Without capital, which I never wanted on account of it being a weighty burden in the unending struggle…” says Sarmiento in his political testament. Then he goes on to define a scale of values in which the ”struggle” appears to be above all else. But there is something more: Sarmiento has built his huge public life without any money, about which he talks in a simple and indirect way. For all of the outstanding political men of the first half of the 20th century, money has been just an accessory or, actually, a hindrance. And during the second half, at least three constitutional presidents carried out their campaigns almost without any financial resources: Arturo Frondizi, Arturo Illia, Raul Alfonsín.
For Sarmiento, his self-realization was centered on that struggle, on the verb ”to do”, and that has been the rule by which all the good Argentine politicians have always abided, and this is the case with many of our contemporaries. What spurred them was the importance of public service and the moral recognition they deserved. But this would have lacked sense if society itself would not have regarded these values as the leading factor. How can we describe ourselves today?
A few weeks ago the French magazine L’Express devoted its cover article to the happiness recipes of the French population. And the numerical part of the article was based on a survey carried out by Scan for Lab’Ho among 1006 persons. Since France is a self-indulgent society (89 per cent of the responses), I checked these data in order to try to establish a correlation between their public welfare and their individual values. It is not my intention to attach more significance to the information, to the detriment of the journalistic side, but it is worthwhile.
Within a multiple-choice system, when asked about which was the most important resource to attain success, 87 per cent chose ”to have will”, whereas only 37 per cent mentioned ”to have good luck”. Between these two options we find those who said ”to be sustained by the environment” (62 per cent); ”to have financial resources available” (44 per cent); ”to be intelligent” (42 per cent); ”to have undertaken a good career” (42 per cent). It is interesting to note that the last item, ”to have social connections” was mentioned by only 33% of those surveyed, which shows a society where a ‘useful connection’ is unimportant. The will, the environment (a society that serves as protection and a financial system that grants low cost credits) as well as apprenticeship seem to conform a golden triad.
The true construction of a nation
The other fascinating study was the analysis of the question: ”Which are your success models?”. Pay attention: ”the researcher”, 59 per cent; ”family mother”, 57; ”the honest and responsible employee”, 55; ”the creator of enterprises”, 30; ”the high-level sportsman”, 32; ”philosopher and thinker”, 30; ”artist”, 27; ”show business star”, 8; ”political career”, 7; and ”the seducer”, 5 per cent.
My initial temptation was, simple, to reverse both charts and ask myself whether, when turned upside down, they did not represent the Argentine society. I am not at all sure that deep inside we also feel that willingness, environment and apprenticeship are the really significant instruments, and that good luck and good connections are the trash that the mass communication media sell us.
But the second chart is still more dramatic. It is a long time now that the revered Manuel Sadosky and other scientific friends are alarmed at the decrease of vocation for the ”hard” sciences among our secondary school students, which fell from 30 to 15 per cent in less than twenty years. I am sure that ”the researcher” does not have among us the same promise of future that his counterpart has in France. Besides this, we have witnessed a proliferation of ”entrepreneurs” which look for beautiful faces whose ambitions are set on the show-business, and the audiovisual media stupefy us with the lives, the millions and the whims of football players. I am very much afraid that in the case of this second chart the reversion I suggest will prove true, unfortunately. We look at our lives and our future in exactly the opposite way as compared to the Frenchmen. And let us not forget that even though we may win the next football world championship, which is a possibility, nothing will change as to our daily frustrations, our unemployment rates and our lack of hope!
Isn’t it about time that we start working on our crisis of values? What is the meaning of ”the never-ending struggle” for life, among us? Sarmiento gives us a clue which, when observing more advanced societies, seems to have lost nothing of its validity. And he himself is a good example, for he took pleasure in living: he had a gratifying sex life, and ate with delight all that his attending plysician had banned for him: pork barbecue, cucumber salad, and chicha wine brought from his province – San Juan.
If we do not open this discussion, I feel that we have not started to debate the future of Argentina. Since many years before the terms of Carlos Menem we had already installed in the public thought a series of extravagant values, bordering magic: ”Argentina world power”, ”the defeat of Great Britain”… Afterwards we became ”First World” and decreed that ”one peso equals one U.S. dollar”… I am not going to write a whole list. The common factor of all these dreams is that, in order to truly construct a nation, they have been countervalues, since in lieu of willingness they placed good luck, and in every case they demerited the constant and silent effort of researchers, which is a good model.
We know that we are faring badly. But for the time being we are telling a tale of errors, bad foreign friends, bad luck and lack of illuminated men. And what about the values? Had they nothing to do with sacrificing one’s life to attain independence and continue offering one’s own life to fight tyrants and then devote the existence to the construction of a nation that will soon be 200 years old?
And what about discussing again the values, from now onwards?
*The author is a writer and an economist.
Translation: Josefina Prytyka