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Denial in the face of shame

I recommend this essay by Jack Staples-Butler for his “HistoryJack” blog, Starvation and Silence: The British Left and Moral Accountability for Venezuela.

DENIAL in the face of catastrophic failure of one’s ideas is a predictable reaction from a believer, as per Leon Festinger’s theory of cognitive dissonance reduction in response to the failure of one’s beliefs. Denial in the face of shame for one’s actions is an experience well-studied by psychologists and criminologists. One 2014 study summarises the role of ‘shame’ in creating both denial of responsibility and recidivism among offenders:

“Feelings of shame… involve a painful feeling directed toward the self. For some people, feelings of shame lead to a defensive response, a denial of responsibility, and a need to blame others — a process that can lead to aggression.”[1]

Combining both faces of the phenomenon of denial is the behaviour of the supporters, apologists and promoters of the ‘Bolivarian Revolution’, the late Hugo Chávez and the PSUV regime in Venezuela, and their response to the present state of the country. Humanitarian catastrophe of an apocalyptic scale is now unfolding in the most oil-rich state in the world. The magnitude of human suffering is indescribable. The scenes of bread queues and shortages familiar to Eurozone-crisis Greece are long since surpassed. Venezuela has become a ‘Starvation State’[2] which “today drowns in a humanitarian crisis”, with lawless cities and hunger for the majority.


The Chávez apologists are confronted with two cognitively distressing facts; that a favoured political project has failed, dragging millions into an abyss of hunger and despair in the process; and that they played an instrumental or even essential role in bringing this state of affairs about, whilst enabling the regime responsible to suppress and destroy its opposition by legitimising and even providing its conspiratorial narrative, pro bono. What is most striking in the Western socialist left’s response to Venezuela’s agony is the absence of response.

The vacuum of recognition or even acknowledgement in the face of disaster is followed by an absence of moral accountability. Knowing full-well that Venezuela is still there, suffering beyond measure, those who involved themselves intimately in the politics of a South American republic now conduct their lives “as if” nothing had happened. In a devastating article, the writer Paul Canning named this as ‘The left’s giant forgetting’[16]. Venezuela has become a collective unperson to those who formerly proclaimed it an example for humanity’s emulation; although tacit recognition of their previous behaviour is found in some of the apologists, as in Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn’s deletion of any reference to ‘Venezuela’ from his website in March 2016, after two decades of promoting the Chavismo ideology in articles, demonstrations and media appearances.

Bookmark the essay. It would take some time to follow all the many references and links provided by the author, but they are a resource in themselves. This one, about the ambiguous and contradictory testimonies given by two British Communist veterans of the Spanish Civil War decades later, caught my interest.

23 comments to Denial in the face of shame

  • Natalie Solent

    Having twice failed to post a comment to the HistoryJack blog I am just going to record a dud link to one of the references here, in the hope that Mr Staples-Butler will see it someday. The link to reference no. 66, Nick Cohen’s Guardian piece “Radical tourists have been deluded pimps for Venezuela”, does not work. The correct url is https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2016/may/22/radical-leftwing-tourists-pimps-dictatorship-hugo-chavez-venezuela-sex-tourism. Evidently putting the accent and initial capital letter in Chávez’s name when it appears in the url messes up the system.

  • Patrick Crozier

    One wonders where these people get off. If you genuinely believe that communism will make the world a better place and communism fails to do that again and again, then, presumably, you cease to be a communist.

    However, if you believe that communism will allow you to exercise your desire to be nasty to people then mass starvation would not be evidence of failure. Quite the reverse.

    Of course, you can’t get into that position of power if you tell people that you’re going to be nasty to them. Instead you have to tell them that they will be better off. You don’t have to mean it.

  • Richard Thomas

    Patrick, they always “No true Scotsman” it. Then when you tell them they’re doing a “No true Scotsman” they always say it doesn’t apply (which, of course, is exactly the point of “No true Scotsman”) and the whole discussion disappears into a spiral of recursive cognitive dissonance.

  • George

    ‘Tis a pity that all the celebrities and politicians that sang the praises of Chavez can’t be rounded up and dropped into Venezuela. Perhaps with a social media farewell posted saying that they were going to Venezuela to find The Iruth. Provide them with handlers to keep their identity a secret.

    I can dream, can’t I?

  • Julie near Chicago

    1. Be sure not to miss Political Pilgrims, by Paul Hollander. There is nothing new under the sun.



    2. How Americans have fallen all over themselves to visit Cuba, Nicaragua in the ’80’s, China after Nixon showed the world what a great thing it would be to pretend she was a country run by civilized human beings, and so forth! Attention, everyone: We are now pulling into Venezuela! Please observe the happy people thronging the streets, glad to see the tourists coming to visit, and to learn about the glories of their country under Pres. Maduro. They will be glad to know that you are sending the most laudatory observations back to America, and that you support and work to advance the policies of the President and his predecessor, Pres. Chávez.

    . . .

    Very good, Natalie. Thanks for posting.

  • bobby b

    “‘Tis a pity that all the celebrities and politicians that sang the praises of Chavez can’t be rounded up and dropped into Venezuela. . . . Provide them with handlers to keep their identity a secret.”

    Secret? Hell, no.

    Let the locals know who they are and how they enabled the present circumstances.

    They’ll get much more honest feedback that way, I would think.

  • Mr Ecks

    The Left…feel SHAME????? For the endless evil shit they have got away with?

    The bloke must be a comedian.

