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Another Geography:
The Tower of Babel, Between makeup and the Closet

by Subcomandante Marcos

La Jornada (Mexico), 3 April 2003
Translated by Peter Rosset,

I. - The Twenty-first century

The new century seems determined to repeat and outdo the vocation of its predecessor: political proposals based on the exclusion of the Other. So what else is new? Just like before, recourse is made to war, to lies, to simulation, to death. Power repeats history, and tries to convince us that this time, the map will be redrawn correctly.

The project for the neoliberal world is nothing more than a re-writing of the Tower of Babel. As the story is told in Genesis, driven to reach the heights, men agreed on an anti-comunal project: to build a tower so tall that it would reach heaven. The god of the Christians punished this arrogance of men with diversity. Speaking different tongues, men could not continue the construction project, and they dispersed.

Neoliberalism is trying to carry out the same construction project, though not to reach an improbable heaven, but rather to free itself from diversity, which it considers a curse, and to assure that Power will forever be Power. The yearning for eternity rises at the beginning of a history written by those who are Power.

But the neoliberal Tower of Babel isn't under way just in the sense of achieving the homogeneity needed for it's construction. The equality that destroys heterogeneity is equality based on a single model. "We will be equal to this model," says the new religion of money. But humans do not not even seem like themselves, much less seem like others, but rather like an ideal imposed by he who hegemonizes, he who rules, he who is above in this tower that is the world of modernity. Below are all the different ones. And the only equality that exists on the lower floors is that of giving up pride in difference, and opting for shame in that difference.

The new god of money repeats the earlier curse, but in reverse: you shall be condemned for being different, for being the Other. "They" shall star in the drama of Hell: in jail, in the cemetery. Perform to the boom of profit-taking by the giant transnational corporations, that accompanies the proliferation of jails and graveyards.

In the new Tower of Babel the common task is obeisance to he who rules.And he who rules does so only because he makes up for his lack of reason with an excess of force. The mandate is that all colors must use the same makeup, and display the same dull color of money, or show our colorfulness only in the darkness of shame. Makeup or the closet. It is the same for homosexuals, lesbians, migrants, Muslims, indigenous people, people of "color," men, women, young people, the elderly, the "misfits", and for all the names used to describe the Other in every part of the world.

This is the project of globalization: turn the planet into a new Tower of Babel. In every sense. Homogenous in it's way of thinking, in it's culture, and in it's Boss. Hegemonized by he who has no reason, but only force.

In the Tower of Babel of pre-history, unanimity was possible because of the common word (the same language), while in the neoliberal history consensus is achieved via the arguments of force, threats, arbitrarities, and war.

Given that living in the world requires doing so in contiguity with the different, the options we have are either to dominate or to be dominated. For the former, the space is already full, and membership is hereditary. On the other hand, among the dominated there are always vacancies, and the only requirement is to deny your difference or hide it.

But there are the different who refuse to stop being different. For those who live in the Tower, but not in the penthouse, there are ways to deal with these "misfits:" condemnation or indifference, cynicism or hypocrisy. Recognizing difference is against the law in the neoliberal tower. The only path permitted is that of the submission of difference.

In the modern world the nation-state is a house of cards confronted by the neoliberal wind. The local political classes play at being sovereign in the decisions about the shape and height of the construction, but economic power long ago lost interest in this game, and lets local politicians and their followers play around...with a toy that doesn't belong to them. Finally, the construction of interest is the new Tower of Babel, and as long as there is no lack of raw materials for its construction (that is, territories that have been wiped out and repopulated with death), the foremen and commissars of national politics can go on making a spectacle of themselves (by the way, the most expensive and least useful spectacle in the entire world).

In the new tower, the architecture is that of war on the different. The blocks of stone are our bones and the mortar is our blood. The great assassin hides behind the great architect (if he does not call himself "God," it is because he does not want to commit the sin of false modesty).

In the biblical version, the Christian god punishes the arrogance of men with diversity. In the modern history of Power, God is no more than the public relations agent of war (which can only be called modern because of the rate of destruction and the number of people killed per minute).

