Postmodern Imperialism: Geopoli-
tics and the Great Games

comments by George Salzman  <doctorsci@gmail.com>
related to Eric Walberg’s new book on Postmodern Imperialism
initial posting 01 Sept 2011 - last update 10 Nov 2011

URL: http://site.www.umb.edu/faculty/salzman_g/t/2011-09-01.htm

      Eric Walberg has crafted, with great skill, a love of language, and an undisguised passion for good lives for all peoples, a history of the struggles involving the variety of cultures that inhabited the ancient silk route from China to the doorstep of central Europe. His passion comes from his inherent human decency and his true, deep love of life. Apart from his emotional drive, Eric is also a political animal, one who believes that Marxist analysis is close to the entire political truth. This sets him squarely at odds with my convictions about the social/political structure towards which I think human society must strive to be fully humane. Large-scale social organization is seen to be a core necessity by Marxists, the rules for which are to be decided upon by so-called democratic consensus.

      From what I know I believe that the idea of “democratic consensus” is illusory as a concept that supposedly can be operational for groups that include a substantial number of individuals who do not really know one another on a personal level. Quite to the contrary, so far as I know, groups of people larger than within the range of say 30 to 150 or so seem always to rely on forms of coercion. On some issues of course true consensus is easily arrived at and relatively immediate: for example, should the community have a freely available supply of potable water? Even there, it isn’t inconceivable that someone in charge of a local Coca-Cola bottling facility would be opposed to “everyone” getting “free safe drinking water” because his/her income depends on selling Coca-Cola, and his/her family has access to all the potable water they want. On issues where there is no true consensus the norm is to decide by a majority vote of all “eligible voters”. Deciding who is in that group can itself be a contentious issue.

      If we were living in a truly communal society, as do the mainly rural campesinos in the mountains of Oaxaca State, then, in an overall social structure in which mutual aid — not competition — is the prevalent norm, consensus would be natural. That is the true anarchists’ dream. Even here in this most advanced social formation that is a leading characteristic of Oaxaca State, people of course want what they see as the comforts and conveniences that the dominant society lures them with. Especially the young people, who are as “turned on” as young people everywhere to the “marvels” that advertisers flaunt before their eyes, they want to be “with it”. The struggle for the hearts and minds of the youth is on in full force, and Marxist orthodoxy with its leaden prose, in accord with its lack of imagination, is dragging its ass in the race.

      The contradiction between Eric Walberg’s profound love of life and his current belief in the Marxists’ dreams is, in my opinion, a conflict he has simply not yet dug into with the attention it requires. There’s no need to either denigrate Marx (and Engels) or to sanctify the achievements of Marxist theory. Academics and other supposed “Big Thinkers” line up in both camps, each group loaded with adherents passionate in their belief that they know “T*H*E*  T*R*U*T*H*”. Hegel-Schmegel, they don’t have a clue. The simple fact, which the younger anarchists are coming to recognize in ever-increasing numbers, is that life is damn complicated. It’s not like a vintage wine that can be lovingly bottled and stored in a “cave” for a century or more to age. I should, in honesty, mention a contradiction in my own behavior. An indulgence I enjoy is having a bottle of 100-year old Tequila and treating myself a couple of nights a week to a good shot. I rationalize that I can’t fix the world all by myself. Gotta have a little fun — like Eric.

      Where Eric distinguishes himself is in the amount of historical information he has absorbed and made an active part of his thinking, and of his emotional outreach. Clearly no one person can encompass everything, even someone as gifted and socially privileged as Bertrand Russell, whose A History of Western Philosophy reflects unabashedly the limits imposed on his conceptualizations of what the world could be by the imperial British lens through which he guaged reality. What Eric understands, and I doubt Rusell ever fully grasped, is the terrible destructiveness of the British empire. But Eric, instead of being brainwashed by British tradition, swapped the whole kit and caboodle of supposed “Western (meaning British)” superiority for a very different pot of mystical nonsense, that of an eastern Islamic sect. Here Eric and I part ways. In my book, true civilization must rest fundamentally on loving respect for every tiny child, who will develop into a mature human being imbued with real virtue — that of a true love of life. No infant is too tiny to treat as a full, though not yet mature, human being.

