Buenos Aires

It has taken me a while to come around and feel ready to write this thing. Not because I’ve been struggling to re-enter life at home due to some sort of reverse culture shock— on the contrary, I jumped back into life at home as if nothing had ever happened. For the last three weeks I’ve hardly thought about the preceding five months at all except for when explaining to friends and family what exactly it was that I was doing for all that time, and then it feels strange and distant, as if I am describing what I did at summer camp when I was fourteen. In retrospect, the transition home was rather abrupt and unceremonious and perhaps that’s why I am feeling the need to write something commemorative, as if that five-month sentence is lacking a final punctuation.

I don’t know how to summarize my experiences in Buenos Aires. I think that the idea of summarizing such an experience is inherently somewhat self-defeating. To really understand what it was and how it is now important to me, it must not be summarized but co-experienced— explicated deeply, thematically, in full multimedia retina-display detail. While this is something I have generally preferred to do in person, it would be cheap to entirely forego any description. There’s no TL;DR for this one, sorry folks. Where to begin…

Entering to live in another culture feels like being fourteen again. You have enough basic skills to survive, but you are also just aware enough to realize that you don’t really get it yet. While this feeling may have been exacerbated by the Spanish language context, a lot of it has to do with understanding the country’s cultural and political history. In the case of Argentina, this was hugely important, as so much of current society, politics, and economics is a reaction to movements in the past.

I took a history class that was designed for gringos. It examined Argentine history independently but also in relation to the cultural history of the USA and select other countries. The professor was one of those real academics who have a bleeding romance with their subject. It would be a privilege to learn anything from him, regardless of the content. He succeeded in providing an organized context for us to learn the fundamentally necessary stuff: the effects of Spanish colonialism, the massive European immigration in the late 19th century, the antagonism between the city of Buenos Aires and the Provinces, the relationships between Argentina, Chile, the USA, and Europe, Argentina’s early prominence in the early 20th century and the importance of cattle, Argentina’s political/economic stances during the world wars, the rise of the political/economic/social movement that is Peronism (and the story of Eva Peron), the Junta Militar and ‘los desaparecidos’ in the 70’s and 80’s, Menem in the 90’s, and then the IMF default and devaluation of the peso in 2001 from which Argentina has not yet recovered— these topics are crucial to understanding contemporary Argentine culture.

For some reason or another, from Argentines and from people at home, I often received the question, “te gusta Argentina?” Do you like Argentina? I knew how I was supposed to answer the question, obviously, and responded by complementing the asado, the women, the wine, and the fútbol. But the question, “do you like _____(country)” begs a deeper answer. Do you approve of the way that the country is run? The liberties and services it provides for its citizens? Is the ‘country’ equivalent to the country’s government? Or is ‘Argentina’ a reference to the Argentine people? Can you ‘like’ the USA if you don’t ‘like’ the dominant party? Do I even ‘like’ the USA?

The answer I’ve developed to this question is that I very much liked my experience in Argentina, but I do not necessarily ‘like’ every aspect of the Argentinian history, governance, or culture. Frankly, I am quite critical of the country’s apparent historical values, trends, and current direction. Argentina is a bizarre hybrid in so many ways. The European influence on the city is obvious from it’s architecture and population (almost entirely white in Buenos Aires). Argentina has long fetishized French styling and therefore hired many great French designers and architects to construct a city that is somewhat in the style of Paris. But Buenos Aires is more like Paris’s gaudy, grungy younger sister, who would be stunningly beautiful if she were to take off her sequin-studded tiara, wear a bit less makeup, and stop embezzling so much money. Perhaps I’m just queasy around luxury, but Buenos Aires is candy coated with a veneer of sophistication that can hardly disguise the governmental corruption and the resulting economic suffering felt by huge swaths of the population. Instead of pioneering substantial political, economic, or cultural change, the government of Buenos Aires relies on clientelism, tit-for-tat negotiations in which the government runs massive handout programs to gain the voting support of the poorer classes but does nothing to change the flows of capital and class mobility.

