I was travelling up the Amur, and by the end of October reached the lower end of that picturesque gorge which the Amur pierces in the Dousse-alin (Little Khingan) before it enters the lowlands where it joins the Sungari. I found the Cossacks in the villages of that gorge in the greatest excitement, because thousands and thousands of fallow deer were crossing the Amur where it is narrowest, in order to reach the lowlands. For several days in succession, upon a length of some forty miles up the river, the Cossacks were butchering the deer as they crossed the Amur, in which already floated a good deal of ice. Thousands were killed every
day, and the exodus nevertheless continued. Like migrations were never seen either before or since, and this one must have been called for by an early and heavy snow-fall in the Great Khingan, which compelled the deer to make a desperate attempt at reaching the lowlands in the east of the Dousse
mountains. Indeed, a few days later the Dousse-alin was also buried under snow two or three feet deep. Now, when one imagines the immense territory (almost as big as Great Britain) from which the scattered groups of deer must have gathered for a migration which was undertaken under the pressure of exceptional circumstances, and realizes the difficulties which had to be overcome before
all the deer came to the common idea of crossing the Amur further south, where it is narrowest, one cannot but deeply admire the amount of sociability displayed by these intelligent animals. The fact is
not the less striking if we remember that the buffaloes of North America displayed the same powers of combination. One saw them grazing in great numbers in the plains, but these numbers were made up by an infinity of small groups which never mixed together. And yet, when necessity arose, all groups, however scattered over an immense territory, came together and made up those immense columns, numbering hundreds of thousands of individuals, which I mentioned on a preceding page.
I should warn you that the stories of the Cat-Dog are very other. I’ve said it before—in contrast to those traditional stories that begin with “once upon a time…” Zapatista stories (and not just the stories, but that’s not the point here) begin with “There will be a time…” And as it turns out, the stories of the Cat-Dog begin with: “there is a time…” This means that the stories of the Cat-Dog are very modern because they happen in real time. So, here goes.
“There is a time…
A ship. A big one, as if it were a nation, a continent, an entire planet. With all of its crew and its hierarchies; that is, its above and its below. With its disputes over who commands, who is more important, who has the most—the standard debates that occur anywhere there is an above and a below. But this proud ship was having difficulty, moving without clear direction and with water pouring in from both sides. As tends to happen in these cases, the cadre of officers insisted that the captain be relieved of his duty. Complicated as things tend to be when determined by those above, it was decided that in effect, the captain’s time had passed and it was necessary to name a new one. The officers debated among themselves, disputing who had more merit, who was better, who was best.
The commotion was heard in the deepest part of the ship, below the water line where the majority of the crew lived and worked. Even though they weren’t seen, they were important. In plain terms, the ship moved thanks to their work. The commotion above was nothing new for those below. They knew that every once in a while, those above fought over who would be captain. None of this mattered to the owner of the ship. It could be whoever, what interested the owner was that the ship produced, transported, and collected commodities across the oceans.
Among those who worked below there was a group that was set apart for being very other. Because they were men, women, and otroas, we will call them “Loas Otroas.” Loas Otroas were small beings, dirty, ugly, bad, poorly spoken, and worst of all, they didn’t comb their hair.
Since the rest of the ship didn’t know that there were people there who couldn’t be accommodated in the structures and diagrams they had been shown, they tended to say that Loas Otroas were really Martians who wanted to take over the ship and take it to another galaxy. Fortunately, the captain of the ship heard these rumors and named a commission of distinguished intellectuals to provide a scientific explanation for the disturbing existence of Loas Otroas. The intellectuals met in an exclusive meeting space built especially for these kinds of things, and after a few days and a hefty salary, they presented the results of their study. “Loas Otroas, they said, are not Martians. In reality, they are made in China. The Chinese manufactured them there in China and sent them to planet Mars, so that from there they would end up on the boat and sabotage the industry of combs, brushes, shampoos, gels, barbershops, and beauty salons.” The captain of the ship congratulated the scientists in a confused tweet, as tweets tend to be. Specialized journals announced and circulated the discovery.
Nah, that’s not really true, but if it seems like an absurd explanation, there are worse ones in the paid mass media.
But getting back to the ship.
Loas otroas, as they were, were always cursing those above and getting into mischief to irritate the officers. Meaning, every so often they were organizing another rebellion. So, the officials presented great speeches about interplanetary threats; they exchanged gazes, calculating together how to take advantage of the occasion, and they gave the order to create order among the disordered, that is among Loas Otroas.
