Historically, societies have oscillated between agitating in the public world or surrendering to the private world as elections to correct their frustrations and move closer to the realization of their interests and values. This pendulum, exemplarily illustrated by the economist Albert Hirschmann, generally explains – in a generic way – what leads us at times to hyper-politicize everything and take to the streets to immediately focus on our families, our leisure activities, professional life or consumer cheers with indifference to the public.
But what about social dissatisfaction and individual frustration when public space is closed for health emergency reasons? What happens when the restrictions leave the private world dehydrated to the point where the practices of individual growth, family enjoyment, work immersion, or gratification are undermined by the evaporation of income? What happens when, in this context, most residential spaces are insufficient? In summary: where and how are frustrations channeled when the public and private spheres are confused or cease to exist?
LIMITATIONS WITHOUT EXHAUST VALVE
Argentina’s particular approach to the pandemic has sunk into the private sphere and its ultimate character to protect itself from being eclipsed by the public-political world. The government has stigmatized the occupation of this area to express collective disappointments in terms of denial social betrayal or sectarian monopolization.
Through severe social control, restriction of freedoms, expanding restrictions, and the use of fear advertising, the official quarantine policy has drained and increased the cost of channeling protests.
As in other latitudes, under the label of protecting the public interest, quarantine forced the privatization of life. All this, framed in virtuous reports on the goodness of the cloister and the instrumentalization of insufficient and perverse economic palliative measures, because – because of its inflationary consequences – they ended up undermining even more the bases of the Argentinian private refuge.
In our country, the punitive emptying of the public sphere has been used alongside deprotection and suffocation for nearly a year of the space of privacy. Expectations of intimate or individual fulfillment thronged with vigilance, the search for discipline and the profusion of fear. The result was that Argentines found themselves without an outlet to channel their frustrations.
Indeed, the impoverishment of the private sphere completes its deficiency as a place of personal development, demolishing the foundations that would allow it to flourish. Whether commercial or professional, or around the consumption of goods, experiences or sensations such as art, the practice of religious, tribal or aesthetic dogmas, among others.
In more ways than one, Argentines are reverting to their pre-democratic past, subjected to authoritarian privatization that makes the daily experience unsatisfactory. The “order” to “close” the public locks people up, restricts their social spaces and, in fact, privatizes them.
Their world is getting smaller and smaller and connectivity – for those who can afford it – is becoming a key factor, but it distorts social ties. A face-to-face course is not the same as a virtual course. A face-to-face parliamentary session is not the same as a remote session. Visiting a loved one is not the same as seeing them on a screen.
TO COME UP
How to extrapolate this exasperation and this feeling of failure when the private and public spheres are simultaneously closed? Hirschmann, thinking of the individual, offered three alternatives: exit, voice and loyalty. The voice is to claim and participate publicly, an option blocked by restrictive measures that reduce it to isolated pots, participation in social networks and less and less called marches.
The solution is to escape to private or intimate life, increasingly emptied by scarcity. There would also be an exit as identification with another type of offer – whether political, market or spiritual – a scenario currently weakened by lack of leadership. Finally, Hirschmann recognized loyalty, which is followed to the letter by a third of the government-aligned population as voters or as customers and expressed by a kind of uncritical inertia. This threefold framework today is insufficient to reflect the experiences of Argentine society.
When public and private life is disenchanting, and conventional civic protests, desertion, or loyal silence generate more discontent than compensation, two other options present themselves. One is the subject’s emotional implosion, internally represented by addictions and deviations in behavior. Alcoholism, obesity and depression, PlayStation addiction, Netflixmania, domestic violence, family breakdown and suicides abound.
This response makes privatization a perverse option because, instead of channeling this energy of public mobilization towards the classic private spheres, it becomes a kind of negative internal implosion of this energy. Collectively, this response is projected into an anarchic anomy in which no one follows the rules and everyone loses trying to maximize their profits at the expense of others.
Another response that is starting to be seen in a messy and fragmented way is the self-organized self-summons which is not conventionally public (partisan) nor exclusively private (individualistic), but a mixture of the two. This, based on links and autonomous horizontal networks, bringing together collectives that did not exist before, such as non-partisan NGOs, social enterprises and an infinity of small articulated agents such as groups of parents mobilized for the reopening of schools.
Under these conditions, only individuals and their precarious psychosocial balance lose? Not even a little. The losses are collective. The massive disenchantment with the private and political worlds and the forced expulsion from the public arena is the ideal recipe for eroding support for democracy, the radicalization of opinions, the enthronement of messianic rulers and the propensity to break through naturalization. ignorance of legal norms and more basic public conduct.
Authoritarian privatization desensitizes us to Argentina’s civilizing conquests, such as pluralist democracy, civic spirit, prosperity based on effort and merit, and the aspiration for self-actualization with a more integrated society. The deprivation of channeling frustrations, through responsible participation in private or public life, makes us indifferent to the values and institutions linked to individual and collective progress. And, above all, it feeds the demon that can end up defeating the architects of authoritarian privatization.