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A Primer for the Looking-Glass World
By Eduardo Galeano, Mark Fried
Picador Copyright © 1998 Eduardo Galeano
All rights reserved.
If you decide to train your dog, congratulations on your decision. You will soon discover that the roles of master and dog are perfectly clear. — Ralston Purina International
THE LOOKING-GLASS SCHOOL
* Educating by Example
* The Students
* Injustice 101
* Racism and Sexism 101
Educating by Example
The looking-glass school is the most democratic of educational institutions. There are no admissions exams, no registration fees, and courses are offered free to everyone everywhere on earth as well as in heaven. It's not for nothing that this school is the child of the first system in history to rule the world.
In the looking-glass school, lead learns to float and cork to sink. Snakes learn to fly and clouds drag themselves along the ground.
MODELS OF SUCCESS
The upside-down world rewards in reverse: it scorns honesty, punishes work, prizes lack of scruples, and feeds cannibalism. Its professors slander nature: injustice, they say, is a law of nature. Milton Friedman teaches us about the "natural rate of unemployment." Studying Richard Herrnstein and Charles Murray, we learn that blacks remain on the lowest rungs of the social ladder by "natural" law. From John D. Rockefeller's lectures, we know his success was due to the fact that "nature" rewards the fittest and punishes the useless: more than a century later, the owners of the world continue to believe Charles Darwin wrote his books in their honor.
Survival of the fittest? The "killer instinct" is an essential ingredient for getting ahead, a human virtue when it helps large companies digest small and strong countries devour weak but proof of bestiality when some jobless guy goes around with a knife in his fist. Those stricken with "antisocial pathology," the dangerous insanity afflicting all poor people, find inspiration in the models of good health exhibited by those who succeed. Lowlifes learn their skills by setting their sights on the summits. They study the examples of the winners and, for better or worse, do their best to live up to them. But "the damned will always be damned," as Don Emilio Azcárraga, once lord and master of Mexican television, liked to say. The chances that a banker who loots a bank can enjoy the fruits of his labor in peace are directly proportional to the chances that a crook who robs a bank will land in jail or the cemetery.
When a criminal kills someone for an unpaid debt, the execution is called a "settling of accounts." When the international technocracy settles accounts with an indebted country, the execution is called an "adjustment plan." Financial capos kidnap countries and suck them dry even when they pay the ransom: in comparison, most thugs are about as dangerous as Dracula in broad daylight. The world economy is the most efficient expression of organized crime. The international bodies that control currency, trade, and credit practice international terrorism against poor countries, and against the poor of all countries, with a cold-blooded professionalism that would make the best of the bomb throwers blush.
The arts of trickery, which con men practice by stalking the gullible on the street, become sublime when certain politicians put their talents to work. In the shantytown nations of the world, heads of state sell off the remnants of their countries at fire-sale prices, just as in the shantytowns of cities criminals unload their booty for peanuts.
Hired guns do much the same work, albeit at retail, as the generals whose wholesale crimes get billed as acts of glory. Pickpockets lurking on street corners practice a low-tech version of the art of speculators who fleece the multitudes by computer. The worst violators of nature and human rights never go to jail. They hold the keys. In the world as it is, the looking-glass world, the countries that guard the peace also make and sell the most weapons. The most prestigious banks launder the most drug money and harbor the most stolen cash. The most successful industries are the most poisonous for the planet. And saving the environment is the brilliant endeavor of the very companies that profit from annihilating it. Those who kill the most people in the shortest time win immunity and praise, as do those who destroy the most nature at the lowest cost.
Walking is risky and breathing a challenge in the great cities of the looking-glass world. Whoever is not a prisoner of necessity is a prisoner of fear, deprived of sleep by anxiety over the things he lacks or by terror of losing the things he has. The looking-glass world trains us to view our neighbor as a threat, not a promise. It condemns us to solitude and consoles us with chemical drugs and cybernetic friends. We are sentenced to die of hunger, fear, or boredom — that is, if a stray bullet doesn't do the job first.
Is the freedom to choose among these unfortunate ends the only freedom left to us? The looking-glass school teaches us to suffer reality, not change it; to forget the past, not learn from it; to accept the future, not invent it. In its halls of criminal learning, impotence, amnesia, and resignation are required courses. Yet perhaps — who can say — there can be no disgrace without grace, no sign without a countersign, and no school that does not beget its counterschool.
Day after day, children are denied the right to be children. The world treats rich kids as if they were money, teaching them to act the way money acts. The world treats poor kids as if they were garbage, to turn them into garbage. And those in the middle, neither rich nor poor, are chained to televisions and trained to live the life of prisoners.
