Gonzalo Santos
Photo by Lydia Gonzales

A Sociological Biography of Gonzalo F. Santos

Disclaimer 1: The following text represent exclusively the views of the author and should not be construed to represent
those of any person, group, institution, ethnicity, movement, or country mentioned or with whom he chooses to associate freely.

Gonzalo F. Santos is an academic worker who has taught (helped others learn and question) historical social science at the California State University at Bakersfield since 1992. CSUB is a nice, small, four-year higher education institution that serves the southern San Joaquin Valley, one of the richest and most intensely developed agricultural areas in the world. The area is the historic site of great migrant farmworker struggles (Asian, Mexican, Dust Bowl "Okie") and the homeland of the famous United Farmworkers of America, founded by César Chávez and Dolores Huerta. The other major industry in the area is oil, mostly occupying Anglo workers in past decades. Hence the special blend of blue collar flavors that made possible the famous "Bakersfield sound." Native Americans of many tribes - some indigenous to the area and many forced to "relocate" from as far as northern Mexico - are concentrated in the nearby Tule River Reservation. Recent waves of southern Mexico indigenous peoples to the valley has reinforced the Indian presence.

The college, though growing fast, is still small; the students are great. Most of them work, study, are raising families -- in short, they are heroic! Many of them, by the way, are the children of farmworkers or oil workers going to college for the first time in their family's history.

Meanwhile, farm work  continues to be a very exploited and devalued "ethnicized" occupation: work in the fields remains defined and stigmatized as "illegal immigrant, temporary, Mexican work" by a mighty agroindustrial complex that sells $25+ billion in products a year but pays most of its 350,000 workers less than $6,000 a year and shields itself from most legal ties & responsibilities towards them by relying on a vast contracting system, forcing farmworkers to work as purely casual, piece-workers without most of the benefits enjoyed by workers in all other sectors, and subjecting them to all sorts of abuse, such as pesticide exposure and unpaid overwork.

It must be said, though, other types of jobs, previously highly coveted, have been and are being degraded to farmworker levels of pay, benefits, and status, instead of farmworker levels being upgraded to them. All is not well in the political economy of today.

Professor Santos is fortunate: he is rewarded with, and recognized by, the income, status, and job security of a tenured associate professor - the combined outcome of difficult periodic collective bargaining struggles and, of course, his own accumulated record of work. He belongs to the largest single faculty union in the country, the California Faculty Association. His labor situation, therefore, markedly contrasts that of most other workers in the United States, who, mostly unorganized, are frequently subjected to the whimsy of corporate downsizing & de-skilling plans, the volatility of the globalizing job markets, and the arbitrary top-down assessments of their "individual merit" when it comes to pay raises and benefits.

Speaking of "merit," yes, Dr. Santos was socially certified having some with a Ph.D. in sociology from the University of Binghamton in upstate New York. His dissertation was a study of Latino peoples in North America over the last six centuries. He has written from time to time on Latinos & Latin America, the modern world-system, ethnic relations, and human migrations. [See some of his "Scholarly Publications"]

Titles aside, and cognizant that biography informs and conforms scholarship, Santos grew up in the Sixties in Mexico, where he initially studied physics and participated in the pro-democracy movement of 1968, a youthful movement that was abruptly drowned in blood in the so-called "Free World" two decades before the same thing happened in China. Santos then went to the United States, where he studied physics some more in Colorado, taught college math for a while, and actively participated in the various Third World solidarity movements and the Chicano movement of the 1970s & 80s. Eventually, after becoming aware of the theoretical shortcomings of these movements - though not their moral strength - he decided to study historical sociology from a world-system's perspective. So he went into monasterial retreat (ph.d. program) for some years in upstate New York. His mentor was the late Terence Hopkins, an incomparable, original thinker and true teacher, who, along with the prolific Immanuel Wallerstein, co-founded and developed the world-systems perspective in the U.S. social sciences since the seventies.

Santos came out of graduate studies in 1992, only to witness the end of the Cold War and the demise of historical socialism, the passage of the North American Free Trade Agreement and the armed uprising it sparked in southern Mexico. Going on since January 1, 1994, the Zapatista indigenous "glocal" rebellion can be seen as one of the first post-Cold-War social uprisings in the World's "South" against the very narrow, but hegemonic, vision of globalism now emanating from the World's "North" -- a vision blindly adopted so far by most of the elites of the "South."

