Get to Know: Andrew Gavin MarshallGeopolitics
Tell us about yourself. What got you into politics and how would you define yourself politically (if at all)?
This is one of the toughest questions I could ever attempt to answer, since it is essentially asking for my life story, as it was not one or even a few events, experiences, individuals and understandings that led me into 'politics', but rather, a plethora of all and more, culminating in the general course of my life experience thus far. But for the sake of providing some semblance of an answer, I guess I would have to say that from as long as I can remember, I had a voracious appetite for reading, knowledge, and writing. I always knew I wanted to write, though for most of my young life I was focused on writing fiction - plays, scripts, short stories and novels - and thought that would have been the path to follow. Instead, my attention (in time) turned to having an interest in understanding more about the world around us, politically speaking. With that, I developed an appetite for learning all I could about this area.
When I was about 14 years old, the year that 9/11 and the "war on terrorism" began in Afghanistan, my closest friend at the time was an Afghan Muslim who had a good deal of family back home. This helped provide me with a different view of that being told to me by the media and talking heads of social discourse. In the coming years, I participated in anti-war demonstrations against the Iraq war, becoming increasingly critical and politicized in the process. That, too, extended to learning about the roles played by oil companies in foreign policy and in foreign countries, notably with the history of Shell in Nigeria, where the company was complicit in the hanging of nine peaceful activists who opposed Shell's environmental and social devastation of the Ogoni region of the Niger Delta.
My interests were always fostered, nurtured and provided with guidance by family and friends, and later, by a select few professors who helped to expand the views one is exposed to in contemplating and understanding the world around them. As my interests would expand, my understanding would take on an evolution of its own. That, with continued support from others - personally, professionally, intellectually - with continued participation in protests and support for social movements contributed to advancing my own political views and understandings. A notable event in my own development would certainly have been my first trip outside North America, when I was 19, traveling with my aunt and uncle to Uganda where we spent several weeks with a grassroots organization promoting indigenous African culture, language, spirituality and knowledge.
In short, I have been very lucky in my life, have had a great deal of guidance and support, and most importantly, I have been provided with the privilege and opportunity of freedom to advance my own education as I see fit, to follow my own intellectual development outside of institutional restrictions (such as school, which I dropped out of some years ago). I grew up in an upper middle class white suburb of Vancouver, British Columbia. As a white male in a Western country, I have had opportunities that do not exist for most people in this world. The only major aspect which can be said to 'separate' me from most of my peers is the fact that I am gay, which perhaps has provided me with a broader understanding of what it means to be a 'minority', and to know more personally concepts of repression, whether internal or external. I wouldn't say this was 'defining' for my political views and understandings, but it certainly aided their development.
If I had to 'define' myself politically, I would place myself within the 'anarchist' camp of political thought. I do not adhere to any one anarchist view, but rather, I adhere to anarchist concepts of criticizing power and hierarchy, to questioning the legitimacy of those power structures, and to trying to work toward something different and new. I believe in justice, freedom, equality and the search for truth, which is an eternal and evolving process. I believe that people are not meant to live in the conditions or situations of poverty, oppression and violence which the majority of the world's population are subjected to. I believe everyone deserves the same opportunities I have been fortunate enough - by luck of birth - to receive. I believe this is a world worthy of challenge and change, and humanity worthy of the effort. And precisely because I have had these opportunities, I believe it is my responsibility to do so.
How did you come to be involved with the Hampton Institute?
This attests to the positive aspects of social media. It was purely through mutual friends on Facebook that I became affiliated with Colin Jenkins, who one day asked me if I would be interested in participating in a new project he was starting up. When he explained the concept, there was simply no way I could pass on such a remarkable opportunity.
What do you think some of the goals of the Institute should be? What does the term "a working-class think tank" mean to you?
I think the goals the HI holds to be are worthy and just, to support social movements for justice, equality and peace, to oppose the state-capitalist system of domination, exploitation, war and impoverishment. The HI brings together a unique mix of people without a single view of ideology, though united in compassion for the oppressed, opposition to the oppressors, and a desire for change. In that sense, a 'working class think tank' seeks to expand the discussion, awareness and support for the long-oppressed working class at home and abroad, whose advocates and intellectuals have seemingly vanished from the public arena. To me, a 'working-class think tank' represents a challenge to the dominant focus of most - especially the most influential - think tanks in society, who represent the interests of the political, corporate and financial ruling class. A working class think tank works toward challenging the ruling class as advocates for those who are ruled over, to try to articulate the interests of those whose voice is largely silenced, and to try to work together to create a better world.
