Buddhist Spain

This article is featured in The Huffington Post.

By Matthias Krug

Exactly thirty-five years ago an economist and journalist named Dr. E. F. Schumacher passed away. Next year will mark the 40th anniversary of the publication of his revolutionary book entitled ‘Small is Beautiful’.

When I sorted through endless mounds of material goods as I moved flats last week in Spain, that frayed book, long stowed away from student days, found its way magically into my hands. The subtitle, ‘A study of economics as if people mattered’, seemed so fitting (if not ironic) in the current context that I began to re-read.

For this particular article, I thought the following subtitle might do: ‘A study of people in Spain when global economics matters more.’

A few hours later I had a farewell chat with my lovely old Spanish landlady. The topic swung tragically towards Spain’s current economic predicament.

‘I don’t watch the news anymore,’ she said, ‘things are just too bad to bear. The problem is Spain’s system of autonomic governments. I won’t be going to Germany for holidays this year; we have opted for the beaches of Valencia.’

A few days later, the autonomic government of Valencia became the first to ask for a bailout from the central government. Life goes on as usual in this city; the beach bustles with tourists, the heat of summer has settled in as every year, but little signs like the posters on pharmacies (‘we have not been paid, yet again’) or the protests against thousands of local job layoffs which cut off one of the city’s main avenues for hours on end indicate that social cohesion is being seriously tested.

‘If a man has no chance of obtaining work he is in a desperate position,’ Schumacher wrote, ‘not simply because he lacks an income but because he lacks this nourishing and enlivening factor of disciplined work which nothing can replace.’

‘No,’ the landlady’s son countered, sitting next to her on the little red sofa. ‘The real problem is this: the other day, when Spain won the European Championships, I went to the biggest national store chain and bought a Spanish flag to celebrate. It said: Made in China.’

‘The Buddhist economist would hold that to satisfy human wants from faraway sources rather than from sources nearby signifies failure rather than success,’ wrote Schumacher.

‘The other problem we have,’ the son added, ‘is that we’ve been living above our means. Everybody in Spain wanted to own a BMW.’

‘It is not wealth that stands in the way of liberation but the attachment to wealth; not the enjoyment of pleasurable things but the craving for them,’ Schumacher pointed out.

What Spain needs, then, is simple. To become Buddhist Spain.

Not in terms of religion, because that would be some undertaking and essentially unrealistic in largely Catholic Spain. But in terms of economic planning and education for coming generations, Schumacher’s chapter on Buddhist Economics should certainly be read by those who wish to re-build a fairer society in Spain in the future.

‘It is clear, therefore,’ Schumacher added, ‘that Buddhist economics must be very different from the economics of modern materialism, since the Buddhist sees the essence of civilization not in a multiplication of wants but in the purification of human character.’

As I sorted through mounds and heaps of belongings and stacked ‘Small if Beautiful’ in the pile of ‘things to keep’, I came to two essential conclusions. The first was that I essentially had enough clothes to get me through the rest of my life without entering another shop. The second was that although four decades is a long time by any measure, the work of Schumacher is far from outdated in Spain’s current economic predicament.

Matthias Krug (www.mkrug.com) is a writer, novelist and journalist who currently lives in Spain. He has written for international media like the BBC, the Huffington Post, ESPN, El Pais English, Irish Examiner or Al Jazeera International, and is the author of the humerous novel ‘Selfishness’ and the short story collection ‘Brave New Words’. He has a PhD in English Linguistics and Literature from the UCM of Madrid.

 

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DYSTOPIA

By Imran Garda

Scream.

Scream.

Screaaaaaaaaaaaaaam.

The train screams towards him, louder, louder with every inch of ground covered. Then a halting screech. And a jolt. The doors open.

Grey-booted legs step off and onto the platform. His grey-booted twigs embark.

“Station 55 Military Capital,” said the automated voice, “stand clear of the platform, next station 56,” the accent is aggravating, feeftee seeeex with roller-coasting elongated vowels. Neither American, nor English, but tinny, whiny and almost Australian – if Australia still existed, he thought. The doors close.

They scream.

Scream.

Screaaaaam away towards station 56. Half an hour until he reaches home. Eleven small stops, rather momentary slowdowns in-between, at the mini stations not large enough to warrant a name or number. They used to be stations until the Peace Enforcement Brigade finally put an end to the riots in Chinatown.

Adam Shirazi leaves his newspaper in the bag. He prefers to think. In this place, in this life, all he has are his thoughts. He thinks.

