Friday, February 1, 2013

The Liar is Guilty, But the Gullible Are Not Innocent

Two hundred and ninety-four years ago according to Margaret Jacob, the Treatise of the Three Impostors “came out of the elite circles in the Dutch republic” (37), and was a product of the “enlightened” thinking of the period. While the authors who originally penned the Treatise remain anonymous, Jacob claims that the mystery of their identities has almost certainly been solved. But regardless of who they were, what is most important is that their Treatise questions the validity of the three dominant religions of their time, and the motives of their prophets, who have had such a massive influence on mankind ever since.
While the authors of the Treatise spend a great deal of time questioning the anthropomorphic character of God as depicted in the religions in question, and exposing the perpetrators of the myth of “His” existence, they also deliver an indictment of the gullible masses and their susceptibility to the far-fetched stories that comprise the very foundations of religion. From the first paragraph, the authors characterize those who accept without question religion’s dogma as being ignorant: “the world is filled with vain & ridiculous opinions; nothing is better able to give them currency than ignorance” (95). In fact, the word “ignorance” or “ignorant” appears in the text at least 29 times.
The Treatise portrays, as its title implies the three prophets of the dominant religions— Judaism, Christianity and Islam— as charlatans, and presents arguments to support the accusations. But even while the authors describe what they see as cynical schemes used by the prophets as instruments for acquiring power, they routinely return to point a finger in disgust at the malleable masses who for many reasons are unable, unwilling, or simply not interested enough to consider critically the likelihood that there are no “divine miracles.” In fact the authors characterize miracles as “the shipwreck of the ignorant & the refuge of the adroitly ambitious” (107). While the authors have obvious issues with the purveyors of these alleged mendacities, the recurring message of the Treatise of the Three Imposters is that their disciples are culpable as well.
Today, one wonders whether we may be slipping back into a mindset reminiscent of the days of the Treatise… or perhaps we never really strayed from it.
What renders the evil without remedy, is that after having established false ideas men have of God, they omit nothing to engage the people to believe in them, without permitting the people to examine them; on the contrary, they give the people an aversion for Philosophers or the truly Learned, for fear that the reason which they teach should make the people know the errors in which it is sunk (95).
Of the two major political parties in the US, one has made a concerted effort in recent years to “give the people an aversion for Philosophers or the truly Learned.” One only need quote Republican congressman and member of the US House of Representatives science committee Paul Broun who dismisses evolution, the big bang theory and embryology as 'lies straight from the pit of hell'” (The Guardian). The authors of the Treatise suggest a conspiracy in which a group of cynical men create a false scenario in order to gain and maintain power over the ignorant masses. If one can draw a distinction between then and now, is that while the authors of the Treatise are accusing the prophets, clergy and others of manufacturing and perpetuating this divine hoax in order to wield power over others, today those wielding the power seem to actually believe the hoax— which means that the ignorant masses are no longer blindly following the cynical power brokers as described in 1719. Today, they’re actually in charge.
But the authors of the Treatise of the Three Impostors offer a small ray of hope:
The world has long been infected with these absurd opinions but in times there have been solid intellectuals & sincere men, who despite persecution have decried the absurdities of their century as we have just done in this little Treatise. Those who love the truth will find there, no doubt, some consolation; it is they whom I wish to please without troubling myself about the judgment of those whom prejudices take the place of an infallible oracle (114).
That hope, according to the anonymous authors lies in the potential of all men (and women) to learn to think critically and thus, be able to partake in the wisdom of Enlightenment.

Works Cited

Jacob, Margaret, Ed. The Enlightenment: A Brief History with Documents. Boston: Bedford/St. Martin’s, 2001. Print.
"Republican congressman dismisses evolution as 'lies straight from the pit of hell' – video | World news | ." Latest US news, world news, sport and comment from the Guardian | | The Guardian . N.p., n.d. Web. 29 Jan. 2013.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Admiting the problem is the first step to recovery

I think that while Karl Marx's solution might have been wrong, his definition of Capitalism as the problem was not. Does that make me a Neo-Marxist?

