They can burn books, destroy libraries, forbid languages, ban beliefs, delete past times,
draw new present times, order future actions, torture and execute people...
But they still don´t know how to kill the intangible and bright
bodies of ideas, dreams and hopes.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

[‘Society’ knows] ‘The price of everything and the value of nothing’

['Society' knows] 'The price of everything and the value of nothing'

By Sara Plaza

The society with capital 'S' that Oscar Wilde portrayed in late XIX century was London Victorian aristocracy: a group that was parodied in many works of the Irish writer, who highlighted the impotence of good in reaching a happy end inside its shallowness walls; 'shallowness' that, more than a century later, still remains in many other 'upper–class' examples worldwide; 'upper' attending not to their moral stature but to their astronomical bank accounts and high levels of corruption and hypocrisy.

This society, which in order to listen to themselves needs to silence dissonant voices, has almost nothing to say and very much to be ashamed of. This society, which knows the price of everything, has taken it upon them to make a vast majority of people believe that they are worth nothing. This society, which goes on living and believing their lies, encourages the rest to have faith in the truth. This society, which scorns memory, is the one that teaches us History. This society, which despises the life of many, pays a company that 'assures' theirs. This society, which does not cook for itself but is a lover of good food, is deforesting huge areas, poisoning the rivers and fatally wounding the land. This society, which lavishes miserable handouts on the poor, appropriates what is not theirs and keeps to itself what belongs to all.

Many have been against this society, which has room for very few, but the deafening sound of millions of bare feet, millions of chapped hands, millions of hungry mouths, millions of subdued eyes, millions of exiled dreams have not been able to pull down its walls or to shake its foundations yet. At the very bottom, these foundations might not be as strong as in the past but its structure keeps on being an example of architectural efficiency. I believe that its vitality has much to do with the growing sense of disenchantment experienced by the ones who saw how many of their projects faded away through their life and by those who do not know where to sow the seeds of theirs.

Two weeks ago, while Edgardo and I were visiting my family in Spain, the librarian that always goes with him put in my hands one of the volumes in which my parents had bound all the "Bustarviejo" magazines that the cultural association "El Bustar" published during three decades in my village. Edgardo showed me the number 35–1 of February 1980. Inside there was an interview with my grandparents (my mum's parents) written by the priest of my village at that time. I did not remember to have read it when I was seven years old and it was a great discovery at the age of thirty–five. Its title is 'Mariano y Jesusa. El sufrimiento de los pobres' (Mariano and Jesusa. The poor's suffering) and begins with my grandmother's words: 'I have said it to my daughter already, the only thing that I can share with Antonio [the priest] are sorrows, nothing else but sorrows. So, when he come the only thing that I will tell him will be sorrows'. The final words were said by my grandfather after being asked why the youth had abandoned the land: 'The land is ignored and treated as unimportant. The work is very hard, always looking up at the sky, dependent on the rain and the weather. You don't get any vacation, any leave, or any extra payment. The land offers very few rewards to you. So, the youth has abandoned the land when they have had the opportunity of doing something different. They have left rural areas out of obligation and maybe considering that authorities do not reward it. The peasant has to live at the same level as the others do. The sharecropper and the poor have had to abandon the land for it has only been a matter of concern to them. The only ones who always get something are the great landowning families. The nation will not benefit from people leaving the countryside. The Government, concerning this matter, has not been right: has left the peasant aside. I believe that there are many trade unions and many other things that might be reduced and more attention should be paid to agriculture and cattle raising'. Immediately afterwards, the interviewer drew the reader's attention to the number of complaints printed in Mariano's words and I could not avoid smiling timidly. Of course there are complaints in their words, and I was surprised to find them in an interview where my grandparents remembered the sum of their defeats through their life. I was also surprised by the good sense of humor that they showed in their answers a couple of times despite their general touch of bitterness, and it hurt me to notice the harsh words that my grandfather used to talk about that sense of disenchantment I referred to in a previous paragraph. I knew that he had chosen to fight at the Republicans side during our Civil War and that he was in a concentration camp in France afterwards. I also knew that he never wanted to talk about it and that he was so insistent on asking his three sons and his one only daughter not to go into politics. His answer respecting this matter was very demonstrative: 'I wash my hands, I packed it in. Since I was in France I quitted politics'.

No doubt a war, poverty, unemployment, the fact of being forced to abandon the place where one has lived because you are sentenced to death or to die of hunger, are sufficient grounds for the feeling of disenchantment, disillusion and disappointment. However, the heirs of those who suffered them should not forget that they are the nutrients that, on the one hand, enforce the shallowness in which the minority 'upper–classes' worldwide are enveloped and, on the other, revitalize the injustice that surrounds the large number of 'low–classes'. They are key elements to allow the former to keep on putting a price on everything and to prevent the latter from recognizing their own value. For this reason, despite the fact that there are sufficient grounds for disinterest –and lost of hope and enthusiasm–, we should always find others for denouncing the origin and the cause of it. I am of the opinion that the seed of our projects will germinate in the lands we reclaim from our disappointment. On the contrary, the lands we keep on fertilizing with our disenchantment will only increase the impotence of good in reaching a happy end on either side of the walls that separate society with capital 'S' from the rest.

Some years ago, one of my teachers introduced me to Wilde's works and only a couple of weeks ago the one to blame for this blog put in her accomplice's hands a volume where I could read a short account of my grandparents' life. I would like to say thank you to the teacher and to the librarian for the pages they set in front of me, and to their respective authors for writing and pronouncing the words that are printed in them.

Note: The title of this post belongs to words of Lord Darlington in Lady Windermere's fan by Oscar Wilde.