Mexican ruin

"The feeling of solitude . . . is a longing for a place."

Octavio Paz

Conquest & Colonialism

“They are impalpable and invincible because they are not outside us but with in us …they are supported by a secret and powerful ally, our fear of being …Their origins are in the Conquest, the Colonial period.…”

The Labyrinth of Solitude, p. 73.

Conquest | Religion | Aztec suicide? | Spanish character | Labor | Catholicism | History | Divinity | Gender | Revolt of 1692 | The Other Mexico

rational and intuitive unity

"Ancient beliefs and customs are still in existence beneath western forms."

"The Chichimecas wandered among the deserts and uncultivated plains. . . . And the last centuries of Mesoamerican history can be summed up as the history of repeated encounters between waves of northern hunters -- almost all of them belonging to the Nuhuatl family -- and the settled populations. The Aztecs were the last to enter the Valley of Mexico."

"founding a Universal Empire."

p. 89.

"Mesoamerica was made up of a complex (indigenous) of autonomous peoples, nations and cultures, each with its own traditions. . . ."

p. 90.

"common to all (Mesoamerican) cultures: an agriculture based on maize, a ritual calendar, a ritual ball game, human sacrifices. solar and vegetation myths. . . ."

p. 91.

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"Those societies were impregnated with religion."

"This synthesis . . . . was the work of of a caste located at the apex of the social pyramid. The systematization, adaptations and reforms undertaken by the priestly caste show that the process was one of superimposition, which was also characteristic of religious architecture."

Everything was (or seemed to be) prepared for Spanish domination."

p. 92.

Diego Rivera on the conquest

"The arrival of the Spanish seemed a liberation to the people under Aztec rule."

p. 93.

Their final struggle was a form of suicide, as we can gather from all the existing accounts of that grandiose and astounding event."

The gods had abandoned him. The great betrayal with which history of Mexico begins was not committed by the Tlaxcaltecas or by Moctezuma and his group: it was committed by the gods. No other people have ever felt so completely helpless as the Aztec nation felt at the appearance of the omens, prophecies and warning that announced its fall."

"Indian . . . cyclical conceptions of time."

"Time for the Aztecs" as with all indiginistas was "a substance, or fluid perpetually being used up."

p. 93.

"But time -- or more precisely, each period of time-- was not only something that was born, grew up, decayed and was reborn. It was also a succession that returned: one period of time ended and another came back."

. . . the internal conclusion of of one cosmic period and the commencement of another. The gods departed because their period of time was at an end. . . ."

pp. 93-94.


"Aztec deities express a duality whose traditions correspond to "the contradictory impulses that motivate all human beings and groups. The death-wish and the will-to-live conflict in each one of us."

pp. 95-96.

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Spain was still a medieval nation, and many of the institutions she brought to the new world. like many o of the men who established them, were also medieval. At the same time, the discovery and conquest of America was a Renaissance undertaking. Therefore also Spain also participated in the Renaissance, although it is sometimes thought that her overseas conquests-- the result of Renaissance science and technology and even Renaissance dreams and utopias-- did not form a part of that historical movement."

p. 97.

" . . . , But the Spanish will to create a world in its own image was also evident. In 1604, less than a century after the fall of Tenochtitlán" there is evidence of "a will to unity."

p. 99-100.

"By determining the salient features of colonial religion, whether in its popular manifestations or in those of its most representative spirits, we can discover the meaning of our culture and the origins of many of our later conflicts."

p. 100.

"Colonial society was an order built to endure."

p. 101.

"Catholicism was the center of colonial society because it was the true fountain of life, nourishing the activities, the passion, the virtues and even the sins of both lords and servants, functionaries and priests, merchants and soldiers."

Catholicism made colonial order "a living organism. . . . a universal order open to everyone," through baptism. "

p. 101.

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mexico"It is clear that the reason the Spanish did not exterminate the Indians was that they needed their labor for the cultivation of the vast hacienda and the exploitation of the mines. . . . but the fate of the Indians would have been very different if it had not been for the Church."

p. 101-102.

"To belong to the Catholic faith meant that one found a place in the cosmos."

p. 99-100.

"In the strictest sense, no society can be justified while one or another form of oppression subsists in it."

p. 103.

"But the creation of a universal order, which was the most extraordinary accomplishment of colonialism, does justify that society and redeems it from its limitations."

"a society in which all men and all races found a place, a justification, a meaning."

p. 103.

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"History has the cruel reality of a nightmare, and the human grandeur consists of our making beautiful and lasting works out of the real substance of that nightmare. Or, to put it another way, it consists in transforming the nightmare into vision; in freeing ourselves from the shapeless horror of reality – if only for an instant – by means of creation."

p. 104.


"This paradoxical but real situation explains a good part of our history and is the origin of many of our psychic conflicts. Catholicism offered a refuge to the descendents of those who had seen the extermination of their ruling classes, the destruction of their temples and manuscripts, and the suppression of the superior forms of their culture; but for the same reason that it was decadent in Europe, it denied them any chance of expressing their singularity. It reduced the participation of the faithful to the most elementary and passive religious attitudes."

p. 105.

