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Verbal violence and social paranoia

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Benedetto Saraceno


On the 27th of January of this year, as every year for the past decade, Remembrance Day was celebrated, in memory of the victims of the nazi extermination. Together with the genocide of the jews, the Shoa, other acts of mass extermination were carried out by the nazis for the scope of "purifying the race" through operations of ethnic cleansing that mainly involved the Slavs and the Poles, the Romany and Sinti community (Porrajmos is the word in the romany language that defines that extermination), Jehovah's Witnesses, and Homosexuals.
The nazis also carried out a programme of eugenics aimed at exterminating the physically and mentally disabled, called Aktion T4 (T4 is the abbreviation for "Tiergartenstrasse 4", the address of the district in Berlin where the authority responsible for social welfare was situated). The programme contemplated the suppression or the sterilisation of people suffering from incurable, genetic illnesses, those having minor or serious physical deformities or the mentally disturbed. The extermination of the disabled caused the death of more than 300.000 people.
With different degrees of awareness, responsability and complicity doctors, psychiatrists, nurses and bureaucrats of the health and social services were involved in the operation.
One has to question how it was possible for so many people to accept, and in many cases, take part in this barbarity. It seems unacceptable and incomprehensible how these mass exterminations could have happened with the indifference of so many.
In the Editorial of this number of Souquaderni we will be talking exactly about this: how inconceivable violence and inhumanity can "happen" in a community.
Why do we find it interesting? Because we deal with urban suffering and we are conscious of the fact that collective violence can become a significant component of urban situations, above all during the more critical periods of their development.
The first Editorial of SOUQUADERNI spoke of "identity" and the risks tied to identitarian disorientation, the second Editorial spoke of "governance" of urban complexity and the choice between good government that is dialogue and the advancement of rights and bad-government that is closure and violation of the rights of the weakest and most vulnerable; today, we are talking about one of the variables of this complexity: violence.
But we will not be talking about security hallucinations that keep government leaders awake at night, that is we will not be talking about the violence attributed to drug addicts who steal and loot, of the violence attributed to young people from the social centres who dirty and destroy (and even plan political violence), of the violence attributed to the immigrants who being poor, as we know, rob or do even worse, nor will we be talking about that subspecies of the immigrants, the Romany people who, as public imagination well knows, not only steal necklaces and handbags but also kidnap children. We will not be talking about all this violence for three reasons:
1. Because we are not at all sure and convinced that this violence occurs in such a massive way, that is with a conspicuous and systematic statistical importance so as to merit social alarm: instead we think that these are forms of violence that are "perceived" rather than demonstrated, "imaginary spectres" rather than experimented, "exaggerated" more than seriously analysed. There is no doubt that when someone is a marginal individual (a drug addict, an unemployed youth squatting in a social centre, an illegal immigrant, etcetera) he is often the protagonist of petty and (rarely) serious crime. It would be stupid to deny such evidence. What we do deny are the alarming, dramatic and threatening proportions of these phenomena. What is really worrying is the emphasis and the alarm transmitted to the public and that is often transmitted by that same public to the authorities in a crescendo that has a lot to do with the artificial creation of a difensive and paranoic social climate.
2. Because it seems to us that the sole emphasis on the "prevention" of crimes attributed to categories of weak, marginal and vulnerable individuals, distracts public and collective responsability from the social elements of vulnerability and marginality of many young people, of drug addicts, of illegal immigrants, etcetera. Each one of these groups is a carrier of serious problems and suffering that are systematically ignored placing sole emphasis and alarm on the potential and actual criminality of these groups.
3. Because it seems to us, in the end, that focusing on these forms of violence, true or presumed, distracts the attention from other violence that no one talks about and that seem to us instead, to be of great relevance in understanding the genesis of those "incomprehensible and unacceptable" phenomena that were the persecution and the elimination of people belonging to ethnic, religious, or linguistic minorities or, as in the case of Aktion T4, belonging to the category of the disabled.
We will be talking about a form of violence that when compared to physical and "murderous" violence appears to be almost a laughable phenomena, a "venial sin", that is we will be talking about "verbal" violence expressed by individuals holding public positions on the government and in the institutions. We will be talking about the risks involved in the growing "tollerance" towards this violence considered all in all inoffensive in so far as being just "verbal".
Remembrance Day recalls monstrous, inhuman, not-humans-any-more, conduct, carried out by the few who have power over others, many others, who don't have any power and who belong to minority groups; this conduct is also possible thanks to the acquiescence and complicity of the many who prefer not to see and not to know.
Remembrance Day therefore, is not only to commemorate the victims of the past but it's also to remind us that behaviour seemingly so inhuman as to result incomprehensible, did not " happen" suddenly, (neither does it happen or could happen), that is through a terrible but unexpected combination of circumstances, but out of a progressive and systematic construction of prejudices, historical falsities, stigmatization, encouragement of fear, the repeated and systematic use of violence against one or more minorities, a violence that, in the beginning, is "only" verbal.