The city of Buenos Aires is huge and sprawling and interestingly not segregated by ethnicity or race, but rather almost entirely by class. I lived in the epicenter of Buenos Aires’ old wealth, Retiro, next to Plaza San Martin, next to calle Florida, the city’s prime luxury shopping district. There were two or three massive, Parisian-styled palaces within two or three minutes of my homestay. During the day, ritzy Retiro was crawling with men in suits and women in fur coats and once-glamorous older-folk walking toy-sized dogs. But at night, Retiro was deserted and dangerous. Right next to Retiro is the city’s main train station, and behind the train station is Villa 31, one of the first and largest Villas in Buenos Aires. Villas are slums that escape most government regulation and are hotbeds of crime, drug and human trafficking, and poverty. About 200,000 people live in 20+ villas in the city of 13 million. Many Villa inhabitants live in dangerously constructed buildings or are homeless. Drug addiction, especially to Paco, is rampant. While the government of Buenos Aires does not support the expansion of the villas, they also do not put much pressure on them to pay taxes or change their ways; there is something of a tacit don’t-ask-don’t-tell, look-the-other-way policy in place. Why? My professor at the University of Buenos Aires (UBA), who was admittedly a raving Marxist, explained that the government has historically had ties to many of the powerful ‘mafioso’ groups that have real authority in the villas. On the surface, this seems to be corruption at its finest. But on the other hand, a student in my class protested that these groups are often quite involved in the local community and establish schools, community centers, homeless shelters, and a distinct, prideful culture of their own in each Villa. If the government is supporting groups that support the people, regardless of their source of income, is the government wrong in doing so?

I could continue writing about my frustration with the hypocrisy and shallowness of various aspects of Buenos Aires’ culture, but this was not what particularly characterized my experience in Argentina. On the contrary, Argentina provided me with all that I needed to arrange for myself an incredible experience. I was hugely impressed and impacted by the genuinely good people that I lived with and otherwise met. I unquestionably benefited from the city’s education systems. Living abroad was ultimately the epitome of freedom within constraints, an exotic sandbox within which I played and experimented and learned from all that was around me. I flaneur’d, gloriously alone, every day. I spent many beautiful days exploring beautiful streets with people who became very close friends, most of whom were from the study abroad program, but were also from all over the USA, which was eye opening in itself. We enjoyed countless incredible meals and nights out immersed in Buenos Aires’ diverse and dynamic nightlife. We were young and sometimes irresponsible, and every day happened only once. It was a magical transience that compelled me to carpe the diem, to live alive, to shake my demons or address them so that I might re-open my eyes to the world around me.

And so I went to Argentina because I wished to live deliberately, to see if I might be able to discern the essential facts of life and of my life, to see if I could construct an existence in which I could really live. I did not chase every rabbit nor visit every nightclub nor seize every moment, but I followed precisely my own inner tendencies as closely as possible without being offensive to others, as is otherwise usually quite impossible. Life in society demands that we do things and go places. This was my experiment in designing a life that would demand only and exactly what I was desiring to do. “I did not wish to live what was not life, living is so dear; nor did I wish to practice resignation, unless it was quite necessary. I wanted to live deep and suck out all the marrow of life, to live so sturdily and Spartan-like as to put to rout all that was not life, to cut a broad swath and shave close, to drive life into a corner, and reduce it to its lowest terms”. Thoreau said it perfectly, and in the moment and in retrospect, I was and am proud of my implementation. I enjoyed so thoroughly my time abroad that I’m not thinking about it now.

How does that make sense? If a recent experience was truly impressionable, shouldn’t it continue to leave its impression upon its subject? If I was so set upon fully experiencing my time abroad, and so ‘successful’ at doing so, shouldn’t I be constantly reminiscing about and reliving those sublime seconds?

