Readers’ replies to, & more comments on article:

On ideology and truth: Evo Morales’ speech,
“I believe only in the power of the people”

G.S.    <>
Oaxaca, Wednesday, January 9, 2006

This is a two-part note. The first part focuses specifically on confusion in the group Science for the People caused by the recent posting of a talk by Evo Morales, which was widely reported under the title, “I believe only in the power of the people.” The second part is general, a discussion of ideology in hampering widespread knowledge of the truth.

original article at

this ‘reply’ page at

1a. Subject: RE: New post - On ideology and truth: Evo Morales' speech
From: Tony Troughton-Smith <>
Date: Tue, 10 Jan 2006 14:30:17 +0800

Hi George

In reply to your question

What is our turf?

      Or rather, what should it be? ...

      I would suggest that the issues of climate change and renewable energy are both actually areas of “our turf” that some of the mainstream media and politicians have been dragged onto by the weight of our arguments, which is good, as far as it goes. I think climate is so urgent that we must continue to proclaim it of paramount importance – there’s no point in solving any other problems if the world becomes effectively uninhabitable for large portions of our race, and even other species.

      But that said, climate change is just a symptom of the disease which is our reigning, but severely skewed, economic paradigm. It is this, in my opinion, that (to extend your metaphor) should be our fortress in the centre of our turf. Nothing will address climate change effectively until we can lay bare and reveal the myths of money, and turn the lumbering beast of our globalising society away from the cliffs of eternal growth and the rocks of debt at their base. We have to restore the ideal that the interests of the many take precedence over those of the few (and certainly of the individual). And we have to banish the bastards that have hijacked us away from the ideal with the sugared words of advertising for the last century or more.

      Perhaps the visionaries of the 21st century are appearing in South America. Let us hope so, and hope they can be quick to inspire and mobilise, not only those within their borders, but people around the world too. And for that, as you say, we need these alternative media and communication channels. What chance would we have if we were to be deprived of them?

Tony Troughton-Smith

1b. Subject: Ideas interchange
Date: Mon, 16 Jan 2006 13:43:41 +0800

Dear George

      You certainly may forward or otherwise use anything I send you. I would just make the observation that some people have concerns about their email addresses being published in what can become an uncontrolled fashion (if, for example, recipients then forward your missives on to others). The obvious way around this problem is to cut the email addresses out of the posts, but this would have the drawback that further dialogue could be restricted.

      The best solution might be to organise it via a web log (‘blog’) interface, which enables people to respond either anonymously or with a pen-name, or alternatively via an email group interface such as provided by Yahoo! Groups (and others). With these subscribers are (I think!) again free to reveal or restrict their email address. For your purposes I think the Web Log idea would be ideal, but I'm afraid I have no experience of these and so cannot recommend a specific provider nor advise on setting it up – someone else may be able to.

      Or you might decide this is all getting too complicated - and I wouldn’t blame you!

Warm regards
W. Oz

1c. Date: Mon, 16 Jan 2006 09:20:00 -0600
CC: Joe Bageant <>

Hi Tony,

      Thanks for your quick and positive response. It is somewhat of a problem. I think the ability of individuals to communicate with one another (on a one-to-one basis if they wish) is extremely important, above all without mediation. Of course a website like mine doesn't allow for that, because I am the mediator. The difficulty with sites that provide open posting is the amount of trash — unthought-out remarks that some people just slap up. The Indymedia sites, wonderful though many of them are, are also plagued with thoughtless, banal postings that make them less valuable. I also don’t like the ability to post anonymously, which open sites provide. It permits people to post without assuming any social responsibility. One of the best new sites, I think, is the one Joe Bageant has. He puts up letters he gets, but he does so without the correspondents’ e-mail addresses, a slight obstacle to further discussion. For example, someone wrote him in response to his “Revenge of the Mutt People” essay, an incredibly revealing attack on Joe’s supposed “self-hate”, a man in Indiana who is so totally brainwashed by pro-war propaganda that it is frightening, and I thought of writing him, as a World War II veteran perhaps three times his age, of his mistake in preparing to enlist in the National Guard. But it’s an effort (admittedly slight) to have to go through Joe to reach him. I’d prefer to have just been able to click on his e-mail address link and write him, probably CCing Joe. On the other hand, I do feel strongly that people should have the right to ward off further mail by keeping their addresses private. Al Giordano, founder of the excellent Narco News website, has a Yahoo Group listserv, but I hate all the advertisements that come with every e-mail. So it is a problem. What I’d like, of course, is a society in which we each trusted one another and were respectful, but there’s a way to go before we get there. Living in a principled way in today’s social milieu is not so easy. Again, many thanks.
All the best,

