ASSHOLES, VILLAINS, AND THE CURRENT WAR IN UKRAINE

One of experts interviewed in the collective volume edited by psychologist Jean-François Marmion, The Psychology of Stupidity (2020; originally Psychologie de la Connerie, 2018; trans. Liesl Schillinger), to which I devoted my post of 4 March, was moral philosopher Aaron James. Having now read his splendid monograph Assholes: A Theory (2012), I would like to use my post today for a reflection on the asshole as a gradation in what I am calling patriarchal villainy (we are here within Masculinities Studies). James notes that most assholes are men in the same way I note that most villains are men, and we both coincide that there are female assholes and villains (villainess is, like heroine, a feminized narrative role and not a moral category). James and I also coincide on the reason why assholes and villains are mainly male: both types are characterized by a strong sense of entitlement only encouraged in men by patriarchy; some women who enjoy or take power in their hands also allow themselves to behave as assholes or villains, but they are a tiny minority.

First, some etymology and a caveat on linguistic differences. Even though we are used to hearing the word ‘asshole’ invoked many times in films and series to insult or describe a guy behaving obnoxiously, this is an American corruption of the original word, ‘arsehole’, meaning, of course, ‘anus’. British speakers understand the ‘ass’ in ‘asshole’ to mean a donkey, which makes no sense to them. Calling someone an ‘ass’ meaning that they are stupid, as donkeys are supposed to be (they are not), is pure speciesm, but this is just not related to the word ‘asshole’. When an American says ‘kiss my ass’, they don’t mean ‘kiss my donkey’, they mean ‘arse’. Although the word ‘asshole’ emerged as a vulgar synonym for ‘anus’ in the 14th century, its usage as a personal insult dates back only to the 20th century, when it become truly popular in American slang (around the 1970s).

Films and TV, as I have noted, have carried ‘asshole’ all over the planet, once the resistance against swearwords was eroded in the 1980s. Incidentally, Brits tend to prefer ‘cunt’ as a strong personal insult against obnoxious men, which is an example of particularly detestable misogyny (fancy insulting a woman by calling her ‘dick’ or ‘cock’). In Spanish, we use ‘gilipollas’ but this is a word that I find quite weak in comparison. Apparently, ‘gilipollas’ comes from caló ‘jili’ or ‘gilis’ meaning idiot, whereas ‘polla’ as we know is a vulgarism for the penis. ‘Gilipollas’ means thus something such as ‘idiot man who thinks with his dick/cock’, though ‘tonto del culo’ (which roughly translates as ‘arseidiot’) is perhaps closer to ‘asshole’. Many articles carry an improbable story borrowed from a blog post by which ‘gilipollas’ comes from one Don Baltasar Gil Imón (1545-1629), the Fiscal del Consejo de Hacienda (or Ministry of Finances) under the Spanish King Carlos IV. This man had two allegedly ugly daughters, whom he would parade in search of a suitor. ‘Polla’ was used in the past a synonym for a young girl (as ‘pollo’ was for boys) and so, apparently, sneers against ‘Gil’ and his ‘pollas’ became the sneer ‘gilipolla’, which sounds to me as a misogynistic explanation. Having said that, ‘polla’ (and in English ‘cock’) is apparently used for the penis because it sits brooding the testicles (‘huevos’) like a hen; ‘chick’ is another word for girl in English, whereas in Spanish we call chickens ‘pollos’, hence the use of the word in the past for young boys. I have seen ‘pollita’ rather than ‘polla’ for girls in old texts. And I have no idea when ‘polla’ became everyone’s favourite vulgar synonym for penis.

