Real life in beautiful and ugly Guadalajara.

Several weeks ago I paid a visit to a blog I really enjoy called The Bierce Account.  The writer, who calls himself Felipe Zapata, is a gringo turned Mexican and a master of ‘short and to the point’, a talent that amateurs like myself should try to develop and who knows why the hell we don’t.  But what really attracts me and surely many others is his direct, ‘don’t care if it makes you so angry you spit up on yourself’ free expression of opinion.  And anger some it’s bound to do, for it takes contemporary conventional wisdom straight to the chopping block.  If his intention was to simply spread negativity with venomous shorthand, as many likely see it, I would not be stinking up my own pristine site with a link to his.    Some believe he’s a pretentious dolt.  Pretentious, perhaps.. but the guy is genuine and seems to like a good philosophical scuffle.  And that makes him A-OK with me.

I really wanted to leave him a comment for his Feb. 5 post, for he discusses a pair of topics I’ve long been fascinated by:  racial & ethnic diversity and multiculturalism  (here’s a couple of others - 7/31/2010 and 10/19/2010).  His take on the matter is that governments that impose diversity are not facing reality  -  that our nature as humans is to desire what’s familiar to us.   Leaders in Germany and Britain seem to be finally waking up to this reality…  Sound racist?  Bigoted?  To some, it may sound that way, but I believe he’s right on the money.  Some will say he advocates a twisted fantasy of complete separation of cultures.  I don’t read it that way at all.  He’s simply pointing out the sad reality we live in.  It’s a reality we’ve brought down upon ourselves due to the way we’re naturally prone to perceive difference.

Though I enjoy living in Mexico the same as I like many of my fellow gringos, to overload Mexico with us neighborly folks from the north would lead to unfortunate consequences.. the success of Walmart, KFC, and The Simpsons notwithstanding.  It would take no more than one of you to counter with “Hell, we couldn’t possibly make it any worse than it already is!!” to magnify my point.  Mexico is certainly fouled up on many levels.  But don’t ever fancy the idea that you, as a gringo, or many gringos, will be able to make it better.  A gringo or any foreigner in Mexico that genuinely wants to improve Mexico had better become a Mexican first.. in his heart far more importantly than on documents.

So I was at a loss for a comment, for I felt I hadn’t much to add.  And then I spotted a couple of comments by Gary Denness.  Gary’s an Englishman who spent six years here and has just gone home.  He seems like a good bloke.   I could sit down and enjoy a couple of beers with him, I think.  Definitely at odds with The Bierce Account.  Though his desires for the world, concerning race and ethnic relations, are far more similar to those of Sr. Felipe Zapata than I believe he can imagine.  Their disagreement concerns what humanity must do for itself. And the disagreement is due to two differing methods of prioritizing our perceptions of cultural difference.

The following represents a couple of sticky pennies I dug out from underneath the cushions of the couch to toss into the matter.. a bit long.. as always, for a succinct comment under someone’s blog post.  But should you happen to make it over here, Gary, this is a rebuttal to your comments at The Bierce Account.  I’m with Don Felipe.  It’s likely to open a can of worms… I don’t mind, as long as they’re big juicy ones….

 

Racial and Ethnic Diversity

There’s an adult version and a children’s version. 

Almost everyone, including most adults, adheres to the latter. 

You can usually tell the adult version for its scant use of the actual word itself.  It represents little more than a vague side note to an individual’s observation, for it calls no attention to itself.  The adult version of diversity occurs on its own.  It needs not be defined for its own sake.  It needs not be constantly spoken nor strong-armed into existence.  It’s neither a means nor an end.  It just is.  The world in its basic form, free from our lower IQ methods of association that attempt to describe it, is a perfect example of diversity as an adult should see it.  But when it comes to diversity among people, most of us adults continue to understand diversity as a child does.

The children’s version focuses on all of diversity’s unimportant aspects, and then tries to force them into importance.  Think of it this way:  whereas an adult will buy a pack of M&Ms for their peanutty and chocolaty goodness, children will always divvy them up by the yellow ones, blue ones, reds, etc.  Among my childhood friends, the brown ones were never that popular.. nothing especially exciting about brown chocolate.  As adults, we’ve forgotten why the various colors were so important to us.  But not the producers of M&Ms.  They understand clearly that the child defines and responds to diversity (in this case the various colors) for diversity’s sake and nothing more. 

Also clearly understanding this are the typical intellectuals, political drones and media figures who somehow feel it’s their calling to manage public opinion. Their use of child stimuli, however, is a bit more nefarious.   First, they know that the children’s version of diversity is not limited to children.  Far from it.  It enchants minds of all ages, in fact.   They also know, as history and experience so vividly show, that using this children’s version to sway or polarize public opinion is as easy as convincing a class of third graders that people with brown eyes are superior to those with blue or green eyes, or vice versa (it’s pretty damn easy to do..).  That the child or adult would ever believe that such an insignificant detail could possibly matter is the fundamental flaw of the children’s version of diversity.   

Many of those who understand diversity the children’s way feel hard-pressed to address some of the foulest blunders of our human nature. Racism and ethnocentrism are but a couple.  They ponder the causes of socioeconomic divides and tension along racial and ethnic statistical lines all over the globe.  And they’re not off the mark when they point to the senseless fear, hatred and intolerance of anything that’s ‘different’ from one’s own familiarity as culprits.    But they get sidetracked with the idea that the solution lies in the proactive reversal of the fear, hatred and intolerance of the ‘other’.  Not that such causes are less than noble, but they fail to identify and attack the root of the problem.  There’s something about going from total exclusion of the black guy to mandatory inclusion of the black guy.. for diversity’s sake, that simply doesn’t wash.

The root of the problem, that so few seem able to identify, is found precisely in the belief that race matters; in the belief that ‘ethnicity’ is synonymous with ‘significant difference’.

It gets even more twisted when they confuse a) those who see diversity the adult way, with b) the racists, bigots and other idiots who can’t even spell ‘supremacy’, much less exude it.  This happens because neither a) nor b) accept the supposed standard solution that has been ushered in by the gallant knights of the children’s version.  That (b) would oppose such measures is obvious. But for so many not to be able to distinguish (a) from (b) in terms of ‘why’ is just.. pathetic.    

Those of us that comprehend diversity the adult way also blame the same senseless fear and intolerance for the virtually unstoppable human farce of ethnic and racial conflict.   We also wish it would stop.. that everyone could just ‘get along’.  We’re at odds with those who see it the children’s way, not because we’re intolerant or simply too stupid to acknowledge and respect difference, but because we focus more on the profound differences among humans than the superficial differences among races and ethnicities.  We understand one clear detail, the irony of which is too heavy for those of the children’s version to accept  -  Search every soul at fault for the senseless fear and intolerance toward the ‘other’… and you’ll find that every one of them also adheres to a child’s perspective of diversity… that troubled mentality that never stops mining for importance where there is none.

And so we have the reality of the world we live in today. In terms of race and ethnicity, it’s molded and dominated by a children’s version of diversity.  Aspects of our humanity that truly don’t matter have to somehow matter anyway because we continue to falsely believe that they matter. 

Until such nonsense ceases, don’t hold your breath for any realization of solutions.

Couldn’t have said it better myself.

It’s a curious thing that a gringo, with a good number of his non-retired and pensionable working years ahead of him, would decide to make a life in Mexico.. and not be a fugitive… and not choose to live near a lakeside or beach, or even in a quaint, rustic village.. but rather to roll around in the noise, smoke, filth and grit of a city whose only sparkling miracle is that it doesn’t lose half its population each day to mutilating traffic fatalities…  Maybe there’s some sort of mental defect that drives one down this path that at times hardly seems to be a path at all.   But when inquired on the subject, I often say that I’m here for my little piece of the Mexican dream.  

And what the hell is that supposed to mean?  Am I joking?  Perhaps.  Go shallow or deep, and it’ll make little sense to create an illusion of a Mexican dream in the image of the world renowned, despised or beloved American dream.    

But it’s no joke.  This writer firmly believes in the Mexican dream, though a dreamer or a taker he is not.  You could no doubt spend a lifetime burrowing your way through endless mazes of literature explaining the country’s historical, political and cultural tendencies to failure.   I certainly won’t tell you it’s all false.  But there comes a point when you’ve absorbed so many differences between Mexicans and Americans that the similarities begin to become more obvious.  The Mexican dream really is no different than the American one, regardless of how little sense it makes.  Many people are living it.  Most of us are not.  Among the latter, most are cynical toward even the mention of it.  They hold most of their shares in emotionally secure stock, such as ‘the growing gap between the rich and poor’, ‘it can’t be helped’ and ‘what can we possibly do?’ arguments.  And as it is with all safe bets, they’re seeing very little return on their investments. 

