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The Tower of Babel

by Subcomandante Marcos Tuesday, Apr. 22, 2003 at 4:28 AM

"This is the project of globalization: making a new tower of Babel out of the planet. Every relation should be uniform..The laws of the neoliberal tower forbid acknowledgment of differences. The subjugation of differences is the only allowed possibility."

The Tower of Babel

Between Masks and Back Rooms

By Subcomandante Insurgente Marcos

[This March 2003 article is translated from the German on the World Wide Web, Subcomandante Marcos is leader of the Zapatistas in Chiapas, Mexico. More articles and communiqués are available on:]

I. The 21st Century

The new century proclaims the reappointment of its predecessor: the goal of politics consists in the subjugation or exclusion of others. What is new in this? War, lies, deception and death are instrumentalized as in the past. Power repeats history and tries to convince us that the pages will be written this time in beautiful letters.

The project of the neoliberal world is nothing but a new edition of the Babylonian tower. According to the Genesis narrative, people in their stubborn efforts to climb higher and higher resolved a tremendous project: building a tower to reach heaven. The God of the Christians punished this arrogance with diversity. Through the variety of languages, the people could not continue building and scattered. Neoliberalism plans the same building. Not striving for an improbably heaven but with one blow, neoliberalism attempts to liberate people from diversity felt to be a curse and to assure its power for ages.

The longing for immortality emerged at the beginning of the historical writing of the powerful. The neoliberal tower of Babel is not satisfied in creating the necessary homogeneity. The equality destroyed by diversity is the equality with a model. “Let us be like this one!”, the new religion of money tells us. People don’t experience unity with themselves or with others but with a schema championed by those who create the equality, who give the commands and sit at the top of the tower that is the modern world. Beneath them are the different. The only equality in the lower floors is renouncing on being different or on deciding to be different in a shameful way. The new god of money repeats the original curse in reverse. The diffeeent, the other, is cursed. Prisons and cemeteries proliferate in the boom of the profits of transnational corporations. Veneration of the powerful is the task of people in the new Babylonian tower. Lack of reason is compensated by an excess of force. The command resounds: Hide all the colors behnd a mask and only show the dull color of money. Colorfulness is only allowed in secrecy, in masks or back rooms.

This is true for homosexuals, lesbians, migrants, Muslims, indigenous, “colored”, men, women, young persons, senior citizens, maladjusted and all the other names worn by this other everywhere in the world.

This is the project of globalization: making a new tower of Babel out of the planet. Every relation should be uniform in its thinking, its culture and its guardianship, standardized by those who have force but not reason.

If unanimity was possible through the common language in the pre-historic tower of Babel, consensus in the age of neoliberalism is achieved through arguments of force, threats, encroachments and war.

Starting from the fact that we inevitably live in this world alongside diversity, only the choi8ce of ruling or being ruled is left to us. The places are filled and membership is hereditary for the first possibility. On the other side, there is always enough space to be oppressed. Everything exists to break with difference or hide difference. For those who live in the tower and not at the top, there are rules for countering the “maladjusted”: banishment or indifference, cynicism or hypocrisy.

The laws of the neoliberal tower forbid acknowledgment of differences. The subjugation of differences is the only allowed possibility. In the modern era, the nation state is like a house of cards in the face of the neoliberal wind. Local politicians imagine they are sovereign in their decisions as to the form and height of the building. However economic power has long stopped being interested in this game and allows local politicians and their vassals to play with a page that doesn’t belong to them. The only building interesting them is the new Babylonian tower. The foreman and commissars of national politics can quietly continue their spectacle (certainly the most expensive and most meaningless show) as long as the necessary raw materials (destroyed and repopulated areas) do not run out.

The architecture of the new tower is the war against diversity. Its cornerstones are our knees and the mortar of our blood. The big murderer hides behind the big architect (who doesn’t call himself “God” in order not to dirty himself with false modesty).

In the biblical narrative, the Christian God punishes human arrogance with diversity. In the modern history of power, God is no one but the press spokesperson of war (who can only call himself modern on account of the number of dead and the extent of destruction per minute).

II. The Geography of Words

Whether the original primal story ended three years ago or 20 centuries ago doesn’t seem to matter. Those above with power and fate persist in convincing us that history repeats itself even if the calendars say something different. The destruction of the other is always modern. Apart from their form, there is no difference between the catapults of the Roman empire and the “smart bombs” of Bush. Technological progress functions today as the new chaplain of the occupying forces (cheerful colors for what is always a crime far away) and as spectacular stage designer (the bombardments are transformed on television into the entertainment of “fascinating” fireworks, CNN).

Whether we notice or not, power constructs a new geography of words and enforces the construction. The names are same but the known or signified has changed. Thus error becomes a political doctrine and skill becomes heresy. The different becomes antagonistic and the other becomes the enemy. Democracy is consensus in obedience. Freedom is nothing but the freedom to vote how we hide our differences. Peace is inactive submission and war today is a pedagogical method for learning geography.

Dogma grows rampantly where reason is absent. Dogma gives the cause a support, distorts it and makes it into fate at the end.

In the telescope of power, the horizon is always the same, unchangeable and eternal. The lens of power is a mirror. The other is always unexpected. One encounters the unexpected with fear. Fear hardens into dogma to crush the unexpected.

In the telescope of power, the world is level, faded and dirty. A statesman is remembered on account of his crimes, not on account of his humanitarian work. Thus the history of power repeats itself. The “celebrities” of yesterday behold all their evil deeds today. Those “enlightened by God” are the heretics of tomorrow.

