María Elvira Roca Barea (El Borge, Malaga, 80)) wrote in 2018 Imperiofobia y leyenda negra , an editorial success, a catharsis, a defibrillator, a new direction and an old buzz among the courts that guide how one should think so as not to go off on tangents without permission. [Leyenda negra, ou lenda negra, é um tema recorrente no mundo de língua espanhola. Segundo os adeptos da teoria, a visão pessimista da história do Império Espanhol decorre de propaganda protestante anti-católica. (N. t.)]
Classical and Hispanic philologist. Schoolmaster and publicist. Inflection point. From her courageous framework, stories parallel to those isolated by the interests of disinformation today sound. Her essay was a hit by the publisher Siruela, and readers have made it the most read of the last decade, because there are people who thirsty for the truth, escaping the dogmas of prejudice. Even if no one is the Oracle of Delphi.
Essayist, writer, teacher. A destabilizing smile that bullies the aggressiveness of the narrative’s emperors. In 2018 launched 6 exemplary reports 6 [6 relatos exemplares 6] and in 2019 he moved the wasp nest again with Fracasología. España and its élites: from the French people to our days. [Fracassologia. A Espanha e suas elites: Dos afrancesados aos nossos dias.]
Imperiophobia was the mother of España: La primera globalización [Espanha: A primeira globalização], the documentary by José Luis López-Linares who passed with merit in the country’s cinemas and took to the big screen the holes of interested myths, the postulates accommodated by mediocrity, the illusionism of ideologies and the lies of a History that looks like clickbait journalism. Before, disagreeing was cool. Now it can be a ticket to the scaffold of massive cancellation.
It’s sunny in Malaga, and from up here you can see the mist-free sea everywhere. sailing with a loose sail.
What ideas about history surround you at this historic moment ?
It is not a purely topical issue, but I am getting more and more clear that history needs new approaches to be more understandable. It is urgent to incorporate elements mostly neglected until now, such as the climate, natural phenomena such as the pandemic, and the reasoned, non-prejudiced study of empires. I aim for a less limited and truer conception of history, because hyper-specialization fosters thematic provincialisms that leave it out of focus. History has always been a rich field for all kinds of ideological colonizations, and between mental and geographical provincialisms, nationalist histories, which are a serious and eternal illness, and so many dishonest conditionings, it is clear that historical studies require a renewal.
This renewal implies honesty, a sincere willingness to face the facts in a discipline that should it be aseptic, or is it impossible to look at the past without prejudice?
I approach the story as objectively as possible, not so much for being honest with others, but for myself. I want that what I have seen, will see and see does not weigh me down or make me more limited. Life is something that lasts five minutes. Since we are alive, let us try to understand the world we live in as best we can. And if I come to a slight conclusion, I might decide to share it with my peers, but selfishly disclosing these findings is secondary to me.
You came out of the spiral with different reasonings and approaches to history with Imperiophobia and Black Legend. And she received a shower of blows. What have you thought since then about the data society, the weight of arguments and the emotional battle?
That there is no relationship… The emotional battle mixes different subjects and muddies objectivity, sometimes in search of supporters for any cause. Someone tries to present the most rational arguments possible with honesty, and the emotional battle entangles everything without listening, with prejudgments. We approach the truth laboriously, with enormous limitations, but the human being is not just a rational being. It has some components of rationality, but they are very few, and you must defend them with great effort. The emotional battle works almost by itself. Just let yourself be carried away by the inclination, and automatically what happens to the human being is to reach this or that emotionally and defend it with the faith of the charcoal burner until you die, literally.
In the face of the data and the arguments – you experienced this firsthand –, does liquid society respond with an emotional tsunami that drowns the dialogue?
Everything that starts from insult, defamation or slander must be expelled from our lives, because it suits us not to graze in this deconstructionist swamp. The confrontation with my data and my arguments was always done in these terms. There has never been a desire to maintain a debate between serious studies, prestigious voices, solid ideas and respectful conversation. The fight against Imperiophobia was directed with impetus to the exclusively emotional, resorting to ideological disqualifications, something very significant in societies that are beginning to suffer from a deficit important democratic. In this broth of culture, the ideological commissioner always shines, who establishes the suitability and puts the yellow bracelet with the Star of David to place the arguments in fragile positions.
