EZLN: Zapatista Alchemy
January 2, 2017.
We take a lot of care with the value of the word. When we talk about someone, we’re not just saying his or her name: we’re naming his or her presence with us.
That’s what we mean when we say “brother” or “sister”; but when we say “compañera” or “compañero,” we’re talking about a back and forth, about someone who is not outside but rather who sees and listens to the world, and fights for it, together with us.
I mention this because here with us is the compañero Don Pablo González Casanova, who is, as is evident, a Zapatista Autonomous Municipality in Rebellion unto himself.
Since the compañero Pablo Gonzalez Casanova is here, I’m going to try to raise the level and scientific rigour of my presentation, avoiding any sort of double-entendre (large or small, pay attention).
Alchemy. Before you use up your data on your cell phones and tablets checking what “alchemy” is on “Wikipedia,” and overwhelm me with all sorts of definitions, let me clarify that with this term we’re referring to an antecedent, a step that precedes (whether necessary or not, you can decide) the constitution of science as such. Or as the late SupMarcos used to say, “alchemy is a sick science, a science invaded by the parasites of philosophy, ‘folk wisdom,’ and the kind of evidence that saturates the complex world of contemporary communication,” as we can read in one of the documents left behind after his death.
In that text, the deceased indicated that alchemy was not necessarily a precursor to science as indicated by the saying, “all science was alchemy before it was science.” Rather, it was a non-science that aspired to be science. He also said that alchemy, unlike the pseudo-sciences, does not build on a mix of truths and knowledges, with evidence and clichés. Pseudo-science, he says, does not move closer to science but rather separates itself from it and will become its most ferocious enemy; it will succeed in getting more publicity in times of crisis. It does not constitute an alternative explanation of reality (as is the case with religion), but rather a “reasoning” that supplants, invades and conquers scientific thought, defeating it in the most important contest in a media society: that of popularity.
Pseudo-science does not aspire to the argument of faith, hope and charity. Rather, it offers an explanation with a logical structure that “tricks” reasoning. To put it plainly: pseudo-science is a fraud, typical of the charlatanism that abounds in academia.
Alchemy, on the other hand, aspires to free itself, to “cure” itself, to “purge” the parasites that are the non-scientific elements.
Although it claims dubious maternity rights over the sciences, philosophy, which calls itself “the science of the sciences,” is, according to the text of the deceased, one of those very parasites. “Perhaps the most dangerous one,” continues the late Sup, “because it presents itself to science as a way out of that affirmation-negation, ‘I don’t know’, that, sooner or later, science bumps up against. Its commitment to rationality leads science to supplant religion with philosophy when it arrives at its limit.”
For example, if it didn’t have the capacity to explain why it rains, instead of invoking the argument that god is the one who decides about rainfall, science would prefer to invoke a reasoning along the lines of, “The rain is none other than a social construction, with a theoretical-empirical appearance revolving around a random perception that occurs in the context of a continual conflict between being and non-being; it’s not that you get wet when it rains, but rather that your perception of ‘getting wet’ is a vacillating part of a universal decoloniality.”
Even though all this could be summarized as, “it’s really up to the rain whether it falls, or falls on you,” science would embrace this external explanation, because, among other things, science believes that its explicatory power is in language, and not in the power to make possible the transformation of reality. “Know in order to transform,” they told us here a few days ago. Philosophy successfully sells science its certificate of legitimacy: “you are science when you achieve a logic in language, not when you are able to understand.”
If we go even further, for “Zapatista alchemy,” science not only understands reality and thereby makes possible its transformation; scientific knowledge also “opens the path” and defines new horizons. That is to say, for Zapatista alchemy, science completes its duty by continually arriving at the recognition that “what is missing is yet to come.”
If, in the philosophical and scientific thought of the last century, the sciences progressively “dismantled” religious explanations, offering verifiable knowledge; then in the coming crisis, the pseudo-sciences do not confront reality with a magical explanation, but rather “invade” and “parasitize” the sciences, first in order to “humanize” them, and then in order to supplant them.