So what is an asshole (or a ‘gilipollas’)? Let me use James’s spot-on definition “a person counts as an asshole when, and only when, he systematically allows himself to enjoy special advantages in interpersonal relationships out of an entrenched sense of entitlement that immunizes him against the complaints of other people”. James, who took inspiration for his academic analysis of the asshole from the asshole surfers that do not respect the codes of behaviour in this sport, sees the asshole as someone who does as he pleases regardless of the consequences in social situations that call for restraint, such as being on a queue, driving in the motorway, interacting with one’s peers or subordinates at work, being with one’s family and so on. The asshole, then, is a man whose obnoxious behaviour cannot be stopped because he will not listen to reason and he will not be reformed. “The asshole”, James argues, “refuses to listen to our legitimate complaints, and so he poses a challenge to the idea that we are to be recognized as moral equals”. We fight assholes “for moral recognition in his eyes”, which may makes us unusually aggressive out of frustration.

I know plenty about assholes because, unfortunately, I grew up with one: my father. James is right to say that assholes believe they are special but he is very wrong to say that “the material costs many assholes impose upon others (…) are often by comparison [with actual criminals] moderate or very small”. I am sure he has corrected his own position after publishing Assholes: A Theory of Donald Trump (2016). We know now that assholes may even cause the loss of democracy in the USA (please, remember that Trump will run for President again in 2024), whereas assholes like Putin may cause the world to be plunged into a nuclear World War III. My own personal experience of enduring my father also shows that assholes cause widespread misery every minute they are awake. Our family life has been destroyed by the relentless assholery of this man, who can only be called a black hole in his total destruction of anything positive. My father is not a criminal and he cannot be called legally an abuser but he has made my mother’s life miserable. James warns that assholes cannot be reformed or defeated, and that the only solution is to keep a distance from them. Easier said than done, indeed. My siblings and I carry with us the weight of my father’s assholery at all times. In the letter James addresses to the asshole, he writes that “many who know you will find your death relieving. There will be a quiet celebration”. Quiet?

The whole world is right now waiting for the news that Vladimir Putin is ill to be confirmed. Imagine the reaction to his possible death. Now, Putin is useful to explain the difference between an asshole and a villain, both, as I am arguing, figures of male patriarchal empowerment. James claims that calling men like Hitler or Stalin assholes is not enough, as they did major harm to humankind, but at the same time there is no doubt that these men were assholes of a superlative category. What I argued in my book on villainy about Hitler is that there are many potential villains of his kind because patriarchy generates them all the time by allowing men to act on their sense of entitlement to power. Usually this begins within unbearable family dynamics or with school bullying, and progresses until villainy is checked by a stronger individual, the rules of the community or the law. Some assholes, however, are not checked and they are even encouraged, so that they go on empowering themselves until they break the barriers implicit in patriarchy. Then, a hero needs to act to limit the villain’s power, stop the widespread destruction he is causing, and return patriarchy to its status quo. This is what is happening now with Putin: the asshole, who was already giving many signs of villainy, is now expressing himself in full as a villain. Hence the war in Ukraine, the threat of nuclear violence (sent through his minion Lavrov), and the generalized wish that Putin is terminally ill. For here’s the problem: we have a hero (Volodymyr Zelenskyy and the Ukrainian people) and a circle of Allies (NATO), but there is not a coordinated international offensive against Putin that can stop him for good. It took six years to defeat Hitler, let’s see how long it will take to defeat Putin.

James observes that assholes are now harder to defeat because they do not represent a particular ideology even when they present themselves as political figures. Trump has nothing to do with Abraham Lincoln, another Republican, but is, in fact, a figure expressing a personal brand of assholery under cover of the GOP. Why is he still so successful? Or Putin, for that matter, leaving aside the machinery of terror he operates in Russia. Because, James argues, we live in times in which narcissism is encouraged and we respond to any figure who frees himself (or herself) from social and moral rules to do as he pleases. I would not hesitate to call many of the influencers who think the world spins around them total assholes, for, unlike those of us who truly want to share knowledge and debate, they want to put their usually uninformed opinion above anyone else’s. Yesterday, an eighteen-year-old white male killed ten fellow Americans, all of them black, convinced that there is a conspiracy to outnumber the white race in his nation. Guess where that idiotic idea comes from? Indeed, assholes cause plenty of damage personally and also because they sanction minion assholes.

