Venezuela and the Sacking of the Universities

Back in 2011, this blog chronicled only their attempted ideological takeover by the state.

Today, street gangs are taking over university hospitals and killing people in them.

This blog has covered university protests in Venezuela…

… for some time (background here, here, and here). Here’s an update on continued, increasingly desperate, protests.

The nation’s young people are tired of enduring one of the world’s highest inflation rates, highest murder rates, scarcity of basic staples like toilet paper, and the near certainty that things are going to get worse before they get better. A few days ago, the Associated Press reported on Venezuelans camping on the sidewalk to get information about emigrating to Ireland.

… This week, the streets of Caracas, Maracaibo, and the rest of Venezuela’s largest cities saw large protests that ended in violence. Three people were shot dead, with dozens more wounded. Many eyewitnesses lay the blame for the violence on government-sponsored armed motorcycle gangs, similar to the ones used to suppress pro-democracy protests in Iran in 2009.

… They see a dark future ahead, one in which Venezuela’s slow slide into a Cuban-style autocracy accelerates and is finally realized in its entirety.

A headline that made UD laugh.

I know it’s not supposed to make you laugh, but it makes it sound as though you turn to it only when the utilities fail.

SHORT OF ELECTRICITY, FOOD, AND WATER, VENEZUELANS TURN TO RELIGION

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Americans? Not so much.


“…also did postgraduate studies at George Washington University.”

Nail-biting events in Venezuela currently being led by a guy who spent time in UD‘s Foggy Bottom. Very exciting. Very scary.

Crowd scenes.

This blog’s Venezuela posts.

MAKE AMERICA NIHILISTIC AGAIN

The nihilism meme is off and running in this (to quote Leon Panetta) “very screwy” presidential election, and UD follows with great interest the progress of that old warhorse down its latest track.

“Nihilism, American-Style,” Allan Bloom titled one of the chapters in The Closing of the American Mind, but he had something very specific in mind – the infiltration of high-level Nietzschean negation (of religion, values, meaning, knowledge) into the teaching of undergraduates in our universities. What people seem to have in mind when more and more of them, every day, refer to the nihilism to which Trump appeals, or which his personality and rhetoric have evoked in Americans, is something far more down-home – a visceral disgust with the current social/political scene – a disgust so intense it makes people simply want to destroy everything, and therefore makes poopoo-spewing Trump the avatar of choice.

What drives their loyalty to Trump — if not the person, at least the idea of Trump — is a sort of nihilism. As a close friend put it to me this week, “I don’t care whether Trump wins or not, I just want him to f— things up as long as he can.” … The Trump supporters have seen plenty of politicians with important agendas, but few with the zeal to push them through; at this late date, they would apparently prefer zeal without agendas to agendas without zeal.

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[T]he voter nihilism that Trump both reflects and stimulates is a symptom of political decay. “He’s not perfect, but anyone would be better than this corrupt bunch,” is the sort of thing many Italians said, once upon a time, about Silvio Berlusconi, or Russians about Vladi­mir Putin, or Venezuelans about Hugo Chávez.

Let’s end the historical analogizing there; it’s enough to show how often the cry of “blow the system to hell” has gone up among peoples living in freedom and democracy, sometimes just before they lost both.

———-

[Consider] Trump’s outrageous accusations of the press, his chronic lying, his glorification of political dictators and strongmen, and his repeated racist/sexist statements, triumphantly delivered at his rallies. These are not meant as arguments in a national debate about serious issues, these are acts of political vandalism delivered with glee and impunity. This is a political performance with the implicit message: See how far I dare to go! This is political behavior that comes straight out of the manual of the Russian nihilist Dmitri Pisarev, the one time inspiration for Lenin: “What can be smashed must be smashed; whatever will stand the blow is sound, what flies into smithereens is rubbish; at any rate, hit out right and left, no harm will or can come of it.”

[Recall Trump’s comment yesterday about some of the speakers at the Democratic National Convention: “You know what, I wanted to hit a couple of those speakers so hard. I would have hit them — no, no — I was gonna hit them… I was gonna hit one guy in particular, a very little guy. I was gonna hit this guy so hard, his head would spin. He wouldn’t know what the hell happened… I was going to hit a number of those speakers so hard, their heads would spin, they’d never recover. And that’s what I did with a lot of people — that’s why I still don’t have certain people endorsing me. They still haven’t recovered, okay, you know?”]

