Morals and Power
SOCIOLOGIST ORLANDO NÚÑEZ, A SANDINISTA WHO FOR MANY YEARS HAS CHAMPIONED THE cause of women, wrote this reflection in light of the commotion caused by charge of abuse against Daniel Ortega by Zoilamérica Narváez. While rovocative in the context of the traditional macho culture of Nicaragua, it is open-ended in its political conclusions, encouraging and offering a framework for a debate that is only beginning.
Morals, in the sense of norms or duties that govern individual conduct in accord with socially shared principles, are seemingly opposed to power, understood as a socially organized force to defend particular interests.
It is my opinion, however, that the two, morals and power, mutually buttress each other. Morals, or ethics, when unable to be realized alone, must turn to the law—that is, to regulated power—in order to domesticate individuals unable or unwilling to internalize the agreed-upon norms. For its part, power, unjust almost by definition and unable to survive only by force, must turn to ethics to justify itself.
If morals exist as obligation it is because impulses or behaviors fed by a non-moral, amoral or immoral social nature must be constrained, repressed, cowed, thwarted or returned to the straight and narrow. In other words, the actions that are prohibited are those that are commonly desired and transgressed by individuals. Were this not the case, there would be no need to proscribe or correct behaviors.
If power exists as an unequal relationship between dominant and dominated in a differentiated society such as ours, how can moral norms required for all be reconciled with politically unequal relations? And how is the contradiction resolved between the individual impulse and the social norm?
So far the answer has been to separate the inseparable: morals from power, the individual sphere from the social sphere, appearance from reality, the morality of those who obey from the immorality of those who command, curative methods from preventive ones. Thus, morals have had to legitimize the two faces of power just as power legitimates the two faces of morality.
The sexual morals that we consume daily, of which the patriarchal family is the principal matrix, grow out of a cultural milieu in which masculine pleasure can only be consummated through power relations, and in which primitive relations of dominion have been suckled from infancy by erotic-maternal relations.
The history of our civilization is the history of power and the biography of power is the biography of the male. Hence sexual morals and power have been two sides of the same coin, accumulated at the cost of fragmenting love: on the one side pleasure and power and on the other sensitivity and submission.
For those—the right—who defend the established order, this reality is cloaked in a normative garb whose eligible extremes are total abstinence through a vow of chastity and the offer of matrimony in exchange for family unity and reproductive duties. In the political order, the same precepts move through a venture in which the fruits of the system are offered in exchange for a vote of obedience to the Leviathan in office at the moment. As we know, the result has been a divorce between the course and the discourse of things: morals take charge of the spiritual verb and power controls the material or carnal adverb.
For those of us—the left—who challenge the established order, the situation is much more complex. We have taken vows of neither chastity nor obedience, and are aware of the level of alienation sheltered within both the patriarchal family and political institutions. Unlike the right, we question the discourse, unmasking the ideology of Catholic sexual morality and its complicity with bourgeois power. We question abuses of power, but have not gone beyond parallel power. We question the immorality of ideologies, but have fallen into a dual morality: pleasure and power for males and mandarins, chastity and obedience for females and vassals. We have created our own institutions, but when the contradiction between morals and power leads to conflict, we prefer to sacrifice individuals to save the institutions. Yesterday condemning the victim, today the sinner whose turn it is.
We need an integral strategy, a conception of who we are and what we should be, of morals and of pleasure, of struggle and of power. If we know that the sexual impulses of the male contradict the established norms, let's look into those impulses and their biological and cultural nature, let's evaluate those norms and seek our own norms. So far, and just in the best of cases, we have only found martyred victims and scapegoats of our own bad consciences.
We know that the sexual organization of the family engenders the double standard in the male that stirs up the contradiction between reprehensible private-individual conduct and public discourse, be it the infidelity that we repress in ourselves or commit, be it the rape that lurks within each household with imperceptible differences of degree, be it the recurrent incest present in each generation since the birth of humanity, be it the sadistic daily abuse that accompanies the most innocent caresses of our men. If no one is unaware that all moral, political, religious and cultural personalities of the masculine gender maintain latent or manifest lasciviousness toward the women around them, and yet only react when the offense becomes public, it means we are still on the near side of the cutting-edge motto "the scandal is the sin."
If we know that pleasure is an inescapable dimension of the human gender, unredeemed in the face of any norm, why not put the socializing of that reality, for both men and women, on the agenda for open debate? Why continue chorusing "family unity above all," together with the right, even if it means condemning people of flesh and blood to hell?
If we know that power is the accomplice of cynical, priggish and mercantilized bourgeois sexual morals, even in the best families; if we know that morality is an instrument of power for the greater glory of the reactionary conservative values that daily cultivate the unhappiness of individuals, why not begin to question not only abuses of power but also the immoral nature of power itself?
Can we revolutionaries accept the challenge and enrich this little piece of history that it has been our lot to live, going beyond the morbid and mercantilizing culture of the media, which are more interested in the scandal than in the sin? Can our civilization manage to replace the combined distractions of sex and violence in which our younger generations are being educated? Can we men who were educated in the most voluptuous of eroticisms between a child—the son—and an adult—the mother—shake off the natural destiny that leads us irremediably from the Oedipus complex to the Cupid complex? Will we males be able to recognize and go beyond the feeling of shame and hatred for satiating our lordly desires with the disobedient slave at our side? And will the females be able to overcome the Electra complex, incest more silenced than that of Oedipus, which leads them to the carnal destiny of seducing for the power and wealth of the master, as in the courtesans, or to the mystical desire to be wed to Christ Our Lord as in the Catholic nuns?
The male should abandon any desire to wash his hands of scandals spearheaded by the sexual morality and patriarchal power in our beloved Nicaragua. They concern us all, though this does not mean that any of us can or should throw the first stone. It is known that only women, whether from affectation or sensitization, have had the authority and courage to denounce and act correctly. We know that the male, educated without tenderness so as not to blunt his power, is condemned to discharge his pleasure as a biological task of his species and his gender, and we know that even seduction in unequal situations of gender, age or status easily ends in abuse, independent of the degree of the abuse or the sex of the abuser. Nonetheless, we always wait too long, until the abuse turns into mistreatment, into rape and into crime. In such cases we turn late to measures of justice, and even then the corrective penalties or punishments do not provide us with a necessary preventive sociability.
Nicaragua in general, and Sandinistas in particular, are engaged in a difficult battle inside ourselves. On the one side the facts, fed by the denunciation; on the other public opinion, fed by the different moral and political positions. The hearts of many militants are split down the middle: the events have caused one of our most unused banners to wave agitatedly while also affecting one of our most valued symbols. The conclusions of conscience run from one extreme to the other, like a novice skier on an unknown and dangerous slope seeking some path that threads safely through the perils.
It would be a pity if, in the face of the events, the FSLN put off the transformation, reactivation and renovation of its leadership. Now more than ever the political revolution needs a cultural revolution, and, in this, one of the nearest subjects will be women. One main theme of the upcoming FSLN Congress should be: more power to women! That way we can laugh in the face of the adversary's intention to divide the FSLN and weaken its popular and revolutionary cause.