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Fool or lackey?

It seems that it is ridiculous to speak out, to denounce corruption, abuses, injustices and crimes

Some readers will be aware that every now and then I wonder aloud what I am doing here writing this column. But there are two times of the year when this sensation hits me especially hard: in July, at the approach of the summer vacation; and in January, after the New Year's resolutions are made -- one of mine always being the proposition of shutting up for good.

Nor am I heartened when I read the remarks of a novelist I appreciate, who, asked about the role of intellectuals in the crisis, says: "They have no role. It is ridiculous to think they do... What I say is, if the mayor says today is a holiday, then it's a holiday. Whatever the intellectuals say about it."

Right you are; and whatever the citizens say, too. This is the way power works in Spain, especially when the right has a parliamentary majority. It is obvious enough that, on winning the elections, Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy said to himself: "Now I have four years in which to do whatever I want. I don't care about the promises I made. I am going to reorganize things in Spain according to my own taste - against the opinions of doctors, professors, students, rectors, judges, prosecutors, pensioners, workers, the middle classes, artists, researchers, women; and, it goes without saying, word-mongers (also known as intellectuals). I'll think of something else to say, come election time."

As for the more explicit aspects of this novelist's remarks, it is hard not to think, just a little, that they are somewhat self-serving. Given that it is ridiculous to believe we play some role, it is also ridiculous to speak out, to denounce corruption, abuses, injustices and crimes, to open closed eyes, to point to what people haven't noticed, to spotlight dictatorial practices in democracy (there are plenty), to protest against new laws that curtail rights and liberties, to warn against the drift toward despotic forms of governing. What is advisable -- and comfortable -- is not to play the fool; to cease to be a "free writer" and to place yourself at the service of some "political option." That is, to become the pawn, bishop or rook of a party, as the only way to wield "influence." Not as an intellectual, you understand (you forfeit your right to that title) but as an infiltrator posing as one.

The only proof I see that we are not absolutely useless is that the same politicians who shrug at our sniveling complaints would certainly prefer not to have us around

Are we of some use, or are we in fact ridiculous? Should we soldier on, or fall silent? This reputed novelist may be right. Of course there are some who, to set themselves at better advantage, take liberties with truth, and claim that no one else really dares to speak out. If we speak out we play the fool, and if we don't we pass for cowards and lackeys. I have no answer to this dilemma, and besides, if I opined on it I would be speaking as an interested party. I admit that perhaps we have no influence, and our whining is sterile.

But of one thing I am sure: what a pity it would be if we didn't even exist at all, if nobody ever said anything, if we never upset or enraged the politicians who disregard our views and use us as paperweights, and also want our applause. The only proof I see that we are not absolutely useless is that the same politicians who shrug their shoulders at our sniveling complaints would certainly prefer not to have us around, badmouthing them to the few people who read us, painting a different picture of things from another angle than the one they impose on the masses, every day of the week, with the television stations they control. Pointing to their abuses, imbecility, cynicism and insolence, the grotesque arguments they no longer take the trouble to mold into a presentable shape. What would it be like if, on top of what is happening, you were to open the newspaper and find nothing but assent, indifference and silence, merely out of fear of ridicule?

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