By Hillel Aron
By Joseph Tsidulko
By Patrick Range McDonald
By David Futch
By Hillel Aron
By Dennis Romero
By Jill Stewart
By Dennis Romero
Except for New York City, more people per square block are undergoing psychotherapy in Buenos Aires than anywhere else in the world. Wags will suggest that, in fact, there is something generically wrong with them, a judgment quickly seconded by their resentful Chilean neighbors west of the Andes (where I live), who secretly suffer because they themselves are more mestizo, less sophisticated and even farther from Paris than the gorgeous and insufferable porteĆ±os from the Argentine capital. Traditionally, the Chileans’ inferiority complex would start with simple wealth: The Argentines were always sustained in their casual arrogance by the agricultural output of their vast pampas, the huge industrial belt ringing Buenos Aires, their classy and elegant urban life -- in short, the consciousness of having it all.
Now, it‘s gone. Argentina, as any casual reader of the daily paper knows, is heading down the tubes at an alarming rate, even for Latin America. So far, the country’s middle class is still recognizable, its crabby insolence, both exasperating and comically disarming, intact. But the economic earthquake is threatening to produce an accompanying tectonic shift in the national psyche.
The Buenos Aires office of psychoanalyst Silvia Bleichman, a distinguished and kindly lady in her 50s, could be around the corner from Sigmund Freud‘s, a tastefully furnished apartment in a cavernous old building complete with an ancient, shuffling porter. Bleichman’s book Pain Risk makes grim fun of the measurement of the premium that banks require a country to pay to keep lending it money. Argentina‘s ”country-risk“ is now around 5,800 points, that is, prime rate plus an incredible, unprecedented 50 percent. Nigeria’s score, by comparison, is a mere 3,200.
”Neurosis is the luxury of cultured peoples,“ says Bleichman, defending her compatriots‘ interest in the examined life. But now, she says, Argentine culture is in danger of being crushed. ”The future has been erased; life projects are no longer viable. We Argentines were always ready to live, to fall in love at age 70, to start afresh, get involved,“ she continues. ”Now, people are leaving the capital, heading back to the provinces to survive. There is profound anguish.“
”We’re like the Greeks after the golden age,“ she worries, ”heading for an endless decline.“
That judgment is not only an impeachment of poor leadership but a subtle indictment of what Argentines have thought and felt about themselves for many decades. After insisting that the country was at least partially immune to the domination of the North, citizens now look around Latin America and admit, between their teeth, ”We‘re no better.“ It’s a bitter pill, especially since, as Bleichman notes, ”Pauperization is worse than poverty.“
Argentina‘s economic and social meltdown is hard to grasp through mere numbers, but the Great Depression of the 1930s is the only comparable phenomenon in modern history. The country was already in a deep decline for nearly four years before the bottom fell out in 2001. In a city that prided itself on having few beggars and little urban crime, tiny girls now hover next to the ticket machines in the subway, ready to snatch the falling coins away from any commuter with slow reflexes. In the distant suburbs, chronic poverty is giving way to hunger and misery. When a truckload of livestock overturned on a highway near the northern city of Rosario, destitute villagers set upon the dazed animals and hacked them to pieces. ”No one waited to bleed the meat, so it was rubbery,“ said one contented amateur butcher. ”But we didn’t care.“
Lisandro Orlov, an innovative Lutheran pastor long engaged in reintegrating the destitute, now wonders in despair if there is any use for people like him in the country. ”Reintegrate them into what?“ he asks rhetorically. ”I feel like a fake, counseling people into job-training programs when there are no jobs.“ Not to mention his own pension fund, now essentially confiscated. ”I made a mistake,“ he admits. ”I was born Argentine.“
However, the system that is now disintegrating in earnest was hardly a model even in happier times. Just a block from Silvia Bleichman‘s elegant digs is the Argentine Foreign Ministry, where I innocently went to obtain my press credentials. Despite 20 years on this continent, I was taken aback by the sample of Argentine ineptitude displayed there. Bearing the required documents, I learned that SeĆ±ora Beatriz -- who handles this matter -- ”is ill.“ At least six press-office employees enthusiastically described their family business and clipped the daily newspaper, while I waited to see if something else would happen. Nothing did. Not only then, but every single day for two weeks thereafter, in response to my puzzled phone calls. ”SeĆ±ora Beatriz is still sick,“ I was repeatedly told, without the slightest hint of embarrassment or suspicion that this might not be universally considered a compelling reason for a total breakdown.
Perhaps Silvia would have a diagnosis, but I like to understand this incident as an example of Post-Feudal Inductive Reasoning Disorder: I don’t know you; therefore, the boss doesn‘t know you; therefore, you can safely go fuck yourself up a rope. One comes to expect this phenomenon in, say, Honduras, but it is still mildly shocking to experience it two doors down from a Louis Vuitton outlet.