some thoughts on Catalonia

An intentional complication

There are 4 major areas to consider regarding the current situation in Spain, where the region of Catalonia recently held a referendum on a declaration of independence:

  1. the economic reasons for Spain’s insistence on retaining Catalonia,
  2. the questions arising from a newly independent Catalonia with regards to the European Union, with an eye towards the freedom of movement of goods, people, and money,
  3. the fascist history of the country and, specifically, Catalonia’s still fresh memories of life under Franco, in particular the condemnation of the present Spanish government as fascist without a meditation on the fascist history which continue to resonate in the present,
  4. finally, with the emboldening of racisms across the Western world, immediately embracing ethnonationalist separatist movements seems premature.

These are a series of spitball thoughts, I do not seek to present myself as an authority on the subject. Nor do I want to appear for or against Catalan independence. Ultimately, I believe many of my points might be justifiably used to support the arguement for independence. Equally, however, a geopolitically conservative and globalist thread in some of my points will be of little interest to certain progressive groups, and the hard left anti-imperialists who see globalism as a direct descendent and scion of colonial imperialism. (A position I am not, strictly speaking, willing to refute.)

1. Wealth and federalism

Spain, like most nations, is made up of regions with their own local governments and governance. Along with the political distinctions, these states create economic zones, which in turn feed into a larger national economy, with some wealth redistribution happening courtesy of the national government.

Barcelona and Catalonia more generally are among the few regions in the Spanish economy which are flourishing, despite the economic crisis which developed in Europe after the 2008 US financial crash. That prosperity is a strong motivator for the national government of Spain to maintain a hold on the region. Spain continuese to be strapped for cash, even having put into effect the austerity measures and the economic restructuring demanded by international creditors.

It bears remembering that the issue of Catalan independence, while not entirely new, did not have anything nearing its current prominence before the economic crash. It was only as the screws were put on and Spain began to feel the crush of its debt that Catalonia started its legislative saber rattling and invigorated the call for independence.

2. European Unity and the economy

The biggest question regarding secession from a European nation is how the new border and the new government will be integrated (or not) into the European project. Regardless of whether Europe welcomes a newly independent Catalonia into the European Union or not, that accession will have to be negotiated (or renegotiated, depending on your perspective). One can only presume that the Spanish representation in the European government will do their utmost to make life difficult for the new nation. It is unclear if they are likely to have allies who fear similar sucessions within their borders. (With Britain making its own European exit, the Spaniards are down an anti-Independence ally.)

Most importantly, Catalan independence means more uncertainty for the European Union, an already struggling and beleagured project. Until the details of Catalonia’s status within the bloc are worked out, there will be many people in limbo; European citizens who live and/or work in Barcelona or the region, who may or may not be allowed to remain. The fate of Spanish citizens who wish to retain that status yet continue live and work in Catalonia will also need to be negotiated.

Ultimately, Europe has created a region of porous borders which has greatly benefited workers who are able to travel across national boundaries in search of work. Additionally, as we are learning from Brexit, the porous borders of the EU have built an interconnected and interdependent infrastructure system. Renegotiating those contracts creates seemingly impossible quandaries in which the average citizen is left uncertain as to their future.

(New borders and new governments mean that all of the agreements and systems which undergird modern life will need to be examined and repartitioned to meet the requirements of the new government, and the limits of the new borders. This is an unenviable position to leave anyone; I invite you to explore the questions that Brexit has raised for the shared power grids bridging the border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland.)

3. History (Fascism)

Reaching back into the misty past and the heyday of the Spanish empire is superfluous for understanding the roots of this conflict. The most pressing history is that of the 20th century. It is a history which is still vivid in the minds of Catalans.

Under the fascist regime of Francisco Franco, Catalonia was violently repressed, and much was done to strip them of their cultural and linguistic identity. An acquaintance told the story of how after Franco’s death in 1975 and the return to democratic governance, she had to put in the paper work for an official name change, so that her government documents would reflect the name her parents gave her, a Catalan name, which she was prohibited from carrying under the Franco regime. Her experience was not unique.

Many people who have visited Barcelona are familiar with the habit of Catalans to prefer English over Spanish when encountering someone who does not speak Catalan. Use of the language was banned under Franco, and these little “regional quirks” are the markers of the scars the fascist regime left on the people.

I am uninterested in defending the actions of the Spanish government. The choices they have made are abominable, in addition to making the government look terrible.

The vivid memory of fascism should have served as a reminder for the Spanish government to avoid violent suppression and the suspension of Catalonia’s limited independence. Nevertheless, those outside the country should be careful of invoking the imagery unless they are prepared to hold up the current government against past fascist regimes. Though the actions of the Spanish government are reprehensible, they have not reached the heights of dictatorship. We must urge them to remember their own history, and the respect they owe their Catalan bretheren, and furthermore, we must hope they have learned something from dealing with the Basque Separatist movement.

4. Ethnonationalism

Much of the Western world is preparing to do battle with nationalists of a variety of sorts. Ethnonationalists pose a unique quandary for those who seek equality. Self-determination is a noble goal, but it can create as many problems as it might purport to solve.

Thankfully, Catalonia is positioned in such a way to avoid the quandaries which have plagued the self-determination of the Jewish people. Hopefully, if they do achieve independence, the freedom of movement within Europe will been maintained even across these new borders and there will be no need for the “bloodless genocides” which plagued the establishment of a Greek nation-state and Turkey which saw the exchange of Greek Muslims and Greek Orthodox Turks. We can only hope that prosperity will forestall the possibility which resulted in the Bosnian genocide, and the continued unease in the region. Perhaps it we will avoid armed conflict, but the possibility of avoiding all political tension is a fantasy.