Philosophies are then transformed such that they no longer function as the tribunal that sanctions scientificity according to the logical structure of language, but rather the generic, naturopath and homeopathic explanation opposed to the “obvious”, scientific one. To make myself clear: for postmodern philosophy, micro-doses are the best weapon against the big pharmaceutical monopolies.
The popularity of the pseudo-sciences is rooted in the fact that a scientific background is unnecessary: it’s enough to nourish oneself in the hidden corners of language, to supplement ignorance with badly concealed pedantry and evidence and platitudes with complex linguistic inventions.
Faced with an affirmation like: “the law of universal gravitation says that the force of attraction between two bodies with mass is directly proportional to the product of their masses and inversely proportional to the square of the distance that separates them,” science will recur to observation and experimentation, while philosophy will analyze the logical reasoning in the language.
Another example: an assertion from the neurosciences, like “a lesion in area 17 of the occipital lobe can cause cortical blindness or blind spots, depending on the extent of the lesion,” can be confirmed with functional magnetic resonance imaging, an electroencephalogram or similar technologies.
Clearly, in order to be able to do this it was necessary for science to advance to be able to study the brain and explain its parts, but the development of other sciences was also necessary to obtain the functional neuroimages.
When, upon the recommendation of a compa, I read that excellent text called The Man Who Mistook his Wife for a Hat, by the neurologist Oliver Sacks, I thought that Sacks must have been itching to open that man’s head to see what was happening in his brain. Although I would have preferred to open his wife’s head to understand how she could stand to be confused for a hat and why she didn’t “fix” her husband’s dysfunction with a good smack upside the head.
Now, scientific-technological advances will make it possible to study, for example, what happens in the Cat-dog’s brain without the necessity of opening its head.
Despite this, faced with a scientific explanation for brain function, pseudo-science will offer its own explanation using a supposedly scientific language, and it will tell us that our problems are due to the fact that we haven’t developed the full capacity of our brain function. And so, theories abound that say that intelligence is measured by the percentage of the brain that is used. A more intelligent person uses a greater percentage of his or her brain. For example, Donald Trump and Enrique Peña Nieto would have in common that they use 0.00001% of their brains, while Einstein would have used, let’s say, 30%. The success of the movie “Lucy” is not limited to the box-office, nor due only to the fact that it was directed by Luc Bensson and stars my ex, Scarlett Johansson; it’s because it permits the appearance of charlatans who offer courses so you can become more intelligent using “scientific techniques” to take advantage of your maximum brain capacity.
And so the commercial success of products with pheromones to attract the opposite sex was brief. (“If you, my friend, can’t manage to catch the bus much less a man or woman-friend, it’s not because you can’t pull yourself away from the TV or computer screen, it’s because you don’t use this soap-perfume: after the first use, you’ll see how they throw themselves at you as if you were a youtuber, tweetstar or a trendy meme. And just look, for one time only we have a special offer of 333 for the price of 2, but only if you call the number on the screen in the next 15 minutes. Remember to have your credit card number on hand. You don’t have a credit card? For the love of…well that’s why you can’t even catch a cold, much less a partner; no, friend, not even pheromones will help you. Change the channel or go watch videos of funny accidents, the prophecies of Nostradamus or similar things that will provide conversation material in the chat room of your preference).
But just behind in the relay race is the stupid blunder of “brain capacity,” which is supplanting the pheromone lotions with products that develop your cognitive capacities: you too, friend, can be a successful person and learn to fly and repair interstellar spaceships on youtube.
Perhaps this proposal, which is neither modern nor post-modern, would not be so supported even by some scientists if they knew that one of its promoters was Dale Carnegie, with his self-help best-seller, which dates from 1936, titled How to Win Friends and Influence People, which sits on the bedside table of John M. Ackerman et al.
In sum, while scientists try to confirm or discard their hypotheses about how the brain works, pseudo-scientists sell you courses on brain gymnastics and things like that.
