Lula Watch: Focusing on the Latin American Left – Vol.5 – No.13

Latin America: “Induced Abandonment” and “Social Anesthesia” Unveiling the mystery of apathy that greatly favors so many leaders inspired by the Old and New Left is one of the most important tasks at the moment, especially for the survival of Latin America.

1. In face of governmental corruption, increasing crime, economic problems and moral deterioration, many sectors of Latin American public opinion are struck with an enigmatic apathy that has in turn led to the rise of forms of populism inspired by the Old and the New Left. While some analysts have identified this phenomenon, the psychological mechanisms that lead to apathy have not yet been sufficiently analyzed.

2. Opinion makers, intellectuals, politicians, and media people should concentrate their efforts on identifying the mechanisms that cause apathy and prevent people from having wholesome reactions proportional to the scope of Latin American problems. They should make this a number one priority. Just making the problem known and exchanging opinions about the possible causes of discouragement, lack of interest and motivation is already a priceless contribution and a first step toward shaking that apathy.

3. In this respect, psychiatrists Harold Kaplan and Benjamin Sadock put together a report about experiments with human beings during the 20th century, including in the former Soviet Union. They describe cases of “induced abandonment” in which individuals exposed to highly stressful and apparently insoluble situations had their intellectual and emotional capabilities impaired and fell into psychological lethargy and frustration.

Dr. Eunice Alencar, a psychologist at the University of Brasilia, explains that “apathetic behavior” is more likely to occur “in intense and prolonged situations of frustration, after all attempts by the individual to overcome barriers have proven useless.”

The specialist adds that, following a state of such frustration, “the individual becomes indifferent to any stimulus and incapable of presenting any reaction.” She gives as an extreme example the case of prisoners of war in Nazi and Communist concentration camps during the Second World War, in which, “facing constant torture and death threats, prisoners became apathetic and completely indifferent to everything happening around them.” Their very instinct of self-preservation appeared to have abandoned them.

4. Though not as extreme as the concentration camp example, similar symptoms seem to appear in vast sectors in Latin America. That is not to say that the process of frustration, abandonment and consequent apathy is irreversible and no wholesome reactions should occur. Dr. Alencar herself notes that some individuals can overcome this frustration by “channeling” the tension generated by frustration toward “overcoming obstacles.”

5. From complementary but equally interesting viewpoints, other authors have also discussed how “induced abandonment” leads to “apathetic behavior.” Brazilian political scientist Gaudencio Torcuato warned that the rising tide of corruption in all three branches of government in Brazil has led important sectors of the population to take a paradoxical attitude. Instead of becoming indignant about these problems, many people simply get used to them. They see those things as “trivial” and almost “normal,” giving rise to a “gradual process of waning strength” that “weakens people’s will” and causes “tedium,” “accommodation,” and “social anesthesia.”

Even “unusual” events acquire “the nature of something normal.” Crime “begins to be assimilated” as part of that pseudo normalcy so that “continued confusion and disorder contribute to generate passivity,” Torcuato concludes.

6. As mentioned in previous editorials, an enigmatic phenomenon of ideological and psychological lethargy is taking place in several countries on the Latin American continent, accompanied by a no less enigmatic moral anesthesia that affects decisive sectors of the population and is contributing to leaving the way open to various types of neo-populism.

Unveiling the mystery of apathy is one of the most important tasks at present, especially for the survival of Latin America.

Previous editorials, related with the topic of the apathy in Brazil:
* Brazil: booings to Lula, lethargy and wholesome reactions
* Chávez and his ally Lula, the “general anesthesist”
* Lula: A “useful moderate” at the service of Chávez?
* The “Lula method” of solving conflicts: Who profits?
* Is Brazil Sick? Minister Mello, government corruption and apathy

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