Sunday, August 18, 2013


The production and consumption system depicted here in the movie Samsara emerges out of a much broader range of societal and ethical dispositions than most of us are perhaps prepared to acknowledge. I certainly doubt whether our food choices alone could foster a world like this. 

It used to be jarring to rub up against dogmatic vegetarians or vegans working in the consumer marketing industry. It didn't seem to have occurred to most of them that their unilateral opt-out at the supermarket might not actually be helping all that much, or indeed that their professional activities might actually be making things worse. Yet one could even say that just by living in a big, modern mega-city one tolerates, and to some extent promotes, this sort of food production. 

Thursday, August 08, 2013

Real Guatemala?

I've been musing about Rudy's assertion that Ciudad Vieja and Jocotenango belong within the boundaries of real Guatemala, whereas La Antigua, most definitely lies outside of it. He has promised to expound further on this geography of artifice in a future post, but I suspect it will be hard to pen without lapsing into a form of inverted snobbery. 

If one buys into the Guatemala as 'land of contrasts' paradigm, then a town full of lower-middle class tradesmen, homogenised both in terms of socio-economics and ethnicity, is hardly the nation in microcosm. 

I could point out that here in San Pedro El Panorama by contrast we run the full Guatemalan social gamut, from ostentatious oligarchs to families living in highly provisional wood and lamina huts. But then we don't actually have a functioning indigenous community, or indeed a Garifuna village (though one mustn't forget the good folk down the road at the Pelícano Dorado!) 

But, you might counter, surely La Antigua is not the real Guatemala in much the same way that Cancún and Playa del Carmen are not the real Yucatán? Well yes, and no. Cancún and Playa were small, comparatively insignificant townships which hypertrophied the moment they connected with the global economy. La Antigua experienced a similar encounter with an essentially alien tipping point, but the subsequent metastasis was circumscribed thanks to the colonial city's peculiar history as abandoned capital and latterly protected monument - so that the unreal or at least non-aboriginal aspects of life here have been superimposed on the autochthonous ones, and have not entirely displaced them. 

It was perhaps an exaggeration on Rudy's part to suggest that all the original locals have fled to the burbs, priced out by greedy gringos and capitalinos in search of a comfy weekend pad. Over the years I have got to know many Antigueños, of varied social backgrounds, who continue to live within the casco histórico and will readily claim that many generations of their families have done the same. A number have surrendered the fronts of their properties (shops, restaurants) in order to continue to reside in the space behind. La Antigua is a conservative town in much the same way that Cancún isn't. 

It is also apparent to me that many of the skilled craftsmen and small business owners residing in colonias like Jocotenango are migrants from other parts of the country that have apparently recognised this city for the node within the wider global network that it has palpably become. 

What we do most obviously have here are two parallel economic systems, with a virtual dollar pricing system tossed like a shroud over the more parochial one. Rudy himself markets his photographic images to this half-in, half-out clientele, at foreign currency rates, which only such 'unreal' individuals would contemplate paying. 

This dichotomy in Latin American living is reflected in the Macondo vs McOndo polarity within modern Latin American literature. The question about authentic experience in Spanish-speaking America is very much alive and well. 

Back in Britain we distinguish between multi-ethnic, multicultural London - a community that would seem to have 9000 years of history and inward migration behind it - and 'Middle England', the locus of country pubs, cricket on village greens and 'native' (i.e. white) English people. Which is the more real? I think that's one blog post I will postpone writing for now! 

PS: On a separate note, it is intriguing to me how the four-letter word REAL comes with an entirely different payload of associations in English and Spanish. How many homes (and hotels) have been been pretentiously dubbed 'Real' here in La Antigua? One could even posit that the more REAL a place is in Castellano, the less REAL it is in English! 

Friday, August 02, 2013

The Good, The Bad and El Che

Of necessity the materialist rejects what he or she sees as the religious notion that actions have fixed and lasting moral properties. For how could this be so in the universe thus conceived? 

This explains in part the conundrum we often face with the example set by Che Guevara. 

It would not be difficult to characterise el Che as a 'good' man, one who dedicated his life to pursuit of justice and one who would have understood his own inclinations as towards the side of the 'good'. And yet even the Comandante's most ardent apologist would surely have to admit that, in the name of political expediency, he often committed (or permitted) actions that anyone guided by a traditional Christian theodicy, would almost immediately recognise as bad, if not properly evil.  

El Che was brought up a Catholic and migrated to Marxism. Adherents of the latter creed, at least when they have thought things through properly, have a materialistic view of the cosmos and a dialectical take on history and politics. This leads to a kind of hyper-relativism when it comes to the moral nature of men's deeds, specifically the potential for evil in their own actions.  

Your bog standard relativist considers that the same action might be judged differently in different circumstances. The Marxist-Leninist on the other hand tends to believe that two superficially identical actions are not the same action, if the political context is different. Trotsky was very clear about this when he wrote of the necessity of slaughtering innocent children in the interests of the proletariat; specifically the Tsar's children. And so it would have been with Che Guevara and his firing squads.