A Mockingbird in the Garden
A Conversation Between Jesús Sepúlveda and Aragorn Eloff — 15 December, 2016
The Garden of Peculiarities, by Chilean poet and green anarchist Jesús Sepúlveda, is one of of my favourite books. bolo’bolo, the anarchist collective I’m part of, has republished this title several times and it continues to inspire all who read it. This trenchant, poetic and philosophically profound book is nothing less than a manifesto for a completely new practice of life or, as the author puts it, ‘a wager made for the conservation of the environment and the survival of the human race.’ Building up to the occasion of Jesús’s visit to South Africa, invited by the Sylt Foundation as a writer-in-residence, I sat down with him over email for a meandering walk through the garden, conversing at length about civilisation, wildness, poetry, psychedelics, philosophy, anarchism and hope.
Dear Jesús, first, thank you for so graciously accepting this invitation to be interviewed. Your book, The Garden of Peculiarities, profoundly affected me when I first discovered it; within its carefully distilled pages you managed to capture something of both the intangible heart and the lived wildness of anarchy, which is perhaps why this volume continues to resonate so strongly with me and with other fellow anarchists and sentient beings caught up in what some of us refer to as ‘the thrashing endgame of humanity.’
In what follows, although we have chosen an interview format, I hope to remain true to the kind of conversation which, as you observe in your book, “de-alienates and congregates, dismantling the systemic politics that tends toward individual isolation.” In this spirit, here are my questions for you.
1) We live in a world in which the bourgeois garden extends from the ankle to the eyelid of the globe. How best can we work to eradicate the crystallisations of ideology in this world, one which claims to be post-ideological but is in fact becoming more ideologically totalitarian every day, in ever more subtle and insidious ways? Related to this, how do we challenge ideology as it has crystallised within our own practices of anarchism, that supposedly least-ideological of all radical (anti-)political movements?
I think you have put the finger on the main problem that free-spirited people are going through — how can we liberate ourselves from the traps of ideology? I don’t have an answer but I could try to elaborate on that. I experience every day the mechanisms through which we are forced to reproduce this permeating image of the world, which has been globalized, colonizing the minds of billions of people and narrowing what the world actually is. It is like being encapsulated in a one-dimensional space and time. In spite of myself I read the news online, I argue about politics, and sometimes I accept this pessimistic and catastrophic imago mundi (the world’s image) that the mass propaganda produces and reproduces. So, I consume ideology. Such a totalitarian ideology reinforces the idea that we live in a situation of crisis — financial, ecological, political, energetic, and social. Indeed, global capitalism requires global crisis to keep its machinery functioning. This huge global military complex requires global terrorism and global insecurity to justify its own existence. Who manufactures this? There are experts on technology, political science, global markets, internal security, military strategists, journalists, advertisers, etc. They are in charge of unifying a vision of the world.
Of course, there are de facto powers — or real powers — that change presidents, install governments, control prices, rule wars, establish alliances, and so on. This power is in the hands of the global elites that do business as usual no matter what, in order to continue the process of capital accumulation. Their ambition is limitless and their hearts empty. They hire the experts of the system, send their children to get trained in privileged schools, so they can be replaced once they are too old to continue ruling. They promote laws and reinforce their lobby in whatever direction they need the world to take. This elite also has specialized people to speak in the media in their name — sometimes they can talk for themselves but that is rare. They look for a nice face that can help them when they need to save face if something goes wrong. Or they do not.
Who are they? The so-called 1% of the population that owns 90% of the planet’s resources and who trade products around the world manufactured in sweat shops. The problem with ideology is that sometimes we believe what we hear. So ideology has then crystallized within us.
One of the mechanisms by which ideology sells itself is by the staging of the neon spectacle. Capitalism wants to glamorise itself through the idolatry of the rich and famous. The Forbes list is one example. People are duped by ideology, making them believe they want to be rich and famous instead of being more conscious, aware, intelligent, solidary, loving, nurturing, etc. The ideology of our times enhances disvalues.
Of course, the language used to conform this world’s image is twisted like an Orwellian fable. Right now the so-called “barbarians” who dress in black and act irrationally misguided by religious principles have attacked the bourgeois garden. Therefore, in the Western rationale the world becomes again a dangerous place, so they proclaim they need more weapons and control — more law and order. So, you see in France, for instance, soldiers patrolling the streets while the state of exception is extended. At the same time, new targets are bombed and European countries install fences to stop refugees while the American extreme right promises the deportation of millions of people and the building of a border wall. This situation makes me think of the old medieval notion of Satan inhabiting the world. If the world is Satanic, then the world is a risky place.
On the other hand, while globalization allows capital to freely move from one country to another, the free displacement of people around our world is controlled. So these powers have appropriated the world, creating the so-called immigration problem. There is no such problem. The problem comes from colonialism and the impoverishment of extensive bioregions where people live in miserable conditions. In addition, they sometimes have to deal with externally imposed wars — or dictatorships like the one I had to endure in Chile for 17 years.
The colonial reaction to this current situation of refugees, illegal immigrants, and nomadic homeless is to wall off the world — a wall between France and England is projected to be built in 2017, a wall on the US-Mexico border was Trump’s promise during his electoral campaign, a wall in Gaza has divided the Semites who speak Hebrew and Arabic and worship the same God with a different name. Walls separate people from people and from nature. It is apartheid politics at a global scale. If concentration camps, jails, and reservations are equally camps of extermination and seclusion, fencing the world is the new politics of bordering the bourgeois garden, where undesirable people are no longer welcome. So whenever we argue about the manufactured issues triggered by the elite’s interests we are buying into the ideology of our time. There is no need for walls, no need for wars, no need for weapons. Those needs are being manufactured through ideological mechanisms which want us to believe there is no need for utopias, that ideologies are dead, and that the manifest destiny of humankind is to produce, sell and buy goods in order to keep the economy going as if that were the only reason humans should live their life. If you are a good consumer, you are welcome in the bourgeois garden. If not, you are screwed and are condemned to accept labor exploitation and eat transgenic food. In this scenario, a lifestyle is being reinforced. So every time we live accordingly to this lifestyle, we internalize the hegemonic ideology.
I am certainly not talking about ideology as the science of ideas — as Antoine Destutt de Tracy put it in 1796 — but as an overall normative vision of the world and reality, which we either accept or not. Every time we accept it, ideology crystallizes within us. That vision includes false ideas about race and gender, good and evil, social hierarchies, human-animal separation, human supremacy over nature and animals, authority, and so on. So anarchism can also be ideological, and sometimes it is both ideological and abstract because it does not deal only with ideology but also with ideals.
In my own practice I try to be as flexible as possible, so I do not get fixated on ideas and visions about how I should live my life. Freedom is first of all a process of liberation. As long as you remain in that process and in the present you are experiencing freedom. As soon as you want to define the fluid rhythm of life, you get stagnated. Talking with John Zerzan a couple of months ago, he and I agreed that the ism of Primitivism was a way to ideologically label the green anarchy critique of civilization. Isn’t that a crystallization of ideology?
When we regain the present and abandon the mental ideological crystallization we redeem the wisdom our body still remembers. Following the heart’s path is to follow what makes you feel good. For example, for me it does not feel good to kill spiders. If I did, I would feel remorse. So I do not kill spiders. That is then the way to avoid one level of ideological crystallization — to refuse what does not feel right or good to you, or what you are forced into that you do not want or reject. Another way is to disconnect from the global propaganda in order to contemplate the present. Propaganda brings up reactionary nostalgia for the past or fear in the face of uncertainty about the future. Contemplation, however, allows you to regain your intentional presence in the way you do when you practice Tai chi or yoga, for example. In simpler terms, it is like making love. When you make love, your entire being is in that moment, experiencing communion with the loved one. So, reconnecting with communities — or re-creating communities — is also a way to experience communion with others, freeing yourself from ideology because in those moments of reconnection you need to consciously negotiate with other people, developing awareness, empathy, consideration, and flexibility. This is the path toward solidarity and collective environmentalism. This is the opposite of isolation — the wall.