Now you might be wondering if I’m referring above to Mexicans or Americans.  If so, you’re much closer to getting my point than you might think.

You also might be thinking that this ‘dream’ crap gets carried a bit far.  After all, surely by now in the 21st century we’ve philosophically matured enough to get beyond using such childish terminology like “the American dream”.   Need we drag it into the Mexican frame of mind?  Hasn’t the invasion of Walmart and McDonald’s and Santa Claus been enough?

You’d be missing the point.   

 

The idea of the American dream has been warped into an image of something it’s not.  It’s no wonder therefore that it suffers the ridicule and abuse that it currently does.  It used to mean simply the opportunity to fully live life through the pursuit and achievement of goals, however one might define them – the surest route to prosperity.  But back then the term ‘opportunity’ used to be far more closely tied to initiative.  Today, it smells more like incentive.  So be careful using the word ‘opportunity’ in a conversation, because people will get confused.  ‘Initiative’ maintains that the American dream is a serious concept.  ‘Incentive’ drags the whole idea off into a happy cloud of laughing gas that we deceivingly like to call hope. 

And what’s wrong with hope?  Nothing.  Hope is by far preferable to despair.  But if you want to crush Americans, convince them that the American dream is synonymous with ole hopity dopity, so that when a political system that promises and promises to absorb the brunt of the people’s personal challenges, but alas, leaves them to slowly drown in a rotting bureaucratic mire, they´ll be left with no hope, and absolutely no faith in any American dream.   Don’t agree?  Try studying the last 100 years of Mexican History.  

This happens to people all the time.  Our logic gets twisted into bizarre pretzel shapes.  The church claims to be the embodiment of God and eternal salvation, and people buy it.  Then people find out how corrupt the church is, and thus spend their final years denying “God” and the evident pipe dream of eternal salvation… go figure.

But the American dream as it should be perceived is not based on hope for better futures and faith in bigger people.    

A very simple principle underlies prosperity wherever we might find it.  The evolution of human thought and wellbeing advances itself through the power of the imagination.  Converting that imagination into reality for the benefit of humans requires initiative.  There must be both in the same place and at the same time – and a hell of a lot of it.  Imagination discovers opportunity and initiative seizes it.  There’s no merit in making it out to be any more complicated.   Furthermore, there’s certainly no reason to believe that the principle is uniquely American.  The more imagination and initiative any society foments, the more prosperity you will find built upon it.

You find a lot of both here in Mexico throughout the population.  But like almost everywhere around the globe, much of it is abused and corrupted, mashed and recycled.  You can say it’s because of corrupt governments and poor education, and you’ll be correct.  But you might as well state that deadly floods occur because of weather.  Dig down a bit further and you’ll find that most of this abuse, corruption and mashing is self-inflicted.  A worthy education would slap us around enough to wake us up to the fact.  

But surely we don’t do this to ourselves, do we?  Yep… we do.  We lock up our imagination in some dark hole, with no room to move and no air to breathe, and doubly secure it on the outside with some trigger-happy guardian of conventional wisdom.  In fact we feel quite comfortable with the arrangement at any one moment or another.  It’s one of the downsides of our human nature… but how bloody unfortunate it is for any culture or society that nurtures it. 

Try just some of these simple, half-baked, refried and then re-half-baked issues below:

Would you ever sit in a Sunday school room full of devout believers and humbly point out what to you are clear fallacies of contemporary religious thought?  …and actually manage to engage in stimulating discussion?

Would you ever dare participate in a face to face global climate forum and list your concerns regarding the political and economic farce that’s poised to blow up in our faces in the name of saving our planet from manmade global warming?   …and get away with it without being labeled a stupid denier of the fact that changes in global weather patterns do indeed occur?

Would you ever stand in a room full of latinos, look them in the eye and tell them matter-of-factly that being latino means absolutely nothing, and that there’s no such pitiful thing as a latino vote? …and be considered a friend in the end rather than a racist?  (do it in Spanish, just for good measure.. and by all means, know exactly what you’re talking about!)

Would you ever stand up in a college lecture hall and correct a professor who’s painting the American dream as some fairy tale created to lure the lesser enlightened into the belly acids of some capitalist monster (talk about fairy tales..)?  …and actually come out of the ensuing fiasco on top? 

Would you ever, on your way into Mexico without a dime in your pocket, tell a Mexican who’s headed the other way in search of the American dream  – “Well good luck, amigo.  You’ll find that many of my gringo peers are not so optimistic.  On the other hand, I’m going to try making a life in your country because I believe in the Mexican dream”?

It’s okay if you answered ‘no’ to any or all of the above.  If anything, it shows that you’re a rational human being.  It also shows a lack of imagination and zero initiative in the face of conventional wisdom.

You can make up a zillion other questions like these. They don’t have to be cheap religious and political philosophy questions like the near clichés listed above.  They also don’t have to be dragged out for discussion on a first date either.  First dates are for kissing and getting naked, and should stay simple like that…

Living in Mexico is no cakewalk to prosperity.  It’s tough.  (the writer here cannot honestly tell you he’s made it…  imagination deficiency syndrome is slowly eating away his insides) In fact, many people here don’t believe it’s possible to get ahead without a lot of cheating and trampling, and there’s plenty of evidence in the white space between the lines of nearly every written law to back them up.   It’s therefore easy to identify with their reserved sense of indignation toward some gringo that comes along mouthing absurdities like the Mexican dream.   And yet there are millions of Mexicans that come from very humble backgrounds who discover and seize opportunities, and understand that it’s not the job of the government or teacher’s union to create them.  They’ve had to work their asses off, but they haven’t had to cheat, trample or shoot anyone.  If you’re inclined to suggest to them that their experience is freak luck in a country without hope, get in line with the rest of the idiots that are hardly capable of seeing they’ve long since been left behind.

Read this every time someone tries to convince you there’s no hope in Mexico… have the someone read it also.

Historically, social rights have been created and advanced thanks to the actions of political movements on the part of large collectives.  The Independence movement and the Mexican Revolution represented, in certain form, justifiable struggles for liberty, equality, and well-being of all Mexicans.  From these massive social movements, primarily the Revolution, such rights were achieved as access to land, union organization, and education among others…  This march signified the movement of one of the largest academic communities in the country, demanding the right to a fair financing for the institution and, above all, the respect of another social right, today consecrated in the Constitution of the Republic:  university autonomy.

La Gaceta – 11 Oct, 2010, pg.6

Part 2:  The Melodramatic Politics Part

Political distemper always trumps philosophical delusion – in the public forum and minds of the masses, that is.  This is because politics is about capturing the imagination in order to cultivate popular support.. and philosophy captures no part of any society that turns away from the burden of thinking on its own.  It simply doesn’t arouse the emotions, much less generate any great number of votes.  Currently here in Guadalajara, we’re all witness to a conflict evidently of biblical proportion.. not that its epic tone makes it unique in any way.   The clash and all the juicy splatter that comes with it occurs in this case between the public University of Guadalajara (UdeG) and the state government, namely the governor himself, Emilio Gonzalez Marquez.  

The ordeal at hand is a question of funds.  UdeG is a federal and state funded institution of higher learning, which over the last 85 years has benefited an enormous number of Mexicans, many of whom would never have possessed the money necessary to attend any private university.   The students pay nothing, although entry is quite competitive (that’s good).. unless one of your parents works there and/or is on the faculty.. then somehow you’re able to cut to the front of the line.. hey – but just zip it, eh?  I’m not sure anyone’s supposed to know that.   Since 2007, Emilio’s first year as governor, the state budget has increased by nearly 50%.   During the same time, the state’s  ‘UdeG portion’ of the budget has increased by only around 25%.  UdeG points out that this difference in budget increases has amounted to a total net loss of 701,000,000 pesos of university funds that the state (Emilio Gonzalez, essentially) is unjustly ‘holding back’.  

Over the last couple of months, there have been over 50 marches, demonstrations.. however you wish to call them.  Students and teachers from one department or another, or from this or that public high school (also which belong to UdeG), on any given day have taken to the streets, heading to Casa Jalisco downtown where the state government offices are located.   Their demand:  Emilio – you have no right to take away our right to an education!  Give us our money!!  Education is Mexico’s only route to a better future!!! 

Really, now… who´s going to argue with that? 

But why such bellowing and fist pounding animosity toward Emilio Gonzalez?

