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Urban Suffering Studies Center

 

 

Time of Siege

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Benedetto Saraceno

 

 

"It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of dispair" (Charles Dickens, A Tale of Two Cities)

We are living in times of siege: foolishness, incredulity and darkness. A season of despair?
The sensation of belonging to a national community, to a system consolidated and shared by society, to a system of shared moral values, to a common religion, and, in general, the feeling of belonging to a vast group of people who feel united is above all, a highly emotional experience that, starting from the emotion of identity subsequently adopts a set of ideas and values with pseudo-moral connotations and finally also declares itself as a choice in the political field. Many americans, often united by belonging to the same religious sect, and who vote republican are very familiar with this experience that escalates into a collective and vibrant emotion whenever there is a danger (often just perceived more than real) that threatens the nation, its values, and its myths.
It is since the 1930s, between the first and second world wars, that europeans had have the good fortune not to know the widespread and unanimous phenomenon of the need to belong to a "country" anymore (to a sovereign Nation, not recognizable as Europe but as a historically defined country: France, Italy, Poland), a nation that has borders which are less and less penetrable, a nation of citizens empowered by the communality of christian, family, xenophobic, popular values, and therefore hostile to the political ruling class seen as corrupt and prone to the selling off of national sovereignty.
We are speaking of a populism that took shape during fascism in the twenties and thirties and that tends to proliferate readily in favourable breeding grounds. Post World War II Europe imbued with the will for pacification and discovering democracy once again acted as a bulwark against the reproduction of this fascism from 1945 up to a few years ago.
Present-day Poland and Hungary are definitely aiming at consolidating an openly fascist and authoritarian regime, the France of Lepen hopes (and with a good chance) to establish itself on the ruins of the sarkozy corruption and the wavering blair-ism of Francois Holland and of his militarized prime minister Manuel Valls, Italy where Matteo Salvini works, brings together a) the black fascists of the Alleanza Nazionale (many of whom originate from the rows of thugs from the suburbs of Rome or from the sequence of events of fascism in the veneto area), b) the rabid, crass and crypto violent selfishness of the northern league culture c) the cynical, debauched corruption for individual gain of Berlusconi's gang.
It seems that all aspire to create popular movements, verbally violent and lacking in any ratio of government (Salvini and like him also Grillo consider Putin a democratic and enlightened statesman, the return of the lira a rational economic policy, the closure of borders to workers a strategy for increasing employment among italians: measures that not even a modest little dictator from a banana republic would regard as credible).
They all fuel verbal violence (from bulldozers for clearing out women and children to boats that they would like to see sunk in the sea, to the merry complacency when immigrants fail to get to a land of immigration but die in transit, to the call for bombing raids on Daesh territories). They all promote the rhetoric of xenophobic and islamophobic traditions (first and foremost the crib, together with polenta and christmas carols) cancelling through ignorance but often also intentionally the true religious roots of such traditions that recall the values of solidarity and brotherhood of christianity (so much as to insult the Pope and church leaders if instead of defending the crib they have the audacity to promote the Gospel).
Obviously the religions and "other" cultures are a constitutive and dominent part of the threat to identity and therefore promoting new/old forms of discrimination: no to places of worship for muslims (every mosque is a camp of terrorists), no to the burqa because it conceals a potential terrorist, yes to the repression of all forms of discrimination against women invoked by islam but indifference to the violence on women by our males, condemnation of the potential violence hidden in every muslim but solidarity and sympathy towards local violence that shoots at petty thieves killing them. If all other religions are a threat there is no doubt that there is a gradient: maximum danger warning for muslims and minimum for jews who, thanks to Israeli policy have become part of the rights of the Empire of Good that fights against that of Evil.
Ignorance, violence, discrimination, easy compromises are the ingredients of this siege that silences and isolates peacemakers, that ridicules the promoters of reasonableness and preachers of tolerance and brotherhood. "Do-goodism" is the word used to disqualify any action that protects and safeguards the most vulnerable. Therefore acquired and legitimate rights of prisoners, drug addicts and immigrants cease to be considered rights but instead become dangerous expressions of do-goodism. To be bad (as Maroni, the President of the Region of Lombardy once said) would therefore be a virtue that contrasts with the "softness" of do-goodism. In this way the population has been convinced that we are not talking about legal certainties anymore but of simple options of "easygoing" goodness or harsh unkindness. But the Constitution is neither easygoing nor harsh, neither good nor evil it is instead the document of an agreement between citizens. But few remember this, few know about it and it is easier for everyone to think that the Constitution and laws are optionals of the good guys.
However, everything schematically described so far represents only one side of the field under attack.
The defenders - the peacemakers, the supporters of reasonableness, the preachers of tolerance and brotherhood - are entrenched within a field that is subjected to multiple attacks. In fact there are others who attack the helpless defenders: violent people and the representatives of fundamentalism (first and by far the most menacing being the islamic Daesch) are laying siege to another side of the field.
And they attack with toughness, determination, efficiency and above all with a total callousness towards every form of human pity and more generally with total contempt towards every human manifestation of man.
So the siege is therefore twofold but, on closer inspection, a third attack is developing next to the first two: in fact the war on violent people and fundamentalists is conducted in opaque and ambiguous forms by other violent people who are supposed to watch over the peace of our territories but that alas do other things: they do business with supposed enemies and support friends of enemies, they conceal their affairs, manipulate information and they call us to join in the crusade of good against evil. We have no doubt that this evil is really evil but we have many doubts about the good that the new crusaders are invoking.
In this way, we are under attack or rather under various attacks. The forces of reasoning, peace, virtue and brotherhood, of solidarity and of the tenderness of humanity are dwindling.
The old allies, the left-wing intellectuals, are not to be seen anymore both because the left has evaporated amid the bombasts, cynical and rhetorical of the Democratic Party (or anyhow of its leadership) and those shortsighted of the "other" left incapable of being either on the Government or part of the opposition that is, point blank, perhaps incapable of even existing. The intellectuals of the left-wing that doesn't exist anymore have disappeared and therefore resistance to the multiple attacks is a meagre, scattered and poorly coordinated affair. Everyone knows that the other is there somewhere but nobody knows neither where nor who can be counted on.
Therefore, the question arises: how does one survive this climate of attacks and loneliness?
You see there are those who get tired, who betray, who continue listlessly, those who continue in an increasingly sectarian way, who loses their brain, who sell their brain and those who run away.
In his letter of 21 february 1944 to his disciple Eberhard Bethge, Dietrich Bonhoeffer doesn't mention the terms resistance and surrender as an alternative: or resistance or surrender instead he describes them as a continuum of coexisting dimensions that come true from time to time, now one now the other without ever abandoning us. Therefore we are not dealing with either an unconditional and deadly surrender or an impossible and quixotic resistance (In the same letter Bonhoeffer refers precisely to the hero of Cervantes).
This means keeping a vigilant position at times active and at times passive, sometimes silent and sometimes talkative. It means that while accepting that evil is prevailing, one should establish oneself, so as not to be overcome, in that "privacy that is not privative" according to the apt expression of Hannah Arendt in "Vita Activa". Taking refuge in a profundity that however does not take us away from the public, in the dynamics between public space and private sphere that protects us without separating us from the world.
Our action must concentrate now and more and more, on small and local dimensions and realize how to give up any aspirations of generalizability and media coverage; our action has to lose in extension and grow in depth; direct good done to individuals must prevail over indirect good done to many. To this narrowing of public impact we must match an important development in our correctness and our moral inflexibility (the dominant language now calls every moral act, moralism, in the same way as every act of justice becomes doing good).
We have to accept the local dimension as a permanent laboratory and stop thinking of "meanings" beyond the local. Regarding the relationship between the national state and local realities Arjun Appadurai writes ‘the location for the modern national state is a site devoted to nostalgia, celebrations and commemorations functional with the national model, otherwise it is nothing more than a necessary condition for producing national citizens. Neighborhoods as social formations are a source of insecurity for the national state because they usually contain spaces (more or less extensive) where it is possible that techniques of the national process (birth control, linguistic uniformity, economic discipline, communicative efficiency and political loyalty) are not able to be applied or are directly challenged'. One should ask oneself whether the deep democracy mentioned by Appadurai is not the indispensable dimension to the understanding of the contexts where our action should be developed: ‘Deep democracy is the closest democracy, the handiest, the democracy of the neighborhood, the community, of blood relations and friendship which is expressed in the daily practice of sharing information, in the construction of housing and sanitation, and savings (seen as a basis on which to found a federation within this global network... Deep democracy is a public democracy in as much as it has become internalized in the lifeblood of local communities and has become part, on a local level, of the habitus, in the sense made famous by Pierre Bourdieu'.

