Jan 23, 2012

It’s hard to be Italian

Last week I promised my students I would write a post about the sink of cruise ship Concordia. I have tried several times to start my “homework”; but I could not continue. Because it made me suffer. The reality supersedes imagination: it is the “perfect” shame-plot, condensing all Italian bad cultural features in one story. It seems almost unreal; sadly, this disaster is very, very real. Moreover, the interpretations given by commentators, in Italy and worldwide, makes me suffer even more. I am 43 and I have always wanted to be proud of being Italian. I cannot remember moments where I clearly felt such sentiment. Along with many foolish Italians, I am desperately missing some of those days that keep the light of “belonging” alive. I was proud when we won the soccer world championship in 1992. But sport -- along with art, fashion, food, wine and olive oil -- is not enough. You can enjoy (a lot) good Chianti, but you cannot be proud of a great wine. We, as Italians, can only be proud of our distant past: our poets, our artists; the Renaissance. And if you reflect for a second, it’s all about genius and creativity; it’s all about individuals. It’s never about us, “the Italians”: what we stand for as a nation, as “a people”.
If courage is the first virtue enabling all others (Cicerone), what can I say about Francesco Schettino? No comment. I have no words. His behavior makes me sick and what he said, how he justified himself, is even worse: the “black hole of ethic”. It’s not “just” about morality. Clear distinctions between “good” and “bad” are the basis for the logic (reason, judgment) supporting our social life – in Italy and worldwide.
Justifying his abandonment of the boat, Schettino said: “I tripped and fell in the lifeboat. That’s how I found myself there” -- see David Letterman on Francesco SchettinoAdd anything you wish to this Italian story: it will be there. Futile, childish, playful motives for the disaster? Yes: getting close to the cost to say hello to a friend. A woman with captain? Yes. A passenger saw Schettino at the bar with a beautiful woman for the whole evening. Lying about the entity of the disaster? Yes: “Everything is under control”, after half an hour the ship had to be abandoned. Calling the private company instead of giving the alarm to the public coastguard? Yes. Crew mutiny? Yes. Schettino’s wife, family and the all town defending him? Yes. Is somebody on Schettino’s side in the public opinion? Yes, many Italians celebrate him. He is the anti-hero. Schettino is Italy’s soft, greedy, indolent underbelly. The country in which only fools pay taxes; where corruption is a way of life. Both Silvio Berlusconi and Francesco Schettino represent well some Italians, not the fools of course: “L’Italie est le pays où le mot ‘furbo’est éloge” (Pierre-Jean Grosley 1764).
Let me stop her, with this declaration of Schettino: “I cannot live with the idea that I caused the death of people”. Which is precisely what he shall do. It’s the minimum required duty for a man that has a conscience. We are facing a total lack of personal sense of responsibility; it is the abdication of any sense of responsibility toward Otherness. If we move to the analysis of the company’s faults (and the overall organization) the interpretation is the same: no sense of responsibility – unregistered passengers where, of course, on board. The story is emblematic for many other Italian cultural features: the way we choose our leaders, the selection of the ruling class and so on. I have to stop here. I cannot comment this anymore, simply because this is too much part of my everyday life in Italy.
A few words for the honest man who was simply doing his job, Commandant Gregorio De Falco, telling to the coward: “Get back on the ship, Cazzo!”.  The point at stake here is that everybody celebrated De Falco as an hero. He replied: “I am not a hero; I’ve only done my job”. He is right. The entire nation (and many other commentators in Europe and US) celebrated simple “honesty” as a heroic behavior. This tells a lot about the morality standard of Italian people. A hero is somebody who takes a great challenge and sacrifices him/herself for the common good. Heroes are rare, of course. Nevertheless, the idea that “doing your job” is heroic highlights a problematic semantic shift in nowadays Italian society and culture.
This analysis (in five seconds) goes beyond the simplistic interpretation of the two captains (hero and anti-hero) as the two souls of Italy (by Aldo Grasso). One of them represented by a “cowardly fellow who flees his own responsibilities, both as a man and as an official” and the man who tries to bring him back to his responsibilities. Leadership is problematic even in the intellectual field.
Below the registration of the conversation between De Falco and Schettino.