"To bring the poem into the world / is to bring the world into the poem."

Wednesday, November 2, 2011



Ay, Ading! How do I begin to talk about the global recession?

Ah, for starters: this is the consequence of an economic concept conjured by the neoliberal assumptions of limitless economic hypergrowth and mobilized by the unholy trinity of the IMF, WB, and WTO whose failed policies have been put on steroids through structural adjustment programs imposed on the debtor countries. A circle of debt envelopes the global economy and no one is paying up. Decades ago there was a clamor to forgive the debts of the poorest countries in the world and only a handful got a reprieve. The engines of corporate capitalism and financial magicians thought that they could create something out of nothing, and now the house of cards that the global casino economy has become is crumbling.

The global recession: what is in recess? what is an economic recession? are there other kinds of recessions? is depression the synonym of recession in psychological terms?

Recess was my favorite subject in elementary school. Wasn’t it yours, too? That’s when we got to play outside, eat our baon or buy merienda from the sari-sari store, notice the cute boys, etc. Recess is fun.

Now we take a fun word and turn it into recession and suddenly it becomes a word that stirs up fear. Well, our economic myth has always capitalized on our fears to keep the profits flowing for the stakeholders, so why not manufacture fear, yes? It sells.

And it’s all about selling and buying—this global economy. Everything is a commodity. What I eat, what I wear, where I live, what I watch to entertain myself—are all global products.

I refuse to be commodified so I defy the words global recession! This phrase that conjures the worst scenario—the bleakness that is about to engulf us if we do not turn around from the wrong course we’ve been on for five centuries—feels to me like beating a dead horse.

The drums that beat about the end of the American dream, their rhythms getting faster, induce a sense of panic.

But there is an antidote to this toxic story. Yes, I said it: the architects of the global corporate economy unleashed toxins on the planet and now we are faced with the unintended consequences of our flawed assumptions about limitless resources, about the belief in an inanimate earth, about the belief in the magic of positive thinking (thank you, Barbara Ehrenreich). If you build it they will come. Well, China has just built the largest shopping mall on the planet in Guangdong and nobody came. In fact, they built 500 of them—all of them still waiting for their middle class to arrive to shop.

Why do I always get sidetracked? Oh, as I was thinking/saying…what I mean by antidote is this: what if I were an indigenous person living in the Sierra Madre mountains of Colombia who escaped the conquistadors and managed to live undisturbed for five hundred years, and therefore, had no concepts like global recession or have never heard of the American dream? How would such persons interpret the changes that they were noticing in their environment? The mountains no longer filled with snow in the winter and so their rivers have run dry affecting their vegetation and ultimately, their very way of life? These are the Kogi people. They saw that their Mother was getting sick and they were worried that their younger brothers (the modern ones) were doing things to the earth that were causing the illness, so they came out of hiding and began to have conversations with visitors from the outside (like BBC, Wade Davis of National Geographic, and other environmental groups that have now “found” them).

What about the Amazonian elder that David Suzuki brought to Seattle? David thought that the indigenous elder would be impressed by the tall skyscrapers and marvel at the wonders of his world; instead the elder said: oh my, how can mother nature replace what’s been used up to build this?

What about the indigenous woman leader from a Mindanao tribe who exclaimed at a symposium with the Fulbright teachers I brought with me from California in 2008: Please allow us to express our beauty! We do not need your versions of development and progress!

What about the women of Ladakh who lament that their sons and daughters have gone to the city to get an education; who would till the fields and tend to the animals when they are gone? And the kids who have gone to the city and learned to speak English say now their lives are all about money. If I don’t make money, I am nothing. (in Schooling the World, a videodocumentary).

Do you see why I don’t like the words global recession? I do not buy into the theoretical construct behind the word. It’s true that what we are witnessing today are human-made consequences of overdevelopment, mis-use of resources, endless wars, not only military but also “war on drugs, war on terror, war on poverty,” etc. Don’t even get me started on the concept of war.