What led you to being in your particular department? What makes you so passionate about that area?
It was the department that was best suited to my interests and focus at the time (and was also one which did not already have an assigned chair!). But I have had a long-held interest in studying foreign policy, which reveals the hypocrisy, violence, and destruction of our so-called Western "liberal democracies." We can learn far more about our own societies, and thus, ourselves, from better understanding how our societies (and our so-called 'leaders') treat the rest of the world. If we wage wars, deal arms, bomb innocents, impoverish, destroy, pillage and act as the greatest purveyors of hate and destruction in the world, our self-proclaimed 'love' of concepts like democracy, freedom, justice and truth ring empty. I believe these are concepts worth adhering to, but only in an honest way. For that to become a possibility, we must first understand, honestly, the effects our societies have upon the rest of the world. On a personal note, as the chair of the Geopolitics Division, I enjoy the slight irony that a US -based think tank has a Canadian analyzing and discussing American foreign policy.
What are some of your political goals? What does "the revolution" look like to you?
In short: to keep going, to keep struggling, to keep trying. To research, to write, to create, to fail and learn along the way, and to experience and live my life not simply for myself, but as part of a larger whole, a longer story, and more important and evolving narrative. My own political goals as well as my belief of what 'revolution' would look like to me are perhaps too long to explain here. I do not believe revolution to be the usurpation of power and authority, but rather, the redistribution of power and authority to the population as a whole, for society to be organized from the bottom up, instead of the top-down, all of which would require an intellectual, philosophical, spiritual and social transformation on an individual, local and global scale. My personal political goals are geared toward doing what I can to contribute to these concepts of revolution.
What books and/or authors would you suggest to others?
It depends on the subject one is inquiring about. On foreign policy and history, Noam Chomsky, Howard Zinn, Edward Hermann, Michael Parenti, and William Blum, among many others. However, to be honest, I spend relatively little time reading the critical and analytical literature on foreign policy. I prefer to use them as guides, to help provide a framework and direction, but I frequently go to their sources for information, as well as track down my own. Whatever the region or event in foreign policy and geopolitical issues I am researching, I will consult critical voices for guidance, but go to the academic literature, mainstream news archives, official reports and declassified (or leaked) government documents.
What media sources do you use to keep up on current events?
I don't read much in terms of alternative news or critical news sources. I will occasionally read through articles from a multitude of critical and alternative sites, from TruthOut to Occupy.com and AlterNet, and a few others. But truth be told, I spend the majority of my time reading mainstream news and traversing the archives of the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, the Financial Times, Economist, and many others. This is not because I think the writers are good or the perspectives honest and accurate, which they overwhelmingly are not, but rather, when I draw from as many news sources as possible, I am able to collect many more individual pieces of information and facts. The trick (and learning experience) is in trying to figure out how to separate the 'facts' and 'information' from the falsities and interpretation which surround them within the mainstream media. Once I have collected extensive amounts of information and facts, a clearer picture begins to emerge, and, provided you simultaneously undertake historical research (preferably through academic literature and archives), the interpretation which I develop is usually far different from that in which the facts were first presented in the media. Ultimately, it is important to gather information from as many sources as possible, including both mainstream and alternative, but to remain critical of all the interpretations you come across.
What kind of music do you listen to? What are some of your favorite foods?
I love hip hop, R&B, soul and neo-soul, various rap artists, old rock, jazz, blues, and an assortment of African artists. Some examples of much-listened to musicians include: Ali Farka Touré, Amy Winehouse, Asa, Bilal, Billie Holiday, Black Keys, Bonga, Charles Bradley, Donny Hathaway, Erykah Badu, Etta James, Janelle Monae, Jurassic 5, Kendrick Lamar, Laura Mvula, Lee Fields, Miguel, Miriam Makeba, New Order, Nina Simone, Oddisee, Radio Citizen, Fugees, Lauryn Hill, Roots, and many others.
Foods: I'll eat almost anything. Love my Indian food, a weakness for pizza, and a never-ending love of chocolate.
What (apolitical thing) makes you happy? What are your hobbies or interests?
Watching movies, listening to music, having my TV shows I stay tuned in to, spending time with friends, Scotch, Whiskey, some other bad habits, people-watching on a sunny day with a coffee and a cigarette. Simple pleasures for the most part.