Loas Otroas called on other people to rebel, but the great majority of those below did not respond to this call. What’s more, and not on few occasions, they applauded when one of Loas Otroas was taken on deck and, amidst the great discourses of the officials on the rationality of command and the irrationality of rebellion, made to jump overboard.
Were there sharks? Those who worked below didn’t know. What’s more, they only knew what happened above and outside when the officials gave them information. But even with their losses, Loas Otroas kept on with that discourse of “neither master nor boss, nor god nor ruler,” and other equally anachronistic ideas, like that one about “the boat should belong to those who propel it.” The ship, for its part, continued its erratic swaying from one side to the other, without anything seeming to affect it. And every so often, unoa otroa was taken up on deck to be thrown into the sea. What were they accused of, judged and condemned for? This didn’t matter to the executioner. It was enough for them that this being was dirty, ugly, bad and rude, to know that he or she was guilty, even if just guilty of being who they were. But this time, something unusual happened. The dispute among the officers over who would be captain had created so much noise and chaos that no one had bothered to serve up the usual discourse and praise for order, progress, and fine dining. The executioner, knowing only how to follow existing patterns, didn’t know what to do; something was missing. So he went to look for some officer who could comply with what tradition dictated. In order to do so without the accused/ judged/condemned escaping, they sent him to Hell, that is, to the “watch post,” also known as “the Crow’s Nest.”
The watch post is at the top of the tallest mast, and was seen by all of the crew as a punishment. Maybe because of the wind, the rain, the sun, the cold, or the stormy gales, the “crow’s nest” was considered a branch office of hell. From there, enemies were sited, unknown vessels were caught creeping up, monsters and catastrophes were seen coming; prosperous ports where commodities (that is people) were exchanged came into view, as well as incomprehensible islands populated by Loas Otroas. Whatever notice was given from that post was received by the officers with anger and displeasure. If what was in sight was an enemy ship, the captain gave over everything without a word, and then later, with the cadre of officers, toasted the progress the looting had brought onboard. Yes, it sounds stupid, but that is how everything worked on the deck of this ship. If what was sighted were monsters and systemic catastrophes, those in charge celebrated modernity… or post modernity, depending on the fashion decreed by the newest navigation manuals. If what was sighted were unknown vessels creeping closer, leaflets and pamphlets were quickly distributed among the crew.
In these leaflets, the crew was called upon to view the panorama optimistically. They called for meditation, personal self-improvement, and love for one’s neighbor. “Change begins with oneself” tended to be the title of these papers which were produced in great quantities… and which almost no one read. The announcement of arrival at the port of immediate destination was received with more disagreement and dissent than with bother or annoyance. From the profits made from the buying and selling of commodities, the officials gave a few crumbs to those below. As the profits were large and the handouts below small, there was plenty of money for the officials to build huge new cabins for themselves or adorn the nautical museums with splendid statues praising their lineage.
If someone is listening to this story and thinks everything on this ship is extravagant and irrational, they wouldn’t be wrong. For all the lifestyle habits created above to manage society’s interactions, with its rules of etiquette, good manners, and hierarchies, the whole of all this doesn’t cease to be abhorrent or abnormal. A serious analysis of the organization of the ship would conclude that the fundamental absurdity of life on the ship is that what maintains it afloat is below the water line, in the lowest part of that proud ship. Despite scientific and technological advances, nuclear turbines, 4G-LTE tablets, super high definition images, and fast food, the principle motor of this ship is human.
If whoever is listening to me pays attention to the organization of the ship that I am describing, they will realize that despite the fact that it is those below who are making it possible for the ship to sail, who are producing not only the necessary things for the ship to function but also the commodities that give purpose and destiny to the ship, they don’t have anything other than their capacity and knowledge to do this work. They also don’t have the possibility of deciding anything about the organization of this work so that it completes its objective; it is the officers above deck who decide this. Of course, taking care of appearances, every once in a while they simulate the taking into account of the opinions of the sailors—male and female, because on this boat there is gender equality in working one’s ass off. For this task, they would organize a curious game that consisted of presenting to the sailors various colors, and asking them to choose one. The color picked by the majority was used to paint the body of the ship, and they would even install a special flag to identify it. But nothing really changed: the owner continued being the owner and was the one who chose the destination and determined the organization of the ship. I say this was “before” because this cadre of officers was attentive to modern advances and soon replaced this process with that of surveys: ‘What color do you like the best?’ Fortunately, modernization did not extinguish a sense of shame of those above deck and they continued on with the formalism of voting for which color was the prettiest.
