Imagine I have X-ray vision. I can see through you.
Unlike any common X-ray, my vision has the power of total transparency. It doesn’t stop at the bone. There is no dark background. I see everything–including everything behind and around you. I can see everything behind and around that. Without end.
There is a catch. For this power to work, you have to allow it. It’s actually no big deal, though. It doesn’t apparently cost you any money. It also has the allure that if everybody grants me the right to use my power in a mutual agreement, you can live in a safer, more honest world with everybody around you. In exchange, I will also allow you total X-ray vision into me.
Oh. You don’t have X-ray vision? Sorry. Too late, you already agreed to let me use mine on you.
Don’t worry too much. Look around, everybody else has given me the right to use my power same as you. The odds are, I won’t have time to pay any attention to you. Don’t be so self-centered and paranoid.
Undocumented immigrant workers have to fight invisibility. The John Hopkins neurosurgeon Dr. Alfredo Quiñones-Hinojosa worked his way from an undocumented farm worker into a community college, into a railroad job where he almost died in a gas car, to UC Berkeley, to Harvard to where he currently practices. Once in school, he had the opportunity to gain citizenship and become visible. In a recent interview with María Hinojosa (no relation) in V-me television, he said that there are countless brilliant minds who never see the light of day as undocumented workers. For him, then, visibility means citizenship.
The late Octavio Paz described the challenge for our millions of undocumented American compatriots as the labyrinth of solitude. Paz describes Los Angeles adolescents, who, upon discovering themselves, decide not to identify with either country but rather self-identify as “Pachucos”–ready to act the clown and irritate any system that would pin them to any national norm–wanting rather, with no definite purpose or success, to stand out. Just across the border, those who defiantly die building their cartels could be the modern version of Luis Buñuel’s “forgotten.”
This is the extreme of what psychologically we all share: the need for recognition–the need to be seen.
In Sao Paolo, Brazil, there is a war against kidnapping. The latest victims are the mothers of famous soccer players. The kidnapper’s reasoning is that they are doing only what the government does–steal. What they are attacking, however, is personal visibility.
The famous soccer players start as children in the street. If you ask any poor barrio kid what they want to do, given the choice of doctor, business man, or any promising career, the answer is soccer. Soccer promises something the other careers cannot: not money as a way of self-improvement so much as unprecedented fame. Obviously in a game like this there will be many losers never seeing the light of day, but to all players, especially the victors, the players who gain national, possibly international, fame, it’s worth it.
The players who get the fame are not proud. They keep contact with their roots. Their mothers stay in their old communities for precisely this reason. But as word gets out, “Hey, isn’t that the mother of so-and-so, the soccer player?” The envy spreads like gossip, and sooner or later someone gets the idea to kidnap the mother. The result is infamy for the kidnapper, inhumane invisibility for the mother, and after over-publicity about the hopeless incident from the press, the retreat into privacy of the famous soccer player.
“The politicians rob with pencil, me with a pistol. It’s a war.” This is the kidnapper’s reasoning. It is a misleading rationalization. It’s questionable whether they are hurting the government or helping build the government’s need and interest to enlarge security measures and increase scrutiny into private lives. There have been dozens of false arrests, while the real criminals play hide and seek, sharing videos of self-glorification–one “superstar” criminal calling himself “Bin Laden”–while remaining physically out of sight.
The victims are clear: public-private citizens. The dream of fame as a means of ascension out of misery now becomes its own nightmare of complete disappearance.
The honesty of Abe Lincoln or George Washington isn’t good enough anymore as a state moral code. Instead, we must now submit ourselves to be splayed on the operating table and dissected.
Our current global religion, if it can be called one, is the glass church of transparency.
Salvation is granted thus: I can no longer be content to live a quiet, private life. If I am to achieve any worth in this life, even it if is just among family and friends, then I must be visible. The sacraments of such a code are regular Facebook attendance, a prescribed number of our tweets a day, testimonials and edification, and missionary work in the blogosphere. We have canonized our movie, music, and sports icons, to whom we can now pray directly for a sign or at least their blessing.
Heaven is to be recognized and liked by everybody (something Lincoln actually did set out to be, “esteemed of my fellow men” and accomplished so well as to die for it) and Hell is–well, maybe the same as it always was–to be locked up in solitary confinement.
So we bear out our purgatorial existential commitment in a world where likes can be programmed and visibility is an illusion.