And, in general, while the sciences require rigour, study, theory and exhaustive practice, the pseudo-sciences offer knowledge at the click of that dark object of desire for the Cat-dog: the computer mouse.
Which is to say that science is not easy: it’s hard, it demands, it obligates. It’s obviously not popular even among the scientific community.
And then science doesn’t do anything for itself and it decides to break your heart without a second thought. It happened to me, for example. You all have to be strong and mature for what I’m about to tell you. Sit down, relax, be in harmony with the universe, and prepare yourselves to learn a crude and cruel truth. Are you ready? Well, it turns out that the moka or moca doesn’t exist. There’s no such thing as a moka tree or a moka mineral. The moka is not a creation of the first gods to alleviate the life and death of SupMarcos. It’s not the prohibited fruit with which the serpent, dressed-up as a seller of rejuvenating cosmetics, tricked wicked Eve, who in turn coaxed noble Adam and screwed over Rome. Nor is it the holy grail, the sorcerer’s stone that moves the search for knowledge. No, it turns out that…. moka is a hybrid or a mix or something like that. I don’t remember of what with what because, when they told me about it, I got more depressed than when one of the scientists said that the most brilliant alchemist was not present, and then, I confess, I threw myself into vice and perdition. I distanced myself from worldly distractions and I understood, then, the success of the philosophies and pseudo-sciences in vogue today. What is there to live for if the moka is nothing but a construction of the social imaginary? Then I got a better understanding of that spontaneous philosopher who would have had great success on social networks, and who responded to the name of Jose Alfredo Jimenez. “Paths of Guanajuato” [“Caminos de Guanajuato”] would have been the Critique of Pure Reason that Kant couldn’t elaborate.
But, despite injuries and scars, the presentations you all gave start to produce effects:
One insurgente official listened to the talk that Dr. Claudio Martinez Debat gave about genetic inheritance, and he concluded that it’s true. “I applied it quickly, thinking about the communities and, yes, if a compa is a certain way, you see that his father and mother have the same way about them. For example, if SubMoy is very bad-tempered, then it’s because his father was very bad-tempered himself.”
“Ah,” I said to him, “so SubMoy gets mad at us not because we don’t complete our tasks, but because his father was very bad-tempered?”
The scientific investigation is still pending because at that moment SubMoy arrived to check whether we had prepared the things to go to Oventik. That is, justice fell upon on us.
This is a meeting of the Zapatistas and the sciences. We added “con” to “sciences” not just because of the play on words, but also because your having accepted this meeting with us goes beyond your duty and could imply a reflection about the world, too, as well as an explanation of what you work on in your respective specialties.
As in our previous participations, Subcomandante Insurgente Moises and he who writes and reads this are making an effort to give you data so you can form an image (a profile, they would say these days) of the type of Zapatista who is interested in learning from you all.
We’re striving for this because, as we also said in our other intervention, our aspiration is for this meeting to be repeated, and for it to multiply quantitatively and qualitatively.
With your presentations, you all give us an idea not only of the knowledge you possess, but also of your reasons for accepting our invitation and for being present here in person or via texts, audios and videos.
Because we need science, we are displaying all our charms now, together with SubMoy, in order to convince you all that here, with us, you can and should do science.
That’s why we’re telling you not about science, but about what we have been and what we are, and what we want to be.
We can do what we can. We can’t offer you scholarships, resources, or recognitions to plump up your curriculum vitae. Gosh, we can’t even help you get a few class-hours, much less a tenured position.
It’s true, we could try to con you and put on our “I’m a poor Zapatista who lives in the mountains” face.
Or insinuate, with a seductive voice, “What’s up my plebeian friend, I know you want a piece of this, come on already. You know the scientists say not to produce any more production because the world is as full as the metro at 7:30am: don’t make any more products they say, better to adopt instead. So you and I are going to offer them a full assortment as they say, like cow-tongue or shredded pork tacos, so they have options. If it comes out a boy we’ll keep going until we get a girl, or the other way around, switching, going by pairs. The point is that what’s important isn’t winning, but rather competing.”
