Posts tagged Twitter

Translation of “One comrade sounds off: What’s happening now in Venezuela?” (Victor Camacho, in El Libertario)

Here is another translation, this time of a commentary by the radical writer Victor Camacho, posted online as part of a series of different opinions from Venezuelan comrades by the anarchist newspaper EL LIBERT@RIO. Inline links and editorial notes in footnotes are added by me. As always, the same caveats apply: I’m a quick and nervous translator, this is a working draft, if you notice any mistakes or mangling please feel free to point them out in the comments, and I’ll attach a note or a correction to the text here. The closing note of apathy about the protest is, for what it’s worth, just one compa’s opinion; other articles from other folks at EL LIBERT@RIO have taken a range of different stances towards the protests, although all of them condemn the government’s repression of the demonstrations and the assault on civil and human rights.

Edited 23.Feb.2014. I’ve fixed three typographical errors (pointed out by Joe in comments below. —CJ

One comrade sounds off: What’s happening now in Venezuela?

Victor Camacho

Several people from outside the country have asked me about the situation in Venezuela right now. And I don’t know with scientific certainty even though I live here. But putting things in perspective, I venture to say that the great crisis in Venezuela is not a latent “coup d’etat” (as the conspiranoid government says)[1] , nor is it an economic crisis (as the opposition says), but rather an uncertainty due to the lack of elections in 2014.[2]

But first, let’s talk about context. The most remarkable, definitely, is the economic situation. Here the use of terms is interesting: for the administration, it’s a matter of “economic warfare”; for the opposition it’s a matter of an “economic crisis.” There is a shortage of basic resources, high inflation, a recently devalued currency and more forceful State intervention in the economy. The word “crisis” is intented to demonstrate the inability and the ineptitude of the government in solving those problems; the word “warfare” denotes the government’s intention to make itself out as the victim of agents who cause these problems, from without or from within. On the political side, we are facing a situation which is a very strange one for Venezuela, given that this year there will not be elections. Elections have functioned as a way of dissolving conflicts between the opposition parties and the administration, and even more, they have functioned as a factor unifying both groups: to unite against a common enemy. Thus, 2014 brings with it the risk of partisan division. Both sides, which not only have lost support but also run the risk of splitting apart, are looking ahead to a 2014 in which there is no need to keep holding themselves together. Inflation, shortages, and insecurity are conjoining factors, which function as catalysts for the political crisis, but they are not the great driving factor in this moment.

The crisis of splitting is still worse in the opposition parties. Many in the rank and file of the opposition are not content with the efforts of MUD (Mesa de la Unidad Democrática) [Board of Democratic Unity] or of Capriles, these would be above all the most radical opposition figures. they are not content with the recent pact between the leaders of the opposition, which has tacitly accepted the Maduro government to work together with the government on many different projects, among them the issue of insecurity. In fact, the larger part of the leadership of MUD is not promoting the protests. Thus, Leopoldo López and María Corina Machado, also former candidates for the presidency, are exploiting this rank-and-file discontent in the opposition in order to steal the show.[3] Many in the opposition are really bothered by the current situation and waited very eagerly for the call to get out into the streets, which is why Leopoldo López is the name most discussed these days to be the one who expresses many of their sentiments, while the popularity of Capriles decays. Ironically, the reasons for the protest are vague enough and there is no unified criterion: not everyone protests for the same reason, whether it be for the detained students, the economic situation, the insecurity, all of the above or something else that escapes me.

On the government’s side, more than anything, there’s rejoicing. Opposition radicalism benefits Chavismo a lot, because if Chavismo knows how to do anything, it’s uniting in the face of adversity. The protests help the government to demonstrate that the opposition is violent and outside of the law. They serve to create a scenario where the State is the victim of a common enemy, that there is no time for internal discussions within the Chavista movement, because better us than them. The government signals that there is an environment of protest similar to the one on April 11, 2002,[4] as if there were a coup d’etat lying hidden in these protests, but even though the environment is tense enough like in 2002, and one of the demands is the immediate resignation of the president, there is no likely terrain for a coup d’etat. The opposition hasn’t got one bit of control in the Armed Forces; nor in any other public force; the opposition has only two governors, and, also, their leaders are negotiating with the government. It is hardly likely that a coup d’etat could happen, and, for it to happen, this could only come from high places in the same government.