2a. Subject: Fwd: Interview: Evo Morales and Socialism
From: Julie Liss <>
Date: Tue, 10 Jan 2006 17:22:58 -0800

Dear George,
I thought you would be interested in this--if you haven't already seen it. Portside is a useful listserv, although it's hard to keep up.

I hope that you are well. We're fine. Nina and Claudia are just back in school, I'm gearing up for the final half of my sabbatical (not that it takes much preparation). ...

I think of you often.
Love, Julie

Date: Sun, 8 Jan 2006 22:07:13 -0500 (EST)

Evo Morales, Communitarian Socialism, and the Regional Power Block
by Heinz Dieterich, MRZine, 07/01/06

2b. Date: Fri, 13 Jan 2006 03:13:10 -0600

Julie dear,

      How good to hear from you and to learn that you are all fine and that the year is going well for you, Nina and Claudia. ...

      Thank you for sending me the interview with Evo Morales. I’m guessing you thought of it after getting my last posting. As you may know, I’m much in favor of the notion of communal land and small communities that are largely autonomous and practice face-to-face democracy — what Morales was calling consensus decision-making in the interview. I wasn’t overly impressed by the interviewer, but nevertheless found the exchange interesting. I ought to go back and reread ¡Cochabamba! — Water War in Bolivia, by Oscar Olivera in collaboration with Tom Lewis. At this time in my life I regret that I never had an interest in history [Julie is Professor of History at Scripps College], and am so ignorant about so much. I don’t have a reliable sense of Morales. James Petras had a very negative appraisal of Evo in a piece published on the Counterpunch website []. But he tends to be, for my taste, a somewhat doctrinaire Marxist, though with a thorough factual grounding, impressively so to me. Even NarcoNews was somewhat hesitant [], as they had not earlier been with, for example Lula, to “go overboard” with enthusiasm for Evo’s electoral victory. Jim Schultz [<>], who’s lived for the better part of two decades in Cochabamba [an error, I think. Probably more like one decade.], and who is personally acquainted with Evo, is more positive. [ or Unfortunately the first link provides only the start of the article, and the second one doesn't work unless you are registered with the Sacramento Bee and go through their routine. However, if you write Jim he can send you the text. That’s how I first got it.] Since I don’t trust the corporate media at all, and am uncertain how to weigh the differing views of those in whom I have more confidence, I’m just going to have to wait and see for a while. To me, what’s really important is what happens at the level of the popular movements. If Morales doesn’t live up to his rhetoric, and the grassroots groups get fed up and are strong enough, they’ll get rid of him. It’s all very interesting. A remarkable time to be alive.

      Keep well and enjoy the rest of your sabbatical year.
Much love to you, Nina and Claudia,

P.S. The Zapatista consulta will be here in Oaxaca in a few weeks. We're hoping to at least witness part of it.

3a. Subject: RE: New post - On ideology and truth: Evo Morales’ speech
From: Alexander Guerrero <>
Date: Tue, 10 Jan 2006 04:48:25 -0400

Delirious ¡!!!!


3b. Date: Wed, 18 Jan 2006 10:47:40 -0600

Oaxaca, miercoles el 18 de diciembre de 2006
Hola Alexander:

      Yo no sé su idioma maternal. Su respuesta Delirious ¡!!!! es bastante claro, pero falta una elaboración. Por supuesto, nuestros concepciones de la realidad del mundo en lo que vivimos son muy diferentes. Una explicación muy ámplio sería bienvenido. Espero sus ideas, en español o inglés, para la comunicación más profunda.

Felicitaciones pel año nuevo.

4a. Subject: Re: New post - On ideology and truth: Evo Morales' speech
From: Starshine <>
Date: Tue, 10 Jan 2006 01:01:34 -0700

      I remain confused about this post. I think it says that someone took a speech, changed the author and date and since it was sent out by a person of “our” persuasion, it was accepted uncritically. I have not read the post lest I be further confused.