Lets take as an example the well known and current european phenomenon of verbal violence (but not only) aimed at immigrants:

• Geert Wilders dutch parliamentarian and founder of the Party for Freedom that supports the current ruling government, has made the proposal to tax muslim women who wear a veil: "We are disgusted and tired of veils and will do all we can to eliminate them, We have already proposed a law forbidding the burqa and this will be the way to eliminate even those veils that are polluting the dutch panorama"
• The french Home Secretary Brice Hortefeux commented on the presence of a young man from the Maghreb at a party conference: "There's always at least one but if there's only one it's alright, it's when there's a lot of them that problems begin to crop up"
• The Minister Calderoli, exponent of the Lega Nord states: "In my opinion it's not the case to give the vote to non-EC immigrants, a civilized country can't give the vote to bingo-bongos who up to a few years ago were still living in trees" (23 october 2003).. "Let the immigrants go back to the desert to talk with the camels or in the jungle with the monkeys, but in our land you do as we say!" Ansa, 18 september 2005). Following the victory of Italy over France in the finals of the Football World Championship 2006, Minister Calderoli exponent of the Lega Nord declares: "The Berlin Victory is a victory of our identity, where a team that has lined up lombards, players from campania, veneto or calabria, has won against a team that lost through sacrificing its own identity for the result, lining up negroes, islamists and communists".
• The director of the german Bundesbank and ex minister of finance Thilo Sarrazin declares: "I am not obliged to accept anyone who is not worrried enough about the education of his children and at the same time continues to producing new, little veiled girls".
• The purity of the race is very important for the Mayor of Treviso Gentilini: "We will not put up with the abuse of power, we don't want the superimposition of, or the pollution by other religions, other laws. We belong, as I have already said on other occasions, to the Piave race: it is a stock that has always been honest, hard-working and respectful of the laws".
• The swiss political party UDC and its leader Christopher Blocher canvass against immigration with an eloquent poster that proposes the expulsion of (to kick out) the black sheep:

We could continue giving many other examples from Italy, France,Poland, Holland but we have to take note of the fact that verbal violence (and not only) is not only directed at immigrants but also at homosexuals, and in this case there could be hundreds of citations:
• Kazimierz Marcinkiewicz, Prime Minister of Poland up to 2006: "Homosexuality is unnatural....the family is natural and the State has to protect the family. If one of these individuals tries to contaminate others with his own homosexuality then the State has to intervene".
• Christian Vannest, a Deputy of the French Parlament reminds us that "Gays are a sect and it's not possible to be gay and's strange that the vote was against the definition of homosexuality as an illness".
• Jean Marie Lepen, President of the Front National : "The militancy of homosexuals poses a mortal threat to our civilization".
• The refined mayor of Treviso Gentilini concludes: "I will give instructions to my commanding officer of the local police for an ethnic cleansing of faggots; here in Treviso there are no opportunities for faggots and their likes."
It's not a case of adding example to example but of simply analysing the processes that see that the verbal violence of those who ought to govern with responsability, equilibrium and wisdom is transformed into a powerful machine for propaganda: a machine for propaganda that manages to create the anesthesia of the indignation of many, through a slow deadening of awareness which is substituted by submissiveness and political and moral passivity.
In the face of daily abuse, daily misuse of power, daily racialism consisting in sarcasm, allusions, being excluded, of the stigmatization of ethnic, religious or social groups, in the face of all this, a "moral", that is an immoral space, is inexorably built to promote a society made up of only "normal" individuals; obviously the definition of normality is given by the "us normals" in comparison to the "they abnormals": us christians, us whites, us westeners, us heterosexuals, us mentally sane, us, in the end, who decide who has the characteristics to become part of the "us" and who instead is destined to be part of the "they".

It's much more reassuring to think that the insane, the disabled, the Romany people, the slavs and homosexuals are not men and women made of flesh and bone and feelings but instead are "groups", that is abstract, non-subjective entities, who though at the moment of the stigmatization and persecution become single individuals once again made up of flesh and bone and feelings: the category of homosexuals is stigmatized but it's a young man in flesh and bone that Is beaten up.