I think that this apparent discontinuity is the reason why I am at war with nostalgia. While abroad, I often entered museums and cafes and nightclubs and found myself thinking, “this will be the only time that I ever exist at this point in space-time,” then eventually to exit and think during the taxi ride home, “well, that was that, yet another experience has become memory.” At home it feels just as tragic. I got lunch with my mother yesterday. I will never get lunch with my mother yesterday again. It’s obvious but still somehow troubling. It’s an apparently useless hyper-awareness of feeling the present endlessly recede into the past.

Is it problematic, or is it somehow useful? Do I remember those moments better, having taken myself out-of-the-moment to commemorate it? Can you ever really do anything to take a moment out of time? One can write about it, or record audio or video, or tweet about it and commiserate with everyone else who is also loosing time, and so I do those things to give my faulty memory as many triggers for future recollection as possible. But to what end? What is the takeaway? Where is the peace in that? Like all existentialism, this goes nowhere. Why can’t I just accept that and live in the goddamn moment?

I think these are normal preoccupancies— I’m just another in a ponderously long list of humans who have obsessed over the conditions of our existence. If you’ve got answers or more questions, leave them in the comments.

On Blood and Altruism

Scene 1:

The other day, I was walking down Santa Fe towards my usual bus stop and I was tapped on the shoulder. I turned my head and came face-to-face with a man, probably 6’2″, muscular, who was literally covered in blood. I kid you not, there was blood all over his face and hands, with fresh red rivulets dripping from one of his eyelids and his impressively disfigured nose. His face was not even swollen, indicating that he had recently acquired his facial adornments. I nearly shat my pants.

He asked me for money.

“Por favor, ¿una moneda señor? Para el bebé, tiene hambre y no puedo encontrar trabajo.”

Deer in the headlights. I’m sorry, what? Is there a tacit, “or I’ll pulverize you” at the end of that humble plea? Is this some kind of asshole tactic to get money from people, or did you just kill somebody?

Not knowing exactly how crazy this guy was, I fished quickly for a coin in my pocket, handed it to him, and watched as he broke into a wide smile and thanked me profusely.

This is so confusing. So you’re not going to pulverize me or demand my wallet (or take my backpack with my laptop in it?).

I asked him why he had blood all over his face.

“Perdón, em— por qué … el sangre?”

He answered: “El boxeo.”

Boxing. 

I’m just going to believe that. Whatever you say, fella.

***

Scene 2:

The other day, I was on the 132 going from Córdoba to Rivadavia, listening to the cumbia blasting from my bus-neighbor’s headphones, when a homeless woman boarded the bus. She was an older lady, dark skinned with wild hair, dressed in an enormous quantity of oversized shirts and baggy olive-green pants. She wore no shoes. In her hands was a stack of paper- small ripped pieces of newspaper, arranged in a stack which she held carefully between both arms as one might hold a baby. She surveyed her audience and said nothing. She turned around and walked to the front of the bus, and started handing out the slips of paper.

One by one, she offered a ripped piece of newspaper each person on the bus, extending her arm gently and retreating quickly if someone waved to signal disinterest. She worked slowly through everyone at the front of the bus, then through the people standing in the center, and eventually arrived at my seat, the first of the seats in the back of the bus.

She offered me a slip of paper. She offered it to me slowly, cautiously, as if I might reach out and strike her arm away. We made eye contact. I took the slip of paper.

She kept on through the back of the bus, shuffling slowly through the crowd. She reached the last person, straightened up, put the remaining papers into one of her many pockets, and walked back towards the front of the bus.

One person in front was already holding a two-peso bill and waved it in her direction. She approached him, received the money, and dipped her head a little.

“Gracias, señor.”

Other hands were outstretched holding coins or bills. She went from person to person, dipping her head each time as she received their offering.

I looked around at my bus-neighbors. Almost all of them were holding or fishing for money for when the woman came their way (except for my bus-neighbor, who was still with his cumbia and whatever was outside the window).

I, too, retrieved a 2-peso bill from my wallet and sat waiting, watching, almost excited for my turn to give my money to this woman.

Well, she eventually did come my way, and I gave my pesos to her, as did almost everyone else on the bus. She thanked me and each other person, and then everyone at once— “Gracias a todos”— and then God— “y gracias al dios”— and then got off at the next bus stop. Her pockets were literally bulging.

