In English Voices From Spain

Playing by Ear

Originally published in Spanish: “Tocar de oído”. Manuel Arias Maldonado. The Objective.

6 Nov 2017

We talk much about the obstacle that, for the democratic government of contemporary societies, its complexity represents. And rightly so. But the Catalan crisis shows us that even the simplest aspects of democratic political organization constitute an endless source of citizen confusion. Which by the way reminds us how difficult is to build well-ordered societies and capable of pursue with fairness the fulfilment of basic principles as equality and liberty. Although we take for granted the relative welfare we enjoy, we should better remember every morning how fragile the basic agreements on which depends its continuity are.

As it seems, the citizenship exercise —not to mention the famous “critical thinking” in its most mundane expressions— frequently consists in playing by ear. We saw it last week in the pre-trial detention of the pro-sovereignty top leaders, based in a court ruling that is not too reprehensible with law and facts on hand. Separation of powers, rule of law, judiciary action —not exactly a 1.000-piece puzzle. But even such elemental institutional mechanisms, which were essentially conceived by John Locke in the 17th century, are frequently misunderstood.

So there are many citizens that claim to feel embarrassed by the Spanish democracy seeing that elected politicians are going to jail; they think the Spanish government has given instructions to the judge; they interpret that the imprisonment responds to opinion crimes; they serve as part-time lawyers or believe to see the Francoism’s shadow at each streetlamp. I am not talking about the pro-independence movement’s reaction; not even the reaction of those in the populist left-wing that in the last weeks have been playing to “regime’s end”, drawing on a dishonest doom-mongering. No: citizens who has a well-meaning opinion and yet they have a very superficial knowledge about the issues at stake —something that is evident the moment a conversation on the subject starts— are abound. It is understandable: working is tiring.

Also we would have to assume a well-meaning purpose from the foreign scholars —many of them long-credited with the most severe critics to liberal capitalism— that have sent a letter to the European Commission after the release of justice Lamela’s ruling. They demand a singular thing: the respect for the rule of law in Europe. That is, to suspend the effect of the Spanish laws, which application is inacceptable to them in the light of facts. Of course their interpretation is quite questionable. My colleagues, for example, think that the massive harassment to the Civil Guard last September 20th, sustained for at least 14 hours, were nothing but a pacific exercise of freedom of speech. “Those facts can never constitute an act of sedition”, they add, apparently without having read the Article 544 of our Criminal Code. The manifesto syndrome is combined here with the laziest orientalism. Jon Lee Anderson as a paradigm; Francoland as entertainment.

None of these should come a surprise. Our judgments depend on our knowledge. The lesser the knowledge —of facts, concepts, institutions and laws—, the poorer the judgement. Or the latter becomes most dependent on a superficial impression of events. After all, liberal democracy is an affective regime of opinion restricted by laws, which public sphere daily submits complexity to an avoidable simplification exercise. And where, as we melancholy find out in this critical moments, the simplest can be too complex as well.  

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