The consolidation of ethnic identities into nation states has left a number of wounds in the developed world. They are implictly tied to the history of empire, colonialism, and imperialism. There are no good answers, never mind any easy ones.

Personally, I have ever stronger reservations about the logic of ethnonationalist self determination. Mostly because it feels like an excuse for those who have to abandon those who have not, and those who have not to justify power moves which lead to greater pain down the line. Here I undoubtedly split with any anti-globalists, who see porous borders and rampant capitalist internationalism as the great evils plaguing all nations and peoples. Nevertheless, I stand with those who see globalization as a reality with which must contend and should make our decisions with an eye towards justice and equality when it comes to crossing borders and making opportunities for all people on our planet. Ethnonationalism seems to invite divisiveness and trouble.

Deny their responsibility, rob them of their Power: stopping Daesh.

We have forgotten the true goal of terrorism. It can be difficult, especially in the aftermath of horrible events such as the one which occurred in Nice (or Dallas, or Orlando, or San Bernardino), as we prepared to bury the dead and do what we can to heal the wounded and care for all those who will never truly be whole again, that the goal of terrorism is not death. The goal of terrorism is in the name: terror; fear.

Every time we pick ourselves up and try and take stock of the damage and the pain, and allow ourselves to forget that what those who promote and execute these acts of violence are trying to generate is fear, we allow them to succeed.

Daesh would love to lay claim to the power to reach out and strike us there where it hurts the most. With every independent attack that is attributed to them, they have further proof that their reach is global, that they are able to infect our people with their poisons and use our people to hurt us. They take that power from our headlines, our speculating talking heads, our circumstantial analyses, and our political speeches.

Perhaps the man who struck out at the Queer Latinx community in Orlando justified his actions through the philosophy promoted by Daesh. Perhaps the man who drove a truck through a crowd in Nice came from Tunisia (where an overwhelming number of Daesh fighters hail from) and maybe he, too, justified his actions through their language.

That does not give Daesh the right to claim responsibility for their actions. Their power is not so great that they can reach across space and time and sow the seeds of their hate in the hearts of people who are thousands of miles away from them. These people are not molded by Daesh, they are molded at home, and their choices are their own, they can invoke Daesh in justification, but we do not have to believe them.

We can rob Daesh of their power. We have the power to make them lose the war abroad as they are losing the ground war in Syria and Iraq. Because when the perpetrators are dead—and they are all dead—there is no one left to speak for them. What we have to say about their origins and their motivations is as true as what Daesh has to say. When the Daeshi leadership learn about the attacks as we do, they are no more responsible for them than we are.

A generation of children already grew up with a boogeyman who lived in a cave in a desert most of them could not find on a map: his name was Osama bin-Laden. From September 2001 onward, children who were not yet old enough to comprehend what had happened in New York City and at the Pentagon knew his name and were afraid of him.

We can keep a new generation of children from knowing that fear. We can stop Daesh at the borders of their stolen territory, and their reach at the limits of their trained fighters and evil plots. We do not have to allow the words and tenets of their death cult to have the power of pandemic. We can acknowledge the violence it effects, and work to heal the wounds it leaves, and deny the infection a vector and the opportunity to spread.

Starting with the Bechdel Test

Let’s start a conversation with the Bechdel Test. Now I might be beating a dead horse here, but I’ve recently realized that knowledge of the Bechdel Test is not as widespread as I thought it was. I’ll drop it into conversation and people will suddenly look confused and I’ll have to backtrack and explain what it is.

The Bechdel Test

The Bechdel Test, alternately called the Bechdel/Wallace Test, the Bechdel Rule, Bechdel’s Law, or the Mo Movie Measure, is a simple set of rules that creates a rudimentary set of standards for female representation in movies (personally, I apply it to television as well). It made it’s appearance in 1985 in Alison Bechdel’s comic Dykes to Watch Out For.

Dykes to Watch Out For, 1985.

It has three rules:

1. A movie must have 2 female characters

2. They must have a conversation.

3. About something other than a man.

In theory this shouldn’t be too difficult to achieve. I would like to invite you now to take a moment and think back on the last five movies you saw and see if they pass the Bechdel Test. Continue reading “Starting with the Bechdel Test”

Lessons from the X-Men

I look at what’s happened, and still happening in Ferguson, the attention we’re currently paying to the senseless, needless deaths of young black people in this country, but I think also of the tallying every year of the deaths of trans* folks, the numbers of deaths and violations for native, black, and latina women, I think of the challenges women face daily. And somehow I end up at the X-Men.

Now, you probably think, “what the hell does a comic series/Marvel superheroes/beloved movie series and/or acclaimed series reboot have to do with all this serious political stuff?” or you might have just stopped reading.

But there is something very important lurking in the X-Men, and in that something is the reason why the X-Men are both so successful and often the only superhero comic non-superhero comic reading people have fallen for (Watchemn excluded, that is a discussion for another time). Continue reading “Lessons from the X-Men”

Building the “Personal Brand” — On Internships

There is a tension between the “personal brand” and the brand of the larger entity one works for.

It is especially true for interns. The intern has essentially agreed to work for free to “pad their resume” or, in other words, build their personal brand.

For people of certain skill-sets, the “personal brand” is less important. If you’re an engineer, or a student of another applied science, you can present lab work and other concrete examples of work you have done or participated in, and be judged on that (often you already have been, if a study is published and peer-reviewed).

But those who fall into a more “artisinal” category (designers, journalists, artists), people whose work is both becoming excessively commodified (“oh anyone can write/throw a webpage together/et. al.”), need a portfolio that clearly displays their skills to acquire work. With these areas becoming increasingly free-lance, it is even more critical.

Continue reading “Building the “Personal Brand” — On Internships”