Just smash the reigning order. It’s all a “jolly laugh” for the nihilist.

Nihilism feels deeply resentful towards kindness, reason and open-mindedness. Its preferred currency is negativity; it has no positive vision of an even remotely attractive social and political order, and, more importantly, it does not even feel the need to have such a vision. Its preferred mode of communication is not conversation or even negotiation, but agitation, an excited mix of self-justification, accusation, denunciation, and rousing calls to action. It’s preferred political tactic is that of the scorched earth, “just smash the reigning order”. The ideal politician is the cocky hell-for-leather man, who “tells it as it is”, the crowd and the nihilist leader egging each other on in an ecstasy of liberated xenophobia.

… And here is the dilemma that political nihilism presents for the open democracies in which it currently thrives: as it is not about arguments, it cannot be countered with arguments. The register of political nihilism is emotion, symbols, charisma and performance. And performers need an audience. Nihilists like Boris Johnson, Donald Trump, the Dutchman Geert Wilders and the Austrian Heinz-Christian Strache, effectively tap into a miasma of free-floating anger and resentment…

UD thinks Brian Leiter, in the first fifteen minutes of this lecture on Nietzsche, does a very good job of explaining why American culture might devolve into the sort of enervated, self-hating, everything-hating nihilism that would grasp at the mindless charismatic ‘aesthetic’ option – in this case, the stimulating empty destroy-everything performance of Trump – as at least a way of continuing to feel alive. This emergent sensibility is a darker version of what people in earlier decades phrased the society of the spectacle or amusing ourselves to death. It’s where you go when your ‘eighties techno-passivity (tv, computer, film – one rigged-up Truman Show consumer spectacle after another) morphs into an ideology. Too much nothing eventually makes you desperately want something – any something. Zeal. Zeal without agendas. Pure agitation. Cocky hell-for-leather. But America is a very violent country, where millions and millions of people have home arsenals. Trump has a very violent imagination and he is charismatic.

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Actually, not any something will do. The something can’t be anything having to do with traditional somethings – God, social progress, justice, love of humanity – because all of these, let’s say, have been, or are well on the way toward being, nihilized away… Why did the Democratic convention feature so many love-in, what-the-world-needs-now, lean-on-me performances? Because when all other vitalizing, motivating, foundations give way, you’re left with that one.

Did you watch long enough, last night, to catch that poor reverend at the end of the convention, trying to give the benediction? Did you hear what he said as the room continued to erupt with balloons? “I don’t know how I’m gonna pray in this chaos.” Not that the convention was chaotic; I thought it was great. But the spectacle, if you will, spoke multiple volumes to ol’ UD.

You won’t catch Trump farting around with prayer. He’s transcended it.

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Nihilism is often hilarious, because it is so pretentious and at the same time such an empty infantile pose. Everyone loves The Nihilists in The Big Lebowski (Ve believes in nossing, Lebowski. Nossing. And tomorrow ve come back and ve cut off your chanson.); and if you were lucky enough to see Robin Williams and Bill Irwin in Waiting for Godot, you know what a laff riot that play is. Before Godot, there was the piss-yourself-giggling Ubu the King. And the nihilistic comedies of the ancient Greeks. Artists have always known that Hillarian moderation is much less stimulating than Trumpian over-the-tops and hysterias and absolutisms and extremisms.

And of course somehow at the same time nihilism has a certain plausibility as a way of thinking about or even feeling about existence. Christopher Hitchens got at this when he characterized what he considered male-tinged humor:

Nietzsche … described a witticism as an epitaph on the death of a feeling. Male humor prefers the laugh to be at someone’s expense, and understands that life is quite possibly a joke to begin with — and often a joke in extremely poor taste.

Nihilism wouldn’t be so funny if it were just pretentious and infantile; it needs the spin on it that a certain philosophical legitimacy gives it.

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Yet our most Beckettian humorists have also always known that – in the words of Beckett himself – I can’t go on I’ll go on is the reality on the ground.

This is why, for UD, the realest moment of the Democratic National Convention came when Joe Biden, alluding to the death of his son, said

As Ernest Hemingway once wrote, “The world breaks everyone and afterwards, many are strong at the broken places.”







