Psychosocial Instability in Argentina and the US: El granero del mundo and The Manifest Destiny

Transposing emblem by Antuel D‘Adam

Argentina’s society is one of many contradictions and paradoxes. As some readers may know, the city of Buenos Aires, Argentina’s capital, has been called “the Paris of South America.” If you have ever been there, this nickname shouldn´t strike you as impossibly ridiculous. Buildings such as the ones in the pictures below are not very hard to find, and the cosmopolitan atmosphere in Buenos Aires and its European-style restaurants and theaters will make you feel that its nickname is more than fair.

However, when you look at other places in Argentina, and even at Buenos Aires itself, the incongruity of “Buenos Aires, the Paris of South America” should dawn on you rather quickly and help you understand what I am trying to say: Argentina is Paris . . . and it isn‘t. Argentina may have the architectural sophistication of Western Europe, but her economic strength is more along the lines of her neighboring countries. The truth is that there are more things than not that Argentina shares with the rest of the nations in the region. But because Argentine children have been, and still are, brought up with stories about how Argentina is the best country in the world, with the best beef and the most beautiful woman (we even have a song (by Bersuit Vergarabat ) about that), it shouldn’t come as a surprise that there is a widespread feeling of uneasiness among Argentines. A certain psychological instability arising from a mismatch between what we should be and what we actually are. How come we are so great yet have so many problems as a country? Every Latin American is probably aware of that age-old running joke that says we’re cocky. We are. But behind that cockiness there is a certain fear, a defense mechanism. A way to cope with a truth we don’t like. How come we’re the best yet no one, not even ourselves, seems to see it?

When I look at the United States, the parallels are just as striking. I don’t wish to talk about the new US political situation nor of the possible implications of that situation. Political analyses should be left to political analysts. But I find the US position in the world to bear a striking resemblance to Argentina’s position in South America. Bear with me. After WWII, the US cemented her status as the most powerful nation in the world. That was but the last step on a long road to success, which can be easily be said to have its roots at least in her 19th century Manifest Destiny. Meanwhile, Argentina was considered El granero del mundo, “the World’s Barn“, and one of the richest countries in the world, at around the same time.

But what about now? The United States is still the greatest of the great powers, but there others today, coexisting with America. Argentina’s economy is but a shadow of its past, and many neighboring countries that Argentina used to greatly outperform, well, do much better than her now. We could spend days and thousands of pages trying to analyze the reasons why these changes occurred, but suffice it to say that they did.

What I’m trying to say is that the collective uneasiness that has been a recurrent feature of Argentina’s society for a long time now seems to work in similar ways in the United States. Of course Argentina and the United States are not the only (and possibly not even the most representative) examples of these somewhat predictable fluctuations in the global system, but I’m from Argentina and the US is the most powerful nation in the world. Thus my choices.

So what? Is it relevant that culture, politicians, and mothers alike tell us that we are still the best of the best? Well, it may. If Argentina and the United States are not as powerful as they used to be and we fail to understand that this is not necessarily a bad thing, but an opportunity, and instead lie to ourselves and respond with fear, cockiness, or whatever . . . well, things can quickly start to sour.

Please, don’t misunderstand me. I know that if you see all these changes as the equivalent of losing your prominent position in a company, you’re probably going to be afraid. But we need to understand that this isn’t a win or lose game. Argentina may not be the World’s Barn and the US may not seem to be the nation chosen by God all the time now. But we’re still great countries with great people. This psychosocial state of uncertainty should be embraced as a key element in the constitution of the collective psyche of two cultures that are contradictory, but beautifully contradictory.