15M and the Voice of He Who Knows

This is a translation of a piece by Luis Moreno-Caballud, originally published on the Interferencias blog on eldiario.es on Thursday 15th May 2014, three years on from the date that marked the beginning of the 15M movement in Spain.

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15M and the Voice of He Who Knows

We grew up weighed down by the Voice of the News, which said to us: “that’s the way it is”. Go out on your own, this is the least bad of all worlds. Study, earn money and one day you too can say to others: “that’s the way it is”.

But, why did we believe, -and why do we still at times believe- in that Voice?

Perhaps because it wasn’t just the Voive of the News: it was the Voice of He Who Knows. Centuries of authority, experts, facts, figures, intellectuals, of “great men”, of “this guy is a genius”, of “modern European progress”, of “all of the most advanced countries”, couldn’t be wrong. Right?

27th of October 2013: 4.7 million people watch the first episode of the seventh season of Salvados, “Is life still the same?”, which asks if anything has changed since the crisis began. And there it is again, the Voice of He Who Knows, speaking this time through the mouth of the journalist and writer Arturo Pérez-Reverte:

Nothing is going to change, Jordi, nothing at all is going to change. If there was a revolution today the first thing people would do would be to go out and see if their car has been burned. Do you know why people want the crisis to pass? To go back to doing exactly the same thing they did before: to buy themselves a car again, a mortgage, to go off to Cancún on holidays again….

These words are familiar to us. He Who Knows always explains to us what “people” really want. But you can see him nervous, changed. Lately he shouts more, as if he found it harder to be heard: “Lack of questioning, lack of culture, Cainismo[1], baseness, envy, that’s who we are, we Spaniards!”, Reverte insists. It seems that we now have to add consumerism and irresponsibility, as prime minister Rajoy himself confirms: “In Spain we have gone too far spending what we did not have. We have bought second homes on credit, plasma screen televisions, trips to the Caribbean..”

And our “great men”, they declare:

“What is natural is barbarism, and not civilisation”: Muñoz Molina[2], 2013.

“The masses are predictable and -as logic dictates- herd-like”: Javier Marías, 2012.

“The masses are that which does not act for itself. Such is its mission. They have come into the world to be directed, influenced, represented, organised…”: Ortega y Gasset, 1929.

We have seen too many science fiction films not to know that this is a self-fulfilling prophecy. The echo of the Voice of He Who Knows is inevitably reproduced in thousands of comments everywhere:

people are idiots”, “people are uncultivated”, “the country is asleep”, “there is no education in this country”, “we have the politicians that we deserve”….

And also:

“I don’t know anything about politics”, “I didn’t go on to study, I don’t know how to speak properly”, “we don’t have an opinion because we don’t know”….

And of course, these others:

“it’s not my problem”, “I wish they’d leave me in peace”, “each to his own”, “they are thieves, but I’d do the same if I could”

So many and so strong are these thousands of echoes, effects and resonances of the Voice of He Who Knows, that we sometimes forget how easy it is to stop listening to them.

But all of a sudden someone turns up and breaks the circle. Simply by asking: “and what if it wasn’t like this?” Someone decides to rely on the intelligence of others, and their own, and in that moment the spell has been broken. The people are us and we are not fools in the slightest.

The Voice of He Who Knows will not shut up, in any case: “they are anti-system”, “the slogan is taken from the Stéphane Hessel book Indignaos[3], a book that is worthless”, “Can the world be changed? It’s very difficult, we see a world dominated by money, consumerism, that’s the way it is…”, “young people today live much better than 40 years ago”…

Until someone, anyone, for example a woman called Cristina, from Burgos, dials the number of the radio station and breaks the circle.

I am 46 years old, I was at the demonstration in Madrid this Sunday and I have to say something: there was a lot of young people, but we were people of every age and walk of life. Anti-system? Yes, obviously: the politicians and the bankers and those who are actually supporting these measures that are cutting away at all the rights that cost our parents and grandparents so much blood, sweat and tears to win, the politicians for whom we voted, who are obviously run by the same hands of capital that are also running the media, they are the ones that are turning our young people, our children, into anti-system. Because they are leaving them outside the system.

And when the circle is broken, it is not to know more than the Voice of He Who Knows, but to know in another way: by knowing that there are things that everyone knows about. Such as dignity. Knowing that is whoever knows how to write a bill to abolish evictions is no more worthy than whoever knows how to stand in front of a door so no-one gets in -or whoever knows how to deliver an embrace, a shout or a tweet at the right time. Knowing that whoever knows how to install loudspeaker equipment is no more worthy than whoever knows how to cook a paella. Nor is he who knows how to wield a scalpel more worthy than whoever has managed to bring up four children.

When the circle is broken, we suddenly realise that we people know how to do millions of things. And the things we know how to do multiply. 80% of the population supporting a movement of occupied squares where people live without money? More than a thousand evictions stopped and more than a thousand people rehoused? The privatisation of Madrid hospitals made illegal and the person responsible forced to resign? Also cancelled: projects of savage and speculative urbanism like those of the Gamonal neighbourhood? A myriad of co-operative, collaborative projects, based on neighbourhood solidarity proliferating throughout the state? None of this was possible according to the Voice of He Who Knows. But it has been.

I grew up, then, so weighed down by the Voice of the News, by the Voice of the Expert, by the Voice of the Opinion-maker, by the Voice of the Master, by the Voice of He Who Knows, that I never imagined that I was going to witness such a strong commitment to the intelligence and the ability of anyone as the one we witness today in the Spanish state.

I am very happy to have been wrong.

Happy 15M.

[1] Literally, ‘Cainism’, referring to the biblical figure Cain, who killed his brother. The term is used to denote a violent antipathy towards those who should ideally be as members of the same family.

[2] Antonio Muñoz Molina, prominent journalist and novelist

[3] In French, Indignez-Vous! Translated into English as ‘Time For Outrage!’

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