If, despite the efforts we are making in academia and in the serious segments of the media, the existence of assholes and villains cannot be prevented, how can we curb down their impact? James, as I have noted, warns that assholes cannot be reformed, whereas I myself argued that villains must be contained for the common good. Rowling gives us a wonderful lesson in Harry Potter when she has the titular hero fight Voldemort in a way that the villain ends up killing himself with the very wand he thought would kill Harry. Her villain, in short, is killed by his own power. Wishing anyone’s death is ugly, but, one cannot see Voldemort in handcuffs facing trial for his crimes against humanity. Hitler could not see himself, either, in that position, hence his suicide in the style of the scorpion surrounded by flames. These days every time a lovely person dies before their time, the whole planet wishes ‘that asshole’ (add the name you prefer) would have died instead. For me, this is the worst thing about assholes and villains: they turn even good people into murderers, if only in their fantasies. For, you see, a pacifist society that does not believe in the death penalty (or in war) does not go about exterminating its members, no matter how obnoxious they can be. We can discuss that self-defeating position, but I’ll conclude by declaring that the asshole’s worst punishment is total ostracism: one can hardly express any entitlement in isolation, for entitlement is always over something or someone.

So, next time your neighbour bothers you, think of how although most assholes are only guilty of assholery occasionally, some assholes may escalate into full villains, if no check is put on their empowerment. Ask Zelensky how he feels about his asshole neighbour and do help Ukraine.

I publish a post once a week (follow @SaraMartinUAB). Comments are very welcome! Download the yearly volumes from https://ddd.uab.cat/record/116328. Visit my website https://gent.uab.cat/saramartinalegre/. The Spanish version of the blog is available from https://blogs.uab.cat/saramartinalegre/es/

HISTORY HAPPENING: SUMMER, KABUL AND KATHARINE

The structure of the academic year makes summer the strangest of seasons, with a first month in which one is too exhausted to properly think just when a little bit of time for writing nonstop materializes, a second month when one is supposed to forget about all matters academic but cannot really do that, and a third month which marks a new beginning more than January does. That was a long sentence, but much happens indeed between 21 June and 21 September every year academically speaking. For this particular blog, this post is, besides, a moment of reckoning and closure since it concludes the yearly volume I publish as a .pdf in the digital repository of my university. Believe it or not, this will be volume number eleven. And, yes, I’m planning to continue writing, though part of my energy is flagging because the world really is in a terrible state, much more so if you’re a woman. It is hard not to fall into a dark mood these days, and I don’t think I will be able to escape depression today. I don’t mean personal depression but this general feeling that we, human beings, are not doing well at all.

To begin with, as I write hurricane Ida is devastating Louisiana on the same date when fifteen years ago hurricane Katrina almost erased New Orleans. Ida, we are being told, appears to be the most powerful hurricane in 150 years but one thing we know now is that while hurricanes used to be a product of the forces of nature in the past, they are now the bastard children of manmade climate change, too. Something very similar can be said about pandemics, with Covid-19 being proof of the excesses we go on committing in our dealings with animals. As if its murderous effects were not enough, eighteen months after the onset of the crisis in Wuhan, the scientists have now confirmed that we are on the brink of certain extinction because of the brutal climate change patterns, unless we do something urgently—which we will not do. I had high hopes that Covid-19 would change how people behave, turning us into more prudent and solidary community members. Yet the images these days of thousands of drunk youths acting like barbarians in the streets of Barcelona once the curfew has been lifted shows that something fundamental is wrong. No matter how few they are, these people and the anti-vaxxers, and the virus negationists—and the greedy pharmas and obtuse governments—reveal that as a species we are suicidal. Expecting the species to alter the path of climate change when we are unable to protect our fellow human beings from a deadly virus is almost preposterous. This is not who we are.