The few children who manage to be children must have a lot of magic and a lot of luck.
TOP, BOTTOM, AND MIDDLE
In the ocean of desperation, there are islands of privilege, luxurious concentration camps where the powerful meet only the powerful and never, for even a moment, forget how powerful they are. In some Latin American cities where kidnappings have become commonplace, rich kids grow up sealed inside bubbles of fear. They live in fortresslike mansions or groups of homes ringed by electrified fences and guardhouses, watched day and night by bodyguards and closed-circuit security cameras. They travel like money in armored cars. They don't know their own city except by sight. They discover the subway in Paris or New York, but never use it in São Paulo or Mexico City.
They don't live in the city where they live. They're not allowed to set foot in the vast hell that threatens their tiny private heaven. Beyond the walls lie regions of terror filled with ugly, dirty, envious people. They grow up rootless, stripped of cultural identity, aware of society only as a threat. Their homeland lies in the designer names on their clothes, and their language is a modern Morse code. In cities around the globe, children of privilege are alike in their habits and beliefs, like shopping malls and airports, which lie outside the realms of time and space. Educated in virtual reality, they know nothing of real reality, which exists only to be feared or bought.
Fast food, fast cars, fast life: from birth, rich kids are trained for consumption and speed, and their voyage through childhood confirms that machines are more trustworthy than people. When the day arrives for their rite of passage, they will be handed the keys to their first four-wheel-drive all-terrain corsair. In the meantime, they construct their identities by driving full speed down cybernetic highways, devouring images and merchandise, zapping and shopping. They feel at home navigating cyberspace the way homeless children do wandering city streets.
Long before rich kids stop being kids and discover expensive drugs to fool their solitude and shroud their fear, poor kids are sniffing gasoline and glue. While rich kids play war with laser-beam guns, street kids are dodging real bullets.
In Latin America children and adolescents make up nearly half the population. Half of that half lives in misery. Survivors: in Latin America a hundred children die of hunger or curable disease every hour, but that doesn't stem their numbers in the streets and fields of a region that manufactures poor people and outlaws poverty. The poor are mostly children and children are mostly poor. Among the system's hostages, they have it the worst. Society squeezes them dry, watches them constantly, punishes them, sometimes kills them; almost never are they listened to, never are they understood.
Everywhere on earth, these kids, the children of people who work hard or who have neither work nor home, must from an early age spend their waking hours at whatever breadwinning activity they can find, breaking their backs in return for food and little else. Once they can walk, they learn the rewards of behaving themselves — boys and girls who are free labor in workshops, stores, and makeshift bars or cheap labor in export industries, stitching sports clothes for multinational corporations. They are manual labor on farms and in cities or domestic labor at home, serving whoever gives the orders. They are little slaves in the family economy or in the informal sector of the global economy, where they occupy the lowest rung of the world labor market:
in the garbage dumps of Mexico City, Manila, or Lagos they hunt glass, cans, and paper and fight the vultures for scraps
in the Java Sea they dive for pearls
they hunt diamonds in the mines of Congo
they work as moles in the mine shafts of Peru, where their size makes them indispensable, and when their lungs give out they end up in unmarked graves
in Colombia and Tanzania they harvest coffee and get poisoned by pesticides
in Guatemala they harvest cotton and get poisoned by pesticides
in Honduras they harvest bananas and get poisoned by pesticides
they collect sap from rubber trees in Malaysia, working days that last from dark to dark
they work the railroads in Burma
in India they melt in glass ovens in the north and brick ovens in the south
in Bangladesh they work at over three hundred occupations, earning salaries that range from nothing to nearly nothing for each endless day
they ride in camel races for Arab sheiks and round up sheep and cattle on the ranches of the Rio de la Plata
they serve the master's table in Port-au-Prince, Colombo, Jakarta, or Recife in return for the right to eat whatever falls from it
they sell fruit in the markets of Bogotá and gum on the buses of São Paulo
they wash windshields on corners in Lima, Quito, or San Salvador
they shine shoes on the streets of Caracas or Guanajuato
they stitch clothes in Thailand and soccer shoes in Vietnam
they stitch soccer balls in Pakistan and baseballs in Honduras and Haiti
to pay their parents' debts they pick tea or tobacco on the plantations of Sri Lanka and harvest jasmine in Egypt for French perfume
rented out by their parents in Iran, Nepal, and India they weave rugs from before dawn until past midnight, and when someone tries to rescue them they ask, "Are you my new master?"
sold by their parents for a hundred dollars in Sudan, they are put to work in the sex trade or at any other labor.
