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Urban Suffering Studies Center



Aporeia of empowerment

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Benedetto Saraceno


"To discuss empowerment therefore means to speak of a twofold and permanent process of liberation from ones won servitude towards others and the self-reproduction of the inefficacious rituals of democracy on the part of institutions and citizens".
The last Souq editorial ended with these words but, later, we reflected further with the friends of the steering committee on the issue of "empowerment" during a pleasant evening last May at the Casa della Cultura. And in discussing and reflecting, as always, the issues appear more blurry and more complicated than when the path was first taken.
In fact if empowerment is observed as a quantifiable unit that encloses the process of liberation from any given servitude we can't but hope the processes of empowerment will multiply.
Nonetheless, the matter becomes more complex if we imagine a society constantly permeated and at all levels by a myriad of dispersed empowerment processes, each with different purposes, dominated by pragmatism and therefore to a great extent by atheoreticality: we need to therefore ask ourselves about the relationship between widespread empowerment and political representation. Representation, by definition, is a function in which the few represent the many and this very function is in crisis when the many feel the faith they put in the few has been betrayed. The phenomena of sclerosis of democracy then occur and self-reproduce through formal rituals, no longer substantiated by a strong and informed mandate of the citizens: the recent election of the president of the republic was an example. The grand and high ritual of the assembled chambers did not in fact represent the people but rather a handful of representatives of the people who were incapable of representing them.
So then the many seek, and sometimes with anger if not violence, to free themselves from the self-reproduction of the ineffective rituals of democracy. However if being free from the self-reproduction of inefficacious rituals of democracy is a good, right and healthy thing, the same is not true for being free of democracy all together!
In other words it is necessary and urgent to ask oneself where does the democratic production of micro embezzling of power on the part of the few end and where instead is there simply the production of what psychoanalyst François Ansermet calls "epidemic of ego"?

Here then is the first aporia of empowerment: widespread democracy or social narcissism?
We have learned from deinstitutionalization processes that the amorphous mass of "long-stay patients" locked up in insane asylums becomes a vital group of subjects through the process of rewriting their history: this we learned from Franco Basaglia and if this was true for the rewriting of the history of the listless, speechless and silenced long-stay patient, this can and must be true for every human group who is silenced and speechless and constricted in whatever institution be it concentrated or widespread: even those in the anonymous neighbourhoods of any city where democratic life has been snuffed out. Widespread democracy is in fact the rewriting of the history of citizens institutionalized in cities, progressively deprived of life and rights. The citizens are awakened in an Arab or an only European "spring" and attempt to practice democracy or in other words trigger widespread empowerment processes. Therefore, what happens when the many, be they right or wrong, no longer believe in any kind of representation of their rights and their needs? What happens when the citizens discover the king is naked or in other words the democratic institutions are not democratic and their representatives do not represent them? Very rarely and in very particular historic conditions a "revolution" occurs with all that revolutions bring in terms of real change and real liberation and also with all the usual and well known distortions more or less vicious when "in progress" (Cuba docet).
But, much more often, rebellions, riots and uprisings instead multiply, changing nothing and deceiving many.
For example today in Italy the citizens know that the current electoral policy is the most complete expression of an illiberal coercion, the negation of the most basic empowerment namely voting for the chosen representatives.

And so, the rebellions multiply (not yet riots) and with them is affirmed and dangerously the social narcissism that is the ego epidemic which is the illusion that bad representatives should be substituted with the abolition of representation. Therefore the dangerous solution to the first aporia of empowerment is the illusion that the empowerment of individuals, disillusioned by bad representation, consists not in the construction of processes of widespread democracy but in widespread freedom of insult and the proliferation of the presence of individuals on means of communication and virtual social networks (facebook, twitter): the illusion of being present without being present, the deceit of thinking that a distorted representation can be replaced with the abolition of representation, the mystification of widespread power as a substitute for politics.

