Saturday, March 07, 2009

Before His Zen Habits, He Was Uncensored

Leo Babauta and his blog Zen Habits have made a big splash this year. Babauta published his first book this year The Power of Less, and it is already a best seller. His blog is a huge success, and he is actually living a blogger's dream by being able to live off the revenue that Zen Habits makes. It was even named last year as one of Time Magazine's 25 best blogs of the year. Bai hu admite yan kalang hosguan yu' nu i gof matungo'-na!

Zen Habits is a nice website, with alot of harmless, self-helpful, inspirational/motivational life reorganizing content. Reading through some of Babauta's posts on that site however creates a strange contrast for me. I know that Babauta's been a writer for many years, and it was actually through some of his writing from almost a decade ago that I know him best. But compared to the Babauta of today, these pieces seem as if they are from another universe.

The show/group Malafunkshun had a website made in 2000, and at that time Babauta was a columnist for the Pacific Daily News. I'm not sure how many columns he got published since it seems several of them were censored by the PDN because of their radical or subversive content. He posted his articles on the website under the heading "Uncensored." The site is still there today, and you can even read Babauta's columns which he uploaded.

I've taken the liberty of cutting and pasting one of the columns below. The article deals with Angel Santos and his imprisonment by Federal authorities. I'm not a regular reader of Zen Habits, but I hope that some of this critique still comes through or is still present in his writings today.
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Note: Following is another column of mine the editors of the Pacific Daily News decided not to run. First, I was told that they couldn't run the column because it seemed to advocate civil disobedience, and they said the PDN has an ethics policy against advocating civil disobedience. That's an amazing policy that means the PDN would have censored the writings of Gandhi, Thoreau, Martin Luther King Jr. and many others who fought oppression with non-cooperation. When I asked, as a columnist for the PDN, if I could see a copy of that ethics policy, I was told that they couldn't give copies of the ethics policy to the public. So much for being open and accountable to the Guam community. I was further told that my calling the colony of Guam a metaphorical prison was misleading, because we can all "fly 12 hours to the states and vote for president". I guess people in colonies are free after all. I'd like to note that in this column I am not endorsing (nor am I condemning) the actions and politics of Angel Santos. I am merely pointing out that his actions point to flaws in the system. Leo Babauta leo@malafunkshun.com

-----second censored column follows-----
A cramped, claustrophobic feeling trembles inside you, barely contained. The jail cell you're in isn't particularly clean, but it isn't that that bothers you. You've lived in an apartment as tiny as this prison cell, so it isn't the size that's so horrible. It's the iron bars, covered in peeling orange paint that you've helped chip off in your boredom. The boredom is almost as bad -- only reading, push-ups and finding someone to play cards with have kept you from insanity. The initial rage of being caged like an animal fades, fades, and your life becomes one of quiet desperation.

------
Jail is one of the worst things we do to our fellow citizens. But other societal forces cage many people as well. Racism and ghettoization are iron bars around certain minority groups. Colonialism on Guam is a prison, though perhaps many view it as a white-collar prison -- it's benign, and if you were to spend time in any prison, an American colony isn't a bad choice.

The frustration of being trapped, with only a few lucky people able to escape the iron bars, can cause other major problems by itself, such as crime. Other people ignore the problem, and turn to sports, movies, and other distractions. But there is hope.

Whether you agree with his politics or actions, Angel Santos exposed a fundamental injustice with the colonial justice system by being sentenced to federal prison. It is bad enough that the people of Guam are voiceless and powerless in the Congress and with the U.S. President that control us, but to be locked up in prison and to have your liberty stripped by a system in which you have no voice or participation is philosophically unjustifiable.

Santos violated laws made by a Congress he's never had the right to vote for, and was sued by a presidential administration he's never had the right to vote for. He was forced into a court system put into place by the same Congress he can't vote for, and judged by a person appointed by a presidential administration he can't vote for. And this is the same federal system he feels has wronged his family for years. It's pure colonialism.

But there is hope, and daylight, and freedom, outside of these metaphorical jail cells. It is in the realization that all government, colonial or not, is derived from the consent of the governed. Gandhi realized this in colonial India with his non-violent non-cooperation with the British government, and wrote some advice to the Blacks in America:

"The moment the slave resolves that he will no longer be a slave, his fetters fall. He frees himself and shows the way to others. Freedom and slavery are mental states. Therefore, the first thing is to say to yourself: 'I shall no longer accept the role of a slave. ...' This may mean suffering. Your readiness to suffer will light the torch of freedom which can never be put out."

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