Sunday, July 11, 2010

Unsettling the Ideological Landscape

I'd have a laugh, chinatge yu' didide', over the past few years, each time that I make an assertion about the military buildup on Guam, and someone rebuts me by saying that that's just what I want and not really the way things are. This usually happens when I say something to the effect that "ti madiside esta, este na mamta' i militat." Or "this military buildup is not already a done deal."

The response I get sometimes, is that I am refusing to recognize reality, that the obvious is staring me in the face, in truth about to slam me in the face, but I am just consumed in my own ideological world that the cold, hard, searing truth is something I cannot feel or admit to. Agreements have been signed, opinion polls have been conducted, fancily dressed and not so fancily dressed military brass and Washington politicians have come through giving basically the same speech over and over again several hundred times. The DOD says their gonna do it, and everyone on Guam knows that the military is not like GovGuam, when it says its gonna do something, it does it.

When I say that there are rumblings in Japan, Hagatna or Washington D.C. which could derail this buildup, meaning slow it down, trip it up, I am not really making a good judgement call or representation of reality. I am not reflecting reality, but instead making an ideological argument against something I don't want to deal with. When you are trying to propose that someone is bula' ni' ideology, or machuchuda' ni' ideology, you interpret and re-articulate what they are saying as mere wishful thinking. Even the evidence that I use to "prove" my points are still just small things, at most they chip away at the armor of certitude, gray the edges a little bit, but come nowhere close to representing truth or reality.

I always have to laugh at this, because while I will admit to being a person who, with my words is definitely trying to shape reality, so is everyone else. This is what I always find funny about most people and their attempts to discuss ideology and politics. Is that they always accuse others of being the ideological ones, the people who are playing politics, and that they, because they believe they are standing or clinging close to their chests is the truth, are engaging in nothing of the sort. Ideology or politics are things which are about the truth but not really true, they are tainted with personal agendas and corruptions of the universality and absoluteness that the truth is supposed to be.

Part of the reason that the things I say are treated with such disdain, is because they are critical of the United States and don't treat it as the same bastion of universality, truth, justice and order that most on Guam unconsciously assume it is. Whether we say it or not, the core of Guam's colonial present is that sometimes very intimate assumption that the United States is the source of life for Guam and that anything which questions that or threatens that link, also threatens the very possibility of life here. So even if I do have evidence, piles of it, which I can use to prove my point, their resistance is not one of truth or falsity, but rather one of defense and reactionary protection. It is not really an issue of whether I am wrong or right, but more so that I have to be wrong, because if I am right, too much is implicated, too much is threatened.

People exist in these sorts of conflicts all the time, we live by them. We can be communicated the size and the danger of global warming or nuclear weapons in the most baneful terms. We can hear the stories of the massive horror which nuclear weapons can visit upon the human body or the environment. If we are too bored or busy to believe the warnings of scientists, then Hollywood loves communicating to us the massive scale of a catastrophe we are facing with global warming and climate change. For most people, the film 2012, was supposed to be about the world ending because of a prediction from the Mayan calendar. The film barely references that myth or prediction, but I found it interesting the way so many people dismissed the film (even after watching it) because they assumed (despite the fact that the film offers another reason for the world collapse) that its ideological or its theoretical basis was the Mayan calendar. It is for most people a convenient ideological counter, a way of not dealing with the larger content of the film, but instead defusing it in an over simplistic way, by finding some aspect which is methodologically or ideologically inferior or defunct.

So it is very easy for those who are not ideologically open to the message of 2012 to say that the film is mere conspiracy trash, some stupid action movie, trying to preach an over-exaggerated message about the environment. Although most of these films are made through a process of fun-research, meeting with scientists who get to take a break from their petri-dishes and atom-splitting in order to let their imaginations run wild or at least free in terms of talking about where our planet is going and what we can do about it, they are not meant to be scientific studies or arguments. They are meant to entertain you, and that is why even the most frightening disaster movie will always contain plenty of fluff about the human soul and how its fire cannot be quenched and how it will always find a way to persist and survive, achokka' mapopokka' i tano' i oriya-na.