***

I do have a few thoughts about what was going on here, but I’d love to hear your ideas as well, my dear readers, as I’m still somewhat perplexed by these two situations.

First off, bloody-man.

Lets first assume that he was actually boxing and then decided, immediately after being thoroughly defeated and not winning any money, that he needed to find a way to feed his baby.

Why didn’t he clean himself off first? He literally had not wiped his face or stopped the bleeding, and his nose was clearly in bad shape. Did he consciously understand that his menacing state would result in an easy few pesos?

I suppose that’s somewhat logical, although perhaps ineffective, as I imagine people would be likely to either run away or give the bare minimum to get him to go away.

It also seems like a quick way to get noticed by the police, although the police are much less of a presence in Buenos Aires than in most parts of the USA…

Alternatively, if this was an act or technique that this man regularly employed to ‘scare up’ some money, do you think it would be effective? If this were the case, I would have to conject that it would be effective because one would not undergo such regular pain and humiliation unless the payoff was significant.

Really though, he was big and bulky enough that the blood was unnecessary, so I strongly doubt that this guy had actually planned this as a technique, so…

Thoughts?

As for paper-slip-lady:

This situation I find very intriguing from both a psychological and sociological point of view. Why did the woman hand out the slips of paper, and why were people so willing to give to her? Both parties are worth consideration— the woman herself, and her audience, the crowd.

First off, I think that this woman knew exactly what she was doing. Of course I can’t know for sure, but I bet she carefully developed this technique after trying other cadging tactics and judging their relative success. Everything was done just right: her image— pitiful, but calm and respectful with some air of dignity; her interactions— which were deliberate and seemingly meaningful as communicated through eye contact and head-dipping, as if your contribution really made all the difference; and her timing— the entire process took no more than 3 or 4 minutes, within which time she effectively built a micro-connection with each person and left them with something.

Which leads us to question the crowd: why was everyone so willing to give to her?

I think that the woman effectively played upon several fundamental human (animal?) psych/sociological traits. The first being a selfish altruism and the second being a group effect. I am an expert on neither subject, so I’ll feed you my interpretation and those links and let me google it for you.

Selfish altruism has been widely studied and can be grounded in psychology and beneath that, evolutionary theory. Humans are social beasts and thus lived in groups during all of our development, and for most of that time we were hunting-and-gathering, thereby living in societies where sharing resources was crucial if we were to survive. Helping the group, therefore, was evolutionarily rewarded and hot-wired into us through psychological selection.

However, bringing this back to paper-slip-lady, what did the crowd (including myself) get from our selfish selflessness?

Well, a ripped piece of newspaper.

But of course, something mentally more. This part, I think, is different for each person based on their experiences and ethical tendencies, but almost surely exists in everyone. Perhaps it’s justifying one’s own circumstantial privilege.  For others it may be a sense of common humanity, as if s/he is helping a member of kin in need. I’m sure there are many more mental justifications, and I’d be interested to hear what they are specifically for you— why do you stop and give money to those who ask for it? What would persuade you to do so or to alternatively walk by in pointed silence. I do not think there is any shame in saying that it makes us feel good. That feeling is deeply engrained in our inner animal and has served us well in building connections, communities, and societies of efficiency and scale. Where do you draw the ethical lines here?

While I do think that paper-slip-lady has developed an innovative technique, I also think that she is still and forever at the mercy of the group effect, which is why her presentation is so important.

In that situation on colectivo 132, we, the audience-group of humans displayed a group effect shared with almost all other animals. When one rabbit detects danger, all rabbits hide in their holes. When one rabbit comes out to survey the scene, it may or may not get eaten. When two rabbits poke out their ears, they may or may not get eaten. But when three or seven rabbits emerge, all of the rabbits come out to play, because they know that the other rabbits know that the coast is clear.

So I bet that it works both ways for paper-slip-lady; that if she doesn’t nail the initial presentation, very few people contribute. On the other hand, we, the audience-group of humans could have then been guilty of the fourth reich, as we all bit that bait and were even excited to do so.