Letting all walls and borders collapse — physical and mental — is perhaps one of the most direct actions in which you can engage to avoid ideological crystallization. In my particular situation, I have pushed myself to the edge, allowing my being to be completely stripped away in the jungle to explore my consciousness with the assistance of master plants. I had an experience in similar circumstances in the desert. But you can do it wherever you are. These kinds of experiences are perhaps the most extreme ways to liberate yourself from all the attempts of ideology to crystallize in your soul. When the walls collapse, you are probably subverting the whole world in which you have been socialized and trained, so you truly loose your spirit to fly free.
2) The world we find ourselves in today is not that of previous generations of anarchists. Some things are the same, yes, but their composition is different — capitalism is more abstract, more alienating and more all-encompassing of every sphere of life, to the point where the lines between work and life itself have blurred completely. This ubiquity of capitalist social relations has produced a dangerous internalization of the rationality and language of capitalist social relations, resulting in a society where people now talk of ‘personal brands’ and view themselves as ‘entrepreneurs of the self,’ as Foucault terms it. How do we resist the encroachment of these values into the core of our being and how can we, as anarchists, best position ourselves in relation to these new forms of capitalism as well as the new forms of state control — those that cultivate standardization even as they claim to defend freedom and diversity — that emerge along with it?
I think that not only the lines between work and life have blurred but also the lines between the public and the private spheres. This is in part because of the age of information we are living in. We already know that in a capitalist society the market mediates life and social relationships. Money, salaried work, the means of production and exchange regulate the social dynamics. Then, the society of spectacle regulates desire and subjectivity through the mediation of images.
In this phase of global capitalism — also known as neoliberalism — money has permeated all levels of society in which economics is conceived as a total ideology that organizes all human affairs. In this context, the Foucauldian “self” is another commodity that can also be marketed. You see that in job interviews, online dating sites, CVs, and in all forms of applications. Indeed, neoliberalism has installed the Homo economicus as a human model. This model must be competitive and self-interest motivated. The neoliberal subject is in permanent search of profit and self-gratification. Its ambition is pantagruelian because it runs parallel to capital accumulation. The result of all of this is an army of selfish subjects who are individualistic and oblivious, insensitive to the environment or the future generations to come. Of course, the neoliberal subject reacts violently when it lacks success, which is measured in economic terms.
On the contrary, the Homo reciprocans, Homo ludens, and Homo aestheticus are human models whose motivations are cooperation, playfulness, and beauty — the primary and ancestral tendencies that allowed humans to survive and create culture — which is a collective way of being. Kropotkin’s notion of mutual aid is rooted in the propensity of human beings to cooperate. Playing is basic for children to learn how to socialize and crucial for adults to keep a jovial spirit, and avoid self-importance and frowning. Aesthetics is indeed in the core of human dreams, visions, and imagination. Since the time of cave painting, aesthetics has played a fundamental role in human consciousness, allowing the growth and expansion of the human spirit to amazing levels of enlightenment.
Spiritual beings prioritize their inner relationship with the matrix of living consciousness instead of the matrix of monetary and material exchange. There is nothing we can really take with us whenever it is time to exit and travel to the mystery. However, capitalism is so malleable and fast as to co-opt everything to keep its expansion and control. Perhaps its perversity resides in that. By means of social media and cyberspace, for example, capitalism has been able to build a virtual Panopticon where everybody is a guard and a prisoner at the same time, keeping an eye on everyone else and promoting judgment of one another as well as sharing private content on the public screen.
Branding is then necessary for users in order to be part of the cyber world. You need a username, a password, a profile, titles, etc. to participate in this virtual Panopticon, forcing you inevitably to label yourself. “I text, therefore I am,” seems to be the slogan of automatized human beings mediated and controlled by electronic devices. In this world, there is a ranking that can be established through the number of visits or likes. Branding and marketing of auto-identities is nothing but the enthronement of standardization. When the subject accepts being labeled by his or her own volition, it accepts the categories the capitalist process of standardization produces. This is evident in the field of identity politics and the robotic personas the virtual world creates.
Now, how do we avoid the encroachment of these values into the core of our being? Well, the first step is consciously resisting your participation in the virtual Panopticon. People still get surprised whenever I tell them I do not have a cell phone and I never have. I do not need it. I never did, so why consciously put myself into that cell? It would be ridiculous. So, I do not participate in the so-called social media either. I do not have any idea how it works and I do not care. Anarchist actions are indeed free acts of consciousness. Otherwise, they would be something else. We can consciously avoid, for example, commodification by refusing self-brand and market ourselves. Of course, we still have to consciously fight against commodification by imagining alternatives to the salaried machinery in order to survive.
We can consciously resist the neoliberal values encroaching on our beings by breaking the routine of everyday life and regaining the energy extracted by societal demands. Such resistance implies also re-learning new forms of horizontal, non-hierarchical, and anti-patriarchal ways to relate with each other in case you have been trained in a coercive corner of civilization. Insofar as you were lucky enough to grow up in autonomous zones or community-oriented environments where solidarity and caring for each other reign, you should certainly keep the wild and loving tendencies that experience has shaped your whole being into.
3) One of the symptoms of what we could perhaps tentatively call ‘techno-capitalism’ is an increase in social fragmentation and a concomitant rise in loneliness. Many of our interactions today are highly technologically mediated and, because of this, banalised and conformed by the exigencies of dominant modes of communication (cellphones, tweets, Facebook comments and so forth). Even when we do meet face to face, it sometimes feels harder to practice our being-together, to develop a tangible sense of community or solidarity. How do we find each other and, when we do, how do we speak to each other?
Your question is tricky because I do not have the experience you are describing. Although I use a computer to write, email and read the online press, as I mentioned, I do not have a cell phone — I never did — and I do not participate in any social media. So, my first response would be to keep interacting the way you did before these devices colonized your life. The more natural you are, the better you feel. It is simple. It is not a secret. It is like being in front of a camera. When you are posing or being recorded you tend to be clumsy because there is nothing natural in that.
My son Indigo has a lot of problems posing for a picture and I believe he knows he is being mediated and reified through an image. He and I like to talk instead. So, courageous conversations are primordial to keeping healthy and spirited relationships. But there is a difference between conversing and chit chatting. Spoken language is an archaic praxis of energetic sharing, and there is magic in that, like there is magic in poetry, chanting, and praying together. When you really talk with someone, you establish a sacred connection with another human being. It is certainly not the same to talk face to face than emailing or using Skype.
The technosphere is the prophylactic through which civilized human beings have encapsulated themselves to avoid the direct experience of the senses. People see the world through the screen, talk on the phone, drive, and eat prepackaged food instead of traveling, conversing, walking, and cultivating their own food as much as they can. Last night I was talking with Alejandro Vallega, an author of Latin American philosophy, who just started gardening, and we concluded that the brief experience of putting your hands in the soil helps you reconnect with the Earth. That is also the premise of Vandana Shiva’s Soil Not Oil — the soil connects you, protects you and gives you a sense of identity. In fact, by the simple act of gardening, our fingers become the extension of earthworms that reactivate the fluid of Gaia’s energy. Experiencing the soil is the first step toward reconnection.
Permaculture is a great way to be together while developing a sense of community, even if you do not have a community. Through permaculture we do not only design a holistic model aiming toward self-sustainability, incorporating the available materials and appropriate technologies for construction of living spaces, but we also build communities in relation to the environment and all the beings that inhabit it. Communities do not exist in abstract terms nor are they static. Communities are the people you hang out with on the everyday basis. Therefore, communities are mobile. Intentional communities are perhaps the closest social model to a phalanstery — although they can sometimes be too planned and regulated, which takes away the spontaneous flavor life has in down-to-earth villages and small-scale neighborhoods.
There are other kinds of communities too. I participate, for example, in a dancing community twice a week — we actually consider ourselves a tribe. There we do ecstatic dance and we learn to dance with ourselves, with others (men and women), with the community, and with the whole spirit that animates the energy of life. I am also part of a sort of brotherhood through my Tai chi group, with whom I have been learning and moving energy together for ten years. There are also spiritual communities where people partake of master plants and journey together into the realms of higher consciousness while chanting and praying together. The people in these communities are sometimes not always static. People are transient but that does not mean you cannot sit with someone you do not know very well and eat together or dance with somebody you hardly know and share a very intimate moment. We are ultimately a big global community that wants to live in peace and harmony with our blue planet and all her beings.
