In English Voices From Spain

Houston, we have a (political?) problem.

This is a version of the post first published here: Derecho Mercantil España. Jesús Alfaro.

The brightest – and many of the most obtuse – minds of the Spanish left have introduced into the Catalan question the notion that there is a ‘political problem’ which the Government, according to them, refuses to admit to. Yet saying that we have ‘a political problem’ which we must face does not at all mean that the latter must be resolved by granting that those who say we have a political problem are even partially right. Because political problems are not like technical problems. When the Apollo XIII astronaut uttered his now famous quote, he was referring to a technical problem, because technical problems are either solved or they cause, in that particular case, the rocket’s explosion.

Political problems are never definitely solved. Within a political society, agreements are reached which are necessarily provisional. Sometimes one part of the group gets its way in these provisional agreements, and sometimes another part does.

Let us consider the Basque Economic Agreement. A great deal of Spaniards consider it a mechanism granting its neighbours a privilege in terms of per capita public expenditure. The Basque Economic Agreement is a first-order ‘political problem’, in my humble opinion. And since Spaniards living in other regions got the short end of the stick when the agreement was written into the Constitution, they must deal with the frustration of this defeat and move on until another opportunity arises.

Non-nationalist Catalans have also been defeated many times in the last forty years. They have felt the frustration of not being able to choose what language their children are educated in; they have seen nationalist slogans take over life and coexistence in Catalonia. And they’ve taken their frustration and dealt with it. Because that’s what being an adult means: the ability to tolerate frustration. Children and adolescents have low frustration-tolerance. If they don’t get what they want they get angry, often reacting aggressively. No educator would dream of treating children with low frustration-tolerance by telling their parents and others who interact with them that they have ‘an educational problem’ and that they must give in to the children’s demands, even if not in full.

That hundreds of thousands or millions of Catalans want independence, and that another few million want more powers devolved, those powers they already have to become ironclad, or a high-speed train from Barcelona to Almería, does not mean that those of us who make up the rest of society have to treat them as people with low frustration-tolerance. It’s a fact of life that one does not always get what one wants, and that many don’t either. And the best (worst) proof is History itself. Those with low frustration-tolerance end up taking up arms to get what they want through the use of force.

Of course we have a political problem in Catalonia. But political problems are not necessarily solved the same way technical ones are. There is a fairly effective alternative, which –to continue the simile with low frustration-tolerance children– is to send kids to the ‘thinking corner’. This is the right attitude for the teacher to take when demands are disproportionate, unjustified or immoral.

As established in International Law, there is no need to respond to the significant number of Catalans who harbour a desire for independence. They’re neither oppressed nor lacking self-government. That they have complaints is nothing special. Thus, their demands must be channelled through the same procedures leading to every other ‘provisional agreement’ mentioned above.

Let’s stop stating the obvious using terms that disguise the true nature of the debate. Because saying ‘we have a political problem’ that must be solved the way technical problems are inevitably leads to giving in –to a lesser or greater extent– to those with low frustration-tolerance – that  is, to the least cooperative members of society.


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