But what is this conversation really about? I think it would be very interesting to do a quantitative research study on panhandling tactics. Such a study may exist—I’m no scholar on the subject—but something about these situations is telling about human behavior and a data table might shed some light. 

What are your thoughts? It’s a favorite and classic debate: is selfless altruism possible? In humans? In animals?

And does it matter? In both situations, they got my pesos…

For the Love of … Whistling

If you know me, you’ve heard me whistle.

I know, it’s a petty prompt for a post, but in all seriousness, I am so grateful that I can whistle.

Being abroad so far has been a fantastic and broadening experience. My mom asked me while skyping the other day whether it’s been worth it, being here, and without hesitation I went rambling about all of the ways that I’ve grown and learned in the last months, which really comes down to my becoming slightly more acquainted with the world in all its bizarre diversity. I had a very drunk old man fall on my table two nights ago and knock my water glass and milanesa to shatter and splatter on the ground. I shared a mate with some random teenagers on Lavalle yesterday and ended up seeing (and understanding) Iron Man 3 en castellano with them (which was awesome, by the way). I walk a little taller here, not because I’ve grown, but because appearance is everything in this damn world. And so it goes.

It’s all been great, with the distinct exceptions of deeply missing two of my main loves: my people, and my music.

Of course I miss my people. Those who are usually sources of strength and comfort are… far away. That can be difficult and saddening. I miss you guys often.

But my music. Ah, my music.

If you know me, you’ve heard me whistle. Perhaps it’s because I began my musical education young that I feel the urge to express melodically; what is nature or nurture is difficult to discern. But whatever the source, I get something from being musical that I cannot replace with any other activity or mode of expression. Listening to music is in no way the same. In fact, I hardly listen to music at all. It’s like reading a cookbook and having no kitchen. Or shopping for running sneakers after having broken your legs. I don’t want to hear anyone else express, no matter how beautifully. Their songs block my own.

I can always hear my familiar melodies faintly in my head. They are so important to me, each of them having evolved and matured through the course of years and events. They formulate best through my fingers, thanks to the incredible privilege I’ve been bestowed, foremost by my mother for having prodded me to practice for all those years, but also by my makeup, my teachers, my guitar-smashing friends…

But these fingers have been denied their dancing lately, and are antsy, like, “WTF man?” I reply to them, “I know, right? Seriously, I’ve been looking!” For a country with a strong historical piano culture, there is remarkably little recourse for a non-music-student-traveller in search of a practice room, or a living room, or a hotel lobby, or a bar room— anything, anything with a dingy upright beer-spilt poorly tuned set of keys. Anything to get these melodies out of my head and into the air where they can re-enter through my ears and create that magical cycle of musical creation.

And so I whistle.

And just as a by-product of having whistled a lot (and having applied some conscious effort at ‘improving’ at whistling) I find that it … does the job. I can’t really sing, well. Humming is not as satisfying. And when it comes down to it, whistling produces a relatively pure tone, if high-pitched and shrill. But even then, I can comfortably whistle from about C1 — E3, which is enough range for a fantastic range of repertoire. Whistling thus allows for that blunt melodic expression that I feel the need to produce.

So in all seriousness, I’m grateful that I can whistle. I’m not sure if those around me share my gratitude, as you’ve certainly heard more of it than you’ve wanted at times. Here in Argentina, my host family has nicknamed me ‘El Silbador,’ although I think it’s used somewhat affectionately as my host-mother Carmen has exclaimed several times, “que buen silbatazo!”

Because I know some of you will recognize it, I’ll include here what is probably my most-sampled motif, which has been ever on repeat this last year. Ancient 1. It’s a simple, tragic tune, but never-ending, and full of hope.

And because I’m feeling bold, here is a recording on piano from before I left for Argentina, in which you will hear this motif and others. I don’t share this lightly, as this was produced in a sad moment. But it’s not a sad song; I whistle it in happy times too. Also please pardon the recording quality, which is horrendous. I should really get a microphone. #Someday. #WhenIHaveMoney.