I’d rather see a world full of global and open communities interacting with each other in our planetary garden than this world divided by artificial national borders patrolled by armies and war machines. And I bet most people feel the same.
Open communities are indeed more flexible than closed communities, which are always at risk of becoming sects or endogamous clans, hierarchical and not communal at all. However, in all communal experiences we have to consciously make an effort to establish meaningful relationships, so that the ways we interact do not become banal through the standardizing mechanisms promoted by techno-devices.
We need to use our hands to love and build a sensual world, so every person can flourish and thrive. Disconnecting and un-plugging yourself from the megamachine is the first step toward liberation. It is simple. We just need to go outside and look at the sky as our ancestors did. There is a cosmological dimension of human experience that is important to rescue. It is also primordial to free yourself from social imperatives and regulations that tend to normalize the production and reproduction of an atrophying world, which has slowly been narrowed into an Internet image while at the same time taming and enclosing the human spirit into an imaginary corral.
How do we do that? If we do not know how or have forgotten, we need to relearn to be in our bodies, getting away from the mental noise that constantly drills holes in our mind and pushes us into the calvary of time, speeding up the rhythm of life and killing the moment. I love reading and writing. But I also know that without love and passion, without dance and songs, without food and friends, without celebrations and laughter, life would be too dull, too opaque, and quite sad.
Perhaps it is time to go out and weed the inner garden we have been carrying around, so our whole being breathes with passion and fullness, while behaving with intention and impeccable presence.
4) What is commonly called ‘identity politics’ has become much more popular in recent years, and I can’t help but feel that one reason for this is precisely that we have become so alienated from each other that we resort to simple dualisms, monolithic identities and unsettling rites of inclusion and exclusion in order to feel a sense of connection and belonging. Without missing the importance of identity — as a set of shifting markers that can be used to develop solidarity as well a collection of abstractions and structures that enforce and perpetuate inequalities — how can we move beyond its obvious limitations? You talk about a carnival of peculiarities in your work; how can we create this carnival within our work towards a world of free equals?
I think you put it well. In the current social environment in which alienation, solitude, and discontent reign, the politics of identity are sort of popular terms to artificially — or politically — create a sense of connection. Because we do not have communities we look for communities, we dream about communities. That is the illusion identity politics plays with; it gives the illusion of belonging to a specific group, it reaffirms identities already pre-established to conform people into a specific group. This is because mass civilization devours communities, colonizing them. So, identity politics is an ideological mechanism to categorize different people with similar characteristics (skin color, language, culture, etc.). These people interact in the social dynamic as a political group with a specific identity, desires, and agendas, negotiating, balancing and counterbalancing the political forces of the whole social spectrum.
To talk, for example, about Latinos in the U.S., or Hispanics, is a way to label people who identify with the Spanish-speaking world, and transform that identification into a political electoral force or into a political identity to create communities. It is also a way to counterbalance the hegemonic powers identified with a standardizing identity defined by its link to a Northern European ego. By creating these different groups you can establish political platforms, which lead you to different political struggles. In the 1990’s the liberal platform of multiculturalism counterbalanced the openly racist groups, self-identified as supremacists. These platforms indeed create cultures — ways of being, talking, living, and thinking. Social life is a struggle in which the multiple visions of reality and the narratives that interpret those visions interact. Sometimes that interaction becomes violent; sometimes it is an ideological dispute to establish consensual visions or dominant interpretations of reality.
The universalization of the notion of race, for example, is the triumph of a particular supremacist agenda. There are certainly no races, but there are racists — those who believe there are races. The human race is one species. That is the reason the so-called “race rainbow” (black, brown, red, white, and yellow) is a sort of taxonomic categorization. Its limits are the same as you have in a multiple-choice exam. Huxley’s Brave New World already narrates a world where people are categorized into five groups — Alpha, Beta, Gamma, Delta, and Epsilon, which correspond to our grading system. This categorization is hierarchical and leads to stereotypes. Its function is to map the population in order to control it and target it in the consumers’ market. It is also a way to keep people apart and make people believe they are different from each other. In so doing, the elite creates suspicion and fear.
The separation among people created by the notion of race not only promotes division, bigotry and hatred but it also shapes the formation of identity. This has indeed been a historical construction. From the time Blumenbach coined the notion of “white race” in 1781, to Gobineau’s supremacist vision in 1855, the terminology of races started to crystallize in western consciousness, finally developing neo-Darwinist discourses in the 20th century. The Spaniards, for example, had about 20 categories to name the offspring of all possible mating combinations in the Americas. In reality, as a species we are only one living organism that survives on the planet Earth. The human race is a big pluriorganism, interconnected, interdependent, and interrelated among its individual members and to the whole environment and its beings.
Race, on the other hand, builds identity molds, making people identical to the identity matrix, which standardizes reality and takes away the real diversity of our species, which is plural. In that plurality, categories do not fit. Plurality is multiple and flexible, spirited and mobile. Our world is a human construction that must learn how to embrace this carnival of human beings, freeing humanity from hierarchies and molds of identification. I am convinced every single person is peculiar and unique. There is a whole universe in each of us, which is impossible to reproduce in spite of the interests of transhumanists who want to clone individuals. We are not only a genetic combination and water and chemical components, but experience, history and memory that reaffirm our peculiarity.
The problem is to learn how to recognize the peculiar aspect of our beings from ideology and consensual narratives in order to celebrate and embrace who we are. By doing so, I hope people reaffirm that peculiar identity through values instead of anti-values, unraveling the inner life of consciousness that shows the path toward connection and solidarity. I imagine a new humanity embracing its peculiar self with love and tenderness, so everybody can understand each other with empathy and compassion. When people are aware, considerate, and selfless, the values the world prioritizes nurture love instead of war and bigotry. Instead of being so centered on economics, politics, power, prestige, and winning, human beings would do better focusing on creating beauty while satisfying their needs.
Pre-modern people knew how to do that. The Selk’nam people from Patagonia painted their bodies as an aesthetic and shamanic manifestation in a very tough climate. They survived there for thousands of years until being exterminated by European colonists over a few decades. Mapuche people from Chile and Argentina have also lived in communion with the Earth for thousands of years. Their soil is sacred, so they respect it. It gives them what they need to survive well but they also gain a sense of identity from it. In their world there is no place for market mediation or the ideology of economic growth. They are the people from the Earth. People in the Amazon are also connected. They literally live in the temple of nature, contemplating the miracle of life all the time. But this is not an exclusive experience of the American continent. After returning to his people, shaman Malidoma Somé recognized that the Dagara elders in Burkina Faso represented his sense of home, where he could cleanse himself from his involuntary dislocation. There are different ways to conceive identity than industrial categorization — these are paths of connection with yourself, the other, nature and all beings.
So, no matter what it takes, connection with the Earth, the elements, the elders, or yourself is a first step toward the carnival of peculiarities that revolves around the spirit of free human beings. In the recognition of life prevailing everywhere lies our future. And life is always equal. No life matters more than another life. So, living according to this precept as an everyday practice will perhaps set an example that hopefully multiplies exponentially.
When you are a free-spirited person, who embraces life and beauty, dancing, helping and caring for others, you are pulling humanity up toward a new higher consciousness. In that journey, set-up identities cut off the dance of freedom and limit our liberties — which have nothing to do with governmental solutions, economic arrangements, institutional assistance, and super-structural utopias, but with an everyday practice of cleansing and healing, so the spirit can really thrive in the garden of all human and non-human beings.
