THE POSITION OF THE PRIVILEGED
“A common response that I get, even on things like chat networks, is, I can’t believe anything you’re saying. It’s totally in conflict with what I’ve learned and always believed and I don’t have time to look up all those footnotes. How do I know what you’re saying is true? That’s a plausible reaction. I tell people it’s the right reaction. You shouldn’t believe what I say is true. Nobody is going to pour truth into your brain. It’s something you have to find out for yourself.” Noam Chomsky, “Liberating the Mind from Orthodoxies”
Read a book, The Passage and Other Stories by Mustapha El Ghazi. All four stories are about the lives of the unfortunate in Morocco. From the stories I gather dissent is punished and there is an active movement for workers rights. There is also a cultural divide, a deference to authority which criminally stigmitizes people who dissent. I’m going to write him, try to start a correspondence.
Read a new newspaper — The Casablanca Analyst — published by two Moroccan professors of English. It’s the sole English-language newspaper in Morocco. Its contents are a strange juxtaposition of naÃ¯vetÃ© and sophistication. The paper addresses globalization/imperialism in a knowing way, but puts me off with its deference to authority of native church and state.
After reading this paper, I bought the latest issue of Newsweek. I’m keeping an eye on Fareed Zakaria. I’ve slightly agreed with a couple of his pieces in the past, but now I must take his analysis with a grain of salt. I’m also shocked that Newsweek pushes him as such a nuanced “expert” given his lack of basic, basic knowledge. (Heck, I don’t know much, but at least I’m not pushing myself as an expert on international affairs.) Here’s a letter to the editor about Zakaria:
“THE USUALLY KNOWLEDGEABLE AND clearheaded Fareed Zakaria has been seriously misinformed on recent Latin American history (“Right Ideas, Wrong Time,” March 19). He says Ronald Reagan supported human rights and democracy there. Not so. Reagan’s administration supported and armed the murderous Salvadoran junta, the genocidal Guatemalan General Rios Montt, the notorious Honduran death squads and the war of terror waged against Nicaraguan civilians by the contras. George W. Bush’s neglect of the region has been, in comparison, downright benevolent.” Patricia Sitkin, Linden, California
Specialization and elitism in education and journalism is killing us. Delegation of decision-making to “experts” is killing us. Knowledge acquisition is haphazard even among the privileged. And those who are privileged enough to be educated are often the most indoctrinated. We need to educate ourselves in history, especially recent history. And we need to know what’s going on in marginalized political discourse to get a proper parallax.
We send people “over there” while deferring to authority and a misguided belief in the benevolence of our state and its “elected” representatives. We should not delegate understanding to such an extent; compartmentalization isolates us from our representatives’ actions until we’re blindsided by the consequences.
* * *
“Well, in our country,” said Alice, still panting a little, “you’d generally get somewhere else–if you ran very fast for a long time, as we’ve been doing.”
“A slow sort of country!” said the Queen. “Now, here, you see, it takes all the running you can do to keep in the same place.”
“This quote is perfect for the decay of the middle-class lifestyle,” I tell Smith. “Mom says she’s had to work much more just to maintain her pace of life.”
“You know, there’s some figures on that. How much productivity has gone up, how much real wages have gone down, how one has to work longer. Productivity has gone UP, so we’re actually producing more per person. Yet we end up working longer for the same pay. So even without inflation, pay has gone down.”
“I know the dollar has lost a significant amount of its value just the past year. Another thing about labor – I appreciate labor-saving devices here in Morocco. I’m running just to make safe food for us. We could probably buy a refrigerator, but that’s just so wasteful.”
“No we can not. That’s out of the question. Well, wait. You know what, maybe we could stop by the electronics store. See if they have a little teeny-weeny fridge. I mean, we paid 40 dollars for a heater. Maybe we can get a similar deal for a cool space. That’s a thought.”
“It would make life a lot easier for me. I wouldn’t have to cook everything from scratch three times a day.”
Even breakfast cereal is bad for Smith; we discovered it has too much salt. And though we have peanut butter, it’s not healthy to eat bread regularly. I want Smith to have many more years with me. When we digress from healthy eating, I see the effects on him immediately. He’s more tired; his heart starts skipping.
“Let’s go check the store,” he says. “They gotta have small things, don’t they?”
“I was lying in bed this morning, getting depressed. I was thinking about all the time required to buy food and cook and keep clean here, and how I don’t have the time I want to make art and write. There are no healthy pre-packaged foods.”
“Well, that’s true anywhere.”
“Oh, not necessarily. But actually, if you buy a pre-packaged salad in the US, then you’re also using plastic, which is bad for the Earth. And there are salad bars here, but we don’t know if the vegetables have been washed. You got really really sick one day when you didn’t wash that peach. You’re 61 years old. I don’t want us to have a medical emergency in this country.”
I was thinking also about how terrible it is that we rely so much on these electric appliances. I want to minimize my consumption of energy. Also thinking about how measures of rising affluence in developing countries cite statistics of things like refrigerator ownership.
When we get to a place we must buy things and then it’s not possible to carry them with us. What a waste. When we left Marrakech, I gave Hamid my leftover spices and staples and cookware.
When we leave Essaouira we plan to give our heater and cookware to a woman we’ve met on the street. We give her money every day, but it makes me ill to think about how much we’ve spent on our comfort versus how little we’ve given her. So I hope she can take our things and sell them or use them herself.
Also thinking about what I wrote about “professional” beggars since having roamed around more. I think it’s easier for the privileged mind to write someone off by thinking of someone as a “professional” beggar. We walked the Northwest side of the medina and found gutted buildings which were inhabited. We saw camps of men outside the city wall. These people have a nook to call “home” and are not sleeping right on the streets, but they are certainly not faring well. Perhaps the cops chase them off the streets? We noticed that they were gone the day the film crew was here. To be a beggar is a horrid, hard life, not a life one would choose.
* * *
Back to the worsening condition of the American worker. I’ll end with another Chomsky quote from the same article:
“Most oppression succeeds because its legitimacy is internalized. That’s true of the most extreme cases. Take, say, slavery. It wasn’t easy to revolt if you were a slave, by any means. But if you look over the history of slavery, it was in some sense recognized as just the way things are. We’ll do the best we can under this regime. Another example, also contemporary (it’s estimated that there are some 26 million slaves in the world), is women’s rights. There the oppression is extensively internalized and accepted as legitimate and proper. It’s still true today, but it’s been true throughout history. Take working people. At one time in the U.S., in the mid-19th century, working for wage labor was considered not very different from chattel slavery. That was the slogan of the Republican Party, the banner under which northern workers went to fight in the Civil War. We’re against chattel slavery and wage slavery. Free people do not rent themselves to others. Maybe you’re forced to do it temporarily, but that’s only on the way to becoming a free person, a free man, to put it in the rhetoric of the day. You become a free man when you’re not compelled to take orders from others. That’s an Enlightenment ideal. Incidentally, this was not coming from European radicalism. There were workers in Lowell, Massachusetts, a couple of miles from where we are. You could even read editorials in the New York Times saying this around that time. It took a long time to drive into people’s heads the idea that it is legitimate to rent yourself. Now that’s unfortunately pretty much accepted. So that’s internalizing oppression. Anyone who thinks it’s legitimate to be a wage laborer is internalizing oppression in a way which would have seemed intolerable to people in the mills 150 years ago.”