Bad vibes

Wednesday 25 September 2013

Devoted readers of this blog (yes, both of you) will have noticed that I comment regularly on the current political situation in Catalunya, especially in relation to the debate about whether Catalunya should secede from Spain and become 'a new European State'. Not-so-devoted readers may perhaps recall news reports on 11 September about a human chain, of some 400 km weaving from one end of Catalunya to the other, involving hundreds of thousands of people, in favour of such a new 'free' Catalan nation.

     "...yes, yes, but ... " (I hear you say) "... how is all of this remotely relevant to a website for teachers of English B ?" Ah but it is indeed relevant - not so much to English B as such, but certainly to the IB Diploma and all that it stands for. I assert this having just read an impressive opinion column by Jordi Gracia in El Pais of 25 September (section Cataluña), which comments on the debate in Catalunya in terms which are absolutely IB.

     I have been struck by articles by Jordi Gracia before, but still have no idea who he is, beyond the credit that he is a 'teacher and essayist', and that he may be a teacher of History, since a recent article was based on a conference in Santander about the study of History. Beyond that, only that he is obviously perceptive and acute, and he writes beautifully - so concisely elegant that my translated quotes that follow sound a little clunky in comparison.

     Gracia's column argues that the current atmosphere of debate in Catalunya is 'abnormal', because of a ferocious polarisation of views about the the Independence Issue, which has in turn marginalised the vital element of "rational criticism and debate which is incisive, well-argued, and well-intentioned". He claims that the marginalised are those, like he, who believe that countries are neither good nor bad in themselves, and who tend to think that "...when the Nation becomes converted into some kind of erotic object, it distills a kind of highly corrosive rust, which is never innocent and almost always devastates any value higher than group-membership or identity." (Sorry, Jordi : 'las patrias convertidas en objetos eróticos', for example, is just so much more punchy!)

     He cites consequences of this 'nationalist corrosion': the 'delusion' that Catalunya has always been oppressed and without freedom; and the way that discussion programmes on Catalan television are filled with commentators violently in favour of Independence, along with an occasional token non-Independentist to be bullied. Any Catalan not committed to the pro-Independence view, he feels, knows that to keep quiet may be prudent, but it is disloyal - while to propose any alternative view is to invite furious reactions. To offer any humorous or satirical commentary, he says bluntly, is "simply suicidal".

     Against such pressures of "identity, the flag, or social egotism" (and we could usefully debate what each of those terms mean), Gracia asserts the values of "... sceptical caution, critical thinking, active social responsibility, balanced rationality, and even the instinctive rejection of movements promoted by Power ..."

     Do you see what I mean? What Jordi Gracia is talking about is the IB Learner Profile and Theory of Knowledge in action - that one should argue rationally, tolerantly, and open-mindedly, and the lack of such values is profoundly dangerous. As a foreigner living in Catalunya, I'm not obliged to take sides ... but it is indeed painful to see this process happening around me, the corrosion of intelligent, civilised, tolerant discourse. And it's not some kind of classroom exercise ... it's for real.


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