Priceless Values

Translated by Simon Helweg-Larsen

Recently, in many countries at once, numerous popular demonstrations have been staged against the warring vocation of the Masters of the Planet. In the streets of many cities, these demonstrations give testimony to another possible world. The world as it is sweats violence out of every pore and is submerged in a military culture that teaches how to kill and how to lie.

David Grossman, who was a lieutenant colonel in the United States Army and a specialist in military pedagogy, showed that man is not naturally inclined towards violence. Contrary to common belief, it is not easy to teach him to kill his fellow man. Violent education that brutalizes the soldier requires intense and prolonged training. According to Grossman this training begins, in the barracks, at eighteen years of age. Outside of the barracks, it begins at eighteen months. From a very young age, television brings these lessons home.

His colleague, the writer John Reed, discovered in 1917 that “war crucifies truth.” Many years later another colleague, President Bush the Daddy, who had unleashed the first war on Iraq with the noble claim of liberating Kuwait, published his memoirs. In these he admitted that the United States had bombed Iraq because it couldn’t allow “a hostile regional power to hold hostage a good part of the world’s oil supply.” Maybe, who knows, one day President Bush the Son will publish an errata on his own war on Iraq. Where it says, “Crusade of Good versus Evil,” you should read, “Oil, Oil, Oil.”


More than one errata would be necessary. For example, it will have to clarify that where it says “International Community,” you should read, “war chiefs and big bankers.”

How many archangels of peace defend us against the demons of war? Five. The five countries that hold veto power in the United Nations Security Council. And these custodians of peace are also the top weapons producers. We’re in good hands.

And how many people own democracy? People vote, but bankers veto. A triple-crowned monarchy rules the world. Five countries make the decisions in the International Monetary Fund. In the World Bank, seven run the show. In the World Trade Organization, every country has the right to vote, but a vote is never held. These organizations that run the world deserve our gratitude: they drown our countries, but later they sell us life jackets made of lead.


In 1995, the American Psychiatric Association published a report on pathological criminals. According to the experts, what is the most typical characteristic of habitual delinquents? The inclination to lie. And you ask yourself: Isn’t this the perfect Identikit for universal power?

What should you read, for example, where it says, “freedom of work”? You should read: the right of corporations to toss into the trash can two centuries of victories by workers. People now work twice as hard, and get only half of what they used to. Fixed hours, miniscule pay, fire at will, and let God worry about accidents, sickness and old age. The largest multinational corporations, Wal-Mart and McDonalds, explicitly prohibit unions. If you affiliate yourself with a union, you lose your job in the act. In today’s world that punishes honesty and rewards unscrupulousness, work is an object of devaluation. Power dresses up as destiny, pretends to be eternal, and many people step down from hope as though it were a tired horse. This is why the election of Lula as President of Brazil goes far beyond this country’s borders: the victory of a worker and unionist, who embodies the dignity of work, helps hand out the vitamins we all need to counter despair.


So that they don’t say that the same old arguing and resentful people as always gathered in Porto Alegre, we should make clear that we agree with the world’s highest dignitaries: we, too, are the enemies of terrorism. We are against terrorism in all its forms. We could propose a common platform to Davos, with common actions for capturing terrorists. We should start by posting Wanted posters on every wall in the planet:

–Wanted: arms merchants, who need war like coat manufacturers need the cold.

–Wanted: the international gang who kidnaps countries and never returns their prisoners, even though they charge multi-million dollar ransoms labeled, in the criminal world, as debt servicing.

–Wanted: international criminals who steal food, strangle salaries and murder jobs.

–Wanted: rapers of the Earth, poisoners of the water, and thieves of the forests.

–Also Wanted: fanatics from the Religion of Consumption, who have unleashed chemical warfare against the air and against the Earth’s climate.


Power identifies value and price. Tell me how much they would pay for you and I’ll tell you what you’re worth. But there are values that are out of reach of any monetary price. No one buys them because they aren’t for sale. They aren’t on the market, and that is why they have survived.

Stubbornly alive, these values are the energy that moves the secret muscles of civil society. They come from the oldest memory and the oldest common feeling. The world of today, this civilization of save yourself he who can, and every man for himself, has amnesia and has lost its sense of community, the father of all common feelings. In distant epochs, in the earliest of times, when we were the most vulnerable creatures in the earthly zoo, when we didn’t amount to more than an easy lunch on the tables of our most voracious neighbors, we were able to survive, against all odds, because we knew how to defend ourselves together, and because we knew how to share our food. Today, it is more important than ever to remember these old lessons of common feelings.

Defend ourselves together, for example, against the theft of our water. Ever scarcer, water has been privatized in many countries, and is in the hands of the largest multinational corporations. (Soon, if we go on like this, they will privatize the air: if we don’t pay for it, we can’t know its value, and we don’t deserve to breath it.) In order for water to remain a right, and not a business, the people of the Bolivian region of Cochabamba deprivatized their water. Peasant communities marched up from the valleys and blocked off the city. They were answered with bullets. But in the end, after a long fight, they got back their water, the irrigation for their sown fields that the government had turned over to a British corporation. This happened a couple of years ago. Defend ourselves together: alongside water, a more recent example. Oil moves the consumer society, as you know. And, as you also know, it has some bad habits. Among other manias, it likes to bring down governments, start wars, poison the air, and putrefy the water. Not long ago, the black tide, sticky and deadly, covered the ocean and the coasts of Galicia and beyond. An oil tanker split in half and spilled thousands and thousands of liters of fuel, with the irresponsibility and impunity that have become customary in these times when the market gives the orders and the state doesn’t control anything. And so, before a blind state and a deaf government that could only shrug their shoulders, civil society’s secret muscles released their energy. A multitude of volunteers confronted the enemy with bare hands, armed with sticks and buckets and whatever they could find. The volunteers didn’t shed crocodile tears or give theatrical speeches.

Defend ourselves together and share our food: a ton of food and clothing recently arrived by train to the poorest corner of the Argentine province of Tucumán, where children are dying of hunger. The train came in solidarity from people in the slums, the poorest of the poor in Buenos Aires, who earn their living searching through garbage, but who can share what little they have, which is almost nothing.


What is the most commonly heard word in almost every language? The word “I.” I, I, I. However, Carlos Lenkersdorf, a scholar of indigenous languages, has revealed that the most used word in Mayan communities, the word that is at the center or their sayings and their lives, is the word “us.” In Chiapas, “us” is said tik.

This is why the World Social Forum was born and grows here in the city of Porto Alegre, the universal model of participatory democracy: to say “us.” Tik, tik, tik.


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