Chapter XI MACHINELESS MEN

THE BASIC PATTERN

WE have perhaps gone far enough to glimpse the basic pattern of the machineless men of Mexico and to see that it is possible to lead a normal, reasonably creative, and rewarding life without thirty slaves of energy at one's elbow. It is true that there is no progress. It is also true that there is no visible material decay. Such an equilibrium causes a Nordic philosopher acute katzenjammer, but that only proves him an indifferent philosopher. Progress has never been adequately defined, while decay is all too plain. Look at Rome; look at the Mayas; look at Spain herself. We Westerners may even now be on the brink of a gorgeous toboggan slide. A people like the village Mexicans-done with "civilization" for four hundred years, sturdy enough to keep going without economic lifts and nose dives; with sense enough to make beautiful things with their hands, to see a fair world about them, to produce the best behaved children on earth-may leave something to be desired, but only an ignoramus may sneer at them. These people possess several qualities the average American would give his eyeteeth to get; and they possess other things completely beyond his purview-human values he has not even glimpsed, so relentlessly has his age blinded and limited him. All of which does not prevent it -from being true that machineless men, in their turn, must sacrifice certain positive goods if they are to maintain their way of life. I could not-you could not-live among them indefinitely and be happy, conditioned as we are. Individually we might, like Mr. William Spratling, buy a house in Taxco, compromise between standards of living, and be happy for a number of years. But if a dictator had the power to convert Tepoztlan into Middletown, he would belong in the lowest and hottest corner of hell if ever he gave the word.

Let us briefly summarize the findings of fact set forth in the last four chapters, and attempt to get into focus the basic pattern of this handicraft culture. Most Mexicans are Indians and they live in villages. The urban population does not exceed five per cent of all. Around the villages are milpas, and the culture is solidly based now, as of old, on maize. These villages, according to Dr. Eyler Simpson, may be roughly divided into two economic groups. A minority will be almost entirely self-supporting, growing and fabricating nearly everything they need. These tend to be the more remote and the more primitive. Far commoner is the village which forms part of a self-supporting region. Such a one raises the bulk of its food, but many of its necessities come from other villages in the region, exchange takes place in the markets and during the cycle of the fiestas. The exchange medium is both barter and silver pesos, but as a buyer is often also a seller, a large volume of exchange can be executed with a small volume of silver. The motive of the market as a whole is not a pecuniary one. People do not go to make a profit; they go to deliver what they have made, get what they need, and pass the time of day. The Aztec marriage of market day and holiday has never been dissolved.

Such money as they have, and it is very little, comes primarily from two sources: sale of their surplus products, both crops and handicrafts, outside the region; sale of their surplus labour to mine or hacienda. We have seen how for a few weeks in the winter the men of Tepoztlan go off to the haciendas for money wages. We have also noted how at harvest time they sell their surplus maize to the two corn factors of the town, who in turn market it in Mexico City. There are no figures, but I should guess that, except the money which takes the place of barter in regional exchange, not ten per cent of the household budget is bought with cash. Money could be absolutely eliminated, and the region still carry on.

Within a given region we are likely to find both handicraft centres and unspecialized villages like Tepoztlan. The former will give more time to their special artlacquer, pottery, toys, fireworks, musical instruments, or whatever it may be-and less to their crops and other necessities. They must accordingly lean more heavily on regional exchange.