4b. Date: Tue, 10 Jan 2006 16:03:08 -0600

Sorry about the confusion. In brief,
Evo Morales made a speech on October 24, 2003 in Mexico City at a conference.
Evo Morales was elected president of Bolivia on December 18, 2005.
Various generally trustworthy left-oriented websites posted his 2-year old speech on December 22 or 24, 2005 without giving either the correct date of the speech or where he delivered it.
This led many people to the mistaken idea that the speech was given right after Morales' election to the presidency.

I hope this helps. -George

4c. Subject: Date: Tue, 10 Jan 2006 18:05:33 -0700

Thanks, that does help.

5a. Subject: fighting on THEIR turf
From: L. Urban Kohler <>
Date: Tue, 10 Jan 2006 15:31:55 -0800 (PST)

--- George Salzman wrote:

“ . . . fighting on their turf, a great mistake.

What is our turf?

      Or rather, what should it be? ...”

Urban: It’s amazing how successful right wing ideologues have been at defining the turf on which we all are busily contending! For years this was a vague concept to me. Then recently I discovered George Lakoff’s book Don’t Think of an Elephant which explains how Lewis Powell around 1970 – just before Nixon appointed him Supreme Court justice – circulated a memo explaining, in essense how to create the framing for our public dialogue. We’ve been fighting on their turf increasingly ever since.

5b. Date: Tue, 17 Jan 2006 15:16:25 -0800 (PST)

You can sure use anything I say, George.

Someone among your responses mentioned today’s visionaries might be found in Latin America [Tony Troughton-Smith, 1a.]. From my point of view it seems to be true that representatives of common folk rather than of elitists and corporate interests are gaining power. And I think it is particularly significant that Major South American economies are throwing off the yoke of the IMF/WorldBank.

5c. Date: Date: Wed, 18 Jan 2006 19:28:06 -0600

Hi Urban,

      Thanks for your comment and information. I hadn't known of George Lakoff’s book. The text (or at least part of it) is on line at I was interested to see the introduction, by Howard Dean, the current Democratic National Chairman, but it is not included in this posting, which claims he characterizes Lakoff as “one of the most influential political thinkers of the progressive movement.” I am not that thrilled with Howard Dean, who is of course a totally political animal. However, the question apparently tackled by Lakoff is crucially important. I think the great shortcoming of liberals (progressives, many of them now call themselves) is that they accept the institutional legitimacy of the United States government as a representative democracy. Within that frame of reference it makes sense to them to focus their energies on trying to “recapture the (imagined) traditional values and practices of this great democracy”, now being savaged by the Bush administration.

      Of course we must find ways to function within the institutional structures that currently dominate our lives, even if we recognize that they are illegitimate for achieving their supposed purposes (e.g. the well-being of the people). But I believe it is a mistake to place any hope on the Democratic Party in particular, and on electoral politics in general. This is not to say we should scorn voting; what I believe we should scorn is putting a significant part of our energy into electoral politics. The idea is beautifully expressed by a campesino to whom Jim Shultz spoke before the December 18 vote in Bolivia. As Shultz reports in his article in the Sacramento Bee on January 8, 2006,

      I knew that Morales might well be on his way to the presidency last October, when I spent five days in a small Quechua Indian village. One sunny afternoon I sat with the village leader. I asked him if the coming election was big on people’s minds.

      “No, we are really more worried about whether it will rain soon.”

      I asked him if people were excited about Evo Morales and the prospect of electing an Indian as president.

      “Well, he is really just a politician.”

      Then I asked him whether the people of the village would vote.

      “Oh yes, we will vote. All 400 of us will walk together 45 minutes to the place where we vote and we will all vote for Evo.”

      On Dec. 18, Bolivians by the millions marched distances short and far to give Morales the biggest mandate of any president in half a century. Now Morales will seek to turn that mandate into a new economic course, including a reversal of the market fundamentalism brought here from the north.

American liberals/progressives are not that savvy, not yet. I hope they'll learn. And become truly radicalized activists. We don't have much time.