We are certainly all part now of an inegalitarian, worldwide, social system; actually, we've been in it for centuries, it's just that for a while last century some thought they had escaped it altogether. Not so, it turned out. Now everybody is clearly and firmly back in, subjected to all the tensions and challenges of "globalization." To those that believe they're "just back" or just awoke to the realization that they are in and of a global system, if not for it, Santos likes to enjoin them:

Welcome to the system, roll up your sleeves and join one of the many long standing struggles to better the world. Or are you going to opt, like so many frequently do, to be willing to struggle just for your personal, local, national freedoms, rights, and well being, but not necessarily for anybody else's, or worse still, in direct conflict with everybody else's?
Which brings us to the purpose of getting an education. To those trying to get an education and further themselves, Santos congratulates and vows to help them, but asks them to ponder these questions:
What will you do after you graduate and seek the rewards of your college education,  when you are nevertheless still subjected to the frequent ill effects of the "magic of the marketplace," the dehumanizing  and Earth-toxic tendencies of "mass consumption?" Are you going to vociferously (or quietly), individually (or collectively), clamor (or scramble) to transfer unto "others" (or "far away") the deepening social & environmental costs of our predatory and unsustainable global system?
Alas, there are no others, there is no away in what Buckminster Fuller called "spaceship Earth."



So listen to what Rigoberta Menchu, a Guatemalan Maya recipient of the Noble Peace Prize, once said to the students of San Francisco State University:
A woman

If you only go for a degree, you will have a very poor education. A piece of paper isn't knowledge. I have 16 honorary doctorates and I can't cure anyone. You have to share your creativity and help people. Have a social consciousness and serve society. Peace doesn't come when a dove falls from the sky and lands on your head. Things change not just by thinking but by taking action. Don't study in dark rooms. Nothing happens just because it happens, it takes a struggle. It takes young people like you who are willing to struggle.

Most of us, unfortunately, find ourselves currently afflicted by the T.I.N.A. Syndrome ("There Is No Alternative"). But life itself teaches those who avoid facing the truth. As everything solid melts into air (ideologies, countries, jobs, savings, social relations, habitats, security, values) in the wake of the ubiquitous, relentless, endless capitalist accumulation, commercialization, and global integration, people will have to come out with alternative visions and models of being than the present one, whether they like it or not. Santos merely guides and assists folks to intellectually and ethically face up to our imploding historical social system, in the hope that they will be better prepared for our fast approaching planetary rendezvous with destiny.

In terms of his residential status and cultural identity, Santos is thought to be, at least to some bureaucratically minded and legalistic folks, a permanent resident legal alien living in the United States. What an alien label! Nothing could be further from the truth in these times of fast North American integration. Santos only admits to having undergone a transformation of sorts in the last three decades, and sees himself nowadays as a

He is therefore neither permanent nor alien to the region in which he lives, nor has he, on occasion, been willing to let legal matters get on the way of basic human solidarity!

He is, in reality, a privileged global consumer (four fifths of humanity is not, though it mostly produces, if at all,  for the other fifth - us folks in the world's privileged "North" plus the dispersed, ineffective elites in the world's "South"). But despite his privileged location, which affords him the time and means to think and study about all this, he is an advocate of creating and extending a global citizenship for all of humanity; and more broadly, of urgently organizing a much more egalitarian and democratic, ecologically sustainable & friendly, new world system. Why? It has to do with his reading of what is bound to happen if we blithely continue to inflict the logics of "nationhood" and "state power," "self regulated markets," "accumulation," and "mass consumption" on this good earth for too much longer, all for the sake of illusory profits, the thrill of superpower command, anachronistic "we/them" dogmas, and the very real, though short-term, privileges some of us enjoy. Ultimately, what exists and demands moral allegiance is the web of life, not the forces and structures that tear at it or would divorce us humans from it and from each other.

View of the earth showing South America

Until all shall share and protect the living earth, the system will increasingly...


Postscript After September 11
(Written january 10, 2004)

Disclaimer 2: The author of this postscript is not now, nor has he ever been, a terrorist, though this may soon become immaterial to getting himself deported or indefinitely detained as an unlawful alien thinker.

The above was written in the transitional years following the  collapse of the Cold War but prior to September 11, 2001, when it became clear to professor Santos and many others that we had to come to grips with having reached the limits of the world as we knew it, and envision an entirely new one before being engulfed by chaos. Professor Santos does not wish to change a word he wrote then, for it captures some of the flavor of the critique of globalization expressed at the time, and because it now seems a prescient text.

At the time, and in contrast, some pro-systemic scholars, like Francis Fukuyama, disagreed that anything was fundamentally wrong with the world-system, even if it was widely felt to be careening without much control by anyone, and so, drunk with triumphalism, he posited it had arrived... to heaven! We had reached, he proclaimed, the pinnacle of human achievement, the perfect formula for human society; so we could now settle, at long last, for a placid future, an indefinite continuation of the near-perfect present; hence, "the end of history." Such idyllic nonsense has been known to have afflicted the minds of elites in past epochs, precisely when their social order was
about to blow up in their faces.