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Utopia Revisited

The Tower of London is a wretched place to occupy in any season, but at least in summer, the thick, stone, walls provide a modicum of relief from the heat and humidity. It is here I will stay until five days hence, when my sentence will be carried out. While I am grateful to the King for his merciful commutation from the barbarous sentence of being hung, drawn and quartered to the less elaborate and time-consuming, and far less agonizing process of decapitation, that sense of gratitude does not translate to lighter spirits.

So it was with great relief that I recognized a familiar voice amongst the clanking and rattling of the guards’ armor as they escorted an old acquaintance Raphael to my dank and dismal cell. “My old friend, Raphael! Your presence does this unfortunate subject of the King of England a great deal of good on this early July day! And pray, tell me how things are in Antwerp?”

Raphael, laboring to catch his breath after the long and steep ascent to my cell stroked his white beard, adjusted his robes, and shrugged with an audible grunt. “Mister More, Antwerp is Antwerp. Nothing much has changed there.” Once the guard had escorted Raphael in to my cell and locked the door behind him, we sat at the small wooden table in the middle of the room. A few rats scurried across the floor as they smelled the package Raphael pulled from his robes. “I did manage to acquire some excellent cheese before I left for England, and I bought some fairly fresh bread from a merchant outside the Tower gate. Please, help yourself.”

As I began to break apart the crusty bread, he withdrew a flask from his breast pocket and handed it to me. I thanked him and at once cleared my throat with a sip from the flask, I inquired, “So my friend, I am grateful for your presence and the chance at some worthy distraction from the reality at hand. What news have you of that strange, far-off land of Utopia? Have you had an opportunity to visit since our last meeting?”

Raphael took a swallow from the flask and smiled as I dropped a few small crumbs of cheese for my furry cellmates to enjoy. They squeaked with gratitude and scurried off to their nest under my cot. “Yes, my friend, I have had an opportunity to return to the shores of Utopia, and I have interesting news. I will be happy to impart to you what I have observed.”

I settled back in my chair and continued to dine on the bread and cheese as he began, “You will remember from our last conversation how impressed I was with the apparent efficiencies and equities that characterized every aspect of Utopian society. From the simplicity of its government to the competence with which its populous functions, it seemed to me to be the closest man has come to perfection in an effort to organize mankind into a socially just and egalitarian society. You can imagine my dismay upon my return to find things so far from the model of order and civility I had related to you when first we met.”

I leaned forward on my rickety chair and with an elbow on the rough table encouraged him to proceed.

“Well when I arrived on the shores of Utopia, rather than being greeted warmly by the dock tenders and port officials, I was instead accosted by armed guards who shoved me along with the other passengers on our vessel toward a large building with roped pathways much as you would expect to find in a slaughter house. They led to a row of benches where uniformed men and women searched each passenger’s belongings and asked a series of questions. They wished to know of my place of origin, and responded with much distrust and hostility having not heard of either Antwerp or London. They only relaxed a bit and showed me some civility once I spoke to them in Greek, which, you may remember is a language and culture with which, thanks to my previous visit, they have some familiarity (More 21).

“Others of my fellow travelers were not so fortunate. It seems as though those from the lands to the south of Utopia are no longer welcome. The guards treated them with the most alarming disrespect and promptly corralled them into holding pens until arrangements could be made to send them back from whence they came.

“The official who was processing my entry sneered as he noticed my puzzlement of their treatment. ‘Onitals!’ He snapped. ‘They find their way here thinking they can partake in our bounty, but why should we share with the likes of them? They do nothing to contribute.’

“He exhibited his disdain by slamming the Utopian seal on the permit, which authorized travel within the confines of the island for one month. He pushed it with great force toward my person and growled, ‘A score and ten days! Not a moment longer!’ I smiled meekly and carried my belongings with me to the carriage quay.”

By this point, I had forgotten about the bread and cheese before me. I sat back in disbelief and asked, “how strange! To what do you attribute this hostility?”

Raphael nodded and proceeded, “Apparently, a mere ten or so years ago, Utopia was attacked by a distant country.”

“The Onitals!” I surmised aloud.