Soul bearing is always a mixed experience. I hope I didn’t bore you with my musings. I did just write about whistling, which is not exactly a deep intellectual subject, though important to me, as I’ve just described. To make up for my own lack of interesting ideas, here and here are two innovative social enterprises that you should be aware of and support. 🙂

Be well!

Marxismo Ecológico: The “I Have a Midterm Tomorrow” Edition

I’m writing this post essentially as a review for my parcial (midterm exam) tomorrow afternoon… however I do find this stuff important and interesting and I’ve been pleasantly surprised in my studies to find Marx’s opinions on the human-nature relationship both logical and… agreeable — not generally the word people would associate with the author of such world-infamous revolutionary dogmata. But my goal, by the end of this (hopefully concise) post is to convince you that Marx was not only an extremely progressive ‘environmentalist’, but furthermore founded his entire body of academic work on the necessity of repairing the human-nature relationship. Which (spoiler alert) he eventually says is impossible to do within the context of our current capitalist system, and thus suggests socialism or communism, and.. yeah. Revolution, yadda yadda etc.

So let’s start off tens of thousands of years ago, when the first human-ish populations were hunting and gathering and hadn’t quite figured out how to plant seeds in a row. At that point, humans did effect their ecosystems, but only proportionately similarly to any other animal specie of our size and reproductive prowess. All of that Native-American-Pocahontas lore of living with nature and respecting (her) natural flows? That, according to Marx, is the only sustainable state that humans have ever known. We had to respect nature’s flows, because even early humans’ primative ‘ecology’ enlightened them to realize that if you overuse a resource, it dries out, whether it be animal/plant/fish/bug/water. Even then, if early humans DID overuse a resource, they often would pack up camp and leave, allowing for nature to naturally replenish itself, causing (as far as we know) little long term harm.

Then we discovered how to plant seeds in a row. Agriculture, that crazy paradigm shift that allowed humans to generate food surplus which allowed for some humans to specialize and craft goods which could then be traded with other humans so that we could build massive, dirty campsites and generally distance ourselves from soil toils; this, the dissociation the human producer from the source of his production (nature) is problematized by Marx as the metabolic rift, (referencing the action of intaking and transforming (labor) resources and outputting goods as a type of metabolism). Since we are not directly connected to our own production from natural resources, Marx says we are alienated from nature; capitalism inserts labor between man and nature, which indicates, given the emergence of large-scale agriculture, long-distance trade, and general globalization, that this metabolic rift is only intensifying.

And the result of this metabolic rift is the ideology that modern capitalism was built upon: the Great Chain of Being; Natural Theology; the teleological notion that nature was created by God or a higher power for man to use and abuse (the bible actually says that we should act as a “shepherd” to nature, implying an element of caretaking, but that was conveniently overlooked by Christian colonialism). Ownership by divine providence, says Marx, is a philosophical idealism which has been used to justify and encourage the domination of nature by man. Hence, we have private property, anthropocentric arrogance, and the earth and her resources are commodified whilst man is elevated to a semi-devine, non-animal, non-God, ‘superior being’.

In contrast to this idealism is Marx’s materialism, which could be understood as ‘thinking scientifically.’ We are comprised of matter, and even though we can’t see them, atoms, and we are the product of millions of years of evolution by way of natural selection according to the laws of nature. According to this epistemology, man is clearly not anything divine or superior, and even though we’ve operated (..since hunter-gatherer days) on the false ideology that we’re not part of nature and are not subject to the same set of natural rules and regulations as the rest of our biotic community, we are just as much a production of our evolutionary pathway as is a flea.

Though, says materialist philosophy, we are different, in that we have actually changed the earth itself over time, and as we went about transforming the world, we transformed ourselves:

primates, who constituted the ancestors of human beings, descended from the trees, erect posture developed first (prior to the evolution of the human brain), freeing the hands for tool-making. In this way:

the hand became free and could henceforth attain ever greater dexterity and skill, and the greater flexibility thus acquired was inherited and increased from generation to generation. Thus the hand is not only the organ of labour, it is also the product of labour.

