They can burn books, destroy libraries, forbid languages, ban beliefs, delete past times,
draw new present times, order future actions, torture and execute people...
But they still don´t know how to kill the intangible and bright
bodies of ideas, dreams and hopes.

Thursday, June 15, 2006

Procrustean bed

Procrustean bed

By Edgardo Civallero

This Procrustes was a peculiar guy. He lived in those ancient times when humankind's imagination was still populated by evil giants and defeating heroes. Perhaps they were just fantastic characters representing, under human disguises, the vices and the brightness of human soul.

Well... Procrustes was the star of several classical Greek stories. By their fireplaces, old people and bards used to tell that this giant was actually named Damastes, although others said that his true name was Polipemo. Anyway, the main point here is that his Greek nickname, "o Prokroustis", meant "the stretcher". The legend told that he had an iron bedstead, on which he used to tie all travelers who fell into his hands. If they were shorter than the bed, he stretched their limbs to make them fit in; if they were longer than the bed, he cut off a portion.

According to the classic tales, Theseus –the lucky hero who escaped alive out of the Minotaur's labyrinth– caught Procrustes and forced him to enjoy his comfortable bed. Due to the giant's stature, the methods and the results can be imagined.

This legend always makes me think on some (own and others') social behaviors. I have witnessed so many times how, in order to reach some pre-established goals, things are terribly deformed or mutilated, losing their own original nature. This uses to happen very often with some projects, whose results are totally destroyed to make them fit into pre-selected targets.

I have even seen a lot of people modeling reality in order to make it fit in their personal patterns or their intellectual, ethical or moral conveniences.

Inside libraries, the "Procrustean bed" model is frequently used. Information units usually don't meet the real needs and realities of the society they must serve (we should remember that libraries provide "services", a word derived from the verb "to serve"). They use to follow some pre-designed policies and generally expect the users to get adapted to them, somehow. Perhaps by being stretched. Perhaps by being cut.

Thus, our institutions become inflexible steel-beds of a determined size, and the so-called "served" community becomes the unlucky traveler forced to fit in its dimensions.

The saddest part of the story is that, in order to achieve such an "adaptation", it becomes necessary to cut members. A lot of them.

Perhaps I am using too many metaphors and my words are not being understood, so I will stop a moment for analyzing reality. Public libraries working inside disadvantaged societies that forbid the access to "poor" children because "they smell bad", "they disorder everything" or "they make a lot of noise" are classic and real examples that illustrate my metaphor. No, you shouldn't freak out: such libraries do exist, I know them, I have been there, I have seen these behaviors with my own eyes. Maybe we shut up or we look away when we see these things, but you and I know that they exist. In these cases, the bedstead is short, very short, as much as the minds of these libraries' leaders (discrimination and exclusion are undeniable marks belonging to poor spirits). And the "traveler" –a society with a lot of disadvantaged sectors– is really big. Unfortunately, when adapting such a big "body" to such a short bed, the "cut" always hit the same point: the poor ones, the excluded ones, the forgotten ones, the "dirty ones", the homeless...

Some weeks ago, several colleagues explained to me that, due to the budgetary shortage that public libraries stand in Argentina, it isn't possible to offer services for everybody, and that this is the reason of the "cut".

I answered them that if services are offered to middle-class, "clean" and "well-dressed" children, they can be also provided to the rest. As far as I know, they read the same books. If there is a shortage, it affects everybody; if there are materials, they are for everybody.

Other colleagues told me that, as librarians, it wasn't their obligation to be responsible of a crowd of dirty kids flooding the library with bad habits and behaviors, disordering everything, soiling everything. They explained to me that they weren't teachers: they were librarians.

And I wondered –forgetting the "bad behavior" issue– which ones were their obligations as librarians. Because, as far as I know, librarians are educators, channels to knowledge, teachers if necessary. And a kid must be educated, at home and outside. That's our work: we are not just "book-shelvers". Books are there for being read, and we are there for supporting the discovery of those little universes full of pages. If children shout or if they are dirty is a different issue, and we can chat about it later. The point here is that the libraries' doors should never be closed to its community.

But curiously, the most currently used library planning method –the one I would call "Procrustean"– responds to a simple structure: a well-known model is taken (generally a European, urban and "developed" one) and it is implemented in a certain community (university, city, locality, town, social group, etc.). Initial evaluations allowing such a model to flexibly adapt to the community's real situation is usually forgotten. Normally it is expected that users adapt themselves to the implemented model, something that rarely happens. By this way, a lot of people is left out of the library, for different reasons: because they can't read (and nobody is in charge to teach them), because they don't know what a book is (and nobody is in charge to tell them), because they don't know how to enjoy reading (and nobody serves as a mediator or trainer), because they are scared of the library (and nobody wipes these fears), because they don't know the library (and nobody cares about making it well-known to them), because they don't find in it what they look for (and nobody cares about it), because their main communication means are different (e.g. oral ones, and orality is always outside the library), because local culture isn't represented in the shelves (and nobody thinks about including it) and a long list of other reasons that could be written down in a beautiful book that could be entitled "Why people do not step on the threshold of my library?"

