March 15, 2004
Spain: A Lesson in Nation Building
BUZZFLASH READER CONTRIBUTION
If the response to Thursdayís brutal train attack is any indication, Spain has a lot to teach America about democracy.
When two-hundred innocents were killed and scores were wounded, what didnít happen was as newsworthy as what did. The Spanish werenít glued to their T.V. sets watching instant replays of the atrocity and its aftermath. They didnít have quiet candlelight vigils in their segregated communities and organizations. They didnít have anonymous moments of silence. Or, if they did, it didnít get much coverage. Why?
According to Spanish media quoted in Reuters, eleven million Spaniards took to the streets the day after the attack. Thatís one quarter of the population. One-in-four people went outside and started marching.
Chances are, the Spanish media covered the spontaneous popular uprising more than it covered the tragedy. The result was not to fan the flames of hysteria and victimhood. People werenít scared into a poignantly helpless stupor so theyíd bend over for any state power-grab to prevent future tragedy. Instead, they themselves felt empowered; empowered to partake in positive change and reject cowardice through refusing to be a society scared.
Compare this to the other eleventh; September 2001. Imagine seventy-five million Americans marching on September twelfth. Imagine if instead of watching replay after instant-replay of the planes striking, the buildings falling, and ground-zero, Americans left their homes, cars, and workplaces en masse and refused to be victims.
Itís hard to imagine that many Americans being engaged with anything but the Superbowl. Even then, itís a nominal "group" composed of private dens and living rooms. Nominal groups are convenient, because everybody can feel together from a distance without being together and confronting difference. This is exactly how Americans responded to 9/11.
We bought our parachutes, our patriotic tea, and our American-flag-folding-lawn-chairs. We proudly displayed flags so that all the neighbors who weíd never gotten close to could see that we were patriotic. Itís not that having differences became unimportant; itís that it became profane. This is the difference between Spanish and American society.
Spain has no shortage of socially divisive issues. There are three major ethnic tongues spoken in addition to Spanish, each with its own regionalisms and cultural motifs. Like America, racism, immigration, class, and labor policies seed major areas of contention. But, as anybody who has spent time in Spain will tell you; they love to talk to each other. Heated and respectful debate is just an ordinary part of conversation.
Therefore, when a tragic catalyst happens like the recent bombing; difference doesnít suddenly become profane as people struggle for the sameness of a nominal group. Difference is a lasting social context. Spaniards donít believe that rigorous disagreement diminishes being Spanish, being outraged, or being resolute in stopping tragedy.
Contrast this with America. After 9/11, dissenting from policy and not siding with terrorists was like fitting inside a cellophane fence. News anchors with their flag lapels narrated suffering, quiet vigils, patriotic merchandise, and military build-up, while ignoring the tens and hundreds of thousands who gathered to protest resulting war and policy choices.
We build our neighborhoods, stack our districts, write our ordinances, and plan our infrastructure so that different people donít have to have meaningful encounters. We teach tolerance of difference, and not embrace . . . as though itís a mosquito bite that you just have to learn not to scratch.
Today, America lacks the ingredients for populist resolve. We are so autonomized and disassociated that we simply have no traction. So, we depend on our government as a nominal community. This is a strange inversion of America at its beginning. Our founders knew that a true nation must have the capacity to be popularly remade. Thus, identity and free association must be separate from limited government. Otherwise, the nation becomes something else; a tyranny, a dynasty, or some other undemocratic abomination.
What Spain represented in a single day was a superb lesson in nation building. Not nation building in Afghanistan, Iraq, or Haiti . . . but nation building at home. America should pay attention if it wants to become a nation again, and not just a nominal group.
A BUZZFLASH READER CONTRIBUTION
Send feedback and other inquiries to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Articles in the BuzzFlash Contributor section are posted as-is. Given the timeliness of some Contributor articles, BuzzFlash cannot verify or guarantee the accuracy of every word. We strive to correct inaccuracies when they are brought to our attention.
otherwise noted, all original