Add to this the fall of Kabul to the Taliban and the resurgence of ISIS in Afghanistan. I must confess that I have been avoiding the more detailed reports coming from that corner of the world and just paying attention basically to the headlines, cowardly trying to bury my head in the sand to pretend that the end of the Afghan War is not connected to my world. Of course, the sudden imprisonment of all Afghan women under sharia law affects all of us, the women that constitute 51% of the Homo Sapiens species but that live as a helpless minority. The fall of Kabul is not at all comparable to the fall of Saigon in 1975 to the Communists, which has so often been commented on this summer. In the end, and unlike what the domino doctrine behind the Vietnam War preached, Communism did not conquer the world after 1975. My deep worry is that in contrast other countries will follow the patriarchal dictatorship now established in Kabul, with not only Afghan women’s rights being lost but those of all women. You need not be a fan of The Handmaid’s Tale to understand that the future might quickly become worse than the past. On the other hand, both Syria (now forgotten in the news) and Afghanistan make me think of how the worst excesses can happen in daylight and in the face of the international press without anyone being able to stop them. It took a mighty alliance to stop Hitler’s army of darkness in 1945 but the UN and NATO have been unable to stop the far less powerful Taliban in a catastrophic failure of nerve (and, let’s say it, of military know-how) that will have terrible consequences for women, LGTBIQ+ persons, and non-patriarchal men all over the world. Terrorism will join forces with Covid-19 and climate change to make human life on Earth even worse than it already is.

Try to educate young persons in the middle of all this for the future. My project-oriented subject for this year is a semestral course on women in current pop music, an idea intended to cheer us up which now sounds to me a bit irrelevant. Of course, you never know these days what is really relevant—Leo Messi’s torrent of tears in his farewell press conference in Barcelona seemed to be very relevant to the state of masculinity these days but perhaps what is more relevant is how quickly we saw him smiling once the torrent of millions from Paris Saint-Germain fell on his lap. But I digress. The Taliban have forbidden all music in Afghanistan, having already executed key figures such as folk singer Fawad Andarabi. Discussing in this context the empowerment of women through their musical careers is chilling. Even the most trivial wannabe star takes on an enormous importance as a figure of anti-patriarchal dissent in ways I had never considered when designing the course. On the other hand, I very much suspect that once we listen to what current Anglophone female stars do say in their songs, we will grow more sceptical about their empowerment. As we are learning in Kabul—and not so far in local social media—we women are always one step away from being silenced no matter how vocal we may be. My intention in any case is to share with my students the pleasure of hearing women sing loudly and beautifully, as so many do. I was going to write ‘for as long as we can’ but perhaps that’s self-defeating.

Perhaps because of the constant threat of being cancelled by patriarchy, in this summer of apocalyptic proportions I have found much comfort in the memoirs of Katharine Graham, the woman who owned and ran The Washington Post for decades. As a young person I was a fan of TV series Lou Grant (1977-1982), the spin-off of popular sitcom The Mary Tyler Moore Show (1970-1977) starring Ed Asner, the excellent actor who died yesterday (he was also the voice of grumpy Carl Fredricksen in Up!). Journalist Grant’s boss in the fictional Los Angeles Tribune was the formidable Margaret Jones Pynchon (played by Nancy Marchand), a composite character, Wikipedia informs, merging “real-life newspaper executives Dorothy Chandler of the Los Angeles Times and Katharine Graham of The Washington Post”. Later, I came across Graham herself as played by Meryl Streep in Steven Spielberg’s undervalued The Post (2017), on the crisis caused when the Nixon administration tried to ban all US papers from publishing the Pentagon Papers leaked by whistle-blower Daniel Ellsberg. In Graham’s memoirs, Pulitzer-award winning volume Personal History (1997), this episode looms large, but the lesson on how to protect the freedom of the press she offers is nothing compared to her teachings about how marginal women were in journalism when she was suddenly empowered.