Well, he is the state governor.. so, that’s a good place to start.  But more importantly, he’s a member of the National Action Party (PAN), which is Mexico’s most conservative political party.  Conversely, and equally as important, UdeG’s leadership and faculty have shifted greatly to the left over the last 20 years.  But Emilio’s greatest political deficit is his personality.   No one would intelligently attempt to defend the PAN by drawing your attention to Emilio.   Would you ever defend the legendary status of a group like KISS with such a priceless gem as “I was made for lovin’ you baby, you were made for lovin’ me…”? (some of you actually would.. but please, let’s not step into that twilight zone..)   While Emilio is nowhere nearly as creepy as that, he’s exposed enough character flaws in the last four years to be branded an imbecile by even most of his would-be followers.  So it’s quite easy, then, to set the stage with Emilio Gonzalez as the antihero who turns out to be the eternal fool as the tragedy unfolds, stubbornly and obtusely holding back funds that are so dire for the survival of public education.

 

Political scandal or political stunt, the fiasco as a whole seems to have achieved complete distraction from the fact that the real fools here are the supposed academics hitting the streets.  And why would I say this?  Because I’m in bed with Emilio scratching his hairy ass?  You ask any one of these students on the street precisely where the generous quantity of funds that UdeG really does receive actually go.  They haven’t a clue nor could they care any less.  For if they did, they’d be marching instead to the homes of those who run the university, demanding that they come clean and allow an independent, external audit. 

A real anal exam of an audit is something UdeG leaders will go to any length to avoid (the last UdeG chancellor actually did try to have this done, but it was too far a reach.  He was involuntarily retired from his post by others who really do run things at UdeG.  He put up a legal fight to get his post back.. and subsequently wound up dead in his home.. a suicide.. go figure).   But of course it’s not because there’s anything to hide, claro que no.  It’s simply a matter of safeguarding the university’s constitutionally granted autonomy.  Yes it’s true.  University autonomy is indeed protected by the Mexican Constitution, just as it should be.  Autonomy, however, when you consider what the word really means, is not a term you can seriously apply to students, teachers, and university leaders in the streets clamoring for more pesos because the recent increase in state funds wasn’t enough evidently to ensure that learning happens. 

Moreover,  it doesn’t take a fifth grade education to know that the money they’re demanding won’t result in one teacher pay raise more, nor even a cheap bar of soap in the UdeG latrines.   UdeG is not hurting for funds.  None of what UdeG lacks for the benefit of its students or teachers (which is a lot) is due to any shortage of state and federal money.  The political movement its leaders seek to advance, however, is hurting for power.  The students in the streets, all too clearly it seems, are oblivious.. in so much as they think that this is truly about the future of education in Jalisco.   But you want to talk about autonomy?  Ask them or the teachers what consequences they’ll face if they don’t cooperate and participate in the march.  

There’s something to be learned here about the consequence of trying to ensure the right to a costless education for everyone.  And it’s not the realization of the political ideal of equality, much less the danger we somehow like to think it represents for snooty rich people.   The consequence illustrated by these marches is derived from something deeper than politics.  It originates in our belief that a right to an education is an ideal that must be fought for, attained, and defended.. and furthermore in our unwillingness to question the institutions responsible for ‘providing’ it  -  especially, as this case so clearly shows, those institutions that don’t generate their own funds. 

Now I realize that I must sound absolutely delirious to say something like the above.  But if I’ve at least maintained your attention in doing so, allow me then to explain exactly what I mean.

Part 3:  The Cheap Philosophy Part

The importance of an education is unquestionably clear to any of us with the knowledge and experience necessary to advance ourselves over a lifetime.  The emphasis that we give to the fact, however, possesses an authority over our imaginations and sensibilities that, all too often, we submit to far too blindly and irresponsibly.

What people mean when they say that everyone should have the right to an education is that everyone should have the benefit of being recognized by society that he or she is capable.  But how do we recognize such capability?  We allow the university to be the arbiter, to determine for us who’s competent and who isn’t.  Even though any university that’s worth half a cent would reveal to any student the foolishness in such a blind faith.  But whatever.   The real point that people want to make is that no one should be denied the opportunity to bow before the exalted authority and bestower of knowledge, good (enough) grades in hand, and be officially anointed … “qualified”.    Yes, I know.. that’s laying it on a bit thick, hence, our tendency toward the far simpler outcry for “the right to an education”.   It rolls off the tongue so much more easily.  Never mind that real knowledge and experience in most fields of study are quite attainable with complete independence from the university’s blessing. 

And then from there many of us somehow make our way to the more controversial argument that education should be “free”.. yes, another virtually angelic term, equally as pardoned from scrutiny as the word “education” itself.  The ‘free’ argument, barely able to support itself upon the thin “right to an education” logic that sustains it, easily gets caught up in emotional whirlwinds and reduced to toddler blocks.

So we rework the whole idea, coming up with something like this:  “It’s imperative for the advancement of any society that it’s members be educated.. or inversely, the less people we educate, the worse off our society will become”.  And though the term ‘education’ here is still forced like a puzzle piece that doesn’t belong, this argument is much more compelling to be sure. The idea resonates especially clear here in Mexico, or any country that has a long political and cultural tradition of the big people ‘taking care’ of the little people, and the belief that society can only advance for the better of all – with ‘education’.  Of course this equalizing of the masses rarely if ever truly happens in the real world, ruled by human nature.. but is it not fascinating how an overwhelming number of us remain devoted to the idea?

Again, no one can overstate the importance of education.  What’s misguided is that we refer to it as though it’s an entitlement, and from there that everyone should have a right to it.  Philosophically, it doesn’t wash.  There’s no philosophical basis for the right to breathe, either.  Honestly now, with no system or law granting us the right to breathe… for free.. is it not curious that we’re all somehow able to get away with it anyway?  .. even victims of asthma and lung cancer?  A bit of a stretch?  Yeah, maybe..  but even those locked away in a prison cell for years, who have the fewest rights among any of us, can educate themselves if they choose to.  No one ‘needs’ a ‘right’ to an ‘education’, and I think we all know it.

“Everyone should have the right to a golden ticket” is what we’re really trying to say.  Nonetheless, we continue to force this word ‘education’ into that place.  Why we insist on the latter has everything to do with politics and virtually nothing to do with sound logic.  We like to think that a college degree is an indicator of education.  It’s not.  It indicates that we probably passed exams in a classroom.  The political side of the coin does not require us to consider what exactly the point would be in everyone being entitled to and receiving a golden ticket.  But we can be sure that it would cease to be anything golden, if it ever was in the first place.

When we talk about the importance of education, it should always remain fundamentally clear that it’s not the university’s role to ‘educate’ anyone.  That’s our job, as individual free citizens, whether we attend a university or not.  The purpose of a university or any school should be nothing other than to be shamelessly exploited by people who want to learn, rather than blindly exalted by those who worry endlessly about exams and put all their faith in the golden ticket.

While it’s perfectly possible that a state and federally funded institution be a standard setter for efficiency and positive results, it’s always far from likely.  Our nature is that we produce and improve these qualities through an instinct of self preservation in the face of competition.  UdeG is not in this position, nor is it by any means an exception to the norm among government funded institutions.  It hasn’t to worry about going broke.. ever.  There’s no motive therefore among the leadership to provide anywhere near the best service to the students.  After all, where would the students get off complaining and demanding anyway?  UdeG is providing their ‘education’… for ‘free’.   Should the students not instead be kissing the university chancellor’s feet for divinely defending their right to an education?

Oh, but how they do.  You really think it was the students who thought up the idea of filling the streets and howling at Emilio for more pesos to fund their ‘free’ and ‘autonomous’ education?  Of course we’re talking about Emilio, who’s going to argue, right?  And then what?  Do you really think that the same students will organize, demanding and pressuring to know just what will be done with this money if UdeG gets it?

As long as there’s a golden ticket at stake, don’t count on it.   

Surely their intention here was not the sad irony that no one can help but notice…

categories: political philosophy, rants, society
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Anyone who reads newspapers here or follows political trends likely knows of Sergio Sarmiento.  Sarmiento is a nationally syndicated columnist, economist, and has quite a long history in journalism.  He’s a politically philosophical writing machine, consistently putting out at least five new columns every week.   Some would consider him to be more to the right, others more to the left.. to some it’s not clear.. it all depends on which columns you’ve read… but it really doesn’t matter..  the point is that he’s an individual I’d love to sit down and have a few beers with and duke out some issues.  There are moments I’d like to give the guy a high five and a hug, and others I’d prefer to wring his neck until his face turned a gruesome shade of purple.

Of course I’m going to showcase a sample here of the latter, as will also be the case with the next post, ripping apart his views on the “tenencia”.   Why go cherry picking fights like this?  Because it’s more fun.   Would you really be interested in reading any of this if you thought I was just going to pat him on the back for the following string of paragraphs?  Now, it may turn out here that I’ve got it all wrong.   There’s always far more happening on the political playing field than meets the eye.. especially the eye of an amateur like myself…  But I honestly wouldn’t bother if I didn’t believe I had the upper hand.  Below are a few excerpts from Sergio Sarmiento, expressing his views concerning what he calls ‘the artificially low gas price’ here in Mexico (which isn’t really that low, in fact)..