Others, more "realistic," like Samuel Huntington (of Vietnam Era hawk adviser vintage), aware of the demise of the 20th-century colossal clash of ideologies (liberalism, fascism, and Marxism-Leninism), but nevertheless inveterate Western supremacists too ossified to be able to conceive or support a more egalitarian world order,
sounded the alarm: what they saw looming ahead was, what else, but a repeat of the Cold War scenario: a formalized, irreconcilable world schism between permanently hostile camps, with similar dangers for hot world wars, etc., -- but this time it was to be a Cultural Cold War, fought between geocultural zones of the world deemed inherently incompatible and unredeemable; hence, "the clash of civilizations." This alarmist culturalist analysis had the strong stench of the early 20th-century "White Man's Burden" eurocentric defense of colonialism and its terrors, initially intended by Rudyard Kipling to prod the U.S. to become fully imperialist in the Philippines, now resuscitated by Huntington et al. to prod the U.S. to an aggressive strategy to shore up its fast diminishing global hegemony. It was a call for the U.S. to lead the fight of "The West vs. the Rest." Needless to say, Huntington's call to encircle the supposedly more "civilized" Western wagons to fight the non-Western Perpetual Others went down in global public opinion - mostly made up of those supposed Others, highly Americanized by now, just like we Americans have become culturally highly hybrid ourselves - with the same degree of amused contempt than Fukuyama's call to begin enjoying (by eating cake, perhaps?) our recently inaugurated Capitalist Nirvana, in a world where half its population "lives" on less than two dollars a day.

Enter Real History rudely onto stage on September 11, 2001.

history continues

Both prevalent schools of pro-systemic thought in the late 90s had missed the mark by a mile. Instead, history continued, not the way anyone expected or wished for, but with a twist and a vengeance, violently filling the void created by the absolute absence of real initiatives to transform an ailing world. History continued with the most spectacular, devastating, (and telegenic) attack on the population and central sites of the world's most powerful country ever, carried out, not by a cultural constellation of hostile powers brandishing "weapons of mass destruction," but by a handful of determined, irredentist fanatics armed with nothing more than box cutters and engineering wit, and imbued with a millenarian vision of religious deliverance (pseudo Islamic in this instance, but it could have very well been pseudo Christian or pseudo any number of other religions, or ethnonationalist, or racial, or take your pick) from a satanic modernity. 

Sounds like a cultural clash? Sure, terrorist cultural extremist nuts - especially those who feel are pursuing a mission from God - will always clash with everybody else, including the vast numbers of non-violent, non-extremists in their own culture. But precisely what culture are we talking about in this case? The 9/11 terrorists were almost all college educated... in the West! It turns out these quite traveled, modern fanatics cooked up their millenarian charlatanry
in places like Hamburg! Muslims? Sure, in the same way that Mussolini and Franco and Pinochet all thought of themselves as Christian knights - as preposterous and as quite besides the point. Sociologically, the 9/11 attackers are better characterized as cosmopolitan, Western educated, relatively affluent, embittered young men exhibiting a very high degree of anomie. And there's more: their leader, Osama bin Laden, turned out to be a rich and well-connected son of an even richer Saudi businessman, one of "our best assets" in the CIA covert campaign against the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in the 1980s. The U.S. government trained bin Laden and funneled funds & weapons through his operations to the Afghan "freedom fighters," as Ronald Reagan then called them, later morphed as the Taliban.  

So just how alien are these evil terrorists, one has to ask? And isn't there a pattern of deep denial here in the way the West - and most especially the U.S. leaders - have pretended that U.S.-deposed tyrants like Saddam Hussein and Manuel Noriega were not of Western/U.S. manufacture, opting instead on blaming their unquestionable evil nature and deeds on their victims' cultures, crimes perpetrated with the tacit, or covert, or open Western complicity during the Cold War?

Isn't the real evil culture we must confront and expunge from this world the Cold War culture of superpower impunity, covertness, paranoia, and violence that the U.S. and the U.S.S.R. institutionalized and took to such extremes, and from whence all these monsters sprung? If so, why then are we allowing some of the worst
extant former cold warriors to continue in power in Washington, to frame policy and to be seen as our foremost anti-terrorist crusaders? Haven't we learned anything from all the evil-doing that was done in our (and the Russians') name, and in the name of freedom (and Communism) in the last half-century?

