John Carlin: Spanish Pride

Original Article: El orgullo espaƱol
Source: La Vanguardia
Published: 6 Jan 2019

At the top of my list of New Year’s resolutions, the most difficult, and the most important, is to recognize that I can be wrong. It’s difficult for anyone, even more so for someone like me who practices the role of a professional columnist, and still more for those of us with Spanish blood.

The Spanish often say of themselves that what defines them is envy. I don’t agree with that because I don’t believe they suffer from this weakness any more than the rest of the species. I think — and my other half, from Madrid, confirms it with alarming frequency — that what really distinguishes the Spanish from the rest of humanity is their exorbitant pride. This has its admirable side, of course: The loyalty to principles, to honor, and so on. But taken to extremes, it can be dangerous. Pride gets placed ahead of pragmatism; what is perceived as moral integrity is prioritized over a solution to the problem; and one ends up shooting oneself in the foot. He loses friends, or a job, or money, or elections, or prestige, or an empire.

We are talking about an enormous problem, intrinsic to humanity, that for the good of oneself and his neighbor, one has to attempt to overcome. But it’s not enough to say that one is going to recognize his errors. If we leave it there, the resolution won’t last even two days. We have to develop new mental habits. Here is my list of six, for 2019 and beyond.

Number one: Be critical with oneself, look in the mirror and ask: Am I hanging on, come hell or high water, to this position or that political party or this leader primarily based on facts, or out of fear of baring my fragile self-esteem? Opinion and ego are so indivisibly united that to question the first is to erode the second. Therefore, will I have the moral strength to question the link that I have forged between my identity and being for or against a political party, or worse, being for or against a redemptive figure like Donald Trump, or Fidel Castro, or Jair Bolsonaro, or Carles Puigdemont? Will I be able to play devil’s advocate with myself and question my rejection, for example, of Trump or his little brother Pablo Casado, or, while we’re at it, of Brexit or Catalan independence? We’ll see.

Number two: Make the effort that is so necessary and so unusual to put myself in the shoes of my enemy, of my rival. There are few things against which I have ranted more in public and in private than the Americans who voted for Trump. The problem is not that the man is an absolute idiot (a prejudice that I suppose I also should question), according to my point of view, repeated thousands of times, so much as that there are 60 million people who believe that he is deserving of being the president of a Boy Scouts troop, or much worse, of the mightiest power on the planet. To attempt to understand why they did it, without believing the easy explanation that they are Neanderthals with poor taste, would be useful as an exercise to also understand Vox and other clones of the Trump phenomenon that are emerging around the world.

Number three: Simplify. It’s true that I already do this with predictable frequency, but I believe it’s always worthwhile to doubt the wisest explanations offered of certain political events. For example, the electoral victories of Trump, and Brexit, and the authoritarian regimes in Eastern Europe and Brazil, are often attributed to supposedly inevitable historical forces such as globalization or inequality or the suffering of the white male. None of this would have occurred to anyone, at least not in the US, if Hillary had defeated Trump in the 2016 elections by the same slim margin by which Trump defeated her. It’s worth considering that maybe one major reason why “the orange elephant” (as a US senator calls him) won is simply that Clinton was a terrible candidate. She was infinitely better prepared to occupy the White House, without question, but her personality and career grated so much on so many people, especially on many undecided voters, that it was impossible for them to vote for her. I really doubt, incidentally, that she lost because she’s a woman. I doubt more that Sandro Rosell will continue in preventive custody for legitimate and legal reasons, and even more so when I see that the pigs of La Manada (the “Wolf Pack”) are free. But maybe I should think about all that as well.

Number four: Don’t give in to the temptation to label an entire group of human beings as if they were insects, or in my case, regarding those who voted for Brexit as “hooligans.” The most offensive stupidity that I have come across this past year has been the tendency of certain Spanish nationalists to call Catalan independence supporters “Nazis.” More common, in more places, is the tendency or the reflex to accuse people of being “racist” or “misogynist” based on very little information or perspective. “Friends,” the inoffensive television series from the 90s, was accused by thousands of Twitter users at the beginning of last year of being homophobic and transphobic. It’s amazing how people want to feel offended!

Number five: Don’t get into messes unnecessarily. For example, do not voice my opinion, never and not under any circumstances (although perhaps I already put my foot in it in the prior paragraph) on transgender issues. I don’t understand it and it’s not my business. Not yet, at least. I wish peace and happiness for all people of the world, but there is a limit to the number of subjects about which I have the time and the need to think and speak. However, yes, I think about the #MeToo phenomenon, but I resolve not to speak about it in public, much less write about it in a column, this year. Since the storm that Matt Damon unleashed when he suggested that there exists a difference between a pat on the bottom and rape, I have understood that as a man I have much to lose and little to gain by broaching the subject.

Number six: Don’t make predictions. Not a day passes in which someone somewhere in the world asks me what I think will happen with Brexit. I have no idea. Nor does anyone else. But the worst thing about making a prediction of this kind is not that one has nothing useful to say, but rather that one risks his pride. If your prediction comes true, great. But if you are wrong, you look foolish, and that’s the worst thing that can happen to someone with Spanish blood.

Oh, and a wish for 2019: That a radical reform of the Spanish judicial system is carried out. That’s enough already, isn’t it?