“We’re spending away the last of the money from the oil bonanza.  But on what? ..you might ask.  On education?  On productive investments?  On infrastructure?  On fighting crime?  On fighting poverty?  No, not on anything that could make any sense in the long run.  We’re using the money we generate from a nonrenewable natural resource to subsidize a growing consumption of gasoline.”  (5-21-2008)

“If a country could really achieve prosperity on subsidies, Mexico would be one of the wealthiest countries in the world.  The reality, however, is exactly the opposite.  While other countries have come from behind to build more prosperous economies, we’ve perpetuated our poverty by giving out subsidies in astronomical quantities.

“We’ve never seen, however, a subsidy so burdensome and harmful as what today is being applied to fuel and energy.  Felipe Calderon himself has calculated that in 2008 alone the government will spend 200 billion pesos – almost 20 billion dollars – on this program.  According to him, the purpose is to combat inflation.  In the end all it will do is stall it a bit.

“This huge portion could be better invested in the construction of the two oil refineries the country so desperately needs, and for many other productive investments that would make us more prosperous and competitive.  But instead, the gasoline subsidy promotes the use of a contaminating fuel, and benefits mostly the least needy.”          (6-4-2008)

“The money that we’re losing, and that we can’t invest in social and economically rentable projects, we’re using to subsidize the consumption of gasoline by the wealthiest 5 percent of the population, the ones who have private vehicles.  Yes, it’s true that public and heavy transport also use fuel.  But the majority of the subsidy is being given to motorists.  Like all populist governments, Felipe Calderon’s is ransacking a company belonging to all Mexicans, including the poor, in order to give money to the wealthiest.”  (4-29-2008)

“Mexico has 138 automobiles for every 1,000 citizens (Nationmaster.com), which are possessed by the richest 10 – 12 percent of the population.”   (6-28-2010)

Hohhhhleeee crapoly, Batman.. where to start???

He does infer one very good point somewhere up there – that subsidizing poverty and failure will only generate more poverty and failure.  It’s one of the most basic characteristics of human nature.  One doesn’t need to be an economist to understand that you should never trust a mediocre worker who says the more money you pay him, the harder he’ll work.  The question here is, who’s paying who?  Who’s subsidizing who?

 “PEMEX is 100% Mexican, belongs to all Mexicans and is for the benefit of all Mexicans”

Since 1938, when the petroleum industry in Mexico was expropriated and nationalized, it’s not certain whether the above expression has ever truly been clarified for people in terms of what it really means.  I sure as hell couldn’t tell you.  One malcontent school of thought sees it in terms of “if it’s ours, why must we pay so bloody much for gasoline?”  Another point of view is “with the money PEMEX brings to the government (partially from exports, and partially through the sale of gasoline throughout Mexico), it can invest in projects that increase the prosperity of all Mexicans”  Sarmiento clearly concurs with the latter:

“What difference does it make – many people ask me – if PEMEX and the government lose money via gasoline sales?  Those who ask such questions demonstrate an absolute lack of awareness of the fact that we Mexicans are the owners of PEMEX and that the federal government is nothing other than an organization established by us in order to administer the resources that we collectively possess.  It’s as if we thought it makes no sense to demand that the administration of the condominium we live in keep it well maintained because we suppose that the administration is the only one that loses out and not us.”  (4-29-2008)

Yeah well, the problem Sergio is that the administration historically has taken our rent money to build and maintain its own condos, while investing no more than minimally necessary for ours not to completely dilapidate and collapse.  When they come around raising the rent, we have to wonder how many of us fools are going to just sit on our hands and take it.

In fact, neither of the two views above is valid, nor will they ever be at any point in the near future.  Mexico, even if the government wished to, cannot provide super cheap gasoline.  It hasn’t enough refineries to keep up with demand.  And regardless of the efficiency of those it does have, nearly half of all gasoline sold in Mexico is imported from the outside.  Sergio’s point of view holds just as little water, because as administration after administration has shown, apart from the crippling corruption within PEMEX, there’s no interest nor therefore any real initiative in the proper investment of PEMEX funds to work for the prosperity of Mexico. If there were, there would already exist a sufficient number of efficient refineries, not to mention a far greater acceleration of prosperity.

When he talks about PEMEX losing billions of pesos, he’s referring to the gas price.  For the last two or three years, starting way back when oil passed $100 and was nearing $150 per barrel, one of his biggest complaints against the Calderon administration has been its decision to maintain gas prices artificially low, supposedly to keep down inflation.. In fact, back in April of 2008, while in the U.S. the average national price was anywhere between $4 – $5 per gallon, here in Mexico we were paying about 7.15 pesos per liter.  At the time we were right at 11 pesos to the dollar, which came out to equal $2.45 (U.S.) per gallon. He predicted that if and when the barrel price should fall, which it most certainly did, there were going to be some nasty chickens coming home to roost, and that government would hardly have any money for anything.  Hence, the panic that the Calderon administration was recklessly favoring the less needy.  Of course, that’s going by a certain man’s definition of the term “less needy”.

The idea that only the wealthiest 10 – 12 percent of Mexicans possess automobiles is hopelessly absurd, and far beneath the intelligence of a man as much in the know as Sergio Sarmiento.  But evidently, that’s what he believes.  Only rich people have cars.  If it were anything close to true, he might be a bit closer to hitting the mark, but not much.  I can agree with him that the rich don’t lack cars.  But to suggest that 85 – 90% of the Mexican population doesn’t possess, much less benefit from the use of cars, comes dangerously close to pure academic ineptitude.  To go on to suggest that therefore we less fortunate would be economically in the clear from any hike in gas prices, and only enjoy the benefits of higher waves of wealth distribution, is nothing less than a cry for help  to have some common sense mercilessly beaten into you.

Nonetheless, Sergio’s and other coinciding arguments eventually won the day, sort of.  After a government price freeze that lasted nearly a year, gasoline finally took on a continually gradual increase.  The current price as of this week in July of 2010 is 8.36 pesos per liter (not bad, actually, considering that Sergio believes it should have been 14.00 from two years back).  At the current rate of roughly 13 pesos to the dollar, it’s equal to the same as two years ago – $2.45 (U.S.) per gallon, which actually is pretty close to the U.S. national average at the moment.  This however, is mere coincidence.  Gasoline in Mexico is not a market commodity.  The market does not determine the gas price here.  The government does.  And should government defend its decision to raise prices in order to keep up with the world market, what should we expect if again the barrel price suddenly drops, leading to lower gasoline prices throughout the market?  Bueno, call me cynical, but I think it would be foolish to expect Mexico to follow suit.

Add to that the fact that $2.45 is but 5% of the American minimum wage daily income.  The 32 pesos it takes to buy the same gallon of gas is over 60% of the Mexican minimum wage daily income.  Sarmiento may be sadly mistaken about only rich people having cars, but if the price here in Mexico continues to rise, his ridiculous assessment will become more and more accurate.  And this would be good for the poor?  This would be good for the economy?

Are we to understand then that this idea that “PEMEX belongs to all Mexicans for the benefit of all Mexicans” means essentially that it’s a government tool for the redistribution of Mexican wealth (formula = rich people guzzle gas, the proceeds which then are redistributed to bloated government salaries)?  If so, the gas price is nothing more than pure tax (that the government has not to lift even a finger to collect).  What Sergio calls a $20 billion subsidy, I would better see as a tax cut for any Mexican that benefits from gas consuming transportation… which is far, far more than the 10 – 12 percent that he believes doesn’t deserve it.  Sergio refers to it as a ransacking of a government enterprise established as a source for Mexican prosperity.  I say it allows the private sector to advance uninhibited by extremely high gas prices, therefore employing more people and thus increasing their purchase power, also less inhibited by skyrocketing gasoline prices, allowing us to see how this intent at prosperity compares to whatever triumph the government can claim.

Is it not the case that government failure has for far too long been subsidized by the contributions of the Mexican people?

Economies grow because some people sense what others want and need, and move to meet that demand.   Demand increases and is more successfully met when the ability for people to obtain what they need and want increases.  That ability to obtain increases whenever it becomes more feasible for any person to get from any point A to any point B.  To be sure, a dependable and efficient public transportation system can help.  But does Sarmiento really assume that 85 – 90% of Mexicans simply don’t need to go anywhere beyond the reach of public transportation or would never have any wish to move themselves about on their own terms?  If so, he’s truly not living in the same Mexico as I.

