Book Review  

Upside Down  
By Rootsie
August 20, 2003

Upside Down: A Primer for the Looking-Glass World
by Eduardo Galeano

This excellent book presents the curriculum of the 'looking-glass school'. In a serious of vignettes grouped under titles like "Racism and Sexism 101", "Injustice 101", and "Master Class on Impunity", Galeano exposes "First World" privilege and assumption. He describes in excruciating detail our 'upside-down world', so confused in its priorities, bereft of a moral center.

Galeano is devastating in his attack. He writes passionately and beautifully, and yet is clinical in his observations:

"When a criminal kills someone for an unpaid debt, the execution is called a 'settling of accounts.' When the international technocracy settles accounts with an indebted country, the execution is called an 'adjustment plan.' Financial capos kidnap countries and suck them dry even when they pay the ransom: in comparison, most thugs are about as dangerous as Dracula in broad daylight. The world economy is the most efficient expression of organized crime. The international bodies that control currency, trade, and credit practice international terrorism against poor countries, and against the poor of all countries, with a cold-blooded professionalism that would make the best of the bomb-throwers blush."
Many many usually-silenced voices are represented here, street children, landless peasants, the people most directly impacted by the moral bankruptcy of this looking-glass world. Interspersed with the main text are their stories, as well as vignettes that demonstrate its terrible ironies. Here is an example, #3 of a series of "Exemplary Lives" scattered through the book.
"The middle of 1998 unleashed a whirlwind of popular indignation against the dictatorship of General Suharto in Indonesia. So the International Monetary Fund thanked him for his services and the general retires.

His working life began in 1965 when he took power by killing half a million Communists or alleged Communists. In the end he had no choice but to leave the government, but he hung on to the savings he managed to set aside during his more than 30 years of labor: $16 billion, according to the July 28, 1997 issue of Forbes magazine.

A couple of months after Suharto's retirement, his successor, President Habibie, made a televised speech: he called for fasting. The president said that if the Indonesian people refrained from eating two days a week, Monday and Thursday, the economic crisis could be overcome."

Readers interested in statistics about the gap between rich and poor, the realities of Free Trade, the dominance of corporate media giants, will find them here, as well as examples from many countries of the price paid by so many for the comforts of so few.

Fortunately, every school gives rise to a counterschool. Galeano ends Upside Down with a statement of values and vision that all lovers of life and of the people can get behind:

"In 1948 and again in 1976, the United Nations proclaimed long lists of human rights, but the immense majority of humanity enjoys only the rights to see, hear and remain silent. Suppose we start by exercising the never-proclaimed right to dream? Suppose we rave a bit? Let's set our sights beyond the abominations of today to divine another possible world:
  • the air shall be cleansed of all poisons except those born of human fears and human passions;

  • in the streets, cars shall be run over by dogs;

  • people shall not be driven by cars, or programmed by computers, or bought by supermarkets, or watched by televisions;

  • the TV set shall no longer be the most important member of the family and shall be treated like an iron or a washing machine;

  • people shall work for a living instead of living for work;

  • written into law shall be the crime of stupidity, committed by those who live to have or to win, instead of living just to live like the bird that sings without knowing it and the child who plays unaware that he or she is playing;

  • in no country shall young men who refuse to go to war go to jail, rather only those who want to make war;

  • economists shall not measure living standards by consumption levels or the quality of life by the quantity of things;

  • cooks shall not believe that lobsters love to be boiled alive;

  • historians shall not believe that countries love to be invaded;

  • politicians shall not believe that the poor love to eat promises;

  • earnestness shall no longer be a virtue, and no-one shall be taken seriously who can't make fun of himself;

  • death and money shall lose their magical powers, and neither demise nor fortune shall make a virtuous gentleman of a rat;

  • no-one shall be considered a hero or a fool for doing what he believes is right instead of what serves him best;

  • the world shall wage war not on the poor but rather on poverty, and the arms industry shall have no alternative but to declare bankruptcy;

  • food shall not be a commodity nor shall communications be a business, because food and communication are human rights;

  • no-one shall die of hunger, because no-one shall die of overeating;

  • street children shall not be treated like garbage, because there shall be no street children;

  • rich kids shall not be treated like gold, because there shall be no rich kids;

  • education shall not be the privilege of those who can pay;

  • the police shall not be the curse of those who cannot pay;

  • justice and liberty, Siamese twins condemned to live apart, shall meet again and be reunited, back to back;

  • a woman, a black woman, shall be president of Brazil, and another black woman shall be president of the United States; an Indian woman shall govern Guatemala and another Peru;

  • in Argentina, the crazy women of the Plaza de Mayo shall be held up as examples of mental health because they refused to forget in a time of obligatory amnesia;

  • the Church, holy mother, shall correct the typos on the tablet of Moses and the Sixth Commandment shall dictate the celebration of the body;

  • the Church shall also proclaim another commandment, the one God forgot: You shall love nature, to which you belong;

  • clothed with forests shall be the deserts of the world and of the soul;

  • the despairing shall be paired and the lost shall be found, for they are the ones who despaired and lost their way from so much lonely seeking;

  • we shall be compatriots and contemporaries for all who have a yearning for justice and beauty, no matter where they were born or where they lived, because the borders of geography and time shall cease to exist;

  • perfection shall remain the boring privilege of the gods, while in our bungling, messy world every night shall be lived as if it were the last and every day as if it were the first."

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