tlf news

Vol. xx #4

December, 1999

The Right to Delirium

Eduardo Galeano

The new millennium is about to be born. It really isn't such a big deal; after all, the Christian year 2001 is the Muslim year 1379, the Mayan year 5114 and the Jewish year 5762.

The new millennium is born on the first of January due to the whim and caprice of the senators of the Roman Empire, who one fine day decided to break the old tradition which ordered the new year to be celebrated with the beginning of Spring. And the count of the years of the Christian era comes from another caprice: another fine day, the Roman pope decided to fix a date to the birth of Christ, although nobody knows when He was born.

Time mocks the limits we invent to help us believe the tale that time obeys our dictates; but the whole world celebrates and fears that frontier. It's an invitation to flight. A millennium comes, a millennium goes, offering a fine occasion for puffed-up orators to pontificate about human destiny, and for the spokespersons of the wrath of God to announce the end of the world and the big final bang, while time continues without a word its steady trek down the length and breadth of eternity and mystery. The truth is that, faced with a date like this, arbitrary as it may be, we can't resist: we all experience the temptation to wonder what will be in the new time to be. And who knows what will be?

There is only one sure thing: in the twenty-first century, if we are still here, every one of us will be persons of the last century, and worse yet, persons of the last millennium. Although we can't prophesy about the time that will be, we at least have the right to imagine what we would like it to be. In 1948 and 1976 the United Nations proclaimed extensive lists of human rights; but the vast majority of humanity enjoys only the right to see, to hear and to shut up. What if we decide to put into practice the undeclared right to dream? What if we talk nonsense for a bit?

Let's focus our eyes beyond the common infamy and try to make out another possible world:

In the next millennium the air will be cleansed of all poison except that which comes from human fear and human passions; in the streets the cars will be run over by the dogs; people will not be driven by their cars nor programmed by their computers nor bought by the supermarket nor seen by their television. The television will cease to be the most important member of the family and will be treated like the iron or the washing machine; people will work to live instead of live to work.

The penal codes will incorporate the crime of stupidity, which is the crime committed by those who live to have or to make money, instead of living for living's sake, like the bird sings without knowing it is singing and the child plays without knowing it is playing; in no country will the young men who refuse to do military service be thrown into jail, but rather those who want to do it; the economists won't give the name standard of living to the standard of consumption, nor will they confuse quality of life and quantity of things.

Cooks won't believe that lobsters love being boiled alive; historians will cease to believe that countries delight in being invaded; politicians will no longer believe that the poor relish eating promises. Solemnity will cease to be considered a virtue and nobody will take seriously anyone who can't take a joke; death and money will lose their magic powers, and neither demise nor fortune will convert the scoundrel into a virtuous gentleman. No one will be considered a hero or a fool for doing what he believes is right instead of what profits him; the world will no longer be at war against the poor but against poverty, and the military industry will have no choice but to declare bankruptcy.

Food will not be merchandise nor communication a business, because food and communication are human rights; no one will die of hunger because no one will die of indigestion; street kids will not be treated as garbage because there won't be any street kids; rich kids won't be treated as if they were money because there won't be any rich kids; education won't be the privilege of those who can buy it; the police won't be the curse of those who can't buy them; justice and liberty, Siamese twins who have been condemned to live apart, will be joined together again back to back.

A black woman will be president of Brazil and another black woman will be president of the United States; an Indian woman will govern Guatemala and another Perú; in Argentina the crazy mothers of the Plaza de Mayo will be held up as exemplars of mental health, because they refused to forget in times of obligatory amnesia. Holy Mother Church will correct the typos in Moses' tablets and will restore the lost commandment: "Thou shalt love Nature, of which thou art a part"; and the deserts of the world and of the soul will be reforested.

The despairing will find hope and the lost will be found, those who despaired of so much waiting and who got lost while they were searching; we will be countrymen and contemporaries of all those who thirst for justice and seek beauty, no matter where they were born or where they lived or when they lived, and the frontiers of the map and of time will be worth not a whit. Perfection will continue to be the boring privilege of the gods; but in this thrown together and messed-up world every night will be lived as if it were the last and every day as if it were the first.

Eduardo Galeano was born in Uruguay in 1940. He is a jounalist who has published innumerable articles and is the author or several well-known books, among them: The Open Veins of Latin America, Memory of Fire, and Football in Sun and Shade. He lived in exile in Argentina and Spain beginning in 1973; in 1985 he returned to his native Uruguay.

Merry Christmas & Happy New Millennium

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