The unconquered tribal village is self-supporting, and profoundly communistic in its economic habits. "We have," to quote one of them, "1,300 hectares of secondclass non-irrigated lands, and 6oo hectares of mountain land to which there are 585 properties with rights to the land among men, women, widows and orphans, all in equal parts in proportion to the possibilities of each." The free village, so-called, is more accessible, more civilized and more directly descended from the Aztec and Maya cultures, rather than from outside tribes. It also is strongly communistic in its land habits. When Diaz forced it to assume individual land titles, citizens deposited their deeds with the cacique, and continued to accept his allotments as theretofore. The most recent estimates show free villages and tribal villages accounting for more than sixty per cent of the population of Mexico. Hacienda villages account for some twenty-five per cent of the population, and vary from self-sufficiency to complete dependence on money wages, according to the hacienda policy. Here the old traditions and communal habits have been greatly modified. On some of the big plantations, the Indians have degenerated to a rural proletariat. The Revolution of i9to favoured the free village and weakened the hacienda system.Mexican agriculture is predominantly that of the hand and the hoe. The hoe, pick, iron bar, pointed stick, machete and axe are the common tools. When a plough is used it is generally of wood, rarely rimmed with iron. There is a widespread belief that iron ploughs hurt the land, offend the maize god.

A recent survey shows, per hundred villagers:
66.3 chickens
30.1 goats
14.6 hogs
10.5 oxen
8.3 cows
7.8 horses
6.9 asses
6.9 calves
1.8 mules and
1.8 carts
.9 cultivators
.3 sowing machines

We have spoken of Mexico as a country set on edge, with the resulting difficulties in transportation. Here are the figures for free villages, sampled over ten states:

Sixty-four per cent can be reached by burro trail only
Twenty-seven per cent by horse and cart Five per cent by railroad
Two per cent by motor car
One per cent by water

Beyond the economic pattern, yet linked closely to it through the market, is the fiesta with its attendant religious ceremonies. About one day in three, the year around, is devoted to play or worship-the latter very tolerantly defined. The normal locus of the fiesta is the courtyard of the church, with the market immediately adjoining if not in the yard itself. A fiesta is a mosaic of pilgrim shrine, regional exchange of goods and news, pagan dance, Coney Island, gambling joint, sidewalk cafe, camp ground, rodeo, subway jam and Fourth of July.

Scientific medical care is non-existent in the pattern, the health of the community being taken in charge by the time-honoured law of the survival of the fittest, and by herb women, far less clever than their Aztec and Maya progenitors. Education is a feeble but growing spark, in respect to formal schools. Probably two thirds of the population over ten can neither read nor write. But great numbers speak two languages-their Indian dialect and Spanish; while education in the sense of preparation for life is compulsory for every village boy and girl. By the time they are fifteen they have mastered the arts of house building, cookery, agricultural work, and may have mastered a genuine handicraft such as pottery making or sarape weaving. .

By way of illustrating the self-supporting village not dependent on a region, come with me on horseback up a trail so steep that we must dismount and walk from time to time. Up a roaring river we go, and into deep pine woods. At 9,000 feet we come out upon cleared cornfields at frightful angles, and the little town of San Pablo Cuatro Venados in the State of Oaxaca. There are a fine old church, a school, a rickety town hall, a little plaza,, and 85o people according to the 1930 census. It has gained just 200 inhabitants since 1910. A priest makes the rounds twice a year, and a government teacher somewhat oftener. Three per cent of the couples living together are officially married. Two herb women care for the town's health. There are about ten fiestas a year, and the Day of the Dead is observed with much ceremony. The old cacique system of local government is in effect, and the ancient communal land system. Villagers hold their lands only so long as they cultivate them. When crops cease, the fields go back to the community for redistribution. Corn is the main food, supplemented with peaches, apples, honey and beans. Timber is exchanged for a certain amount of strong drink. Fuel is plentiful; charcoal is burned. Beautiful hand-woven sarapes are made on local looms. A little cotton cloth is toted up the dizzy trail. This, with the brandy, is about all the outside world provides. There is an old Zapotec idol not far from the town, and from time to time one may find fresh turkey blood in front of it. By and large the village is sufficient unto itself. It will of course send its delegation to the great fiestas in the city of Oaxaca. Its own fiestas are not visited by people of other villages. It is perched, flanked with pine, on one of the most commanding sites in the world-a site chosen hundreds of years ago as a watch-tower for the Zapotec army.

