"For many in Mexico today the world seems, indeed to have gone mad. It is a world where politicians funnel eighty four million dollars from the national coffers into Swiss bank accounts, where protesters sew their mouths closed with black nylon string in politically motivated hunger strikes, where students take to the streets in angry riots, and where policemen slaughter dozens of campesinos and hide their bodies in shallow graves. Divorces and homicides are up, literacy rates and education down, and so many young people seem more engaged with what's happening in Friends than in their own back yards"
R. Lester, 2005
Since the early 1980’s a slow, yet steady rebellion has been taking place throughout Los Altos of Chiapas, the body count of indigenous women, children and men as a result of supporting this rebellion or just being in the wrong place at the wrong time has crossed into 4 figures. Political prisoners are into the hundreds and Chiapas remains a militarized state away from the media gaze. Just like the recent public uprising and rioting in various countries, the Zapatista movement only made the world press when they appeared armed and used violence (whether symbolic or physical) to get their message across. Since they put down their arms to continue in a non-violent struggle in the face of an uber-violent State one has to search them out to find them in terms of media coverage.
Chiapas remains within the top 5 most marginalized states of Mexico, alongside neighbouring Oaxaca it has a high indigenous population, is rich in natural resources and has an inconceivably huge class and racial divide resulting in a burgeoning middle class who appear apathetic to the abject poverty and starvation that surrounds them.
My experience of this place over eight years has taught me that an imagined vision (and language) of a 1st and 3rd world (who ever got to be the 2nd??), is nothing but a constructed concept. Break these concepts down and what do they mean any way? Perhaps just another label imposed by powerful governments to say “you are down there, and there you will stay”?... after all has anyone heard of a country that gets relegated to 3rd or upgraded to 1st?
What does poverty mean when you have no running water or electricity but you have a mobile phone and cable tv??
The force known to many as neoliberalism no longer has a distinct definition, not one that can be easily fitted into a sentence and applied willy nilly to any situation. It is better to think of neoliberalism as a phantom that haunts society and nation at every level. It is a creature that changes, morphs and reinvents so quickly that its hard to know where it will turn up next. Neoliberalism seeps into every aspect of if social and individual life. It is easy to look at the large scale political and economic actions that are rooted in the free market philosophy of survival of the fittest. The decrease of state funded services, universal benefits and praise of privatisation as the best option are apparent to even the most ignorant of shopping channel souls. The commodification of everything from body parts to feelings – from those breasts that will make you a winner, the designer foetus that grows into a flawless success, to the happiness that can be bought in any shopping centre or online paradise – now that’s a little harder to pin down.
It’s the emotional and cognitive effect on the individual that is intrinsically linked to the collective social world, and vice versa which can only be tackled through theoretical analysis. Perhaps that is why the effects of neoliberal/free market/neo-capitalist forces on the emotional human being defy an understanding in the common world. If you can’t get hold of something, pin it down, give it a name, catch the phantom at work – how does it become part of the general consciousness?
We blame our unhappiness on whatever our media devices tell us is causing it. The strongest will survive, free market mentality tells us that unhappiness is caused by not having enough – it doesn’t matter what of, you just don’t have enough of it. This translates into the individual a feeling of never quite getting there, never being satisfied and always wanting better. Those who commodify the phenomena of health will tell us that this is depression, a chemical imbalance and that there’s a pill that can fix it and a good therapy or holistic religion for those that can afford it. Your diagnosis can then be traded to earn particular benefits and acceptance in the world you live in.
Pedagogic theorist Peter Mclaren writes that our feelings are attached to the shimmering surface effects of signs and simulations, and the dull radiance that illuminates the spectacles of everyday. In other words, our feelings have been made external in order that we may recognise them only as emotions accepted by a particular society, at a particular time. This separation between internal and external feelings leads to social confusion. When there only exists a language to explain the socially constructed external emotions we receive on a superficial level, our profound internal emotions are alien to us, we have no way to explain them to ourselves and therefore no understanding of how we should react. As social and emotional beings we do react, and do so in an automatic sense, in ways that seem irrational and violent precisely because there is no other way to understand action that has no constructed meaning. We have lost all ability to recognise our internal repulsion and coping mechanisms to the world around us.
Whether it is Mexico, Egypt, Spain or the UK the world seems to be a mad place for no one dominant reason in particular. Perhaps the phantom neoliberal effect on the individual via the fetishism of commodification has reached its limits of subtlety, and the world is finally waking up to the madness it has caused. No longer can a shimmering surface effect explain away the levels of inequality and injustice that exist in the one world we all live in.