The full moon was holding forth in the southern sky, the sun was announcing its fiery intent to occupy the east and Venus and Jupiter floated on apricot clouds at points in between when Koko and I went out walking this morning.
And then some dark clouds came in and snuffed out the moon and tamped down the sun and everything went into a flat gray holding pattern, anticipating the change of dawn.
A similar situation is under way in Peru, where indigenous people are in a stand-off with President Alan Garcia’s government over his plans to exploit their native lands for oil, gas and other development purposes.
Thousands of indigenous protesters fought back and reportedly killed some 22 members of a paramilitary police force sent in to shut them up and down. For this, Garcia accused them of “barbarity,” a term he apparently does not extend to the actions of his own riot police. As Democracy Now! reports:
On Friday morning, some 600 Peruvian riot police and helicopters attacked a peaceful indigenous blockade outside of Bagua, killing twenty-five and injuring more than 150. Eyewitness accounts indicate the police fired live ammunition and tear gas into the crowd.
Alberto Pizango, the leader of the national indigenous organization, the Peruvian Jungle Interethnic Development Association, or AIDESEP, accused the government of President Alan Garcia of ordering the, quote, “genocide” of the indigenous communities.
Pizango is now in hiding after a judge ordered his arrest Saturday on charges of sedition and for allegedly inciting violence.
Hmmm. So apparently it's OK to use force and violence to carry out the repressive actions of the state, but if one uses such tactics to resist those actions, its sedition and inciting violence.
I also was intrigued that Garcia accused the protestors of “impeding progress” due to their “elemental ignorance" or manipulation by outside interests, a situation that he warned would lead Peru into “irrationality and a backwards primitive state.”
That very same language has been used repeatedly in Hawaii to deride and denounce those who have bucked the powers that be on everything from building telescopes on Mauna Kea and desecrating burials to growing genetically modified crops and running the Superferry without an EIS.
In Peru, as here and elsewhere, it’s a standoff between those who advocate the pursuit of money at any cost, and have the guns on their side to facilitate it, and those who understand that natural environments and indigenous cultures are irrevocably damaged and even lost in that mad rush toward a perverted definition of “progress,” and so their defenders should have a say in what happens to them.
ALBERTO PIZANGO: [translated] They’ve said that we indigenous peoples are against the system, but, no, we want development, but from our perspective, development that adheres to legal conventions, such as the United Nations International Labour Organization’s Convention 169, that says we, the indigenous peoples, have to be consulted. The government has not consulted us.
As often happens, I was musing over these parallel struggles when I picked up The New Yorker and happened to turn to a fascinating article entitled “How David Beats Goliath,” which shed light on this very topic.
In it, Malcolm Gladwell reported on the research of political scientist Ivan Arreguín-Toft, who “recently looked at every war fought in the past two hundred years between strong and weak combatants. The Goliaths, he found, won in 71.5 per cent of the cases.”
In the Biblical story of David and Goliath, David initially put on a coat of mail and a brass helmet and girded himself with a sword: he prepared to wage a conventional battle of swords against Goliath. But then he stopped. “I cannot walk in these, for I am unused to it,” he said (in Robert Alter’s translation), and picked up those five smooth stones. What happened, Arreguín-Toft wondered, when the underdogs likewise acknowledged their weakness and chose an unconventional strategy? He went back and re-analyzed his data. In those cases, David’s winning percentage went from 28.5 to 63.6. When underdogs choose not to play by Goliath’s rules, they win, Arreguín-Toft concluded, “even when everything we think we know about power says they shouldn’t.”
Yet most of the time, Arreguín-Toft discovered, underdogs didn’t fight like David. Instead, they chose to go toe-to-toe with Goliath the conventional way — and usually lost. Why? Drawing upon the analogy of an underdog basketball team defeating opponents through use of the full court press, Gladwell notes:
It is easier to retreat and compose yourself after every score than swarm about, arms flailing. We tell ourselves that skill is the precious resource and effort is the commodity. It’s the other way around. Effort can trump ability—legs, in Saxe’s formulation, can overpower arms—because relentless effort is in fact something rarer than the ability to engage in some finely tuned act of motor coördination.
Perhaps that's why persons either unarmed, or armed only with spears, have been able to successfully blockade roads and waterways, take over an airport used by Argentine oil company Pluspetrol, shut down oil production and halt the flow of oil out of the Peruvian jungle.
Further, Gladwell notes, the underdogs have to be willing to endure the cries of foul play — Garcia’s claims of “barbarity” in Peru and Anonymous' claims of "superstitious tribalism" in the Naue burial dispute, to cite two examples — when they decide not to take the conventional route of playing by Goliath’s rules.
But let’s remember who made that rule: Goliath. And let’s remember why Goliath made that rule: when the world has to play on Goliath’s terms, Goliath wins.