Armies in certain places in Africa, the Middle East, and Latin America recruit children by force. In war, these little soldiers work by killing and above all by dying. They make up half the victims of recent African wars.
In nearly all these tasks, except war, which tradition decrees and reality teaches is a male affair, girls' hands are just as useful as boys'. But the labor market treats girls the same way it treats women. They always earn less than the meager bit paid to boys, when they earn anything at all.
Prostitution is the fate of many girls and fewer boys around the world. Astonishing as it seems, there are at least a hundred thousand child prostitutes in the United States, according to a 1997 UNICEF report. But the vast majority of child victims of the sex trade work in the brothels and on the streets of the southern part of the globe. This multimillion-dollar industry, with its networks of traffickers, intermediaries, travel agents, and procurers, operates with scandalous ease. In Latin America, it is nothing new: child prostitution began in 1536, when the first "tolerance home" opened in Puerto Rico. Today half a million Brazilian girls sell their bodies for the benefit of adults — as many as in Thailand, but not as many as in India. On some Caribbean beaches, the prosperous sex tourism industry offers virgins to whoever can pay the price. The number of girls placed on the market is rising steadily: according to estimates by international organizations, at least a million girls swell the ranks of the global supply of bodies every year.
The number of poor children who work, in their homes or out, for their families or for whomever, is uncountable. They work outside the law and outside statistics. And the rest? Many are superfluous. The market doesn't need them, nor will it ever. They aren't profitable; they never will be. From the point of view of the established order, they begin by stealing the air they breathe and soon steal anything they can lay their hands on. Hunger or bullets tend to shorten their voyage from crib to grave. The system that scorns the old also fears the young. Old age is a failure, childhood a threat. Ever more poor children are "born with a tendency toward crime," according to specialists. They are the most dangerous category of the "surplus population." The child as public threat: "the antisocial conduct of youth in Latin America" has been a recurring theme at the Pan-American Children's Congress for years. Governments and some experts on the subject share this obsession with violence, vice, and perdition. Each child is a potential El Niño, and the disasters he or she may cause must be prevented. At the first South American Police Congress, held in Montevideo in 1979, the Colombian delegate explained that "the rising daily increase in the population under eighteen leads us to expect a higher POTENTIALLY DELINQUENT population" (uppercase in original).
In Latin American countries, the hegemony of the market severs ties of solidarity and tears the social fabric to shreds. What fate awaits the nobodies, the owners of nothing, in countries where the right to own property is becoming the only right? And the children of the nobodies? Hunger drives many, who are always becoming many more, to thievery, begging, and prostitution. Consumer society insults them by offering what it denies. And then they take vengeance, united by the certainty of the death that awaits them. According to UNICEF, in 1995 there were eight million abandoned children on the streets of Latin America. According to Human Rights Watch, in 1993 death squads linked to the police murdered six children a day in Colombia, four a day in Brazil.
Between the extremes lies the middle. Between the prisoners of opulence and the prisoners of destitution are the children who have quite a bit more than nothing but much less than everything. They, too, are less and less free. "To be allowed to be or not to be allowed to be, that is the question," Spanish comic Chumy Chúmez liked to say. The freedom of these children is confiscated by societies that venerate order as they generate disorder. Fear of fear: the floor creaks under their feet and there are no guarantees. Stability is unstable, jobs evaporate, money vanishes. Just to make it to the end of the month is a feat. "Welcome, middle class," is the greeting on a billboard at the entrance to one of the worst barrios of Buenos Aires. Middle-class people still live as impostors, pretending to obey the law and believe in it, pretending to have more than they have. But never before has it been so difficult for them to keep up this exhausting charade. Suffocated by debts and paralyzed by fear, the middle class raises its children in a state of panic. Fear of living, fear of falling, fear of losing your job, your car, your home, your possessions, fear of never having what you ought to have in order to be. In the widespread clamor for public security, imperiled by lurking criminal monsters, the members of the middle class shout loudest. They defend order as if they owned it, even though they're only tenants overwhelmed by high rents and the threat of eviction.
Caught in the trap of terror, more and more of their children are condemned to suffer the humiliation of perpetual imprisonment. In the city of the future, which is becoming the city of the present, telechildren watched by electronic nannies will contemplate the street from a window of their telehomes: the street, off-limits thanks to violence or fear of it, the street where the dangerous and sometimes prodigious spectacle of life takes place.
Excerpted from Upside Down by Eduardo Galeano, Mark Fried. Copyright © 1998 Eduardo Galeano. Excerpted by permission of Picador.
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