More, below here, of Mexico’s “cream of the crop”, according to Sergio Sarmiento…

Got it?

categories: political philosophy, rants, society
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Therapeutic for nearly all small minded intellectuals is “cutting the gringo down to size”.  Be it here in Mexico or elsewhere.. even in the U.S., the contrived disgust over how little the gringos know about their neighbors and the rest of the world is all too common an encounter.  If you’re a sensitive gringo living abroad, this can be a difficult burden to bear.. and may leave you running for cover within the safe haven of the self critical gringo.  Sadly, should you decide upon this roly-poly type of maneuver, you won’t likely see that you’ve successfully brought the image of the stupid gringo full circle.  Self criticism in any situation, other than in front of a mirror, is not only uninspiring…  it’s simply ‘not chingón’. 

One of the most common fireballs that many Mexicans, among other latinos, like to lob at the gringo is the latter’s claim to the term ‘American’.  “The arrogance!!”  “We’re all Americans!”  “Why can’t the gringos wrap their heads around the fact that their country is not the center of the universe?”  But don’t let all the huffing and puffing get to you..  If they can so convincingly pretend that they care about it, you can at least fake a spiritless yawn while responding  “No mames, cabrón, are all of your passions in life as shortsighted as that one?”

That might be enough in itself, but some will persist.  And what can you do?  If you have to, spell it out for them. Explain how silly such a concern appears to be, next to bigger and far more important concerns, like the problem with those dunces who believe the new millennium began in 2000 instead of 2001 and the emotional stress they cause for the rest of us who know the real truth.   

The following is a small sample of other little sucker punches you could land on the soft groin area of whoever’s whiny intellect you’re up against.  It´s a little quiz of 10 or 12 some odd questions loosely calculated to work out in your favor.  But by all means, feel free to tear these marvelously witty points apart or trounce them with whatever smart-ass commentary occurs to you.  When you consider the caliber of the sort of argument we’re working with here, it´s quite clear that the prize is hardly worth anyone’s most gallant effort.

How to tell whether or not you believe the term “American” really applies to you.

If you were to go to India and speak to someone who said she had family in America, would you truly respond “Oh really?  Where exactly.. in Chile?..  Guatemala?? … Peru perhaps?”

If a forklift driver in Moscow with nothing more than a high school education reads that “only in America can a dockworker with nothing more than a high school education earn 50 grand a year and if he works hard enough start and run his own business…” , do you seriously believe he’s just as likely to pack his bags for Venezuela or Mexico as he is for the U.S.?

If you were to ask a gringo why he’s chosen to live in Mexico for however long, and he replied that he’s here to pursue the Mexican dream, would you not get upset? ..assuming that he’s poking fun at Mexicans? .. so pitifully sad and despondent as such an assumption would be (it’s happened to me on more than one occasion)…  What if he said he’s here to pursue the American dream?  Would you not consider him simply deranged??

When you hear the term “American Dream”.. or “America is the land of opportunity” do you just shake your head and say – “Those silly, sheltered and naive gringos..”?

When you think of the film, “An American Werewolf in London”, do you envision a mad crazed Mexican scaling the walls of Big Ben?

When chatting with friends and acquaintances and someone says “Americans are so stupid”.. do you get angry and defensive?… or do you join right in because obviously they’re not talking about you?

When James Brown sings “Living in America”, do you suppose he could likely be referring to the Andes.. or maybe Central America?  Does it bother you that he doesn’t mention Zacatecas or Jalisco?

When someone tells you they saw another someone burning the American flag… do you become very concerned and respond “Which one… the one with the leaf? ..but they’re so peaceful..”?

If your company placed you in charge of entertaining an important business client, and for some reason she expresses a craving for American food.. are you really going to take her out for tacos?  or menudo?  or the local Argentinean joint?

Americans settle back in their easy chairs each fall to watch Monday Night Football.  Note that no one there refers to it as Monday Night American Football.  Who then uses the term “American football”?  It sure as hell isn’t the gringos.  Just for the misguided pleasure of watching it dribble out of your mouth, explain to me why you call it “American” football.

If a country or several countries openly declare war on America and all Americans, do you think that Mexico, or any country in Central or South America is therefore in the crosshairs and should gear up to meet the threat?

Mexico is a sovereign state.  So is Ecuador.. and Brazil… and son on… When you read that the population of the United States of America is roughly 300 million.. do you think to yourself  “Gosh. and 100 million of them are in Mexico alone!  Go Mexico!!”?

Of course, we all recoil at the blind arrogance of gringos who think that America is the United States.. when clearly the U.S. is but one country among many throughout America.   Do you forgive the gringos then, when they don’t realize that there are indeed 32 states in Mexico, united within a federal government?  After all, among all the American countries, there’s just one United States… or do we just have no rightful claim to that one either?

Now the point here… is obviously not to show off any superior sharpness or brilliance you may possess over the average fearless, pestering attacker of gringos you might encounter.  Rather, it’s to show just how dull and dippity dumb the issue is in the first place.   It also serves as a fine alternative to the pathetic cowering that too often happens when confronted with accusations of being one the most arrogant fools on the planet, just ‘cause you’re American.   Don’t take it too seriously.  Just show that you’ve got a pair.  Here in Mexico, we have nothing close to a perfect country, but most Mexicans I know will leap to the defense of their nationality at virtually any affront placed in their way.  I’ve learned in my time here that there’s far more respect to go around for any gringo that knows to do the same.

categories: culture, political philosophy, rants, society
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I’m often asked what I think about the sociopolitical pustule that’s been festering around this new immigration law in Arizona.  What a dreadful question.  Having still not heard nor read even one well thought-out answer after all this time is hardly inspiring.  Even less encouraging has been the distraught and panic-stricken gibberish regarding the whole bloody thing… pathetic.   So why anyone down here, or anywhere, would care to read even one more self centered, logically corrupted presumption by some unassuming gringo like myself concerning this one in particular of mankind’s many blunders is beyond me.    And yet, here I find myself.. looking for two of my shiniest pennies to flick into this ever tinkling fountain of intellectual boobery. 

… nothing more than.. feelings…..

Though we humans are blessed with the power of emotion, our feelings nonetheless are what bring out the idiot within us… and trust me, folks.. arguing immigration with anything other than feelings gets one nowhere.  Sound political philosophy finds no more reception in this debate than it would with a bunch of screamin’ kids in a room full of bouncing balls.   The issue of Arizona, and likely several other U.S. states here in the near future presents a political battleground of  emotional wills that this writer possesses a particular distaste for.   So when asked down here about my feelings concerning the current fiasco,  I try to appear as disinterested as I can.  There are so many things I could say to just disappear into the chattery mist… like – “Hang on, I gotta run to the restroom..”, or.. maybe I could ask not to be bothered because I’m thinking about the latest Chivas debacle.  But sometimes I slip up and.. say something that’s actually answerable, like “What about it?”…

“Well, don’t you think it’s unfair?

See what happens?   It’s like walkin’ straight into a frickin’ wall with a big sign on it that says “Hey dumbass, this is a frickin’ wall!”   So…..?  ..after a deep sigh and a brief, resigned contemplation of the word ‘fair’ – a word that no one I’ve ever met, including myself, knows how to expertly manage –  the best I can come up with is something not so friendly sounding:  “What’s fair got to do with it?”   The following silence as one contemplates that I’m no easy affirmative for supposedly such a unanimously accepted notion – and therefore making me most likely a nazi sympathizer –  can be anything from unnerving to exceptionally charming.   But the question is posed more out of boredom than a mean spirit. 

This ‘fair’ game, however, can be quite a dandy.   Sometimes I just say that I don’t have enough information to know how fair it is… But that one doesn’t sell itself so easily either… “What do you mean!?”, they say, “don’t you watch the news?”  So I tell them that what I mean is that I would need to see how Mexico deals with the illegal immigration of five million of China’s finest over the course of 15 or 20 years, and observe how congruent their reaction to that would be with how they generally feel about Arizona right now.  Only then might we be able to truly hash out the conditions of fair.

The question of why have an immigration policy in the first place is one completely lost on any individual that has a one dimensional egocentric view of human and civil rights.  These are the kind of individuals that seem especially receptive to employers, political parties and candidates, and politically driven media and lobbyists for whom immigration policy is also a hindrance (or in the case of Arizona, perhaps a blessing) to their own aspirations.  So many exploitable people so willing to be economically and politically exploited should never be kept from anyone who could benefit from their exploitation.  That’s just unfair for everyone.   So the question of “why”, concerning existing policy, unenforced because of the aforementioned, is buried deep, and very difficult to bring to the surface free from protest and fucktarded accusations of racism, bigotry, and redneck nativism.

