Friday, December 16, 2011

#97: Upside Down: A Primer for the Looking-Glass World by Eduardo Galeano

Henry Holt, New York: 1998 (Translation 2000 by Mark Fried). 358 pages

Where was this fantastic text before I went of to graduate school? Where was this poetic smashing of consumerism? Why was it not on my bookshelf? Perhaps then I was not ready for it. I have long thought that books show up when you are ready to read them. The two biggest examples of that for me have been The Hobbit and A People's History of the United States. The first remains my favorite book, the second reinforced what I was already thinking and pushed me to go back to school.

What did this book do? It pissed me off for questioning my left-leaning beliefs in favor of going along to get along. In the first ten pages, there were quotes that adequately described the community in which I work:

1. Education of the wealthy "trains us to view our neighbors as a threat rather than as a promise." (8) Galeano leaves the promise unsaid, but for a Latin American author there is the remnant of FDR's "Good Neighbor" policy that withdrew Marines from several countries in the 1930s. This ended with the Cold War, when the United States started to see Communists behind every bush trying to nationalize banana plantations and mines. Individually we are taught to fear our neighbors in this world where we are connected to everyone but literally do not know who our next door neighbors are. On a national scale, look at the Bachmanns and Romneys of the world.

2. Galeano writes that the rich of Latin American countries "grow up rootless, stripped of cultural identity, aware of society only as a threat." (12) Same can be said of many wealthy students in this country, who care only for the next vacation, go to San Francisco only to visit Union Square and shop and gawk at the Gay Folks. They cannot find New Haven on a map but can tell you in 2 pages why they should go to Yale when they grow up.

The text is a series of musings, the type of book like Walden that is best picked up when you feel removed from the spiritual. When you feel removed from the decency of your fellow man, angry at the world and want to scream "Go take a Flying Fuck at a Donut" when you hear someone blathering about what they did on Black Friday, this book should magically appear on your bedside table. What fired me up, pithy comments such as these:

--"Now, poverty is the reward for inefficiency; it may cause pity, but it no longer causes indignation." (32) Did it ever? Think about this quote, most know from the Civilization IV computer game: "When I give food to the poor they call me a saint. When I ask why they are poor, they call me a Communist." -- Dom Heldar Camara. Will Rogers in the early '30s was about as blunt, pointing out there are 40 people in the United States who could buy the world but 40 million who didn't have enough to eat.

--"The State should not give orders to banks." --Michael Camdessus, President of the IMF in 1997. (151) Well, well well. Honesty in a "public" servant. If the American People knew anything about history, they would realize this was tried.....during the fucking McKinley administration. It did not work then, either.

--Democracy is afraid of remembering and language is afraid of speaking (59). How did a person writing in 1998 coin a very concise description of what passes for political speech among the ruling classes and their servants? He was paying attention.

The most important quote in this book? "Impunity is the child of bad memory." (211) Exemption from punishment leads to the repetition of awful things. Tell me that Goldman Sachs did not know this in 2008, or that cops busting the Occupy Protests don't understand this. Read this book and get angry.

No comments:

Post a Comment