I am an absolutely solitary bird, I do not belong to the clique of the great popes of culture, nor of the academic world. A hit like Imperiophobia offended a lot of people who were wasting their time on the way towards visibility, and suddenly they were passed by a school teacher. The stomach’s criticisms of this essay also have to do with the enormous political virulence that Spain has suffered in recent years. The collection of arguments from the black legend is not only part of the history of many nations; it is also part of the nationalisms of cantons, and they always want blood.
If the emotional and ideological quagmire makes dialogue impossible, will seeking the truth of history and society be increasingly difficult?
The human being is moving towards a type of society in which there are more and more individuals clustered together. Hives and anthills are now getting bigger. At a glance, we can see that we pile up, and this growth of cities is an unprecedented reality. For human beings to be able to live in such a degree of agglomeration, it is necessary that the characteristics of individuality be eliminated. We’re headed for a society of so-and-so men and women, filled with individuals much more sheeplike and much less group-challenging. This context makes any truth that does not become a collective dogma assumed by all, as well as any idea that is not in favor of the herd, become undesirable for its subjects.
As the limits of the margins are very narrow, the lives of these people become very difficult. Disagreement becomes an enormous difficulty, almost hopeless, and a fear of being separated from the flock. The media and social networks have a great capacity to occupy all possible spaces, and there are almost no places left to take refuge. This stifles the contestation, because disagreeing makes you a universal pariah. Disagreeing is an increasingly heroic act, because the individual who leaves the parameter is condemned to death in life. The worldwide lynchings we’ve seen are not physical, but that doesn’t mean they don’t affect the right to live in a respectable way. It’s not easy to get out of these massive cancellation campaigns, which often revolve around deliberate lies.
Where are honest intellectuals influencing public opinion?
Never I had a clerical vocation. I don’t entertain myself by looking for anyone’s honesty or dishonesty. I do like Socrates: I have my daimon and I try to do what I consider decent, given my parameters of decency. I don’t judge my peers. Everyone knows what they do and why they do it. I am disgusted by this clergy that crowns the ideological dick sexor so that he can say who are the good and the bad, pointing out who loses his head.
Does the world of culture not have the means to face this quagmire?
When you study history, you understand perfectly that the world of culture has always been in the backyards of power. As we understand it, they form poets, sculptors, thinkers, who are people who produce nothing and must live off of others. There are the Greek philosophers going to the courts of tyrants to become table decorations, including Plato. There’s nothing new under the sun. It’s just that it’s very cold when you’re alone in the face of danger.
The Economist says that the Spain loses democratic quality.
This is an issue that has advanced in recent years. We have lost an education in democracy, in freedom, but I don’t think it’s just something from Spain. It is a problem that affects all Western democracies for a variety of reasons. The first is that too many people are of legal age and are not aware of how difficult it was to stabilize democracies, not just in Spain, I insist. Democracies are very difficult to sustain, and losing respect for them is dangerous. Before the fall of the Berlin Wall, the West knew firsthand that there was a world without democratic freedoms. The passage of time makes this experience for which many gave their lives fade away.
Added to this is the social weight of the generations raised in the Welfare society, used to existing in perpetual adolescence, insofar as they do not recognize gratitude. They are not aware of the enormous effort of what previous generations did. For many, the sacrifice of their predecessors was just a landscape. Overfeeding, narcissism, thirst for ideologies or the need to integrate into a group at any cost are circumstances that have led those generations that do not value democracy to not know how to live in democracy. They are the same who live in a Welfare society without knowing how to live in a Welfare society, and those who, being authentic privileged in history, surpassed the records of depression. It is stupid to think that comfort, overfeeding and security make people happy. The human being is made for difficulty, and is more virtuous and happier overcoming difficulties.
As a philologist, she believes that “the classical world makes us adults”. But the classics are increasingly distant from the classroom, the media, the tribunes…
The classics are very annoying.
The classics are increasingly forgotten in classes, in the media and in the stands because they bother you: they affront you with human realities that are eternal and very uncomfortable. The classical world does not tolerate the protest song. The classical world engenders tragedy and epic. These texts are written at a time when adolescence did not exist. After childhood came adulthood, and then you took care of your obligations in a society where, if everything went wrong, suicide was reasonable. The classical world exposes a citizenry with levels of personal sovereignty, self-discipline and self-morality that are now completely inconceivable. The classic world is anti-victimization and we engineered a world in which victim promotion and victim management form part of education. It is like this: today we are incompatible with the human model proposed by the classics.
In this context and under these circumstances, how is critical thinking cultivated?
