Out of Indian spiritual circles there developed a tradition called Satsang. In this tradition, adopted by some American spiritual teachers, a guru gives a lecture in the presence of his or her followers and then answers questions afterwards. The guru supposedly is an advanced individual on the path towards “truth” and his or her mere presence is said to elevate the emotional and spiritual well-being of their followers.
Of course, the reality is often far different than the “truth.” Sometimes the “guru” is not all that “advanced” and their followers really don’t want to change. Followers may wish for the impossible—answers that solve their problems but leave their self-identity and their view of the world intact. In truth, this is an impossible wish because real change requires us to question our beliefs.
There are, of course, legitimate “gurus” who do help to facilitate a process of increasing awareness and shedding of false beliefs. In contrast, the worst, such as the notorious James Ray, help to inflict serious psychological and even physical harm on their followers.
Hugo Chavez, El Comandante, the late dictator of Venezuela, was known for his long speeches and his call-in radio and television shows where citizens could seek his advice about problems. Every, Sunday beginning at 11 AM, Chavez would begin his Aló Presidente show. One newspaper gave this account of one eight hour marathon by Chavez in 2007: “Seldom referring to notes, he ranged over energy policy, constitutional reform, low-cost housing, European integration and Colombian peace talks. He engaged with officials and supporters from the audience and from other locations via a satellite feed.”
Chavez fancied himself as an expert on all things foreign and domestic. It was not uncommon for him to spontaneously issue new edicts on the spot in the course of his pronouncements. How did that work out for the Venezuelan people? Not so well; not even for his “beloved” poor. Consider this recent news story:
Venezuelans have been coping with sporadic shortages of foods ranging from cooking oil to sugar, and lately a dearth of flour is preventing some bakeries from making bread.
Marco Freitas, a manager of a Caracas bakery, is selling mainly cold cuts and dry pasta now that his bread shelves are nearly empty. Freitas said he hasn’t been able to get enough flour lately.
Or this news story:
Staples such as sugar, coffee, cooking oil, meat, wheat flour, rice, cornmeal and chicken are in very short supply, leading to long lines outside supermarkets. Toilet paper, toothpaste and dishwashing liquid have also disappeared. Canisters of liquid natural gas, which Venezuelans use to cook their meals, are in short supply.
Toilet paper? Toothpaste? Rice? In the history of the world, all attempts at central planning have failed; Chavez’s attempt is no exception.
I have no way of knowing how well-intentioned Chavez really was. In any case, good intentions do not matter. One man or a small group of individuals do not have the knowledge to plan an economy. A modern economy is so complex that the knowledge required to run it is beyond the comprehension of anyone.
Productive use of human energy is ignited when individuals are free to make the best decisions for themselves based upon all they know of their circumstances. Hugo Chavez could not ignite enough human energy run to put toilet paper on grocery store shelves.
Chavez’s failure to do the impossible didn’t matter too many Venezuelans who are quite sincere in their grief of his passing. Nor did his failure matter to his foreign sympathizers, such as actor Sean Penn who proclaimed: “Today the people of the United States lost a friend it never knew it had. And poor people around the world lost a champion.”
Penn, like many Venezuelans, is ignorant of what it takes to ignite human energy toward productive ends. I can’t help but wonder how compliant Penn would be if he were expected to sit at the feet of his director for hours at a time while his director issued on-the-spot edicts for Penn to carry out. I would guess that Penn would refuse to work for such a director, yet he thinks it’s great that a whole country is run that way.
Like some Satsang devotees, Venezuelans don’t want to examine the faulty beliefs that are causing their misery. An now that Guru El Comandante won’t be there to convince Venezuelans that better times are coming and that the shortages and the deprivations that they endure were the fault of imperialists, the inevitable hangover is bound to happen. The government will be blamed, and more chaos in Venezuela will result.