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Walter Mignolo

Thoughts on modernity/coloniality, geopolitics of knowledge, border thinking, pluriversality, and the decolonial option.


In a previous posting I advanced a general reflection on democratic and authoritarian states. Here is the first of various examples I shall post in the future to reflect on the “myths” at hand. For the argument that follows—and to dispel the myths of democratic, socialists and authoritarian states, it should be kept in mind that “authoritarian” states are not “totalitarian” and that “democratic” and “socialist” states could be either authoritarian (where two political parties control a country and elections have a “free flavor” while indeed are manipulated by the media, the corporations and the elite that maintains the “democratic” system) or turn into totalitarian states (Hitler, Stalin). Furthermore, the rest of the world beyond Europe “receive” the form-state that emerge in the local history of Europe and was imposed/accepted over the form-government that they had before. Whether the form-state was imposed by European (or today by the US) or accepted by local administrators beyond Europe, doesn’t change the fact that the form-state is not a natural unfolding in non-European local histories.

I will be exploring several examples one at a time, to uncouple means and ends. What many of us want is a future society in which justice and equity, solidarity and collaboration, individual sovereignty (no individual has the right to oppress or exploit another individual) are the roads to the future. To reach that goal we are told that either democracy or socialism are the solutions. The problem is that both concepts respond to the ideals and social horizon of the European Enlightenment. They are regional and limited, not universals. There are other means  by which to walk social horizons of justice and equity. The communal, social organizations that Western modernity ruled out, are today offering other ways of being and thinking.  Uncoupling democracy and socialism, as means, from just and equitable society as goal, is of the essence. Today, both democracy and socialism serve well the rhetoric of Western imperialism. They have the right to exist, but reduced to size and co-existing with other means to noble goals.

China, the US and Western Europe (Germany, France, England, Italy, Spain) have several common problems. Not problems in common, but common problems. One of them is high profiled corruption, in the States and the Corporations. From Enron to Wall Street  in the US, to Bankia in Madrid, from Germany politicians to mainland China  and in Hong Kong, corruption is a common “practice.”The extreme case, however, is when corruption arrives to the Presidente Consejo General del Poder Judicial y del Tribunal Supremo, in Spain. Briefly, you can do a Google search entering “Corruption” + “Country Name” and you will have plenty. Let me add a Latin American country to this short list, Brazil. Not the only one, for sure, you can test it your self doing the Google search I suggested.

How is it that still, we, the political and civil society of all these places accept to elect corrupt representatives at all levels of the economic and political system? Shall we trust the Institutions within the same system that are vigilant, chase and punish the delinquent? Or shall we work seriously toward a social horizon where there is no place for corruption because the horizon of life is not driven by the will to have more in order to be successful? Can we imagine a society in which rewards is not based on having more, a society that doesn’t push toward have more to enjoy more, at the cost of the tax payers? At this point, neither democracy nor authoritarian states based on capitalist economy seem to be able to stop corruption. The problem then is laying some place else.

Like in any of the Western countries just mentioned, China is displaying significant cases of corruption within the state and in business.  A common problem to East and West! No need to multiply the examples, you get the idea: the “developed” world and the largest “emerging economies” are increasing the cases of corruptions in corporations and the State. Corruption makes the distinction between democratic and authoritarian states irrelevant.

In Spain, the case of Bankia (more complicated for the interlinks between the state and financial capital), it is no less indicative of the myths of democratic states. I will not mention Russia between 1989 and 1990, approximately,  because the application of the “shock doctrine” to Russia is very well know. But I will mention that the European Union for the simple reason that the very formation of Europe was based on the “rescue” of democracy  from Ancient Greece and relocated in modern times. Now Greece (the cradle of Western Civilization) is in a shamble and the European Union in financial and moral collapse.

Is corruption a problem? Or it is a sign that hides where the real problem lies and what the real problem is? “Problems” were supposed to happen beyond the core of Europe and the US who offered solutions. Now, Europe and the US have become part of the “problem” rather than offering solutions.

I did not conduct a scholarly or scientific “research” on the psychology of corruption, on what drives corruption, but I have been observing through daily life, specialized magazines that you find in airport lounges, in the corners of the Art Fair in Hong Kong, in the office of any Luxury Property company, or just walking on classic urban centers in New York, Paris, London, Barcelona or Roma as well as through the financial centers of newly splendorous (truly) cities like Shanghai, Singapore, Dubai, Qatar or Hong Kong, you realize that a lot of money is needed to live a life of marina yachting, private jets, private meetings with Armani’s fashion designers, the traditional top list of restaurants and hotels in Paris or London, an ancient villa in Italy or luxury properties in the Indian Ocean or Mediterranean islands, in Thailand or in the new development in Vietnam. And more. There is much more that a salary could allow.

If you are not savvy enough to make a lot of money “legally”, through investment or the stock market, and you cannot escape those temptations that are fashioned “for people like you”, well, you have to find some way to get the money you need for that dream life that you see in photos, hear in conversations, shared information. And of course, you cannot afford to be “less” to someone you know and who have and did things you would like to have and do. Democratic and authoritarian States have a common cause: to fight against corruption. Democratic and authoritarian States share the same conditions that promote corruption: a society built on the economy of “more” which is at the same time an economy of distinction for “having more” and “doing more;” an economy where LP (luxury property) of any kind is one of the movers of corruption. Corruption doesn’t happen because people are “naturally bad”, but because current economic structure and fantasies (visual images and narratives that entice “spending to obtain”) that promote economic structures, create the conditions for corruption.

Democratic and authoritarian states cannot stop corruption by “vigilance.” Corruption is not something you end by spying on and persecuting the corrupt. If a solution is really what democratic and authoritarian States are looking for at this point, the social horizon of expectations has to be changed. And that change requires a move from ‘an economy of more” to a political theory of service and a political economy of administering scarcity, scarce growth, rather than promoting development for the benefits of the few. Well, I was asked, how would you compensate people that deserve to be recognized for their intelligence, effort, etc? Well, I said, why do compensation and distinction have to come in the form of money and wealth?

Compensation and distinction are necessary, people need to be recognized for what they do, and left alone to do what they want to do without forcing others to serve their purpose. But compensation and distinction shall not be based on money. A friend, Enrique, told me in the train from Shanghai to Beijing, while walking to the restaurant wagon and realizing that in the train there is super-first, first and second class” “you see, class distinction cannot be eliminated.” Correct. The question is that now seating in one of the three classes is based on money, the distinction is money-based. It shouldn’t be like that. In a society whose horizon of expectations are not based on growth, development, progress understood as growth and wealth, merit and compensation shall have its place, but not based on money.

If the goals toward global futures are to work toward a just, equitable society of mutual respect, the goals could not be either democracy or socialism. Democracy and socialism are two means to achieve these goals (just, equitable society, mutual respect, where no human being exploits and devalue other human beings), but they cannot be goals and by no means the only “means.” We should uncouple means and goals and to seriously  think about whether democracy or socialism are the “best” just and equitable social formation. Because democracy and socialism fail to deliver what they promise, we have authoritarian States like China or Singapore trying to deliver in a different form what democracy and socialism couldn’t deliver. We all have a lot of work to do free ourselves from the myths of democratic, socialist and authoritarian states. We should not keep on confusing means (democracy and socialism) with ends; and understand that if authoritarian states is not what we want, presently are offering an interesting corrective to the dangers of a single story, global single story of either democracy or socialism for all, for the 7 billion people on the planet. Which is not what we want either.


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