Tepoztlan is lower, larger, less backward, and 5oo miles to the north. It is part of an economic region which comprehends a good fraction of the state of Morelos say an area half as big as Connecticut. It has seven encircling hamlets locked in its immediate economic orbit. The great bulk of its food is home grown, and nearly all the rest obtained in regional exchange. Practically all its shelter is home manufactured. Not much of its clothing originates at home but most of it is cut and sewed there. Of other things, the home area provides the bulk-pack animals, wooden saddles, drums, fireworks, rope, candles, coffins, ploughs, hoes. From regional exchange come tobacco and gunpowder.

The above accounts form perhaps ninety-five per cent (this is my own estimate) of the economic budget of Tepoztlan. This is the tonnage provided by the region from its own soil. The other five per cent comes from the outside world.

The inroads of the machine into Tepoztlan may be simply told. As everywhere the phenomenon advances in two divisions, material and spiritual: the iron horse and his products, and the behaviour patterns he engenders.

Of the former we find:

Specific machines

Sewing-machines
A small flour mill
One or two phonographs
probably a radio
A typewriter in the church
Firearms
Clocks and watches

Factory and refinery products

Cotton cloth
Store clothes
Steel tools and implements
Printed matter and paper
Kerosene
Alcohol tins
Furnishings for the houses of los correctos
Rebosos and coloured handkerchiefs
Cheap jewellery
Canned goods
Bottled goods
Matches
Musical instruments

These things make life in Tepoztlan a little easier, but the interpenetration is so light that, with the exception of cotton cloth, all could be given up without disrupting the economic structure. The town would slide back to say the time of Maximilian, with no serious dislocations.

In respect to behaviour, the impact of the machine age is even more nebulous. Failing that great modifier of habits, the automobile, it consists of a growing stock of new ideas rather than of specific acts. A few Tepoztecans have been to Mexico City, ridden in motor cars, read the newspapers, seen the movies at Cuernavaca. Some have learned not to feel too uncomfortable in the hideous clothes affected by western civilization. Some doubtless look forward to the day when Fords will come chugging for the first time in history upon the cobbled streets of the town. One might conclude that the machine age has affected local behaviour hardly at all, but does affect the behaviour of Tepoztecans when they are, for example, in Mexico City. A slight mental shift has taken place, but it finds expression only in foreign parts.

In Middletown, for all its location in the western cornbelt rather than the urbanized east, both machines and behaviour flowing therefrom are transcendent. There is one motor car to every five people, a radio in every other house, a wholesale retreat from the kitchen to the delicatessen store, an enormous subdivision of labour to the practical extinction of the jack-of-all-trades, a growing emphasis on money as the measure of all things, a growing uneasiness as to one's economic security, chronic unemployment, declining illiteracy in letters and mounting illiteracy in the knowledge of the worth of the goods one buys, a sharp increase in longevity, a growth in clubs and organizations at about the same dizzy rate which marks the decline in church activity, while "most people over thirty get their recreation sitting down."

A hundred years ago, Middletown, as a frontier community, would have possessed many of the behaviour pat. terns and something of the philosophy of Tepoztlan. Today the whole pattern has been uprooted and flung aside. There is no trace of local or regional economic selfsufficiency; the community is locked beyond recall into the highly delicate and interdependent economy of two hemispheres. If rubber from islands in the Indian Ocean should fail, the life of Middletown would go to pieces. Without tires for its cars it would be a child lost in the wilderness. Ninety-nine per cent of the products its own people make are shipped to the four quarters of the globe. Only one per cent is locally consumed. If these far markets fail-as they do today-repercussion is quick and deadly. The men of Middletown are on the streets. Cash they must have or starve. As wages and cash decline, purchasing power sinks with them, local merchants cease to make their usual attenuated margins, "for rent" signs appear on Main Street, a bank gurgles and expires, carrying the savings of a thousand households.

Middletown in the upswing of the business cycle is a gaudy and in some respects an exciting spectacle. But when the spiral starts downward it is one of the saddest spots on earth.

