Dissent, or Obedience?

It is strange to be living in a country that may be on the edge of another revolution. It is hard to measure the rage of the population. In fact, it is impossible. My more conservative friends would pooh-pooh the idea; and I think they would be right. They would say, cynically, that it won’t happen this time either; that the leaders will behave as before, the culture of corruption will continue, impunity will reign as it always has; and the media, two giant corporations tied closely to the interests of the ruling group—will continue saying whatever it takes to make our eyes glaze over with confusion and boredom. The focus on the 43 disappeared students in Guerrero has already weakened on Facebook. Soon, everyone will agree that it is old news, and that talking about it is simply a form of chronic whining.

But that still leaves plenty of dissenters—young Mexicans—who will continue to speak out. I do not know what course their rejection of the state’s behavior—the lack of the rule of law—will take.   This time, the context seems to have changed. The disappearance of the 43 has pulled the curtain aside and the nation saw their government trapped by the circumstances. The government lost either way, whether the 43 remained disappeared or whether their bodies were found. By tone or gestures, the leaders, many said, showed they did not really care, their deeds and words rang empty, investigations began late and appeared to look only for the missing but not for those responsible except at the lowest levels. For the government, it appeared to be a George Bush reading My Pet Goat to the kindergarten moment. The whole world saw this; and now there is support and a more broad understanding internationally of what is at play. But will that spur change; will it protect student demonstrators during the next demonstrations?

I have read about people hinting at taking up arms, but that would be a disaster, just as the Mexican Revolution was a prolonged disaster for so many. There is enough violence already. Instead, the leadership at the top must change its way of thinking. They would have to develop a sense of social responsibility. But it is hard to see how that can happen. There seems to some sort of missing gene—like the kind of gene that keeps the U.S. Congress from acting on global warming or from ridding itself of a deep, destructive racism and love of war.   The best that can be hoped for is that the ruling groups have learned something about the depth of the despair, disappointment and outrage among Mexico’s citizens. For things to change, they would have to examine their own roles in maintaining the structure that moves riches and privileges and authority into their hands and away from the vast majority of citizens who battle hunger, lack of a good education, jobs that pay a living wage, the lack of transparency and accountability in their government and a rampant lack of the kind of security that can guarantee life, limb and the pursuit of happiness.

A final question is why there isn’t another way to change the ruling order. There are plenty of studies that show that, sufficiently conditioned by fear and manipulation, people stop resisting, stop speaking out. Plus, is there perhaps some earlier conditioning from as much as a hundred years ago, when people were taught to learn to obey?

Here is one opinion on the subject—my translation—from Friedrich Katz’s book La Servidumbre agraria en México en la época porfiriana, 1980, 2013, Agrarian Servitude in the Era of Porfirio Díaz. These are the words of Manuel F. de la Hoz, at The Second Congress of Tulancingo in 1905, in Mexico—a gathering of hacienda owners, high Catholic dignitaries, and functionaries of the government, where Hoz was arguing that reforms were needed to prevent revolution.

“It must be understood that, if respect for authority is the key to conserving harmony and order among all human groups, then a attitude of subordination must be fomented in the worker toward his immediate superiors, i.e. those who represent (and act for) the patrón (hacienda owner) himself.

“One must note that often the superiors—majordomos, field assistants, apprentices, gang captains—being filled with a sense of their own superiority—often apply the rod (whip) of their command with a heavy hand against the unhappy farm worker. To correct these abuses the hacienda owner should approach, not only because that is required by the laws of justice but also because all power that is exercised tyrannically engenders rebellion and a predisposition toward hate and revenge. In contrast, once he (the hacienda owner) commands from the height of his mission, and once he (the farm worker) who obeys does so from the nobility of his sacrifice, order will resume its rule and there will be no disturbances that turn everything on its head.

“The doctrine imbued in the farm worker since childhood will teach him to support with resignation and happiness the hard law of his humble condition; will inform him of the importance of his obligations and those of his fellows; will teach him to recognize the authority that governs him and to respect, without whispers and rebelliousness, the difference between the classes which God has permitted for the splendor of His glory; (the doctrine) will make his (the worker’s) burden lighter and smooth his supporting obedience.”

2 thoughts on “Dissent, or Obedience?

  1. Your quote from 1905 “The doctrine imbued in the farm worker since childhood will teach him to support with resignation and happiness the hard law of his humble condition” is dumbfounding but i’ll betcha there are still aristocrats who believe it true.

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