5) Many of us are losing our relationship to land, and to place more generally, and the call in your book for ‘reconnection’ is especially important here. It seems to me though that the question of land and our connection to it is today a very complicated one: on the one hand, land has always been invoked in struggles for autonomy, identity, community and so forth (the central role of land in much Chilean poetry; land as the lifeblood of resistance in indigenous communities; Raúl Zurita, literally carving his poems into the desert), but on the other hand, land is now also conflated by a growing fascist and racist right wing movement with xenophobic ideas of nationhood, purity and so forth. Complicating this further, land is also invoked by those pushing neoliberal agendas, as is the case in South Africa where the call for the reclaiming of land by people displaced by apartheid is used to promote political parties with dubious capitalist allegiances. And then there is the question of landlessness as a part of the refugee crisis, the experience of not-belonging, of having little hope of return to an originary place. How can we best think about land today and, vitally, what relationships can we form with it given the mass uprooting of humanity that will surely only increase as climate change and geopolitics grow the deserts and force the migrations of hundreds of millions?
Yes, the relationship to land is deep and complex. We could say that identity, chauvinism, business, and migration are the four cardinal points of our relationship with land. There are certainly more directions we could take. But these seem substantial. Land and freedom have always been positive and empowering terms, leading toward autonomy and self-sufficiency. The Mexican Revolution based its slogan on those terms: “Tierra y Libertad” (Land and Freedom). Farmers fought for an agrarian reform, which resulted in the legal installation of the institution of the “ejido” — an autonomous administration of communal land where people practiced agriculture and governed themselves. Since the ejido was communal, you could not trade it, meaning buying or selling it. It was Salinas de Gortari who privatized the ejidos in the late 1980’s. So, people sold their ejidos to companies that develop the rural areas of Mexico, displacing indigenous population and pushing them into urban poverty. A lot of people ended up working in the border sweatshops, begging on the streets, crossing the border, integrating into the narco cartels or dying in unknown places.
We know now how corrupted and rotten the social network in Mexico is. Of course, there are pockets of resistance and community re-articulation. But the social network created by the revolution has been dismantled. Against NAFTA and neoliberal politics, the Zapatistas rise up, opening a mental space in the rebel imagination wherein to unfold new thoughts and possibilities. Chiapas became a sort of land of the free, keeping the cartels out through the Zapatista grass-root organizations. One of these organizations, Caracoles, is perhaps a good example to keep in mind when we all go to live in communities in any eventual collapse of the global system.
Evidently, without land it is impossible to grow food. But experience and history show us that people always organize in critical situations whether in poor neighborhoods, favelas, or reclaimed territories, by developing a network of support and mutual aid.
For the Mapuche, the land is identity because without land there are no Mapuche people. Mapuche means People of the Land. The land talks and teaches you important values. Once, I was told that the only way to learn Mapudungun — the Mapuche language — is to dream in it. But you can only dream in Mapudungun living in the Mapuche land. So, land is identity but it is also the language and the dreams. It is the culture.
But land can also represent a chauvinist flag — used for instance by fascist and racist groups whose xenophobia drives them into aggressive and violent behavior. These groups are usually the descendants of settlers who colonized the land during the European colonial expansion, displacing or killing indigenous people all over the globe. They seem to feel entitled because of a transplanted tradition they respect as sacred. In this regard, Protestantism and Catholicism have been the main legitimizing creeds to establish their ethics of usurpation.
These colonizers are often closed-minded people. In their simplicity, they feel intimidated by enlightenment and reason. Being disenfranchised and left behind in ignorance and poverty, they tend to oppose the elite, hijacked by businesses and neo-liberal ideology. They lament the corporations that left their cities for places where labor is cheaper, leaving them unemployed. They are nostalgic for the times when their values were unchallenged. That is the reason why they do not like foreigners or cosmopolitans. Ideologically they do not trust the state either. They look for a chieftain — a Führer. So, although they are miserably poor, they oppose taxes and public programs. This is the ranchers’ and slaveholders’ mentality — the hotbed for militia groups and fascist reactionary bands. In Latin America the paramilitary groups were their equivalent. The army used them to do the dirty work during the war against guerrilla fighters and indigenous groups. They were sometimes co-opted by cartels.
Finally, the landless people have a different rapport to the land — they are the product of multiple situations. On one hand, there are people displaced by the industrial agriculture and timber companies supported by governments. This is the case of the Brazilian “Campesinos sin Tierra” (Farmers without Land). On the other hand, there are people forced to migrate because of pillage or war. The so-called crisis of refugees, for example, is the byproduct of colonialist intervention in the Middle East where people had no other option than to abandon their homes, now transformed into a war zone. Mass migration occurs because people flee for protection (political, economic, and ecological) inside the borders of the industrialized countries. The imperialist powers are, however, those responsible in the first place for what is going on in the regions of the planet affected by their actions, making peaceful life not sustainable anymore. It is a vicious cycle.
Now, the inscription you mention that Raúl Zurita carved in the north of Chile is nothing but an attempt to appropriate the land through language. It is a legitimate poetic impulse. As Homo sapiens, there is, nonetheless, something megalomaniac in the desire to leave a signature on the land. Spanish poet Alonso de Ercilla did it on a tree when exploring Chile in the 1550’s. I myself was asked to leave my signature as an invited poet on a holy rock in a Hindu temple in Bali. But there is a difference between leaving a subjective, intimate trace as a visionary dream — like shamans did with the cave paintings during the Paleolithic and Early Neolithic — than inscribing a giant motto as a political act. The politics of monumentalism transforms the intervention on the land into a political event reaffirming the power structure. All nations need monuments to reaffirm themselves. Chile needed monuments to reaffirm the end of the dictatorship and proclaim the new democracy born out of a negotiation with the dictator, setting the foundation for the so-called restricted or protected democracy. But there is a problem in monumental art because monuments tend to stagnate social dynamics, by accommodating the energy for change into the status quo. That is indeed the purpose of monumental art, to stop the movement and the creative energy, reaffirming the establishment and the hegemonic narratives. Instead of being an act of life, monumentalism is the foundation of the memorial of death. The rocky mute heads of the founding fathers of the U.S. at Mount Rushmore National Memorial are a good example of monumental art. I am suspicious of monumentalism because behind its grandiosity there is always a patriotic component.
Meanwhile, and beyond national emblems and fatherland memorials, we long for connection, so we identify with the land and people who inhabit it. If we do not do that, we live very unhappy lives. This is the subjective dimension of human relationship to land. The political dimensions, defined as possibilities, are very complicated and are perhaps part of an unresolved problem. The question of how to solve colonialism, for example, is an unresolved problem that de-colonial studies are now theoretically exploring. But colonialism is not just theory — it is a mindset that justifies appropriation of the land, its people, its trees, animals, and rivers.
The problem seen from its root is ultimately civilization. Civilization led humans to falsely believe we can own the land. This belief is an illness, and one of its symptoms is the necessity for expansion. The best way to think about land today is to decrease mass societies, experimenting and learning from as many community-oriented models as we can. This would be training to learn a new way of being. To do that, we need perhaps to keep doing what we have been doing but focusing on everyday life and direct experiences. This is a way to regain presence here and now, so you become aware of yourself as well as others, your surroundings, and the environment. You can also design community projects and foster them, so eventually your efforts will multiply exponentially. We just occupy a small piece of the planet that we need to protect and love. Native Americans and supporters are now doing exactly that, protecting sacred land at the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation in North Dakota by protesting the construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline.
We can ultimately leave everything in the hands of Gaia and her wisdom because she will either get rid of humanity or not, depending on how fast we produce a global-scale change. In this regard, the best way to rethink our relationship with land is to accept that we cannot own it. Land is communal and public because we belong to the land. The land owns us. Not the other way around. We are part of an organic and holistic web of life where everything matters. Human beings need to advance into a massive realization we are a pluriorganism that inhabits an amazing celestial home — the planet Earth. This cosmic garden is the only home we have. We either learn how to harmoniously coexist among humans, animals and all living beings, or we better get ready for extinction. So, land represents a possibility to learn how to be more in tune with the natural rhythm of life, being wild and conscious at the same time — guts, heart, and reason altogether. By doing that we might learn how to survive and eventually avoid mass extinction if climate change, global warming, floods, hurricanes, desertification, and droughts severely affect agriculture and mass societies become unmanageable, making the current model of civilization unviable and forcing people to migrate from one hell to another. Of course, this is a very pessimistic scenario. Let’s hope for a more peaceful transition into a bio-centric way of living on the Earth. Aho!
