There’s This Guy in Poughkeepsie

They say that when fans asked award-winning fantasist Harlan Ellison where he got his ideas, he told them “Poughkeepsie. There’s a guy there, you mail him $25.00 and he send me ideas.” This is at least what Richard Curtis explains in an article originally written for Locus, the SF magazine, that you can read here.

Ellison’s remark is a spark of acid genius, cause as Curtis also explains in his article, the last thing professional writers need is ideas(*):

[M]ost of the writers I know have enough ideas to last a lifetime? They may need time, yes. They may need money. They may need peace and quiet. They certainly need love. But the one thing they have more than enough of is ideas.

Yet, I think that “Idea Guy” in Poughkeepsie is not completely lost. There is a completely different collective which is in a dire need of ideas. Politicians. Especially in my country, Spain.

Here is my rationale.

Spain is one of the countries which has managed the pandemic worse. It is a fact. You may find a lot of good reasons why this might have happened: geography, age, culture… politicians? It’s not the objective of this post to discuss the reasons. There will be plenty of time. What’s pretty clear is that whatever the reasons, the consequences are going to be terrible: unemployment, poverty, and a public administration sunk in an ocean of unsustainable debt.

Under such circumstances, with such a very tough future in front of us, one would expect that a minimally functional government were desperately looking for solutions. And here comes what I think is the real problem. What are the current solutions Spanish government is offering us?

  • Leave behind the monarchy and move towards a “new republic”.
  • A memory law to solve problems (dirty problems, for sure: a law to fight Franco and dig up the past, is The Economist’s ironic headline )…
  • Including the refurbishment (or even demolition) of a funerary monument (an ugly one, for sure) nearby Madrid (image above).

Let me share with you a couple of (personal) reflections. First, I could sympathize with both ideas. Monarchy seems today like an atavism, and clearly Spain did not do its homework to put a proper closure to its civil war, like Germany did with Nazi crimes. Second, my dearest memory of those (old) times comes from my grandfather, a communist who came to Spain to fight against Franco in 1936. Believe me, He would not have been too impressed with those proposals. He would have expected a better country by today with a clear path forward. My communist grandfather would have agreed with the liberal The Economist!!

Most troubling is that the bill sets up a special prosecutor to investigate human-rights abuses from 1936 to 1978. This is largely futile, since most perpetrators are dead. It also comes close to overturning the amnesty law, out of a conviction that justice and truth should retroactively outweigh peace and reconciliation.

The conservative opposition claims the bill is a smokescreen to hide government mismanagement of the pandemic. It objects, too, to the likelihood that it will be approved with the parliamentary votes of Basque and Catalan separatists, who reject the current constitution.

The bill’s defenders contrast Spain’s tolerance of Franco with Germany and Italy. But Spain’s history is different. If the government really wants to resolve unfinished business from the past, it should have tried to agree on the bill with the opposition. For all its virtues, the bill uses the past as a political weapon. And that is bad for Spanish democracy.

The Economist, A law to fight Franco. The Spanish government proposes a new law on history. It seeks to dig up the past

One might think that, in reality, those proposals are a smoke curtain. That a “Leninist mind” is behind the populist measures whose only objective is distraction. It might be, but I want to offer a different explanation. I think the problem is that the people in this government and, in fact, during at least the whole XXI century DO NOT HAVE IDEAS. They (both right wing, left wing, lateral nationalist wings…) are unaware of plenty of knowledge, they are trapped in an obsolete (antidiluvian) mindset, and therefore they are incapable of coming up with new ideas to solve our present day problems. Here, an insightful reflection by one of our most recognized writers, written more than 100 years ago:

The two parties that have agreed to take turns peacefully in power are two herds of men who only aspire to graze on the budget. They lack ideals, no high end moves them; they will not improve in the least the living conditions of this unhappy, very poor and illiterate race. They will pass one after the other leaving everything as it is today, and they will lead Spain to a state of waste that, surely, will end in death. They will not tackle the religious, the economic, or the educational problem; They will do nothing but pure bureaucracy, caciquismo, sterile work of recommendations, favors to friends, legislate without any practical effectiveness, and go ahead with the lanterns … If nothing can be expected from the monarchical mobs, we must not have faith in the revolutionary flock either ( …) I do not believe in the new breed of revolutionaries or in the antediluvians (…)

Benito Perez Galdos, «La fe nacional y otros escritos sobre España» (nearly perfect traslation by Google Traslate!)

This lack of new ideas is, of course, one of Mind the Post’s foundational assumptions in which I have dwelt once and again. But it is not only me. I have recently read «Anatomia de un Instante» (The Anatomy of a Moment), a singular work by one of our present day most recognized writers. In his novel-essay, Javier Cercas details with astonishing clarity how key politicians during Spanish transition to democracy, like Adolfo Suarez or Santiago Carrillo, were, in essence, little more than hicks.

So here comes my recommendation, my two cents, for our (incompetent) politicians: Mail this guy in Poughkeepsie $25 and ask him for a couple of good ideas!


(*) It is true. I know it because I am one of those writers.

Featured Image: San Lorenzo de El Escorial-Valley of the Fallen (Valle de los Caídos), Wikimedia

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