So when my Mexican friends and acquaintances down here ask me why the people of Arizona, or wherever else in the U.S. are so intolerant and racist, I don’t bother with gringos that they don’t understand, given their lack of knowledge about life in the U.S.  I stick with the more familiar:  Mexicans, and Mexico.  For example, if I’m lectured to contemplate the economic contributions that illegal immigrants make to the U.S., it’s perfectly fine.  Hell, if I wanted to engage in my own tunnel vision, I could point out that I never would have learned Spanish in Kansas without the camaraderie of many an illegal; you know.. the ones from the generic can of flavorless arguments  -  real people with real lives and real passions to make a better life.  That I would selflessly defend the integrity of any one of them (well… maybe not a couple of them) is simply not the point.   But I do demand that in return the Mexican contemplate the economic contributions that roughly five million Chinese  illegals could provide to Mexico.

Five million Chinese is less than one half of one percent of China’s population.  Over twenty times that percentage of Mexicans have emigrated to the U.S.  So surely Mexico could absorb these five million.  They would gladly do the work that Mexicans are not willing to do.  They’d clean the trash off city streets and highways for 20 pesos per 12 hour day.. a lot more than they can make back home.  They’d paint over, again and again, the clumsy and stupid looking graffiti left by niño cockroaches that would just assume piss on their own country’s flag if only they were bright enough to identify it.  Lupita used to charge 80 pesos to clean your house.. now the little Chinese girl, whatever her name is, will do it even better for just 40 pesos.  Chinese youth will actually walk through neighborhoods and offer to wash your car for just 10 pesos, and leave it sparkling.   These guys’ll do roadwork at night, fixing potholes and doing surface work and not demand special benefits for it.  Even if they wanted to they couldn’t – they don’t speak Spanish.  Beyond that , their legal status prevents them from organizing, which for employers is a godsend.   Furthermore they could all do your plumbing and babysitting, because the little you  can get away with paying is, again, much more than they would ever earn in China.  Mexico would soon have to ask itself what it would ever do without these pinches chinos and chinitas.. and who cares that they’re illegal, or that neither  the local, state, nor federal government is doing anything about it.  They’re just hardworking people trying to make a better life.. and making our own easier and more pleasant in the process.

And so I ask the Mexican – “Do you really think you and your fellow Mexicans are going to see it this way?   ..or are you going to lay it out for me that it’s not simply a factor of economics?  ..that there are social, cultural, and political factors as well, most of which would rub an ordinary Mexican the wrong way…”

Would Mexico show the U.S. how it should be done, and be the antithesis to the intolerance of their northern neighbors?  Would they welcome these Chinese immigrants  –  China’s poor, destitute, and uneducated  –  and work to accommodate them in every way, regardless of their legal status?  When these Chinese, because of their enormous numbers, stick together and therefore don’t learn Spanish, and ‘discover’ personal or political strength only among those they consider to be ‘their own’ .. are the Mexicans going to make an extra effort to reach out to them?  Will this involve setting up Chinese speaking schools, giving priority to those seeking public service positions who speak both Spanish and Chinese, and capitalizing on all of the above with announcements and visual aids in both languages? 

Will Mexicans not be concerned about these Chinese, who after years of living under the oppression of a one child only law, suddenly go hog-wild in their new found freedom in Mexico and start having on average four or five kids, regardless of the obvious hardship in taking care of them?  Talk about a population explosion.   Will Mexican politicians resist using this growing demographic as nothing more than a political tool to generate votes by promising to tend to ‘their interests’?  Or will these Chinese actually demand that Mexican politicians start taking note of their growing ‘political power’?  Will the Mexican citizens be marching right at their side, arm in arm?   ..or will they be scratching their heads wondering if the next election will actually be decided by a small political ‘block’ of Chinese dolts who fall for the same political trickery that Mexicans themselves have spent the last 80 years trying to overcome?

When a Mexican man stops at a light, and to his right stops a Chinese man with a beautiful Mexican girl sitting right next him, and his stereo blasting out some Chinese circus music that sounds more like some twisted nightmare played in reverse… will he embrace and celebrate the new diversity flourishing in his community?  When the light finally turns green, and still no one can go because two Chinese women have decided to casually cross at the indicated moment, taking all the precious time they might ever need.. will the Mexican man teach us all a lesson about tolerance?  After all, in China, the pedestrian always has the right of way… or at least that’s what the Chinese here tend to insist.  When illegal Chinese gain a reputation for being let off the hook for almost any infraction because the cops don’t want to deal with the untaggable paperwork, and deporting them is a federal matter,  will Mexicans rejoice in that at least someone gets to stick it to those bastard officials?

We gringos insist, as indeed it often truly seems,  that in Mexico laws are written almost for the sole purpose of being broken.  However even when the streets are packed with parked cars and everyone might spend 40 minutes searching for a space, no one will ever park in front of a driveway or vehicle entrance to ones house or business.  It’s almost as if Mexicans hold this sacred, and it’s a good thing.  But what will happen when the Chinese, who come from a culture that shuns private property, start parking in these spaces, and worse yet, laugh about how the Mexicans are so polite for leaving them exclusive spaces… only to pretend later,  when confronted,  that they didn’t know….

And so on and so on…..

At the end of it all, I’ll ask my Mexican friends how much of this they and other ‘average Mexican citizens’  -  those who are not politicians, employers, or media people  -  will be able to take before deciding that enough is enough…  Or will they open their hearts and realize that their racism and bigotry only lead everyone to despair, and therefore embrace the Chinese like brothers and sisters, who in turn of course refuse to do the same? .. because after all.. they didn’t arrive here to become Mexicans.   It’s just as dreadful a question for the Mexican to have to ponder as it is for Americans living in Arizona or whatever other state.  Some will argue that it’s not a fair question to ask, or that it’s not the same…  but it doesn’t matter.   The answer is quite clearly all around us. 

Just for fun, ask these guys above how cool they’d be with the below.. rumbling peacefully down Lopez Mateos in Guadalajara or Reforma in Mexico City…..

categories: political philosophy, rants
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Who can find me one nation on this planet with a completely uncorrupted law enforcement system?  If you’re one of the thirty or so people worldwide that find this site during any given week.. and read it, bless your heart.. don’t go scrounging.. it’s just a rhetorical question.

From abroad, Mexico is often considered to be one of the most violent and unstable nations in terms of security for it’s citizens to live their day to day lives without fear of being attacked, extorted, or robbed… or even sideswiped by some buttbreath for brains deliberately running a red light.   All of these things do happen on a daily basis here.  I’ve had my truck broken into on a couple of occasions, and almost everyone I know has been robbed or mugged at one point or another.   But as are most cases with fear of the unknown, it’s far less dangerous on the inside than it looks from the outside (there’s a delightful post regarding this at midwesternerinmexico.com).  That doesn’t mean, however, that law enforcement here is not a tragic farce… because it’s nothing more than exactly that, at best. 

The word ‘farce’ here is not meant in a Reno 911 kind of way.  It’s meant to point out that the only clout that law enforcement here possesses is the exercise of its ability to make honest people feel like they’re the biggest dummies on the playing field.  In other words, the more unscrupulous you become, the less of a threat to you the law seems to be.  Among all of the common things that contribute to instability in any country, this is what I put (mistakenly or not) at the top of Mexico’s list of factors.  Not a grounbreaking assessment by any stretch.

I’ve been here long enough to see that Mexico is nowhere near the brink… yet.  But rather than that being due to any existence of law enforcement, it’s far more the result of the grand majority of its citizens simply wanting to make it from one day to the next and pursue their endeavors with a genuine smile on their face -and more importantly, not to mention reciprocally- respecting the desires of the others to do the same.  Why is it then, that some people just can’t manage that?

 

RIGHT...  YOU  TELL EM,  HANDS...

RIGHT... YOU TELL 'EM, HANDS...

 

Why would people steal from you?

One – they want what you have.  Two – they don’t want to deal with their conscience, and thus have ridden themselves of it, a move facilitated all the more by number Three – they calculate a very low to nonexistent risk of what they consider adverse consequences for their actions (maybe if faced with the threat of those three hands above, it would all be different).

While all three of these explain the “why”, it’s the third one that’s usually the clincher.  It’s so damn easy to take from people who’ll do anything not to get hurt, or killed, except show that they’re willing to defend themselves or at least inflict dire consequences upon the perpetrator.  It’s a simple fact that’s as old as history.

Since the beginning of mankind (I’m pretty old now, so you can trust me on this), people have been suffering because others constantly twist human nature into forms that benefit only themselves, or so they estimate.  You have a house.  I want it.  I’m stronger than you.  You therefore will give it to me.  If you don’t, I’m going to take it anyway and you’re going to suffer and perhaps die.  You don’t want to die, and I don’t care what you do want.  The house is mine now.

Change the house to a watch, a laptop, a purse, a car, someone’s land, your own body… show me once in history – once – where this hasn’t been happening to people.  Is there any one of us who has never in life at least advocated it under one circumstance or another?