Or with a DM that invites: “Come on, let’s deconstruct our clothes and contextualize our private parts.”
Or we could send you a whatsapp that suggests: “You, me, and a particle accelerator: I’m just saying, think about it.”
We could do that, though it surely wouldn’t be successful.
What we’re thinking of doing is what we’re saying: show ourselves as we are and how we’ve come to be what we are.
So that you don’t feel you’re at a disadvantage knowing that you’re being not only listened to, but evaluated (the closing ceremony of this event, on January 4, is when the 200 masked men and women, our compañeros and compañeras, the Zapatista bases of support, will evaluate this event), we’ve tried to give you elements so that you can evaluate us and decide how to answer the complex question of whether you will return, or file these days under “never repeat ever again.”
That evaluation will be our first disagreement and we will have to decide if we overcome it like mature adults and take up couples therapy, or if we call it a day.
In any case, it is to be expected that on your way home you’ll say to yourselves, “sonofa…and I was complaining about the Conacyt [National Council of Science and Technology] and the National System of Researchers.”
Before, I told you that one way to get to know us was to ask why we ask what we ask. So other possible questions could be, “what do you understand by and expect of science and of scientists?”
For us, science implies knowledge that doesn’t depend on other factors. Note, that’s science, not scientific research. That is, for example, exact science by antonomasia, mathematics in the singular or various kinds of mathematics. Is there a capitalist math and one below and to the left? I give this extreme example because, starting from the still-developing sciences, the “young” sciences as they say, with their understandable errors and stumbling explanations, generalizations are made that say “science is guilty of this and that.” “Science is racist, discriminatory, and doesn’t take into consideration the personal and passionate drama of the scientist.” And there, in the apocalypse of the cat-dog, it becomes the “mother of all misfortune.”
We Zapatistas don’t do science, but we want to learn it, study it, know it, apply it.
We are familiar with the courtship the pseudo-sciences offer us, and with their path of poverty-optimization: the attempt to sweet talk us with the idea that the non-knowledges we have are really “wisdoms.”
I’m going to ignore for now the fact that this position invariably comes from someone who has never done science, that is, beyond middle school science experiments.
But that’s what they tell us, and they give us the example that we know when to plant. It’s true, we do know when to plant; we identify certain “signals” in nature and, through tradition and custom, we know it’s time to sow seeds.
But we don’t know why those signals indicate that it’s time to plant, nor what the relationship is between those signals.
The Zapatista young peoples’ interest in science (as in the example of the estafiatei that Subcomandante Insurgente Moisés told us about a few days ago) finds echo and support from the adults and the elders, because climate change has caused those signals to become blurry.
So now, with climate change, the dry season and rainy season have been disrupted. Now it rains when it’s not the time for rain and doesn’t rain when it is. The cold season has been reduced in time and intensity. Animals that are supposed to belong in certain zones begin to appear in others that have neither similar vegetation nor climate.
When the rains are late in coming and the crops are at risk, the custom in the communities is to set firecrackers off into the sky “to wake the clouds,” or to remind god that it’s time for rain, like a reminder of the work at hand in case god got distracted. But it turns out that god is either really busy or not listening, or just doesn’t have anything to do with the extended draught.
So you see, ancestral knowledge isn’t enough, if in fact you can call it knowledge.
So what some call the “ancestral knowledge” of the indigenous confronts a world that they do not understand, that they do not know. And the Zapatistas, instead of consoling ourselves in churches or shrines or resorting to prayer, realize that we need scientific knowledge, now not out of curiosity but out of the necessity to do something real to change our reality or to confront it under better conditions.
That’s why the generations that prepared and carried out the uprising, those that sustained resistance with rebellion, and those that grew up in the context of autonomy and maintain the rebellion and resistance, all agree on one need: scientific knowledge.