The Mexican is a religious being and his experience of the divine is completely genuine.

Chamula Amerindians or First Nations are "Indiginistas".


Spanish Catholicism versus Indiginistas' faith




Mystery religion



The trinity


earth deities

Father, Son, Spirit


two souls : the Chulel is the soul that dwells in the animal and the other dwells in the body.

Order from rational hierarchy


cosmic order from Sun deities

condemns the world to save the single individual soul


personal salvation only as part of the salvation of society and the cosmos.

"In many instances Catholicism only covers over the ancient cosmogonic beliefs."

"Under these conditions, the persistence of the pre-Cortesian background is not surprising. The Mexican is a religious being and his experience of the divine is completely genuine. But who is his  god?  . . . . In many instances Catholicism only covers over the ancient cosmogonic beliefs."

pp. 106-107."


"Therefore the Chamula says that thanks to the presence of God, nature becomes active."

p. 107.

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Sor Juana de la Cruz.

She "penetrates reality" as opposed to others describing the world she did not "transmute it into a delightful surface."

"In her Paz discovered "a clash of opposing tendencies that she could not reconcile."

p. 112- 113.

Sor Juana lived in "A world that denied the value of doubt and inquiry."

p. 114.

"It was a world open to participation, was even a living cultural order, but it was implacably closed to all personal expression and all adventure: it was a world closed to the future."

Suppressed after the riot of 1692 and Pueblo revolt of 1696 in New Mexico.

"To be ourselves we had to break with this exitless order."

p. 116.


European rationalism.

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THE OTHER MEXICO (Oct. 30, 1969)

"the ancient beliefs and customs are still in existence beneath Western forms."

p. 208.

This mixing is called El Mestizäje.

Ninety percent of the present day population of Mexico is considered to consist of "mestizos."


Labyrinths, or a maze is used as a metaphor for the idea of time
"Labyrinth -- one of the most fertile & meaningful mythical symbols, the TALISMAN, or the object of restoring health and freedom to a people at the center of a sacred area."

p. 209.

"Thanks to the presence of God, nature becomes active."

"The idea of a continuous present turns all the presences in which reality manifests itself into phantasms."
"The conception of time as a fixed present and as pure actuality is more ancient than that of chronometric time" ( a rationalization of the passage of durational moments).

p. 210.

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June 9, 1692.

On This Day in 1692; Food riot in Mexico City


Which members of society are instrumental in revolutionary movements?

This [commentary] uses a 1692 riot in Mexico City to draw lessons about the danger to social stability when privileged groups suddenly lose power, prestige, socioeconomic status, etc. The particular example involves the rising price of grain, and there are obvious connections to rising grain prices today, but the lesson is more general and illustrates the societal reaction when change makes things difficult for groups "who are used to ... material well-being and political respect":



On this day in 1692, a massive riot broke out in Mexico City. The ultimate cause of the riot seems to have been the failure of both the wheat and maize crops the previous autumn and the resulting shortage of grain, but to call this event a “corn riot,” as many have done, is to simplify things overmuch. The viceroy of New Spain, the Conde de Galve, did in fact go to great lengths to supply the city with grain, often at the expense of outlying areas.

The problem, however, at least for the urban poor, was how to get that grain. While supplies in the city were not severely impacted by the overall shortage, prices certainly were, and they climbed dramatically throughout the course of the spring. The system of grain distribution in Mexico City at the time was based on a public granary (pósito) and accompanying grain exchange (alhóndiga). As supplies came in from the agricultural hinterland they were deposited in the posito, which the government put a high priority on keeping stocked. Consumers could then come to the alhóndiga to buy grain from the pósito.

While the pósito and alhóndiga were maintained and overseen by the government, however, much of the grain kept and sold there was not actually publicly owned. Instead, the owners of the rural haciendas where it was grown shipped it to the city and sold it through agents. These agents agreed each day on the price to charge for grain, and they were all bound to stick to that price throughout the day. The alhóndiga, then, though government-sponsored, functioned more or less as a real private market, and was vulnerable to severe price swings such as those that occurred in the early months of 1692.

The government could, of course, change the operating procedures for the alhóndiga if it chose to, and a special meeting the viceroy called with the main city officials on April 29 considered instituting a price ceiling for maize. This proposal was not ultimately accepted, however, and the viceroy ended up following the advice of one of his advisers who suggested a more laissez-faire approach, under which the government would not interfere with prices and would simply let them rise, which would benefit farmers and encourage urban consumers to be more disciplined in their purchases.

While the economic logic here sounds eerily modern, the viceroy’s decision did nothing to help the struggling poor. By early June, supplies at the alhóndiga began to run out, forcing it to close early on June 6 and 7. On June 7 there were some injuries in scuffles between desperate consumers and overwhelmed vendors, so the viceroy ordered one of his major officials to oversee the proceedings the next day to keep things in line. When the grain inevitably ran out early on that day as well, the official was able to keep the peace by showing the restive crowd the empty bins in the pósito to prove that, contrary to persistent rumors, the authorities were not hoarding grain to benefit from the high prices.

