February 22, 2008


Caption: These guys have the resistance thing down pat.

One of El Cabrero's favorite passages in the apocryphal Gospel of Thomas goes like this:

His disciples said to him, "When will the kingdom come?" Jesus said, "It will not come by waiting for it. It will not be a matter of saying 'Here it is' or 'There it is.' Rather, the kingdom of the Father is spread out upon the earth, and men do not see it."

The point is that when people are only looking for some big dramatic event, they are missing the things that are going on around them all the time. I think that's true in a lot of areas.

If you look at human history, much of it sadly involves one group oppressing and exploiting another. Outright rebellions are few and far between, and when they occur, the results are often suicidal and make a bad situation worse. But that doesn't mean that nothing is happening--if you have eyes to see it.

That's the basic thesis of Yale social scientist James C. Scott, who wrote such books as Weapons of the Weak: Everyday Forms of Peasant Resistance and Domination and the Arts of Resistance: Hidden Transcripts. Throughout much of history, oppressed groups have had to rely on indirect forms of resistance to the "official transcript" of the powerful.

Speaking truth to power in a society based on slavery or serfdom can get you killed. It can even get you in trouble in a democracy. But over the ages, peasants and other members of the lower classes have always engaged in indirect forms of resistance, such as gossip, rumors, using the ideology of the rulers to assert their own rights, working to rule, quiet mutual aid, poaching, pilfering, acting stupid when they're not, taking advantage of "moral" and other holidays, creating their own folklore, music and culture, etc.

As the saying goes, when the cat's away, the mice will play.

To use an example from American history, slaves in the American South and elsewhere seldom violently rebelled--but they would often work slowly, "accidentally" break things, pretend to be unintelligent in the presence of the masters, run away, and/or find any number of ingenious ways to assert their dignity. This low intensity resistance also tests the limits of the possible and can spill over into massive disobedience when conditions permit--which happened when they deserted in mass to Union lines in the Civil War when the opportunity occurred.

There is always more to the story than what the "official transcript" of the powerful presents--or even knows about. And at certain times in history, the "hidden transcript" of the oppressed becomes visible to all. An example of that is the sudden massive disobedience that seemed to appear out of nowhere during the collapse of some states in the old Soviet block. But such big, dramatic events would be unthinkable without the constant, low-key, almost invisible everyday resistance.

Scott suggests that these lessons should give us all the more reason

to respect, if not celebrate, the weapons of the weak. All the more reason to see in the tenacity of self-preservation--in ridicule, in truculence, in irony, in petty acts of noncompliance, in foot dragging, in dissimulation, in resistant mutuality, in the disbelief in elite homilies, in the steady, grinding efforts to hold one's own against overwhelming odds--a spirit and practice that prevents the worst and promises something better.

COMPLETE IDIOT'S GUIDE TO SELF-HELP FOR DUMMIES. Here's an interesting item on changes in this perennial genre of books. Speaking of idiocy, some authors suggest we've been drifting in that direction lately.

BLOWING BUBBLES. This article has some interesting things to say about the growing financial crisis.

ANOTHER BAD ECONOMIC SIGN is the fact that more Americans are having to tap into their retirement accounts.

AN ECONOMIC ALTERNATIVE to tinkle-down economics and financial or housing bubbles might involve serious investments in infrastructure.

WATER TORTURE is an old story, as this New Yorker article shows.

CAESAR'S WIFE DON'T LIVE 'ROUND HERE. WV Supreme Court justice Brent Benjamin refuses to recuse himself from Massey Energy cases because of "innuendo." Fair enough, but what about doing for the fact that $3 million in Don Blankenship's money got him elected?

QUESTION FOR CAT LOVERS: If your beloved kitty weighed 300 pounds, would you still be alive? We'd be dead meat here.


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