      Thanks again for writing,
All best wishes,

6a. Subject: Your Recent Posts
From: Andrew Stretton <>
Date: Wed, 11 Jan 2006 12:50:25 +1100
To: George Salzman <>

Hi George,

      First of all, thank you for your recent posts. Uncannily, the last two have been very aligned with where my thinking is at present. Over the past year I have been sitting on the fence, keeping one foot in the water of “accepted norms” and the other in so called “radical thought”. The latter is becoming increasingly “normal” to me as the days go by and I am finding it hard to find any justification in living life as I have done, in particular, as everybody does around me, in a place where conformity equates with comfort.

      At 45 this is a scary prospect! That said, I am also beginning to realize that the anxiety I am experiencing is actually coming from NOT standing up and saying what I need to say. It is daunting indeed to face the possibility that the public expression of one’s thoughts, especially in a small regional community, may well lead to a life at the margins. However, the prospect of living my life without challenging the destructive path on which society seems hell bent on heading down would be even more unthinkable!

      My thoughts are now turning to “how”. How do I best go about raising these issues, in the societal collective conscious, in a constructive, factual and truthful way? Your recent post, “Ideological conformity — an impediment to truth”, highlights this dilemma beautifully. After reading your “bleed the monster” post, I have decided that the very first step is to indeed start acting locally and to that end, I will be publishing a bi-monthly journal, name as yet undecided, for local circulation.

      The year 2006 is going to be an interesting one for Andrew Stretton as he takes his first steps towards a more authentic life!

      Thanks again for your e-mails they are a continued source of inspiration.

Kindest Regards
Andrew Stretton
Talbot, Victoria, Australia

6b. Date: Wed, 18 Jan 2006 22:25:34 -0600
CC: Wayne Cooke <>

Hi Andrew,

      I think I can appreciate the difficulty that the choice you want to make poses for you. Are you pretty much alone within your local community in terms of the understanding you've acquired of the degree of danger we are all facing? If so, that poses an additional hurdle. I think it's very difficult to sustain oneself in a situation of isolation (or near isolation). So I hope you will be able to answer successfully your all important question, “How do I best go about raising these issues, in the societal collective conscious, in a constructive, factual and truthful way?” And I hope you will be able to do it in a way that will engage people in your locality, even if at first there are not very many of them.

      Someone who you might like to contact is Wayne Cooke, who shares many of the same concerns we have. He is putting a lot of effort into informational work within his locality. His initial contact with me was by the e-mail that I will put at the end of this note.

      I'm glad you've found my efforts useful to you. I would like very much to keep in touch.
All best wishes,
6b.+ Asunto: Community...from Graham, WA
De: Wayne Cooke Wayne Cooke <>
Fecha: Sat, 24 Sep 2005 00:59:26 EDT
Para: George Salzman

      I still remember looking up the word “serendipity” in the Pacific Lutheran University Library. Serendipity brought me to your website and I want to thank you.

      An old copy of Science For the People, 100th issue, July, 1985 was in my garage. I was a subscriber. Admiring it again, I wondered if it still existed, and a google search led me to an obituary essay in praise of your wife, Freda, which led me to your own website. Before exploring further, your folders seemed to key in on what I have been doing here in Graham, south of Tacoma.

      Before 2004, I was dismayed at the Bush government initiatives to strip away the progress of the past 70 years and worked to defeat him. I read a dozen books trying to understand “why” and wrote my “Book Reports” to educate others. They were received well and appreciated. After 2004, I was aghast at the obvious vote fraud and then started our local Democracy For America chapter. However, I also read Hubbert’s Peak and began to understand how the coming decline of cheap oil plus our military might was leading the PNAC group behind Bush to start their manipulations for control of world oil, beginning with Iraq.

      I hold little hope for the continuance of our democracy. Perhaps some secret group somewhere is plotting an overthrow of this anti-people government, but the effects of an economic collapse caused by the permanent petroleum decline and the stupid economic policies of this government will trump any political change.

      So I’ve read the books of Thom Hartmann, Heinberg, Kunstler, and soon the new book by Matt Simmons. A common thread in their last chapters suggesting what to do is the deliberate pre-planning for more cohesive local community along with learning to grow a lot of your own food, just like the great-grandparents did.