  • Runcie Balspune

    Good article.

    In the face of it, the warning signs were apparent back in 2009 once Chavez pushed for removal of term limits, by the time honoured tradition of holding referendums until one returns the “correct” result. Hardly a “progressive” policy by anyone’s account.

    This was a man determined to corrupt democracy, and it should have signaled a big reconsideration by leftists around the world, who are all too ready to accuse western governments of eroding the vote, instead they were happy to allow and support a “benevolent dictator” to steamroller his way into power.

    You’d think by now, anyone with a modicum of intelligence knows that benevolent absolute rule rarely extends beyond fantasy stories.

  • QET

    An outstanding article.

  • AndrewZ

    Anyone who still speaks of a “socialist alternative” should be reminded that we’ve already had a whole century of socialist alternatives and they’ve all turned out the same way. The undemocratic ones have all been impoverished, totalitarian prison states. Democratic socialism produces economic decline and a constantly expanding authoritarian state until the people decisively reject it, as happened in Britain in 1979, or until the socialists abolish democracy, as they have in Venezuela. To be a socialist today means ignoring a mountain of evidence for why it can’t ever work and a mountain of corpses that shows what happens when the evidence is ignored. Socialists are now the political equivalent of the Flat Earth Society, but at least they never tried to make it flat by force.

  • Stonyground

    Don’t forget blaming Thatcher for everything. I have direct experience of lefties blaming her for the UK’s economic decline during the nineteen-seventies, and apparently, she is now controlling Chinese labour costs from beyond the grave.

  • Myno

    The left is profound in its support of Man as a fallible creature. Appologists greet each and every systemic failure of leftist political systems with the presumption that it is the human element that failed in the implementation of an inarguably moral utopia. Indeed the failure is due to the corruptable nature of man, but as a natural consequence of the dislocations of power inherent in leftist political theory. Power corrupts, and good intentions are inevitably undermined by slippery slopes. If your ideal is a system that minimizes or obviates negative feedback, as leftist systems do, the math says (maths say, in Britspeke?) integrated system noise will inevitably result in runaway exigent behavior. As modern political systems chip away at the negative feedback terms in the equation — checks and balances, common law rights, restrictions on power — then wild swings will come to dominate our future.

  • Hello all! Natalie Solent, thank you kindly for reposting my article here. I have just seen your comment regarding the URL with one source and also problems in posting comments on the article – I have rejigged some settings on the blog and future comments should work fine. I hope the article was illuminating and greatly appreciate your sharing it here.

  • Bemused

    I can understand the progressive left hiding the tragedy that is Venezuela what I can’t understand is the virtual media blackout. It was the same in Greece (although much smaller scale).

  • TimR

    I can remember Chavez saying that being rich was bad. He was going to donate his salary to the widows and orphans; fair do’s, his policies did produce many more and at a faster rate than the much maligned IV Republic.
    He eventually saw the light, leaving his favorite daughter, the Rice Princess with a healthy bank balance.

  • TimR

    Bemused, Caracas Chronicles is an excellent resource in English.

  • Laird

    AndrewZ’s brief summary is the best I’ve seen. It is truly SQOTD material.

  • Rich Rostrom

    The Venezuela situation is in some ways even worse than Cuba or the USSR.

    Hayek’s great insight was that socialism and central planning could not work, even if the administrators were intelligent, honest, hard-working, and knowledgeable. Such people can accomplish a fair amount before the intrinsic faults of the system catch up to them.

    There were a lot of people, some of them quite capable, who tried to make the Soviet Union work, and they kept it going for 70 years – while defeating Nazi Germany and launching space probes to Mars and Venus.

    Venezuela is different. Almost from the beginning the regime was deeply corrupt and incompetent. Those conditions have gotten far worse, and are not even slightly concealed. The regime stole or squandered a trillion dollars of oil revenue. Now they have reduced Venezuela to a failed state. The state cannot control crime, cannot deliver basic utilities, and has destroyed money. But such is the ideological fog around the left that they can’t see the problem. They didn’t even notice that the regime routinely violated democratic norms and its own constitution and laws.

    Ironically, the regime got away with this without being a dictatorship. The regime has quietly bought up independent media through its cronies, but there is still overt public dissent, very active opposition parties, and free elections. The regime still has the support of the armed forces and police, and a minimum segment of the population. IMHO this is due to the left being unwilling to condemn the regime as wrong.

    It is surprising, when one looks hard, how much of constitutional government, civil order, and rule of law, is actually based on social pressures. There are (or were) norms which when violated brought such opprobrium on the head of the violator that he could not remain in office. But a truly shameless man, backed by the usual suspects, could right out any storm.

  • Bemused (January 6, 2017 at 8:14 am): “I can understand the progressive left hiding the tragedy that is Venezuela what I can’t understand is the virtual media blackout. It was the same in Greece (although much smaller scale).”

    I’ve had no difficulty finding information on the web about Venezuela. (Of course, the usual suspects there imitate the MSM in mentioning it seldom and never with the word ‘socialism’.)

    Your point about Greece is closer to my experience. I learn more (but not much) about the situation there from friends who have relatives in Greece than from the news. In this case, no news is not good news but it may mean bad news that is progressing to worse less dramatically and suddenly than elsewhere. Greece will hurt until it exits the euro. And it will hurt when it exits the euro.

  • Paul Marks


    The Guardian crowd (Mr Corbyn and co – and the “liberal” left also) should have their support of the socialist regime in Venezuela shoved in their faces.