6) When I read you, I’m sometimes reminded of Terence McKenna’s observation that “if the truth can be told so as to be understood, it will be believed.” This is not to say that I believe there to be a single, unified truth your work seeks to impart, but rather that you have given a powerful voice to what many of us feel. The autonomous Marxist Franco ‘Bifo’ Berardi, in his books And: A Phenomenology of the End and the Uprising: On Poetry and Finance, talks about the urgent need to find a language that cannot be recuperated by capitalism; a poetry that retains the peculiarity and the open possibility of thought; a speech of creative heterogeneous conjunctions as opposed to an informatics of homogeneous connections. I feel that you have found this language, this “wind that dances in the leaves of the trees” as you describe it in The Garden of Peculiarities. How did you find your language?
What a beautiful question! How does a writer find his/her own language? Well, I’ll try not to be presumptuous and say I’m still in search of my own language whenever I write. Even this interview has taken a long process for me to define that language. When I write I feel the urgency for freedom that aims toward liberation. But who knows? I am never sure if I succeed in that or not.
When I wrote The Garden of Peculiarities I had in mind a book that could unwind the mind of the reader. I thought, if the reader can go through the whole book, he or she won’t be the same person anymore and won’t see the world the same way as before the reading. I had that intention. That is the reason the book seems heavy for some people because the text demands a little more than reading it; it requires engagement. One of my editors in Paris put it well. He said, “I don’t completely agree with your ideas but your book is a thought-provoking text.” Good enough.
I wrote the book in Spanish. Daniel Montero read the manuscript and loved it. Then, he decided to translate it. Of course, I participated in the translation, as a consultant for the Spanish — 13 years ago my English was more precarious. Daniel respected the original and avoided normalizing the text into Standard English. Capitalism captures writing through translations, normalizing texts and making them available for consumption. There is a formula to writing for the market — simple, direct, economical, journalistic, and sellable. Nothing too complicated. Capitalism corrupts the human spirit. It does not want people to cultivate their spirit, think deeper than a reality show, or explore and observe consciousness. Of course, neither does it want you to write manifestoes that dismantle the foundation of civilization through a stream-of-consciousness kind of writing, which is closer to poetry than social sciences.
As a writer in a minority language, my language is always resisting the standardizing mold of hegemonic writing. This situation opens a political dimension to my writing regardless of what I think or want to write. My writing in the U.S. is what Deleuze and Guattari call minor literature — the literature written in a non-hegemonic language. However, this situation is rapidly changing because of the emergence of a new generation of writers in Spanish in the U.S. and the proliferation of publishing houses that focus on the Spanish-speaking American market. The Garden of Peculiarities is nonetheless a problematic book for the market because it is on the edge of genres.
Rodrigo Gaínza stated in a book review that The Garden of Peculiarities is indeed a book of poetry by other means. Lagos Nilsson used to say it was a treatise. John Zerzan compared it to the Society of Spectacle by Guy Debord because of its impact and length. It is certainly an essay but not quite. Amado Láscar talked about its hybrid nature. It is a manifesto but it is not only that. It has also been catalogued as an academic essay on the environment or a text about anarchism. The book was taught as a required text for introductory classes on philosophy at the College of St. Scholastica in Duluth, Minnesota. It is in fact a text about philosophy, but it is also about politics, ecology, arts, anthropology, etc. So, its ubiquity makes it an unclassifiable book for the publishing market; therefore, it is not easy to be captured by capitalism. It is indeed a peculiar book. In that sense, the process of standardization, which many texts have to go through in order to be part of the publishing market, is neutralized. I probably intended it that way — which is the reason I refused to include notes or segment titles as chapters. My mind does not work like a library or the Internet. I make free associations through analogies instead of logical discourse. Magical appearances before cause-and-effect logic underlie its lines.
I wrote the book between April and September 2001 in an organic way. I did not have a plan to do it. It just came to me as if it was dictated by multidimensional beings. I wrote it the way I write poetry — by chance. Sometimes a poem is in the air. If I open myself enough to channel it, I can give it a written form. Perhaps what you see in The Garden of Peculiarities is the uncanny wit of poetry — what Lorca called “Duende.” Perhaps that, like all poetry, is a free act of verbalization and expression of the human spirit that capitalism has not succeeded in transforming into a commodity. Its “cognitaria”, to use Berardi’s terminology, is a subjectivity that interrupts the capital flow of consumed and produced emotional merchandise. The language you read in my book is an interruption of that transactional language and twitter communication that allows production and consumption to keep going. Like poetry, it is a language to reflect, ponder, meditate, and expand consciousness. I certainly raise questions but the answers are open. It is up to the reader to figure out the meaning. So, I do not know if there is a truth within, or many truths. As Terence McKenna used to say, there are beings of language inhabiting psychic dimensions that vibrate to make humans understand the true nature of reality. Perhaps The Garden of Peculiarities is that — a being of language vibrating so the reader can wake up.
7) Bifo also talks of the need to accept new technology and bend it to our own ends, arguing that there is no return to a world that is not highly technologically enmeshed. To this end, he invokes the myth of La Malinche (who betrayed her people by siding with Cortés but who is also sometimes seen as the mother of the Mexican people) as a metaphor for what he sees as the necessary betrayal of the past we can no longer return to and as the creation of a new people, a beyond of capitalism. What are your feelings on this? Will we cultivate our garden by hand? If not, what tools will we use and how will we use them without becoming used by them?
The question of technology is a big one. Is it possible to use the master’s weapons against him or do you become the master yourself when you use his tools? Is technology neutral or does its impact depend on how we use it? What is technology anyway: a device, a mindset, or an instrumentum? Heidegger clarifies the problem by establishing a difference between the instrumental aspect of technology (techné), and its capacity to give an appearance to the presence (poiêsis). He calls ‘enframing’ the mindset embedded in reasoning. But he also calls for its neutrality. And that is a problem because technology is not neutral.
Technology mediates social interactions and inter-subjective relationships, having a tremendous impact on human psychology as well as on how society is shaped. It also creates a big gap between technological users and non-users, forming a new class, which is more privileged than technological illiterates. Of course, this gap is enhanced in term of accessibility to technology. Just because technology is available does not mean everybody has the means to access it. Technology is expensive. Also, one must understand that someone needs to manufacture technology — workers around the world produce in their misery every single technological device that gets commercialized on the global market. There is indeed a big social cost for all the technology we consume. But there is also an ecological cost; it is undeniable the terrifying impact the technosphere has on climate change, the depletion of forests, and the devastation of the natural environment. So, it is not a matter of returning to a world that is not highly technologically enmeshed or not. It’s a matter of surviving as a species as well as the survival of other species (animal and vegetable).
In this sense, Berardi’s use of La Malinche as a metaphor of a necessary betrayal of our natural past is wrong. She did not betray her people. Her mother and stepfather gave her as a slave to the people from Xicalango. The Tabasco people then gave her, along with other 20 slave women, to the Spaniards. That is when she became the mistress and translator of Hernán Cortés. They lived together and had a son together — Martín Cortés. At the time, the Spaniards were probably seen as another group that could challenge Moctezuma’s empire, which extended from the Pacific to the Gulf of Mexico and from the north of Texcoco to Chiapas and Guatemala. She had no loyalty to either the emperor or the people who gave her as slave. To a certain extent, she is the one who was betrayed by her people in the first place. So she moved on and adopted a new lifestyle, becoming Doña Marina. She only tried to survive by taking advantage of the opportunities the Spanish conquistadores gave her. Thus, the whole story of Malinchismo that Octavio Paz recreated is literary mythology.
So, Malinche does not represent the betrayal of our past — the non-technological stage in which humans live for millions of years. But she might represent a way of survival with all its subsequent implications. My question is, therefore, how we are going to survive if we do it at all instead of going extinct? And if we do so, what we are going to keep from this super-technologized civilization to do so?
