Monday, March 30, 2009

The president of Bolivia speaks out in a New York Times op-ed vs. yet another ridiculous effect of the global drug war we can add to the list--the criminalization of coca chewing since 1961. Coca chewing has been an indigenous South American cultural convention for thousands of years. The cocaine alkaloid in it makes up about 1/10 of a percent of a leaf!

As the president states: "It helps mitigate the sensation of hunger, offers energy during long days of labor and helps counter altitude sickness. Unlike nicotine or caffeine, it causes no harm to human health nor addiction or altered state..."

The plant has had huge ritual, religious and cultural significance to South Americans dating back from the Maya. Representations of the coca leaf have been found in the earliest sites archeologists have uncovered in the continent, and the Maya valued coca so highly they made it a symbol of kingship. This is equivalent to taking the right to use peyote away from North American indigenous peoples.

Also,you can't help but marvel at the gall of Western civilization's control of the continent--first, the Spaniards take control of coca growing away from native peoples and make a mint selling it back to them, not to mention instituting a system of seasonal forced labor on the coca plan that literally worked many of the indigenous workers to death. Then, when it suited their political agenda, the West criminalized coca. I know that's a rather simplistic interpretation of historical trends, but that's definitely how it first struck me.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

a supposedly salacious blog about vice begins with a comment on diction

I love the work we do--well, most of the time--but I hate the language of activism. It sounds like the language of therapy to me much too often. But beyond my natural and justified aversion to that (on which more later, *much* more, trust me) it's as if we just have a set number of tropes we can put together in one order or another or modify this way and that, but seeing as how there are only a set number of tropes, there are only a set number of permutations. (And thus perhaps only a set number of ideas?) It's as if using other vocabularies or frames of reference would sully our thinking, or depoliticize it. As if we're not clever enough to tease out the reactionary elements from other models.

Would it be possible to have a conversation that touched on identity and identity politic and our community and our city and social change in which the following words and phrases did not appear:

"race" "class" "queer" "oppression" "privilege" "community" "marginalization" "people of color" "disempower" "objectify" "violated" "trauma" "internalize" (see how contemporary psychotherapy is one of the few influences we do allow?) "solidarity" "ally" "homophobic" "concensus"

I could go on.

And it's not that I'm not happy that our little generation of leftists *has* these words to name these phenomena. And I'd be horrified if for example I was forced into a time warp that took me back into 70s era second wave feminism where I couldn't chirp "whoraphobia!" w/impunity whenever I happened to see any.

But I would be delighted if just once we attempted to discuss all these concepts without the aid of our buzzwords.

I think it would be incredibly awkward and immensely productive.