Before the war the trains never used to scream, they would glide. Or maybe that’s just the way he and everybody else sees the past. Water tasted sweeter, now it merely serves as a survival fluid. Food tasted delicious and it nourished; now food is a battery recharger, just enough to keep them alive, just enough for them to do their work, not enough for them to enjoy it.

Tasteful enough to keep them from suicide.

Tastelessly plaguing every mouth, weighing on every tongue like a bad memory, only to be replaced with a new one, three times a day.

There are a few seats available. But he chooses to stand for now.

I’m old but I’m not dead, he thinks.

Facing forward, holding the leather strap with one hand. Staring ahead, thinking.

He only has one thought – “All I have are my thoughts.” He has none, except that. But it sustains him. Ahead, Shirazi can see the slightly open door leading to the next cabin. It’s rattling, just a little, and his eyes focus on a small corner of the yellow Obama-era door; the rattle is therapy, he drifts into deep dozy daydream. Thoughtful thoughtlessness, “all I have are my thoughts,” like a mantra it metronomically taps at regular intervals in his mind…”all I have are my thoughts.”

A voice from behind: “Prrrraise the Lor’d….Prrrraise the Lor’d.” It’s getting, louder, closer. He’s back.

The Moronian – he could get himself a minimum of five years for this. “Prrraise the Lor’d, the Lor’d Jay-sus said dis time gon’ come, and I have been anointed by the Lor’d Jay-sus himself to tell ya, oh sinners, oh Babylon, that the return of the Lor’d is near…”

He is in Adam’s peripheral vision now – a caucasian burnt black as charcoal, tattooed nose, dirty as always – a silent mumble, “hope he doesn’t have any of those fucking pamphlets,” Adam’s getting nervous, continues to look ahead but makes a tiny adjustment to his left, gripping onto the hanging leather strap tighter, its edge hurts his palms. He’s closing off his body, angling it away. He gets off at station 56. But they’re still a long way away from it. Adam will have to be patient.

Momentary slowdown. Mini station. Back to full speed.

Hand. Horror.

A trembling, sweaty palm on his right shoulder.

“You sir, belong to da Kingdom of Heaven version 2.0 as expressed in the second coming of the 13th apostle” – the Moronian addresses him mechanically; crossing himself with one hand and pinching his nose with the other in the process, the standard way.

“Excuse me,” Adam rudely mumbles and swivels further to the left. If the cameras see him interacting with the outlawed Moronian, any Moronian, he might get five years.

Momentary slowdown. Mini station. They’ve passed a few already and Adam’s failed to notice. Back to full speed.

The man insisted. “Wait sir, wait….” his greasy hands now seeping through Adam’s cotton shirt. Their bodily fluids meet for the first time.

“The lor’d has said chosen me, and chosen you, and put us both, together in dis place so we could find a way to get the hell outta dis purgatory, for maynkine to re-establish god’s word in dis blessed country…” his accent sways from southeast DC to Mississippian. He continued: “…and to be free from tyranny, tyrants tyrannication, tyrannical tyrannicalism of the tyrant tyranese!!!”

Adam’s starting to sweat profusely. This is too much.

The other passengers are starting to look, not at the Moronian, but at Adam. Their eyes are locked onto him. Scanning him. The woman to the left is writing something down.

“Is she making a note of my barcode? Do I look as if I’m paying attention to him?”

He thinks. Paranoia reigns.

“Five years”…he’s hyperventilating….”five years” he thinks… the woman stands up, waving her index finger at him, now all the passengers are standing up, wagging, wagging, five years….his feet are shaking, drenched under his shirt, it makes no difference because the Moronian’s filthy palms have made him wretchedly dirty enough.

His thoughts like a bouncing rubber ball in a room made of corrugated iron.

“The people, they’re not looking at him they’re looking at me. I must do something. I can’t be seen around him! What the…?”

The accent sounds Pakistani now, “And Allah subhanahu wa ta ‘aalah says that the time will not come until Nabi Isa alayhis salaam slays the one eyed imposter, DAJJAL, the anti-christ…” like velcro mittens the Moronian’s palms grip Adam’s cheeks and turn them to face him. Close enough to see the specks of yellow in his one eye, bulging now, like a grape. He’s laughing. It’s a deep, throaty, spiteful laugh. Now they’re all laughing, and they’re so many of them. The finger wagging and the laughter, in a simultaneous diabolical symphony. Adam needs to get out. He needs to do something.

“My pen, my pen…”

He reaches for his pen in his left pocket, shaking, but this is his only option – he stabs him straight down the middle of that hideous eye. It explodes….with light…a FLASH….

A halting screech.