Franqui Francisco Flores-de Freitas.

A well-born drug-runner whose name is two poetry lectures in one: Alliteration and iambic pentameter.







Argentina: The Thinking Wars

Philosopher Ricardo Forster, a member of the pro-Kirchnerite organization Carta Abierta, has been appointed as Secretary of the Strategic Coordination for the National Thinking office, managed by the recently created Culture Ministry.

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“The post looks like that of the Vice Ministry of Supreme Happiness in Venezuela,” [said a member of the opposition], alluding to the Deputy Ministry for the Supreme Social Happiness created by Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro last year.







Forget everything you thought you knew about student council elections.

In Venezuela, where the universities are significant sources of anti-Chavez sentiment, election day at the Central University in Caracas means a well-coordinated attack on the polling site by masked men with tear gas and guns.

The university’s concert hall is a rare enclave of architectural loveliness in Caracas: Alexander Calder designed a tremendous sculpture for its ceiling, and murals decorate the surrounding plaza. That prized plaza was damaged last Friday, when armed assailants attacked the university in an outburst of the peculiar violence that has come to define the Venezuelan capital.

The gunmen lit fires just outside the concert hall, attempted to force open its doors and cloaked the entryway in tear gas. Their intent, it appears, was to interrupt the tallying of votes from that day’s student-body government elections; the group destroyed machines used for counting and prevented students from delivering ballot boxes to the election committee. The academic departments in which votes were lost scheduled new elections for Wednesday, only to be stopped again with a second volley of tear gas.

The ant-Chavez candidates won anyway.







Hugo Chavez might let up a bit…

… on Venezuela’s universities. His various attempts to take them over have generated immense student protest; and now, with opposition to his government growing, he’s decided to pull back on a law that would have handed control of the universities to his regime.







UD’s having a great time reading the just-released….

… emails from a number of University of Wisconsin medical school professors in response to a new policy banning them from giving promotional talks for drug companies. While not as riveting as the Mel Gibson tapes, these emails definitely have their moments.

“This is insulting,” one doctor said in an e-mail. “This is beyond ludicrous. … I have kids … and, simply put, I will no longer be able to afford to work for” UW.

The doctor, who supplemented what he described as his “sub-standard” UW pay with drug company income, said the policy was being forced on him and other physicians by “self-appointed witch-hunters” without a faculty vote.

“Do we really want to function like Cuba or Venezuela?” the doctor wrote.

UD likes this one because of the pathos of this man having kids and a substandard income as a doctor at the University of Wisconsin. How will his kids survive if he only makes… I dunno… $200,000?

The political commentary is thought-provoking too. Take a doctor’s moonlighting income away, it’s

HELLO FIDELITO!

Here’s another one.

“This is complete insanity,” wrote [one] doctor, who also works as an associate professor with the medical school. “Do we still live in a democracy?”

This is possibly a psychiatrist. This doctor shares the concern of the other one about the direction our country’s headed.

There’s an elegiac feel to the next comment.

This prohibition will effectively kill the evening dinner talk…

That’s the promo talk where pharma buys you a major dinner and talks up close and personal with you about the glories of its new, undertested, overpriced drug.

More worries about feeding children no doubt underlie the next email, in which an orthopedic surgeon complains about the policy putting a cap on what they can make in their promo talks (an exception to the no-talks thing was made for this specialty):

That exemption – which was added to the proposed policy after pressure from orthopedic surgeons – allowed those surgeons to make up to $500 an hour making presentations and teaching for device makers.

In one e-mail, a doctor objected to the $500 an hour rate, saying it was too low and “clearly ridiculous.” The doctor said it should be at least $1,000 to $2,000 an hour.

Seems a bit ungrateful to UD. They got a special exception and everything. But now that she rolls it around in her head a bit… yeah… okay… five hundred dollars an hour is clearly ridiculous. Payment should start at $2,000 an hour. No! Payment should start at $100,000 an hour.

UD is unclear why the university was so eager to keep these emails private that the local newspaper had to sue for their release.

The records recently were turned over to the Journal Sentinel in a settlement of a lawsuit the newspaper filed against the university … in December, after [it] refused to release the documents…

The [associated university] foundation [which was also sued] agreed to pay the newspaper’s attorneys’ fees of about $12,400.