But these films also contain an element of informing the viewer and scaring the viewer. All good or even decent disaster movies contain some progressive element, some critical spirit, which is not always obvious and not always at the forefront of the film or its marketing. The disaster is happening for a reason, something was done or something was ignored, some excessive action or some fatal mistake made by humans was taken and as a result this catastrophe has been brought to our shores or to our planet. The particulars always change, but always the importance is that your imagination be filled with the potential consequences, with the horror and agony that will happen should no one act or should people choose to stay the course.

In each of us exists the potential for radical change, for radical transformative actions. Most people spend their entire lives suffocating that potential, finding ways to ignore it or stifle it. Life is easier to simply go along with how things work, or to assume that God, or the various manifestations of authority, power and governance on earth will take care of things. This is the part that is meant to be stirred in these films. This part in us exists so that we can take action before tragedy strikes, so that we can plan ahead and act in order to stave off catastrophe, to prevent that horrible collapse which is always looming on the horizon. But life is always much easier if you do not answer this sort of call, if you let that potential lay dormant and ignore things. Life is not only easier, but it feels safer, it can give you the aura of not being responsible for things and not having any real fundamental obligations to the world.

It is always much easier to see the world as less open, as more certain and secure than it really is. To see things as more impossible to change than they really are. We each in our own ways hunt for ways to make those arguments to ourselves and to others. We say that everything is in God's hands, or that someone else should be in charge of things, or that nothing can be done, or that its in fact other people who are the problem, and they are the ones who can't change. Although I can admit to something such as climate change being big and important, changing our lives to reflect that importance is difficult and sometimes impossible. Although almost everyone can admit to things such as chemical or nuclear weapons being things which should be "uninvented" that does not mean that people then see it being their responsibility or obligation to rid the world of them. In fact most people are perfectly comfortable to imagine that the horrors which this whole world confronts are in fact solely things which happen to other people. This is most prominent in terms of first-world subjects, who after experiencing some natural or man-made disaster in the first world, make references to their place of privilege being transformed into a sort of third world in order to comprehend what has happened to them. The implication is clear, although I know that danger, violence, death and large scale destruction lurks literally everywhere, I truly only believe it will happen elsewhere and not here.

All of this machalapon na diniskuti is connected to the military buildup issue on Guam in a very important way. There are very few people on island who are openly supportive of the buildup, and those that are do so because they are poised to make alot of money on the buildup, and they know this very well. Others might feel some personal pull to this move as a chance to prove their patriotism or chance to move to the next perceived level of American belonging, but most feel very ambivalent about it. But, one thing which is very clear from what most people state about the buildup is that they all think it is going to happen, and that we should support it since whether we want it or not, it will still happen. So therefore, better to plan ahead and work to profit instead of being left out in the cold and unprepared.

This is a very intriguing point here, because so much of the debate about the military buildup for the past five years on Guam has had almost nothing to do with whether or not it is good for Guam. Whether or not it is a good idea or a bad idea. So much of what people admit to feeling has determined or filtered through that notion that whether it is good or bad for Guam it is irrelevant since the choice of whether it happens or not, or how it happens is not up to us. So rather than seek the gain some control over the issue and disrupt this web of colonial powerlessness, people simply accept the powerlessness and then adjust their ideological lens accordingly to say that what is important is to accept that which we cannot control, and make the best of it. As a result we see an island cautiously and knowingly stifle their own potential empowerment, their own potential for radical social change