Basically, Graham’s patriarchal father Eugene Meyer could never see his daughter as his heir in The Post and so he chose his son-in-law Phil Graham to play that role. While Katharine lived the busy life of the upper-class wife, mother and society hostess, Phil went the downward spiral, plagued by thoughts that he had not succeeded because of his merits but for being his wife’s husband. Unable to deal with his own male chauvinism, Phil took his life, which left a shocked Katharine at the helm of The Post when she least expected it, aged 46. Her memoirs are often painful to read for the constant insecurity she shows at all times, even when she was one of the most powerful women on Earth. The elderly Katharine (she published the memoirs four years before her death in 2001, aged 84) narrates her life not as a woman who was a feminist from the start but as a woman who discovered feminism once she was empowered and who is appalled at her own naivete as a younger woman. It could not be otherwise given her background and the times. Tellingly, Katharine inherited The Post in 1963, the year when Betty Friedan jump-started second-wave feminism with The Feminine Mystique. Graham’s many comments about being the only woman in her professional circle (and how this constricted the socializing habits of her male peers, spoiling their sexist pleasures) remind us of how lonely a figure she was only sixty years ago. Many things have changed but tell that to the female journalists now fleeing Afghanistan (or trapped there).

Kabul and Katharine have taught me this summer, in short, that if living one’s life as a woman is complicated enough, being subjected to the patriarchal forces of history makes any illusion of personal control naïve and even dangerous. Frankly, I do not know where we are going as human beings, which is why I am sure I will find much comfort in going back to teaching Victorian Literature, since Victorians had a clear sense of progress, including the women who invented first-wave feminism. There was a moment in the 1990s when it seemed Homo Sapiens might have a chance to establish a truly enlightened multicultural global culture but that was revealed to be a false impression generated by the interests of multinational corporations, gleefully celebrating the end of Communism. Then came 9/11, the tragic wake-up call to the real nature of (in)human civilization whose twentieth anniversary will happen in a couple of weeks. Since then, we seem unable as a collectivity to find a new solid horizon, a sense of the future, a project for us and our planet. I would not mind so much for myself, but I have young people to educate, most of them women, and I am just wondering out loud how to do it with enthusiasm and hope for their future. I’m listening if you have any ideas.

I publish a post once a week (follow @SaraMartinUAB). Comments are very welcome! Download the yearly volumes from https://ddd.uab.cat/record/116328. Visit my website https://gent.uab.cat/saramartinalegre/

WHEN WE WERE REFUGEES: READING AGUSTÍ CENTELLLES’ DIARI D’UN FOTÒGRAF: BRAM 1939

Now that the refugee crisis is raging in the Mediterranean (I refer here to the Spanish rescue ship Open Arms and the brutal reluctance of the Italian authorities to help her passengers), it’s time to remember that we, Spaniards, were also once refugees. In January 1939, when it was already obvious that Franco’s fascist troops would win the assault against the democratic Spanish Republican Government, about 500,000 persons crossed the border to seek refuge in France. They were, of course, mostly Republicans who feared for their lives, ranging from first-rank political figures to common citizens, all with a clear understanding that all of Spain would become a prison in the post-war period. As it did.

There is a hidden family story here, which I need to tell. It has taken me many years to understand that my paternal grandmother was among those anonymous citizens together with my father and possibly his aunt, though I have no proof that this was the case. Allow me to explain.

My paternal grandfather was only 19 when the war started in July 1936 and from what I gather he and my grandmother –a Galician migrant seven years his senior– contracted a war marriage only a few days later. I mean by this that they would not have married in such haste, or at all, if it weren’t for the war. My grandfather eventually became a Republican commissar (the head of a small militia platoon) and fought mainly in the Teruel area; in one of his very few comments on the war, he claimed to have taken part in the Ebro Battle with the International Brigades. My father was born in 1937 and he has often told us that when he finally met his father he was already four, and had no idea of who he was. This was, then, in 1941, most likely during the first leave which my grandfather had from his three-year post-war military service, a punishment meted out to low-profile Republican soldiers (or those who had managed to silence what they really did, as I suspect in my grandfather’s case).