Our brain is perhaps the most remarkable result of this reflexive socio-natural relationship— as we developed cultural items, such as the ability to use tools or pass on knowledge or ultimately develop language, natural selection also acted to favor those who were most adept at participating in such culture, leading to our current cranial capacities which we’ve neatly abused to figure out the most creative freaking ways to destroy the earth that birthed us. Anyways,

So now we’re here today with our titanic chasm of a metabolic rift, and frankly it’s not even the religion idea that motivates our further worldly destruction but rather flat anthropocentrism, justified by the exalted pursuit of profit (which is still part of the idealist philosophy, as anthropocentrism is a teleology)— where does sustainability fit in? What happened to respecting the laws of nature, which are still-and-forever-will-be conditions of the human existence? How can we justify ownership of this land? Finally in line with his esteemed manifesto, Marx writes:

From the standpoint of a higher socio-economic formation, the private property of particular individuals in the earth will appear just as absurd as private property of one man in other men. Even an entire society, a nation, or all simultaneously existing societies taken together, are not owners of the earth. They are simply its possessors, its beneficiaries, and have to bequeath it in an improved state to succeeding generations as boni patres familias [good heads of the household].

We’ve been shitty heads of the household. And I’m certain we will continue, if not worsen, our reign of terror.

Capitalism, writes Marx, “creates the material conditions for a new and higher synthesis, a union of agriculture and industry…” — in other words, capitalism is a powerful engine which has led us to a point where we’ve got the brains and brawn to figure out a path towards a “higher synthesis”, which he suggests to be a system of “rational agriculture, which needs small independent farmers producing on their own…” and the regulation of associated producers. HOWEVER, since we’re humans, and we’ve got to have free will and self determination and especially-in-God-bless-AMURICA, this sort of regulation is immediately termed socialism or communism, which it very well could be, except it won’t, because these systems fail, or at least we’re convinced they do.

DOOM AND GLOOM, we’ll probably keep hacking and fracking until Iceland is an anachronism and Sweden is the only place with no garbage.

Until then, VIVA LA REVOLUCION

***

~~ Keep in mind, Marx was convinced of the omnipotence of reestablishing our metabolic link in ~1850’s, long before the Teddy Roosevelts and Rachel Carsons of modern environmentalism. Environmentalism wasn’t even around yet, heck, the idea of the “scientist” had just been coined in the ’30’s, and the concept of “ecology” in ’69… progressive ‘environmentalist’? I think so.

And I would call that damn concise. Have you ever read Marx????

How to Talk to Your Taxi Driver (In Argentina)

“Hola, ¿como va?”

“Bien, ¿vos?”

“Bien. Ehh, bueno— Suipacha y Juncal, porfa.”

“Bueno.”

“Gracias.”

“No, a vos.”

Well, that’s how. Nothing tricky there. You could even go without the pleasantries; a simple, “Suipacha y Juncal” is all you really need to get yourself home.

Perhaps, then, a better question is not how, but rather, why should you talk to your taxi driver.

I’ll answer with an anecdote, not surprisingly, about a taxi ride.

It was late March, and I was leaving La Bomba, which is a drum circle directed by a conductor who uses a language of cues and gestures to create combinations of rhythms between the drummers, real time. Very cool. It was a correspondingly energetic crowd, featuring all of the festivities that such crowds often offer. Namely, I was drunk (legally; this is Buenos Aires, OK). But that night, I was feeling a little off, not really grooving with the vibe, maybe missing home a little. It had been a good night already, even before the concert, so I decided to call it quits and stumbled my way out of the crowd onto the street.

I hailed a taxi.

I had precisely the conversation transcribed above.

And then I slumped back in my seat feeling grateful for cushions and wheels and the fact that I didn’t have class till 14:00 the next day.

