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Hoping for Solidarity

In a time of fracture, chaos, and loss of confidence, we have resources of hope.

Gabriel García Márquez is one of the most notable writers of the Americas—a Nobel Prize winner for literature; a member of UNESCO’s pathbreaking International Commission for the Study of Communication Problems; a successful screenwriter and journalist; and a man of the left.

In his pictorial essay "Por un país al alcance de los niños" ["A Country for Children"] (1998), Gabo, as he is known in South America, wrote evocatively about a common dualism within the population of his native Colombia that spanned generosity and violence, warmth and hatred.

He described a powerful bifurcation coursing throughout the nation, the product of its particular pattern of invasion, dispossession, enslavement, and revolution. This resulted in a restless quest to identify the subject of violence—is it the nation, the right, the left, the landowners, the state?

At one point in his book La mala hora [The Hour of Evil], Gabo says: ‘Es todo el pueblo y no es nadie’ [It’s the whole town and it’s nobody].

García Márquez spoke of a place that was two countries in one—the ideal and the real—with all the associated paradoxes of a semiotic encounter between langue and parole, the rules of speech and its actual use; the abstract and the everyday: a taste for making laws and ignoring them; an obsession with paperwork amidst contempt for bureaucratic norms; a dedicated work ethic and love of get-rich-quick schemes; a taste for creating icons, then ridiculing and bringing them down; an obsession with sporting triumph and failure, greater than any identification with human suffering; a love of life mixed with murderous tendencies; an adoration of animals but neglect of the loss of species and the environment in general, alongside imperilment of one of the world’s great rivers (the Magdalena); and loathing negative international stereotypes of the nation while failing to admit that the reality may be worse.

Although Gabo was writing about Colombia, his great inspiration beyond his immediate environment was the Southern U.S., which he visited as soon as he could. And it can be no surprise that Bill Clinton is one of his biggest fans, perhaps in part for that reason.

For another Nobel Laureate, William Faulkner, was García Marquez’s model. And although we soon barred Gabo’s entry to the US for three decades, so fearful were we of his power to influence us, he never lost his appreciation for that great writer. Why?

Amidst the horror of racism and developmentalism that Faulkner witnessed, in Gabo’s words, that mellifluous, drunken, decadent novelist ‘refused to accept the possibility that mankind might come to an end.'

That indomitable element of hope sustained García Marquez as a reader. But as time passed, he realized that with it had passed the optimism that Faulkner had insisted upon.

While Gabo himself trusted that ‘life itself’ could sustain us through solidarity, he saw with equal clarity that the loss of everything that Faulkner ‘feared is a straightforward scientific possibility.’

Yet he never lost hope. García Marquez believed that 'it’s not too late to build a utopia that would allow us to share an Earth on which no one would take decisions for other people, and where people on the margins would be given a fresh chance. A world in which solidarity could become a reality.’

As more and more environmental disasters are revealed to us through the early warnings provided by scientists, from record temperatures in the Arctic to devastation of the Great Barrier Reef, we must heed Gabo’s call.

Take another peek at his list of paradoxes—or are they contradictions?—of Colombian national character.

Do they apply to where you live? Do you care for animals, but like to eat them, or watch them trapped in the Bronx or Balboa Park? Do you (rightly) wear masks, use hand sanitizer, get consumer items delivered, and go outside in gloves in order to protect yourself and others against COVID-19—then dispatch these plastic items to waste bins or incinerators?

If so, then like many of us, you are enabling an historic build-up of dumped plastic—what the Los Angeles Times recently referred to as a ‘tidal wave.’ That can be no wonder now that the state of California has lifted its ban on single-use plastic bags. And the wind carries micro-plastics right across the land, exposing us all to their dangers.

We are all works in progress as ethical humans. None of us has a monopoly on selfless conduct, from religious diehards to Marxist true believers, from God-botherers to law-abiding citizens, from dipsomaniacal literary heavyweights to gun-toting survivalists.

But most of us know the value of togetherness, of solidarity, of caring for one another and the world around us. That may come from the teachings of Jesus Christ; the science of epidemiology; the experience of team sports; or life on a production line. It is a lesson we might all heed, not only for our own good, but for others, too.