Narcissist Fading European Nations- Catalonia as Symptom

Guest OpEd- With three earlier pieces republished, this is Alfons Lopez Tena‘s first original contribution to InPRA. He writes on issues and topics pertaining to Catalonia and European politics. 

Image Source: The Guardian

The steady relative decline of the once-mighty European countries offers a fascinating  deep insight into the darkest corners of the ebbing nations’ psyche, which may be overwhelmed by Nirad Chaudhuri’s spell—’Lack of Power’ tends to corrupt and ‘absolute Lack of Power’ corrupts absolutely. That’s what the European Union is about, but its successful resources-sharing, war-preventing endeavour does not totally preclude a sour nostalgia for the good old days of standing alone ruling the world, the waves, or at the bare minimum their neighborhood—as 52% of Britons have shown by voting to leave the European Union.

I believe that sometimes extreme cases are the best to analyze a general trend, and there’s no better European case of downfall in power than Catalonia’s. A once mighty nation ruling a Mediterranean Empire that lost independence five centuries ago, has been fragmented, and strives just to avoid assimilation and disappearance since then.

Two protective mechanisms are then triggered—a suffocating communitarianism to keep people tightly held together, and a superiority complex to over-compensate the grim, bleak reality— that together prevent Catalans from any clear-eyed act to get anything done, improved, or achieved. Symbolic deeds and aesthetic pantomimes are all they’re capably endowed to. As those mechanisms have dragged on for centuries, the bulk of both Catalan political-media establishment and upstarting fringes, if not the whole country as well, have sunk in a quagmire of collective clinical narcissism and cognitive dissonance. A threatened and therefore unstable sense of identity, an acute awareness of its helpless vulnerability, a constant fear of being overwhelmed by its dependency, are overcompensated by clinging to narcissist notions of grandiosity.

The others become instruments to be manipulated either into believers in the Catalan attitudes’ and aims’ righteousness, or into enemies to be feared and scorned at —the wicked Spaniards and their fifth column inside that poison good, simple, faithful Catalans. A brew of bravado, contempt, and utter dismissal of thought, let alone criticism, fuels a people truly convinced of its mission to offer the world the ultimate model of goodness and moral superiority—themselves. No interest whatsoever in the real others—let alone empathy.

So let us map this on to the Catalan independence debate. Narcissist grandiosity comes twofold.

For independentists, Catalonia is a great country and if things don’t add up that way it must be because of Spain. Being specials, acting as the paramount good guys, other nations will rush to recognize their moral worth crowning a sovereign Catalonia in spite of the ethically bankrupt, inferior Spain.

A striking example of this narcissist grandiosity is the Catalan centuries-old and never-ending threat to opt for independence unless getting a better deal from Spain, a crude blackmail never recognized as such but as a demand for concessions. The implications are clear—their very membership is a favour granted by the Catalans to Spain, and independence is not a real aim but a mere instrument of extortion.

This inflated sense of self has been always built on by the Unionist camp arguing that Catalonia  should stay so it can run Spain, to lead and not to leave, since its superior know-how, moral supremacy,  and mystical europeanity since Carolingian times, make Catalonia the natural leader of a half-African, retarded Spain. No Catalan Unionist ever wonders whether 47 million of Spanish citizens really want to be led by 7.5 million of Catalans, with a GDP less than a fifth of Spain’s total; no Catalan Unionist  media, let alone politician, ever fans out across Spain to find out—that requires a genuine interest in others, and empathy, that narcissists, independentists and unionists alike, utterly lack of.

Is the constant Spain bashing not good for the Catalan population since it helps them feel superior? Image Source: Occupy

Instead of recognizing Catalonia’s growing irrelevance, a simple insight that remains a known to all but never talked about national taboo, the people are fed one appeal to grandiosity after another by a wilful blind media subservient to self-serving politicians, Unionist and Independentist alike, continuously coddling Catalans with the sort of half-baked truths  that make Spain look awful and, by implication, Catalonia superior.

Even a deeply held frame of mind cannot fully insulate itself from reality though, so cognitive dissonance comes to rescue Catalans’ wobbling sanity in order to provide some  consistency between their grandiose self-image and their bleak reality—the age-old tricks to  lessen psychological tension and distress experienced by people  who hold two contradictory beliefs at the same time, confronted every so often by new information that conflicts with one or the other or both.

The remedial communitarian placebo is to reduce this dissonance driving people to actively avoid situations likely to increase it, to ignore or reject any conflicting information, to seek support from like-minded mates, to coerce others into persuasion, to put their trust blindly on caring leaders and wise brahmins, and to discredit and silence any dissenter as an enemy of the people, a ward-worth resentment-driven mad traitor.  Hence the authoritarian frame of mind needed to save the ebbing nation’s disappearance, and the steady refusal of any critical thinking whatsoever. Repression, exclusion, mediocrity, become the only game in town in order to ensure survival.

Zia Haider Rahman explains it beautifully: “Their kind of self-belief seems essential to survive what would otherwise assail them as wave after wave of cognitive dissonance, statements of one thing while knowing the opposite. Surely the dissonance would drive them mad so that the only way through it all is for them actually to believe what they say.”

Countries so hopelessly lost in themselves breed a loop where power-lacking feeds delusions which empower impotence-boosting fantasies, with no end in sight while slowly fading into oblivion. Expect nothing then from those nations—they are doomed  to depend on the kindness of strangers.

Alfons López Tena

Alfons López Tena

Alfons López Tena was a member of the Catalan Parliament from 2010 to 2012, specializing in clean governance and Catalan independence issues.A lawyer, former member of Spain’s Council of the Judiciary and an ex-legislator in the Catalan parliament, López Tena is the author of several books on law and secession. He writes for media outlets in the United States, Catalonia, India and Spain.
Alfons López Tena