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It’s the Message Not the Wrapping Paper

by RODOLFO ACUÑA

I am often asked what ideology I favor, and what tactics should Chicanas/os use to achieve equality. If I were living in the 19th Century I would take the question seriously. However, while this kind of conjecture is interesting, let’s face it, we live in another age. Ideologies are ideas to explain the mess we live in. Since I have a tremendous respect for the sages of the 19th century, I would not pretend to add to what they wrote; they are as relevant today as they were then.

Add to them the descriptions of Charles Dickens in Oliver Twist of the street children in 1830s London, a phenomenon brought about by the Industrial Revolution. It seems pretty clear that the chaos Dickens and the sages sought to explain and prescribe a cure for was good old greed – even Gordon Gekko would recognize that.

Greed is nothing new. People have known that usury is wrong for thousands of years. The ancient Hindus and Buddhists said it was as did the ancient Greeks that condemned practice as did the Hebrews and the Prophet Mohammed.  The Catholic Church recognized the dangers of banking and loaning money at excessive interest.  Usury was against the Natural Law, you could go to hell for it until the Church decided that it was a mortal sin unless the Catholic Church loaned the money, which was then done in the name of God. The only other exceptions were Jews who the Church fathers decided were going to hell anyway. At the same time, greed made it okay for the Church to sell tickets out of purgatory in form of indulgences.

Although greed is still viewed as wrong the world is a much more complex and people rationalize it. People stake out beliefs, and justify their greed through appeals to a higher authority. They say that God gave them that right to be greedy. God is the final arbiter. Thus God gave nations land, like “he”, it is always “he”, is a real estate broker. God thus gives the individual level the right to ignore that other people’s children work in sweatshops to make toys to give them to your children at a low price.

Aside from witnessing life, my ideas have been formed from a variety of sources. As mentioned the sages and my religious upbringing exposed me to ideas such as usury.  From the scholastics I learned that if something is true then something that contradicts it cannot be true. It is just simple logic.

Contemporary readings inform me daily. For instance, I always enjoyed the cartoonist/playwrite Jules Feiffer. I am a huge fan of his 1960s satirical play “Little Murderers.”  It is about Alfred, a onetime successful photographer, who has decided to eliminate people from his photographs and just film objects.  Under trying circumstances he meets Patsy. Alfred is getting beaten up and mugged but he refuses to fight back. Patsy sees this and intervenes and the muggers turn on her and beat her. Alfred just walks away and does not lift a finger to help her. She breaks away and confronts Alfred who scolds her, why did she intervene? They would have stopped when they got tired of hitting him.

Patsy sees this as a challenge. She wants to remake him into an assertive man who will protect her, and decides to marry Alfred. She takes Alfred home to meet her family who want him to be successful.  Alfred loves Patsy, but he rejects her family’s idea that for him to be successful and his life to have meaning he has to return to photographing people. Alfred gets angry and says his photographs would have just as much meaning if filmed excrement.

For Alfred the world is senseless, and he cannot feel passionate about the senseless urban and world violence, the senseless killings, prejudices and dysfunctional families. Alfred is contemptuous of society.

Although some have tried to draw parallels between Alfred and Albert Camus’ “The Myth of Sisyphus;” they are quite different.

Camus’ “The Myth of Sisyphus” is about “the absurd.” It is about Sisyphus who is condemned for eternity to roll a rock up a hill only to make no progress and have the rock roll back on him. Camus sees a conflict between what we want from life and the reality (chaos). Thus we can never know the meaning of life unless we make a leap of faith and place hopes in a God. We are left with the option of placing our faith in God or committing suicide.  We either accept our fate and live in a meaningless world or give up. The conclusion that life is meaningless necessarily leads us to commit suicide. It can be argued that Sisyphus has resigned himself to uselessness, and the fact that the gods are punishing you. You accept your fate and you keep going.