Our interest in being lawful, ethical and respectful only goes as far as the consequences for not being so dictate.

Forget killing for a moment.  If in your town you discovered that a shopping mall had been abandonded by all of the store owners and administrators for well over a month, including an unlocked door to get in… would you not be at least tempted?  I sure as hell would.  It’s a question of consequences, isn’t it?  Of course there’s a moral conscience to contend with.  But at he base of our human nature lies one of many disconcerting factors – the lesser the personal consequences we face for offending others (in whatever way) in route of obtaining or achieving what we want, the peskier and more annoying our conscience becomes.  It becomes an obstacle, either to get around or to destroy.  “Who cares that it’s not mine, I want it.  I deserve to have it, and if these people are too stupid or weak to safeguard their merchandise, then they deserve to lose it…”

It’s funny how those who have the strength to look their own conscience in the eye and come to terms with it are so often seen as weak by others who don’t have the balls to do the same.  And so the latter become a problem for everyone.  Until they’re somehow forced to deal with their own conscience – like mashing a dog’s face into its own excrement after it shits all over  your brand new carpet - the honest people around them will become less and less secure.  And who do you suppose will take care of that?  Thanks for nothin’, gutless, underpaid, unprincipled law enforcement.  Well… there’s always the ancient state of nature to fall back on… and friend, let me tell you, if it gets that far, violence sure as hell better be one of your options.

I asked a man the other day what he would do if he were at a bus stop, and some guy or a couple of guys with knives threatened another person only a few meters away for their wallet, or whatever.  He said he’d do nothing, and that he hoped the victim would hand it over to the perpetrators… “A wallet is not worth dying for”, he said, “I don’t care what or how much is in it.”  After the shortest of pauses, as if I were contemplating for the first time these cheap though woefully comforting words of wisdom, I replied “Ok, whatever.. fair enough… but why is it that only you and me, and hopefully the victim, understand that a wallet is not worth dying for… and the perpetrators don’t?”  His response:  “What they understand or don’t understand is not my concern.. I’ve got a family to think about.”

Well, not much arguing with that… so why I  persisted, in retrospect I really don’t know… boredom perhaps.. I said, “Ok then… but with an attitude like that let’s hope the United States doesn’t decide on a whim one of these days to help itself to another sizable chunk of Mexican territory.”

That’s what you call ‘crossing the line’, I guess.  Well hey, the positive thing is that at least he drew a line at some point.

I’m sure the conversation would have ended on a more peaceful note had I just stuck a knife to his neck and demanded his wallet.

categories: political philosophy, society
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What is it about political ideology and religion that ignites the passion of so many who know virtually nothing about what they vigorously attack and defend?  I’m not referring to veteran political and media analysts, or those with years of theological study, or seasoned philosophers.  Nor am I referring to those who, despite having none of that, nevertheless have thought things through well enough to provide a genuine cogent argument.  What I’m talking about are the emotional and intellectual dog-paddlers, kicking and scraping their way, in a torturously panicked fashion, through the rough religious and political waters of the day, as if their life depended upon reaching a spot to safely touch bottom, with their head still above the surface.  I’m a less than average swimmer myself, I know exactly what it’s like.

Human nature transcends culture.  While Mexico’s politics, religion, and culture are quite distinct from that of the U.S., the human nature of Mexicans is the same as that of Americans.  Certainly not an outrageous claim.. afterall, humans are human… and it does a great deal of good for both Americans and Mexicans to revisit that fact in our hearts and minds from time to time.  That said, what is it about our nature that tends to allow our affinity with a belief, idea, cause, or even football team to possess us in such a way that we’ll blindly follow and devote ourselves to it,  and lash out at anything or anyone that would appear to as much as question it?   Just like with the gringos, this phenomenon overwhelmingly occurs with the political right and political left here in Mexico… and if you try to talk, debate, or reason your way through it, it’s often quite counterproductive to say the least.  

Much better is being around people who know how to explain why they’re on the left or the right.. the middle is about as interesting as watching a couple of stray dogs almost get it on in a restaurant parking lot.   But I can always enjoy a rich chat with either of the other two.  I’ve had the good fortune of meeting a few such people here.  Unfortunately they’re very hard to come by.  Most people, in any country I imagine, are as previously mentioned, following one path or the other on autopilot.  They fall in like any other in a flock.  Their arguments, if they bother to make any at all, are as predictable as a dead animal, full of spam and tag words and contrived emotion.  In fact, if leaders on either the left or right were to switch their views on any hot issue, be it abortion, global warming, or whatever, a hefty portion of their followers would switch right along with them.

But really, what’s the deal?  Are they ignorant?  Hardly.  The grand majority of these people are far from being stupid or mentally challenged; any stupid among them are not that way because of their political leanings, regardless of what rightwingers think about the left or vice versa.  It’s simply impossible that everyone can know or ponder all the same ideas and issues as the next person.  So in turn it’s very common that we express as our own any number of ideas we’ve borrowed from others.  What’s fascinating is to watch how full of themselves some people become when they’ve uploaded data into their minds that they know few others possess.  The truth is, most of us are not nearly as bright as we think we are or would like to be.  The irony is that the more we genuinely learn about the real world around us, the less brilliant we tend to feel.

I don’t meet many Mexicans that really want to talk politics, much less their personal political views.  Ironically, most find it to be quite boring, or worse distressing unless everyone else in the room agrees.  However, bring up any polemic figure, such as Andrés Manuel López Obrador, and everyone will express their opinion (often a borrowed one) in one manner or another, if only briefly.  Most people either love him or hate him, with no truly profound explanation as to why… most people.  To me…. that’s boring… and at times distressing.

Speaking of AMLO.. back in 2005 I went with a friend to a political rally here in Guadalajara for the PRD (Partido de la Revolución Democrático) at which López Obrador appeared and gave a campaign speech toward the 2006 presidential election.  Afterward, in the bus on the way to wherever, we were discussing it, when the man seated with his wife in front of us and had been listening, began talking to us.  Turns out he was a lawyer who worked downtown for the PRD.  Several weeks later, I ran into him just by chance in some other corner of town.  He invited me to his office downtown one Tuesday afternoon, where we subsequently went to a bar around the corner, called “La Fuente”.. I’ve been there on many occasions since, but this was the first. 

He wanted to know more about my views on U.S. politics, and of course I wanted to hear his take on Mexico.  Back in the 70s and 80s he’d been a member of the Communist Party.  He became a lawyer more by necessity than by choice.  Those of his friends that weren’t knocked off in the Dirty War of the Echeverría period badly needed legal help…  This was the kind of guy who could tell you exactly why he supported the left, and it was very refreshing to meet someone with whom you could sit down and have a long exhausting conversation.  He once invited me to his home for a carne asada (barbeque), and having told me he wanted to improve his English, I gave him a book of published documents previously classified covering U.S. foreign policy with Latin America, from as far back as the Monroe Doctrine, through the Cold War to the present.  He gave me a Bertrand Russell book, in Spanish. 

Speaking of Echeverría, a friend that I met here in Guadalajara told me an interesting story.  He used to be a journalist, having worked for the Miami Herald, and later in Texas before doing several years in Mexico.  We used to go to some of the ugliest sleaziest bars in town together.. as he happened to live in the San Juan de Dios area.  He had a knack for getting along with people from any rung of the social ladder.. even the rungs firmly buried in the soil.  He told me he had the rare privilege of interviewing the ex-president once.  Echeverría was not so well at the time and in a hospital in D.F. or somewhere close. 

“As I entered the hospital,” he said, “there was a small crowd of protesters outside with their signs and yelling… I didn’t have any particular opinion of the guy, besides not imagining him to be incredibly likable.  The interview went quite normal, about as energetic as you’d expect with an old guy in a hospital bed.  At the end, I told him that there were a lot of people downstairs outside who hated his guts.. to which he managed to pull himself up a bit, pointing his finger at the window, and very frankly reply – ‘You tell them… that I hate them more!’ “ 

Up to that point, my friend told me he’d had no personal opinion of the guy, but as he got up and left the interview he thought to himself – eso es mi tipo de cabrón!   ..Well, he always reserved an ounce or two of respect for public officials who spoke their mind, regardless of what, or who said it… 

Think for yourself.  Before you decide to embrace the left or right or wherever else, ask the hard questions, and live life a little so that you can answer them for yourself.   Many will tell you that you should never meddle with things that could lead you to question your beliefs.  Absolutely absurd.  It’s like telling a young boy not to play sports ’cause he might get seriously hurt.  Better to stay weak and always fearful of getting hurt than to become competitive and less vulnerable.  Sound like other aspects of daily life and politics?

category: political philosophy
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The gap between the rich and poor is growing. So are the lengths and depths of my yawns. Yes that’s right… the rich are getting richer and the poor poorer. Truly a unique observation, don’t you think? Truly a misguided one at best, and one that poor people especially should stop bothering with. If anyone thinks I’ve got my head buried in the dirt on this, perhaps an explanation is in order as to how worrying about whoever is infinitely richer than myself is going to improve the state of my personal affairs. All of the jealousy, the crying, the complaining, the pathetic despondency over who’s rich and who’s not… all of it belongs locked away in the kindergarten mind, never to see the light of any higher level of maturity. But it’s not where it belongs. Too many adults carry it around with them as though it were a personal emotional treasure. And it’s just bewildering. We somehow learned by the age of three or four not to carry our own excrement around with us. How is it then, that so many make it all the way to adulthood and beyond without learning how to properly dispose of all this other shit?
 