However, the sea winds were agitating the boat more and more frequently. More enemy boats appeared with greater frequency and are more aggressive. If whoever is listening to me thinks that the cadre of officers, by reason of their supposed abilities, would see a way to deal successfully with these new threats, you are mistaken. So busy are they pulling profit from the small portion allotted to them, that these officers have indeed become more and more agile, yes, but principally in discovering 1001 ways to take a little more, not only from what they can steal from those below, but also what they can snatch from their peers. The issue is that those who should be responsible for guaranteeing the internal organization of the boat so that it complies with its function, have by their actions resigned their duty. The ship sails, as it has for a while now, on pure inertia.
But let’s get back to the protagonist of this story and its bitter destiny in the crow’s nest.
That this branch office of hell was located above was just one of those paradoxes that populates the geography of the current sea. Contrary to what one might think, the being in question, loa otroa, climbed up with enthusiasm, agile as indeed those below tend to be. S/he climbed with admirable skill up the tallest mast and settled into the narrow vigilance post.
Following an unknown impulse, unknown at least to the person who tells the story and those who listen, this strange being did not wallow in self-pity; rather, s/he took advantage of this privileged position to look.
It was no small thing what this gaze took in.
Loa Otroa looked toward the deck and paused a moment on the slogan that the owner of the ship had engraved in bronze on the front of the boat: “Bellum Semper. Universum Bellum. Universum Exitium.”
Loa otroa did not know Latin. Me neither, actually. But someone has done a translation and we can say that it is something like “War Always, Universal War, Universal Destruction.”
While we look for the way to get the translation to Loa Otroa, s/he continued there above, observing what happened on deck. Over there for example, was a stage full of little flags of one color. Over there a little further, another with flags of the same color, and another, and another. It’s curious because from close up, it looks like they are a lot of different colors and shapes, but at a distance you can see that all the stages have the same design and the same color. Bored, Loa Otroa looked to the horizon. S/he shuttered and sharpened her gaze to confirms what s/he has seen. Loa Otroa climbed back down to deck and went through the hatch to the bottom part of the ship.
Once there s/he looked for a notebook and begins to draw incomprehensible signs. S/he called Loas Otroas and shows them the notebook. Loas Otroas look at each other, look at the notebook, and look at each other again, speaking a very ancient language. Who knows what they saw because there is no translator on hand. But after a little while like that, exchanging gazes and words, they begin to work feverishly.
I know, I was just as indignant as you are now. “What do you mean ‘the end’? What did s/he see from the watch post? What did s/he draw in the notebook? What did they talk about? Then what happened?”
But the Cat-Dog just meowed barking, “We don’t know yet.”
Later he barked meowing, “Those who call themselves social scientists should learn how to use those four words.”
i The text uses “todos, todas, todoas,” meaning “everyone” to give a range of possible gendered pronouns including male, female, transgender and others.
ii The text uses “nosotroas” meaning “we,” see endnote i.
iii The text uses “otros, otras, otroas as” meaning “other,” see endnote i.
iv Seminario, which we are translating as seminar, can also mean seminary. See the reference to this in an earlier EZLN text by Subcomandante Insurgente Galeano: http://enlacezapatista.ezln.org.mx/2015/05/03/el-muro-y-la-grieta-primer-apunte-sobre-el-metodo-zapatista-supgaleano-3-de-mayo/
v The text uses “uno, una, unoas,” meaning “one” see endnote i.
vi The text uses “alguno, alguna, algunoa” meaning someone, see endnote i.
vi “How good it is, the way we are now.” A reference to a phrase used in Subcomandante Insurgente Moisés’ talk from May 3, 2015: http://enlacezapatista.ezln.org.mx/2015/05/14/on-the-elections-organize/
vii “How good it is, the way we are now.” A reference to a phrase used in Subcomandante Insurgente Moisés’ talk from May 3, 2015: http://enlacezapatista.ezln.org.mx/2015/05/14/on-the-elections-organize/
viii Greek mythological figure, Iolaus was the nephew of Heracles who helped his uncle slay the Hydra of Lerna.
ix The text uses “usuario, usuaria, usuarioa,” meaning user, see endnote i
(…)Nahua people of Ayotitlán, attacked by guardias blancas and police working for the transnational mining company Ternium; like the families of the 47 absent students of Ayotzinapa; like the families of the children of the ABC Daycare (just because the media doesn’t report on them doesn’t mean they no longer struggle for justice); like the families of the political prisoners and the disappeared all over the world; like the rebellious teachers’ union; like the Greece from below and to the left that never bought into the story of the referendum; like the prisoners that continue to challenge Power and the State even from behind bars; like those who challenge Power from the streets and countryside in all geographies; like the originary peoples who keep up their defense of the Mother Earth; like those who do not sell out, do not give in, and do not give up.