About Secret History

Commentary on Latin America.
Mostly about Mexico - but not always.
Designed to encourage readers to learn about
the apparently "secret history" of 500 million people
spread across two continents
- but not always.
You can always count on a little snark.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

On the sunny side of the street

Anthropologist Anthony F. C. Lewis wrote about various Native American “revivalist” movements, and gave what I think is one of the best statements on why people look for a “revitalization” through a re-tooling of their world view. In 1956 he wrote that people have revitalization movements because they are undertaking “a deliberate, organized, conscious effort by members of a society to construct a more satisfying culture.” That brings me to a moment I had with my students.

Two weeks ago we wrapped up the quarter in World History by having the students read Our Word is Our Weapon by Subcomandante Marcos. Of those that read the book (about ½ the class) there was a pretty sharp divide regarding the actions of the Zapatistas. Some were disgusted with the EZLN and Marcos. The EZLN was nothing more than a farce and a sham foisted on Indians who would once more see their hopes crushed. In a nutshell, they sounded a bit like the folks over at Dissident Voice speaking about those who long for a past that never was and future that never will be. “We are a people bereft of real choices because our capacity to imagine a real world–a doable, viable world–has been shattered,” wrote Gary Corseri in August of 2008. That is exactly what the students sounded like. Greed, they said, was the essential nature of man. Hobbes, they argued, was right, and that only a the guy with the biggest cudgel will keep us from ripping each other apart, not some false dream of community autonomy and cooperation. The EZLN, they said, was wasting their time – just get out of the jungle and go get a job in a factory some where. Wow. Those are what my mom used to call “gloomy Gusses”

The pro-EZLN students on the other hand found Marcos’ vision enlightening. Respect for human rights and dignity, cooperation, local autonomy and the practice of community democracy seemed like what they wished the US would be. Somebody needed to take a stand, said they, and instead of just protesting or yakking about it in a classroom, the EZLN went out and DID something. Even if they failed, at least they had tried.

The kicker – the divide was not along conservative / liberal lines. Both conservative and liberal students were so jaded they found the EZLN a folly, while both liberal and conservative students found the EZLN a commendable vision.

All things considered (including the EZLN), I think there is cause for optimism in the Americas at this moment. With a few notable exceptions, nations from Tierra del Fuego to Baffin Bay are starting to do what Corseri has said we lost in the US – they are imagining a doable, viable world. Indigenous rights gain momentum, a balance is even being found between the rights of the poor and the rights of the wealthy in some nations. Have we reached perfection? No. But to roll over and die should not be an option, just as ripping nations apart because we don’t get our way the first time should be replaced by patient and effective action. For example, Mexico, I aver, is perhaps one to two presidential elections away from finding some sense of balance in party politics and casting aside the constant recourse to cries of corruption. So many places have come so far in just over a decade that optimism should be the word of the day.

Hey, I may not agree entirely with John Lennon’s vision from Imagine, but I certainly can agree that we need to dream. What is wrong, as Wallace says, with seeking that "more satisfying culture."

***And FYI, the simple citation of Dissident Voice doesn't mean I'm on board with everything that goes on there - but they do have some good writers some times. Check them out and make your own decision.

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