      As a retired teacher, my farming skills were nil, but still I planted a tiny “community garden” in the middle of our 86th Street community, to catch neighbor’s curiosity. I’ve now finished a letter to over 100 neighbors, to be hand delivered at the end of the month, explaining the purpose of the garden as an example of a coming need, and suggesting a study group at the library to read and discuss these “peak oil” books and how our little local community can begin now to think about what plans might become necessary to help us help each other’s security, health, and survival when this valuable petroleum is no longer around to give us plentiful energy and warmth.

      Dr. Penny Rowe, an atmospheric scientist in Tacoma, also started a small group to advocate local food growing and peak oil preparation. Prof. Mark Jensen, of PLU, also has a group studying this. Washington State University is hosting a two-day conference on Global Oil Decline Oct. 4th and 5th in Spokane, at which Matt Simmons will be a principal speaker.

      I have written an essay, Planning for 2010, as a way of trying to get the message out to people, summarizing Heinberg's suggestions.

      Dr. Lois Gustanksi is in Gig Harbor near Tacoma, writing and being a consultant on the idea of community. Others, too, are beginning to see the future as Kunstler's End of Surburbia sees it.

      I lived on Mass. Ave. in 1950, and became quite familiar with M.I.T. then, as part of the World Federalist’s chapter on campus.

      I’d appreciate any reply or suggestions you might make. Looks to me like we are going to be pushed into “community sharing” like it or not! Thank you. I want to become more acquainted with what you are doing.

7a. Subject: Re: New post - On ideology and truth: Evo Morales' speech
From: Harry M. Cleaver <>
Date: Wed, 11 Jan 2006 07:19:04 -0600 (CST)
To: George Salzman <>

Thanks for sending this. It was interesting and the first part an example of both the difficulties and a remedy available to our, as opposed to the corporate, media. The only thing I missed was a discussion of the Morales talk itself.

7b. Date: Thu, 19 Jan 2006 21:34:56 -0600
      Thanks Harry for your note. It’s encouraging that my efforts aren’t entirely lost. You might be a bit surprised, as I was, that not a single person on the Science for the People discussion listserv responded. And really, it started out addressed primarily to that group with at least half of the article detailing confusion within that group.
      The reason I didn’t discuss Morales’ 2003 talk was that my focus was elsewhere. I remarked that I agreed with that talk where I said, “It’s a fine, ringing statement by Evo, the brand new – as of December 18 – Bolivian President-Elect, with, from my perspective, the right (that is, left) ideology. Click here to read it.” But I left it at that. As it is, I think my essays tend to be too long.
All the best,
8a. Subject: Which? “The People”
From: Lucy Charlie <>
Date: Sat, 14 Jan 2006 18:53:27 -0800 (PST)
To: George Salzman <>

Hi George

Good to hear from you (as always).

I get a kick out of politicians invoking “The People” on behalf of whatever plan they have.

Even GWB does that. I think the problem lies in the fact that we/they are afraid to say which people. That makes sense doesn’t it. I mean, what is good for the working (the people) isn’t good for the financial elite (the people). Si? And from a politician’s perspective it is better to let people from every group wonder “Does he mean me?” Rather than to say I believe in the will of the “Working Class” people. Now that would be taking a position wouldn’t it.

But then where would that leave the academic lefties? Even though they do belong to the working class I think many of them get un-comfortable at that suggestion.

And how about the rich lefties of which there are a few. I guess they’d be left out.

So figuring out a way to say which “the people” are being spoken about is a little difficult. And that’s the truth.

I have never considered the fact that a commitment to an ideology would be an impediment to truth. But it sure rings true to me. It could be because I haven’t been much committed to an ideology for sometime. But when I think back on it, I’d say yep it does.

Although I did have a funny thing happen a while back at the Denver Airport. I was stuck there for a couple of hours due to a magnificent hail storm. While I was sitting in an uncomfortable chair making the most of it and reading a book, a pretty woman of 40ish sat down across the aisle. She struck up a conversation with me & we were talking about the storm, the delay and so on when she mentioned that she lived in Boulder and was going out to spend some time on the California coast with her long distance boy friend. She said “Boy I need a breather from these assholes I live with. People in that town are so narrowminded it makes me crazy.” I started to nod in agreement, we were in Colorado after all. A place I associate with small minded rednecks. But then I remembered she said she lived in Boulder, a town considered to be liberal by most people I know. So I said, “But I thought Boulder was a liberal town” She said, “Yeah that’s who I’m talking about. Those narrow minded liberals.”

