What was interesting about the unexpected running with the bull on a Chiapas highway was not the excitement, or the rush of running for what we thought was our lives, or a practice session for running with the bulls in Pamplona with my father, or the rare opportunity to run in panic with dozens of Mayan descendants in one moment of shared experience. Rather, it was the structures of authority in place and its comparison to the United States – that wealthy and unenchanting world of reasoned irrationality – a token (as the neo-Marxist Marcuse would say) of advanced (un)civilized progress.
Our car plows forward as Lucio liberally accelerates the vehicle hoping for a timely arrival to the planned destination toward the Lancondón jungle. Traffic comes to a streaking halt to what appears to be a potentially tragic accident. People turn off engines, walk out cars, and approach the devastation – an overturned cargo of at least a half dozen bloody and writhing-in-pain cows.
The job at hand was as follows: Traffic needs control, order restored, crowd controlled, authoritative will imposed, the overturned cargo lifted, healthy cows transported, and dead cows appropriately dealt with – all while ensuring the safety of the general public.
Here’s how the situation would unfold in the U.S.:
A barrage of police, fire, medical, and animal control personnel would promptly arrive at the scene, cordon off the area, remove the people from the scene, bark orders, bring in machinery to lift the overturned cargo, and probably – especially in New York City – offer psychological, psychiatric, and trauma councilors to the scene to help the unfortunate observers mentally cope with the unfortunate cow tragedy just witnessed.
[On a side note, this last observation is rather unsurprising. We can divide the American population into three groups:
First, the middle and wealthy class group. They are pampered and overly sensitive class, given complete access to councilors of all sorts – marriage, relationship, stress, work, and constructed pathologies of all kinds (from ADD to hyperactivity to anxiety to whatever else people bellyache about). This pampered class is far from what most sociologists would call hegemonic masculinity. They are the pampered, mollycoddled class given all the resources necessary to happily live in an unhealthy, pathological, and diseased society – cheerful robots.
The second group consists of our working and underclass groups, including but not limited to our black and brown populations. For this group, our mental “health professionals” exist as forms of social control and uncritical advocates of our criminal justice and educational systems (is there a difference?). The barrage of dutiful, serious, arrogant – and with no hint of embarrassment of credulity – councilors violently label this at or near poverty level group as criminogenic, violent, uncivilized, and in need of repair. If you are a republican, this group is fundamentally different from us, and if repair fails prison exists as a viable and desired consequence. If you are a liberal – at its core, patronizing, arrogant, formally educated to complete conformity to orthodoxy (if your education was successful) group – they are just like us and if given our resources and opportunity would behave just like us sharing in our values and beliefs. This second group is further believed to be lacking in industry and education, ignoring the creative cultural brilliance (think art and music forms as well as eccentric peculiarities such as burial practices among the poor black New Orleans population) and economic industriousness (think of the many innovative work practices that take place in the informal economy that make subsistence possible). Here, our mental health advocates serve as one more form of social control to punish the “social junk” western forms of capitalism produces.
Finally, our third group consists of the undocumented, so-called illegal immigrant groups as well as our socially and spatially distanced groups (Cajuns, Appalachians, etcetera). These groups are barely considered humans invoking Marx’s phrase “Wretched dogs, one day they will treat you like humans.” Here, the benevolent arms of our mental “health professionals” do not reach. They live as an excluded class as if we (the middle and upper classes) have no social relationship with them. Although, as Barbara Ehrenreich points out, this class subsidizes our wealth and operates as the greatest volunteers or as sociologist Steven Lopez calls the “shit work” that makes our wealth possible, we return this favor with hyper-exclusion pretending that we do not have a social relationship with this class – they exist outside our protective blanket of society. No guilt necessary, nor white apology – a magical solution to real problems.]
Now back to the analogy. In brief, in the U.S., the “authorities” (I always have found this an odd word – along with our “leaders” – because it reduces us to passive followers to stronger, better, and more able beings directing my life. I can please my own woman – thank you very much). The so-called authorities would have taken complete control of the situation, managed every detail, and made the entire situation – as Weber would say – fully rationalized into a calculable, predictable, efficient, and controllable experience. The humans involved in this moment would be reduced to mere spectators, docile bodies merely observing – passively – their own individual and collective experience. This potentially exciting, unpredictable, and spontaneous experience would have become routine and disenchanting, another accident on the highway where potential participants to successfully handle the situation are forced to become impotent, powerless, passive, mindless spectators (is this not what our voting process and democratic reality has become?). In short, the “authorities” alienate us from our own experiences denying our human ability to imprint our selves in our own experiences.
Now, back to what happened in the Zapatista-controlled Chiapas highway. The Mayan descendants of one or more possible tribal natives to the region jump out their cars and proceed to the accident. There are no ambulances, no emergency vehicles noticeable, no fire trucks, no “authorities” taking control of the situation, managing bodies, barking orders, administering (from a western perspective) order. Instead, every man (yes, men still play a dominant role in the public sphere, especially in potentially dangerous situations) actively worked to solve the problems: tending to and securing the healthy and unhealthy cows, righting the overturned cargo, organizing traffic and people. They were brilliant, innovative, organized (without government, authorities, leaders, or any other agent of social control), industrious, and determined to resolve the situation, fix it, and return the situation to normalcy. Each man became his own leader.
While tending to the cows, one cow broke free taking off in panic along the highway into the distance. Even the cow became a leader and escaped (another thing that would not happen in the U.S. – at least in Mexico the underdog – the cow in this instance – wins, and in reality not Hollywood, ideology, or fictional tales).
When the cow broke free, posing a potential threat to the participants (notice not mere passive observers), everyone knew what to do. Of course, run and jump to higher elevations to safety. Roxanne, who in the U.S. would have been ordered to leave the scene, go back to mundane existence (nothing to see here!), and don’t forget to vote (and be careful of suspicious packages – have a nice day!), became who she is, a strong independent woman capable of saving her own ass – and in the most exciting and fun way possible – in the face of a stampeding cow threat. She took the first chance possible to move behind a truck and duck behind a large fellow. My father fared the same, we all did, taking off down the highway looking for safety and saving ourselves and others along the way (and in my father’s account the poor children, Oh the children! – none of which were injured).
In short, everything was organized, people were creative and valiant, and the situation was dealt with in a timely and responsible fashion. All of this happened without agents of social control, without government, without leaders (as said, each man was a leader), without authorities. People are capable of existing, better yet, prospering without government or its representatives.
This is not proof, but it is merely more evidence.
We are not impotent docile bodies reduced to spectator of our own experiences and reality.
We are mostly valiant and sometimes cowards, we are mostly heroes and sometimes fearful, we are creative and innovative but sometimes dull, we are contradictory but prevail.
We have human spirit and our agents of control stifle it, along with the social reality (all reality indeed) that our human spirit creates and shapes (as well as shaped by).
We must revel in our extraordinary and fascinating contradiction shaping reality, and our experiences in our own image.
We are anarchy, it’s the only way to be.
*warning, the harming of animals did occur in this story.