II. - The geography of words

If pre-history ended three years or twenty centuries ago it doesn't much seem to matter. Up there, those who are Power and Destiny dedicate themselves to convincing us that history repeats itself, despite what calendars tell us. The annihilation of the different is always the latest fashion. And although there there is nothing different in essence between the catapults of imperial Rome and the "smart bombs" of Bush, today technological advance is like the chaplain of the occupation army (painting in beautiful terms what nevertheless is a crime committed from a distance) and the theatrical scenery (bombing on TV becomes a show of "fascinating" pyrotechnics - says CNN).

Without caring whether anyone realizes it or not, Power constructs and imposes a new geography of words. The names are the same, but what is named has changed.

So, error is political doctrine, and truth is heresy. The different is now the contrary, the Other is the enemy. Democracy is unanimity in obedience. Freedom is just the freedom to choose the way by which we hide our difference. Peace is passive submission. And war is now a pedagogical method of teaching geography.

Where reasons are lacking, they polish their dogmas. Dogma first supports the cause, later disfigures it and turns it into destiny. In the telescope of Power, the horizon is always the same, immutable and eternal. The lens of power is a mirror. The different will always be unexpected, and the unexpected will always oppose fear. And fear will always me made strong in dogma in order to crush the unexpected. In the telescope of Power, the world is flat, unwashed and dirty.

If a statesman cannot be remembered for his humanitarian works, then he will be remembered for his criminal works. And thus the history of Power is repeated: the "great men" of yesteryear are today revealed for all their rancor and vile deeds. Those upon whom "shines the light of God" today, will also be seen thus tomorrow.

The words change, as do the images. Before, in the geography of statues, dogma was set in stone to honor its fanatics. Today it is on the covers of magazines and newspaper, and on TV and radio news, where Dogma preserves its memory of itself in periodical rooms, where it will serve as alibi for those who continue to carry out fundamentalist nightmares.

In the modern theory of the State, human beings are born different. Their incorporation into society consists of a process of education that would be the envy of the most cruel reformatory. The power of the entire state apparatus is brought to bear in "equalizing" this human being, or better yet, on homogenizing this person under an hegemony: that of he who rules. The degree of social success, therefore, is measured by how close to, or how far from, we fall from a single model. Homogeneity is not that we all must be equal, but rather that we all try to be equal to this model. And that model is that which is constructed by he who is Power. Hegemony is not just that one rules us, but also that we exert ourselves to obey him.

That is where homogeneity lies; we don't all have the same wealth (without even mentioning that some have it at the expense of many others) or the same opportunities, but yes we all do have the same desire and the same willingness to obey him (which is another way of saying "serve him").

If we take the family as a metaphor for society, and say that we need some rules for living together, we "forget" that the problem is precisely the current set of rules. Thus words change their geography, they don't say what they mean, but rather what they — those who are Power — want them to say.

At some point in modern history legality supplies legitimacy, and when legality is violated by those who are above, we are told that it is the laws that need to changed. When it is violated by those who are below, we are told that the laws must be enforced... and those who do not obey them, punished.

III. The geography of power

In the the geography of power one isn't born in one part of the world, but rather is born with, or without, the ability to dominate any part of the planet. If before, the better argument was the one based on race, now, it is the one based on geography. Those who inhabit the North do not do so in the geographic North, but rather in the social North, that is to say, they are above. Those who live in the South, are below. Geography has been simplified: there is just one above and one below. The place that is above is narrow and has room for only a few. The one that is below is so big that it can cover any part of the planet and has room for all of humanity.

In the modern Tower of Babel a society calls itself superior if it can conquer others, not if it has more scientific, cultural, or artistic advances, or better living standards, or if its people get along together better.

In the modern period, Power carries out multiple wars of conquest. And I do not refer to "multiple" in the sense of "many," but in the sense of "in many places and in many forms." Thus world wars today are more global than ever. Yet the victor continues to be but one, and the defeated are many and in many places.

With the argument of bombs, space is allocated. Those who bomb are in the North, in the "above" of the tower; those at the receiving end are below, in the South.

But it is not the bombs that modify geography. The bombs change the allocation of geography, its domination. In this space delimited by points and lines, today one dominates, tomorrow another will dominate. That is what is called "geopolitics." In reality, geographical maps don't show natural resources, people, cultures, or histories, but rather who owns them.

