar is above all an occasion for all types of sentimental effusions, a resource for the people to feel good without running risks. The risks that that indiscriminate and militant kindliness put into everyday affairs would bring. At home, among neighbors, one cannot also be with the good ones and against the bad, disinterested; to begin with, because it is never clear which is which. And nevertheless that turbidity, that moral ambiguity is profoundly uncomfortable for almost anyone. Because all of us like to feel well. That means, undoubtedly, that the effusions which Lilliput can inspire, far away, are in a sense hypocritical; their consequences, furthermore, can be serious and at times disastrous. In any case, up to a certain point they seem blameless, or rather worthy of pity: they display nothing but that basic dissatisfaction, that need for a simple and understandable world. Whose origin is probably a secret flaw of civilization. I do not know if I speculate too far, but I put it in black and white. Sentimentalism is a rudimentary form of the emotional life, which is practically on the plane of the conditioned reflexes; it is characterized by an inability to perceive nuance, ambiguity, a sort of emotional deafness very similar to musical deafness by which one is moved to the point of tears by Blue Danube, yet cannot tolerate a Bartok quartet. Whoever suffers from that condition will very easily find the grey confusion of daily life intolerable and need to see an adventure film, listen to Johann Strauss, rebel against the scandalous wickedness of the denizens of Lilliput. So then: it is certain that those distant ideas usually encounter corroboration, very spontaneous, in the opinion of our notables. And it is curious, although not incomprehensible. They also experience, and for similar reasons, a nation from the movies, of remote and picturesque sufferings, of goods and bads. And they also find them stirring in the same manner. Additionally, they have the possibility of living their own life as part of the film. Those confusions occur and can be ravishing. In any event, the cinematic eye gathers, among those who are here, with a splendid tradition of indigenous pretentiousness. I believe it is certain. Correctly viewed, the proclivity for sentimentalism seems one of the most characteristic notes of our cultural life. I do not think of Agustín Lara, to be sure, but instead of Altamirano, Guillermo Prieto, Santa Anna, or Morelos. For some reason, among ourselves it has always been necessary to make a display of good feelings. Yet about that one would have to speak more calmly. One thing does call for notice: ever more frequently the domestic voice, that of our periodicals and news magazines when they speak of the nation, resembles that distant focus. That does not mean--I don't believe--that the world has been simplified; perhaps just that our capacity to tolerate it has diminished. Thus we imagine of life of the movies: exotic, adventurous, with a happy ending, and a puerile world, infantilized, irremediably pretentious, to the tune of the four idiocies typical of sentimentalism. And we conclude, as is natural, blindly striking blows. XIII. The possible Mexican democracy IN GENERAL, the beginning of the century has been deceptive and the years to come will not be much better; all of us Lilliputians shall live out a more or less bitter disenchantment. For at some moment, from now to in ten or 15 years, we shall decide that that which is called the transition to democracy has finished for good and we will find we are approximately as we are now and maybe a little worse. That is not the problem, however, although it is disagreeable in itself, but instead the contrast with the idea which we had had of the future: an excessive, enthusiast idea, yet with very slight grounding. Nobody wants to hear that, I already know. The image of the luminous and democratic future, at once nationalist and westernized, exceedingly modern yet for justice and revolution is capable of seducing the most recalcitrant. One would have to speak of it anyway and so one is forewarned. The idea that to the actual nonsense of the public arena is due the process of the "transition to democracy" is a commonplace, something absolutely obvious. However: with the expression they also say other things that appear less obvious. Covertly, the phrase implies a general hypothesis about the nation's politics that it is worthwhile making explicit. The hypothesis (in caricature, pardon) can be explained more or less as follows. For 70 years the State was occupied in an illegal and fraudulent manner by a handful of agitators--fairly and justly delinquents--who for their advantage established an authoritarian and corrupt regime, for which cause we live in backwardness. From that it can be inferred, in proper logic, that a very considerable portion of our ills would disappear on the day when we are finally able to do away with the mafiosos; and for that purpose all that is necessary is democracy: the most accessible and evident resource so that we--the good, who are almost everyone--shall put aside the others - the bad ones, who are of the PRI. It is caricature, certainly, yet not absurd, and not diminished by the habitual rhetoric. It is now a long time since we spoke of democracy and resolved to vote without there being many complaints, and one or the other win, but the thing does not work. As usually happens, everything changes so that everything continues basically the same. Thus it happens that to