“Oddly enough, no,” he responded. “It was a country to the east— one to which Utopia had sent colonists hundreds of years hence (More 8). The Ademus  addressed the people by way of the senate not a fortnight after the event and proclaimed the attack was for jealous reasons, but some question that logic and attribute in its stead the likelihood that the Utopians who settled on their shores did take sore advantage of the native peoples and their resources.”

“It is then understandable that the people of Utopia would have sharpen sword and doubled the watch, so soon after their sovereignty was threatened, is it not?” The largest of the rats nudged my bare foot with a cold nose and I threw him another handful of crumbs.

“Aye, understandable. But this is but one contrasting observation from my last visit.” Satisfied I had eaten my fill, Raphael broke off a corner of cheese and continued between bites. “The people of Utopia have for some reason been cleaved into two opposing points of view with respect to the basic tenets to which they have governed themselves for these many years.

“On the one hand, virtually half remain steadfast to the notion that all occupations are worthy and that each contributes according to his ability and receives according to his needs (Marx 17), while on the other hand, many have abandoned that sense of community and have instead adopted an ethos of individualism and competition. They feel that the labor of their own bodies, when mixed with the resources they acquire from the land thus makes the resulting produce their “property” (Locke Sect. 26). The diametrically opposed positions have lead to a great stalemate within the halls of the senate.”

Raphael paused to take a swallow from his flask and tossed a scrap of cheese to one of my lingering rat friends. “The whole concept of the commonwealth seems to have fallen away for this contingent, who seem to feel that their success is due not to the dedication and cooperation of community, but instead solely to their own ambitions. And when the magistrate calls for the town to provide labor for the harvest (More 2), this group complains that the government has no authority to do so, even though that authority is clearly indicated on the pages of their social contract.

“And the town criers, those individuals who stand in public squares imparting the events of the commonwealth to the people do it in such a way that is biased toward those who provide for their livelihoods. The result is that the people receive a slanted view of reality.”

Having totally forgotten by this point of my impending execution, my only concern now for the wellbeing of Utopia, I asked, “but what of the armed forces? Cannot the Ademus call them into the defense of the Contract?”

Raphael just shook his head and sighed. “The syphogrants and tranibor are almost equally divided amongst these two opposing positions and have over time crafted the rules of engagement to make toothless virtually every recourse. Such a vast majority is necessary in the senate to advance any particular agenda that most times it simply wallows in self-absorption.”

“But surely the people won’t stand idly by while this abuse of order persists!” I was now incensed and the rats scurried under the cot as I planted my fist firmly on the table top. I could hear the guard beyond the door shift uncomfortably. I lowered my voice. “Tell me, good sir, is there nothing that will free these people from this state of impasse?”

Raphael smiled slightly and leaned forward. “There is one thing that might break free this proverbial log jam.” He took a device out of his pocket. It glowed strangely in the dim light of the tower. He pressed a few buttons and slid it across the table. There on the small, phosphorous glass page were messages from Utopians. Not from the ruling class, but from the very people for whom this paralysis most injured. The messages spoke of organizing, of occupying, and of working within the Utopian system to bring about change at the people’s level. Their words seemed to glow with a hopefulness as intensely as the little device’s glass page. I was mesmerized.

“They call it Utopanet,” he said as he carefully slipped the device back in the folds of his robes, “and the authorities have thus far been unable to extinguish its flame. It is providing Utopians with an uncensored source of information with which they may chose their own destiny. It is unclear to me which side will prevail, but it is my hope that the intelligent rather than the ideological on both sides will join together and relegate the extremists back to the pages of their manifestos where they belong.”

I scratched my head, where the lice had taken up residence for the next five days and after a moment commented, “It did occur to me strange upon your first account that the land of Utopia seemed so orderly and at peace, yet brandished such fortification and armament. One also wonders why Utopus insisted on severing the isthmus from the mainland and thus isolating it so. Perhaps there were deeper layers to this garden of Eden than was readily apparent upon your first visit.”

I heard the key as it rattled in the lock on my door and the guard entered. “It is time for your departure, sir.”

Raphael stood slowly and the sound of crackling joints echoed against the stone walls of my cell. “My friend,” he said as he extended his hand, “I wish we met under less unfortunate circumstances. I understand that your predicament might have been easily avoided if you had expressed a few specific sentiments at the correct point in time.” I appreciate your convictions, but it will be difficult for you to witness the perfection that may some day be Utopia from the great beyond.”