For the powerful, all of humanity is but a child who can be docile or rebellious. Bombs are used to remind the infant humanity that it is convenient to be the former, and inconvenient to be the latter.

Today civilians in Iraq, men, children, women and the elderly, suddenly have something in common with a prosperous American businessman. He builds cruise missiles, they receive them. The armies of the United States and Great Britain are just the friendly postmen who join two points so far apart geographically. Thus we should should thank people like Bush, Blair and Aznar that they have been gracious enough to be born in our epoch. Without people like these, modern geography would be unthinkable.

But this is not a war against Iraq, or not just against Iraq. It is against every attempt, present or future, to disobey. It is a war against rebelliousness, that is, against humanity. It is a world war in its effects, and above all, in the NO that it provokes.

IV. The Destiny of Polyphemus

The war of the tragicomic Bush-Blair-Aznar troupe and its stagehands in the "western democracies" has already suffered its first failure. It tried to convince us that Iraq is in the Middle East, and yet it is not. As any respectable geography text will tell you, Iraq is in Europe, in the American Union, in Oceania, in Latin America, in the mountains of the Mexican southeast, and in this global "No" and this rebelliousness that paints a new map where shame and dignity are flag and home.

The mobilizations in the entire planet prove, among other things, that this is a war against all humanity.

If anyone has understood correctly that Iraq is in every part of the planet, it is young people. While others look at a map and console themselves by counting the thousands of kilometers that separate them from Baghdad, young people have understood that these bombs (those made of explosives and those made of disinformation) are not just to destroy Iraqi territory, but rather the right to be different.

When a teenager writes "NO" in a jail, in a graffiti, in a notebook, in a voice, it is not just to say "no to the war in Iraq," but also "No to the new Tower of Babel," "No to homogeneity," and "No to hegemony." Because rebellious young people use "No" as a brush, and with that brush in their hands and in their eyes, they divine and paint another geography.

Like Polyphemus, the cyclops of Greek literature, Power makes hate for the different into his only eye. In truth he is very powerful and seems invincible. But, just like Polyphemus, a ghost named "Nobody" throws himself at the challenge.

When the powerful one refers to the Others with disdain, he calls them "nobody." But "nobody" is the majority on this planet. If money wants to reconstruct the world like a tower to satisfy its arrogance, that "nobody" who makes the wheels of history turn also wants another world, but a round one, one that includes all our differences with dignity, that is, with respect. Humanity does not aspire to heaven but to earth.

Thus it is that "noboby" starts scraping away the mortar of the new Tower of Babel.

Because the earth is round so that it can turn.

In the world that is waiting to be made, unlike this one and the earlier ones, whose manufacture are attributed to various gods, when someone asks "who made this world?," the answer will be: "nobody."

And to divine this world and begin to construct it, it is necessary to see far into the geography of time. He who is above is shortsighted, and makes the mistake of confusing a telescope with a mirror. He who is below, "nobody," doesn't even stand on tiptoes to see what comes next.

The telescope of the rebel doesn't even work to see a few steps ahead. It is really a kaleidoscope where shapes and colors — accomplices of the light — are not the tools of the prophet, but rather an intuition: the world, history, and life will all take on shapes and forms that are as yet unknown, but which we desire. With his kaleidoscope the rebel sees farther than the powerful with his digital telescope: he sees tomorrow.

The rebels walk along the night of history, yes, but it is to reach tomorrow. The shadows do not inhibit us from creating something now, and in the here of its geography.

Rebels do not try to amend the map or rewrite history to change the words and the allocation of geography, they simply seek a new map where there is room for all words.

A map where the differences among all the ways to say "life" lie not just in the mouths of those who speak them, but in the totality of all who pronounce them.

Because music is not made up of a single note, but of many, and dance is not just the repetition of a single step until exhaustion.

Thus Peace will be nothing more than an open concert of words and many glances in another geography.....

From the Iraq of the mountains of the Mexican southeast, while watching the sky darken from the warplanes and military helicopters of Operation Sentinel,*

-- Subcomandante Insurgente Marcos, Mexico, March 2003.

* Translator's note: More than 18,000 Mexican soldiers, police, immigration officers and other government officials are working with the U.S. government to bolster security along the southern border under an effort called "Operation Sentinel". Counterinsurgency in the Chiapas region is a key goal of this operation.

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