It is difficult to know exactly what is happening in the country, given that there is an information barrier imposed by the government. One of the factors that caused the protests to spring up is printed media’s lack of acccess to paper, what it costs to start up many newspapers with national or local circulation, including communal and worker-run media.[5] On national television, they are not showing the protests that are happening in the country, and when it happens it is only to show the acts of vandalism and violence in which protesters are involved. The government’s imposition on audiovisual media has been so constant that self-censorship is the norm. In this way, civil society jumps over the information-wall through the use of social networks, especially Twitter. But also this has not been perfect; on the one hand there have been accusations of censorship of connections to the social network Twitter by the State telecommunications company, CANTV, which offers approximately 90% of the Internet connections; and, on the other hand there have been accusations from the government of the use of social networks to spread false information, above all of images of supposed repressions of protests. The information has been used as a matter of convenience for both sides, for example, the administration typically only gives importance to the death of one pro-government demonstrator,[6] forgetting the other 2 deaths in the opposition; while the opposition is accustomed to forget the death of the pro-government demonstrator while crying over the death of the 2 opposition members. In this sense, the political repression and the para-policing groups are no “fairy tale” as the government tries to insist. The police have used firearms against the protesters and what the police cannot do (tortures and intimidation, for example) is done by so-called “colectivos,” armed groups which function as para-police corps.

In my opinion, these protests benefit only the government, and the only good thing that they offer to the opposition is to free the rage that they are keeping inside. Keep in mind, I’ll remind you, I don’t identify with either side. Beyond that, I can’t add any more.

— Opina un compa: ¿Qué pasa ahora en Venezuela? (February 22, 2014). Translated by Charles W. Johnson.

  1. [1] Original Spanish: conspiranoia, a play on conspiración and paranoia.
  2. [2] He doesn’t mean that elections have been suspended; it’s due to coincidences in the normal scheduling of elections. Presidential elections in Venezuela are held every six years, with the most recent election in 2013. Parliamentary elections are held every five years, with the most recent election in 2010. Regional elections are held every four years, with the most recent election in 2012. As a result it’s common to have many election years in a row, but as it happens there are no regular elections scheduled for 2014. —CJ
  3. [3] para robar el protagonismo
  4. [4] The date of the U.S.-backed coup attempt against Hugo Chavez in 2002
  5. [5] medios comunitarios y autogestionados
  6. [6] Original Spanish: el oficialismo sólo suele dar importancia a la muerte de un oficialista.

Against National Relativism

It’s not every term in meta-ethical theory that gets taken up into burning public-policy debates. But due to a complex series of cultural events, the term moral relativism has. The problem is that nearly every use of the term moral relativism in common political debate has more or less nothing actually to do with the subject of moral relativism. Here’s some notes from a recent Glenn Greenwald column on u.s.-American responses to the Israeli government’s bombing of urban targets in Syria:

. . . [T]he claim is being hauled out that Israel’s actions are justified by the “principle” that it has the right to defend itself from foreign weapons in the hands of hostile forces. But is that really a “principle” that anyone would apply consistently, as opposed to a typically concocted ad hoc claim to justify whatever the US and Israel do? Let’s apply this “principle” to other cases, as several commentators on Twitter have done over the last 24 hours . . .:

Imagine if, say, Iran had unilaterally launched a strike on Salafi Syrian rebels overnight? Would we all be okay with that? #lawofthejungle — Mehdi Hasan (@mehdirhasan)

. . . As soon as Hasan tweeted his question, he was instantly attacked by a writer for the Times of Israel and the Atlantic, dutifully re-tweeted by Jeffrey Goldberg, on this ground:

Israel’s strike on Syria has been a revealing moment. Some, for example, seem to view Israel as equivalent to Iran —Liam Hoare (@lahoare)

One could say quite reasonably that this is the pure expression of the crux of US political discourse on such matters: they must abide by rules from which we’re immune, because we’re superior. . . . The ultimate irony is that those who advocate for the universal application of principles to all nations are usually tarred with the trite accusatory slogan of moral relativism. But the real moral relativists are those who believe that the morality of an act is determined not by its content but by the identity of those who commit them: namely, whether it’s themselves or someone else doing it. . . . Today’s version of that is: Israel and the US (and its dictatorial allies in Riyadh and Doha) have the absolute right to bomb other countries or arm rebels in those countries if they perceive doing so is necessary to stop a threat but Iran and Syria (and other countries disobedient to US dictates) do not. This whole debate would be much more tolerable if it were at least honestly acknowledged that what is driving the discussion are tribalistic notions of entitlement and nothing more noble.