“Perhaps,” I said. “Then again, perhaps this is the only way any of us ever will.”

Works Cited

Locke, John. Second Treatise of Government. London: Millar, 1688. 16. Print.

Marx, Karl. "Critique of the Gotha programme". Internet Archive: Digital Library of Free Books,    Movies, Music & Wayback Machine. N.p., n.d. Web. 7 Oct. 2012.

More, Thomas. "Utopia”. Internet Archive: Digital Library of Free Books, Movies, Music & Wayback Machine. N.p., n.d. Web. 7 Oct. 2012.

Friday, September 21, 2012

Where is Spartacus when you need him?

I just read an article for school  by Sue McGreger called Critical Discource Analysis— A Primer, which was quite timely since this is the week that Mitt Romney's secret video came out on the Mother Jones Web site

In front of a room of wealthy potential campaign donors, among other things, Mitt said, 
There are 47 percent of the people who will vote for the president no matter what … there are 47 percent who are with him, who are dependent upon government, who believe that they are victims, who believe the government has a responsibility to care for them, who believe that they are entitled to health care, to food, to housing, to you name it … These are people who pay no income tax," Romney said. "My job is not to worry about those people. I'll never convince them that they should take personal responsibility and care for their lives.
McGregor suggests that "CDA is concerned with studying and analyzing written texts and spoken words to reveal the discursive sources of power, dominance, inequality, and bias and how these sources are initiated, maintained, reproduced, and transformed within specific social, economic, political and historical context" (3).  And what a perfect collection of spoken words to work with! 

Let's analyze using McGregor's  three levels of analysis (4). But I would prefer to take them out of order.

Let's look at (c) first: "the larger social context." The cable network Stars has been running a series about ancient Rome called Spartacus. In it, the nobility of Rome plot against each other and vie for dominance over their rivals. They do this plotting, as well as every other activity including having sex with each other IN FRONT OF their slaves, just as one might carry on in front of the coffee table! The series is very well researched, and I'm sure they are probably accurately representing the arrogance of the class, in which there is no need to be "careful" around the help, since they can always be terminated (literally) if they simply react to what is going on in front of them.

Anyway, I bring that up because if you keep that in mind as you watch the video from which the quote is extracted, you will see "servants" busily filling people's water glasses, clearing tables, and doing other "servantly" things— all while Governor Romney is conversing with his wealthy potential donors and talking about people whose economic status is quite possibly the same as these hard-working, low paid laborers. So here is the context: Governor Romney is speaking with the upper echelon of society— literally the 1%. And he is speaking to them as equals, which, of course they are, while ignoring the servants.

Next, let's look at (b) "Discursive practice." Mitt is defining "all the social positions they occupy in life" (McGregor 4), in this case, "they" referring to both his audience and the "other." He is setting up the classic "us against them" scenario. It's as old as society itself. "Let THEM eat cake." "We" are the responsible, respectable, elite. "They" are the lazy, irresponsible, freeloaders, who don't contribute to society. "We" includes all you out there in the dining room and me (Mitt) up here (ironically, with his hand out for campaign donations). "They" are an abstract stereotype designed to be used as a scapegoat for whatever ails society at the moment, "who might also be filling your water glass, Mitt thinks, "as you listen to me deride them".

Finally, let's consider (a) the actual text. First, let's extract some telling pronouns. him, they, them, they, them, they, their. He's certainly concerned with some "other."Have any doubts? How about "those people." Apparently, not "us." So how many of "them" are there? Roughly 47%. They are characterized by:

1) standing by the President " matter what," so they are obviously not critical thinkers. After all, if the President committed some "high crime or misdemeanor," those people would still stand by him.

2) they are "...dependent upon government." This gets a little confusing if in fact you are a critical thinker, because we are all dependent on government, even if only to make sure the shipping lanes are free so we can continue to get our petroleum fix, but of course, there is much, much more that government does for us— even the 1%. But Mitt's on a roll, and if he quickly moves on to the next point, these folks won't really analyze what he just said (not that he gave it any thought ether).