many--politicians, the lettered--the idea of democracy has become sectarian: it is known, democracy means that my own win. On occasion an even more dangerous variation on the theme is announced: there begin to appear, now that it does not function, those demanding a "true democracy." When someone comes out with this, the final intention is indubitable: they try to disengage from rules and procedures to get to the spiritual crux of the concept, which only the Messiah understands. Let us leave that for now. It will be more serious and need to be discussed again within a few years, when the obtuse "formal" or "bourgeois" democracy or whatever have not resolved the problems. When the seditious democrats of today are out of pretexts. At the moment I am interested above all in the hypothesis implicit in the idea of the transition, that so persuasive, so enchanting "us against them." For it happens to be supportable by facts confirmed in anyone's experience, or that is: intuitively the explanation appears ascertained. I believe, nevertheless, that they could introduce some nuances, could oppose some changes of quite considerable importance. The conjecture I reference rests upon two basic assumptions: the unmeasured power of the State and the correlative weakness of society. Let us consider it more carefully. The first idea is almost common sense: anyone can see that among ourselves the extension of political intervention into social life is truly out of control. Such that there is barely an issue in the economy, in education, even in sport or artistic creation which escapes from politicization. Even more, the excesses that politicians with such power commit are also notorious: the first that comes to view is the empire of arbitrariness, of whim, of corruption. All this speaks of an extraordinary and above all uncontrolled power, which lends itself naturally to abuse and that therefore it is indispensable to limit. From that it can be inferred that the first thing to do is to reduce and regulate the power of the president, as the visible head and immovable motor of the apparatus of authority. Subsequently, it would be to launch a reform of the State that would make the excesses impossible through administrative combinations, jurisdictional adjustments and a good dose of controls, resources for vigilance, locks, latches, finely tuned prohibitions. The second idea is also simple and obviously true. The partisan politicians have governed looking out above all for their interests, for which cause the society in general, except for some opportunists and stooges, have existed in subjection, silenced. The consequence of that too is seen in plain sight: the misery is overwhelming. So much so that it appears deliberate or at a minimum produced by mismanagement, through inattention. If seen with a little distance, even the middle classes can resemble that massive bloc of "the people": oppressed, innocent, who from the start of the change can recognize in the despotism of the PRI their basic enemy. Let us say it again: the facts upon which said general idea is based are certain, politicization as much as poverty, inequality. It is more: surely the two decisive traits of our social order are in effect and can serve to explain many other phenomena and characteristic patterns. What is not obvious, at least not seemingly to me, is its meaning; that in particular they indicate an excessive power for the State and a corresponding weakness of society. Let us go step by step, to see whether I obtain a convincing alternative explanation. First of what must be said is that in arbitrariness and corruption, in the looseness with which the politicians manage their business, what is noticed above all is the extraordinary weakness of the State: where any functionary can make sleeves and hoods with the law, the state institution practically does not exist or exists only in a very defective manner. There is sufficient data, moreover, to demonstrate that weakness of the State. First, its inability to collect taxes with regularity or otherwise arrive at sufficient resources: there are among us a highly reduced number of contributors, a simply scandalous fiscal evasion and a crushing dependence on petroleum rents. Which is to say: our State is weak, to begin with, because it does not even have the money to reasonably comply with its minimum tasks; it has not even enough for the paperwork. In the second place, it has not obtained an effective monopoly on legitimate violence (as the most meager definition of the State requires). And that is not only due to the existence of guerrillas, bandits, private guards, but also above all to the frequency with which the uniformed use their position, their capacity for private ends, foreign to the state institution: the routine privatization of the public forces, which deals with that, in the charging of bribes or in the direct complicity with delinquency, is not a feature that indicates the preponderance of the State but instead exactly the contrary. Finally there is the ostensible fact--it is enough to go into the street to see it--that fulfillment of the law cannot be imposed in any fashion, neither in small things like the regulation of transit nor in others of much more weight. Impresarios, vendors, priests, taxi drivers, the functionaries themselves survive very naturally within illegality, and the State, if the truth be told, cannot do much against it. That irreparable, calamitous weakness contrasts with the personal power of the politicians and with