Note: The second part of this text is a satirical version of the “Apparitions of Fatima“, which took place in Portugal, in 1917.
This text is dedicated to Christine Lagarde, Director of the International Monetary Fund, who caused uproar for saying that she was more worried about the plight of deprived youngsters in Niger than the people of Athens.
Our Lady of Equality
I don’t know if you noticed, but on street interviews in the United States, when people complain about the economic crisis and poverty, there is an interesting detail. Whenever they mention social injustice and start talking about banks and millionaires, they tend to make a side observation, something like “…of course, if they are rich, it’s only fair, because they worked for it…”. They then follow it up with some remarks about social gaps being wider than they should be, or that the wealth of some should not be built on the misery of others, or something in a similar vein.
The first time I noticed this, I thought it peculiar that someone so poor or so critical of the system would care to make such a remark. I then noticed, with some surprise, that these side remarks were, in fact, quite common. Finally, while watching a Michael Moore documentary (can’t remember which one), the author himself made exactly the same observation about rich people deserving their money.
“There’s something funny going on here”, I thought.
Michael Moore is the ghoul of American capitalism. His documentaries lash the system mercilessly. I was aghast to find out that, in the middle of one of his propaganda flicks, he would care to mention that the rich deserve their money.
My awareness having been raised to this phenomenon, I noticed that the same sort of thing is going on in Portugal, but with a totally different remark.
Amidts the worst attacks against the cost of the Nanny State and the overgrown dimension of the Public Sector, one can often hear a side comment, clearly against the grain, clarifying that the final objective of everything that is being said, is to fight inequality or, at least, avoid a worsening of the social gaps.
Tv programs, in Portugal, regardless of whether we’re talking about street interviews or political debates, are full of side comments in favour of a fairer and more egalitarian society, sometimes fitting very incoherently in the general conversation taking place.
I have reflected upon these Portuguese and American side remarks and reached the conclusion that they are essentially the same, regardless of their apparent antagonism.
In my opinion, they are rituals that reaffirm the belonging to a tribe.
What these side remarks really mean is: “I’m criticising, but I’m part of your tribe, I’m not an enemy. Don’t worry, we are all on the same side”.
In America, that aim is achieved by confirming that one accepts the legitimacy of wealth. In Portugal, it’s the acceptance of an egalitarian society as the ultimate aim of governance that proves one’s membership to the tribe.
If the person who’s talking doesn’t abide by the ritual, then he’s considered an enemy and whatever he says is deemed irrelevant.
Just imagine an American, complaining that he has lost his home, taken by the bank, also lost his job and can no longer afford to feed his children. Even in America, tv viewers must surely feel some compassion for the family.
But if he dares to elaborate further and state that most millionaires are leeches and don’t deserve their money, the sympathy he had garnered, instantly vanishes.
In Portugal, the same sort of thing happens.
If someone is proposing cuts to the National Health Service, stating that the aim is to save the Service and avoid the growth in inequality, people may not like what they hear, but they put up with it.
On the other hand, If one dares to say that the aim is to balance public finances, regardless of what effect those measures may have on social inequalities (which, let’s face it, is the real truth), the whole content of the speech is rejected.
The speaker has refused to abide by the ritual. He’s an enemy. Case closed.
This is similar to what happened in the Middle Ages, when any criticism had to be followed by the sentence “…with the utmost respect for our Lord, Jesus Christ and the Holy Mother Church”.
The Portuguese obsession with the assertion of equality as the final aim of governance is just the 21st century version of that sentence.
It may seem strange that people prefer a discourse paired with a ritual lie rather than the plain truth, but there is more sense to it than might seem obvious at first sight.
A 2010 study, reached the conclusion that flattery works, even when the recipient knows it is insincere.
It’s a fascinating idea, anchored on a tortuous logic.
Without any scientific rigour, I suspect the following to be true. If someone goes through the trouble of lying to me, it means that I am of some value to that person. He (or she) values my opinion, my choices or simply, my money.
If the person doesn’t even bother to lie to me, it means I don’t matter at all.
It’s a bit like the victim of domestic violence, who complains to the psychiatrist:
– We’re getting so further appart that he no longer even bothers to beat me up.
While logic interprets a lie as disrespectful, our emotional side interprets it as proof of some degree of respect.
Owing to these psychiatric distortions, the Portuguese keep insisting on equality. First of all, it’s an obvious lie, as I intend to prove in this article. On the other hand, it’s fascinating that this dogma has survived, unabated, for 38 years (since 1974), since the result it has produced is exactly the opposite of what was intended. The gap between the poor and the rich, in Portugal, has reached a width unheard of in the last 100 years and keeps getting wider by the day.