      The marvel, for me, of Oaxaca State is the evidence it offers that if normal human infants are treated — not as “children” but as fully responsible people from earliest infancy, they will conceptualize themselves as being just that and will act and develop accordingly. This remarkable difference shows that “childhood”, which in our so-called “developed” countries is normally assumed to be an invariable stage in human development — is in fact imposed on youngsters; it is by no means inevitable and automatic. In the 12 years that Nancy and I have lived in Oaxaca City, and visited in remote mountainous regions of the state, I have seen literally hundreds of instances of small — really small —, even tiny children caring for their younger, even tinier siblings or cousins, and invariably with responsibility and lovingly. The culture is one of touching — hugging and kissing, nuzzling the infants is the norm, and the littlest ones of course enjoy all the attention and affection showered on them. We Americans and Canadians would scoff at such “indulgent” behavior, but I’ve watched it for over a decade, and it works. Love is very powerful.

      In Cambridge, Massachusetts, where I lived (in the house now devoted to anarchist activism) for 36 years until the day we flew to Oaxaca, the culture pressured people to pretend they hated to be touched, as though flesh is filthy and should be avoided to the greatest extent possible. In thinking about the enormous cultural gulf separating these two highly developed worlds, I thought about my own childhood in the greater New York City area, a mileau of poor, struggling, hopeful immigrants — the majority aspiring to join the ranks of the economically more privileged. My own father, who had been conscripted at age 18 into the Tsar’s army in the Crimea, was as naive then as I was at age 18 when I was drafted into the U.S. Army during World War II. Class consciousness — forget it. My father spent many of his weekend hours endlessly polishing — Simonizing — his old but regal Pierce Arrow, a possession of which he was enormously proud. The main function of this ancient gas-guzzling vehicle was to transport our family of four from Far Rockaway, on Long Island, to my mother’s parents’ apartment on Parkside Avenue in Flatbush, Brooklyn.

      Material possessions — as plentiful as possible — was our goal, along with some hundreds of millions of other culturally impoversihed Americans. America, we were all propagandized to believe , was an endless shopping tour of Disney-like magic, an insatiable gorge-fest. One of the people who didn’t buy into such nonsense was, and is, Eric Walberg. Amusingly, I initially had the impression that Eric, like me, was of Jewish ethnicity. I thought we were “Landsmännin” (kinsmen). When he became aware of my mistake he let me know that we were “only” kindred spirits, but of differing ethnic roots. Among our common goals, it’s safe to say, was to achieve a world of happy children. [3]

NOTES
[1] Calderon’s “Drug War” casualties. http://latindispatch.com/2011/06/03/mexico-debates-drug-war-death-toll-figure-amid-government-silence/

[2] Marketing terror and the supposed need for government protection against “terrorists”. Jillian C. York <jilliancyork@gmail.com> is “the Director of
International Freedom of Expression at the Electronic Frontier Foundation. She writes regularly about free expression, politics, and the Internet, with particular focus on the Arab world.

[3] Making a world of happy children. If we accept as basic the need to transform the world into one of happy children, we’re starting from a very solid base. This, I’m sure, is the most profound — albeit the simplest — fact about social organization that Oaxaca has taught me. There’s no way to learn this from a distance. One must be immersed on a daily basis in the local cultural environment of Oaxaca to learn this truth.

Making a Palestine of happy children

      The destruction of Palestine should be stopped and the land returned to its indigenous peoples. I presented a fairly brief sketch for doing this without any further bloodshed, torture, theft or suffering of any of the peoples involved, including the would-be Jewish Zionist conquerors. It’s so easy to scoff at the notion of seeking a non-violent, humane resolution, and to declare without further thought, That would be contrary to human nature. So easy and so fatal. One of the things I have learned from the indigenous peoples of Oaxaca is the existence of a “better way” to settle conflicts than British officialdom ever dreamed of. The fact is that human nature is not inevitably cruel and merciless. Children who grow up from infancy in an environment of love and respect, as so many of the indigenous Oaxacan children experience, grow naturally into beautiful, loving adults.


George Salzman is a former American Jew living in Oaxaca, Mexico, an ex-physics prof, Univ of Massachusetts-Boston.
All comments and criticisms are welcome.  <doctorsci@gmail.com>

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Initial posting of this page: 28 July 2011.
Last update: 10 November 2011