Anyway, my father was baptized in March 1939 in the church of Saint André de Meouilles (today Saint-André-les-Alpes), in the French district of Alpes-de-Haute-Provence. He does have a certificate for this but no further information whatsoever about why he was there at the time. He never asked, fancy that! I understood (not too long ago) that my grandmother must have run away with her baby to France, returning possibly once the war was over for good (after April 1939). She never said a word about this, and to this day I have been unable to locate a refugee camp in the area where my father was christened, though probably they were at Sisteron (for a complete list, see https://es.wikipedia.org/wiki/Campos_de_internamiento_en_Francia ).

The family of photographer Agustí Centelles is luckier. He did not discuss his terrible experience in detail with them, but he left a considerable number of letters to his wife and two handwritten notebooks. These were rescued from oblivion by his son Sergi as late as 1986, right after his father’s death. Later, Teresa Ferré edited the text, published in 2008 as Diari d’un fotògraf: Bram, 1939. In case you have never heard of Centelles, he is the author of one of the most iconic images of the Spanish Civil War, the one showing three Republican guards and a male civilian shooting as they lean on the bodies of some dead horses (this was taken on 19 July 1936 in the middle of Barcelona’s Eixample).

Centelles (1909-1985), often dubbed the local Robert Capa, was a pioneering press photographer. Born in València, he pursued his whole career in Barcelona, though in two very different phases. His press-related task ended in 1939, with his exile to France and his internment in the refugee camp of Bram, following an intense collaboration with the Republican Government (though he was never a soldier). When he returned (in 1944) Centelles spent a couple of years as a baker, living a clandestine life in Reus with his wife and child, until the Francoist authorities allowed him to work as a photographer again, but only in advertising and industrial photography. When he left for France, Centelles was carrying with him a suitcase with thousands of negatives, which he hid in the Carcassone home of some loyal friends until 1976, once Franco died. The exhibition of his pre-1939 photos, specially the one staged in 2002, has secured his lasting fame as a press photographer, which is what Centelles always was.

Teresa Ferré warns in her introduction that Centelles was not a literary writer. Besides, she adds, his notebooks are not a memoir written in hindsight, but a very basic journal kept against all odds at Bram. Centelles begins his first notebook with a dedication to his son Sergi (then an infant) and to ‘all those who might come later’, meaning, I think, other children he and his wife might have, though the dedication encompasses any potential reader. Writing in Catalan with many doubts about his proficiency, Centelles already expresses in the first paragraph the complaint that articulates the whole text: although he is a political refugee, the French authorities are treating him (and all his fellow Republican refugees) as a prisoner. The bare prose, once the initial summary of his life is covered, works as a diary, by which I do not mean a journal in the style of Anne Frank’s but as a record of the daily struggle to live in the camp of Bram, organized in very simple, starkly descriptive entries.

I must say that the catalogue of small daily events which Centelles offers is more than sufficient to get a thorough picture of the Republican refugees’ miserable life. Although I cannot name a specific text, before reading Centelles the descriptions I had come across of the horrors in appalling camps such as the one at Argèles-sur-Mer (https://es.wikipedia.org/wiki/Campo_de_concentraci%C3%B3n_de_Argel%C3%A8s-sur-Mer) had already put me on the alert about the terrible odyssey of the Republican refugees. Basically, theirs was a case of escaping the frying pan to fall into the fire, and much more so for the men. They found themselves forced to work for the French Army once WWII started, which explains why so many ended in Mauthausen (some women, too). Centelles escaped that fate because, as he narrates, he was eventually hired by an elderly photographer in Carcassonne whose son had been recruited to be a soldier. The camp authorities charged a fee for the services of the refugee prisoners farmed out to work elsewhere… but this is a minor abuse compared to the rest.

