The " either-or " syndrome, by Laura Bertone
In my first column in these pages, I referred to the " allness disease " and
its negative consequences on the Argentine society. I will refer now to
another bad habit, the negative pervasive impact of which is becoming
specially visible at the present time : the " either-or syndrome ".
While this syndrome is not exclusively Argentine, an advantage of taking the
Argentine case is that the deterioration of the system here has been so
systematic that today it offers fewer nuances and thus becomes a better case
study : the clarity of the negative aspects makes the message obvious for
anybody who cares to have a look and to learn from it.
Back at the beginning of what we may consider the origins of the country as
such, we already find the " either/or trap " : either royalists or "
criollos ", Spaniards or Indians, "unitarians " or " federals " ; the
metropolis versus the colonies, the capital city versus the provinces, etc.
But the negative consequences of this restrictive thinking and verbal habit
were not then perceivably obvious. Towards the middle of the twentieth
century, Perón's totalitarian policies and his " allness disease "
reinforced the pattern to the point of psychologically breaking the society
in two : peronists and anti-peronists. Positions were so emotional that it
was difficult to jointly evaluate policies in a manner that might help
society to evolve.
The political situation at present seems to prove that the absence of such
evaluation produced quite a lot of harm. But the important lesson to me is
that the fracture did not end there : disrupture went on and on, producing
other fractures : our last presidential elections in April of this year, for
example, forced us to choose between two peronist candidates. The opposition
party, dismissed during the first ballot, had also presented two options.
In the sixties and seventies, the Argentine society was shattered by an
unprecedented terrorist movement in this part of the world. " Those who are
not with us are against us " warned the military, for example. And, quite
unprepared to face the terrorists, we nevertheless had to do so by ourselves
: in those days, the rest of the world seemed concerned with other problems
and remained unaware or indifferent to what we went through. Panic ensued,
causing emotions to run rampant. In such a situation, it becomes more
difficult than ever to make sound decisions. These emerge from a harmonious
balance in people, not from fear. We can understand the fear that some
limited situations can trigger. And when I say " understand ", I mean that
we lived these situations and consequently understand them from " inside ".
But that understanding does not mitigate the consequences of unsound
The terrorist enemy was so harsh, so unexpected, so violent, respecting no
rules, no territories, no ages, or conditions… that the institutional
response also went overboard (extreme threat/extreme response) A civilian
government asked the military to put an end to the threat, no matter how. So
they did. This was a big mistake as the military has only now started to
perceive. The " either/or " attitude has not led us out of our problems. And
both terrorists and the military who defeated them are being blamed by the
Argentine society today; the latter even more strongly (As if the battle had
been fought on two simultaneous battlefields : the military won in one of
them ; their enemies seemed to this day to have won with the press.)
It would seem that Argentine leadership reacted with the immediate,
emotional fight or flight response. In ancient times, when dangers were
great for people in the forest, this response was necessary to survive the
encounter. The " either/or " trap pushes us back into such primitive animal-like
reactions propelled by fear. We need courage - and intelligence, and
solidarity, and wisdom - to overcome it and, together, find other ways and
means to share and evolve. We need to re-analyze " anguish " in order to get
out of the aristotelian " either-or " logic. A wider larger vision
encouraged by using " Etc. " can help us get out of the " either/or "trap.,
and into the vast middle ground between extremes.