Words and pictures change. Earlier in the geography of statues, dogma became a stone to honor its followers. Today we find dogma in the headlines of newspapers and glossy magazines and in the news on radio and television. Dogma is remembered in the newspaper archives and serves as an alibi for promoting the nightmares of fundamentalists. In the modern theory of the state, people are born full of differences. Their binding in society consists in a learning process that would make the cruelest reformers pale withy envy. The whole state machine aims at “subjugating” this human being to the unity of the commanding one.

Social success is measured by how far one is removed or approaches a certain model. Standardization means that we all strive to be equal to this model, not that we could all be equal. The powerful decide how this model appears.

Standardization consists in our striving to obey. Equality demands that we all show the same love and the same will to obey (“serving”), not equal possession of wealth (not to mention that a few have this wealth at the expense of many others) or equal possibilities.

If the comparison between society and family teaches us the necessity of fixing certain rules of cooperative live, that these fixed rules represent the problem is “forgotten”. The words have changed their geography and no longer mean what they once meant but what suits the powerful.

Sometime in modern history, the law repressed justice. When the powerful violate the laws, the laws are adjusted for them. When those below violate laws, they are struck with the full rage of the laws and punished for non-compliance.

III. The Geography of Power

In the geography of power, one is not born at a certain place but with or without possibilities of subjugating every conceivable point of the planet. If superiority was established in the past by racial membership, this happens today through geography. Those living in the North are in the social North, not in the geographic North. They are above. Those who live in the South are below. Geography has become simpler: there is an above and a below.

The space above is limited and only includes several elect ones. The space below is so vast that it reaches every area of the planet and offers room for all humanity. In the modern tower of Babel, one society is superior by conquering others, not by developing a more sophisticated science, culture, works of art, better living conditions or a friendlier cooperative life.

In the modern age, the powerful wage numerous wars of conquest. By “numerous”, I mean “in many places and in the most different ways”. Thus the world wars of today are much more extensive than ever before. Obviously there is still only one victor. However the defeated are many and in many different places. Places are conferred with bombs as arguments. Those who throw them are in the North, above in the tower. Those who receive them are below in the South. Still the bombs do not change the geography. The bombs only determine the geographic distribution, the sphere of control. One rules today and another tomorrow in this space limited by points and lines. This rule is called “geopolitics”. In reality, the maps signal rulers, not raw materials, people, cultures or histories. For the powerful, all humanity is like a little child that can be either compliant or rebellious.

The bombs remind the human child how agreeable it is to be one and how disagreeable it is to be the other. The civilian population in Iraq, men, women, children, women and senior citizens are closely connected with the well-to-do entrepreneurs in the US. One builds the bombs and the others receive them. The North American and British soldiers assume the role of mailmen joining these points so far from one another on the map.

We must thank Bush, Blair and Aznar for accepting the nuisance of being born in this time. Modern geography would be inconceivable without people like them. However this war is not directed against Iraq or only against Iraq. It is directed against every intention of being disobedient in the present or future. This war is a war against rebellion and thus against humanity. In its effects, it is a global war above all in the northwest from where it starts.

III. The Fate of Polifem

The war of the tragic-comic Bush-Blair-Aznar axis and their collaborators in the western “democracies” experienced its first setback even before its beginning. We were told Iraq is in the Middle East. That isn’t true. As every decent geography book confirms, Iraq is in Europe, North America, Australia, Latin America, in the mountains of the Mexican southeast and in the rebellious worldwide “No” that designs a new map where dignity and pride are house and flag.

The demonstrations around the planet show us that this war is directed against humanity. The young understand that Iraq is at every point of the earth today. While others open the atlas and reassuringly count the kilometers between them and Baghdad, the young realize that these bombs (the bombs that explode and the bombs of disinformation) destroy the right to be different, not only Iraqi territory.

The rebellious youth use the “No” as a paint brush in their hands and faces to write and anticipate the new geography.

Like Polifem, the Cyclops of Greek literature, power makes hatred toward the other into a single eye. However in reality, power is much stronger and seems invincible. But like Polifem, power is also challenged by the specter that calls itself “no one”. When the powerful refers to the other, he calls him contemptuously “no one”. However “nobody” is the majority on this planet. When money recreates the world as a tower, it gives homage to its superiority. This “nobody” anxious that the wheel of history continues turning dreams of another world, a round world of dignity and respect comprised of all these differences.

Humanity strives for the earth, not for heaven. Thus “no one” wears down the walls of the new Babylonian tower. The earth must be round to turn. Unlike the present and past worlds, the genesis of this world to be created can be ascribed to several gods. Should someone ask `Who created this world?’, the answer is “no one”.

To anticipate this world and begin with its creation, we must look far into the geography of time. From above, the view is restricted. One errs when a mirror is confused with a telescope.

The people below, “no one”, don’t have to stand on tiptoe to see what is coming. The telescope of the rebels hardly reaches more than a few meters. It is nothing but a kaleidoscope in which figures and colors, their allies of light, are not instruments of the prophets but an intuition. The world, history and life become forms that we desire without knowing them.

With his kaleidoscope, the rebel sees further than the powerful with the digital telescope. He sees tomorrow.

Yes, the rebels ride through the night of history to reach the morning. The shadows don’t hinder them from doing something today. Their geography is marked out.

The rebels don’t try to correct the pages or rewrite history in order to change the words or the geographical division. They seek a new map where all words have a place…

Mustic is not composed with a single note. Dance doesn’t consist in repeating a single step up to exhaustion. Thus peace is not less than a concert of infinitely many words and many faces of another geography.

From the Iraq in the mountains of the Mexican southeast in the face of a darkened sky full of combat aircraft and helicopters of “Operation Watch Post”

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