Polarization within Ourselves

Transposing emblem by Alejandra Baccino

What is it about polarization that comes so naturally to humans? In countries where the culture and the sense of nation revolves around soccer, kids are taught about extremes early on. They learn to love their team, to have themed birthday parties with the colors that represent them and to cry when they lose or – with an unexpected, last minute goal – win.

Soccer fan’s passion only grows stronger when there is a common rival – usually another team from the same city. This rivalry, built on year after year of competition, helps to cement our own passion for our team. From a young age we are taught, not only to love a team and its colors, but also to despise the rival team and everything related to it. As we grow old, we get less excited about our wins than about the other team’s losses. We don´t question this passion for our team and the dislike for its rival. It is what it is because it has been like that as long as we can remember. We don´t ask ourselves if it is right or wrong, and we take extreme action in order to defend or root for our colors.

A few foster and even encourage this hatred for the sole purpose of filling their pockets with money. They make use of an organized subculture of hinchas (fans) that are so lost in this misconception of “passion” that they end up killing other fans out of an idea of “respect” for the team that they have come to idolize, in order to fulfill their self-created sense of importance. This type of polarization is easily recognized. Is either black or white, there is no place for grey. This conception will remain the same throughout our lives and we will transfer it as it is to the next generation. What happened in the final of the Libertadores Cup in November of 2018, between Boca and River, is a sad yet poignant example of this negative polarization (one of the team’s buses was attacked by fans).

But what happens when this polarization takes place within ourselves? When, over the course of some years, we turn from defending one extreme to supporting the exact opposite? This is a recurrent trend in South America and it has been more noticeable since the beginning of the 21st century. After decades of right-wing governments on the continent, things began to change. Disappointed with the economy and social policies, left wing movements in various countries started to become more and more popular, and an increasing number of followers began to demand change. Finally, 20 years ago, the shift towards the left wing started in Venezuela and other countries soon followed, establishing a new cycle of social policies and a left-wing economic approach.

In the strongest economies of South America, Argentina, Brazil, and Venezuela, one left-wing term was followed by another, with candidates beating their opponents by major differences. This was considered a huge victory for those who had fought to have the right to democratically vote in favor of the left. Let us not forget that during the 70s South America suffered an epidemic of widespread right-wing dictatorships in the greater context of the Cold War. During that time, political expression against the dictatorship was forbidden regardless of the party it represented and many of those who showed any communist or socialist tendencies were persecuted, tortured and killed. This left a deep mark in South American societies as a reminder to never have their liberties taken again. Therefore, after all the struggles and following a huge financial crisis in the region, people turned to the left-wing and celebrated its success, hoping for a better future with equal opportunities and less poverty.

But over the years a change in tide began as people´s hopes were met with disappointment, and the dreams of a just society were destroyed by incompetence, cronyism and corruption on a larger scale. People’s discontent has become evident during the presidential elections in Chile and Argentina, where a moderate right-wing party was elected, and in the Organization of American States’ permanent calls for the Venezuelan government to be transparent.

In Brazil, where scandals have hit so many high-profile politicians and the investigation regarding Odebrecht is still continuing, the soil was fertile for the cultivation of change as Brazilians were shocked by the corruption and white-collar crimes committed by those they had believed in. The economy was also under real stress, and criminality was perceived to be the highest in decades. The decision to host the World Cup in soccer and the Olympics in 2014 and 2016 respectively gave rise to a feeling of hopelessness among the people because they felt that money could be invested in more important things.

In October 2018, Bolsonaro won the presidential election in Brazil. It was met both with joy and despair by the leaders of the region and the world. This article doesn´t aim to judge whether Bolsonaro was the better choice or even to criticize the election.  My intention is to leave all politics aside and focus on the human beings behind it, their nuances, their fears and the light they needed to keep going. Bolsonaro is, without a doubt, a far right-wing leader with strong opinions about economics, justice, feminism and minorities. Despite his alleged and confirmed statements regarding women, blacks, homosexuals and other sexual orientations, many representatives of these minorities not only did vote for him, but also defended Bolsonaro against his detractors.

What is interesting about this election is that Bolsonaro won with more than half of the votes, meaning that a large number of those votes came from people who had voted for the left wing in previous elections. One cannot help but wonder what could have brought them to vote not only against their principles but, in many cases, against their own beliefs? Are we all extremists in our own inner selves? This phenomenon isn´t different from what is happening in the rest of South America, where only Maduro remains as the last major representative of socialism.  I strongly believe that like everything in this world, we, as individuals, perceive things differently depending on the circumstances and according to our unique experiences. Therefore, I don´t think this polarization responds to anything other than a change of circumstances. This perception varies depending on the receiver: poor, gay, rich, woman, man, religious, atheist, among others. The important thing to bear in mind is that mostly everyone, especially when there is no personal gain, does what they truly believe is best. Hence, we can extrapolate this to the recent changes in the South American region, where many minorities set aside their individuality and voted for something that they thought was the best option given the circumstances, even if that meant selflessly relegating themselves to second place.

The ever-changing circumstances and the capacity to keep questioning ourselves, even when we believe that we have the right answer, is what makes us human, and fortunately what will make us evolve into more caring societies despite those who think mostly of themselves. Sometimes though, certain extreme ideas are embedded in ourselves, without questioning and without reason, as in the first case with soccer where there is only enough place for hatred and hostility. Fortunately, something that took so long to build can be transformed quite easily, if we only learned to be more respectful of our fellow peers, and whatever principles each individual decides to defend and live by. In summary, polarization is a part of human nature. We can either chose to analyze it and draw conclusions to make positive changes in our behavior, or take it to be a revealed truth and live by it accordingly, knowing that we will be an accomplice to hatred and retrogression.