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Urban Suffering Studies Center




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Virginio Colmegna


I would like to take the liberty of writing, as one says, spontaneously and with deep feelings, a mixture of indignation and compassion, regarding the drama of poverty, refugees, and the many glances and silences that now accompany our lives every day. We cannot be indifferent to epoch-making dramas. How do we face these tragedies, this presence of innocent victims fleeing from their land, also trying to save themselves from violent ideologies, risking their lives, they see travel companions die, how can one not be indignant to see they find walls, barbed wire, even violent closures in front of them? They are treated like numbers. But they bring into question our so-called civilization: what roots has Europe, overwhelmed by feelings and protests of rejection?
Is this the Europe we want? One cannot reply with a hasty and aloof no. This tragedy belongs to us. It is an important signal of this economy of waste, of this crazy humanity that no longer knows how to re-establish the fact that to care for the land given to us, to encourage justice and fraternity, to promote and defend the dignity of every living person is an important driving force for promoting hopes, possible happiness, social justice.
What can we do? The denial of living both equalities and processes of inclusion, active citizenship, not only makes violence grow but it multiplies violence, the numerous contradictions and suffering. In a world under globalization, neolassez-faire, advanced capitalism, as a formidable "metafiction", as an ideology now enters in all the spheres of life. Here we discover once again the value of the two encyclicals of Pope Francesco: Evangelii Gaudium and Laudato sì.
A cry, a sob can be heard that also enters our conscience. It is for this reason that I wonder how to help free humanity, the earth from this stranglehold? You cannot achieve this just by describing another world, another often rhetorical ideology, but it is more urgent and possible to be in the concrete experiences of struggle, sharing for equality and inclusion. This extraordinary hope for change, innovation, utopia must be lived on the field. It is certainly a long and arduous journey that perhaps will only succeed in changing from a condition of minor justice to a condition of greater justice, to an effort for greater inclusion. This is a unique but demanding opportunity and responsibility: being in the middle of local initiatives, of territorial communities, of industrious laboratories which show that we can and we must not resign ourselves. Politics must have the ability to mediate, to give and to promote in possible historical times this desire of fraternity, equality, justice. A continuous process is required of us where the goal is clear and not only at the end but which is capable of mobilizing us all before. This is the reason for the clarity of the comparison with the Gospel, to feel like pilgrims who carry in their bag the contemporary language of the beatitudes, is a source of meaning able to give us strength and hope. The age-old tradition, be used in the field, of popular holiness, of people who pay with their lives, this devotion to the Gospel, with a life and a spirituality combined with closeness, listening to poverty and the many wasted lives. We know all the statistics but they must spread in our hearts and not simply allow us to illustrate, to catalogue them. In the Southern Hemisphere 1 billion people live in extreme poverty, they are lack, or are struggling for minimum conditions, the primary needs of life: food, drinking water, a roof over their heads, health care, a basic education. In the poor and abandoned Southern Hemisphere there are millions of people mostly children and malnourished elderly, who are hungry. The contradiction is obvious: some people die from too much, destroying their lives and some which is the vast majority, do not have even the basic requirements of life. About a third of all deaths in the world, roughly 18 million deaths, occur due to starvation, or disease associated with malnutrition. So the most striking contradiction that can be seen and that must give meaning also to our daily being on the territory, is that we are witnessing a growing economy without a reduction in poverty. It's a huge, drammatic problem of inequality made even more serious by exclusion. To this exclusion are to be added ethnic, religious, linguistic minorities of tribal populations, indigenous peoples. Many of these situations of conflict wedged between problems of the economic conditions of life and more or less religious ideologies make the drama of exclusion even more serious. There are also situations of exclusion of ethnic, religious, linguistic minorities, of tribal populations, indigenous peoples. Often these situations lead to wars. Never has the world in all its history experienced so many conflicts or wars, equipped with arms of a destructive potential capable of putting in crisis the survival of the planet, undermined at the same time, by environmental climatic conditions and by devastation of environment care. It is a moral and political disgrace which must enter into our being women and men who cannot remain extraneous to what is happening. It enters into one's very flesh, into one's way of being emotional and capable of protecting the deepest of human feelings, which are tenderness, the ability to rejoice in the happiness of being loved and loving. This migration reality, epochal phenomenon that is exploding, causes panic, is an alarm bell that offers a glimpse of the drama of