We are in denial. The Russians seem to have owned up to it since Gorbachev went to the U.N. to apologize for the invasion of Afghanistan. Perhaps they had little choice once the Soviet system imploded, but that's still commendable and better than, say, the lack of atonement in the West for the Atlantic slave trade. Germany has certainly atoned for the Jewish holocaust, Japan for its genocides in Asia (well, some, not enough) - all to their enduring credit in the eyes of the suffering world that just came out of that horrific century. Not us. Our leaders do not believe there's anything they need to apologize for, and a lots of U.S. citizens, too many unfortunately, agree with them. O
f all our national leaders in over half a century, only Martin Luther King ever broke away and denounced that evil Cold War culture, which he saw as "a death wish" derailing the aims of the Civil Rights Movement, causing untold devastation in places like Southeast Asia, Africa, and Latin America, and making of the United States "the greatest purveyor of violence in the world today," a nation "on the wrong side of the world's revolution... approaching spiritual death." But that was in 1967. A vast silence on the U.S. misdeeds of that era and its legacy pervades and, in fact, has allowed the morphing of that death wish mentality into the prime cultural basis behind today's "War on Terrorism."

Why have we allowed it to happen so easily, without much sustained resistance, and despite the loud criticism from every corner of the globe? Can we allow that to become the lasting legacy of September 11? Professor Santos defies anyone to read Dr. King's indictment of the  Cold War culture, boldly issued in his
1967 speech,  and continue to assert, reflecting on the direction we are heading today, that we have uprooted it; that the nation has overcome that death culture and recovered its spiritual bearings. 

Our leaders are failing us. Who will speak up and tell the truth of this death wish culture still among us, especially in today's chilled political environment and amidst the frenzied media circus?

Perhaps it is not convenient - or patriotic! - to raise these questions at this time of national grieving, warefare, and heightened domestic alert, we are told. The tragic attacks of September 11
, we are told, inaugurated a period in which we are "at war" again, a new twilight, world-ordering, Manichean struggle  -- not between recognizable, fixed geopolitical (as before) or geocultural camps (á la Huntington), but between "Good and Evil," against "terrorism" (cap that with a T) as defined, targeted, and fought by none other than the unquestionably supreme military power on Earth. If that sounds like an extremely dangerous recipe for world peace, it is! And not a very healthy development for our republic, either. We in the United States are asked to forgo many of our most precious civil liberties - or have been told they're gone, á la Patriot Act and our Commander-in-Chief's orders to set up "special" (read kangaroo) military tribunals - , endure massive deficits to lavishly fund a new War & Security Economy, and send our young people to fight and die in real wars, even if no one else in the entire world supports any of it.

This pseudo patriotic "War on Terrorism" is, to put it bluntly, hegemonic lunacy, a sure way to erode whatever influence the U.S. hopes to exert in the world, let alone enhance real national security, just as
Al Qaida's terrorist beliefs and actions, though pseudo religious, are criminal and clearly self-destructive. The difference is that the "War on Terrorism" dementia has taken hold of those running the world's military megapower, while the latter has so far taken hold of scattered bands of disaffected renegades of modernity. Call it the clash of "asymmetrical fundamentalisms." What a spectacle we behold!

It seems we have now entered an era characterized, if not fully yet, certainly by many incipient and expanding manifestations of world geopolitical chaos, "asymmetrical conflict," and deepening economic and social disorder.
This may be the preamble for "symmetrical conflict," as we have witnessed recently between Europe and the United States over Iraq. Not even a shadow of world consensus exists as to what constitutes an acceptable set of new principles for world governance. Certainly the powerful states do not want to relinquish power to a more democratic, equitable world order. And certainly nobody accepts the notion of global dominion without leadership, world order by force and without legitimacy - nobody, it seems, but the current U.S. regime and its precious few international acolytes and neocon think tanks. As to restructuring the world-economy, the so-called Washington Consensus, which served as the blueprint over last two decades, is comatose, if not dead, as recent world meetings in Cancun and Miami attest. The world spins faster and faster but adrift, without an anchoring ideological legitimization of its structures, producing larger and larger convulsions, dislocations, and stagnations that are hurting billions of human beings and their habitats, descending our times into what appears to be a dark new era of global unfreedom.

