This may be the longest period in my two years in South America that I have gone without writing a blog. I have been writing a lot, but just not the sorts of things that anyone would want to read—essays for graduate school applications, GRE studying, professional Close of Service paperwork for the Peace Corps. Here's what's crazy: all of Peace Corps has been a slow, sometimes-frustrating-sometimes-liberating process of meeting people, talking to them, working with them, learning, teaching, and just living; all of a sudden I am caught between this life, tranquillo-pai'te, and that other life, full of paperwork and propriety and professional clothing and bullshit. Its weird to say the least.
These two years have been a day-in, day-out emotional and intellectual confluence set in the sprawling basin of sub-tropical Atlantic forests (Mata Atlantica) and pastureland that is Paraguay. I have learned so much. Its hard though—I can see how, from such a description, the wrong people would idealize this kind of life too much; their reverence for something they don't fully understand would project this life as something that it is not, and in that sense, actually be extremely irreverent. At the same, any person would be lucky to live the life I have had for these two years. I am eternally grateful for those people who made this possible. Thank you.
One of the inevitable results of spending so much time outside of that western cultural bubble is reflection, not only personal and interpersonal but societal as well. Let me just acknowledge here the inherent limitations of me, Mario Machado, ever gaining a fully objective perspective on something like “western culture” considering that this was exactly the kind of medium upon which embryonic me was grown and baptized into this world. At the same time, stepping into the lives of half-indigenous, half-Spanish rural campesinos for two years has give me some perspective that I could have gotten no where else. I have been blessed to live such a life. It has opened, ever so slightly, my non-seeing, non-feeling, fixed-in-a-false-reality eyes.
I respect western culture for lots of things, lots of tangible reasons (medicine, science, human rights, etc.), but I understand, perhaps now better than ever before, its shortcomings.
Look at our world, look at the west, look at the social-democracies we have created. Whatever their merits—be them concrete or philosophical—there is the undeniable fact that they are, in so many ways, completely spiritually lacking. I am not trying to sound funny or like some shallow-minded hippie, I am trying to say something important I have realized. The gods of the west, in the great historical tradition of the Greeks and Romans, are functional. They are pragmatic tools used to direct or modify social behavior, to be wielded like a bludgeon by those in power when the masses strayed like wandering sheep in search of true gods, or to be ingested like cheap alcohol to draw a curtain over the eyes of those with a propensity to seek something real. Western gods, Christian gods, the god whose name is sprawled like pornography across our money, is a placebo; it goes hand in hand with self-centeredness, self-righteousness, narcissism, commercialism, materialism, commodification, conspicuous consumption. These are the alters, please leave your money at the door if you wish to purchase your salvation.
I am not a priest or a scholar but my whole life I have struggled with spirituality. For those who know me well, you will know that as a younger boy I was a very devout Christian. As a teenager, I used to drive myself alone to church early every Sunday. Whatever it was, I wanted, needed to understand it. And yet, in due time, I fell out with Christianity. I was too intellectually honest with myself, with the world, I asked too many questions, and most of all, there was nothing in this Christian god that slaked any of the thirst in my soul. I see now that I was searching for meaning within the meaningless paramaters of western religion; this has almost nothing to do with spirituality, and for those who have found such spirituality within the western paradigm, they have been almost always cast as pariahs and freaks. The west does not believe in anything it cannot see or feel.
Those ignorant fundamentalists who claim to know the Christian truth are as godless as those corporate Christians who use the scriptures to placate their guilty consciousness and justify their gluttonous greed. They would cringe at the thought of real Truth, it would unravel their carefully constructed world.
In the west, we have not tried to seek truth on its own terms. Instead, we have created a god to fit what we want, all of our earthly, superficial, capitalist desires.
Why do we fear drugs? Hallucinogenic plants that have been used for millennium by peoples to aid them in their day to day struggles within their environments and along their spiritual journey. Why do we fear something so natural? Because it is outside of our comfort zone, it threatens to challenge the thin-veil of the western gods that just barely hold these societies of sheep in place. Can you imagine what would happen if people just started meditating and practicing ancient tribal medicine in huge numbers? Can you imagine what would happen if people stopped listening to the Catholic church? Can you imagine how our world would change it people stopped participating in the sacrilegious orgy of consumption that is Christmas? The social and economic west would collapse.
Listen, I know I must sound insane from all of this, and I am not trying to make the case that all drugs are good or that the west is some demonic, overbearing entity. But in a world of 6 billion people that is slowly corroding the underlying social and environmental fabric that supports us all, why should we not seek answers outside of what we already think we know. There are such great problems in the world, such suffering, such inequality. Sure, you might argue that the march of the west is also the march of slow, plodding, and yet inevitable progress, but at what cost and to what ends. How much longer can our planet sustain us? How much longer will marginalized and forgotten peoples be subjected to such inhumanity?
There is a truth to be known outside of what us culturally, religiously western people think we know. We continue to ignore it at our own peril. It may take courage and difficulty to reach for it, but I believe that any such journey will be infinitely worthwhile.
from South America