As new forms of life emerge, new parasites appear for their bedevilment. The business cycle is the microbe especially created to plague, if not ultimately to kill, the vast, sprawling body of mechanical civilization. In`this body, Middletown is but a single cell, while Tepoztlan is aloof and unincorporated, an organic, breathing entity. The questions before us are two: Should Tepoztlan be incorporated? Will it be incorporated?

To the first we can answer an unhesitating no. In the spring of 1929, two years ago, when Middletonians were watching their stocks, retained on margin, advance ten points a day; when factory furnaces were roaring-we might have had a shade of hesitation. No judgment was quite sane as the fifth great period of American prosperity drew to its dramatic close. Today it is only too evident that Tepoztlan had better remain aloof until a serum has been developed for the parasites of overproduction and unemployment.

The question as to whether Tepoztlan will be thrust into the system, willy-nilly, is at once more complicated and more to the point. Mexico City has been all but pushed in; even little Merida in Yucatan is suffering from the depression today-though far less poignantly than Middletown. Mexicali in Lower California reports, in the spring of 1931, food riots with soldiers guarding grocery stores. Here Indians have lost self-sufficiency and become dependent on wages. Mexico as a whole is not a completely self-sustaining area, but with flattened curve, goes up and down in the business cycle. I do not clearly see the handwriting on the wall which commits Tepoztlan to western civilization. I realize that many thoughtful observers do see it. My reasons I shall reserve for a later chapter, where the attempted answer to this basic question more properly belongs.

We have tried to sketch the economic pattern of the Mexican village. From its regional independence flow certain material values, particularly noticeable at this time of world-wide depression. In addition there are psychological values permanently operating; values which always belong to a stable handicraft culture. Money as a force in itself is not important in Tepozitlan; it is not important in most of Mexico. Some years ago an agricultural concession was granted to a friend of mine, who was also a friend of labour. He found that the going rate of wages in this particular area for hacienda work was twenty-five centavos a day. He examined his estimated cost sheets and concluded that he could afford to double the prevailing rate. Fifty centavos seemed little enough. The peons were duly hired and work begun. At the end of the first week the men were paid at the advanced figure. Everybody seemed pleased. Monday morning when the gates were thrown open not a soul appeared; operation's came to a standstill. A few interviews shortly established the reason. The peons could make ends meet on twenty-five centavos a day; they had earned in a week enough for two weeks, so why should they work any more? Why indeed? Utterly devoid of pecuniary behaviour, their logic was unassailable. The only way my friend could secure a steady labour supply was to swallow his principles and reduce wages to twenty-five centavos.

Another authenticated case is less amusing. Some years ago a sugar plantation was organized in Tehuantepec. Labour was hard to get. The neighbouring Zapotec Indians were not interested. The company bribed a jefe politico (local political boss) to arrest the Indians on a trumped-up charge-alleged drunkenness is usual in such cases-and deliver them at so much a head to the hacienda. The victims made a few polite motions of an agricultural nature and presently escaped to their village. Here were fine mango trees, manna coming down from heaven. Why work for aliens in the hot fields? In desperation, the company finally sent its own men in the night and cut down the mango trees, starving the village into serfdom.

An Indian carpenter did some cabinet work for a woman I know in Mexico City. After he had left she discovered another piece of work for him to do. For three weeks my friend tried to locate the man, with increasing impatience. Finally she found him.

"Why haven't you come before?"

"Senorita !"

"I owed you five pesos for the other work, and you did not come."

"Ah, that was the reason. If I had come, you would have thought it was to get the money."