— Glenn Greenwald, Israeli bombing of Syria and moral relativism
The Guardian (May 6, 2013)

The view that moral relativism is actually supposed to signify is, roughly, the position that one and the same action, taken in the same context, can be both right and wrong at the same time; that is, the position that questions of morality can rightly be answered only relative to a frame of reference[1] which can change from one judgment to the next. (So, for example, some people have believed — wrongly — that whether an action is right or wrong depends on whether the person making the moral judgment has a feeling of approval or disapproval towards it; other people have believed — also wrongly — that whether an action is right or wrong depends on whether the person making the judgment lives in a society in which the action is generally praised, generally tolerated, or generally condemned. For an excellent discussion of, and critical reply to, actual moral relativism, see the third chapter of G. E. Moore’s Ethics [1912].)

Now it is no sin not to know meta-ethical theory. It’s a branch of technical philosophy, and not the least recondite of the branches you could study. But if you’re going to use the terms, you ought at least to know what they mean. Moral relativism is a real thing; and even kind of a common personal stance or cultural phenomenon (it’s common enough for people, when challenged to justify their actions or to ground their moral pronouncements, to retreat into a sort of relativism, whether with a seemingly sophisticated philosophical defense or with a dull Well, you know, that’s just, like, your opinion, man.). And it’s something that’s worth pointing out; I think that the retreat to relativism is not only a cognitive or intellectual mistake, but really itself a kind of ethical lapse. But in public political debates, when the word moral relativism is thrown against a position, it is rarely being thrown at a position that’s actually relativist. In fact, because the word has become a watch-word of the cultural Right — and because u.s.-American militarism draws so much of its intellectual basis from the watch-words of the cultural Right[2]relativism has come to be very frequently used in order to defend the crassest sorts of exceptionalism and militarism in foreign policy debates. But when moral relativism is used polemically this way in debates about war and foreign policy, the word is almost always being used to attack positions that are exactly the opposite of relativist — it used to attack views precisely because they insist on principled ethical judgments being applied across the board, and demand that moral actors be held to the same ethical standards regardless of who they are, regardless of their politics or the government they are part of or the nationality they claim to represent. When someone condemns the Israeli government for taking exactly the same actions that would have been condemned from the government of Iran, the person condemning those actions (whether they are right or wrong to do so) is explicitly demanding a universal standard of moral judgment, and thus rejecting the sort of national relativism that tolerates behavior from our government while condemning it in others, simply because they are on the other side of a political boundary.

When moral relativism is used polemically in foreign-policy debates, the position being attacked is almost always being attacked because it makes a moral argument which is actually the exact opposite of moral relativism. And that’s too bad, because words mean things. Or at least they ought to.

Also.

  1. [1] Depending on the version of relativism in question, the frame of reference might be the frame of reference of the person acting; or it might be the frame of reference of the person evaluating the action and responding with praise or blame.
  2. [2] Both in terms of the people who advocate militarism, and also in terms of the conceptual framework that even liberal hawks routinely make use of.

Friday Lazy Linking

Wednesday Lazy Linking

Shameless Self-promotion Sunday

Sunday. Shamelessness. You know the drill.

This is a late Sunday post because it’s been a busy weekend; L. and I rented a car to be able to do some of our spring errands (garden, groceries, minor electronic equipment, that sort of thing) and so have been running around getting stuff done while we still have the mobility to do so. Food Not Bombs was a big blast this weekend, with some new folks at the organizational meeting, a lot of fresh energy, and a big turn-out at the Sunday picnic. I took advantage of the car to scope out a couple county parks as possible locations for a second weekly picnic. And meanwhile I’ve been playing around with social networking outlets. In particular, for an alternate means of following posts as they come out, and as an easy means of getting in touch about the project if you want to, I have created new Twitter profiles for:

And I’ve also created Facebook Pages for four of my major projects (Anarchoblogs, Feminist Blogs, FeedWordPress, and the blog you see before you):


There’s some other things I’ve been busy with — on these projects and others — but that probably merits a post of its own. In the meantime, here’s to sociality. And to errands completed.

And yourself? What have you been up to this week? Write anything? Leave a link and a short description for your post in the comments. Or fire away about anything else you might want to talk about.