These times require vigilance and active silence: that is, paying attention to the world and interception of nuclei of resistance that surround us and parsimony in action and public intervention, active silence, a fluctuating attention, listening. I wonder if the meek and silent doves should patiently prepare themselves to become snakes.

 

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Center for urban suffering

The study centre wishes to study the phenomenon of urban suffering, in other words the suffering that is specific to the great metropolises. Urban Suffering is a category that describes the meeting of individual suffering with the social fabric that they inhabit. The description, the understanding and the transformation of the psychological and social dynamics that develop from the meeting of ...

Who we are

The Urban Suffering Studies Center - SOUQ - arises from Milan, a place of complexity and economic and social contradictions belonged to global world.Tightly linked to Casa della Carità Foundation, which provides assistance and care to unserved populations in Milan (such as immigrants legal and illegal, homeless, vulnerable minorities), the Urban Suffering Studies Center puts attention on ...

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Centro studi Souq Management commitee: Laura Arduini, Virginio Colmegna (presidente), Silvia Landra, Simona Sambati, Benedetto Saraceno ; Scientific commitee: Mario Agostinelli, Angelo Barbato, Maurizio Bonati, Adolfo Ceretti, Giacomo Costa, Ota de Leonardis,  Giulio Ernesti, Sergio Escobar, Luca Formenton, Francesco Maisto, Ambrogio Manenti, Claudia Mazzucato, Daniela ...
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ISSN 2282-5754 Souquaderni [online] by SOUQ - Centro Studi sulla Sofferenza Urbana - CF: 97316770151
Last update: 28/10/2019
 

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