Not cash but goods, indeed frequently not goods but happiness and peace of mind, is the prevailing Mexican desire. This centres values in innately valuable things, rather than in the artificial, unreal things-rows of figures, ink marks on ledgers, pieces of engraved paperwhich govern us in the north. We have first to grope our way through this heavy litter of symbols to find life itself-and increasingly we never find it. To the village Mexican, life lies clear and sharp beneath his eyes, its values uncoated with cash considerations. Yet American business men and bankers go to Mexico to return puzzled if not infuriated. These people, they say, are lazy, shiftless, improvident. They must be taught to save, they must be taught to want more things, they must be taught the value of money. This is all very well from the point of view of bankers who want interest, and business men who want installment contracts. But it is exceedingly ill from the point of view of Mexicans. Why should they be made money-conscious to their everlasting torture?

Another psychological asset is the sense of economic security. Many students believe that the greatest single liability of American life is the lack of this sense. Following, like the docile folk we are, the advice of our advertisers and our captains of industry, we buy and buy, we spend and spend, ignoring the still small voice of sales resistance. The wheels of industry must be kept turning, even if the installment payments do come round like a wheel of fire. We keep right up to the margin; and many of us, attending to that newest school which proclaims that the successful man is one who is not afraid to bond himself, go valiantly over it. But the uneasy thought of where we are finally coming out will not down. What is going to happen to us in our declining years, aye when middle age arrives-- with industry refusing to hire men over forty? What is going to happen to us in a business slump, if we cannot go a month on our cash reserves? What is going to happen when the boss installs the new machine he is talking about, or when the time-study men come into the shop, or when the next merger fastens upon our particular line, and begins to prune its overhead costs? What is the use of sending Jim through college when there is a plague of college men in business, and Helen to the School of journalism when there are twice as many students as actual reporters? The house and the car, the overstuffed Avenport and the new refrigerator are all very nice, but they are not paid for yet, and how long are they going to last? . . . This editorial says we ought to spend more. Is our duty never to end?

The future hangs like a great black raven over Middletown. In Tepoztlan the sky is clear. The corncrib takes the place of mortgage and installment contract. There is no car, no electric refrigerator, but there is economic security.

Finally we have to note an acute difference between the two cultures which revolves around the word function. Handicraft peoples produce only for a specific need; all their output is essentially custom made. They fabricate the articles which enable them to cope with their environment, and little more. Their houses, clothing, utensils are. adapted to maximum economy, with no more motions than are absolutely necessary, (except when housewives grind corn). On top of prime essentials they demand the ageless human overlay of non-material goods-- light, colour, dances, music, festival, worship-- again with maximum economy.

With us, on the other hand, there is no clean-lined functional pattern. With our billion horsepower we can defy our environment, and do. We can even defy our human nature, and do-as when we keep young people from marrying until an average age of twenty-eight. We have a wide margin for experimentation, in the process of which we tend to forget function altogether. Necessities for us are a blurred mass of both the functional and non-functional; we have lost all idea of where one leaves off and the other begins; we have no conception of what our basic biological and psychological needs are. As a result a vast tonnage of our production serves no need save emulation, keeping up with the Joneses and conspicuous consumption. Our clothes make us abnormally uncomfortable; our food abnormally constipated; our apartments and our cities abnormally compressed and deafened; our recreations abnormally weary. We are surfeited with an undigested mass of functionless material, fabricated by the mile in mass-production units, sold to us by appealing to our baser appetites. We are cluttered up with things essentially meaningless, and, being human, we flounder, puzzled and perplexed, trying to find the values which will give meaning back to life.

Tepoztlan has never lost these values. It works, plays, worships, attires itself, composes its dwellings in the normal rhythm of homo sapiens upon this planet, without abnormal effort, without waste. It knows what life is for because every move it makes contributes to a legitimate function of living. Or better, it never bothers its head about the meaning of life. It lives.

But with all these assets of the spirit Tepoztlan is no rustic Utopia. Certain attributes of western culture could not fail to improve and enrich the processes of living. Properly controlled, only the gloomiest of backwardgazing philosophers would paste a sign "no trespassing" across its gates.

Indeed there is little question even of proper control involved in applying modern hygiene and sanitation. I should not hesitate to lift this department out of Middletown, and transpose it in toto. This does not cover of course the patent medicine shelves of Middletown's glittering drug stores, or the educational brochures released therewith. But I would take the doctors-- split fees and all-the nurses, the clinics, the hospitals, the city health department, the sewers, the water supply, the dentists (who would not have much to do), an osteopath or two-- the whole kit and kaboodle of them, and dump them down without a tremor. The herb doctors may not be so dangerous as their cousins, the patent-medicine men, but they have served their time.

Again, every Mexican village without exception could stand a reasonably stiff injection of scientific agriculture. Control would need to be exercised here to guard against overproduction and overspecialization. An immense amount of dreary work could be avoided by a better knowledge of crops, seeds, fertilizers, irrigation, stock-raising, and a larger cash crop grown for ready absorption in Mexican cities-- which are now buying corn from Africa, eggs and butter from Texas, vegetables and fruits from California. Mexico could readily be fed entirely from her own soil, but it will need modern science, better tools, steel ploughs, and a few brigades of tractors to bring about this common-sense result. In the five months I zigzagged through the hinterland, I noted precisely two tractors.

Thirdly, I see no ominous concomitants in a wide extension of electric power, properly controlled. The Electric Bond and Share Company is busy in Mexico, and, judging by its activities in the north, control vesting exclusively in this single-minded organization might leave something to be desired. There is 6,000,000 horsepower to be derived from water falling down Mexico's mountains, and if a sizable fraction of this were linked to longdistance transmission lines and deployed into the larger villages, we can readily see some excellent uses to which it might be put, including:

Lighting.
Milling of corn to save housewives interminable grinding. Refrigeration, thus stimulating the milk supply, now abnormally low. To say nothing of the unsavoury condition of the present meat supply.
To operate cottage industries through the use of small motors-sewing, pottery, looms, metal work, wood turning.
To operate cement and mortar mixers. Mexico, a country of stone, uses huge amounts of these materials. To operate pumps for good drinking water and for irrigation. Both are sadly lacking at the present time. Some villages, indeed, like the hamlet of Santa Catarina near Tepoztlan, go completely dry for several months a year, suffering a grave deficiency of water both internally and externally. Irrigation is desperately needed in many areas. Electric power would help provide it. Cornfields at sixty degree angles on 10,000-foot mountains would be less mandatory. Forests could come back where they belong.

A telegraph line and one long-distance telephone could hardly do a village any harm. In emergency they might do it a large amount of good. They would serve, furthermore, to unify the country, give it more of a common purpose than it now possesses. There is such a thing as being too independent.

At mention of a motor road my eyes drift to the ceiling. It would be both a blessing and a curse. Trucks would save an unconscionable amount of slogging over mountain trails with a hundred pounds on one's back, or steering- a plodding burro thereover. Supplies, newspapers, the world outside, could come flooding in. But in that flood, alas, might come car ownership, snobbery, motor accidents-- Mexicans are even worse drivers than we-- high-powered salesmen, the annual model racket, cheap factory goods, and cheap urban ideas. I am not so sure about the motor road unless it were most carefully and specifically controlled.

Movies, talkies, radios are in the same general category. Sensibly used, as they are in Russia, they could be made instruments of unparalleled educational and social value; the more so as most Mexican villagers cannot read. Used on the Hollywood, sponsored-broadcasting formula they would be a useless, if not vicious, expense. Hygiene, sanitation, improved agricultural and handicraft methods, dietetics, could all be enormously stimulated by movies and radio, intelligently directed. News of the world could be communicated, the vast cultural inheritance of Mexico could be graphically shown, the unification of the nation actively promoted.

Dreams only. But enough to make it evident that we are not quarrelling with the machine as such, nor are sentimentally satisfied with machineless men. Between, however, cleaving to what they have with its manifest shortcomings, and bolting industrialism raw as Middletown has bolted it, they had best hold hard to their basic pattern.

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