inequality, exclusion and closures. The forces of solidarity are being asked to join together in this battle and not to indulge in feelings of indifference. We must overcome and abandon the saying "We cannot do anything, we can only be present". It is this indignation that has to grow from the bottom, from the territory, producing another vision of the world. In the past, slaves were mistreated, discriminated against but were required as a productive force, as wealth. This is true even in the explosion of the industrial society, with serfs in the feudal society, underclasses in the industrial civilization. But what is more alarming is that the poor are seen as superfluous, they are excluded, a widespread, collective feeling of rejection is created that actually considers them unwanted, a problem. Therefore they are rejects. And this applies not only to the economic conditions of poverty-misery but it refers also to those who bring suffering with them on the journey of their own existence, living deep crises, they have a life time marked by a lack of self-sufficiency. Often the debate in our territories shows that these are rejects, a problem, we only want to control them under the illusion that it would be possible to "institutionalize the emergency", make it primarily a matter of law and order. It's a powerful reminder to each one of us.
The market economy as a hegemonic force is in fact a source of forms of exclusion, discrimination, also at a political and cultural level. The dignity of every person, the promotion of rights are not repercussions and residual but strategic points and strengths. This great cultural commitment, a universal and cosmic vision, a look at humanity is the continuous solicitation that comes from Pope Francesco in his encyclicals. We must start from all vulnerable groups such as indigenous populations, tribal peoples, migrants, refugees, stateless persons, forced laborers, mestizos, campesinos, the indignatos, minorities, transsexuals, homosexuals, lesbians, intersexuals and so on. A culture and a political choice which starts from the victims, from processes of denial or exclusion, which for example, puts the reality of the disability as a condition for a real change. Women's issues, the status of women become central. How many solicitations and urgencies are concentrated in our sight and in our human affectivity. How much emotion, indignation, but also inalienable hope of redemption. We could continue to describe, give statistics but it must be understood that to maintain this view of justice and equality, of non exclusion we have to start precisely from exclusion, from the suburbs, from those who do not count, to give breathe to this great cry for equality that also comes from a profound indignation that enters our own flesh. This is the vital environment that helps that extraordinary giving of care grow in me and in others, which enables us to understand a pressing and daily bowing down in front of the mystery of the crucifix, of the many crucifixes that would remain without a destiny of hope and meaning if we did not feel inspired by the hope that this crucified man conquered death, he gives us a weak omnipotence, emptied of power but capable of giving future and memory. At this point indignation becomes invocation, prayer. We must make it clear: inequality and exclusion are at the root of malnutrition, chronic hunger, homelessness, even the lack of basic health care. More than that, inequality deprives one of dignity and brings into play situations of weakness and dependence that must be blocked and if possible continuously contrasted. We are filled with humiliation arising from inequality which weighs deeply on those who suffer inequality.
There is another way to share, to continually breathe this desire for universality, for the human in the human being that gathers those feelings of care that come from the earth, from the environments of living people, from a blade of grass ... from feeling entrusted with the safe-guarding of Creation. This input of energy also gives meaning to our work in the small area where we are and where we live. Do not forget that inequality destroys the social fabric, subtracts the community from trust, solidarity, and that sense of reciprocity and proximity that enriches human relationships. A humanity that thinks of dominating and cancelling the dignity of so many excluded people, loses a great potential of culture, of meaning, of richness and humanity that are also in the living conditions of those who carry within themselves the drama of exclusion and who are often forced to struggle to make the dignity of poverty become a misery that is delivered to life-destroying processes, aggression, corruption, criminality. The cultural heritage that is in this vast majority of humanity is lost. Also because inequality is at the root of many social problems: violence, drugs, alcoholism, mental illness, chronic unemployment, erosion of legality, lower life expectancy, and so on. Fighting inequality also means fighting for the quality of life, reducing situations of inhumanity, of addiction, of serious social problems. The dominant economy thrives on the paradigm of the inequalities of exclusion. Not only does it produce it, but it is crucial in legitimizing its own market economy. It is what is called State economy. It is part of the dominant economic paradigm.