Now I gotta tell you, I was taken aback. I had never thought of liberals as narrow minded. If I was god and I wanted to send Charlie Tripp a message, I’d do it via a pretty woman.

Anyway it started me paying attention to my narrow minded liberalness. I still don’t buy much thinking that is of a conservative vein, but I have to say that they can’t be all wrong.

Another way to think about it for me, is this: I love going to Oaxaca, I love many of the traditions and the public display of those traditions. It is one of the things we in the so-called modern societies are missing. I'd have to say that those folks holding on to tradition in Oaxaca are conservative. Just like many of the people trying to hold onto tradition in the U.S. So, why do I think it is great in Oaxaca and not in the U.S? It could be my liberal “Ain’t this quaint” attitude. Or maybe the folks in the U.S. that are trying to prevent same sex marriage are very closely related to the folks in Oaxaca that are trying to hold on to their traditions. Something for me to think about.

I love you George and I miss walking with you. Tell Nancy that Lucy and I said Hola.

Hasta luego

7b. Date: Mon, 23 Jan 2006 12:39:40 -0600

Hey Charlie you old Berkeley redneck,

      Good to hear from you. ... I hope you and Lucy make it down here before too long.

      One of the absurdities that persists in all so-called representative democracies is the attention paid to the words politicians spout. Naturally the corporate media promote such nonsense because they want us to believe in the legitimacy of the electoral process. Manipulating the process in every conceivable way so as to get “elected” is what all the politicians devote themselves to. Outright stealing of “elections” is “old hat”. Of course you know all this, which makes me wonder why you even think about what a politician means by “The People” and which categories of the population – financial elite, working class, academic lefties, rich lefties, etc. – are supposedly included or omitted. Your conclusion, ‘So figuring out a way to say which “the people” are being spoken about is a little difficult’, is wrong. There’s nothing to figure out.

      I think everyone has some ideological stance, i.e. no one is simply a neutral observer capable of objectively weighing “the evidence” and coming to supposedly unbiased views. The question for me is how strong is one’s commitment to that ideology. Also, I see a person’s ideology as including the individual’s entire value system and outlook on the world. I think there’s a good word for it in German, weltanschauung (world outlook, or philosophy of life). If a person is too doctrinaire, i.e. too extreme in his/her commitment to a particular ideology, that is likely to be an impediment to knowing the truth about some things. Incidentally, I use the term “the truth”, because I believe that the real world exists, is unique and that there are not different, contradictory truths. What there are are different, and conflicting understandings of the truth. I don’t accept the view one sometimes hears, “You have your truth and I have my truth” which suggests that both are equally valid, even if they contradict one another. Not so in my book.

      What makes sense to me is to accept as fact that everyone is ideological and that what is important, aside from the nature of the ideology, is the degree of openness or, at the other extreme, dogmatism. I think it’s not good to be too doctrinaire. One of the people who wrote me in response to a posting on the War Tax Resistance discussion list, Candyce Hawk <>, had, as part of her signature, a great quote from Bertrand Russell, “It's a good thing to have an open mind . . . just not so open your brains fall out.” I’d like to think that description characterizes me.

      I just reread your thoughts about your Denver airport encounter, and realize you said nothing about the beliefs of the “pretty woman of 40ish” who needed a breather from “[t]hose narrow minded liberals” of Boulder. If she was just a hard-ass ignorant redneck* then her remark might be nothing but a slur, not much to labor over. In my experience I haven’t found liberals to be narrowminded, as that term is usually meant. Rather, it seems to me, what characterizes many of the liberals I know (among them some of my very good friends) is that they are more prone than I to accept as valid the cliché “There are two sides to every issue”, which suggests justification for contradictory views. I see them as too open-minded, not narrow minded. I think if there is a stark contradiction between the ‘two sides’ of an issue, an appropriate response to the cliché is “Yes, a right side and a wrong side.” I sure as hell don’t think of you as a narrow minded liberal, but as an ex-redneck-know-nothing who cheered with your construction crew buddies when the Ohio National Guard massacred students at Kent State University, but whose thinking has changed enormously due to your openness to new ideas.

