from The Wealth of the Commons
May 21, 2013.
A communal way of being still prevails in most of the 13,000 communities of Oaxaca (Mexico), in which communal obligations have priority over rights. No important decision can be taken without the explicit consent of the communal assembly, where all families are represented and know how to construct consensus. Some inequalities may be easily corrected: a person bringing many dollars after his stay in the US will spend most of them in the next fiesta, as a good majordomo (someone who protects a residence and family), and in exchange earn great prestige in the community. Every family event counts on the contribution of neighbors. Mutual help is used to build many houses and cultivate and harvest crops. Justice means that a crime requires consolation and compensation to the victim, rather than punishment, and it is delivered through community wisdom, not through jails, lawyers or trials. In most communities, every I is still a We.
The notion of comunalidad, coined by two indigenous Oaxaca intellectuals, Floriberto Díaz, Mixe, and Jaime Martínez Luna, Zapotec, may help to explain the vitality and complexity of those practices and attitudes. It can be translated as commonality: the juxtaposition of commons and polity, but it is something else. Comunalidad defines both a collection of practices formed as creative adaptations of old traditions to resist old and new colonialisms, and a mental space, a horizon of intelligibility: how you see and experience the world as a We. The foundation of comunalidad and its core are: 1) the communal territory, in which 2) authority fulfills an organizational function beginning with 3) communal work and 4) fiestas, creating a world through 5) the vernacular language.
The hierarchical cargos are honorary services to the community that you begin to do very early in life. The tequio – unpaid work done by every family, approved in communal assemblies and organized by communal authorities – is a practice responsible for more than half of all the public works in indigenous communities. Guelaguetza is a complex system of reciprocity involving mutual help and material, symbolic and emotional exchanges, particularly in key moments in life, where a sense of both community ownership and personal freedom is forged as the ethical principle of comunalidad. Guelaguetza is also the normative framework weaving the interdependence between the people of the community and the region, creating new links between them and the gods and the dead, and thus recreating the communal territory. Within guelaguetza, giving and taking are sometimes tied, which strengthens a sense of mutual obligation between two persons or families. But reciprocity implies an attitude of open giving to others and the community, and trust and reliance in others and the community, when you are in need.Read the rest at Commondreams or The Wealth of the Commons.
All this and much more is comunalidad, still alive and thriving in most Indigenous communities in spite of the individualistic veneer imposed on them by the Church, the Spanish Crown, the Mexican State, private corporations or migration to the US. The Oaxaca Commune was an audacious social experiment to bring the same spirit to the whole state.
*****Comment: When I read this essay a part of me got swept away in the romance of another way of living and another way of valuing life.
It was and still is a big part of me and my value system to believe that our very survival is dependent on uprooting capitalism, its common sense, and its hold on our values.
The other part of me remains skeptical that we can ever get to a place where life - even one outside of late capitalism - can be better for all of us in any terms.
My best friend Art and I disagree somewhat on what makes us human and what accounts for our actions. He being a world renowned social psychologist with more than 20 books to his name makes an elegant and complex appeal to the matter of socialization as cause and effect.
In other words, he believes that we are human because we are socialized to be so; biology has very little to do with with our cause and our effect or the project of our humanity.
I agree for the most part but there is a nagging part of me that holds onto the assumption that something inherent in our biology explains more of our existence - if even not in total.
And, I am not even making an attempt at a biological determinism argument or even an evolutionary one. The former has been thoroughly discredited in the realm of struggles against race, gender, and sexuality determinisms and for good reasons.
My reluctance to accept the totality of the human by socialization thesis is observational, personal, and thoroughly pessimistic in philosophy.
It is why I think even if we were able to create a post-capitalist society here in my hometown of Kimberley I would still not immerse myself into the community that emerges.
I would remain skeptical about the human project and its ultimate value. And I say this because I am convinced that as a species we are nothing more than a conglomerate of dumbasses and nothing more.
Socialization cannot save us from the biological certainty of remaining so until everything around us has been depleted and there is nothing left to sustain the concept of humanity.
And by nothing I mean not our theories of what makes us human, the things we create(d) to prove our humanity, our histories, our struggles, and definitely not our Gods.
We are an empty species and a deluded one that cannot bridge differences anymore than most of us can find food to eat were it not packaged somewhere on a shelf. Our biology presses most of us to reproduce and we conflate such urges with the convoluted notions of love and do so while (re)floating meaningless theories about our presence and our afterlife.
But there is also another problem I have with the notion of creating harmony as an essence of recreating or restoring our humanity. It is a problem that bedevils most religions including non-religions like Buddhism and theories of socialism/communism like those proffered by Marx and Lenin.
It is the problem of creating a pathway to the goal of release or Nirvana to borrow a concept: that mythical place where all is solved, where life's questions are answered and the promise land is reached.
I have long thought of this process of reasoning as being akin to sperm behavior in the continuum from entry to fertilization. Seeking the egg to fertilize is the path of determined existence for a sperm. And most fail, perhaps tellingly so in biological terms. Yet, most of us live this trajectory deluded by hope and conjecture and, thereby, approximating the most biological fact of our existence. That fact is that our existence is a random chance in a million(s) yet our death is certain, permanent, and final without resolution.
Still, it is not that socialization does not tell us immediate truths about our condition. It does. But I think it does not tell us everything about our existence. We are not evolving in social or biological terms as Darwinists may expect because there simply is nowhere to go other than where we are now.
In fact, a great part of existing and continuing to exist is based on being dumbasses - oblivious to our collective mortality and its finality as a species inside a larger system of biological contestation. If we were smarter and more adept then few of us would kill and destroy in the name of culture, religion, or politics, for example.
But we do. And we claim to do so because we assume a higher purpose or relevance for existing.
And just because some folks are able to live together in a reorganized sphere of existence that spends less time on overt capitalization does not mean that any of them would be consequently happier or live more meaningful lives.
Perhaps the meaning of life is to embrace the fact that we are a dumbass species. And in so doing it would be best if those who do not have the need to join a club or reorganized society remain on the outside where it is safer than the incestuousness of community.
I say all of this knowing that we will never solve our propensity to be vicious and selfish. It is hardwired into our beings and no amount of socialization can overcome its prevalence in any epoch and in any societal arrangement.
The best we can do is to rely on socialization as a means of creating more room to live in less restricted terms.
But even then life is absolutely meaningless beyond our immediate existence. There simply is no grand design. And Art, who is an atheist, would agree. I am taking the argument of meaninglessness even further though - even our socialization is meaningless when stacked up against our biological destructiveness.
Coming to terms with these two realities means squaring up to the precariousness of existence. As a species we have to disappear if this planet we call earth is to survive. That is the only ecological solution and the most green option.
Forget your carbon footprint. The solution is to take our dumbasses out of the equation.
But even if we do not act to remove our presence as a matter of consciousness it is inevitable in a Taoist sense since the system is bigger than our existence.
Our disappearance will mean that the balance will be restored. So like the dinosaurs we are determined to disappear and at most life is just a matter of rehearsing the inevitable.
Until then it is unlikely in my last decades living here or anywhere else that I would give a damn about most people who surround me other than to afford them their right to exist and expect the same until it is all over.
Sorry to say it all but most of us are just idiots. And if most of us did not exist at any one time through our combined history hardly anyone who mattered would have noticed.
It is a biological fact made palatable by our socialization(s). As a species we suck despite the presence of exceptional individuals who from time to time seem to defy how dumb we really are.