The camps are difficult to discuss without criticizing the inhumane, horrific treatment which the French authorities offered to the refugees. Just like the Syrian refugees today, the Republican refugees were clearly unwelcome. When they poured in masses into French territory, they were secluded, as Centelles narrates, into concentration camps not very different from the ones Franco was using in Spain (see Carlos Hernández de Miguel’s new book Los campos de concentración de Franco: Sometimiento, torturas y muerte tras las alambradas). The refugees, as Centelles rightly complains, were treated in practice as prisoners: piled in barracks that were actually shacks, undernourished (because of rampant corruption), practically isolated from home, prevented from circulating freely in France, and left to die from disease caused by the unspeakable filth. Spanish refugees, Centelles notes, were treated with extreme distaste by the local population, who saw them as dirty criminals deserving their imprisonment. Knowing the war was lost and they could hardly return to Franco’s Spain, the refugees were abandoned to their fate, and only aided by the few surviving Republican institutions. These helped some to embark on a long-lasting exile in nations such as Mexico, Argentina, or Chile, though most Republicans eventually returned to Spain. Why Mexico, above all, reacted with such generosity and France with so little is something that needs to be considered.

Europe has not built (so far) concentration camps for refugees, but the United States has, as we have been seeing, and shamelessly so. I am very much aware that migrants and refugees are categories that tend to be mixed today, since both are exploited by mafias and, anyway, many who run away from their home countries are both poor and politically persecuted. I do not know how this situation can be solved for good –there are 65 million political refugees all over the world (see www.acnur.org) and possibly as many people trying to escape plain poverty. When the war in Syria started (back in 2011), if that can be called a war at all, it seemed that, given the availability of personal testimonials on the social networks, the more civilized nations would quickly offer help. People would be granted visas, flights would be organized, jobs would be found for those in fear of losing their lives. Instead, refugees had to brave the hostility of the people in the territories which they crossed on foot (remember that Hungarian female journalist kicking a Syrian man carrying his boy in his arms?) and of the Mediterranean. Texts like Centelles’ journal show us that the plight of the refugee may affect people like us at any moment –people like my grandmother and my father– yet we still see the refugee as an unwelcome guest.

Since Centelles knew the value of graphic representation, he would probably be quite surprised at how little impact the work of the press photographers is having today. Or any other audio-visual report. Netflix’s short documentary The White Helmets (2017), which follows the Syrian first responders rescuing civilians from the rubble caused by the bombings, got an Oscar. The group had been nominated to the Nobel Peace Prize, which they lost to the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons. Many other videos and photos are available but, still, the slaughter continues. What, then, does it take for basic human empathy to take roots? If textual, rather than audio-visual representation is what we need, then a long list of books is already available (see https://www.penguinrandomhouse.com/the-read-down/books-understand-refugee-experience). And possibly, plenty of academic analysis.

I come to the sad conclusion that nothing works. We have refugee fatigue, it seems. We always wonder how the Holocaust could happen, with so very few people helping those imprisoned in the extermination camps but I also wonder what went through the mind of the ordinary French people who thought it was fine to keep 500,000 Spaniards in concentration camps. The French authorities, Centelles explains, wanted to be thanked for the effort made. He himself took the pictures published in the local Bram press showing the camp officers and the refugees celebrating the generosity of our neighbours. It was all false, of course, and soon collapsed once WWII started and the refugees became a veritable nuisance. I wonder what would have happened if the Republican Government had won the Civil War and Spain had been flooded with 500,000 French refugees escaping their Nazi invaders –and I’m not saying the camps would not have been the chosen solution on this side of the Pyrenees.

Homo Sapiens is, definitely, not progressing at all.

I publish a post once a week (follow @SaraMartinUAB). Comments are very welcome! Download the yearly volumes from: https://ddd.uab.cat/record/116328. My web: https://gent.uab.cat/saramartinalegre/