By Andrei Gómez Suárez, La Silla Vacia, June 16, 2022
(Translated by Eunice Gibson, CSN Volunteer Translator)
It’s been a little more than two weeks since this country changed. But it seems as if everything is the same. That’s no surprise. That’s how it is with processes of change; after a quantum leap, it appears that the inertia of the past is imposed. But that’s only the appearance; below the turbulent waters of continuity are hidden the currents of change that take societies to a new harbor.
The problem is that for us human beings it’s hard to live in and understand the present. Daniel Kahneman, emeritus professor of psychology at Princeton University, expresses this clearly in his book, “Thinking Fast and Slow”. We live trapped in memories of the past and it’s hard for us to be in the present. This cognitive dissociation affects our analysis of the future, and therefore it often leaves us escaping the opportunities that are in front of us.
Another problem is that, according to Daniel Gilbert, professor of psychology at Harvard University, in his book, “Stumbling on Happiness”, it’s hard for us humans to imagine a future that’s different from our present emotional state. That means that if we’re afraid now, and you ask us how we will be in a few years, we intuitively put aside all the things that could change, and we imagine that we will have the same fear that’s ruling over us right now. That happens because we have evolved to survive and that implies making quick decisions to react to immediate challenges.
The foregoing explains why “petrophobia” (meaning irrational fear of Petro) seems to be incurable. There are no reasons that can convince a person who interprets Petro’s triumph as an imminent risk to his/her existence. These people resort to the past to justify their fear: “It’s that when he was Mayor he did X,” imagining a future full of fear: “It’s that when he gets into power he will screw up,” and they see present political strategies as a demonstration that he hasn’t changed: “It’s that he’s allied with the same old alligators.” These people are using their reason to justify their fear.
All of us human beings use our reason to justify our emotions. Jonathon Haidt, professor of ethical leadership at New York University, in his book, “The Righteous Mind”, uses the metaphor of a jockey mounted on an elephant to explain that 99% of our mental processes are intuitive (emotional), and 1% are logical (rational). The jockey doesn’t control the elephant; the jockey goes wherever the elephant wants to go, and he/she defends that. Because of that, according to Haidt, people change their thinking when the elephants (their hearts) speak, and not the jockey (their brains).
“Petrophobia” has been incubating for years. It has been fed by “castrochavismo”, a rhetorical device that has been used against anybody that supports the complete implementation of the Peace Agreement. But “Petrophobia” is not a rhetorical device; it’s a powerful emotion that has a concrete reference point. Just as people with arachnophobia are afraid of any spider, for people that have Petrophobia” the presence of Petro keeps them from analyzing his program for government, his alliances with technocrats and with social movements, and with his promises for the future.
It’s natural that in the midst of the runoff campaign, people debate between voting a blank ballot or voting against one of the candidates. But those with “Petrophobia” think that voting a blank ballot means catapulting a win for Petro and therefore, in spite of having powerful reservations about Rodolfo Hernández, they are going to vote for him, meaning against Petro.
But those who don’t have “Petrophobia” have another option. It’s possible to support Petro in spite of their fears. The decisions by Alejandro Gaviria, Julián de Zubiria, Francisco Leal, Eduardo Santos, Juan Fernando Cristo, Cecilia López Montaño, Sandra Borda, and many other people reveal that they see in the present a hope that believing in Petro now is an assurance of democracy, because he has respected the law, he doesn’t seek to perpetuate himself in power, and he is disposed to build competent teams to carry out the changes that our society is calling for.
Rodolfo Hernández arouses worries in a wide sector of society, but that concern is different from fear; so there is still no “Rodolfobia” now. The videos and audios that show employees mistreated and women disrespected in news media, contempt for public universities, and acts of corruption are very recent. It takes time and constant repetition to instill an irrational fear like the fear that a sector of Colombian society has for Petro.
It looks now as if worry and fear are predominant in Colombia. Faced with those two emotions, people that are worried are still capable of making rational calculations to believe that a better future is possible with a candidate. Those that are trapped in their fear are not capable of imagining that in four years we will be closer to reconciliation; on the contrary, their sensation of polarization makes them think we are entering a dark period where in four years things will be worse.
However, in spite of this political campaign full of attacks and accusations, a broad sector of Colombian society has a profound hope; that sector has confidence that change has arrived, that we won’t go back, and that the historic debt owed to women, Afro-Colombians, indigenous peoples, the LGBTiq+, the campesinos, and the workers are starting to be settled; they see that the next four years will be the inheritance that this generation will leave to the next, so that they will not have to keep living in a country with structural problems that perpetuate violence.
The latest polls show that on June 19, hope will overcome fear. Let’s hope that on August 7, when the new administration is inaugurated, we will let ourselves be caught up in that hope, because with that emotion, we can change the nightmares for dreams, and nurture our creativity so that Colombia will be the country that we all want.