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Chavez and Other Beasts

Marshall Stocker, an investment manager in Ithaca, New York, wrote this very nice op-ed appearing in yesterday’s Ithaca Journal. In it, he compares Venezuela’s president Hugo Chavez with Cuba’s chief hombre Fidel Castro – concluding, sadly but correctly, that Chavez has all the markings of his elder thug-in-chief.

Reading Mr. Stocker’s account of the goings-on in Venezuela makes me sad and angry.

The age-old question, of course, is why. Why do people tolerate arbitrary power exercised by other people – and endure the barbarism that the exercise of such power inevitably unleashes?

I have no answer, just this thought: Castro, Chavez, Mugabe, Mao, Hitler, Mussolini – you name the head-of-state thug – derive much of their power from childish sentiments.

We in the west today romanticize childhood. We think of young children as innocent, frank, and cute. Of course, they are these things to a large degree, especially when being raised in protective middle-class homes. But children naturally, even more than most adults, hold simplistic notions of reality.

Their first instinct is to seize whatever it is that they want. If little Bobby has a toy car that catches little Tommy’s eye, little Tommy reaches out and grabs it from little Bobby. Little Bobby naturally resists. A fight breaks out, with whining always and sometimes even flailing limbs on both sides, until an adult intervenes or until one or the other demonstrates decisive physical dominance.

When Bobby and Tommy are a tad older, say 11 or 12, one of them – usually the one who is most popular with other classmates or playground mates – will taunt and harass the other. Mostly this bullying is done with words, but often it involves pushing, shoving, grotesque practical ‘jokes,’ and even sometimes blood-letting violence. The bully feels important and powerful, having lorded himself over another and receiving in return the praise and admiration of other children who join in the general schoolyard contempt for the bullied child.

What is government, especially of the sort headed by Chavez and Castro, but institutionalized grabbing and glorified, high-intensity bullying? "Party A has stuff that I want, either for myself of for my friends. I have the army. I’ll just grab it" – so he does. And if anyone dares resist, well too bad: black-eyes for them (if ‘them’ are so lucky as to suffer only black-eyes).

It’s the easiest thing in the world to imagine problems (real and fantasy problems) solved by brute force. Even children can imagine such a solution.  B is poorer than A, force A to give some of what he has to B.  Problem solved. C doesn’t live like you think she ought to live – she smokes too much dope, she worships the wrong god, her sexual practices aren’t to your taste – no problem; unsheathe your sword, point it at her throat, and order her to change.  Problem solved.  D dares challenge your political power – now that’s really bad; shoot him in the name of protecting society.  Problem solved.

If children were never civilized by their families – if we all grew up into our hormone-suffused bodies untamed – we’d be hairy and breasted children. Actually, no. We’d be worse. Children as we understand them are uncivilized only temporarily. Parents and families civilize them; there’s hope for children. There’s no hope that bastards such as Hugo Chavez, Fidel Castro, Robert Mugabe will ever grow up. They’re big and murderous and will be that way for as long as they breathe.