Saturday, April 21, 2007

Debunking Choice

"The Gringos provide the weapons, Colombia provides the dead," reads a billboard near the home of Yaneth Perez who recently spoke across the state of Montana. This is Yaneth's second visit to the Big Sky country in as many years. On this particular visit to Montana she spoke in front of 18 different audiences to as many 800 people. Fortunately, nearly 375 of those able to hear her speak were high school students!

Hallelujah! because at least some high school students in Montana were exposed to the firsthand testimony of an actual Colombian whose real lived experience differs from the doctrinal version sold hook, line and sinker to them the rest of the 179 school days! Surely, dozens of those high school students didn't pay attention or even care what Yaneth had to say, but for many others, seeds of doubt and serious questions about U.S. foreign and economic policy were raised.

As I was in attendance at four of the high school presentations, I can attest to the high level of concern Montana high school youth expressed for Yaneth's precarious existence. And as Yaneth explained to them the role American lifestyle plays in the wide-spread killings in Colombia through the consumption of cocaine and oil, these students were moved. They were moved because unlike the vast majority of adults who live in massive denial about the effects of their lifestyles and who don't get the most basic lessons of economics, the high school students understood that if we stopped providing the demand then it would follow that Colombians would stop killing each other in order to provide the supply.

As a side note, one of the most disconcerting tendencies I've heard out many of my own students this year is the notion that choice plays a significant role in the harsh realities most of the world suffers. Nearly 70% of my students believe people choose to be poor, homeless, etc.! If there were one single aspect of American indoctrination that most concerns me, it is this bullshit myth.

American culture provides us with so much in the way of meaningless choices (thousands of cold beverages, shoes, etc.) that we begin to assume all areas of our lives are a matter of choices. Choices that are simple to understand, but difficult to discipline ourselves to take. Ah! discipline. If only we were all as "disciplined" as the wealthy! At least 70% of my students are convinced that "making it" is a matter of their choosing. On the other hand, they are equipped with an excuse already made for them, that if they don't "make it" it was due to poor choices and lack of discipline. In other words, they chose not to overachieve and strive and assuredly the disinterested economic and political structure had nothing to do with it. In fact, many Americans may go so far as to believe these structures provide encouragement and assistance when discipline is present. In other words, they not only failed themselves, but they failed a benevolent system and have become a drag on the whole society. Besides living in poverty, the poor should feel ashamed of having wasting a golden opportunity! A basic assumption these students are making is that these structures are in essence benign and simply a matter of disciplining oneself to learn how to navigate their complex labyrinth.

Someday soon, many of these high school students will become American adults and will join their parents in undisciplined choices, denial about the role their lifestyle plays in the rest of the world and the orgy of thoughtless consumption. Thanks to some teachers efforts to demystify American myths and deconstruct power relationships and expose the omnipresent institutional flack machine, some students may begin to question things as they seem. Thanks to Yaneth Perez, an unmediated actual person, at least a number of them have now heard some of the "unofficial" story.


troutsky said...

Listening to Yaneth you cannot help but realize how privelege enters into that dominant narrative about"choice".The right to the "pursuit of happiness" is sweeter when you are white, male and from a wealthy family.

As the brutal effects of oil consumption work their way into that same narrative, we can observe capitalism already adjusting itself to a discourse on "responsibility" that still includes plenty of consumption and growth."Free trade" in ethanol will save us!

gregra&gar said...

Are you guys sure you are talking about the same event. Your blogs about Yaneth Perez seem like night and day going from Trout to Ché?

Ché Bob said...


As communities in Montana go, Trout's and mine are night and day, hence the difference in reception and turnout. "Turnout" is what I assume was most upsetting to Trout. I was at that event as well, and I can understand his frustration. However, my take was different than his as well since he is more personally tied to his community. I liked the reception we had in Trout's town even if it was less well attended!

John in Montana said...

I thought this was a well thought out and written post. I really like how you pulled the "choice" theme into focus under a different lens. I look forward to seeing you and the all the other CAJAistas soon!