New World Disorder

By Eduardo Galeano

This is an edited version of an address given by the Uruguayan journalist to the World Congress of Christian Communicators. The original appeared in Spanish in Pastoral Popular.

Today’s world, under the symmetrical totalitarianism imposed by the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund and the like, is a world without a soul, a world with no people, only markets; no citizens, only consumers; no nations, only business empires; no human relations, only mercantile competition.

Unjust economy

The world economy has never been less democratic or more scandalously unjust. In 1960 the richest 20 percent of the world was thirty times richer than the bottom 20. By 1990 the difference was sixty times. The top 100 multimillionaires as listed in Forbes and Fortune, privately own as much wealth as 1,500 million people.

The cultural leveling and destruction taking place as a result of this cannot be as easily measured. Advanced electronic media to a great part serve only human non-communication and impose the values of the consumer society and the choice between the same and more of the same. The media are owned by an all-powerful few. History is swept away and individual identity destroyed. Never have so many been rendered voiceless by so few. The ideal citizen is the docile consumer, the passive spectator mass-produced on a planetary scale according to the blueprint of North American television ads. The entire globe has been conquered by this mortal cocktail of blood, valium and publicity.

How does this process of cultural leveling function in an increasingly unequal world? There are two paradoxes. First paradox: the world economy needs an ever-expanding market so that profits do not fall. It also needs hands to work at the cheapest prices in the South and East of the planet.

Influence of Media

Second paradox and daughter of the first: the Northern part of the world increasingly issues stern orders to the South and East to multiply consumers. This multiplies delinquency. For example, millions of young Latin Americans are condemned to unemployment and starvation wages. Television ads proclaim that the one who doesn’t have a certain kind of car, or trainers, or whatever, is a nobody, rubbish. Every thief who gets hold of the things which supposedly give a person life want to become like his victim. Television not only teaches one to confuse quality of life with having a quantity of things but also offers daily audio-visual courses in violence, courses complimented by video games. Crime is the biggest attraction of the small screen. “Get them before they get you” is the message of the video games.

The loaves and the fishes have never been more unevenly distributed. The antiseptically named “market economy” is allowed to act with ever greater impunity. Up until 20 or 30 years ago poverty was seen as the fruit of injustice, denounced by the Left, admitted by the Center and rarely denied by the Right. Now it is the punishment for inefficiency or merely an expression of the natural order of things. Poverty has now been separated from injustice. Even the notion of injustice, something universally accepted in the recent past, has been so modified that it almost disappears.

Few winners, many losers

Today’s moral code condemns not injustice, but failure. Robert McNamara, one of those responsible for the Vietnam War, recognized in his book, In Retrospect, that this war, which killed 3,000,000 Vietnamese and 58,000 Americans, was a mistake, not because it was unjust, but because it could not be won. The fact that an invading force was annihilating a people and destroying their land in order to impose on Vietnam a government it did not want is not questioned. Within a reward/punishment system that sees life as a merciless race between few winners and many losers, defeat is the only sin that has no redemption.

The same thing happens with violence as with poverty. It is rarely presented as the result of injustice. It’s almost always exhibited as the result of the bad conduct of those third-class types of people who inhabit the so-called Third World. Isn’t it part of their nature! Violence, like poverty, is attributed to the natural order.

Black and white

When McNamara published his book another scandal rocked public opinion in the USA. A Guatemalan colonel and functionary of the CIA was accused of murdering a US citizen. The media gave little importance to the fact that the CIA had been financing assassins and imposing and deposing governments in Guatemala since 1954. That year President Eisenhower approved the CIA’s organizing a coup that overthrew the democratic government of Jacobo Arbena. President Clinton ordered an investigation into these two cases but not into the responsibility of the CIA and other government agencies for the systematic butchery that has caused the deaths of a hundred thousand Guatemalans in recent years, most of them indigenous peoples. This bloodbath, usually explained away as something almost natural, was, for a time, the focus of media attention. This helped the cause of human rights in Guatemala but also confirmed the racist discrimination that rules world “disinformation”

The market that offers gleaming cars, exotic soaps, exciting perfumes and magic painkillers, hypnotizes the consuming public through the small screen. But now and again between ads the television shows images of hunger and war. These horrors belong to another world where hell exists. The contrast only underlines the paradisiacal quality of the consumer society and all it has to offer us.

Conditioning violence

Often these images come from Africa where famines are shown as natural catastrophes. The wars of Africa never show confrontations between peoples and regions, but tribes. It’s the blacks, you see! The footage on hunger doesn’t even mention in passing the pillage of colonialism that yesterday promoted slaver and today slave-wages. There’s silence about the same colonial powers that invented false frontiers and chopped up Africa into more than fifty pieces. There’s silence about the traffickers of death from the North who sell their arms so that the South might make its wars.

The 1994 war in Rwanda provided the most atrocious images of human butchery in recent times. No reference, even by chance, to the responsibilities of Germany, Belgium or France that, one after the other, helped destroy the tradition of tolerance between Tutsis and Hutus, two peoples who had lived peacefully side by side for many centuries before they were trained for mutual extermination.

Powerful tyrants

The lords of information give the name communication to their monologue of power. Universal liberty of expression consists in the right of the suburbs of the world to obey the orders that the center sends out and to take as their own the values that it imposes. There are no frontiers in this supermarket of global dimensions where control is exercised on a planetary scale.

This is the treacherous mirror that teaches Latin American children to see themselves through the eyes of those who despise them and to accept as their destiny the reality that humiliates them. UNESCO statistics say that these children spend twice as much time watching television as they do in attending class. But what about those cases where the hours watching television are, in fact, their “school” hours? Public education and health-care have been dismantled by the hurricane of neo-liberalism and the disintegration of the Latin American state. Education is the privilege of those who can pay. The TV looks after the rest.

The crushing force of this “non-communication” that un-educates us underlines the dimensions of the challenge we are facing. The struggle is unequal but more necessary than ever now that the fashion of the times orders us to harness ourselves with hope as if we were talking about a tired horse.

Salamat sa Far East