3) "who believe they are victims." I get the sense from the tone of this rant that Mitt believes the 1% are victims of these freeloaders, as well as being victims of big government, taxes, and regulations. I guess the 47% don't have a monopoly on victimization.

4) "who believe that government has a responsibility to take care of them" I can site literally dozens of instances where corporations and wealthy people have expected the government to take care of them. How about all those multimillion dollar oceanfront homes that get wiped out every hurricane season only to be rebuilt using government-subsidized flood insurance? Or how about the wealthy investor group that builds a stadium in the heart of the city in exchange for huge tax breaks and subsidies? How about huge federal subsidies to the oil industry even in years of record profits? 
5) "who believe they are entitled to healthcare, to food, to housing, you name it..." Well, OK. He's more familiar with his audience than I am. Maybe they really don't think health, food, and shelter are human rights. Maybe only 47%  of the country does.

6) "These people who pay no income tax," Actually, many people in his audience probably don't pay any income tax either, because they live off of dividends. They pay capital gains taxes instead. Others exempt from income tax are those who are retired and receive less than $25K if filing singly and $32K if filing married (from the SS Web site). And those who are actually so low on the pay scale that they don't make enough to pay income tax are still paying payroll taxes, sales tax, state and local taxes... So here is an instance where Mitt is actually using language to "make unbalanced power relations and portrayals of social groups [that] appear to be commonsense, normal, and natural when in fact the reality is prejudice, injustice, and inequities" (McGregor 5).

7) "My job is not to worry about those people." THOSE PEOPLE. The workers. The laborers. The commoners. The peasants. The servants. The slaves. The other.

8) "I'll never convince them that they should take personal responsibility and care for their lives." Because they aren't us.

Obviously, Mitt knows better. He knows there are many Obama supporters who pay income taxes. He knows that there are hard-working people who don't make a lot of money. He encounters common laborers frequently, like those who installed the elevator in his garage, those who fill his boat with gas, his landscapers... he can see how hard they work.

So is he intentionally creating a scapegoat to encourage his wealthy prospects to part with some of their capital gains? Let's give him the benefit of the doubt. Maybe, like the ancient Romans in the Spartacus series, he just doesn't notice the slaves and servants around him.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

VICTORY! Nicaragua withdraws from the School of the Americas

News from my comrades from the Nicaragua Network...

September 5, 2012

The meeting came our last evening of a 9-day delegation co-sponsored by Nicaragua Network and the School of the Americas Watch (SOAW) with 20 participants from around the US, as well as from Canada and the UK. Among the participants were SOAW Council member Ken Hayes, long time SOAW activist Mary Anne Perrone and SOAW activantes Amanda Jordan and Alejandro Ramirez. The delegation visited Esteli and Managua and met with many sectors of society, rural and urban communities, women and youth organizations, health and education centers, cooperatives, religious and ex-pat organizations. We also met with government officials, human rights representatives, media and opposition leaders.

In the  meeting with President Daniel Ortega we shared how impressed we were with the positive strides to alleviate poverty  that were strikingly visible to us: new homes, roofs, roads, water systems, as well as in the very upbeat and positive spirit that seems to permeate the country, especially among women, youth and sectors which were formally marginalized.  We also shared that we were concerned that Nicaragua had continued to send troops to the SOA under the current government. This is surprising given the fact that the Somoza dictatorship was held up in large part due to National Guards trained at the SOA. We did note, however, that since our previous meeting with Ortega in 2008 their numbers of Nicaraguan students had dropped dramatically from 78 in 2008 to 5 in 2011.

President Ortega shared with great honesty what a challenge it is to be such a small and impoverished nation with so much historic economic dependence on the US, while also lacking the natural resources that many nations of South America have. "We are a very fragile nation" he shared. He stressed the importance of the growing unity and support among Latin American nations, and expressed gratitude for their economic solidarity. This is, however,  still not sufficient enough to allow Nicaragua to be totally independent of the US, a nation that continues to punish Nicaragua for any slight step out of line by withholding their funds while also blocking other international funds destined for Nicaragua.

