Zapatismo, conscious science and the purpose of the rainbow
By: Eugenia Gutiérrez, the Radio Zapatista Collective.
Mexico, 4 January 2017.
How does science explain the formation of a rainbow, why it is said to have 7 colors and what is its purpose?
That was a question put forth by Zapatismo a few days ago, and people who dedicate themselves to the study of the natural and hard sciences can answer the first two parts, and in fact, they already have. They understand the phenomenon we associate with the encounter of rain and sun, and how the light breaks down into colours on contact with the water in the rain, or a waterfall, or a fountain. They understand why we see it as an arc, why we can distinguish the colours in the spectrum from red to violet, what visual perspective is needed to see it, and how it can appear even during a storm. By now this question has been answered with clarity and detail. But the Zapatista communities also asked what purpose the rainbow has. Yet since natural phenomena have no specific function, no purpose, science cannot answer that. Science understands “why” natural phenomena happen but not “for what ends”.
This question was one among more than 100 addressed from the first day of the gathering of the Zapatistas and ConSciences for Humanity that ended today in CIDECI-Unitierra in San Cristobal de las Casas, Chiapas, Mexico. It is unprecedented that at a scientific gathering, questions such as this one, and others, were presented collectively after having been discussed for months by numerous people living in indigenous communities in resistance. Likewise the answers will be taken back to the communities for more discussion. And then to add to all this, more questions about each topic emerged during the heated debates. But there is something that is not new when it comes to Zapatismo, and that is that many of the questions, collective or individual, concerned something more than scientific knowledge: our conscience. Some of the women and men scientists gathered at the University of the Earth (CIDECI-Unitierra) carefully explained what science is: knowledge obtained through observation and reasoning; trial and error; proving or disproving something; the systematisation of information in order to deduce laws or general principles about the functioning of the cosmos. But how do we define conscience?
The word “conscience” encompasses an ambiguous concept. According to the Association of Spanish Language Academies the word comes from Latin, and on the one hand it means “the faculties of the human spirit to recognise itself in its essential attributes and in all the modifications that it undergoes”; and “reflective knowledge of things”; and “mental activity about which only the subjects can know themselves”; and from the field of psychology, “a psychic act by which subjects perceive themselves in the world.” On the other hand, viewed culturally and morally, conscience is our “inner knowledge of good and evil,” while “erroneous consciousness” would mean “a person who out of ignorance judges truth for falsehood, or falsehood for truth, mistaking good for bad, or bad for good “. This all means that consciousness is an individual capacity. To the best of our knowledge, we know we are, that we exist, and after some time, we will not be here, we will no longer exist. The Zapatista contribution made by Sup Moises and Sup Galeano pointed out that speaking about conscience is also word play, that being “with” (con in Spanish) science also suggests closeness, commitment, and accompaniment. And as the young Zapatista Marina explained, it is also knowing that only by “working together to create something shared” that we can overcome “the forces of gravity” of a System that crushes us.
No science can systematise “essential attributes” or the “changes” that the human spirit experiences, and neither can the social sciences or the humanities. And up until now, it is not possible to deduce the principles and general laws about the conscience. And further, if conscience is an individual mental activity, how do we generate a collective, constructive and humanistic conscience, so that community science and technology can emerge with such force it counteracts what destroys us? Zapatismo proposes that we need other definitions, new concepts.
We have our imagination. Conscience and imagination. And while biology explains that we may not be the only species with a conscience and imagination, biology also points out that we are the only species capable of reasoning and generating complex technology from our conscience and imagination. This distinguishes us as a species, but as many presentations stated our conscience destroys as well.
The conscience can be humanistic and it can imagine a better world, but transformation requires a lot. The women and men scientist gathered at CIDECI during these days have explained that science and technology are immersed in economic, political, social and cultural systems which define the objectives and scope of the work. Having an understanding of Nature then becomes linked to economic, political, social and cultural matters. This brings great risks for our societies because technology, the product of science, has negative and positive effects, depending on who created it and to what ends it was created. There is conscience which destroys and conscience which constructs. It is from a constructive conscience that Zapatismo invites us to transform before we destroy our own history just as we are beginning.
What Zapatismo proposes can be achieved. With their own scientific knowledge, many of the participants and presenters at Unitierra were like the reflection of the spectrum of colours that our human eyes can see. The perspective required to observe this phenomenon was offered by Zapatismo and the questions it proposes. The storm we know where it comes from. Then a novel configuration produced a light that projected itself beyond the spectrum that the naked eye can perceive. The mirrors of the resistance of the National Indigenous Congress and the collective voices of the Zapatista students Marina, Sofia, Esther, Cecilia and Claudia, in perfect harmony. The confluence of all the necessary factors to contemplate that unique moment, that moment that makes us stop to look with respect and silence because a rainbow, whatever it is, is also a fascinating opportunity that stimulates our reason and imagination to reflect on the temporary but infinite magic of life.