Getting into this subject promises no beginning and no end, but let’s see what happens….
 
No doubt, it can be plenty stressful watching everyone else around enjoying things that we at any given moment cannot. That´s just our nature. To see people stuffing their faces while we can’t afford even a hamburger; to watch some teenager flying down the freeway in their brand new Lobo or Audi while we’re doing good to keep gas in our piece of junk, just the maintainence of which is outpacing our means; to have your piece of junk broken into and pillaged because you can’t afford to safeguard it, while the snotty kid with the Audi enjoys every security; to be in a house with every luxury and a maid to boot, while thinking of the home with dirt floors and no running water that awaits us….
We cling, predictably, to the simplest explanation. They have money and we don’t, and that’s why they have easy and wonderful lives and we don’t… and deep down we believe that it isn’t fair. Afterall, we work just as hard, or in reality far more than they do. Why is life so cruel? Isn’t there a way to cut these people down to size (especially that spoiled little puke with the Audi) so that they can feel what we feel for once? Sure, genius.. let’s cut em down… then what? We marvel at how much more tolerable our poverty has become??
We get into these ruts, talking about rich and poor with no concern as to the nature of either. We come up with these silly retarded interpretations and expressions like “haves and have nots”, “below the poverty line” and “the less privileged”… as if the poor were just plastic action figures that can’t so much as move an arm unless a flesh and blood person comes along and makes it happen for them.. You could open up an entire debate about what poverty and wealth really mean.. and the different explanations will add up to far more than any one person could dream up in a day. You’d soon find that most are designed to help poor people feel better, or to forget the pain.. like a shot of morphine, or a soap opera, where the rich and well-off constantly wallow and suffer in their pitiful dramas. These explanations can have dire consequences, however, if people take them to heart only for the cheap, shortlived comfort they provide. Take this one for instance: “True poverty is not having salvation in the Lord” – the idea itself is not the problem; rather, it’s an impressive heap of weak minds who, out of jealousy, warp the idea into believing that being wealthy means by default no salvation. Don’t ask me how they do it, but where people who think this way are a majority, don’t expect to find much innovative spirit or economic growth, either. Here’s another one: “True wealth is to have good health, true friends and peace of mind” (ha.. almost poetic) – Fine, it’s actually quite true, as long as a person doesn’t find a comforting escape from personal effort in believing that any endeavor that results in increased prosperity cancels out good health, true friends or peace of mind (even though all of that actually could happen).

Here’s my two cents worth: Wealth is the enchantment of knowing on any given day what you want to do with your life combined with the self-confidence to go for it and stick to it. Poverty is the lack of either one or both of these. You want to talk about gaps? By this definition, the wealthy are an incredibly small percentage next to the impoverished, the majority of the latter who are content to be just that, except when they suffer little pangs of childish envy whenever they see other people enjoying simple pleasures that they too would like to enjoy. It’s impossible by this definition to distinguish the ones with loads of cash from the financially destitute, because money, though we all need it, is not the determining factor. By this same definition, I myself struggle constantly on the verge of poverty, and it’s not because I lack self confidence. In fact, the very act of writing this down here is an attempt to get the other part up and running. I don’t know exactly what I want to do, but I’m simply not content with being poor, and have no interest in focusing my efforts on making poverty tolerable… life is too short. I can assure you that when I attain wealth as I’m defining it here, it’s going to have next to nothing to do with how much money I have… and I may wind up with a lot… if any at all.

Now if that makes no sense to you, read it over one more time. I admit not being the best at explaining this crap, but it’s no more esoteric than 2 + 2 = 4. It’s certainly not based on the idea that the individual is in total control of his or her destiny. Obviously there are a myriad of external factors that we have no control over. Some people are born into wonderful circumstances, others not, for instance. Some of us have far more financial obligations than others. But it’s got nothing to do with fairness, no matter how in love we are with the idea. It’s the personal decisions we make, regardless the circumstances, that most influence our lives by far. The kinds of decisions I make when I know what I want to do with myself are a world apart from those I make when I haven’t a clue.

By no means am I a lonely traveler in all of this. Most people live many, if not all of their years never knowing what they want to do with their lives, and among them are people from every walk. Sure, many go to college, get their degree, and find “a job”. But that in itself doesn’t mean they all truly know what they want to do. College for most is seen as a means of survival; a ticket to increased opportunities for a better income, which actually delivers more often than not. Increased income or not, however, you still have to wake up every morning, as everyone does, and ask yourself how badly you really want to face the new day. Take Mondays for example.. the impoverished soul despises them for the return to aimless toil they represent, and spend all week dreaming about Friday. But for those who do what they love to do, Monday is just as good a day as any.

Am I missing the boat here? You had enough of the philosophical platitudes? Still stuck on the millions of poor people who can’t even make enough money to fulfill the basic necessities of day to day living? The one’s who don’t need empty words of encouragement nearly as much as food on the table right now.. ?? Doesn’t it make you sick to listen to people just talking and talking, but taking no action?

Well, wake up. No solution to poverty is going to occur as long as “the poor” continue to be seen by the better off as something inferior, incapable of advancing via their own will. Much less will it occur as long as “the poor” continue to be convinced of the same. As long as proposals to help “the poor” continue to be presented in the same manner as saving polar bears or trees… or the planet, and not in terms of real people who share the same potential that the wealthy and successful have learned to master (often on their own), don’t expect any significant changes in the current situation. When grown adults, from moms and dads to university professors to politicians find themselves spewing the same old line about the rich and the poor and the middle class, they need to go a bit deeper and answer for themselves what exactly those words really mean. When jabbering away about fairness, privilege and equality, they need to understand that they’re playing with three of the most subjective terms that exist, and thus dramatically lower the probability of success when applying them to masses of people who, believe or not, are all capable of defining three such words in their own personal way. And we tend to do just that according to any emotional whim that consumes us.

I remember once at the university I attended here in Guadalajara, a girl walked in before class looking quite palid.. as if she had just seen her parents naked together for the first time (and couldn’t tell which was which..) .. and when asked what was the matter, she replied that she had gone downtown with her mother, this having been her first time seeing downtown (wtf?!! I was thinking), and seen some very poor people begging on the street, something she had never seen in her life, and she was just practically trembling and in tears…. Personally, I was somewhere between tears and throwing up at the thought of how much money I was a throwing away to be in such a “privileged” academic setting. My sense of disappointment was especially harsh that day. I was in the presence of a young impressionable mind that would come to be most impressed with the words fairness and equality. I could be sure that I had grown up quite less “privileged” than she, yet it was also quite clear that the miniscule amount that I know of the world was far more that what she possessed, in spite of her having visited far more countries on many vacations than I ever have.

Will she ever come to know more about the world than where the last pair of shoes she bought was made (according to the label)? That depends on what she decides to do with herself. Will I ever know more about the world than I do, and have as much money as this girl’s parents evidently have? Anyone? You guessed it – that depends on what I decide to do with myself.

Here’s something else: A friend of mine has several exotic birds in her home. They’re very beautiful with their bright colored feathers and the unique sounds they make… in fact this is why people want birds like these.. because they’re beautiful and exotic. They live in luxurious cages that attend to every want, not to mention enjoy the sublime scenery of the garden they are placed in… But step back and take a look at the big picture and you’ll see other ‘common’ birds, rather dreary looking in comparison, flying around the garden. Do you notice that they’re free to fly wherever they wish? You see them coming up to the cage and enjoying the exotic bird’s food. I want to know, when you think about how wonderful it must be to be a bird, would you rather be like the ugly, common bird that no one wants, or the beautiful bird that everyone desires to have as their own.. in a cage, of course. You may be one to suggest that at least the bird in the cage has a lot of nice things and is protected from whatever dangers are…. out there. I guess that would settle it then. You would prefer the cage, strange as you are…

At any rate, neither one of them have hands, having to mash their face into whatever they wish to eat or move… how enviable is that?

You see? There’s no beginning nor any end… to any of this…..