By José Negrón Valera
A famous aphorism, associated with Abraham Lincoln, says: “You can fool everyone for some time. You can fool some all the time. But you can’t fool the whole world all the time.” But is this really so?
They have been shown photographs of Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaidó with members of the grisly paramilitary group Los Rastrojos. The terrorist Lorent Saleh appears in a video stating that he is willing to fill the streets of Caracas with blood. Telephone recordings are presented where Lorenzo Mendoza, owner of the most important business group in Venezuela, speaks openly with Ricardo Hausmann, economist and financial operator, of his plan to borrow the country into a loan of billions of dollars with the International Monetary Fund.
Test, after test, facts after facts, and Venezuelans who identify with anti-Chavismo, remain immovable in their position of not embracing the truth. What mechanism operates here?
The facts no longer matter: the theory of social turbulence
For twenty years, a psychological siege operation was applied to Venezuelans, whose purpose was to build a new architecture of reasoning where the enemy was represented by Hugo Chavez and his Bolivarian socialism project.
Always appealing to fear and uncertainty, it was achieved that people believed Chavismo had arrived to take away their material goods, their children, to spy on them through light bulbs, to execute satanic covenants to perpetuate themselves in power, to traffic uranium inside of bicycles, and thus a long etcetera that even today those who oppose Chavismo continue to consider as irrefutable facts.
Noam Chomsky declared that the period of neo-liberal boom, that started with Reagan and Thatcher, filled the world with a mixture of “anger, fear and escapism.” A result of the institutional discredit led individuals to reason that, “if you no longer trust anyone, why do you have to trust the facts. If nobody does anything for me, why should I believe in anyone,” explains the American intellectual.
In Venezuela, this disenchantment with institutional structures as entities that provided support to social life had its turning point after the social explosion of 1989, with the popular revolt known as Caracazo.
The progressive deterioration of the Venezuelan State could only be stopped with the arrival of Chávez to power. However, the new political perspective promoted by the then Venezuelan president was quickly torpedoed. The media operators unleashed an offensive at all levels and strata. There was no institutional life space that was not attacked and political programs were misrepresented everywhere.
This tactic, known to psychological warfare experts as social turbulence, sought to hinder the development of the political project. But in turn, it also advances a new re-engineering of relations between Venezuelans, and between them and their nation state.
In his study on the power of television on society, Loonie Wolfe declared that the technique of modeling the collective mind was achieved if an appropriate environment was constructed to which “stress and tension could be applied in order to destroy morally informed judgment and thus make the person more prone to suggestion.” Let us think of the public that was imprisoned by the news channels that adversely represented Chávez and that are now inform themselves through social networks, which are almost omnipresent.
Another well-known psychoanalyst, Bruno Bettelheim, in his book “The well-informed heart” explained that in a “situation of extreme uncertainty and terror, the person goes back to an increasingly childish state,” that is, they are unable to act as reasonable adults.
Remember the images of the guarimbas of 2017 where they burned Venezuelans in the streets, where they circulated messages almost daily about the proximity of a military coup. Or more recently, the attitude of automatic reaction, without argumentation, without debate, of those who have traditionally opposed the renaming of different places in the capital of Venezuela. That is, viscerality replaces politics. Is anything more irrational than that?
The social turbulence thesis was coined by psychologists Eric Trist and Frederic Emery. Their conclusions were popularized thanks to the book by Daniel Estulin, “The Tavistock Institute” and they explain how to create social reactions of dissociation in well-organized environments (in population groups of any scale) in order to “soften a population using mass phenomena like cuts in the power supply, economic and financial downturns, and terrorist attacks.”
Trist and Emery say that “if the impressions were very close to each other and were administered more and more intensely, it is possible to induce the whole society to a state of collective psychosis.”
For researchers, people undergoing this process “would end up dissociating themselves, as they would try to escape the terror caused by an overwhelming reality; they would lock themselves into a state of denial and take refuge in popular entertainment and entertainment, and show some tendency to suffer excesses of anger.”
