“Silly is the one who does nonsense”. This teaching that Forrest Gump attributed to his mother it seems to me one of the most solid ideas possible from which to face the new year. I go back to the beginning. Year one after the pandemic that made us deeply stupid.
They say that the habit does not make the monk, I answer: It depends on how long you wear it. Forrest’s mother is right, we really are what we take time to be. You are not born destined to be stupid, fragile or a liar: you acquire that condition through your actions. 2020 has flooded us with fear and superstition. Of cheesy, inflammatory speeches and bad literature sold as reasoning. It is the year in which we despise acts and accept the validity of words as spells capable of altering physical reality. We put our brains and our wills on hold. While science and technology have validated, at a speed never seen before, Forrest’s mother’s theory of acts – a stance that gives us control and autonomy over the way we want to be and act in the world -, we seemed to prefer the useless refuge of magic. And now, as then, words are again very dangerous.
Could be a statesman
In Conversation with the stove, Hermann Hesse speaks of a quality that only the human being possesses in “high perfection”: the sense of the impractical. Franklin, the Italian stove that has an American name, explains thatIt is cowardly peoples who compose songs of courage and those who lack love extol it in their plays. It claims to be a stove that “heats little and only accidentally,” but it could also be a statesman. And it is that, being a product of the human being, “How could a stove be just a stove?”
In a time in which identities put and remove rulers, but are so fragile that they tremble at the mere possibility of the similarity with another human being, ¿how could words be just words if under their innocent appearance they hide the ability to put us in conflict with ourselves? Nothing more terrible than discovering, perhaps through the mischief of humor, that you have confused yours with others and are making fun of yourself. That is why we suffer when we read them and we ask that they be removed, not only from our sight, but from anyone’s. You never know who might recognize us in them. The words, deformed mirrors in which only the others are reflected.
Among the damning evidence presented in witch trials was the supernatural lightness of wretched women: a true witch weighs less than her complexion
The story of witches is an example of what Wislawa Szymborska denominates in Prose reunitedcunning of goodness. He says that in the town of Oudewater, there was a scale that was used to weigh produce on market days. Among the damning evidence presented in witch trials was the supernatural lightness of wretched women: a true witch weighs less than her complexion. The people of Oudewater turned their scale into the ultimate witch oracle. Practicing a very serious ritual, they weighed suspects who came from all places and later issued the corresponding certificate. In all cases, the weight was appropriate, there was never a death sentence and the defendants returned to their tasks and recovered their lives.
“The more witches that were burned, the more general was the belief that they existed.”
And there, trapped, we find a timeless paradox: all non-existent danger requires an adversary who fights it with passion. Your fight will be the proof of existence. The more words that are silenced for being dangerous, the more their dangerousness is demonstrated.
If we must fight a world that gives words the exclusive power of acts and that listening to someone else’s speech causes unbearable suffering or “forces” them to behave like a madman, it is because we are short of the kind of intelligence that makes sure you have refrigerators if you are going to buy frozen. The same one that Forrest possesses who, by focusing on learning what he ignores, shows that he who does intelligent things will never be a fool.
AddendaWhile I was writing this column, the assault on the Capitol took place. Since then I have been reconsidering what I had written. I have wondered if in view of the consequences -not already in Catalonia or in the UK, but in a place as unthinkable as the U.S– the fear of words and the desire for greater censorship are not reasonable. But that should be the subject of a longer reflection. For now I only have three certainties. The first is that no authoritarian regime has ever lived with freedom of expression. The second is that Although freedom tolerates lies, without freedom there is no possibility of truth. And the last is that that protective censorship that we seem to want would not apply to those who should weigh their words: those who inflame and exalt the worst instincts of the peoples they lead. None of them would support their own newspaper library.
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