Gordon Gekko is a creature of greed. He says, “The point is, ladies and gentleman, that greed, for lack of a better word, is good. Greed is right, greed works. Greed clarifies, cuts through, and captures the essence of the evolutionary spirit. Greed, in all of its forms; greed for life, for money, for love, knowledge has marked the upward surge of mankind…”

When Gekko in Wall Street II gets out of jail he says, “Someone reminded me I once said “Greed is good. Now it seems it’s legal. Because everyone is drinking the same Kool Aid.”

The positivists with their laissez faire philosophy would have been proud of Gekko; the other materialists would have seen him as the root of the chaos.

I naturally side with the others – it is greed that causes inequality and ignorance. Take Arizona. I have found all three models there: Alfred, Sisyphus and Gekko, although most of the latter are wannabe Gordon Gekkos.

In Arizona I saw many members of the Mexican American community react like Alfred who is just tired of the chaos and drops out of society. For them nothing is going to change, some went to the service, returned and still there is street violence, racism and a lack of opportunity. Why fight it?

Others like Sisyphus choose to place their faith in another world and keep rolling that rock up the hill and accept its rolling back on them as their fate. They buy their lottery tickets and look forward to an afterlife.

In Arizona there are very few Gordon Gekkos just a lot of wannabes. The real Gekkos include ALEC, the American Legislative Exchange Council, and the Koch Brothers who are devoid of any scruples. They don’t care about right or wrong as long as they make a profit. They know Mexicans are not the problem but they demonize them anyway to make a profit. In this way, they can elect their puppets, fill their prisons, their charter schools, have liberal gun laws, sell arms to cartels, launder money from their illicit profits and pay low or no taxes.

They know that Mexicans are not a problem but to make a profit and get their puppets elected people have to fear them. Thus they say that the body snatchers are taking their land. To fill up the prisons and reap hundreds of millions they target them and round them up like cattle. To steal public land and control Mexicans they have to keep them uneducated.

Cadres of wannabe Gekkos toe the line. John Pedicone in Tucson – previously a school superintendent at a tiny school district parlayed three years as a superintendent there to take over the medium sized Tucson Unified School District at over $300,000 a year. Mark Stegeman, a failed economics professor who would have a hard time getting tenure at a California Community College heads up the board of education. They are willing accomplices.

A great pretender is state Superintendent of Schools John Huppenthal whose claim to fame is that he authored 200 bills that supposedly improved Arizona Education. However, Arizona ranks near last in education nationally fighting it out with Mississippi for the worse.  The other is Tom Horne, a failed lawyer who went bankrupt in 1970, and received a lifetime trading ban from the Securities and Exchange Commission. Both these losers resurrected their careers by race baiting Mexicans, joining the long line of wannabes.

It is easy to recognize the source of the chaos in Arizona. It is going to take an awful lot more to bring it under control. But I believe that everyone has the right to live life to its fullest and to do this you have to control your space

How do you do it? Part of the reason why I am on Facebook is to encourage young people to read about the chaos around them and express ideas — to define reality.  The only way this can be done is by knowing the truth and defining. That is why I encourage students to write.

Anyone can write. I got a C in Freshman English at Loyola University. Well, everyone got a C.

Frank Sullivan was probably the best teacher I ever had. He told us that C is average and everyone is average so unless you really messed up you wouldn’t fail. But to do better you really had to do extraordinary work for an A.

Never called roll class and his classes were always full. The Jesuits protected him from McCarthy Hearings, Sullivan was a socialist.

I am convinced that we have to write and write and write about what is happening in Tucson.

Spread the message; forget about the colons, the semi-colons, and punctuation that will come with practice. Just write, everyone is a potential Gabriel Garcia Marquez. We have to document our struggle and the mendacity of people that want to condemn us to the ovens of ignorance.

Remember it is the message, not the paper that it is wrapped in, that is important.

ODOLFO ACUÑA, a professor emeritus at California State University Northridge, has published 20 books and over 200 public and scholarly articles. He is the founding chair of the first Chicano Studies Dept which today offers 166 sections per semester in Chicano Studies. His history book Occupied America has been banned in Arizona. In solidarity with Mexican Americans in Tucson, he has organized fundraisers and support groups to ground zero and written over two dozen articles exposing efforts there to nullify the U.S. Constitution. 

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