In the map presented by Cristian with Mary Chuy at his side and both from the CNI, they explained a way to use reason and imagination based upon a conscience of the constructive and humanistic collective to create science and community technology. The Wixaritari people call it “takiekari” which means “our everything” explained Cristian. They call it the world, the universe, and down to the micro-cosmos where “the struggle for land is inalienable.” Then comes the idea of the “yurameka”, the “essence of life” that the Wixárika ancestry nominated to care for “all that grows from the beginning of life” and that care “depends on each of the vital components of ecology” of the macrocosm. In the imaginary and real dreams of Zapatista women, it is intuited that it is possible to “do science with the ends to mean life,” says Marina. In her speech to compañeros she said we know that the nightmare of the storm we confront and that envelops us can be stopped when we learn how to “govern with our knowledge”.
It’s not easy to care for the land, and the balance of life. But the indigenous communities of Mexico and other nations have done so for many years. There was a time, when they even created other science and technology that functioned for centuries. The civil engineering of Teotihuacan served a fully functioning mega-city: the roads in perfect lines, with slopes correctly inclined for water management; the prudent diversion of a river; appropriate adhesives that archeology still cannot reproduce. Europe could not have maintained the hydraulic engineering operation that the great Tenochtitlan had. There was the intelligent separation of fresh and salt water, the management of springs, drinking water and drainage systems, and the “chinampas”(*). In Xochicalco, in the city, there is a cave with an opening so precise it connects the underworld to the map of the constellations above, allowing us to observe solstices, equinoxes; and it can x-ray our hand if we hold it up to the strong rays of the sunshine. In Palenque, Copan, and Quirigua – an exact understanding of spatial bodies’ cyclical movements. En Tzin Tzun Tzan, Mitla or Machu Picchu the magnificent, age-enduring architecture. In all of the indigenous communities of the Amercias there is the tradition of herbal medicine; and of improving corn in mutually respectful ways, agriculture, beekeeping, other traditions; painting and pottery technologies that combine to be substances producing form and colour which have endured for millennia; not to mention navigation, the construction of artificial lakes, dykes, piers, pyramids, and cities plastered and bathed in colour. In the Isthmus of Tehuantepec and the Maya area, hundreds of kilometres of paved roads; the invention of a writing system; a solar and lunar counting system, and many others; the design of a method for the anticipated recording of eclipses of the sun and moon (including those which could not observe); the discovery of accounting for absence of when measuring in units. In Coba, a woman recorded a great explosion in exponential cycles of 13 raised to power 20. More than 28 thousand quadrillions of tonnes.
But they did not know steel and or gunpowder, and they had not developed antibodies for bacteria and viruses which came from afar.
It’s not easy to care for the land, and the balance of life. But the indigenous communities of Mexico and other nations are doing so, and will continue to do so, in the midst of the ongoing war. We are conscious that we don’t have to be assassins or a voracious companies because we are the cradle of civilizations. There’s where reason and imagination come to life; where it is known that science does not transform for greater good if it is not communitarian; and consciousness is not enough if it is not constructive and it also must be collective and humanistic. Thousands of women and men students are preparing themselves. The National Indigenous Congress is too.
This is rare. The invisible ones, the ones who didn’t exist yesterday, are today and tomorrow breaking the laws of optics and physics. Deactivating a storm with energy. Those who prepared for death and war learned to do that, and that prepares us for life, thanks to the life force of ancestral knowledge and strength in confronting pain. But above all, thanks to the life force’s collective consciousness that builds, the life force with its vibrant imagination and the will to fight from a position of reason and autonomy. Now the life forces prepare to live demonstrable knowledge, among other things.
According to the Gregorian calendar, another year is beginning. We went around the sun again, and we lived to see it, we lived to see this rainbow, this milestone on the threshold of another time. What purpose does it serve? If it were a natural phenomenon, scientifically it would have none. But the rainbow we speak about is of an origin that has yet to be explained, and the colours to be defined, it fulfills a function in our conscience because it is not a natural phenomenon.
(*) Chinampa is an agricultural practice of growing crops on small rectangular gardens floating in th shallows of the lake beds in the Valley of Mexico.
Colectivo Radio Zapatista
Translated by the UK Zapatista Translation Service