Humanity really has an infinite capacity to resist reality, in the name of abstract theories and moral principles.
Well, I’ve had enough of it. I’m going to deconstruct this equality thing, even if it costs me being expelled from my tribe.
Whenever I hear any talk about equality, I feel a religious calling and long for a new coming of the Virgin Mary, as in 1917.
I imagine the Lady, hovering on the sky, visible from any point of Portugal, surrounded by a circle of light. Her voice is serene:
– My children, I know of your suffering. How can I help you?
The people, respectfully, kneel, on the streets, the balconies and the rooftops. They answer, as one:
– Equality, Holy Mother, all we ask for is equality.
Tha Saint, moved by the purity of the people’s intentions, sheds a single tear, raises her arms to the sky and performs The Miracle.
For a moment, the World lays bathed in resplendent light and a feeling of love and peace pervades all souls, from the pious hermit to the most seasoned killer
When the light finally fades away, the people stare in awe, overjoyed by that magic moment.
After a while, a voice is heard, speaking reluctantly:
– Holy Lady, I opened the door to the pantry and I found it almost empty. Where are the packs of rice and flour?
The Saint tenderly answers:
– In Somalia, my child. A mother is running away from the drought and she was about to abandon her baby in the bush, in order to try to save his 3 and 5 year old brothers. Your rice and flour will allow her to save all of her children.
And she adds, with infinite tenderness in her eyes:
– It was a very nice gesture from you, to ask for equality, even though you are unemployed and living on an unemployment benefit of only 180 euros. God will never forget what you did.
From a balcony, a voice is heard, in disbelief:
My wardrobe is almost empty. Where are the sweaters?
– In Bolivia, answers the Saint. The peasants are almost starving and have to endure temperatures of minus 10 at night.
– My boy’s Playstation is gone.
– It’s in Paraguai, my son. A group of children who never played with anything better than soccer balls made of rags are grateful for your magnificent present.
– But my house is about to be taken by the bank, my car is 20 years old and is parked because I can’t afford the maintenance and you take away my kid’s Playstation?
The Virgin Mary’s tone of voice starts to subtly change:
– Those children live in slums and no one in that neighbourhood ever owned a car.
– Buy why didn’t you take from the rich, instead of taking from me?
– I did, but it wasn’t enough. And as you asked for equality, I had to take from anyone who was above the average, even from those just slightly above.
From every street, balcony and rooftop, the protests rise. To all the Saint answers, with ever growing impatience. Finally, she cries:
There is total silence.
– Oh, bollocks! Swears the Saint, in exasperation.
The whole country freezes and stares at the sky, jaws dropped, in utter surprise at the divine vituperation.
The Holy Mother rolls up her sleeves. From under her robes, she produces a book entitled “World Factbook: 2011”. She puts on her reading glasses, locates the relevant pages and in a less than friendly tone, shoots:
– There are some 195 countries in this world. Depending on the chosen criteria and the year in question, Portugal is always placed between the 23rd and the 33rd positions in the standards of living statistics.
She raises her eyes and stares at the mesmerized people, then continues:
– Regardless of whatever problems you have, you Portuguese, in the worst possible scenario, belong to the top 17% tier of this planet. You asked for equality and I granted it to the whole world. You’re worse off than you were before? Of course you are. You were above the average. What are you complaining about?
– We wanted equality in Portugal, not for the world. I couldn’t care less for what happens in Somalia or Bolivia.
The Virgin Mary, now positively annoyed, goes from angry to sarcastic:
– Oh, I’m so sorry. My mistake. I misunderstood you. Now, I understand. You wanted equality only with those above you. You should have explained yourselves better. I’m very naive. I thought your quest was a moral one. I thought you were against all inequalities.
A voice speaks:
– Our Lady. We may have been wrong. What we want is social justice. For the whole world, not only for Portugal. It’s justice, not equality
– Social justice? The Saint looks pensive.
– I guess that means taking only from some people to give to some people only?
– Exactly! Answer several voices, as one.
– Take only from the rich and give only to the poor. Someone says.
– I think it’s an excelent idea, but you must be the ones to make the list of the people who give and the people who recieve.
– But that’s what we never managed to do.
– I’m into miracles, not politics. Says the Saint.
– Anyway, don’t worry too much. At the moment, you are all equal, but belive me, it won’t last.
– Saint’s honour.
And vanishes, in a halo of light.
She leaves behind her a country in deep poverty.
She leaves behind her a world and a country that are totally egalitarian.
Did you like what you read? I wrote a novel too.
The Prince and the Singularity
– A Circular Tale –
is now available at Amazon, both as an ebook and as a paper book.
If you’re interested in buying it or in reading a sample,
please follow any of these links:
P. Barrento 2012