Manuel Cruz, 9 August 2021
Manuel Cruz is a philosopher and former president of the Spanish Senate
Image: Raquel Marín
Rights do not go by weight
I’ve always wondered how many anecdotes it takes to make a category. I do not ask myself out of epistemological concern or any other of similar tenor, related to my philosophical interest, but for very practical reasons, related to my surroundings. In Catalonia, it is extremely common that when someone regrets or censors certain behaviors – regrettable or reprehensible without the slightest reservation -, related to pro-independence positions, the aforementioned defend themselves arguing the exceptional and, therefore, unrepresentative nature of the behaviors in question. “They are a few isolated cases that do not allow general conclusions to be drawn,” is usually the response, already standardized, that is provided by the ruling party. Subsequently, it is also frequent that this response is complemented by directing the accusers back: that of acting in bad faith, knowing that the behaviors in question did not provide for such a complaint. If you prefer to formulate it with the dorsian terms of the beginning: the defense of the accused consists of accusing the accusers of converting the anecdote into a category.
Nothing to object to this approach if it were not because that same ruling party and its powerful and tireless propaganda apparatus have become authentic professionals of the identical conversion of the anecdotal into the categorical. The Catalan public media offer on a daily basis (and in all its time slots without exception) multiple and varied examples of insignificant episodes carried out by people, sectors or institutions outside the independence movement, turned into palpable evidence of some type of aggression in all rule to Catalonia and its institutions. For those who do not easily have the possibility of tuning in to any of these media, I will recall an episode widely used by pro-independence deputies in Congress. I am referring to the cry of “go for them!”, launched by a group of brainless people as a police contingent destined for Catalonia passed by in the autumn of 2017, a cry that was converted overnight into a category of universal passage through part of the independence movement. To such an extent that it was used both to (un) qualify the head of State (“the king of the ‘go for them”), and the entire judiciary (“the judges of’ go for them”) or, that already for granted, to the Executive (“the Government of the ‘go for them”). Nothing and no one was safe from the ingenious reproach.
But if we stay with such a finding, any reader of these lines could reproach us, and not without reason, that, rather than dismantling an argument, what we are doing is pointing out how widespread it is. It is appropriate, therefore, if this is not our purpose, to go one step further and try to delve into the approach in question in greater detail to, as far as possible, see to unravel its logic.
Perhaps the most effective way to do this is by trying to find a situation that has served as an anecdote to exemplify accusations of the opposite sign and analyze the argumentation used. A few months ago, the case of the client of a pizzeria in Barcelona whom the owner of the establishment, an Italian citizen, asked to speak to her in Spanish because she still did not understand Catalan, was the ammunition to rekindle the old debate. The client who felt aggrieved asserted his right to live in Catalan, that is, not to be forced to change his language at any time or under any circumstance. His was not, it should be noted, a general complaint of the aforementioned situation. Because for the purposes of what we are trying to highlight here, a finding is absolutely unavoidable: it is not necessary for him to be, in the event that he was assisted by such alleged right.
However, when complaints take the opposite sign, as has been the case for a long time, and raise situations related, say, to linguistic immersion and the Catalan school model, the way of arguing of these same sectors varies substantially. The defendants then contribute, as the main data to take into account, the low number of complaints received, the exceptional nature of parents demanding compliance with legal regulations, etc., interpreting all this as a conclusive argument to highlight the low real importance of the matter.
In other words, for the independence movement, when it comes to reporting, the fundamental criterion is qualitative. The smallest insignificance is revealing, indicative of a greater design against which it is required to be alert.
I remember when, in a radio talk show on Catalan public radio, I commented to Ernest Benach, former president of the Parliament, that he could not see what real damage a change in the regulations could inflict on the Catalan language that simply meant teaching a subject at school —like, for example, physics— in Spanish. His answer was along the lines of what we have already commented: it would represent a crack in the model.
Hence the tenor slogans of “not one step back” or “the Catalan school is not played” (I often wonder: not even to improve it?).
On the other hand, when it comes to replying to a certain type of complaint, the criterion is only quantitative, avoiding going into the substance of the matter.
But the substance is precisely what matters. And the substance in such cases is rights. No one in their right mind would argue that, to radically change the example, the attention that has been paid in recent times in the public sphere to the trans problem is excessive, taking into account that the real number of affected by it in relation to the overall population is statistically negligible. If it were not because we are already cured of fright and vaccinated against surprises and contradictions, it would be striking that those who have had their mouths filled for a decade talking about a presumed right (to decide), are so little respectful of rights outsiders when they believe that they may conflict with their own. Not to mention that they just want to decide what they have decided in advance that deserves to be decided. And as someone might suggest in the public square, no matter how timidly and with all the prudence in this world that he might do, that perhaps one would also have to decide on some of the totems (which are also taboo) of the independence movement, it is more than proven that civil death awaits him.
And in case someone were to think that I am exaggerating with the latter, I will end this text by quoting the words pronounced by Ferran Mascarell, spokesperson for the municipal group Junts per Catalunya at the Barcelona City Council, on the occasion of a plenary session in which his group He requested that authors in the Spanish language not be promoted on this year’s Sant Jordi festival: “Promoting Catalan requires that no political official can insinuate [sic] that talking about the state of the language is controlling or suffocating,” he said. Curious words are those of this pro-independence leader, in which if something is clear, it is that what is really controlling and suffocating is a requirement that does not even admit that there may be someone capable of insinuating the slightest discrepancy.