The history of our new post-Cold War, post-9/11 era is being written with ink from the inkwell of systemic chaos and world polarization. We did not write well the story of our world when we had a chance after the Cold War ended and before September 11. And after September 11, the writing has gotten much worse.
Le Monde wrote in its editorial the day after September 11, 2001: "Nous sommes tous Américains." A huge opportunity for world (and U.S.) redemption and renewal had been born out of an unparalleled human tragedy. William Sloane Coffin, pastor emeritus of the Riverside Church in Manhattan, has now assessed the loss of that unique chance:

sloan coffin [Pastor Sloane Coffin is pictured to the right]

The President, after all, did not have to declare war. He could have called the terrorists mass murderers, their deeds crimes against humanity. He could have said to the American people and the world, "We will respond, but not in kind. We will not seek to avenge the death of innocent Americans by the death of innocent victims elsewhere, lest we become what we abhor. We refuse to ratchet up the cycle of violence that brings only ever more death, destruction and deprivation. What we will do is build coalitions with other nations. We will share intelligence, freeze assets and engage in forceful extraditions of terrorists if internationally sanctioned. I promise to do all in my power to see justice done, but by the force of law only, never by the law of force."

It was a ripe moment -- to educate the soul of the nation, to improve the quality of our suffering. We had lost our sense of invulnerability and superpower invincibility, but as these were only illusions, we should not have grieved their passing. Other nations too had been unfairly hurt, many of them, and far worse than we. But instead of deepening our kinship with the world's suffering, the President chose to invoke an almost unlimited sense of entitlement to pursue in our own way what he termed a struggle "to rid the world of evil."

That this "deepening our kinship with the world's suffering" did not happen but, tragically, quite the opposite, was not pre-ordained, was not inevitable. Humanity - and especially the people of the United States - could have written an entirely different history during the last three years, but we did not. We were misled, and worse, many wished to be misled, because they resisted and still resist facing up to some very unpleasant truths and consequences for the world left over from the Cold War we waged for half a century. So many otherwise nice, decent folks in the United States, far too many, quickly fell for the 19-century rhetoric of imperial retribution and fell prey to panic, warmongering, and paranoia. Ah, and then there was the sheer mendacity about why we had to go to war in Iraq. Too many in the United States went for it (compared to zero outside it). We did not react that way when Timothy McVeigh blew up a federal building in Oklahoma, killing and wounding hundreds of U.S. innocent civilians. We understood that to be an enormous criminal act, not a war. Not so when a few errant Arab criminals with no country attacked us. We all share responsibility for that, if indeed our national leaders bear responsibility for appealing to our worst angels and instilling so much fear and bravado, and the news media conglomerates for pandering war and relentlessly propagandizing whatever came out of Washington since September 11.  

It's time to own up to, defend, and more fully exercise, our democratic traditions!

Thank goodness there is an internet today, where dissenting voices like professor Santos' and others can still find refuge from the media conglomerates' choke hold on America. But on the main, in the real world, that choke hold is effective: the ink with which our present story is being written is poisoned, the story is a sham. Other inkwells then, with new, more honest, colorful inks to write and make our biographies with, are urgently required. The good news is that they are, in fact, presently being thought out, experimented on, and begun to be made by humans everywhere, from intellectuals and activists to workers and artists, in all communities of faiths, and in all social movements, on the web. The question is whether the new inkwells and inks to write a new story will be made in time, and whether enough women and men of good will will dare rewrite and repaint the world before humanity falls into the abyss the neocon hawks wish to take us.

On February 15, 2003, over 30 million people marched all over the world - in over 700 cities - a first in world history, protesting the U.S. pre-announced intentions to invade Iraq, which despite that show of global repudiation and the subsequent U.N. Security Council's own repudiation, brazenly happened anyway, deepening the chaos in the world. People resisting war or working to rescue our democracy have not given up. There are apparently now two superpowers: a military colossus with political feet of clay, the United States, and global public opinion, an emerging social colossus. Why not merge them, make the former the citadel of the latter, instead of its nemesis? It can be done, it must be done. It depends on each and everyone of us! Again, as pastor
Sloane Coffin put it:
So much is at stake in the new [era] that despair is not an option. Better by far to heed the poet and double the heart's might.
Professor Santos believes it's time for us all to write these words and paint these colors into our unfolding biographies, everywhere:

bluehand   greenhand  
Paintings by Sandra Dionisi

"Nous sommes tous Afghani, Nous sommes tous Américains & Iraqi, Nous sommes tous Arab & Muslim, Nous sommes tous Palestinian & Israeli, Nous sommes tous Marcos, Nous sommes tous les Sem Terra, Nous sommes tous les Sans Papiers."
"Pour tous,
tout; pour nous, rien. Another world is possible."

"Todos somos Afganos, Todos somos Americanos e Irakís,  Todos somos Arabes y Musulmanes, Todos somos Palestinos & Israelis, Todos somos Marcos, Todos somos los Sin Tierra, Todos somos los Sin Papeles."

"Para todos, todo; para nosotros, nada. Otro mundo es posible."
purplehandpurple baby