We don’t know how sensitive science is to public opinion, social networks, or the imposition of paths or explanations, not because of the pressure of money, Power, or the system, but because of self-censorship.
We don’t know if something exists that could be called “another science,” and if it would correspond to a media or social court that judges, condemns, and executes sentences against the sciences.
To whom does the construction of another science correspond, if there is something that can be named as such?
We Zapatistas think it corresponds to the scientific community, regardless of its phobias, affinities, political militancy or lack thereof. And we think that community should resist and combat the parasites that latch onto it, or that already inhabit and weaken it.
That is why, even if we don’t manage to convince you that ours is an effort for life as well and that we need you in that endeavour, you should keep on without tiring, without compromise, and without concessions, to us or anyone else.
You should keep on because your commitment is to science, that is, to life.
Thank you very much.
From CIDECI-Unitierra, San Cristóbal de Las Casas, Chiapas, Mexico.
Mexico, January 2017
From the Notebook of the Cat-Dog
The 3-of-3 of the Cat-Dog
I don’t know if this is still the case, but 10-12 years ago, people sang and danced ska. I vaguely remember that concerts were organized in solidarity with various people’s struggles. At those concerts, and I don’t know either if they still do this, but instead of paying money, dough, bread, cash, you could get in with a pound of rice, beans, or sugar that would later be sent to those movements. Some of those concerts were to support the Zapatista communities’ resistance, and on one occasion, I think in 2004, they sent me some videos where the only thing you could see was a cloud of dust, in the midst of which you could vaguely make out the crowd jumping around as if they had ants in their pants to the rhythm of “La Carencia,” which is what Defensa Zapatista found on the internet when she looked up the word. I told the compa you couldn’t see a damned thing on the video and he responded that maybe it was my computer, because on his you could see, I quote, “dope, man, dope.”
Of course it turns out that his computer was one of those super-modern ones with a foot control, a heliport, a bowling alley and a minibar, and mine, well how can I tell you, it had a DOS operating system and the most modern thing it could read was a 5-inch floppy disk (which was like trying to read the “Piedra del Sol,”ii which is or was housed in the National Museum of Anthropology, with the disinterested support of IBM).
On one trip that compa made to these mountains, he checked my laptop over and declared, and I quote: “yeah that’s lame, plus it’s not even the original video, who knows who that’s from, here, this is the real thing,” and he pulled up another video taken from the stage. There you could hear the music and see the crowd holding up different kinds of stuffed animals. If people still play, sing, and dance to that kind of music, they must have been dying of envy when they saw the Sherlock Holmes and Einstein dolls I had here during the first talk.
It turns out around that around that same time the deceased SupMarcos recorded a CD with the musicians who call themselves “Panteón Rococó,” named “3 times 3,” although I don’t know the reason or motive for the name. This is relevant in this case because perhaps one can find there the antecedent for this “3of3.” Now that it is publicly known that the National Indigenous Congress has decided to form an Indigenous Governing Council and run the spokesperson of that Council as candidate for the Mexican presidency in 2018, the Cat-Dog felt obligated to present its own “3of3,” you know, not to be caught flatfooted and better a bird in the hand and sit down before you’re knocked off your feet.iii
1 of 3: Artificial Intelligence versus Zapatista Intelligence
“The political system has been hacked,” reads the news ticker across all of the screens in the Society of Power Artificial Intelligence complex.
The central Chat forum lights up and almost simultaneously various nicknames appear, all worse than ridiculous.
A dull conversation begins, but stops immediately when the nickname “Bossy” appears.
It’s not just any meeting. And I don’t mean because nobody is physically there. There aren’t even real avatars, just voices.
But every voice knows its place in the hierarchy. The less they speak the higher their rank.