As far as technological reasoning goes, 21st century human beings have already been modified by the technological society, creating all kinds of problems from social ineptitude to alienation and atrophied sensitivities. There are people suffering from electromagnetic hypersensitivity from the exposure to wireless technology and people who are psychologically damaged, feeling alone and atomized and having no idea how to connect with others. In Japan young people have e-sex instead of getting together because they do not know how to physically interact. The increase of cases of autism and Asperger syndromes makes people suspicious there is a connection between these disorders and the new technologies. I do not know this for sure but my intuition tells me there is. I remember reading or listening a long time ago to an interview with Romanian poet Andrei Codrescu who thinks the Internet steals people’s memory. It is true people do not remember anymore — they prefer to check on Wikipedia or Google for what they may have forgotten. I also believe the Internet is affecting the capacity to concentrate — fewer people read long books today or play chess.
On the other hand, virtual technologies have been useful to connect free-spirited people, anarchists and activists around the world. I remember that the 1999 Battle of Seattle against the World Trade Organization became the first big anti-globalization protest thanks to the coordination emails allowed people to have. 60,000 people occupied downtown Seattle then, initiating a new generation into a global movement. That was very different from the times of the resistance against Pinochet in Chile when you had to print out flyers on mimeographs to convene people to demonstrate against the regime. New social movements and anti-systemic collectives have profited from the Internet to speak out and make information available. In the context of WikiLeaks, Anonymous, Snowden and others, censorship would be difficult. As a matter of fact, this very e-conversation has only been possible because of this electronic technology. Otherwise, we would not probably have been able to meet, although we have met only in cyberspace and not here and now. So, there are nuances about this issue as there are nuances in everything we could talk about. I am not a dogmatic person — at least I am trying to not be. I follow instead what the Dao advises — be as fluid as a river and firm as a mountain.
But your question remains unanswered — will we cultivate our garden by hand? Well, that is the way I have always done it. I have used a gas mower once in a while to cut the grass, although I have also used a manual machine. What is thus important is to distinguish between industrial technology and appropriate technology. The first kind is a technology that requires the whole petro-industrial complex to exist. This type of technology could certainly be alternative. There you have the so-called clean technologies such as solar, wind, and tide-based energy technologies. Appropriate technology is on the other hand the kind of technology you can fabricate yourself — let’s say cold frames, raised beds, rainwater catchment systems, and so on. In the 1990’s and early 2000’s Cuban organoponics were able to feed 1 million people — half of Havana’s population. At the time, everything was cultivated and produced by hand — no motorized tools were involved in the process. So, it is possible to produce food for a lot of people by just having 19 permacultural community gardens and a climate that allows you to have three harvests per year. But it is a lot of work. Therefore, you need a very solid community and great organizational skills besides knowledge of permaculture and traditional horticulture to make that happen. You learn from traditional use and practice. Not the other way around. Encyclopedic knowledge can be useful if you are coming from an urban background. That was my case. So, when you experiment, trying and making mistakes, you learn. This is a sort of direct action because what matters here is the process instead of the results. The process (or the means) indeed teaches you a path, a way to reconnect with the soil and the Pachamama (Mother Earth). The result (the ends) is not how much crop you get each harvest but what kind of person you become. By cultivating our garden we cultivate our spirit, and from that symbiosis a new humanity will emerge.
8) You are a teacher. What thoughts do you have on your role in a formal learning institution and on practices of learning and teaching more generally? Is there a pedagogy of peculiarities?
Yes, I have been working as a teacher for a little more than 20 years. I first taught in Chile in a high school that followed the pedagogy of expression inspired by the principles of Uruguayan educator Jesualdo. I taught literature and creative writing, facilitating students’ expression through writing and poetry. Then I taught Spanish at the University of Oregon while I was a graduate student. When I earned my Ph.D., the university hired me to teach courses on literature. At the end of the Bush era I was laid off and went to Chile to teach. But I realized the structure of the Chilean educational system was not suitable to me. So, I returned to Oregon and was rehired at the university.
My relationship with this educational institution is not easy. Institutions tend to institutionalize people, forcing their faculty to homogeneously speak from an institutional place — the paper format, the reference system, the standard writing, the topics, etc. The neoliberal machinery installed in American academia does not encourage the humanities because liberal arts are not profitable enough. The humanities have in general been denigrated in favor of sports and business.
Institutions are also hierarchical entities that rank people and reward obedience and aseptic professionalism with big salaries. This is in fact a very effective way to co-opt intellectuals and free thinkers into the commodification process. People have the illusion that they sell their knowledge and thoughts while in reality they lose their spirit. Since I am an instructor and have neither the rank of a tenured professor nor their benefits, my commitment to the institution is ambiguous. Not having a secured job gives me a sense of uncertainty but also of freedom. This has been great for my writing since I do not feel I need to speak from and for the institution; on the contrary, I am able to keep my intellectual independence to say and write what I truly believe. There are moments though when I feel like a nomad in a faceless institution but I am used to it. I do not have an office, for example. I usually use the office space of other faculty who are on sabbatical or research leaves. In the past I used to hold office hours in a café near campus. And that was great. So, I do not identify myself with the institution where I teach but with my mission — education.
Thus, my relationship with my students is what teaching is about for me. Students keep me teaching. They inspire me and keep me jovial, playful and performative. I often walk into the classroom and improvise the whole hour. One student asks a question and that is enough for me to elaborate about different topics. It is a great skill to have because it allows you to follow the rhythm of the class instead of imposing a plan or an agenda. When the curricular necessities require adjusting the classwork to the mechanical clock, the teacher-students relationship gets stuck. That can be a problem.
I am convinced that teaching is primarily a human relationship between more experienced and less experienced people. The point of education is thus empowering students. And that is a meaningful activity regardless of the pressure the administration puts on you to adapt to the standardizing norms of the hierarchical structure. I remember when I was laid off students organized a campaign to protest the administration’s decision. They called that campaign “Saving Sepúlveda.” When that happens, you realize you have touched the inner fiber of young people who start learning how to stand up. I was probably a pretext for students to fight against something they thought was unfair. But even then they learned and had an experience of disobedience, gaining political perspective and personal power. So, the first principle for a pedagogy of peculiarities would be empowering.
From a more ideological point of view, formal education has been for a long time a mechanism of domestication and indoctrination. Dominant ideology has traditionally been transferred to new generations through formal education, producing the labor force the system needs. Formal education has also been a mechanism to normalize individuals to become functional to the system and it has been crucial in the civilizing process. Border schools were institutions to impose the dominant language and cosmovision, uprooting students from their home language and culture.
But education can also be progressive if it aims to create consciousness, waking up the mind and intellectual curiosity. That was the case of the radical governments in Chile in the early 20th century whose slogan was “to govern is to educate.” Many freemasons went into education then. Today however we need a different kind of education in order to foster biocentric values instead of positivist rationalism. Experiential learning is also crucial since human beings learn with the totality of the body. In my classes I always ask my students to handwrite before typing, so their whole bodies get involved in the writing process. For the same reason I prefer face-to-face interactions instead of online teaching. Ideally, these interactions could be reduced to a small number of students or even better to personalized teaching in which orality can regain its privileged psychic space in the learning-teaching process.
A major shortcoming in today’s higher education is the contradiction of referring to theoretical problems without considering their practical implications. This might become a problem because it makes what you teach irrelevant. That is the nature of the institution. But if you bring the political contingency into the classroom you make everything relevant, although the administration may not consider you professional. The divorce between hypothetical theory and empirical reality represents a severe conflict in formal education.
There is also another conflict that is taking place right now in the American educational system. Universities are becoming corporations and therefore private institutions. In this sense, universities behave like businesses, considering faculty like administrators and students like clients. When that happens, universities are transformed into the system’s brain, reproducing hierarchical, classist, and sexist practices.
There are, of course, pockets of intellectual life and faculty-student communities where it is felt that the university can still be a refuge. The University of Oregon senate recently voted a resolution to declare the university a sanctuary campus while students organized a walk out. In spite of this post-electoral climate, this is a sign that universities can still shelter political and ethical engagement. Universities have traditionally been sanctuaries where poets, writers and thinkers have helped to reshape societies in order to improve life and coexistence.