In spite of these extraordinary challenges, President Ortega affirmed that his country was taking a stand for sovereignty and dignity in many of its decisions, such as their recent decision to withdraw from the military pact of the OAS known as TIAR (Spanish acronym for  Interamerican Treaty of  Reciprocal Assistance).

In regard to the School of the Americas, President Ortega said:
"the SOA is an ethical and moral anathema. All of the countries of Latin America have been victims of its graduates. The SOA is a symbol of death, a symbol of terror. We have been gradually reducing our  numbers of troops at the SOA, sending only five last year and none this year. We have now entered a new phase and we will NOT continue to send troops to the SOA. This is the least that we can do. We have been its victims."
After a long applause from the group, Alejandro Ramirez of Honduras asked if he could speak. With deep emotion, he thanked President Ortega in the name of his people of Honduras who continue to suffer grave repression under the regime that took power after the 2009 coup organized by SOA graduates. He passed the president a note that he had written before the meeting, saying that this was the greatest expression of solidarity that one Latin American nation could offer to another. He went on to tell him how his father had crossed borders from Honduras to Nicaragua to fight with the Sandinistas in the 70's, until the 1979 victory. Ortega was visibly moved and gently pocketed the note and sent warm saludos to his father. I asked Ale how he possibly knew that President Ortega was going to respond affirmatively and he told me:  I never lose hope, pointing to his shirt. It was a well worn t-shirt with the face of Tomas Nativi, the disappeared husband of COFADEH director Bertha Olivia, the light that has given her the strength to stand up for human rights for two decades and counting.

We left the meeting both exuberant for this new victory and mindful that this is the first Central American country to withdraw its troops from the SOA. Once again in history, tiny Nicaragua sends a message of hope, of tenacity of integrity of solidarity and deep courage to Latin America and to the world. Nicaragua, Nicaraguita, ahora que vos sos libre te quiero mucho mas*

* famous song that says: Nicaragua, little Nicaragua, now that you are free, I love you even more

Note: Today Daniel's wife Rosario is going to make the announcement by radio on her show. He asked Miguel D'Escoto (at whose home we met) to help prepare the statement.
Also, Elane Spivak Rodriguez recorded the entire meeting.
It was excellent.

Lisa Sullivan

Monday, August 6, 2012

Making it up as He goes along

In one of my doctoral courses, we were assigned to read the Epic of Gilgamesh, which is considered the world's oldest recorded "novel." It describes the life of a human blessed by the gods and his adventures with his man/beast friend Enkidu. Assignment 2 was to read a few chapters from the Bible, including Genesis.

I recently read Genesis over the spring break. The famous underground comic artist, R. Crumb has published Genesis in comic book form. The artwork is amazingly detailed and he has become somewhat of a biblical scholar, so he footnotes passages where there are discrepancies between various translations, but it is a very faithful and reverent rendition of the Book. With that as a foundation, I read the King James version for this assignment.

Not having paid attention to the Bible in general and Genesis specifically since my days in Sunday school (I was probably about 10 then), I was intrigued to revisit these stories. The first impression after all these years is I'm not sure where the whole omnipotent God myth came from. It seems to me that God had some major flaws in his plan from day one. These are just the observations of an uninformed agnostic who is less familiar with the text and all the collateral assumptions that go along with it.

First, there's the whole idea of putting the tree of knowledge in reach of Adam and Eve. Shouldn't God have known that "human nature" would make tasting the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil inevitable? He designed Adam and Eve, didn't he? It's kind of like the mind reader who has to ask you your name. Shouldn't she just know?

Then, flash forward to the Noah story in chapter 6 when God decides to "reboot" the whole thing. In golf terms, he's taking a mulligan— a do-over. He made a mistake. But I thought God didn't make mistakes. Blame it on the "giants?" If he is the one God, then aren't they part of his creation, too?

Then in chapter 11. Man gets too "uppity" so God makes different tribes speak different languages. He couldn't see that one coming? Part of God's plan? He is making it up as he goes along.

And what's this about Abram pimping his wife off to the Egyptians in chapter 12. Why would God look favorably on someone who exhibits that sort of behavior? When Abram/ham pimped his wife in Gerad, (is this the same story as in chapter 12 with different names, or was this a scheme Abe used whenever he needed to add to his wealth?) God punished the guy who thought he was dating Abe's sister, and rewarded Abraham. Again, I question his reasoning.

