Sunday, July 26, 2015

Hunger and votes

In August 2012 I wrote in El Universal: "Assuming 600,000 Venezuelans were hungry for ten years, that is 2.190 million nights of hungry Venezuelans... If only the gasoline that is given away for nothing in Venezuela had been sold to international prices, that would have sufficed for much more than 2.190 million succulent and hearty dinners "

And recently I came across an excellent English translation of a fascinating novel published in Norway in 1890, "Hunger", written by Knut Hamsun, Nobel Prize for Literature 1920.

The book is about an unsuccessful writer who suffers from prolonged periods of intense hunger and during which, between consciousness and unconsciousness, he navigates between extreme feelings and emotions.

At one point he is capable of doing anything to eat, and the other would rather die of hunger before doing something unworthy. At one point he fails to see anything that happens around them, and on the other the smallest details overwhelm him with absolute clarity. One moment he is full of the deepest despair and depression, only to soon after be filled with an overflowing and senseless euphoric optimism.

I quote: " The poor individual looks around him at every step, listens suspiciously to every word he hears from the people he meets; thus, every step he takes presents a problem, a task, for his thoughts and feelings. He is alert and sensitive, he is experienced, his soul has been burned…"

Finishing the book my head was full of questions in reference to what happens in my country (Venezuela)…foremost… What does hunger mean for democracy?

One who suffers real hunger, is he capable of exerting any significant political activity? Who that to feed his children might have no choice but to spend all day exploring garbage cans (or in Venezuela spend the whole day in a queues for an opportunity to do some bachaqueo), can be interested in a unpaid political act?

In democracy, how can unscrupulous politicians use the hunger of voters? Looking for votes, will they offer a hearty meal hungry before the voting takes place – running the risk that the so strengthened will not vote for those they can hold responsible for their recent hunger... or not vote for those who injure their pride trying to buy their votes? Or would they offer abundant food once the hungry voters have voted “correctly” – risking that weak and confused, or furious, voters vote for someone else? 

Should the Election Supervision Authority install some equipment to monitor that voters have been sufficiently fed? And what if these computers can be programmed to exclude those who have other symptoms? Should the votes of hungry be worth more, given that for them is should be even more important that governments function well?

Talking with one of my daughters about this, she suggested that all candidates for public office should have experienced some prolonged period of intense hunger, so as to really understand the real extent of their compromise. And who can say she is wrong about that?

Anyhow… cursed be those who purposely, or because of vulgar sheer incompetence, cultivate and harvest their people's hunger, in order to satisfy their own appetites.