[Perhaps for the same reason that Greek travelers avoided to cross the lands of the "monster of the bed"?]

If we don't want our libraries to become the torture beds of legendary villains, we should start accepting that our work is to give a service. So, we should adapt ourselves (and our institution) to the problems and needs of our users (expressed in all the points written down in the previous paragraph). We should answer them with imagination, good will, high spirit, creativity... And don't tell me about shortages and little resources because I have created many libraries in lost spots of my country with used sheets of paper, ten old books and a couple of cassettes. The children who discovered reading with those old books and those leaves are now great readers.

We should realize that library is like water: it can be adapted to any container without changes in its nature. And it can even change and become travelling steam or solid ice standing strikes... still being what it always was: water.

I know: children are not our only users. But they are those who worst suffer the "cut". And they are the future of our world and our people. Anyway, the "cut" can become extensive to adults in rural communities, minority groups, periurban populations, marginalized districts... Few colleagues venture to provide services for those groups, and when they do it, they always use, unfailingly, a Procrustean bed.

With this text I have brought the dead giant back to life. Maybe he never died after all, and he always lived hidden inside many aspects of our social lives. Perhaps the solution that ancient Greeks provided for the Procrustean problem –even if cruel– should be used today: to make those who limit and cut to prove a little bit of the medicine that they so prodigally administer to others. They will quickly notice how terrible is to be adapted, by force, to a situation that does not respond to their expectations. Maybe through this radical method libraries would lose some iron structures that they never should have had.

Because library is like water: a free and adaptable traveler, eternally overcoming challenges and limits.


Friday, June 09, 2006

Living Memory

Living Memory

By Edgardo Civallero

(By Argentinean composer & singer León Gieco. From his CD "Bandidos rurales")

Translated by Sara Plaza

Old loves that do not exist anymore,
The hopes of those who lost everything,
Every promise that is gone
And the ones who were defeated in any war.

Everything is kept in living memory,
The dream of Life and History

Deception and complicity
between the genocidal ones who are free.
Pardon and "Punto Final"
for the beasts of that hell.

Everything is kept in living memory,
The dream of Life and History.

Living memory happens to strike
At the quiet nations
That do not let it live
As free as the wind.

Disappeared people that are being searched
By the color of their births.
Hunger and plenty hand in hand,
Violent treatment and its bad memory.

Everything is pricked in living memory,
Thorn of Life and History.

Two thousand people should eat a whole year
with the costs of a military minute.
How many would stop being slaves
with the money of dropping one bomb into the sea...!

Everything is stuck in living memory,
Thorn of Life and History.

Living memory pricks to bleeding
In the nations that moor it
And do not let it sail
As free as the wind.

Dead people from the AMIA
And the ones at the Israeli Embassy.
The secret power of weapons.
Justice watching without seeing.

Everything is hidden in living memory,
Shelter for Life and History

It happened when churches kept in silent...
It happened when football covered everything...
that fathers Palotino and Angelelli
spread their blood over the mud.

Everything is hidden in living memory,
Shelter for Life and History.

Living memory breaks out of its jail
Beating the nations that crushed it
Not allowing it to be
as free as the wind.

The bullet that shot Chico Mendes in Brazil.
150 thousand Guatemalan people.
Miners facing rifles.
Persecution of students in Mexico.

Everything is packed in living memory,
Life and History weapon.

America with all its souls destroyed.
The youngsters assassinated by the Squad.
Mugica ordeal in shantytowns.
Rodolfo Walsh dignity.

Everything is packed in living memory,
Life and History weapon.

Living memory aimed to kill
Nations that keep it quiet
Not allowing it to fly
As free as the wind.


Friday, June 02, 2006



By Edgardo Civallero

It happened to me recently, in a seminar I taught in Trenque Lauquen (Buenos Aires, Argentina). But it had already happened to me in other courses, in Buenos Aires, in Cordoba, in Rosario (Argentina). In each class, I always say –like a preliminary warning– that the audience may listen some opinions that may sound "scandalous" to their ears. The reason will be that I am an anarchist, and that, as a personal rule, I never hide what I think.

The commentary that has been repeated in all these seminars –usually, during the coffee-break– was the following one: "I believed that anarchism had disappeared". Or perhaps a more forceful "anarchism is dead".

The answer is always the same one: "That's because current anarchists no longer blow buildings or cars. Now we blow minds. Then we are not so notorious..."

Philosophical anarchism –born in the old ages, in the Ancient Greece of the Poleis– made honor to the etymological meaning of the word: an-arche, negation of the power. Throughout time, this expression acquired the meaning of negation of authority, negation of those structures that exerts power on human beings, that oppress them, that limit them, that force them...

I don't know if I were born anarchist or if I became one. I guess that the last option is the most acceptable one: I never accepted the authority by obligation, but I recognized it by respecting greater capacities than my own. It is the only form under which an anarchist can accept some kind of authority, which, in that case, becomes just an influence. Anarchists don't accept vertical structures of any kind, not only in politics, but also in society or in religion. This is the reason because anarchism is so frequently associated with atheism: it denies the authority of another man to establish the faith and its processes, it denies the power of superior beings to dictate norms. Anarchists think that authority resides in coercion or in respect, and deeply refuse the first option. Coercion leads to chain us, to limit us, to say us what to do, how to do it and under what conditions. And we do not understand the freedom under these circumstances. Limited freedom is not freedom: it is a liberation dream that never gets real.

