06 December 2014

I am the tagger, the tagged and tag and so are you

Julian Assange, dubbed as the prophet of the coming age of involuntary transparency, was not a known-name until very recently. Few had heard of Assange or the whistle-blowing outfit Wikileaks a year ago.  This information insurgent has over the last year made public 76,000 secret Afghan war documents and 392,000 files from the Iraq war.  A few days ago, Assange leaked some 250,000 classified US State Department cables.  That which a few knew for years is now known to millions. 

Now there is a school of thought that contends that Wikileaks is actually a tool of the very forces it purportedly targets, where ‘leaks’ tell us that which cannot be officially told.  They argue that the embarrassment caused is a small price to pay and indeed a necessary frill to obtain believability.  They point out that at the end of the day, the perception that settles down is, for example, Iran wanting to attack certain Arab countries.  Others say that costume and make up will not hide the truth any longer, that skeletons are tumbling by their thousands from closets that were thought to be under lock and key and will continue to fall out in the coming months. 

The discourse of transparency is fascinating but I am leaving it alone. For now.  For now I am thinking of one thing: Julian Assange is being called a rapist.  Whether or not he is guilty of the charge I do not know.  What matters is that he’s been tagged.  It reminded me of another ‘labeling’ which sought to prey on the prejudices that people may entertain. It was a label that backfired.  The intended victim was Subcommandante Marcos, the charismatic spokesperson for the Zapatistas, the movement of indigenous peoples in Mexico that began in the Chiapas and fired the imagination of radicals across the globe.  They targeted the wrong man.  Marcos used the tag in ways that were not anticipated. He fired a communiquĂ© on the subject on November 5, 1997:
"Yes, Marcos is gay. Marcos is gay in San Francisco Black in South Africa an Asian in Europe, a Chicano in San Ysidro, an anarchist in Spain, a Palestinian in Israel, a Mayan Indian in the streets of San Cristobal, a Jew in Germany, a Gypsy in Poland, a Mohawk in Quebec, a pacifist in Bosnia, a single woman on the Metro at 10pm a peasant without land, a gang member in the slums, an unemployed worker, an unhappy student and, of course, a Zapatista in the mountains.  Marcos is all the exploited, marginalised, oppressed minorities resisting and saying 'Enough'. He is every minority who is now beginning to speak and every majority that must shut up and listen. He is every untolerated group searching for a way to speak. Everything that makes power and the good consciences of those in power uncomfortable — this is Marcos."
A video-version of the principle can be found on youtube if you type ‘subcommandante marcos unmasks’ in the search box.  Worth watching.

It is a beautiful way of thinking about self and other people.  It makes perfect sense and is clearly laid out in the Satipattana Sutra.  When you meditate on the body, mind, sensations and mental contents, the notion of ‘I’ becomes meaningless or else collapses to its true (and transient) dimensions.  A quick illustration might help.  Body is mostly water. Water moves.  The water that makes you at this moment, was not yours or did not make you a few days ago and will not be yours tomorrow.  That which makes you (the water, the air in your lungs, the thoughts that you say are ‘yours’) did not belong and will not belong; they are passing through a corporeal entity which too is in flux. 

Marcos gives the argument a radical twist and one which lends itself to much replication, depending on context and preferred solidarities.  I believe a more radical turn is possible. Something like this:

‘I am everyone that Subcommandante Marcos says he is. I am also the person who would put me down, insult and humiliate, exploit and rob.  I am the bandit and the bandicoot. I am the terrorist who blew himself up and the bystander who was blown off in the process. I am the thief and the old woman he robbed, the dog that bit and the child that got bitten. I am the pensioner who is forgotten, the un-limbed man who is stumped also by the deletion of access-clauses from building-specification.  I can go on and on and on and I will be the continuing voice and the ear that has to listen or chooses to ignore.  I am my enemy and my enemy is me.’

My favourite octogenarian who is a teenager, is a teacher who refuses to surrender studentship, is so made of so many characters and yet a singularly fascinating individual, emailed me a question a little while ago: ‘Do you realize that we have our own twins (not biological) inside of us?’

We tag ourselves when we tag others.  It is good to keep this in mind as we deliberate on one another and pass judgment, as we have, do and will continue to do as consequence of our human frailty and the confidences that give meaning to our existences.

Someone said ‘Roses are red, violets are blue, I am schizophrenic and so am I’.  There is a Julian Assange in each of us. A Subcommandante Marcos too. A Rosa Luxenburgh.  A Saradiel.  A Cortez and a Keppetipola.  A Konappu Bandara too.  And of course, a bodhisattva.  Yes?

Malinda Seneviratne is a freelance writer who can be reached at malinsene@gmail.com