Latin American Writers

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Javier Sicilia: Big Brothers

[Translated from the Spanish in Proceso]

For Luis Raúl González Pérez

(Photo by Zapata)

[es] One of the most important contributions of the long reflection of Giorgio Agamben in his monumental work Homo sacer is to show us that the State has a double face: the one of inclusion of its citizens within its protective system and the one of exclusion of those that do not fit into it: the human waste, says Zygmunt Bauman; zoe, says Agamben: a kind of animal presence. The State, be it totalitarian or not, functions thus as a kind of Orwellian Big Brother who also has another face:  that of exclusion. At the same time that it integrates, it segregates.

In the fluid world, the modern world of Progress and consumption, excluded beings have many faces – victims of violence, Negroes, Muslims, Ninis,[1] Indigenous. The one that recently took preeminence in the communication media is that of migrants.  The North American State, like the Mexican, recognizes the human condition of those beings in search of its protection, but at the same time that they recognize it, they exclude them. Those beings – just like others that have no possibility of employment nor consumption – do not fit into the world that the state protects. There is no place for them; they are a plague whose uselessness can contaminate them with the rabies of crime or terrorism.

Therefore, North American Big Brother – who in the migrant case plays an Orwellian role – raises walls on the frontier, supplies immigration officials with lists of persons that ought not to enter his territory, instructs his guards on those that ought to stop at the gate, urges his citizens to denounce them and demands that the Mexican Big Brother – in his role as custodian of the backyard – do his part and dispose of them, just as one cleans up the waste from the market and its consumption.

Therefore, Mexican Big Brother – whose capacity for violating human rights is exemplary – abandons migrants like dogs, so that, like dogs, they are fed by compassionate citizens or, like dogs, disappear under the brush of these White Guards called Cartels (I ask myself if the National Guard will also be an instrument of cleansing). Or indeed – now that the migrants have become hordes ­– shut them up in concentration camps euphemistically called “refuges”.

The supposed agreement regarding migrants that the Big Bad Brothers reached after the North raised its voice did not change the situation at all: the North will maintain its restrictions and will bog down petitions for asylum in its bureaucracy; the South will strengthen the restraint in his own backyard and will grant asylum ­– that is, keep in its “refuges” the migrants that the Big Brother of the North turns back. The rest – that goes unsaid – will go to the dogs.

 In this way, the two Brothers, with their respective discourses (one honest, brutal, and demanding, because thus is the system; the other hypocritical in its humanitarianism and its openness to dialogue), “control” – says Bauman – “the frontier between the ‘inside’ and the ‘outside’”. Underneath their differences, there is in reality an accord, disguised by humanitarian and diplomatic rhetoric, in order to dominate together the totality of the social universe, functioning in their respective fields of action. “The inhuman cruelty of the first sustains the diabolic duplicity of the second” and vice versa. Playing bad cop-good cop, their task is the same: to identify waste, contain it and clean it up.

In the social system that both Big Brothers protect – that of Progress – the only thing that remains for those who have been included in it is to sustain themselves, come what may, under its guardianship; for those who have not been included, to accept, come what may, the rejection. In other words: to remain under the custody of the Orwellian Big Brother or succumb under his other face. Both preside over the game of the State: the game of required inclusion, for those that are able, and of forced exclusion for those that fail to satisfy the requirements.

Not so long ago, some of my generation resisted the powers of the Orwellian face of Big Brother. Each one, in our manner and our trench, fought to break down the walls of the State that wanted to turn us into one dimensional beings, sheltered in the sheepfolds of the system. At times we went so far as to go to live in places of our choice, of which there still remain vestiges (I think of the Arc of Lanzo del Vasto, or that of the recently deceased Jean Vanier or of the Zapatista Caracoles). But as the other face of Big Brother emerged, we know that on positioning ourselves to keep a distance from its Orwellian face, we had run into the other face.

Confronting that, we must respond to the question formulated by Bauman: Do we human beings have no alternative but to live under the weight of one of the two faces of Big Brother ­– the one of inclusion in a one-dimensional world or the one of exclusion in a “refuge”, in hazardous animal life, in the reserve army of garbage cleaners or in the clandestine grave? Are there other possible forms of human life in our shared world?

There are, but they are outside the idea of Progress that both faces of Big Brother guard. They are at the margins of control by any power, in those vestiges of liberty that still remain and that rise up as a sign of resistance.

Sicilia concludes this essay with a statement he appends to his columns in Proceso:

I also believe that the San Andrés agreements must be honored, the war should be ended, all political prisoners and the Mireles self-defenses have to be freed, there must be justice for the victims of violence, governments and criminal officials ought to be judged, and bodies in the Jojutla graves have to be rescued.

 Translated by Paloma Fernández Sánchez and Carol Polsgrove, published by permission of Javier Sicilia

Javier Sicilia is a poet, essayist, and novelist. Since the murder of his son Juan Francisco in March 2011, Sicilia has led widespread demonstrations against the failed war against drugs. He tells his own story in the form of a new novel, El deshabitado (see “Writing his way back to life”).

[1] young people who are out of school and out of work



This entry was posted on August 5, 2019 by .