To be an anarchist within a society established on the power of a human being on another one is not easy. But it is not impossible, as we demonstrate daily. Although we must accept many things because there isn't a valid alternative, some things can be chosen. And, whenever we have election, we chose the alternative that allows us to move freely, exercising our solidarity, working in teams and horizontal structures, speaking from equal to equal, using our freedom of expression and access to culture, opposing firmly to the commerce of non-commercial things (culture, nature, well-being...). This, that for some people seems madness and utopia, for many of us is a style of life that, although is not simple, makes us happy, just because it allows us to respect (ourselves/the rest) and to feel that many of the chains we carry by the fact of being born in society, are vanishing.

For a long time, the most known expression of anarchism –or the most popularized one– was armed radical violence. All terrorists and assassins who acted under the supposed flag of political anarchism were placed like a stereotyped image of this way of thinking. Thus, we were labeled and condemned as wild beasts, bloodthirsty assassins, helly jackals... Nowadays we no longer blow bridges, we no longer shot authorities, we no longer praise chaos as the only form of freedom. In fact, the true anarchists, those that almost professed a "religious" respect towards the basic ideas of that philosophy, never considered violence as a valid form of action, simply because we believe that human being is the basis of society. Today, those who continue believing and acting no longer blow buildings: we blow minds. We make people think, we open doors to the light between so much darkness, we remove bandage from eyes, we open ears, we release hands from secular shackles. We teach, we educate, we train, but never in our line of thought. We just release hands, so they can act in freedom, by themselves, making use of a natural freedom that each man and woman have since they are born. We defend the equality of all human beings, without making differences between men and women, light and dark skins, rich and poor people, adults and children. We defend the value of each language, without accepting the power of one on another. We hate the word "dominant" because it represents unjust power, power unfairly established of a group or an individual on others. And we respect the authority by capacity: those persons who can help us to organize us, who can guide us by just using their knowledge, their experience... Such people don't need to prevail on the others by showing titles off: they just need to speak or to act for obtaining the automatic respect of those who surround them. I am sure that you know this kind of people.

We blow minds, indeed, and we blow mental walls: we help to wake up, to think, to break the pavement with which our dreams are covered. We teach (and we learn everyday) how to feel, to live and to fight. We help disinterestedly, we give free classes, we invest our savings and our work in actions that help us those who surround us. We think that Good always comes back at the hands that generated it, just like Evil, and, when they do, they do return multiplied. Therefore, we always share our knowledge, and we always act respecting our rules and forgetting the social "laws" that would push us to act in a different way. Such "laws" have been limiting human beings for centuries, making them unfortunate, pushing them to walk ways that they never wanted to touch. Those "laws" and unfairly-exerted power force many to work in positions for which they do not feel prepared, while they suffer the authority of weak people who have just a "title" to feel superior and to be "somebody". Those "laws" force us to fear a vindictive Christian God, or a priest that has in his hands the forgiveness of our sins. Those "laws" make us to be discriminated as poor people, or homosexuals, or different, or whatever. There is always a reason for which the powerful one pushes and oppresses. There is always a reason for which somebody is left at the basis of the structure, supporting the great pyramid above him, supporting the vices and the stupidity of others.

Some people say that we walk a path outside the "real" world. But we anarchists, we know that this isn't true. We know that we are well inside of this world, and that we fight to obtain equality, brotherhood and freedom. We know that we fight for an impossible goal, but, at least, it is a noble cause for fighting, it's our cause, it's a cause that honors us. How many persons have fallen in battles, covered in blood? How many are wasting their lives pursuing a success and a fame that they will never reach?

In libraries, anarchy is simple. To open shelves, to open brains, to open books, to destroy walls, to send culture to its owners by all possible channels. To refuse limits, to refuse the word "impossible", to forget some rules. To work in teams, cells, organic and horizontal structures where each person plays the role that better fits him/her. To free our readers, to untie ties, to provide tools for development, to accompany in the first stages of cultural development, to support those who can't access education or reading. And to forget all the forgettable barriers imposed by authorities. We can ignore all of them, but those against which is possible to struggle must be directly eliminated. Because library has been, since a long time ago, a part of the human soul, the store of a great part of our written culture. And it must become the wings of its users, those wings that can help them to fly, to rise above their daily miseries: being educated, inquiring, dreaming...

Perhaps the anarchism is one of the most humanist existing ways of thinking. Because it is based on human freedom, and it fights for the absence of structures that limit and impose other wills on the individual will, which must always be respected and protected.

A lot of people act like anarchists without knowing it, without any concern about labels. That demonstrates the intrinsic value of such a position in life, work, faith, social relations and politics: the value of the natural things, the notable, the respectable things...

The value of the individual freedom. Something that cannot submitted by force, nor bought with death and blood. It can just be defended with the own hands, and waked up with bombs.

Bombs in the mind.