Tuesday, May 24, 2016

The Importance of Noise

The Importance of Noise
Michael Lujan Bevacqua
Guam Daily Post
April 6, 2016

Writing about colonization in action can be a hysterical albeit terrifying experience. It is something that has consumed my work as an activist and a scholar for more than a decade. It reminds me of a Dilbert comic from long ago, where the pointy haired boss tells a worker that the collar he is putting on him comes with an electric shock which will buzz him if he leaves the area of his “office” or a circle drawn on the carpet. Later in the week the worker is still there and we learn that he has been taught to beg for food.

Seeing colonization in action is paying attention to those invisible walls that keep the co-worker in his place, and trying to get others to adjust their eyes just long enough to see that nothing, to very little is probably there. Colonization can involve very clear forms of force, violence and oppression, but it leaves intangible, sometimes barely perceptible marks that persist even if the colonizer is no longer directly oppressing anymore. 

It is the experience of bumping into things you know do not exist, but so many others seem to accept as a truth beyond truth, un minagahet mas ki minagahet. Finding the end limit of the person who is resigned to sit on the floor, trapped by something that may or may not trap them. It is being forced to confront something that this person takes as so incredibly concrete and real that whether it exists or not, whether it has effects or not, it will contain and confine that person within that designated zone.
Take for instance, the way in which military increases are discussed on Guam and by Chamorros in particular. I recently finished the first draft of an article, that tried to analyze the support that Chamorros express for US military increases to their island, even if those increases may represent possible significant harm to their environment and community. In most discussions on the US military’s presence on Guam and the possibilities for increased presence, Chamorros break down into these three basic positions:

Taotao Unu: The military is good!
Taotao Dos: The military is great!
Taotao Tres: The military is gof maolek!

A fourth position has definitely been developing and gaining more presence in civil society in the past two decades, but still lags far behind in terms of having real traction in the way that people articulate their identities and ideologies. The fourth position, which you could refer to as the critical or at least resistant position is the most maligned one. 

Recall the heyday of Nasion Chamoru and their protest and direct action campaigns. For years, their protests about land rights, decolonization and so on were interpreted through tiresome na’osun na cliches about anti-Americanism and radicalism, and reducing their critiques to nothing by “noise.” In this context Nasion Chamoru, We Are Guahan or and Our Islands Are Sacred only shout and complain, and cause problems for everyone else, without offering any solutions. The problem with this position is first, that “noise” can be important, as it represents discourse that is still wild and errant, because the hegemonic ideological points make it mean nothing or make it sound incomprehensible, even when it is not. Most protests sound like “noise” until they are pushed to the point where they change those coordinates and shift what becomes commonsensical and what becomes the new point from which people draw their identities. Second, that which makes those critiques sound like nothing more than noise, also has the limitation of making it so that the alternatives that those bearing noise provide, are often missed or ignored, because of the assumption that a noisy person can’t offer much in the way of concrete plans, even if their noise consists of them providing concrete alternatives.

For years I argued with Chamorros and non-Chamorros about this issue of the value of noise. I recall a while back when I Nasion Chamoru and The Colonized Chamoru Coalition released a list of recommendations for economic alternatives to increases in the US military presence. These lists were published in both The Marianas Variety and the PDN. 

But this type of intervention would be meaningless for most, because the point of that statement that they provide no solutions, is that it doesn’t expect any solutions and will be in reality, impervious to any such evidence. Why? Here’s where we see colonization in action, where the end limit, those invisible walls, become firmly and rigidly concrete. Trapping the speaker within them, but also preventing us from just ignoring them or going around them. The statement is made as such with the presupposition that because of what Nasion Chamoru is and what it stands for, and the way it is publicly perceived, no matter what is recommends it will always be just noise.

Even if it published a book, “how to fix Guam’s economy in 12 easy steps” which sold a billion copies, unless that book paid the necessary homage to the pathological and infinite indebtedness to the United States and recognized and appreciated the endless dependency of Guam on the US (for the economic, historical, social, military, you name it, it belongs in these parentheses) it would be dismissed as noise. The way diverse, supposedly undifferentiated speech gains the marker of rationality or being “not noise” is by being filtered through and being marked as compatible with a number of very basic and fundamental ideas on Guam. Much like in the Untied States, entrance into the intelligibility of the mainstream depends upon for example, an agreement that although we may disagree on certain issues, the troops always have our support. This exists in Guam, but more specifically we find that entrance of voice to the mainstream depends upon admitting to and accepting the basic dependency of Guam on the US military and Federal Government. Any suggestions or voices which try to avoid this, counter it or work through it or around it, are dismissed as “noise.”


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