What about the people who have joined the ranks of social turbulence? Do they manage to stop for a second and say, they have lied to me all these years? Is Chavismo the cause of our evils? What is the size of our responsibility as a political group? Of my responsibility as a citizen?
The apocalypse of infinite dissonance
If we only took at what happened during this year of 2019, we will understand how deep the social engineering project applied against Venezuela was.
Juan Guaidó has promised apocalypse to his supporters over and over again. The last day of Nicolás Maduro has been decreed for more than six years. “The end is near,” they proclaim with total shamelessness towards their electoral base. But who can blame those leaders for lying, if the mass of their voters continues to be tame in response to deception?
If I were wondering why this happens and how they can lie to them almost daily and that it does not generate any kind of collective awakening process – a kind of rational reflection that drives them to abandon those leaderships – my answer would be: the problem is that the Venezuelan opposition psychologically behaves like a sect, not as a political group. I will explain immediately.
The researcher Marteen Van Doom, in narrating the discoveries of Leon Festinger (the psychologist who coined the theory of cognitive dissonance) gives important clues about how the establishment of beliefs works in radicalized groups.
Van Doorn recalls that Festinger infiltrated a sect whose members believed that aliens from a planet called Clarion would destroy Earth on December 21, 1954. However, as true believers, cult members would be saved and transported to their new natal planet in UFOs (they were instructed to wait in cars parked in a suburb of Chicago). Of course, when the time came nothing happened. The Earth continued to exist perfectly and the parking lot remained untouched by aliens.
“Now what?” Van Doorne wonders. A natural question that fits perfectly with the continued deception of which the Venezuelan opposition has been victimized by its leaders and the United States Government itself: How do people deal with a refutation of a belief in which they have invested so much of their lives?
How do those who wake up the day after Juan Guaidó have promised them the end of Chavismo? How do those who go to other places to seek happiness deal with themselves and stumble upon the harsh reality represented by Latin American countries that have been subjected by neoliberalism to processes of widespread impoverishment? Festinger has an answer:
Instead of concluding that the prophecy was wrong, believers deduced that, since the prophecy could not be false, their belief in it and their acting upon that belief saved the Earth. “Thanks to them, the aliens showed mercy. And they were not mistaken. They could hold on to their beliefs. According to the theory of cognitive dissonance, when reality falsifies our deepest beliefs, we prefer to play with reality than to update our worldview”, he says.
Doesn’t this remind you of the justifications that try to exculpate errors from the opposition with phrases like “it was necessary to do so to return a credible threat to Venezuela”, “now the world knows the drama of the country”, “we are one step closer to achieve it “? And so, in an endless system of excuses that protect themselves from any rational evaluation.
Festinger explains this denial mechanism:
“Tell him that you disagree and leave. Show him facts or figures and he questions the sources. He appeals to logic and he doesn’t understand what you mean. Suppose he is presented with proof, unequivocal and undeniable evidence, that his belief is wrong: what will happen? The individual will frequently emerge, not only unbreakable, but even more convinced of the truth of his beliefs than ever. In fact, he can even show a new fervor for convincing and converting other people to their point of view,” says Festinger.
The complex psychological experiment applied against Venezuela built a very particular worldview. One in which Chavismo replaced everything that could be wrong with the individual and collective life of the population.
In addition, it obtained two trophies of war: it turned the crisis and despair into a commercial brand to obtain economic resources abroad. And it transformed the country that has the largest reserve of oil and gold in the world, a wide biodiversity, exorbitant amounts of minerals of all kinds and lands ideal for agriculture, into a nation without a future.
Now, a question arises that we will try to answer in an upcoming installment: is this situation irreversible? In no way.
However, the process of social healing and the mechanisms of protection of the Venezuelan psyche and culture imply the participation of all Venezuelans, especially those who, identified with the opposition, have been enrolled in that sect without knowing or wishing it.
Featured image: © AFP 2019 / Matias Delacroix
Translated by JRE/EF