At that moment a voice points out:
“I don’t think there’s anything to worry about really. It’s clear that this will only further saturate the [political] centre. One more option for those who think they choose and decide. I don’t really see that there’s a problem, let them do it. And well, that geography was defined a long time ago. I suggest we move on to the next item…”
A voice interrupts, their rank evident in their dubious tone:
“Pardon me. I think we should not underestimate what they intend. That should be clear from the fact that this wasn’t even contemplated among the thousands of scenarios that our systems predicted. In fact, we didn’t even realize it was happening until it appeared on the screen.
When we saw the warning blinking “The political system has been hacked,” we thought it was another hacker invasion and that there was no reason to worry. The firewalls would take care not only to neutralize the attack but to counterattack with a virus that would send the intruder back to smoke signal communication. But no, the system didn’t even warn of a virus or infiltration risk. It just indicated that there was something for which it didn’t even have a category of classification.”
Another voice, same volume, similar tone:
“I agree. The proposal is too daring for them to be satisfied with a dispute over the centre. I was doing the calculations and I think they are aiming for those people who don’t even appear in our statistics. Those people want to destroy us.”
Several voices begin to murmur. The screens erupt with texts in characters illegible for those not familiar.
A voice inquires with authority:
“What do you suggest?”
“A vacuum,” says another voice, “that the media focus elsewhere. And that the well-behaved left attack them. There’s no lack of racism there, a mere insinuation will be enough for it to carry on with its own inertia. We’ve done it before, there won’t be a problem.”
“Proceed,” the voice with authority states, and “offline” immediately appears on several screens.
Only the smallest voices continue chatting:
“Well,” one says, “I think we’re going to have to deal with unpredictable surprises, like that of 1994.”
“And what would you do?”
“Hmm… remember that bad joke from a few years ago, that if you wanted to prepare for the future you should learn Chinese? Well, I recommend that you start studying originary languages. You?”
“Well, we could try to find a bridge, some kind of communication.”
“Well, to negotiate decent conditions in prison. Because I don’t think these people are going to offer any kind of amnesty, not before or after the fact.”
“And what do you suggest?”
A voice, until that point silent says:
“I’d say to learn, but I think it’s too late for that.”
“But I have a hypothesis,” the voice continued, “what happened is that the Artificial Intelligence that motors our central server functions with the information that we give it. Based on that data, the AI predicted all of the possible scenarios, their consequences, and the appropriate measures to take. What happened is that what they actually did wasn’t in any of our scenarios; the AI got upset and didn’t know what to do, simultaneously activating the anti-hacker and antivirus warnings and launching the reaction to the closest scenario on hand, which was SupMarcos as presidential candidate.”
Another voice interrupts: “But isn’t Marcos dead?
“He is,” responds another, “but for the same reason.”
“So they did it to us again, fucking Zapatistas.”
“And there’s no way to fix this?”
“Well I don’t know about you all but I’ve already reserved a flight to Miami.”
“I now look with fear on the Indians, it never occurred to me that they would come to rule.”
Almost simultaneously, “Standby Mode” appears on the various screens.
The red lights are still on. The alert sirens are still going off, alarmed, hysterical.
Far away, some women of the colour of the earth that we are turn off their computer, disconnect the server cable, smile and converse in an incomprehensible language.
A little girl arrives and asks in Spanish: “Hey moms, I finished my homework, can I go play? See, we haven’t filled up the team yet but don’t worry ma, there will be more of us, sometimes it takes awhile but there will be more of us.”
The women leave, running and laughing behind the little girl. They run and laugh as if, in the end, there will be a tomorrow.
Note: Upon questioning the Cat-dog on why its “3of3” declaration only has one part and not 3 like its name suggests, it only growled and purred: “what’s missing is yet to come.”
iAlso known, depending on the source, as Artemisia, white sage, silver herb, mugwort, or wormwood.
iiThe Sun Stone or the Stone of the Five Eras, is a late post-classic Mexica sculpture, often mistakenly referred to as the Aztec Calendar, consisting of a massive 24-ton basalt disc of Aztec carvings: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Aztec_calendar_stone
iiiA mix of three metaphors in Spanish.