So much of this fear of acting, fear of taking charge or attempting to regain control over something has to do with the fact that people in the colonies are supposed to fear the formality of things, it is something which they are supposed to bow down to and accept unflinchingly, but also fear in its application towards them. Colonized peoples, indigenous peoples and even to some extent minorities know that the formal or the official side of things is never truly on their side. Those things exist as universal, but that universality always tends to be skewed to only fully include a few, which in most historical cases is either rich, white, male, or all mixed together. The formal side of things is supposed to apply to marginalized people, but always in very screwed up and generally selective ways. For instance in the case of Native Americans, the thousands of treaties which were signed between Native American tribes and the US Federal government or US state governments were all useless in protecting Native Americans or their sovereignty. Through the 19th century as American settlers ravenously gobbled up any land they could find, the laws of the frontier always selectively applied to Native Americans, and not in a way which was very fair to them. Crimes committed by settlers against Native Americans, were regularly ignored by the laws and the lawmen of the United States, but crimes committed by Native Americans against white settlers were almost always followed by brutal, merciless violence, which was sometimes racistly collective, where punishment for the alleged actions of a single individual would be felt by an entire tribe.
We find Guam in a similar state today. The United States follows very faithfully its own case law and legal history which says that Guam belongs to it. It is loathe to follow however the international laws which it has signed on to in the past, which required that those lands which it holds as non-self-governing territories, such as Guam, have to undergo a fair process of decolonization. Treaties, agreements, declarative statements, laws, all are meaningless in and of themselves. They require belief in order to mean something, they require feelings of recognition, identification, interpolation for them to create a network of meaning, to emanate force and to feel as if they are more than wandering, floating jetsam of discourse. Those in power and those at the top of society tend to have more power in terms of gaining that legitimacy, that ability to be seen as being subjects or institutions supposed to be sovereign or supposed to be in charge. As the late Joe Murphy was always fond of saying, you can't ever really challenge the American claim to Guam, since history is decided by whoever has the biggest guns, and although the way in which Guam enters the grand, awesome narrative of the United States, its history and its story, is hardly the stuff of inspiration (Guam was purchased from Spain after being taken as a spoil of war), that in the mind of Murphy means either nothing or very little since to try to argue anything about that bumps up against those big massive guns of Uncle Sam.

So much of it is built on our perceptions of power and that nagging feeling which haunts and hinders all of us in life; the notion that indeterminancy, or the lack of security or insurance is just another form of something being impossible. That if we cannot guarantee something ahead of time, then it just can't be. In Guam this most commonly takes the form of not speaking out against American colonialism in Guam since to do so would be to "bite the hand that feeds us." Such a short and succinct statement, but one which is teeming with dependency, fear, loathing, insecurity, and all of these paralyzing emotions. The meaning that we are supposed to derive from both this statement and the gof matungo' na sinangan Joe Murphy is that impossibility or undesirability is not a neutral sort of blank limit, but rather a violent reprisal. The moral of these stories is that one should not question the order of things not truly on the basis that things just can't happen, but rather that if you do attempt to change things, the universe will react violently against your actions and you might lose everything in the process.

This was one of my core themes in my Masters Thesis in Ethnic Studies, that impossibility is not the limit or the end of ideology, but rather a key battleground upon which the fight for meaning takes place. That fight over the ability to determine what is or isn't possible is the fight over who in a society has the power to lead, to make meaning, or to be legitimate in what they do. In the ideological climate of Guam today, me saying that the buildup will not or might not happen goes against most of the ideological tendencies you can see out there. But at the same time a statement which asserts that everything is over and its a done deal, na esta munhayan todu ya magutos i finihu, will not appear to be ideological since so much of what is out there in Guam today, gives it more weight, makes it appear more commonsensical and therefore less in need or evidence or less threatening to how most on Guam construct their identities. But all ideological terrain shifts, most of the times so slowly you don't even perceive it happening, but sometimes so radically that it can't be called anything but revolutionary.

In a different ideological universe my assertions might be the weighted and truthful ones and someone who states the contrary would be a crazy activist. In fact that is the hope for any on Guam who is interested in issues of peace, decolonization and demilitarization, is to shift the ideological landscape in such a way that people draw their identities and their feelings just as much from those principles as opposed to dependency, colonization, Americanization and militarism.


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