      Regarding so-called conservative ideas, I think there are two things going on here. The easier one to deal with comes from the widespread use, promoted by the corporate media, of the term “conservative” to include not only what were traditionally thought of as conservative ideas (for example, a preference for maintaining the gold standard instead of adopting fiat currency, which the U.S. did in 1933), but also brutally harsh attitudes towards all poor and oppressed people, who supposedly ‘should be left to fend for themsleves’. Such attitudes are truly reactionary, not conservative, and the misuse of the label ‘conservative attitudes’ for them is simply intended to give them a cloak of respectability and make them seem acceptable, reasonable. To speak of right-wing Christian fundamenatalists cheering for war as being ‘conservative’ is a total misnomer.

      The term ‘conservative’ in its proper meaning raises a much more difficult issue. I believe that in most situations, unless they are horrendous and oppressive, people are more comfortable with the idea of living according to the customs they grew up with, preferring what is familiar to risking new and unfamiliar ways of living. This is the natural attraction that traditional cultures hold for the people in their societies. Individuals who are able to travel and seek adventures often do so, but almost always with the expectation of returning to their familiar homes and circumstances, that is, they are not so much abandoning what they know as taking a vacation and/or looking for excitement.

      The natural adherence to familiar customs is of course the cement that keeps traditions in place. It is honest conservatism. The problem that ought to be faced is that traditions may be “good” or “bad”, which is a matter of judgement on which different people may disagree. Who is to determine if a traditional practice is beneficial, neutral or harmful, and how, if at all should efforts be made to change it? Some traditions are “good” for some people and “bad” for others; slavery is an obvious example.

      Moreover, the larger constraints that often operate deserve to be considered. Take your very favorable view of the public display of Oaxacan traditions, many of which feature stylized dances. As you know, these don’t occur as a result of the desire of the indigenous inhabitants to perform here in the capital city. Traditionally, the dances take place in their small communal towns during festivals. Their “public display” in Oaxaca City is part of the government’s effort to attract rich tourists to the City, because the State is desperately impoverished and tourism provides a large part of its income. So well to do Americans, Canadians, Europeans, Mexicans and others come to see these commercialized “quaint” traditions, using their credit cards freely at hotels, restaurants, and for tours and transportation and that most important activity, shopping for artisans’ craftwork. And the local economy benefits, at least at the “upper echelons”. The young men and women who dance in these displays for tourists do so because they are paid for their performance, not as a way of adhering to their traditions. Unless struggling to get some money is considered a tradition. There ain’t nothing quaint about economic pressures.

      It’s interesting that you mention folks in the U.S. who are trying to prevent same sex marriages. Here again, there’s a larger constraint operating; it’s not purely about maintaining traditions. Why should anyone want to be bound by religion or law to a hoped-for life partner? We all know that it has to do with security – what will happen if the couple is an unhappy one, if the two people come to detest one another? Should they be forced to continue, suffering together? And if not, under what conditions will society allow them to separate? In the name of protecting the well-being of each party, the state assumes the power to dictate the terms of divorce. Even two people who would prefer to live in a so-called common-law marriage are often pressured to “legalize” and “sanctify” their relationship. This is the case for gay couples, who are frequently denied benefits that other couples have, for example family hospital visitation rights and lower income tax rates. Without such pressures gay couples would have had no reason to seek “official recognition” or “religious sanctification”; they would not have struggled for “equal rights” through marriage and there would have been no contest over this issue between them and their religious opponents.

      Well, that’s a lengthy response, but you raised a difficult question. Take care, and my best to you and Lucy. George

* I’m using that phrase, “hard-ass ignorant redneck” without contempt, but to characterize people with strong, uninformed reactionary opinions, and with mostly rough, outdoor jobs, like your construction crew who celebrated when Nixon had the anti-Vietnam-War protesting students shot down in cold blood, saying they deserved it, the fucking bunch of commies. It’s not that the construction workers were stupid, but badly misinformed, deliberately, as is most of the population whenever the government and corporate press are beating the war drums.

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Last update of this page: January 23, 2006