Here then is the second aporia of empowerment: in what measure does a healthy crisis of the traditional and inefficacious representation produce a more democratic political action namely more representative of the needs and the will of the citizens or does it instead determine simply and brutally the death of politics?
It could be said that the crisis of representation is nothing more than the crisis of the reasonability and the acceptability of the compromise between the will of some and the representation of their will: thus as a geographic map does not represent reality as it is but represents it with a reasonable compromise between reality and representation, analogously 800 parliamentarians should represent with a reasonable and acceptable compromise the reality of the will of millions of citizens.
But if the map of Tuscany was no longer in the shape of Tuscany and in the place of Florence it indicated London there would be no reasonability nor acceptability of the compromise; in the same way political representation is in crisis due to the fact that it has lost its reasonable compromise. The betrayed citizens should then change political action and change representation not substitute political action with insult and be deceived that they can represent themselves with a few facebook messages (or some other futile nose-thumbing).
Politics in fact is not insult, it's not a tweet, it's not nose-thumbing but a vision of the public good shared by a portion of the citizens who, through the forms of representation and its institutions, tries to prevail over the vision of one or other parts of citizens.
Here is the third aporia of empowerment: can there be empowerment without a collective vision of the public good?
Empowerment certainly can and should be in the micro-processes of the individual reconquering of legitimate powers to be acquired in the same manner the long-stay patient reconquers their individual rights and powers of citizenship.
But when the public good is involved is the proliferation of micro empowerment enough or is a collective and shared vision also necessary?
In fact the public good is a dimension of values, institutions and morals: it isn't a collection of pragmatic solutions to the problems of local public administration. Upon closer inspection the pervasiveness and frequency of requests for referendums that has characterized Swiss democracy aren't necessarily proof of a strong real democracy but rather of a local micro democracy. The vision of the public good requires much more than an atheoretical administrative pragmatism.

The political thought of some and the fight of many have given life to a democracy that to exist needs politics: politics is composed of and defined by a collection of possible weltanschaung of the public good and of society. Politics does not represent the individuals but it is the individuals that chose the weltanschaung or rather groups of different individuals subscribe to different visions of the public good: individuals accept to enter into a metaindividual logic. Whenever this dynamic of individuals and metaindividual visions is interrupted, we are orphaned of a vision of the public good and we risk deceiving ourselves and being deceived by atheoretical pragmatism, pseudoparticipation, populist insult and all else that the death of politics brings.
We instead desperately need high and articulated visions of the public good, we need more aptitude, not to be able to represent ourselves, but to identify and promote our own representation, we need institutions that represent us and in which we can believe and have faith: be they are the Parliament, the Supreme Court, the United Nations, in any case we must accept that the processes of empowerment do not substitute representations but instead, on the contrary, they ennoble and strengthen them. Therefore, the citizens ask the representatives of the people to be worthy and strong and there is no doubt that the political crisis has to do with the weakness and the unworthiness of the representatives therefore with the resulting hostility of the citizens that avoid politics or reinvent it as if it were a video game or they mortify it with insult and the populist pseudorepresentation.
Politics need a high and shared vision of the public good and above all need representatives who, in taking on power do not only guarantee that the compromise between representatives and represented is reasonable but above all are able to counterbalance the power that has been bestowed on them through the exercise of an "excess" of personal virtue. Who knows that this outdated word shouldn't be revisited without the fear of referencing the thought of Robspierre? I can already hear the murmuring as well as the thundering that comes with the very evocation of this name: Robespierre, the father or Terror?

Let not this sinister association between Terror and Robespierre prevent us from however rereading his pages on the separation of power between executive and legislative, on the rights of the disenfranchised and, lastly, on virtue. Let us carry on this exercise of rereading with freedom and levelheadedness well aware of the perversions of virtue and the state of morals.
We need to however dispel, and with force, the now prevailing argument that legitimizes the loose morals of the representative of the people: legitimization based on the separation of private life and public function. A false argument and a false separation.
The power of the representative of the people (a power that has been bestowed by the very people) is tempered by the self-aware exercise of virtue. It is no laughing matter when it is told of Luigi Einaudi who kept the bill for stamps he used for personal letters separate from that of those he used for public correspondence. That excess of virtue is no laughing matter. Giuliano Ferrara, the modest journalist of vulgar prose, tells us that the head of the state does what he likes in his own home and that only a moralistic and hypocritical society would dare criticize his evenings in houses of ill repute. Not so. Excess of virtue, virtue always and everywhere, allows the representative of the people to exercise power.

This is why, intrepid crew, we navigate by sight in a stormy sea between the Scylla of the return to ideologies that, it is known, devour the shared weltanschauung turning them into shields and weapons and the Charybdis of the illusion of pragmatic atheoretical and often amoral individualism.
This is what Fernando Pessoa writes: "Navegadores antigos tinham uma frase gloriosa: -Navegar é preciso; viver não é preciso-" ("Ancient sailors had a glorious saying: -Sailing is necessary, living is not necessary-").
We need, especially now, to favor above all the vital necessity to sail forward together towards a possible hypothesis of weltanschauung that aren't devoured by ideologies, that prevail over both ideologies and atheoretical pragmatism.

We need visions of the public good that are sufficiently strong, fair, true, full of hope and shareability but not so strong that they become ideologies.
Does there exist a vision of the public good that does not become ideology of the common good?



By the same authors:                Dancing the samba while piloting a jet plane   SouqBiblio: annotated international bibliography*  A Return to the Way leading to Happiness   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  Verbal violence and social paranoia 

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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 ...

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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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