The other day an article on Iceland brought home to me the curious fact that in Spain, with its rich cultural heritage, there is a very general contempt, public and private, for any kind of intellectual or creative work. In Iceland, a land with a non-existent architectural heritage and a language that nobody else speaks, the government has just decided to redouble its support for education and culture. They know that there is no kind of wealth more reliable than that which comes from knowledge; and that cutbacks should hit, not education, but political parasites.
Precisely in matters concerning education, and since long before the crisis, our governments have shown a mix of ineptitude and indifference that worsens as the crisis deepens. We bring up the rear of international rankings in educational quality and scientific research, but we are international leaders in internet piracy. At the national, regional and local levels, political hacks continue to enjoy huge salaries and run up expenses as they close libraries and schools.
Last month, I visited the Spanish stand at the Jerusalem Book Fair. It was decent, but minimal, and until the last moment its very existence had been in jeopardy. The Spanish Embassy and the Cervantes Institute of Tel Aviv had set it up jointly, with the work of a few persons on a shoestring of budget and time, and with very few books. This in Israel, a country with an amazing number of readers, many of them avid readers of Spanish. In the mini-stand, most honorably, there were books in the other languages of Spain.
The idea that a book, a film, a record, should produce a decent income for the person whose skill brings them into being is beneath consideration
In countries such as ours, the flair for demagogy never fails our professional politicians. Contempt for knowledge and the creative imagination may be harmful for the economy, but does no harm to the politico, who knows its uses. Handled well, it can even turn a populist profit. Just as amazing as the Spanish cultural heritage is the indifference and even hostility that Spaniards feel for it, once you have discounted the insolent pride in what they feel is their property (a pride not incompatible with neglect). In a land with one of the world's greater literary and artistic traditions, those who work in literature and other arts, including cinema, arouse a visceral rejection among many compatriots. A writer or musician who openly demands the right, perhaps not to actually live from his work, but just a minimal compensation from those who enjoy and make use of it, receives comments of a really chilling aggressiveness, a good deal worse than those directed at a banker or a thieving politician.
The idea that a book, a film, a record, should produce a decent income for the person whose skill brings them into being, and whose modest prosperity radiates beyond himself, seems beneath consideration to the Spanish public and to the politicians who take care to please its tastes.
This is a tradition of long standing. Our literature is full of examples of celebration of ignorance and derision of learning. In an interlude by Cervantes a candidate for village mayor flies into a fury when an adversary insinuates, to his intended detriment, that he knows how to read and write. When the best ticket to prosperity in life is submission to the powerful, and when any book may smack of heresy, the best condition is ignorance. My generation still remembers a time when it was said of a very needy person, and more in sarcasm than pity, that he was "as hungry as a schoolteacher." Schoolteachers, music teachers, librarians, researchers, studio musicians, orchestra musicians, sound technicians, theater carpenters, art restorers, Spanish teachers, lose their jobs every day or never have them, every day leaving the field of knowledge a little more barren, further impoverishing a land where no sign of economic recovery is in sight.
Who is going to follow the example of Iceland when, thanks to our political caste, we are going to behold the paradise of Eurovegas?