The Occasional Joke

Nurse: Patient's name?

Centurion: Marcus Licinius Crassus

Nurse: And his date of birth?

Centurion: 115 BC.

Nurse: All right. And what is he here for?

Centurion: Cataphract surgery.

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Conflicted again ... but not very much

So Hugo Chavez is dead. The bastard was two years younger than I am, and managed to do a lot more damage in his time than I ever could, so I'm somewhat jealous. A bit more seriously, a public death of an incurable disease is nothing I'd wish on anyone (with a few exceptions, I suppose.) And for the people who had been conned into seeing him as a great savior, standing between them and Yankee neocolonialism, my sympathies. Being deeply confused doesn't exempt one from grief and dispair (consider the Tea Baggers in our own nation, for example.)

But in the course of all the breast-beating and US-blaming in which his party is now wallowing, let's recall what he was: a South American dictator. History records almost none of that breed, on the left or the right, who were anything more than the scum that rose to the surface of the soup pot.

It was sad to watch the resurgence of so-called Socialism in the South, driven by Chavez' Venezuela and his antics. Socialism was not at all what they were offering, and none of them, Chavez included, actually wanted any such thing. When you're rebelling, you claim to be a socialist because it sounds like the antithesis of whatever you're rebelling against; when you get into power, you claim that you've carried out a socialist revolution, and you tell the nation that everyone has to get in line and oppose the forces that are trying to undermine ... etc., etc. This is all straight out of "Being a Despot for Dummies." Standard stuff, but the truly poor, the truly downtrodden keep buying it, decade after decade, despot after despot.

Problem is, when your newly-empowered despot starts running around the globe, fraternizing with Iran, talking smack at the UN, and nationalizng oil refineries, then foreign investment declines. The economy becomes a zero-sum game, and instead of building a better life for all, the country is faced with a choice of whose lives will be improved. And that, friends, is where Socialism in the underdeveloped world falls flat on its ass. Suddenly, there's an opposition party (or several), repression becomes necessary, the army and police become concerned with "maintaining order," and civil liberties begin to vanish. You turn up the rhetoric against whoever it is, externally, that you can blame (and they may, in fact, be to blame for some of your woes.) As the result of a process, not necessarily a plan, you slip into totalitarianism. Many of the Arab Spring revolutions will go or have already gone this path; bet on it in Syria. Chavez, the Castros, Mohamed Morsi -- they're nothing new, just a batch of jumped-up faction fighters "from the back of Nephin Mountain," as Patrick O'Brian put it.

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