My situation at the University of Oregon is in this regard peculiar. Since I mostly teach academic and creative writing and courses on poetry, I have the freedom to bring the community and the culture into the classroom. I also teach subjects that are difficult to normalize in the academic format such as shamanism and intoxication. But I also teach courses on canonical literature through which I can educate, forming critical thinkers and informing students to have a historical perspective which mass culture tends to wipe out. My last book Poets on the Edge (2016) is indeed an academic book divided into four chapters that explore poetry in a 20th-century context. So, I am not against the academic work per se as long as it is meaningful for you and your students. If students read your work and learn something new, the dialogue and the discussion are open. If that is the case, then the possibilities to explore subjects and issues together ignite the light of consciousness. This is the challenge of education — to build an ark where everybody can navigate to find meaning in a senseless world.
9) You also have an interest in psychedelics. It has saddened me to see the extent to which these been recuperated, commodified and trivialized in recent years, with the commercialisation of ayahuasca as part of a spiritual ‘tourist package’, young people frivolously consuming powerful substances in dangerous settings for banal reasons and organisations with good intentions working to encourage capitalism to accept psychedelic medicines (“a pact with power,” as you term it, which will result in the placing of these substances in the hands of pharmaceutical companies and the medical industrial complex even if it simultaneously provides new opportunities for healing). Can psychedelics still be used to “unfold the petals of the cultural imagination” or have they become, for the most part, “nothing more than a fetish of consumption, or a museum piece that power hangs on the lapel of its jacket like a military medal”? How have they benefited you personally?
You are right about the recuperation, commodification and trivialization of medicinal plants in this new era. But this scenario has a twofold aspect. Capitalism certainly appropriated plants of power but plants of power still have a subversive power for whoever partakes of them to feel inspired and stop the world, transforming his or her entire self into a different and more aware person.
Indeed, when plants of power destroy the perceived everyday reality, enhancing consciousness toward an increased and altered state, a new world is revealed. This epiphany produces realizations that little by little become a sensitive critique of the world, catapulting sooner or later a rational critique of the world through language and reasoning. When that happens, there is no way you can go back to a decreased state of consciousness. It is like seeing the ocean for the first time. Once you have seen it, there is no way you can unsee it. The memory of that experience will keep you company the rest of your life. There is no way you can forget it unless you start intoxicating yourself with chemical substances (drugs produced in laboratories) that annul consciousness and daze people, confusing and leading them to anxious madness and amnesia. Then you can understand how the hit men of drug cartels can be so cruel and cold-blooded. They are intoxicated, so they do not know what they are doing. If they did, I am sure they would feel some remorse.
The sensitive critique of the world that psychedelics offer, in which the marvelous aspect of reality is unveiled, is a threshold toward a state of consciousness with wider awareness. This makes the person less oblivious and more considerate, meaning you become more conscious about yourself, others, nature and all living beings. Of course, there are a lot of people who pay to have such an experience because the environment where they live does not present the opportunity to have access to psychedelics. Communities are sometimes too closed-minded, and contemporary “urban corrals” are so artificial that medicinal plants have been almost eradicated there. So people do not know how to explore their psyche. Society also considers such exploration anathema. And without guidance and elders around, you can literally kill yourself. So, some previous training to become a psychonaut is required in case you do not have shamanic guidance or a community network to be initiated in.
In my personal journey I have had the fortune to be initiated many times in many places under the guidance of many shamans. I have also been able to connect with great people in different spiritual communities of prayers and healers from whom I keep learning. I have developed strong relationships with many plants of power — marihuana, Salvia divinorum, psychedelic mushrooms, peyote, and ayahuasca. I drink the sacred beverage on a regular basis as a member of the Santo Daime. I was initiated in the peyote tradition in the sacred valley of Wirikuta in Mexico where I pilgrimaged twice. My personal nagual, whom I met eight years ago, has been a great guidance in this regard. I have also cultivated salvia and Santa María, and have tried San Pedro cactus and Datura stramonium. I was in the Amazon once under the protection of the forest spirits and Mama ayahuasca. I have eaten different kind of mushrooms in Guatemala, Mexico, the Netherlands, and the American Northwest. My connections with shamans from Brazil, Chile, Mexico, and the U.S. are strong and respectful. But in spite of all these experiences, I still feel nervous before ingesting any plant of power, and I am always respectful and grateful because I know the plants are always taking care of me, healing and teaching me.
While in Chile I intoxicated myself, trying to escape from the repressive and fearful environment where I grew up. Chellis Glendinning explains that western civilization inflicts a trauma on individuals by the separation the civilization implies. Healing then is necessary so individuals can reconnect with themselves, their families, communities, and their environment, besides their spirit and ancestors. The military dictatorship in Chile inflicted a trauma on many of us. That is the reason why I started intuitively ingesting plants of power. I wanted to heal myself. So, psychedelics have been a healing path for me, as has poetry.
Terence McKenna suggests that consciousness sprung out from the contact of medicinal plants and mammals. Many shamans and other wise people say today that ayahuasca’s purpose of getting out of the jungle is to help people realize humans need to rectify their relationship with Mother Nature. So, it is difficult to say if the massification of plants of power in general and ayahuasca in particular has a negative impact. As the indigenous people from the Amazon basin say, the visionary vine of ayahuasca makes shamans. But shamans without communities are like visionary plants without a ritual — the necessary context to learn humility and thankfulness. As mammals we believe we are in control but we are not. Ayahuasca survived the last ice age and it has in its DNA Gaia’s ancestral wisdom from which people can benefit. Thus, to unfold the petals of the cultural imagination you need the correct guidance and support, so you can glimpse what is beyond this dimension. But that is a subject for another conversation — a subject I explore in detail in my recent book Realidades Multidimensionales [Multidimensional Realities] that I hope to soon have ready for publication.
10) I have been a reader of the works of Deleuze and Guattari for a long time; they overlap in substantial ways with my anarchism and I sense their presence weaving its way through your work too. Are there rhizomatic root networks in the soil of the garden? If so, what do you think we, as anarchists, could gain from a renewed engagement with their thought?
Deleuze and Guattari’s notions are very important for the renovation of anarchist thinking, regardless of whether they embrace anarchism or not. Their contribution of removing the heavy analytical and critical thought informed by Marxist theory and sociological language is indeed refreshing. In fact, what we have actually been witnessing in terms of the proliferation of anarchist collectives could easily be understood as a rhizomatic networking. In this botanical system each root is peculiar and unique; and at the same time it is part of a living and intricate rhizomatic network through which life flows. We human beings are also part of this network, which I like to compare to the mycelium system. The mycelium unifies us as one organism — a pluriorganism that becomes visible through each individual, the peculiar beings (in the mycelium model these are single mushroom stems.) For Deleuze and Guattari individualizations are the stems. But we also need to think that this pluriorganism we call humankind is interconnected and interdependent with other pluriorganisms that are sacred as well — trees, rivers, animals, birds, plants, insects, oceans, etc.
I do not believe reasonable free-spirited people can continue hoping to take control of the state apparatus through either a revolution or an election in order to vertically change the whole society. That is naïve if not suicidal. The U.S. election results are an example of the reaction to the advance of world leftism (whatever that means) we experienced during the last decade — Obama in the White House, Pope Francis in the Vatican, Evo in Bolivia, Correa in Ecuador, Chavismo in Venezuela, the Worker’s Party in Brazil, Mujica and the ex-Tupamaros in Uruguay, the Kirchners in Argentina, Bachelet in Chile, Hollande in France, the Sandinistas in Nicaragua, etc. What else could you possibly ask for if you were a leftist? Even in Chile the Communist Party made it into the government and the President of the Congress was Salvador Allende’s daughter. But did the whole global market change? Did we solve the ecological crisis? Did the social gap get reduced? Did we stop wars? Did we redirect our world? No! Utopia is still a chimera.
