Friday, July 29, 2016

On Individualism: Mallorcan Society

There is a hotel chain which, unless you have been to certain luxury establishments in the Dominican Republic and Mexico, you will probably never have heard of. Its name is the Excellence Group Luxury Hotels & Resorts. Excellence, from a look at its website, is most certainly what one could expect. There again, there are any number of hotel operators aspiring to provide excellence and indeed achieving it. So what makes this chain of interest?

The fact that it is the product of a joint venture involving two Mallorcan hotel groups - Prinsotel and Viva - does make it of interest. But it isn't what it offers that generates the greatest interest; it's the very nature of cooperation that does.

In "Preferente" magazine there is an opinion piece by I'm assuming Javier Mato. He refers to Excellence, using it as a rare example of cooperation, and in the opening sentence of this article he makes a startling observation. I quote: "Mallorcan society in general and tourism society in particular, highly individualist and only rarely united - such as when the water reaches its neck in the form of impositions and adverse political measures - should draw from the example of ... Excellence."

Where to begin with such a statement? It is loaded with implications of the Mallorcan psyche as well as with how business operates and, by extension, how the political culture operates. It is the "highly individualist" that really made me sit up and pay particular attention. Such a characteristic, by definition, runs counter to notions of collectivism, which I don't specifically mean in the political (communist) sense but in a broader one of collective attitudes, behaviours and objectives.

Another recent article - by Bernat Joan i Marí on the "dBalears" website - is simply entitled "Individualism". He decries its advance, though it might more appropriately be styled as selfishness, and makes an allusion to a time past when he would join with others in excursions to gather almonds and carobs. Such a romantic image is contrasted with what he calls "ultra-individualism", a movement of the present day causing "suffering to our islands".

He goes on in considering how there can be "bizarre" alliances of individual and collective interests. Like Mato, if it is indeed Mato, he refers to the tourism industry and the coalescing of business (hotel) interests in seeking to deny rights to others to make "democratic gains" from tourism by renting out their property. Adverse political measures, it might be noted, have yet to make the water rise to the neck of the hotel collective. They might yet do so, if the regional government regulates private accommodation against the wishes of the collective.

But is this any different to other societies? Or might it be that it is more keenly felt and observed in small island societies? The island mentality of Mallorca has been chewed over by many, though is it fair to conclude, as Mato appears to, that this is a mentality dominated by individualism? One can always dredge up the accusation that Mallorcans are only out to satisfy their own individual ends, a generality I don't subscribe to. But if true, is it so surprising?

Rooted in this society is the nature of Mediterranean insularity, an existence down the centuries that variously prompted grand levels of entrepreneurialism, the avaricious and generally negligent attentions of absentee noble landlords and grinding poverty: a survival of the fittest and the rest can go hang, and often were. Yet this doesn't give a complete picture, not if, for instance, one takes into account the collective uprisings, such as the Germanies of the sixteenth century. Yes it was a long time ago but much of what shaped Mallorca, its society and collective memory is from long ago.

The past haunts Mallorca, there's no getting away from the fact. At times it can appear to be overstated, but to underestimate its power would be to perform an injustice. In this context the thoughts of the Sa Pobla author Miquel López Crespí present a very different take to the individualist one. He writes, there's no question, from a socialist perspective and one also imbued with his own romanticism, such as recollections of nights of summer from the early 1950s when the people of his town would sing on what was once Sa Pobla's beach (now Muro's).

But he is scathing of the impact of mass tourism, of the "false modernity" of the middle class, of the "tyranny" of Palma and the assumptions of welfare to be derived from individualism that leads to the alienation of others. Alienation from an alternative version of Mallorcan society, one predicated on collective aims and wishes.

The cooperation of Excellence would be the antithesis of López Crespí's world view. Curious though it might be, however, there is a degree of similarity, but only a degree. Let's not get carried away. Behind joint ventures there are individual interests.

No comments: