Words of Subcomandante Insurgente Galeano at the May 2015 Seminar “Critical Thought Versus the Capitalist Hydra”
The Method, the Bibliography, and a Drone Deep in the Mountains of the Mexican Southeast.
Sub Galeano, May 4, 2015.
Good day, or good afternoon.
This time around I won’t take up a lot of your time so that you can enjoy the artistic exposition and rest a little, since the seminar/seedbed is going to become more and more complex each day. So I’m going to limit myself to just a few pieces of advice that of course you will not follow, and to telling you the most absurd story that I can remember.
The way that we have organized our participation is that Subcomandante Insurgente Moisés and I will be taking turns.
It’s like a division of labor: I’ll confuse you, and he’ll clarify.
I’ll say things in a complicated form, and he’ll tell you them in a more simple form.
We are going to do it that way because there are many ways in which critical thought can be presented, and we think that it’s important to learn and attend to all of those ways.
That’s because this is not about gaining followers for one line of analysis or another, or about the way one line of analysis or another is articulated. Rather, this is about provoking ideas, thoughts, discussion, and debates. It’s not to defeat a supposed ideological opponent, but to respond to the question that all of us[i] will end up asking: What’s next?
We Zapatistas think there are a series of basic concepts that are worth analyzing. And there are also a series of fundamental presuppositions.
For example, this seminar/seedbed has been convoked as a meeting of critical thought versus the capitalist hydra.
So with that in mind, we are taking as a given that:
1. The current dominant system is capitalism, and that its logic is that which dominates the world.
2. That this capitalist system is not dominant in only one aspect of social life, but rather, it has multiple heads, that is, many forms and ways of dominating in different and diverse social spaces. To put it in the terms of the little girl called Zapatista Defense: That stubborn-ass capitalism doesn’t take a bite out of you in one place, but in many places.
3. There is a disconcerting element in this Capitalist Hydra. If you understand the Hydra as a mythological animal, you know that it has many heads, and that if you cut off one head, two more are born, and that one of these heads is like the heart of the Hydra, “the mother head,” to give it a name. But there is another hydra, a small animal that not only reconstructs its destroyed tentacles, but also adapts, mutates, and is capable of regenerating itself completely from any one of its parts.
Those who attended the Zapatista Little School and studied the textbooks perhaps remember that we went on and on about the many ways that the system has to attack us. And that these ways often transform themselves.
Maybe there will be a chance later to come back to this, but for now, it is enough to point out that we are not referring to a mythological monster or an animal of the genus of the hidrozoos hidroides—a predator of less than two centimeters long— but that we are referring to a real monster. And it is one is the most bloody and cruel known in reality or in fiction since humanity became divided into dominators and dominated.
Of course there may be someone out there who insists that capitalism is not the current dominant system, or that it is but only in the economic realm, or only in the political realm or only in that of gender.
Or there may also be someone who insists that it is the State that is the mother head of the Capitalist Hydra, and not the social relations of production where there are those that have capital and there are those that have no more than their own abilityto work.
Or those who say that these struggles against the Hydra’s various heads are secondary and subordinated to the primary struggle, whatever that may be. For example, that the struggle over gender is secondary, and the struggle over political power is primary.
That’s fine. You can make your arguments, analyze and allow them to CONFRONT reality.
That is why we are here. To launch, from below and to the left, a debate that abounds in ideas and analysis and does not reduce itself to name-calling. That is, there is no reason to convert this into some version of a social networking site where the exchange of name-calling can’t exceed 140 characters.
4. There is an element here that is not explicit but which is fundamental: practice. What called us to begin this theoretical reflection—because we do hope to have more seminars/seedbeds—is not the need to increase our cultural baggage, to learn new words, or to make good arguments in order to hook up or delink from others, or to demonstrate that we can be even more unintelligible. What’s at stake here—and then for everyone in their own time, place, and way—is the transformation of reality. That is why it is we, the Sixth, who must amongst ourselves[ii] take on the responsibility to maintain and give potential to this reflection. This is simply because while many things make us different, there is one thing that identifies us all: we have decided to challenge the system. Not to improve it, not to change it, not to give it a makeover, but to destroy it.
And this destruction is not achieved through thoughts—although of course, there will surely be someone who says that we must unite our minds and repeat “disappear, disappear” with true faith and persistence. No, but thought can help us understand what we are up against, how it works, what its ways are, its calendar, its geography. To use an expression from the Little School: the ways in which it attacks us.
5. Although we begin from the assumption that the capitalist system is dominant, this is accompanied by the certainty that it is neither omnipresent nor immortal. Resistances exist, whether we know about them or not. The system does not impose its dominion in a straightforward way without disruptions. It encounters resistance above, yes, but those resistances below are the ones that really threaten it. As we have said: we are not talking about something that could be, we are talking about something that we are already doing. And I think it is clear that in this we are not only talking about Zapatismo.
6. “Neither theory without practice nor practice without theory,” we have said. In saying that, we are not talking about a division of labor: those who think on one side, those who act on the other. What we are pointing out is that those who do theory should also have a practice. We’d almost say that it should be by scientific method, but critical thought has that particular venom: if it’s only thought, it doesn’t manage to be critical. And those who are working on that practice should be reflecting on that practice. This is not only because if one depends on a theorist to explain things for you and tell you what to do, then you end up, well, how should I say it? You end up anxious about whether or not you should vote. But also, and above all, we should keep in mind that our struggle doesn’t have a defined timeline. On the contrary, it will span entire generations. These theoretical reflections that we provide should serve those who follow us when our calendar comes to its last day. They will be, in a word, their inheritance.
7. Neither lazy thought nor dogmatic thought nor deceitful thought. We don’t know about you, but if we Zapatistas were lazy in our thinking, we would belong to an institutional political party. And if we wanted a dogma, we would subscribe to a political sect—oops, I meant to say, a religious sect. And if we wanted to swallow massive amounts of bullshit, we would govern ourselves by the rules and orders of the paid media. Critical thought has as its motor the act of questioning. Why this and not something else? Why this way and not another way? Why here and not in another place? As we Zapatistas say, one walks by asking.
8. There is no 8, because I already told you, I wasn’t going to use a lot of time, and I still have a few more things to tell you today, including an anachronistic story.
A few moons ago, in one corner of these mountains of the Mexican Southeast, a group of us, compañeros and compañeras of the General Command of the EZLN, met. Our objective was to intersect or share information that we had gathered both inside and outside the communities.
That’s how we do things. It’s not the analysis of one person that determines what we are going to do or not going to do, but rather an exchange of analysis, reflection, and thought. This is what the compañeros and compañeras who are the bases of support have accurately called a “sharing.”
I hope that there is time and a way for me to elaborate on this later. But for now it is enough to say that it wasn’t always like this.
In that meeting there had been something that each of the reports had in common. Each one noted changes or alterations in the economy of counterinsurgency in the communities, at the local level, and at the national and international levels as well.
After talking and listening, we came to the conclusion that what we saw was the same thing: a profound crisis was approaching—not only an economic one, although it was also economic. A storm, in fact.
Synthesizing that early morning’s sharing:
One. – An economic crisis like never before. What we are seeing now are just the very first rains. The worst is yet to come. The economists up above have claimed that the turbulence will be overcome in a few months. At the latest, a few years. They are not allowed to tell the truth: that they have absolutely no clue where this crisis is headed. And that’s because it turns out that it is not only an economic crisis. It has to be multiplied by the unnatural environmental disasters, seeing as they are the effect of a man-made cause: the transformation of everything, including the most basic and elementary of things —water, air, sun and shade, earth and sky—into commodities. And from there, the exploitation of these things, far behind the most elementary logic. And not only that, there are also the planned catastrophes, but we will talk about those later.
Another. – The loss of legitimacy of the “traditional” institutions (parties, government, judicial system, church, army, police, media, family) and the absolute lack of an effort to recover them.
One more. – A corruption so scandalous in the political classes that it borders on psychopathy. The level of degradation is such that even the true Power—that of money—is shocked by it. So shocked, in fact, that it fears that what the arbitrary tyranny of money couldn’t do, the corruption of those who govern will: provoke a rebellion.
And another one. – We are faced with a reality that can be synthesized today in one word: Ayotzinapa. For us, Zapatistas, Ayotzinapa is not an exception, but the rule. What we see there is the family portrait of the system at a global level.
It has been said that organized crime or narco-trafficking has permeated politics. But the truth is the reverse: the traditions and customs of a corrupt political class (like the Mexican political class in the case of our country, but there are other nations that comply with the same measures) have been transferred to organized crime.
How can I put it? Do you realize how in the media and entertainment industry, the genocides and serial murders are presented without feeling, with a kind of numbness? Well, the modern political class isn’t like that, they aren’t numb. They perceive perfectly what is going on and they have emotions. The only thing is they aren’t emotions of shame or remorse or contrition. No, they take joy in what’s going on. We are not faced with something mechanic that tortures, kills, dismembers, disappears, or exhibits a victim. We are talking about relishing a crime, about feeling and enjoying the power of evicting a person from their home, of dispossessing them of their land, of taking away their things, of imposing upon them terror, of making them see their fragility. Of emphasizing their defenselessness. Of humiliating them. Disdaining them. Crushing them. Murdering them. To kill them in life and also in death. And all of this for no other reason than because they can, because they want to display their exercise of Power and its managers across the entire axis of the social pyramid: from the tycoon to the head of the family. Passing through along the way, governors, legislatures, judges, police, informers and snitches, supervisors, floor managers, overseers, and foremen.
For example, there are those who think the way in which the federal Mexican government and the political class has faced what has happened in Ayotzinapa has showed their weakness, their clumsiness, their incompetence. Perhaps. But what we see and think is that they went about it delighting in each of its steps. We think they savored every tear shed by the family members. That they celebrated the families’ rage and impotence. That they found pleasure in reading or listening to every testimony of the survivors, of the mothers and fathers of those who are missing. If the great majority of people were horrified and moved, above there was only delight. Those government officials in charge of the issue such as the Attorney General, practically gorged themselves on the tragedy. Today we are not faced with the removed, affluent class from before that delegated to others (police, army, paramilitaries) the act of concretizing the crime. No, those in power today are not satisfied with a seat in the VIP box’s first row. They want to feel the direct pleasure of disposing of lives, of belongings, of histories. With hitmen and police on either side of them, there stand today’s heirs of real Power.
Another another. – Although the old structures of political and economic power still appear once in awhile in order to spew out some bit of nonsense, they are but shells of what they once were. The majority of the big, previously national companies are not merely brand names for the large global capitalists today; all of them, absolutely all of them are tied to and submissive to the international banking institutions. Ironies: always fearful of those below, they were dispossessed by those more above than they. Cultivating paramilitaries (the “Brigada Blanca,” or White Brigade in Mexico, the “GAL” in the Spanish State) for the dirty wars against those below all over the world didn’t work. Now they console each other in the always decadent social pages of newspapers, magazines, frivolous programs, and through Facebook for those seeking the most economic option.
While those nostalgic for yesterday’s economic power fight amongst themselves and regroup whenever the common people appear to be rising up, the great monarchs of money—those who instead of appearing on Forbes’ list of the richest have a seat at the table of advisors for the stock traders of the large banks and department stores—assume their positions. Those who really rule acquire lands, bankrupted businesses, and “qualified staff.” The work of “cleaning up the ranks” will be done by businesses who, although they don’t know it yet, will also go bankrupt. Then the big guys come in without the restraints of unions, collective contracts, or loyal staff.
The supposedly national repressive apparatuses, erected with the alibi of defense in the face of an external threat and the necessity for internal control, genuflect ridiculously before their superiors in the metropolis. That part about destabilization fed by foreign interest was true, but the internal threat was not dressed in the uniforms of the guerrilla, but in suits, ties, and imported bodyguards. They didn’t carry firearms or Molotov cocktails or instruction manuals for subversion, but rather credits with infinite installment terms… impossible to pay off.
Are you all shocked by the scandals that appear and have appeared in the mass media and social networks? Are you scandalized by Peña Nieto and Videgaray’s mansions? By the corruption of the governments across the globe? Well if you really want to be terrified, then get an interview “off the record” with someone from the mass media. Reverse the rules. Instead of being interviewed, ask the questions yourselves. Don’t ask them about what has come out publicly; ask them about what has been silenced. But not because it was censured, but because it didn’t even appear as something worthy of investigation or worthy of print. Then you will know what it is to vomit out of disgust and terror. If you want, stay and listen to their justifications (reasons of the State, people are not prepared to hear the truth, all of the truth—well, really not even just a part of the truth—we were threatened, our titles were at stake, as well as our projects, our work, our lives.)
One more and that’s it. – The crisis that is coming is not going to send a telegram, and it won’t be announced on monuments or on a poster board. No, it puts a foot in the door before you manage to close it. It squeezes in through the windows, emerges in the cracks. It slips in between the news about the currently fashionable scandals. You know what they say about the revolution not being televised. Well, the crisis is in fact televised, but it looks like no one is paying attention.
The crisis cannot be hidden inside a blue VW bug, or under a beige poncho. It can’t be jailed, or disappeared, or murdered. It can’t be put on the list of disappeared. It can’t be negotiated in the halls of Congress, in the United Nations, or in the International Monetary Fund.
Oh true, crises like this one don’t come alone. They are accompanied by all the acrobats of history: prophets, leaders, supreme saviors, new religions, the ‘change begins with oneself.’ The ‘help yourself and I will help you.’ The ‘think positively.’ The “Smile we’re gonna win.” The “We will be your worst nightmare.”
Culture? Art? Science? These will be clandestine activities if they remain independent. If they are of the paid arena, they will be worth less than the tip the valet parking guy receives at the latest hip club. Ironies: terrified by piracy (we prefer to call it “alternative production”), these people will become employees of the large entertainment industries. That is, they will produce whatever those who pay them order them to.
Now then. What if this isn’t the case? What if this is just a Zapatista hallucination? What if local and national free enterprise can continue its buoyant step into a bright future? What if the international banking institutions don’t really prey upon the goods of families, countries, and continents? What if global capitalism does indeed recognize differences and diversity?
What if the parties of the left do in fact prioritize their principles and programs over their eagerness for official posts? What if those who govern moderate their rapaciousness and dedicate a good part of their loot to reconstructing a social security net? What if this is just a passing rain shower, a few dark clouds that will drift on by themselves?
If all this happens—that is, if nothing happens—would it have done you damage to be organized? Would it have so disturbed you to have taken, along with others[iii] your destiny into your own hands? Would it have been such a bother to have listened to others, similar to or different from you? Would you be poorer, less of a person? Would you feel empty, incomplete, useless?
The world, your world, would it be worse or better?
Now, let me return to that meeting I was talking about in one of our corners.
After we saw that yes, the situation is indeed bad, we went on to the part we call the deliberative phase.
We decided two things. One was to prepare ourselves for an era of economic crisis. The other, to inform our compañeroas of the Sixth and ask otroas [others] from the Sixth and elsewhere what they were seeing.
The first point didn’t present much difficulty. Already organized in resistance, the Zapatista communities could confront these problems because it is in fact what they already do and do collectively.
The second was more complicated. Two monumental obstacles were in front of us: the geography and the calendar.
As Zapatistas we have the fortune of having compas in the most diverse geographies. Although it was possible to convoke an international event as we have done before, the reflexive character that the situation merits would have been very difficult. Even so, although we could construct the space of analysis and reflection, it would need to be centralized. And this would mean that only some people could be there, and that many, the majority, couldn’t. Money wasn’t the only problem. It’s also about each person’s work and struggle in their own places.
And that isn’t even to mention the difficulties of the calendar.
So we thought we would get it started and ask our compañeros, compañeras and compañeroas of the Sixth to continue the process. To go about building this space in their own places according to their own times and ways.
That is how the idea of this seminar, really a seedbed, came about. So that the little girl, the Zapatista Defense, doesn’t think that we are here training priests.[iv]
Ok then. Now for the advice:
Many years ago, these sharings or exchanges were not possible, at least not directly. Contact between our different zones was very sporadic and superficial. The bridge through which we communicated was the EZLN, and in particular, through the General Command. That’s where the various information reports were delivered, that’s where they were evaluated, “crossed,” and compared, and where what was to be done or not done was decided. Of course, there also was not that much to evaluate. We were dispersed, and the isolation that protected us also limited us.
We grew. A movement like that of the Zapatistas has that curse: to grow. And I am not referring to growing in quantity, but rather in problems and challenges. That is how our history is made, and how we make our history.
We Zapatistas think that in order to understand something, one has to know its genealogy. That is, its history. In other words, how it became what it became.
Do you remember that part about the choice between seeing the tree or the forest? Well, as Zapatistas, we see the roots.
We have said this before, but I am going to remind you of it now: Our rebellion is our “NO” to the system. Our resistance is our “YES” to something else being possible.
We have also pointed out that our meta-theory is our practice.
Alright then, you already know that, down the road, the level of seriousness of a theoretical reflection is judged by its quantity of bibliographical references. They say and they write, “as so-and-so points out in such-and-such book.” It may sound a little strange, but the more so-and-so’s mentioned in a theoretical text, it is considered more serious, more respectable… and more boring. Nooo, I’m just kidding, not really. It’s very good to read and hear these thoughts. Although sometimes it turns out that one learns what so-and-so thought but who knows what the actual author thinks. And so one[v] thinks, “Well then, if they were to tell us what that other person said, they should have just submitted the other text, or used that scientific method known as ‘copy and paste.’”
In the end, what I want to tell you is that in everything that we write and say, it is the Zapatista resistance that constitutes our bibliography.
Perhaps you hadn’t realized that, although I think that maybe you have.
Now you have here your own drone, in order to get a look at the span of Zapatista resistance. Of course some of you,[vi] will say that you have been in Zapatista communities and you already know about their resistance. But I’m not talking about the resistance of a community. I’m talking about Zapatista resistance as a collective effort. Resistance viewed from the inside.
Ok, the drone you will have the privilege of listening to now is named Subcomandante Insurgente Moisés. Because of his previous work and his current job, he knows better than anyone the genealogy of Zapatista resistance. Its history, how it became what it is, this idea that brings us to say, as you heard yesterday, hay lum tujbil vitil ayotik.[vii]
Listen to him. Read him. Through his words, you will be able to see a terrible and marvelous history. You will understand that this is like having a subterranean drone and you will have the privilege of a gaze from the deepest parts of Zapatista resistance.
What I am going to tell you, surely others will say or write better than I have, with more hard facts, better arguments, and more profound conclusions.
But what he is going to tell you, you are not going to find anywhere else. Not even by talking with him. Because he presents himself to you as a collective, and it’s precisely through him that we speak as a collective.
So my advice to you is, don’t miss the sessions where he talks.
Of course, we are not going to tell you exactly when it is his turn to talk and when it is mine. That is because I don’t want to be up here alone talking about cat-dogs, cracked walls, soccer and basketball.
Here I am going to tell you an anecdote. When, on May 2, when you all left Oventik, it started to rain. A huge storm. But the bases of support stayed there, dancing, and playing sports. I was in a corner listening to the narrator because they have something like a sports broadcaster who narrates the game. Then came the awards ceremony. Do you know the name of the team that won the women’s basketball tournament? They are called “The Defeated.”
Sherlock Holmes and Euclid, typos, planned catastrophes, gender defeats, Iolaus[viii] giving a hand. War, always war.
That is why we are doing a survey of which invited guests have the highest popularity ratings so that I can put myself into position where I can at least say to Doc Raymundo “Chin up, doc” and he, noble and generous, will reply, “Chin up, Sup.”
Mexico, May 4, 2015.
From the Diaries of the Cat-Dog.
Note: I tried to put this story in Twitter form but I couldn’t. See, I saw on Twitter the other day one user[ix] who put out a whole communiqué in fragments of 140 characters. No, I wasn’t angry, I was envious because it turned out better for him than for me. Okay, here goes:
I should warn you that the stories of the Cat-Dog are very other. I’ve said it before—in contrast to those traditional stories that begin with “once upon a time…” Zapatista stories (and not just the stories, but that’s not the point here) begin with “There will be a time…” And as it turns out, the stories of the Cat-Dog begin with: “there is a time…” This means that the stories of the Cat-Dog are very modern because they happen in real time. So, here goes.
“There is a time…
A ship. A big one, as if it were a nation, a continent, an entire planet. With all of its crew and its hierarchies; that is, its above and its below. With its disputes over who commands, who is more important, who has the most—the standard debates that occur anywhere there is an above and a below. But this proud ship was having difficulty, moving without clear direction and with water pouring in from both sides. As tends to happen in these cases, the cadre of officers insisted that the captain be relieved of his duty. Complicated as things tend to be when determined by those above, it was decided that in effect, the captain’s time had passed and it was necessary to name a new one. The officers debated among themselves, disputing who had more merit, who was better, who was best.
The commotion was heard in the deepest part of the ship, below the water line where the majority of the crew lived and worked. Even though they weren’t seen, they were important. In plain terms, the ship moved thanks to their work. The commotion above was nothing new for those below. They knew that every once in a while, those above fought over who would be captain. None of this mattered to the owner of the ship. It could be whoever, what interested the owner was that the ship produced, transported, and collected commodities across the oceans.
Among those who worked below there was a group that was set apart for being very other. Because they were men, women, and otroas, we will call them “Loas Otroas.” Loas Otroas were small beings, dirty, ugly, bad, poorly spoken, and worst of all, they didn’t comb their hair.
Since the rest of the ship didn’t know that there were people there who couldn’t be accommodated in the structures and diagrams they had been shown, they tended to say that Loas Otroas were really Martians who wanted to take over the ship and take it to another galaxy. Fortunately, the captain of the ship heard these rumors and named a commission of distinguished intellectuals to provide a scientific explanation for the disturbing existence of Loas Otroas. The intellectuals met in an exclusive meeting space built especially for these kinds of things, and after a few days and a hefty salary, they presented the results of their study. “Loas Otroas, they said, are not Martians. In reality, they are made in China. The Chinese manufactured them there in China and sent them to planet Mars, so that from there they would end up on the boat and sabotage the industry of combs, brushes, shampoos, gels, barbershops, and beauty salons.” The captain of the ship congratulated the scientists in a confused tweet, as tweets tend to be. Specialized journals announced and circulated the discovery.
Nah, that’s not really true, but if it seems like an absurd explanation, there are worse ones in the paid mass media.
But getting back to the ship.
Loas otroas, as they were, were always cursing those above and getting into mischief to irritate the officers. Meaning, every so often they were organizing another rebellion. So, the officials presented great speeches about interplanetary threats; they exchanged gazes, calculating together how to take advantage of the occasion, and they gave the order to create order among the disordered, that is among Loas Otroas.
Loas Otroas called on other people to rebel, but the great majority of those below did not respond to this call. What’s more, and not on few occasions, they applauded when one of Loas Otroas was taken on deck and, amidst the great discourses of the officials on the rationality of command and the irrationality of rebellion, made to jump overboard.
Were there sharks? Those who worked below didn’t know. What’s more, they only knew what happened above and outside when the officials gave them information. But even with their losses, Loas Otroas kept on with that discourse of “neither master nor boss, nor god nor ruler,” and other equally anachronistic ideas, like that one about “the boat should belong to those who propel it.” The ship, for its part, continued its erratic swaying from one side to the other, without anything seeming to affect it. And every so often, unoa otroa was taken up on deck to be thrown into the sea. What were they accused of, judged and condemned for? This didn’t matter to the executioner. It was enough for them that this being was dirty, ugly, bad and rude, to know that he or she was guilty, even if just guilty of being who they were. But this time, something unusual happened. The dispute among the officers over who would be captain had created so much noise and chaos that no one had bothered to serve up the usual discourse and praise for order, progress, and fine dining. The executioner, knowing only how to follow existing patterns, didn’t know what to do; something was missing. So he went to look for some officer who could comply with what tradition dictated. In order to do so without the accused/ judged/condemned escaping, they sent him to Hell, that is, to the “watch post,” also known as “the Crow’s Nest.”
The watch post is at the top of the tallest mast, and was seen by all of the crew as a punishment. Maybe because of the wind, the rain, the sun, the cold, or the stormy gales, the “crow’s nest” was considered a branch office of hell. From there, enemies were sited, unknown vessels were caught creeping up, monsters and catastrophes were seen coming; prosperous ports where commodities (that is people) were exchanged came into view, as well as incomprehensible islands populated by Loas Otroas. Whatever notice was given from that post was received by the officers with anger and displeasure. If what was in sight was an enemy ship, the captain gave over everything without a word, and then later, with the cadre of officers, toasted the progress the looting had brought onboard. Yes, it sounds stupid, but that is how everything worked on the deck of this ship. If what was sighted were monsters and systemic catastrophes, those in charge celebrated modernity… or post modernity, depending on the fashion decreed by the newest navigation manuals. If what was sighted were unknown vessels creeping closer, leaflets and pamphlets were quickly distributed among the crew.
In these leaflets, the crew was called upon to view the panorama optimistically. They called for meditation, personal self-improvement, and love for one’s neighbor. “Change begins with oneself” tended to be the title of these papers which were produced in great quantities… and which almost no one read. The announcement of arrival at the port of immediate destination was received with more disagreement and dissent than with bother or annoyance. From the profits made from the buying and selling of commodities, the officials gave a few crumbs to those below. As the profits were large and the handouts below small, there was plenty of money for the officials to build huge new cabins for themselves or adorn the nautical museums with splendid statues praising their lineage.
If someone is listening to this story and thinks everything on this ship is extravagant and irrational, they wouldn’t be wrong. For all the lifestyle habits created above to manage society’s interactions, with its rules of etiquette, good manners, and hierarchies, the whole of all this doesn’t cease to be abhorrent or abnormal. A serious analysis of the organization of the ship would conclude that the fundamental absurdity of life on the ship is that what maintains it afloat is below the water line, in the lowest part of that proud ship. Despite scientific and technological advances, nuclear turbines, 4G-LTE tablets, super high definition images, and fast food, the principle motor of this ship is human.
If whoever is listening to me pays attention to the organization of the ship that I am describing, they will realize that despite the fact that it is those below who are making it possible for the ship to sail, who are producing not only the necessary things for the ship to function but also the commodities that give purpose and destiny to the ship, they don’t have anything other than their capacity and knowledge to do this work. They also don’t have the possibility of deciding anything about the organization of this work so that it completes its objective; it is the officers above deck who decide this. Of course, taking care of appearances, every once in a while they simulate the taking into account of the opinions of the sailors—male and female, because on this boat there is gender equality in working one’s ass off. For this task, they would organize a curious game that consisted of presenting to the sailors various colors, and asking them to choose one. The color picked by the majority was used to paint the body of the ship, and they would even install a special flag to identify it. But nothing really changed: the owner continued being the owner and was the one who chose the destination and determined the organization of the ship. I say this was “before” because this cadre of officers was attentive to modern advances and soon replaced this process with that of surveys: ‘What color do you like the best?’ Fortunately, modernization did not extinguish a sense of shame of those above deck and they continued on with the formalism of voting for which color was the prettiest.
However, the sea winds were agitating the boat more and more frequently. More enemy boats appeared with greater frequency and are more aggressive. If whoever is listening to me thinks that the cadre of officers, by reason of their supposed abilities, would see a way to deal successfully with these new threats, you are mistaken. So busy are they pulling profit from the small portion allotted to them, that these officers have indeed become more and more agile, yes, but principally in discovering 1001 ways to take a little more, not only from what they can steal from those below, but also what they can snatch from their peers. The issue is that those who should be responsible for guaranteeing the internal organization of the boat so that it complies with its function, have by their actions resigned their duty. The ship sails, as it has for a while now, on pure inertia.
But let’s get back to the protagonist of this story and its bitter destiny in the crow’s nest.
That this branch office of hell was located above was just one of those paradoxes that populates the geography of the current sea. Contrary to what one might think, the being in question, loa otroa, climbed up with enthusiasm, agile as indeed those below tend to be. S/he climbed with admirable skill up the tallest mast and settled into the narrow vigilance post.
Following an unknown impulse, unknown at least to the person who tells the story and those who listen, this strange being did not wallow in self-pity; rather, s/he took advantage of this privileged position to look.
It was no small thing what this gaze took in.
Loa Otroa looked toward the deck and paused a moment on the slogan that the owner of the ship had engraved in bronze on the front of the boat: “Bellum Semper. Universum Bellum. Universum Exitium.”
Loa otroa did not know Latin. Me neither, actually. But someone has done a translation and we can say that it is something like “War Always, Universal War, Universal Destruction.”
While we look for the way to get the translation to Loa Otroa, s/he continued there above, observing what happened on deck. Over there for example, was a stage full of little flags of one color. Over there a little further, another with flags of the same color, and another, and another. It’s curious because from close up, it looks like they are a lot of different colors and shapes, but at a distance you can see that all the stages have the same design and the same color. Bored, Loa Otroa looked to the horizon. S/he shuttered and sharpened her gaze to confirms what s/he has seen. Loa Otroa climbed back down to deck and went through the hatch to the bottom part of the ship.
Once there s/he looked for a notebook and begins to draw incomprehensible signs. S/he called Loas Otroas and shows them the notebook. Loas Otroas look at each other, look at the notebook, and look at each other again, speaking a very ancient language. Who knows what they saw because there is no translator on hand. But after a little while like that, exchanging gazes and words, they begin to work feverishly.
I know, I was just as indignant as you are now. “What do you mean ‘the end’? What did s/he see from the watch post? What did s/he draw in the notebook? What did they talk about? Then what happened?”
But the Cat-Dog just meowed barking, “We don’t know yet.”
Later he barked meowing, “Those who call themselves social scientists should learn how to use those four words.”
[i] The text uses “todos, todas, todoas,” meaning “everyone” to give a range of possible gendered pronouns including male, female, transgender and others.
[ii] The text uses “nosotroas” meaning “we,” see endnote i.
[iii] The text uses “otros, otras, otroas as” meaning “other,” see endnote i.
[iv] Seminario, which we are translating as seminar, can also mean seminary. See the reference to this in an earlier EZLN text by Subcomandante Insurgente Galeano: http://enlacezapatista.ezln.org.mx/2015/05/03/el-muro-y-la-grieta-primer-apunte-sobre-el-metodo-zapatista-supgaleano-3-de-mayo/
[v] The text uses “uno, una, unoas,” meaning “one” see endnote i.
[vi] The text uses “alguno, alguna, algunoa” meaning someone, see endnote i.
[vii]“How good it is, the way we are now.”A reference to a phrase used in Subcomandante Insurgente Moisés’ talk from May 3, 2015: http://enlacezapatista.ezln.org.mx/2015/05/14/on-the-elections-organize/
[viii] Greek mythological figure, Iolaus was the nephew of Heracles who helped his uncle slay the Hydra of Lerna.
[ix] The text uses “usuario, usuaria, usuarioa,” meaning user, see endnote i.