Did you know that there is a connection between war and food? Ask Vandana Shiva (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=flpFnfK_3Yo). That fertilizers that were used to make bombs used during World War 2 were later offered to industrial farmers?

I digress again. Back to global recession. So there is a recession if your assumption is that the global economy should stay on a linear growth path, or if the assumption is that the American lifestyle should go global because it is the best. We package it as “freedom” and seduce the world with commercials. It is the “end of history” theory rearing its head. Oh, if only we know of seven planets where we can migrate to.

We already know that we are almost out of solutions. Bailouts didn’t work. International accords don’t work especially when powerful countries like the U.S. refuse to sign protocols and agreements—whether it’s curbing carbon emissions (the Kyoto protocol) or making a stand against racial apartheid (at the Durban conference on Racism). We already know that tax cuts for the wealthy have not created jobs (it did, however, make plenty of profits that are stashed away in Swiss banks and off-shore banks, for the wealthy). Inconvenient truth, as Al Gore calls it.

"House of Grief" from Detroit's Art Walk

So yes, we are in the midst of an economic recession. But this simply means that we have exhausted the limits of the modernist story. It is time to revisit other stories that can disentangle us from the ravages of modernity.

Decolonization is not just for the post-colonial subject anymore. Decolonizing from the modern narratives of self that disassociated us from a participatory sense of place is the work of every modern self that has been colonized by the myth of the masterful bounded self that is separate from nature and non-human creatures and the spirit realms.

In a way, we are all relatives of the economic hit men of the past. Those economic hit men who have now confessed to their sins of selling the economic model and gospel of free trade to developing countries (e.g., John Perkins, David Korten) are calling for a different kind of story—The Great Turning, Revolution from the Heart of Nature, Another World is Possible, and more recently, Occupy Wall Street – these themes are the mantras of our time.

The onus is on us—those of who us in the U.S. We are the belly of the beast. China, India, Latin America and the rest of the world are all mimicking us now. They will become modern and surpass the U.S. consumption and materialism. They will buy stuff until they are sated and realize that they are still dissatisfied. We know. We’ve been there.

I’ve always intuited that the U.S. will turn to its spiritual resources when the hubris of materialism finally catches up with us. When we wake up and acknowledge the shadows of history that we have denied or repressed, we will search for ways to grieve and heal.

That is why I believe in Poets in the same way that I don’t believe in the global recession. This global recession can actually be good for the soul, you know? Maybe we will learn how to become more human. Kapwa we call it. (See HERE and HERE FOR “Kapwa.”) Kagandahang Loob – our inner gem/sacred self. Maybe there is still time to get to know the Earth as our relative.

There is still time to learn how to reclaim our animist senses so that we may see each other and all our relatives through the eye of the Sacred.

There is still time to embody what we know in our heads so that when that knowledge descends into our cells, it transforms us. Our fears are transformed.

The rage and anger that we see all around us are projections of that repressed fear. Fear is nothing but unreleased grief.

I want to be a Poet of Grief. I long to learn the language that releases this grief. I long to learn how to do rituals without words…only the movement of the body. I long to learn how to slow dance into this new awareness. I long to feel more deeply the sacred embrace of the Earth on my small body until a word like global recession withdraws its fangs and is alchemized into a meditation about the beauty of a different Story that is much more ancient than the modern one. One that sits well with my body and soul.



End of History

i am rehearsing
for the

when the old
is new

i am bare-faced
claiming power

having learned how
to erase

nothing can kill me now.



Leny M. Strobel is the editor of BABAYLAN:Filipinos and the Call of the Indigenous, as well as author of A BOOK OF HER OWN: Words and Images to Honor the Babaylan and COMING FULL CIRCLE: The Process of Decolonization Among Post-1965 Filipino Americans. The more time unfolds, the more she dances.



EILEEN said...

Some interesting comments on Leny's contribution over at:


Anonymous said...

The earth has given, given, given,
To what extent? we will never know
Homes, Malls, Factories,
She's running out of places to fully grow
Weeping and Slowly Dying Grasping for one last chance,
Its time for us as people to give mother earth a second glance