Why hold them back and then undergo the embarrassment and expense of a lawsuit that any idiot could have told them they’d lose? This isn’t Cuba or Venezuela yet, buddy! We have public record laws here!

And isn’t it good for students and patients at the university to know how dedicated its medical staff is?







Death to Private Universities!

This blog has chronicled the reduction of higher education to indoctrination in Hugo Chavez’s Venezuela. The latest development: State seizure of private universities.

Chavez sent a message via his Twitter account to students of privately funded Santa Ines University, letting them know their school was being taken over by the government and tuition will be free.

“Students of Santa Ines University, I just approved a nationalization plan for the good of everyone. Now: FREE!” beamed Chavez last week on the microblogging website, which he uses frequently after having set up an account last month.

University officials weren’t available to comment on the charges, but students said the government’s reasons for taking it over were just an excuse to tighten its grip on the country’s education system.

“This is the worst of many bad moves by Chavez,” Carlos Chavez, a leader of the university’s 3,000-strong student body and who is not related to his president, told Dow Jones Newswires. “He’s going to impose his revolutionary, Marxist, socialist agenda on us students, and he’ll kick out good professors who allow us to study capitalism.”

The nationalization of the school was made official Monday, when the government’s newspaper of record, the Official Gazette, announced the “forced acquisition” of Santa Ines, and said it has been renamed Jose Felix Ribas University, in honor of a Venezuelan independence hero.







“Abakanowicz never took classes with Soltan…

but she often attended his lectures, and listened to his conversations with other professors and students [at the Warsaw Academy] on a range of issues related to modern art. She was inspired by his fresh and open attitude to art, his nonhierarchical approach to the applied arts, and his enthusiasm for his students. Abakanowicz came into closer contact with Soltan after her graduation, when he granted her permission to use studio space at the academy and encouraged her to submit her painted fabrics to interior and industrial design shows in the mid-1950s. His integrationalist philosophy, which tried to destroy the traditional division between ‘art’ and ‘craft,’ helped convince Abakanowicz that her textile work belonged within the language of contemporary art.”

UD’s late father-in-law, Jerzy Soltan, was an important influence on the sculptor Magda Abakanowicz.

UD smiled and remembered the many books about her in his Cambridge house when she read this article from The Daily Princetonian:

The nine-foot headless guardians of McCormick Hall have vanished. The collection of statues by 79-year-old Polish artist Magdalena Abakanowicz, titled “Big Figures,” has been on loan to the University Art Museum for the past five years and was taken down this summer.

“We were sad to see the work go,” art museum director James Steward said in an e-mail. “It was a great piece to have for that length of time, and now we have a new opportunity to site something there that makes dynamic use of the space.”

… “Big Figures” — which is made up of 20 unique, bronze, headless, armless, backless, hollow human forms that each weigh 600 pounds — is only one work in a series of metal headless figures done by the artist, according to Abakanowicz’ website. In total, she has created more than 1,000 figures, which are displayed in museums and private collections in Italy, Australia, Venezuela, Japan and Israel, among other nations.

… The disappearance of the bronze statues has elicited a mixed response from students.

“I find it difficult to give good directions this year,” Rivka Cohen ’12 said. “I can’t say things like ‘Walk straight until you pass the extraordinarily disturbing visages of potentially modern art. When you’re level with the leftmost column of the giant, headless bodies, turn right.’ ”

… “They always seemed sinister and depressing to me,” [Avital] Hazony said. “It would be nice if [the art museum] had something as striking, but more positive, instead, since it is such a central location.”

Abakanowicz said she intended for “Big Figures” to be unsettling, though.

“It happened to me to live in times which were extraordinary by their various forms of collective hate and adulation,” Abakanowicz told the Princeton Weekly Bulletin in 2004, when the figures were originally installed.

“Marchers and parades worshipped leaders, great and good, who turned out to be mass murderers,” explained Abakanowicz, who lived through the occupation of Poland during World War II and the Soviet regime. “I was obsessed by the image of the crowd, manipulated like a brainless organism and acting like a brainless organism. I began to cast human bodies in burlap to finish in bronze, headless and shell-like. They constitute a sign of lasting anxiety.’’…

abaka







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