So that the indescribable can happen it's necessary to "vaccinate" consciences with a campaign that progressively deadens awareness because "ideas can take some time to become part of normality" (Marco Paolini, Ausmerzen, 2011).
In this way the "indescribable" becomes "normal".
In this way, if you accept that a person is a reject, a superfluous being, you can also accept that one day he is taken away and you can turn a blind eye, so as not to see.
Every day the contempt and the violence that gays, drug addicts, the Romany people, and all those who are disliked by someone because they are "rejects" have to put up with, is accepted (we would like to make a more "local" observation that in Milan nowadays the habit of tying psychiatric patients to the bed has become accepted again after at least two decades during which the practice had disappeared, or anyhow was considered unacceptable, to be fought against, to be discussed).
The contempt and the consequent neglect of drug addicts, the physical restraint of psychiatric patients, the abuse and the misuse of power towards immigrants, become "normal" events, to accepted and to pass in silence.
The reason why is that no one has time for the rights of the vulnerable, the weak, the lowest of the low, or minorities in this period of economic crisis in which we are obliged to worry more and more about ourselves.
In fact great economic crisises have always formed a breeding ground for the defining of the standard of "lives to be rejected": psychiatric admissions to hospital increase during periods of economic recession as a reply to the progressive competition and exclusion from a labour market in a recessive phase, as shown clearly by Richard Warner
in Recovery from Schizophrenia:psychiatry and political economomy (1994), Routledge, London.
Great economic crisises rationalize two parallel and synergic processes:
a) the reduction of vested rights, up to that moment concerning the most productive who in this way have to accept paying the costs of the crisis by continuing to produce but with minor economical and social guarantees.
b) The reduction of vested resources, up to that moment concerning the most unproductive (who become progressively superfluous): less resources for the disabled, less investments for the seriously, mentally disturbed, less resources for the elderly, less support for children in difficulty.

The second of the two processes, that is the one that deals with the "unproductive", is what we have to analyze to understand the genesis of an extermination such as that carried out by Aktion 4. Great economic crisises have indeed rationalized the neglect followed by violence shown towards the weak, the non-productive, the "burdens" in periods of economic decline. Great economic crisises have always caused "cuts" regarding the weak, the sick and the vulnerable while at the same time having the need to create public consent by using the minorities as scapegoats: above all, for example the extermination of the jews by the nazis.

It all begins with a verbal violence that is not instantly refused and contrasted with force. A verbal violence that declares Romany people, homosexuals and drug addicts to be non-persons is an injustice that becomes "acceptable" and "normal".
Violent words, prejudices and the lies that accompany them promote a sort of "stupidity" but it's this stupidity that is the original nucleus around which the moral indifference that leads to complicity is gradually built: " is robbed of his interior independence and so stops, more or less consciously, assuming a personal attitude towards the situations that present themselves..... After transforming himself into an instrument without a will of its own, the idiot will be capable of any kind of wickedness, being at the same time incapable of recognising it as such." (Dietrich Bonhoeffer (1942) Resistenza e Resa, Ed.Paoline Milano 1988).

This is why Remembrance Day makes sense: to honour the victims of the past but also to interpret the present, not only to keep indignation alive but to organize it, to rebel not only with determination but collectively, before it's too late.







By the same authors:                Dancing the samba while piloting a jet plane   SouqBiblio: annotated international bibliography*  A Return to the Way leading to Happiness   Aporeia of empowerment  Deconstructing the paradigm of "migrant emergency"  Defend the ways of liberation  Describing reality but also changing it  Educate in complexity  Empowerment  Global health, local health: a paradigm of the failures of globalization   Health systems are not designed for the needs of citizens  Reject Ferocity, Not Migrants  Souqbiblio (number 1)  SouqBiblio: international annotated bibliography number 8  SouqBiblio: international annotated bibliography*  SouqBiblio: internazional annotated bibliography (number 6)  SouqBiblio: annotated international bibliography  SouqBiblio: annotated international bibliography  SouqBiblio: annotated international bibliography  SouqBiblio: annotated international bibliography  SouqBiblio: international annotated bibliography (number 5)  SouqBiblio: international annotated bibliography (number 3)  SouqBiblio: International annotated bibliography (number 7)  SouqBiblio: internazional annotated bibliography (number 4)  SouqBiblio: References (number 2)  The association Poverty - Mental Disorders and its implications for outcome and care provision   The Confusion to be managed  The paradigm of urban suffering  Time of Siege  Urban Resistance 

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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: 26/11/2020

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