Critical thinking is cultivated at the risk of life. Individual freedom has always been a risk. Now it’s worse because before, at least, it was possible to escape. What did a Greek do when he was forced to exile himself from the polis? He was going to another polis to start a new life. Just had to cross the border to turn the page. Now there are no borders to cross and the suffocation is the ambient climate. This is one of the reasons why critical thinking is reduced in the same proportion as personal freedoms dwindle. Human beings, especially those we are educating in recent generations, should not be asked for heroism, because they do not have the capacity to face risks. It’s a vicious circle…
The success of trials like Imperiophobia or The infinite in a junk, by Irene Vallejo, shows that there are many people who are still really hungry and jump over the official bestseller lists.
It is possible, because there is everything everywhere, but in any society there are majorities that impose their style and set the agenda. There will never be a shortage of snipers. After many years as a teacher, I see that there is a type of student who, even if you put him in a bag and cover his eyes, will learn. It doesn’t matter what disastrous educational system you graduate from. This type of student appears every year and you see them there, flying over the wave, in the midst of the most absolute chaos. When you look them in the eye, you know that they will survive and that it will be very difficult for them to become one more brick in the world. On the other hand, the person who imposes his own law right now is a pseudo-illiterate creature, very childish, narcissistic to the maximum, whom you cannot contradict, because he takes offense. This is our social mold.
Do you see sustainability risks in European democracies?
I see no severe imminent dangers, but symptoms of slow putrefaction. Democratic ideas are firmly rooted, but a democracy is not just about being able to vote once in a while. It’s easy to keep the facade of democracy and leave it completely empty of content.
How do you see the Western political left?
The national and international left has become ally of big capital and abandoned the workers. Populism has despised this area, so we see that enormous dissatisfaction is simmering. 80% of the state’s livelihood comes from labor income, and this is nonsense. We are subsidizing poverty without thinking how to stop burdening the working classes, which would be infinitely more just. The left fell into a serious stupor and forgot about the people. We are left without a left that goes on the nerve of social inequalities.
After Brexit, of the pandemic and practical inefficiencies, is there a risk of Europophobia?
In Spain, not. Spanish adoration of Europe surpasses all. I do see dangers for the future of the European Union (EU), because I think it was very shaken after Brexit. That’s why it’s stopped now: neither backwards nor forwards. In the Russian-Ukrainian crisis, which goes back a long way, the EU has shown itself to be ineffective in terms of foreign policy. This is nothing new, but the point is that we have not improved. The EU has such fragile power that, if it doesn’t advance, it retreats. Within the scope of domestic politics, there it is, in the midst of a conglomerate in which the single currency has not been able to develop contours for a common farm that unifies the taxation system, which is nonsense. The EU must demonstrate that unity is the best option, especially against Britain. If it fails in ten years, it will melt, languishing to death.
Spain has any worldwide relevance?
None! Another thing is that, in the past, there was the Spanish empire or Hispanic monarchy – whatever you want to call it – which was the hegemonic power that lasted three centuries and was the most influential western empire since the Roman Empire. But this is not the European Spain of today… There are people who have not mentally left there, like the president of Mexico, Andrés Manuel López Obrador. It has been two hundred years since this empire imploded and fragmented, generating a lot of political realities, none of which showed the capacity either to stabilize or to have the slightest influence, not in the world, but not even on its continent. The life of that empire left a colossal language and millions of headless speakers. Its cultural strength is undeniable – music, literature… – but nothing else. From a political and economic point of view, everything is a catastrophe, because we managed to be the last of the class: those in Europe, in Europe, and those in America, too.
How are the relations between Spain and Ibero-America?
I do not believe that Spain is a different reality from the Hispanic-American point of view. Relations within the Hispanic world, I see very badly. All Hispanic countries suffer from a bipolar disorder inside because they did not know how to understand and accept the end of the empire. Two centuries later, they continue with chants that are smokescreens for inoperative procrastination.
What can the next generations of Spaniards aspire to?
The new generations of Spaniards they face a pineapple that is very difficult to peel, because they live in a country in full balkanization. It will be very difficult to try to prevent political fragmentation. Furthermore, they are in the midst of the uncertain future of Western Europe. It has to be seen if it is able to unify itself so that it is in a position to defend its interests, because it can no longer live under the umbrella of the United States, a power in full decline.
Are we aware of the relevance of the East?
No. We’re seeing it now: if China supports Russia, it gets tremendously difficult. But Europeans are very lost and we continue to live on the old glories. We do not assume that a new world is coming in which the West is retreating in the face of evident Asian hegemony. At least the smart move was to have lured Russia to the West…