Then in chapter 19, when the citizenry from Sodom decide they want a chance to meet the three newcomers (angels), Lot offers them his virgin daughters instead. And God doesn't raze the city with him in it? Seems to me that God had a serious lapse in judgement when he let Lot leave with his family. The daughters? Sure. The wife? I didn't hear her defending her daughters. She gets hers when she turns to see what happens to Sodom, but Lot not only gets a pass, his daughters get him drunk later on and sleep with him. Apparently they didn't know he was going to entrust the preservation of their virginity to the good people of Sodom. Had they known, perhaps they would have had other plans for him once he passed out.

I suppose my observations could be taken as offensive to some. But think of me as the proverbial alien dropped down among you trying to make sense of it all. After reading Gilgamesh first, it puts the Bible in a different perspective. I guess maybe it is just a random sequence of events that made it so that when you open the nightstand drawer in a hotel room, there is a copy of the Bible and not a copy of the Epic of Gilgamesh.

Friday, July 27, 2012

Those who don't learn from the past...

In a course on creativity I am taking for my doctoral program, one of my colleagues asked the following question: "are there more new-original stories to tell in your discipline? Or have all the stories been told and all there is left to do is add new twists and turns to reinvent/retell the same old story? Here is my reply.

New-original stories in my area of interest? Hardly. I am reminded of that Bill Murray movie Ground Hog’s Day. The following are two extremely summarized accounts contained in Killing Hope: US Military and CIA Interventions Since World War II. I interviewed Bill Blum, the author back in 2003 for a paper in one of my classes in my Master’s program. Each of the 56 chapters highlighting individual US intervention in the affairs of foreign, mostly third-world states is all well documented.

Iran, 1953: Two years after Mossadegh, the democratically elected Prime Minister nationalized the oil industry, the CIA staged a campaign to vilify the Prime Minister as a mad man and a puppet for the Soviet Union. Their covert actions and active support of opposition forces within Iran lead to a coup and the installation of the Shah. This lead to years of brutality against the Iranian people, which lead to… well, you know the rest of the story (Blum, 64-72).

That same year in Washington, the legally elected government of Guatemala was branded “communist” by the Eisenhower administration and was targeted for overthrow. “In the midst of the American preparation to overthrow the government, the Guatemalan Foreign Minister, Guillermo Toriello, lamented that the United States was categorizing ‘as communist’ every manifestation of nationalism or economic independence, and any desire for social progress, any intellectual curiosity, and any interest in progressive liberal reforms” (Blum 73). Post-colonial independence apparently has strings attached.

Once again, the CIA ramped up it’s propaganda machine and flooded the media with stories of a Soviet-sponsored, Communist dictatorship. But this time, as US Ambassador to Guatemala John Peurifoy noted, it was located “between Texas and the Panama Canal” (Blum 73). Unlike what triggered events in Iran, the motivation for this coup wasn’t oil. This time it was fruit. “The United Fruit Company, much of whose vast and uncultivated land in Guetamala had been expropriated by the Arbenz government as part of [a] land reform program” (Blum 75) put significant pressure on both the Truman and Eisenhower administrations to defend their interests. The Eisenhower administration did and after a bloody coup, installed the much more agreeable Castillio Armas, who until his assassination in 1957 ruled through terror and torture. But the United Fruit Company got their land back.

The same basic story plays out again and again throughout the second half of the 20th century and beyond. Costa Rica, Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia, Haiti, Guatemala (again), Dominican Republic, Cuba, Chile, Nicaragua, El Salvador, Grenada, Haiti (again) Venezuela… The names of the players, the locations and some of the situations change but the story is essentially the same.

It’s a tired old story, but you can bet somewhere in the world, the alarm clock flips over to 6:00 AM and Sonny and Cher begin singing I Got You, Babe and a leader of a post-colonial, third world country is about to walk into an all-too-familiar nightmare.


Blum, William.  Killing hope: U.S. military and CIA interventions since World War 2 . London: Zed, 2003. Print.