The driver, an older, mustachioed guy with a cross hanging from his rearview mirror, asked me how I was doing. Tired, I replied. Wasn’t really feeling it tonight, I said. He asked where I was from. I gave him the spiel. I’m from outside of Boston, MA, here studying sociology, Spanish, and art, living with a host family, and yes I like Argentina very much (they’re a prideful bunch, gotta stroke that nationalist ego).

We had a very pleasant conversation: about how corruption is present in both of our countries, but perhaps only more obvious in Argentina, about the role of religion in our countries, about the recent election of el Papa Argentino— and so on. Somehow, late-night drunk Spanish conversations always flow so smoothly, or perhaps that’s just how I (don’t) remember them.

He asked about my family and friends, and whether I missed them. I said yes, of course, though I especially miss my girlfriend, who is back in los Estados Unidos. That’s probably part of why I wasn’t feeling it tonight, I said. Concerts are better with girlfriends.

Then he asked me, “¿Y qué tal con los mujeres acá? ¿Te la están dando?”

“¿Cómo? No entiendo..”

“¡El sexo! El fuckey-fuckey, el baile sagrado. Y qué de la novia, ¡no la vas a ver por cinco meses!

I laughed, mostly in reaction to his sudden burst of colorful language, but also a little unsure what he was getting at.

“I mean, yeah, that’s true. I will not be having sex for several months. Quite the conundrum,” I replied, not seeing where this was going.

“What if I told you that I could take you right now to a place where you could choose from four rooms; from four photos. For 110 pesos (about $15) I can take you there and you can see the photos, and for $450 pesos (~$65), you can do anything you want to whichever one you choose.”

It probably appeared to him as though I were actually contemplating his offer, as it took me solidly thirty seconds to sort out what was actually happening.

“What? Like, what? Now?”

“Si, ahora. ¿Vamos?”

“Whoa, whoa. ¡No! No, hombre, ¡no tengo ningún interés! Tengo novia. Tengo… ¡dignidad!”

He said OK and kept driving, acting like nothing had happened. It got silent for a full minute.  Still five minutes from home. I finally asked him, “So you, like, do this? With like, prostitutes?” He said yes. I asked for how long. He said about twenty years. Whoa, okay. I paused, considered the situation. I felt almost as if I were watching someone else being taxied through Alto Palermo. I don’t talk to taxi-driving pimps every day, okay? Suddenly, I realized the opportunity at hand and became very intrigued by my situation, almost in an academic sense. There he was, “the oppressor,” driving along, nodding to the cumbia playing quietly in the background. Now that I see him, what do I say?

Well, I’m not sure how I feel about it now, but at that moment, I felt compelled to get on my horse and spout that righteous academia which I do generally prescribe to: I talked about cycles of poverty and abuse, and about how every person is just as logical within their bounded rationality as each other person; these women don’t want to be selling their bodies, but they do so, because they have ended up in situations where it has become the logical course of action— which is tragic, on an institutional and human level. I fairly ranted, knowing I had only another two or three minutes to make the impression that I needed to make— my shot to exert direct influence, however insignificant, upon this global patriarchy. After each of my sentences, he nodded his head in silent accordance, and when I finally had gotten my points across and we were pulling up in front of my apartment complex, he said only, “Si, si. Muy triste, muy triste.”

I paid, and said goodbye, and then went up to my room and asked myself whether I had just imagined the whole thing. It’s not that strange an event; we all know those people do exist in the world— but I will admit that at that point in time, it was a shock for me to meet one of them.

So then, to answer my question: Why should you talk to your taxi driver?

Because that’s where life gets interesting. The moment you step out of your daily bubble and touch upon that which is foreign and new, you open yourself up to seeing a world you have never seen before. Yeah, he could have been dangerous, and I could have unwittingly ended up at a whorehouse. But in retrospect (and even in the moment), I realized that this was something so removed from my customary sphere of interactions that I would never have come across it had I not then talked to my taxi driver. And obviously, there is much more to discover from the taxi drivers of the world than prostitution rigs; everyone, including yourself, is living hir own unique experience, and in my opinion, it can only benefit you to open yourself and learn from them.