by Álex Dorado
“A growing world community of theorists defends the belief that the Earth is Flat, while the society around them flatly rejects it”. It is the synopsis of a recommended Netflix documentary about the phenomenon of “Terraplanism”, a rising trend in the United States which is surprising physicists, astronomers and social scientists.
How can a community not only survive, but even grow in the 21st century, around such a premise in a supposedly cultured and educated society? Mark Sargent, one of the leaders of the movement, provides the answer: “Science does nothing but throw us its mathematics to explain that the earth is spherical; whereas we, meanwhile say; ‘hey, look at the horizon, it is flat!'”
The movement is built around a way of approaching reality which privileges our subjective vision of things in the place of science, knowledge or institutions, all being cast into doubt, by way of conspiracy theories. Such intuitive and subjective perceptions of reality are in turn reinforced by confirmation bias; a cognitive process by which we select exclusively the information that confirms our beliefs and we surround ourselves by people who share such a singular vision of reality.
Anyone who has attempted to debate rationally with staunch defenders of the Procés (Comment: the Catalan pro-independence movement) and watch the mentioned documentary, will immediately trace the parallelism – let aside the obvious distances – between the manner in which both movements transform reality. Both currents are based on dogmas. If reality contradicts their dogma, the dogma is not changed but an alternative reality is created by exclusively selecting the facts that fit into it, discarding the rest.
According to the alternative reality of the Procés, the independence of Catalonia is nothing but a right. Not only is it a right but, in facing a Spain disguised as a black beast for the occasion, which represses and oppresses it, it is a necessity. As a result any behavior that was previously reprehensible becomes excusable, in order to obtain such a right.
That is why many supporters of the Procés tolerate the totalitarian tics and the xenophobic outbursts of many of their political and social leaders. That is also why those events which clash with the habits and practices of any liberal democracy, such as those of 6 y 7 de September 6 and 7, 2017, are seen as normal or even as a founding myth.
“Spain is not a democracy”; is one of the dogmas of the Procés, no matter how much evidence is provided on the quality of Spanish democracy. The fact that one of the most prestigious think-tanks in the world, such as The Economist Intelligence Unit, ranks Spain, year after year, as one of the only 20 full democracies in the world, does not matter.
It does not matter that for Freedom House we are one of the freest countries on the planet. It does not matter either if ours is one of the least condemned states by the European Court of Human Rights. It does not matter either that all EU institutions endorse the democratic quality of our country or that the Secretary General of the Council of Europe declares that he has no doubts about Spanish justice.
An article by Vicent Partal, a talk-show with Pilar Rahola or a speech by some hyperventilated Scottish lawyer confirming their intuitive perceptions regarding Spanish democracy around the Procés is more highly valued than any thoughtful analysis carried out by specialists, Think-Tanks or international organizations which contradicts them.
Another one of the recurring ideas stemming from the Procés is the supposed right for the self-determination of Catalonia. It is an important dogma since, if it were to exist, Spain would be violating the rights of the “people” of Catalonia, which, within the logic of the Procés, would give legitimacy to the movement of rebellion against a situation of violation of its fundamental rights. The only problem being it is a lie.
Article 1 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights of 1966 is the starting point, and often the finishing one, for debates on this topic with the staunch defenders of the Procés: “All peoples have a right to self-determination”. According to the wording of the text, Procés supporters have it clear in their minds: Catalonia, as a “people”, has a right to secession. There’s nothing else to speak about.
It serves no purpose if one tries to make anyone understand that it is impossible to equate their intuitive and colloquial concept of “a people” with the definition which international law has reserved for such a term in the context of the mentioned Covenant. It serves no purpose if you refer them to reading resolution 2625 (XXV) of the General Assembly of the United Nations, in which it is specified that, within the framework of the mentioned Covenant, the term “people” is referred to specific sovereign states, colonies or territories under foreign yoke, and that the right to self-determination cannot be understood in the sense of violating the territorial integrity of sovereign and independent states which are endowed with a government that represents the totality of the people belonging to their territory.
Nor is it worthwhile presenting to them any references to international practice nor highlighting the cases of Transnistria, Somaliland or South Ossetia as proof of the fallacy contained by their interpretation. It does not matter either if you refer them to the Law of Covenants, which establishes that in the interpretation of the aim and purpose of any Covenant, its context and the intention of the signing parties is to be taken into account – in that respect it would certainly be very difficult to convince anyone that Spain was thinking about Catalan secession, and Belgium about Flemish secession, when signing the Covenant together with other nations -.
It does not matter to them either if one points to the fact that, according to such an alternative vision of reality, every democracy in our environment would be violating such a supposed right when proclaiming within their respective constitutions the integrity of the nation or the state in its different dimensions.
It also does not matter either that Ban Ki Moon himself, in his capacity as Secretary General of the United Nations, declared that Catalonia is not a territory with the right to self-determination.
According to the reality of the Procés, all of the above does not matter, because the Covenant states “all peoples”: the horizon is flat. And when in doubt, one can always turn to some useful expert, such as Alfred de Zayas, who contradicts the vast majority of the academia and acts as a burning nail to hold on to, in order to feed one´s confirmation bias, just as there are useful scientists who deny climate change or the carcinogenic effects of tobacco.
There are other dogmas of the Procés that one could dismantle, such as the existence of political prisoners and exiles – something denied by specialized organizations such as Amnesty International, by international organizations and by European institutions; the insistent appeal to them by the leaders of the Procés only being disrespectful of actual political prisoners and exiles throughout the world-.
However, there will always be some kind of an organization based in Barcelona with a nice English name – International Trial Watch type -, an article in El Nacional.cat or a plaintive statement by Quim Torra (comment: president of Catalonia) ready to contradict us and against which we will not be able to fight.
The worrisome aspect about such a state of affairs is that we are wasting a lot of time and energy, debating whether the Earth is flat or not. Time and energy that we could be devoting to finding an improved fit for Catalonia and other parts of Spain within the rest of the country. Time and energy that we could be devoting to designing a federal state structure in which Catalonia and other parts of Spain would feel co-responsible and involved. Time and energy that we could be using to reevaluate what is the role of Catalan and of the rest of the languages of Spain.
Even more so, if we had time and energy left, we could be investing it into finding out why the rich live up to eleven years more than the poor in Catalonia itself.
In the context of the political and territorial conflict that involves the whole country, the Procés is just a symptom. A sample of a vulnerable society – Spain´s – with few available instruments to defend itself from nationalist and populist storylines that are beginning to emerge in other parts of the country. A society with significant shortcomings in terms of its knowledge on how our system of guarantees, state, EU and international institutions actually work, with lack of critical thinking and with few instruments necessary to evaluate expert resources, quality information and to support the struggle against propaganda. The Procés is, after all, only the tip of the iceberg.