Fear management – 22/05/2021 – Latinoamérica21

Fear is one of the main feelings that paralyzes people. The history of mankind cannot be understood without its presence, both in the intimate sphere of individuals and in their group relationships. In the first, it is configured as the structure that supports the different religions or the different ways of confronting existence itself; through the second, it articulates human coexistence, from the simplest to the most complex social forms, from the tribe to the state.

Historically, wars, revolutions and pandemics have been a breeding ground for fear, in such a way that it has thrived in them, becoming such a relevant actor that at times it has been definitive. In an uneven tone and intensity, it was also present in the daily coexistence of each era through patterns linked to various expressions of injustice, such as insecurity and inequality.

For all these reasons, among the resources that the authority enjoys, in its maximum expression is the management of fear. Through its administration, it is possible to legitimize everything from the total abuse of power to the realization of a social climate based on serene cooperation between people. Both totalitarianism and democracy govern by taking it into account and, although their assumptions are obviously diametrically different, the future of both, to a large extent, is closely linked to it.

In this sense, the Covid-19 pandemic is resulting in an excellent evidence base to show the state of affairs in Latin America. Fifteen months after its eruption in a region where fear circulates intertwined with the effects of exclusion, the main and predominant form of inequality, and certain forms of violence, such as preventive measures dictated by the authorities, can affect a scenario in which to leave home to the street, every day, is it vital for survival?

The scenes with lines of patients in the corridors and entrances to hospitals or with corpses on the streets, as was the case with Guayaquil, provoked a panic that resulted in the massive use of masks and the imposition of sanctions on those who did not use them. Later, the implementation of different forms of exceptionality, such as states of siege or alarm, reminded Carl Schmitt’s maxim about the definition of the sovereign. The populations ventilated the different measures according to the country, but also according to their personal situation, according to economic, social or cultural prejudices. From those who accept everything established by power to those who do what they want, the series is multicolored.

At the same time, fear has fueled a wide range of official speeches: some are obsessively present, as is the case, unusual in historical terms, of the Colombian Iván Duque who goes daily to his country for an hour; others, accompanied by more or less successful political decisions, range from the negation of Jair Bolsonaro in Brazil or the Mexican Andrés Manuel López Obrador in the beginning, to the most obsessive of the prevention protocols that have characterized the responsible liberalism of Uruguayan Luis Alberto Lacalle Pou or Carlos Alvarado’s actions in Costa Rica, going through the most pure and simple inhibition of those who look the other way, like Alejandro Giammattei in Guatemala, Daniel Ortega in Nicaragua or Abdo Benítez in Paraguay.

All of this occurred within a framework of unreliable and largely inconsistent data, sometimes the result of a weakness in the institutions responsible for capturing them (Honduras or El Salvador are two paradigmatic cases) and, in other cases, of official insanity (Venezuela and Nicaragua are the two most prominent countries) that contrast with Chilean efficiency, perhaps because of the prominence that its College of Doctors has had since the beginning of the pandemic. In any case, the absence of a single pattern of behavior, which is not only Latin American heritage, has led to the emergence of several works and reports on the state of the matter, so that the degree of knowledge we now have of the situation is remarkable. .

Now, between the two opposite scenarios that could result, in other words, that of a government that whips pandemic fear as a mechanism of control and legitimation against another that is a negationist or negligent action, the region moves through both. Politically speaking, the issue was barely mentioned in the elections held in the last month in three Andean countries (Bolivia, Ecuador and Peru) and neither framed the Chilean and Mexican electoral campaigns, nor the Peruvian runoff. It is true that none of the main political leaders has been or will be subjected to their validation, as they are either not subject to reelection or do not compete directly in the elections, but the issue does not appear prominently.

In the absence of general public opinion polls for all countries that could point to comparative patterns of behavior, the effects of fear are thus diluted or, even better, are only a hypothesis. They assume an input that, apparently, is limited to the strictly individual level in terms of altering, or not, the vital expectations of each person.

Furthermore, if we take into account that any pandemic, as the father of pathological anatomy, Rudolf Virchow, stressed, is “a social phenomenon that involves some medical aspects”, we can ask ourselves about its impact on profoundly unequal and impoverished liquid societies, where the digital transition, in turn, creates all kinds of dilemmas and more gaps.

For all these reasons, the risk is that its management will end up being deeply disturbing at very fragmented levels that can have a huge impact on tired democracies, whose future is more uncertain than it was just five years ago. The leap from a policy of fear to a policy of care, as Franco Berardi and Byung Chul Han point out, is an imperative that few are reacting to today.

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