Amor y control

Cuánto control y cuánto amor
Tiene que haber en una casa
Mucho control y mucho amor
Para enfrentar a la desgracia

Mantén amor y control siempre ante la pena
Combinando la esperanza y el sentimiento
Dando la espalda no se van los problemas
Ni la impaciencia resuelve los sufrimientos

Rubén Blades, “Amor y control” (1992)

Last Sunday marked nearly three weeks together with my partner en la RD. One of those seemingly indistinguishable nights, we were all sitting together at his auntie’s house. Another auntie of his, who goes by the moniker la gorda, was sitting across from us, scrolling through Instagram.

An islander’s voice, albeit this one a foreigner’s, came booming across her cell phone’s speaker. It had the clear twang of a Jamaican woman’s English. Secure in herself, she insisted: “The COVID-19 vaccine is a hoax … nothing but a lie. The plan is to control you!” La gorda made no comment, and we sat in silence, each to his or her own devices, scrolling idly, absorbing little.

The thought crossed my mind, if only for a moment: whence this desire for control, the desire not to be controlled, the desire for self-control? Who is the subject of this sentence? And even should we successfully arrest control (from unseen forces, no doubt, someone or someplace else), to whom do we yield in the final analysis: “ourselves”?

Rubén Blades sings much to the same effect in a popular song of his, though he relates a situation altogether distinct: a son of the family, we learn in passing, suffers from drug abuse, recast by the wiser, older man, presumably his father, as an abuso familiar, an abuse of the family, or perhaps of familiaridad itself.

Aunque tú seas un ladrón, y aunque no tienes razón
Yo tengo la obligación de socorrerte
Y por más drogas que uses y por más que nos abuses
La familia y yo tenemos que atenderte

It struck me that an obvious rubric for understanding the attraction to conspiratorial thought (or a predilection for its ideation) is precisely this lack of control.1 I reflected: over the past year, principally since March 2020, how many times had my friends or I endeavored to understand, if not for razones prácticas then curiosidad pura, the extent of the outbreak, lengths of quarantine, dates of probable exposure, windows of symptom onset, incubation periods, and so on? This is, of course, atop all the ansiedades diarias y normales que nos persiguen en las ciudades: what chemical did that man just spray on the soles of my sneakers? (While grocery shopping.) ¿En la RD: a qué hora es el toque de queda hoy? (While walking down the street.)

Blades, however, offers us a subtle, if not oblique answer to conspiratorial thought: a call to love again, desde el principio familiar, no aislado.

(Hannah Arendt arrives at much the same conclusion, in typical fashion, free of ornamentation, though I am admittedly contorting her position in the Vita activa a little here, perhaps even in an unforgivable, unscholarly way: the public sphere is the realm of shared experience. With its loss, we can no longer speak of a politics whose basis can only ever partake in a “common” world.)

This Bladesian “love” is, of course, complicated, and Arendt would no doubt bristle at the idea of it serving as the basis of a renewed politics. (She says as much in that 1950s book.) The question is: can the son’s self-isolating love of drugs, that issue of substance abuse that is so poisonous to familial love, be overcome through the restoration of family bonds? And to what extent need there be “control” and “love”–the two are notably flipped once the question is posed–in the household?

My sense is, in so many words, that Blades encourages us in this track to reinvest our familiar bonds and to “take control” in a way that is ultimately guided by the drive to care. An impressive aesthetic rejoinder to conspiracy that only fuzzily sketches its outsider, the “they” and “their” control of “you”.

  1. It seemed hardly worthwhile to delve into the scholarship on this point, but a cursory look will prove there are clear underpinnings for all ideation. This article’s discussion seems to capture the point neatly: “A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis of Psychological Research on Conspiracy Beliefs” (Front Psychol. 2019). A therapist friend once pointed out to me that all beliefs are, to some extent, “self-serving”: that of the psychic equilibrium or homeostatic condition we need preserve each day.