Exclusion, inequality are assuming more and more subtle forms, deeply embedded in economic, social, cultural and political systems. There is a concealment of inequality and exclusion with sophisticated arguments, with an impoverishment of rights often submerged by a welfare system that uses the humanitarian and environmental emergency not as a condition for change but to consolidate its own power and boundaries. This is why it is necessary to "de-institutionalize the emergency", starting from inequality as a thought that conditions and calls for a change of the economy. It's with great emotion that I recall the masterly contribution of a friend, an economist, recently deceased (Pier Luigi Porta), who introduced us to the opinion of Piketty who documents and states that at the roots of inequality is the fact that productive-capital forces, large estates, the posession of various forms of natural resources are concentrated today in increasingly restricted groups holding power. The modern market economy based on inequality, in this way is expressed in everyday life. And that is why the connection with daily dynamics, the territory, local communities is crucial. It makes sense and we can understand why Pope Francesco calls us to a sine glossa devotion to the Gospel that asks to bear witness to a poor church together with the poor, with the beatitudes which become promoters of a human story and care of the Creation that helps us understand "laudato sì ". Every story accepted, looked after, protected, carries within it the ordeal of suffering but also a breath of happiness to dream of and hope in a different humanity. The liberalist economy has even assumed the character of a religion with its popes who expect us to have a blind faith in the market. Rightly Pope Francesco has expressed himself in very forceful terms against an economy that kills: "just as the commandment not to kill places a clear limit to ensure the value of human life, today we have to say no to an economy of exclusion and inequity. This economy kills." It is clear that this is a strong attack on the philosophy of the neoliberalist economy that not only does not question inequality but actually considers it tolerable, even necessary for growth. This humanity can be enveloped in an activity of kindness, of assistance that is however episodic, simply to be able to justify the theory of inequality as the foundation for economic growth. That's why charity and justice, the defence of rights in all its articulation is a tortuous and arduous journey but fundamental, that asks us to carefully and critically check how we are operating in actions of solidarity, sharing, hospitality. The contractualistic theory empties the richness of human relations, and is not able to give support to the communities as it is based on exasperated individualism, on "I" instead of "us", on private interest. This is an extraordinary situation for the formulation of an ethical conscience, to communicate how the gospel is a strong sign, the Word that places in front of us, as a reference model for a changing economy, the story of the widow's mite which directs us towards an economy of gratuitousness, of happiness. It is not utopia but hope fallen into contradictions, mixed with this story that we are living and that is still attracted by the story of an upright person that gave his life to redeem the destiny of the weak, forgiving and restoring peace and reconciliation. It is the wisdom of charity. In the past oppression, inequality and exclusion were conspicuous and evident. Today, however, they are taking on increasingly astute forms and are deeply rooted in the economic, social, cultural and political systems.
At the root of inequality is the fact that today the productive forces are concentrated in increasingly restricted groups. The philosophy of the neoliberalist economy considers inequality not only tolerable but necessary for growth and those who are not able to observe contractual duties are left behind. They are the losers who not being acknowledged any rights, become excluded. It is modern fatalism, pure and simple. In this system inequality is explained as a side effect, just as bombing during a war always causes side effects that claim victims. At this point the vision of peace puts down roots, this rejection of the logic of armaments, this indecent, despicable market of arms, this war which is being replied to with war, which would seem to endorse the historical necessity of a war that holds together the economy of inequality. The global economy, speculative financing leaves us this appalling tragedy. Refugees fleeing war, those who leave their land because of lack of freedom, those who are the so-called environmental refugees are the sign, a clear indication of an epochal injustice that we cannot fight inwardly only with suitable commitments as onlookers. Today's friendly capitalism deftly wears the cloak of the Good Samaritan. To this we must add the fact that many companies in the Southern Hemisphere retain a strong heritage of culture and feudal ways of acting which thrive on a hierarchy made up of those above and those below. It is also the drama of some populations in the Middle East, of dictatorships, of the lack of rights that makes the world ardently in need of a different perspective. To do this, the economy and the neoliberalist market paradoxically require these states and not surprisingly also that which is happening in the Middle East, to be maintained. So we could say profoundly that the economy needs a Saturday, a period of reflection, of maturation of choices of change that are not in current politics and application of power but are in growing a new consciousness, with mass movements. It is the masterly speech made by Pope Francesco to tbe movements.


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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 ...


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: 08/04/2020

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