Later, however, an angry crowd marched to the plaza. After asking for help at the archbishop’s palace and being rebuffed, the crowd came to the palace of the viceroy, who was away celebrating the Octave of Corpus Christi and was therefore not around to hear their grievances. This was the last straw, and the angry protesters soon began throwing stones at the overwhelmed palace guards and setting fire to the palace itself. The chaos soon spread to the other government buildings on the plaza, and as the riot progressed the participants turned from burning buildings to looting shops. The authorities were eventually able to regain control, but not before there had been significant destruction and theft.

The next morning, the authorities began to take stock of what had happened. The widespread perception, confirmed by the demographics of those killed, wounded and arrested in connection with the riot, was that the main instigators of the riot were Indians, who were widely distrusted and suspected by the Spanish elites despite (or perhaps because of) the fact that their labor was essential to the smooth functioning of Mexican society.

The authorities cast a wide net and arrested Indians based on the mere possession of suspiciously nice clothing or other goods (or coins of higher value than ordinary workers generally earned). A court was hastily set up to try cases, and the normally strict rules of evidence were relaxed, especially for Indians, who could be convicted of looting based merely on being caught with apparently stolen goods. For those accused of more serious offenses, such as arson, torture was used to extract confessions, though with strict limitations and the chance to disavow such confessions later.

As a result, over the next few weeks 86 people were tried. Despite the atmosphere of public hysteria surrounding the trials, the most common outcome was actually acquittal, generally of those rounded up on little to no evidence in mass arrests. This result was likely helped by the fact that all of the accused were allowed legal representation.

Of those who were convicted, the largest number were sentenced to the traditional penalties of corporal punishment and forced labor, in keeping with the Spanish judicial system’s preference for useful punishments.

Ten, however, were executed, and the bodies of five more who had died in jail were publicly hanged. This is an extremely high proportion given the judicial system’s usual distaste for capital punishment, and it reflects the unusual circumstances under which the trials arose.

The vast majority of the accused, regardless of the eventual outcome of their cases, were Indians. This seems to confirm the sense among Spaniards that Indians were the main instigators of the riot, and while this feeling may well have led to a propensity to arrest Indians more than others, similar proportions hold for those killed in the riot and those who were wounded and went to city hospitals. The remainder of the accused were a mix of mestizos, blacks, and Spaniards, the other main groups in the city.

More surprising than the racial makeup of the rioters, perhaps, is their economic status. A considerable majority of those convicted of crimes were skilled artisans such as shoemakers, hatters and tailors, while the rest were unskilled workers such as porters. These were not, therefore, the poorest of the poor, despite the fact that most of them were Indians, who were generally the poorest group in Mexican society. Rather, they were those members of the poorer ranks of society who were relatively prosperous and not dependent on charity in their daily lives, and thus the people who were, in some ways, hardest hit by the grain shortage. They were the people who were usually able to afford food, but now suddenly could not. Coming from a group that was largely marginalized in society as a whole but also given certain privileges by the secular authorities and often represented in their disputes by the Church (note that the protesters went to the archbishop first and only went to the viceroy after getting no help there), they may also have felt entitled to more than they were getting.

This is a class of people, in fact, that is often thought to be instrumental in revolutionary movements more generally. It is usually not the most desperate peasants who overthrow tyrannical regimes, but the better-educated, more prosperous members of marginalized groups who have a little more time on their hands and who are used to a little more in terms of both material well-being and political respect. When times are tough and they feel like their socioeconomic status and political voice is slipping, they are apt to have both the motive and the means to do something about it.

These issues are not of mere academic interest. The rising prices of staple grains, particularly wheat and rice, have recently led to much concern over social stability in many poor and middle-income countries such as Egypt and India. This is a very difficult problem for governments to solve, and the experience of the Mexican authorities in 1692 is instructive in this respect. The viceroy’s decision not to set a price ceiling was unusual in his time, when the more common response of authorities was to try to control the economy as much as possible.

These days, the viceroy’s decision is what most economists would recommend, since price ceilings generally just lead to runs on supplies and resulting shortages and black markets with even higher prices. Since this isn’t what happened in Mexico, the viceroy’s judgment could, in some sense, be lauded. The outcome, however, was not actually all that good, and it’s hard to see what the government could have done to prevent it. Economic liberalism does not always lead to universal prosperity, especially in times of crisis, but times of crisis are hard for any other economic ideology too. Sometimes bad things just happen and there’s nothing you can do.


My discussion of the riot is based primarily on the account in R. Douglas Cope, The Limits of Racial Domination (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1994), supplemented by Natalia Silva Prada, La política de una rebelión: los indígenas frente al tumulto de 1692 en la Ciudad de México (Mexico City: El Colegio de México, Centro de Estudios Históricos, 2007). While Silva’s account differs from Cope’s in certain ways that I find unconvincing, on many subjects she includes more detail from the archival sources that both use than he does.

This above commentary taken from- "An Economists's viiew," 2008.


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