However, parallel to the emergence of the super-structural political elite a down-to-earth social, countercultural, and anti-systemic network has emerged — anarchist collectives, community-oriented movements, bioregional and local organizations, and sustainable, diverse and multiple spaces for coexistence, among others. I have the impression that the way this horizontal underground networking will weave continuously would be through a unified and yet colorful and pluralist movement of opposition to the emerging petty tyrants. This is an opportunity. We only have to immerse ourselves into a new rhizomatic and inclusive paradigm, far away from the fascist confrontational logic.
The anarchist demonstrations after Election Day ratified that people are not afraid but infuriated. So, the first step is to befriend your fears, the second step is to weave a different world than globalization, authoritarianism and nationalism by enhancing the values of solidarity and reconnection, leaving behind self-complacency. It is important to regain our personal power that representatives take away and re-empower ourselves, learning we can be active agents of the world we want to see. No government will do that for us. So, local-scale is good.
This new social-environmental paradigm might be a networking to question the model of civilization, presenting a simple dilemma; are we going extinct or are we going to evolve? I do not believe in dystopias or end-of-times narratives, which have a very suspicious religious component oriented toward pacification. Binary interpretations of reality that impose the false dispute between ‘left and right,’ ‘black and white,’ ‘good and evil,’ ‘they and us,’ are part of the mindset that feeds the system. Fatalism and electoral spectacles tend to encapsulate people into that reasoning. We need, on the contrary, to lift our spirit up in order to embrace the whole political reality with love and compassion. There is no other way.
The world we want to see starts through our personal transformation as well as the transformation of our intimate circle, community and environment. Globalization has been deterritorializing and reterritorializing — to use Deleuze and Guattari’s terms — the totality of reality as one cosmos into multiple identities, whose fragments have been transformed into commodities. Identity politics have played a significant role in that.
But reality is bigger than possible political scenarios. Plants and flowers pollinize the garden, interact with bees, absorb water and maintain intimate communication with each other, keeping each other company, giving shade or taking the space of others, so the garden can flourish. This is an essential part of our reality. The result of that pollination is a biodiverse and colorful environment, which is nothing but a perfect metaphor to describe the way our planet functions. If we mimic planet Earth’s functioning, we can recreate a world. That is what permaculture does, it mimics nature’s patterns. This is indeed something we all have to do — more or less at the same time — as if we were one planetary psyche, the noosphere.
Humans want to survive. It is our instinct of preservation. So I am confident that in the weaving of this new grass-root networking we will orient life toward the present, even to considering the impact of our actions “for the next seven generations” as Native Americans do. Regaining presence would be then an act of awareness. So, when people gather together, people reconnect with each other, unplugging themselves from the megamachine. That experience is precious because it helps human evolution — the state we need to achieve if we want to survive.
11) Although some days seem more hopeful than others, the stakes are very high and the odds are not in our favour. How can we best care for ourselves and each other in times where there is very little hope to keep us going? How can we protect the first fragile buds that have begun to peek out of the soil? Where does hope lie, for you, for me, for us and for birds and bees and fish and pandas and sloths and elephants and rhinos and snails and chickens and frogs and trees and moss and jellyfish and chimpanzees and wild grass?
Beautifully put, Aragorn. Where does hope lie? Well, it lays everywhere because the only way to actively take the reins of our life is by going to bed every night hoping we will wake up next morning and keep breathing. That same hope makes us feel it is possible to coexist in our planetary garden in harmony and peace, enhancing love and inclusiveness. We need to nurture a multidimensional perception of reality instead of this one-dimensional screen under which the manufactured hopelessness tends to bury us. Of course, things may not be going the way you or I would like, but instead of lamenting and sitting in a blue funk we need to lift ourselves up by focusing first on those things we appreciate and want, regaining our present and throwing away the fear. When we mortgage our present, we get paralyzed. This is the path of disempowerment.
On the other hand, hope empowers people. As Norbert Lechner puts is, politics is “the conflictive and never-ending construction of a desired order.” Here I would replace the expression “desired order” — which is Lechner’s Marxist matrix — by “desired utopia” — a free, transversal and multiple world, centered around the production of beauty and wellbeing instead of profit and material satisfaction. This desired world is nothing but the community-oriented life we all want in which common wellness and ecological balance are the fundamentals of social life. Anarchists have always aimed to be autonomous in a free world, educating and empowering others to also be autonomous and free thinkers. In so doing, people have been empowered to consciously and gratefully act, developing values of solidarity and self-governance. To lose hope is to give up autonomy and fall into the practice of renunciation — the lesser of two evils, for example. And renunciation is indeed the road to unhappiness and dependence.
So hope is intricately connected to desire. Wanting something lights up your passion, helping humans to be in movement, looking forward for the possibilities of their becoming. If we want to participate in the direction the consistent possibilities are going, it is preferable to have a clear mind and a strong and resilient spirit to actively be part of the change we want to see and experience. The nature of reality is in permanent change. We know that. So, being hopeful is a learning process, so you can flow with flexibility and strength in the waters of change. How else can you build a better world, a utopia, or simply write a book if you do not actually expect to do it?
Then, letting yourself flow in the waves of reality, opening its multiple petals and hoping life will emerge from that perfect symbiosis, implies opening the mind and surrendering to the mysterious and sublime forces of nature. Isn’t that perfect symbiosis the way you are here, being able to consciously articulate your thoughts while desiring freedom? Who says the odds are not in our favor? I have always been skeptical of the voices that proclaim hopelessness or fatalism. My experience has taught me that hopelessness is a mechanism to control people by inoculating apathy and resignation. That hopelessness forces human beings to accept the undesirable as something inevitable. There are few things that are inevitable and because you cannot avoid them they are sacred — love, life and death, for example. They are bigger than you and everybody else.
In order to socialize the masses into hopelessness, control mechanisms repeat the same song until they become dogmas or unquestionable beliefs. Although these sayings are not exactly propaganda, they work as such. For example, I have heard in many cultures and languages the same ideas: “you cannot change life because this is the way life is,” “it is impossible to change the world; it is utopian and naïve,” “utopias are idealistic and are not practical nor realistic,” “happiness is for the rich, so get used to it,” etc. I am also skeptical of discourses that invoke catastrophes, the end of times, apocalypses, the final judgment, etc. As long as my blood keeps pumping through my heart, I would say, everything you can think is possible — there are no limits for the multiple possibilities we have in front of us all the time. So why not let your inner self dream and act according to your dreams and desires? Why not find the spiritual practice, the energetic place, the right food, the beautiful people you want to be with in order to amplify your will? Of course, the media, the statistics, the experts, the governments, Wall Street, the IMF, the elections, you name it, are persistently sending messages to depress the population, incubating fear and colonizing the free minds of the amazing human race. These messages extract our labor and energy, depressing and discouraging us, so that the global machinery stays in place.
Is ecological collapse inevitable? NO! It is up to us to redirect human life on this planet, but to do so we need to raise human consciousness. Otherwise, our efforts are futile. Everybody needs to act autonomously and consciously because nobody can force anybody to do anything. We must act with complete freedom, awareness, and responsibility. I believe this moment of crisis is crucial to shake the spirit of many people, so humanity will reach a critical mass that will detour toward sanity and healing.
After we embrace life and all its serendipitous events, the mechanical clock based on a cause-and-effect logic and confrontational binary thinking should vanish away. Indeed, will, dreams, and imagination, are the magical bridges we still have time to build to escape from the one-dimensional tunnel the busy world wants us to be in. If you have a strong spirit you won’t break down easily. I learned that growing up under the Chilean dictatorship. During those 17 years, I knew the tyranny had to end, although hopeless people rejected that possibility, getting infuriated with me and crashing into fear and depression. They were so desperate that any sign of light was too painful. That is the reason healing is so important, especially now. We need to learn happiness, sensuality, dancing, singing, and poetry. Political power will do everything it can to discourage people. Institutional power perpetuates itself by disempowering people. When you lose hope you are disempowered. When you regain hope, you redeem your personal power. So, where does hope lie, for you, for me, and for all the critters and living beings tangible or intangible that inhabit our planetary dimension? Hope lies in empowerment.
Johannesburg, South Africa, December 15, 2016