And a jolt. The steel coated edge of the yellow door looks stained. The door rattles just a little.

“Station 56 Military Capital.”

Adam stands alone. He looks to his right, nobody. Behind him, no finger wagging, just a handful of indifferent, numb passengers, with the same numbness you see everywhere in this place where smiles once visited but visit no more. The same people. But they’re not laughing, not finger wagging. Where did he go? Adam wonders. The woman to his left, nestled in the corner where her plastic seat meets the inside wall of the cabin, humming to herself, eyes closed. Cosy, but numb too, indifferent.

He was never here.

“Stand clear of the platform, next station 56,” the doors close, they scream off once again into the hollow darkness.

 

About the author

Born in Johannesburg, Imran Garda has over a decade of experience as a journalist, writer and broadcaster.  He most recently hosted The Stream on Al Jazeera in Washington DC.

Hemingway meets Darwin in Madrid

By Matthias Krug

The other night, after Spain won a historic third major football title in a row, I went down to catch a whiff of the ecstatic atmosphere on the streets.

Some flag waving grannies on the corner were happily chattering about the spectacular winning performance. Nothing unusual there; Spain has grown accustomed to winning in style during the very four years where its people have suffered the most domestically. In my local bar, however, I came across two unfamiliar faces. They seemed entirely out of place, from a different era even judging by their quirky clothes.

Quickly I ordered a vino tinto and with the honking of the cars and ebullient shouts of joy at being Spanish filtering through from outside, I settled down at the table behind theirs. After a quick double-take of the English conversation (sweetened by the excellent wine), I was entirely certain: here were Hemingway and Darwin, having a nightly drink in my local bar in Madrid.

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‘Football is their opium now,’ Hemingway said gruffly, ‘it gives them a respite, a temporary numbness, from their daily woes. The importance of that particular sport has grown greatly. In my time here it was all about bull-fighting in terms of national pride. But look now. Look at their faces. This is what keeps them going.’

This corroborated what a veteran taxi driver told me the following morning: ‘we are all in a state of euphoria now. This morning faces have changed. For a night and a day, no one thinks of the crisis. Only once you have to pay your mortgage without having the money to do so, then football is of little use again.’

Still I listened intently, too shocked to dare to interrupt their precarious conversation.

‘The weakest link in society is being targeted,’ Darwin observed astutely, flicking with interest through the day’s daily, ‘look here. Pharmacy hikes hit pensioners.’

‘Very true,’ I offered nervously, ‘just the other day I entered into my local pharmacy and they told me that pensioners will feel the effects the most. There is much fear and uncertainty as to what will happen next.’

They both turned to look at me briefly.

‘Fear? What is fear when you’ve been in a civil war?’ Hemingway said fiercely. I meekly nodded. After a long swig at his drink he added: ‘So this is the Spanish democracy, huh?’

‘Apparently,’ Darwin continued, ‘otherwise known as survival of the fittest. Interesting. Very interesting. Look here: illegal immigrants left without health coverage. Or here. Reductions in public health budgets. Evictions by banks continue unabated as tax-payers shoulder bank bailout costs. Or this: education too. Students face bigger classrooms and higher fees. The weakest link is being targeted in each case; pensioners, immigrants, children, sick people, students.’

‘So this is the Spanish democracy?’ Hemingway asked again.

‘Survival of the fittest,’ Darwin muttered, ‘being played out in its most extreme and animalistic form in this all-encompassing thing they label the crisis.’

‘This jamon is outstanding,’ Hemingway said, finishing off the small platter which always accompanies drinks in the Spanish capital. ‘Get me some more. Survival of the fattest, rather. Those who can afford to eat. Against those who can’t. There doesn’t have to be anything fit about them. They can always go to private hospitals.’

‘I hardly think that is a politically correct term,’ I ventured. ‘Fattest, I mean.’

‘What rubbish, I say what I think,’ Hemingway countered.

I had heard enough; outside there was such brilliant happiness to be had that this seemed depressing in comparison. To their great surprise I stood up and walked right out into the summery night. When I hurried back in a few minutes later, aware that I had witnessed a historic meeting of minds, there were only two half empty glasses left at the table.

Matthias Krug (www.mkrug.com) is a writer, novelist and journalist who was born in Qatar and currently lives in Madrid. He has written for prestigious international media like the BBC, the Huffington Post, ESPN, El Pais English, Irish Examiner or Al Jazeera International, and is the author of the humerous novel ‘Selfishness’ and the short story collection ‘Brave New Words’. He has a European PhD in English Linguistics and Literature from the UCM of Madrid.