considerable portions of society, who live parasitically on public resources. Yet that is something logical and one might say inevitable. The politicization of social life, with a deformed, incompetent and bungling State like ours, in general obeys the pressure of social groups with very simple and immediate particular interests; the arbitrariness of the politicians, by the same logic, cannot impose any order where legality does not function or is insufficient for it. We might say that the general rule, held for at least two hundred years, seems to have been to attain governability in exchange for non-fulfillment of the law. Contributing to that has been our historic corruption. Although it would be difficult to pursue it here in more detail, we might note the formal hypothesis that explains the preceding: the power of the State is inversely proportional to that of the political class. Regarding inequality and poverty it must be said that negatively it could bring as a consequence a polarization of the society. Certainly, misery is a massive, desolating fact, yet it is not absolutely the same to be poor in Tijuana, in La Huasteca or in the Distrito Federal; it is not the same being poor as a unionized worker as to be so as a vendor, a squatter, an indian. In fact inequality, particularly the magnitude of inequality in absolute terms, added to the extent and variety of the land, tends to produce differences that are not only economic but cultural; it tends to generate different worlds which at times seem like remnants of distant eras. Expressed otherwise: the first consequence of the inequality is political heterogeneity, the existence of groups with very different forms of organization, of participation and leadership, different practices and habits, and not only greater or lesser material lacks. In the final analysis, that "we against them" which the habitual thesis implies is difficult to imagine. Something is happening, nevertheless, which at first view accords well with what is expected in a democracy. We shall try to explain that. The two basic factors of which we have been speaking, the debility of the State and political heterogeneity, have made indispensable--since the last century--the activity of an extensive network of intermediaries to somehow bridge the distance between the juridical order and the needs of social life. Their function, to put it thus, consists in keeping that maladjustment from being catastrophic, that is: to generate some order. To do so, the intermediaries need, first, to politicize everything for their intervention to be effective; they need to be able to award permissions, licenses, subsidies, contracts. Yet they also need a sufficient margin to administer the illegality, to negotiate the disobedience, the non-compliance with the law as a more or less exclusive privilege; that which the economists call a "positional good." The intermediaries, we should perhaps clarify, are parasites who benefit from the weakness of the institutions, the lack of realism in the laws, the inequalities, the misery. And that means, among other things, that the order they can produce does not coincide with that formally required by the state apparatus; and also: to the degree that they have good success, they become an obstacle to the consolidation of the State. As always, one obtains some form of governability, but at the cost of the institutions. Until very recently the bulk of said political intermediaries formed part of the PRI and that resolved many problems. The State was a fragile mechanism, of dubious operation, almost decorative, yet which functioned without further consequences. There is where the problems have emerged. With time, as is natural, the society has been becoming more complex, at the same time as the intermediation system has ossified. For many things the politicization and the arbitrariness that formerly were necessary begin to be a hindrance, and the old methods seem less productive and more costly: more ostensibly parasitical. And not that we can dry out the problem with the law, for instead there are other interests, other necessities, which cannot be allocated as before. There are new clientèles who ask for new rules, other sorts of prizes, who endanger those who had been protected and now protest. That which, to abbreviate and to inspire some enthusiasm, is called the "transition to democracy" is due to this process and consists basically in an amplification of the political class. New and old intermediaries who seek an advantageous accommodation. And there is nothing wrong with what they procure by means of elections; the problem is that, along the way, this or that one promises what cannot be and demand from the State things it cannot perform. Our State continues to be so weak, inefficient, ramshackle, and bumbling as it has always been; in some aspects, surely more. Our society, on the other hand, keeps being equally heterogeneous, continues without fully conforming to the assumptions of the law. Such that in order to govern they will keep needing a more or less dishonest arrangement. What is occurring is that the apparatus with which intermediation was organized, which served as shelter and pretext, is seriously damaged. It is less trustworthy, less effective, less solid, and of course incapable of finding unanimous support. For this reason, what is approaching holds little promise: we shall live in disordered times, perhaps violent, going backwards and forwards, struggling. Unless it occurs to someone to invent a new PRI.