May 27, 2012

Italian Heroes: Giovanni Falcone and Paolo Borsellino


“My life is mapped out: it is my destiny to take a bullet by the Mafia some day. The only thing I don’t know is when… He who is silent and bows his head dies every time he does so. He who speaks aloud and walks with his head held high dies only once The Mafia is a human phenomenon and thus, like all human phenomena, it has had a beginning and an evolution, and will also have an end” (Giovanni Falcone).

“They will kill me, but it will not be a mafia’s revenge; mafia do not use murder to get revenge. Maybe mafia will physically kill me, but he/she who will actually order my murder will be “others”…The fight against mafia, which is the first problem to solve in our unfortunate and beautiful land, must be not only a cold repressive action, but a moral and cultural movement, involving everyone, especially younger generations, the most fit to feel the beauty of the fresh taste of freedom that sweeps away the foulness of moral compromise, of indifference, of contiguity and, hence, of complicity” (Paolo Borsellino).

A bombkilled a teenage girl and wounded 10 other people in the southern Italian town of Brindisi. The attack on the Francesca Morvillo Falcone School, a vocational training institute named after the wife of a famed anti-mafia judge, horrified Italy and sparked speculation it was the work of southern Italy’s organized crime gangs. We do not know if the attack was organized by organized crime.  Few days later an Italian man who lost job kills histwo young children. Italy is facing a huge crisis. Italy’s President Giogio Napolitano warns that Mafia may take advantage of economic uncertainty and get back on the front stage. Cosa Nostra’s strategy, after the “season of massacres”, made the strategical choice to operate silently, in the backstage of Italian, European and American social, political and economical life.  The economical (political, civic, cultural and moral) crisis might also promote the return of terrorism: “They consider the crisis a goodopportunity to relaunch the fight” said Piccirillo, Italy’s AISI intelligence agency chief.
Italian people will be able to recover from this situation? The oldest ruling class in Europe that is responsible for the condition of our country, will be able to lead us out of this dangerous zone? The new major of Palermo (the capital of Sicily), is Leoluca Orlando, he was in charge 20 years ago. Try to imagine Rudolph Giuliani again as the major of New York in 2021. We can — at least — interpret this as a manifest difficulty to renew the ruling class of a country.
Giovanni Falcone and Paolo Borsellino — the two “protagonists” of the documentary In un altro paese (translated in English as Excellent Cadavers) see  the film review by A.O.Scott Excellent Cadavers, an Italian Documentary, Dissects the Mafia, New York Times, July 12, 2006 — can be considered two heroes. Probably the only example of a “hero” that Italian people can think-feel about. Last week was the anniversary of their death.
Giovanni Falcone, the Palermo-born anti-Mafia judge rose from urban poverty to iconic status during a career that ended on May 23, 1992, when he, along with his wife and three bodyguards, was blown up by a bomb hidden on the highway between Palermo and the city airport. Most evidence suggests that Corleone boss Toto Riina gave the orders for his death. One of the highlights of his career was convincing Tommaso Buscetta to return to Sicily from Brazil to testify at the Palermo Maxi Trial (and later at the Pizza Connection Trial in the United States). Buscetta's testimony led to the convictions of 340 mafiosi and associates. Falcone recognized that the success of the trial had sealed his demise, publicly stating he knew he would now have a price on his head for his victory. Despite the success of the trials, over the ensuing years political chicanery at the highest levels of government resulted in most of the convictions being overturned. Falcone's murder, and that of his fellow magistrate Paolo Borsellino two months later, led to the creation of the Direzione Investigativa Anti-Mafia (DIA) and the passage of a witness protection law, which was an overwhelming success as hundreds of pentiti (informers) came forth to testify against the Mafia. Crime Fighters (2010), in Contemporary World Issues: Global Organized Crime: A Reference Handbook.
“Analyzing the stories of local heroes can provide a wealth of information about the societies to which they belong. Heroes are the “embodiment of our ideals” (not including the American comic book hero “Captain Underpants”), and their heroic stories are displays of the values most celebrated by the society of origin. The stories of local heroes also reveal societal issues which the local hero must address. In the case of the Italian magistrates Paolo Borsellino and Giovanni Falcone in the 1980s and 1990s, the local concern was the Sicilian Mafia. At present, Borsellino and Falcone are Italy’s most recognizable, contemporary heroes” (Kelsey Gifford). Here The Legends of Borsellino and Falcone: a Discussion of Italian Values, by Kelsey Gifford (Sociology of Italian Culture, Gonzaga in Florence, Fall 2010).

May 16, 2012

Ratko Mladic's trial in The Hague


The first day of Ratko Mladic's trial in The Hague for the massacre of  8,000 Muslims at Srebrenica, the first act of genocide on European soil since the Nazi Holocaust, has ended...  Here the article by New York Times
Sociologists Janja Bec Neumann said Serbian history textbooks deny that Serbs committed any crimes against any other ethnic groups either in the Balkan wars or during World War II. 



May 15, 2012

Identity and Culture. A Narrative and Holistic Approach.University of Helsinki, Research Master in Social Sciences (REMS), Spring 2012


Italian and South European Crisis. Heavy values for the “Cosmopolitan” human being... Or ‘Cosmopolitan’ cannot be just a fashionable drink


Who is responsible for the Italian moral, political and economical crisis? I am responsible — along with 59685 Italians (the totality of the population, January 2013 est.). I cannot be blamed for the denial of the crisis — I wrote books where I was (directly or indirectly) addressing the Italian social and cultural decadence. Nevertheless, I am responsible. It was impossible not to see the ongoing civic and moral dissolution; it was possible not to see the ongoing degeneration. The negation mechanism is indeed always ready for us — almost as an instinctive response. The denial is an unconscious defense mechanism (Freud): a person refusal to acknowledge an unacceptable truth or emotion despite the overwhelming evidence (simple denial). Minimization is when we admit the fact but deny its seriousness. Projection is when we admit both the fact and seriousness but deny the responsibility. In sociological terms, we can translate 'crisis' with anomie: absence, breakdown, confusion, or conflict in the values and norms of a society. Nevertheless, we shall not forget the etymological meanings of Crísis (Latin), and Krísis (Greek): to separate, decide, judge. In this sense, there is always a constructive side in any crisis: we can distinguish what is important, what has value in our life; we can opt for a different biographical path and start over again 
 Yes-We-Can (one of the latest American hymn).
However, nowadays the potential positive response to crisis faces a major cultural obstacle. People worldwide identify the “Good Life” with fame, success, money, looking good and trendy etc. There is nothing new under the Tuscan (Italian, South European) sun. The quandary is that too many persons cannot imagine an alternative Utopia; that hip-and-sexy idea of a good life is, in fact, the paramount ideology, the fetish of our time. Too many (young) people who belong to the lower, middle-lower and middle class have no other images of a good life, no political agenda of their own: they want to become rich, famous etc. What is the short cut to this dystopic and frustrating goal? Easy: to be on TV — No-We-Cannot (this could be the Italian controcanto to the American refrain). 
It’s the case of Riccardo, the 26-year-old metallurgic worker who lives with his mom, the “protagonist” of the documentary Videocracy (see the trailer): he is nor good looking (for TV standards) nor talented. Nevertheless, he wants to make it to the screen, where the “real life” is. He works hard and he has a precise plan. The strategy consists in fabricating a unique performing character out of two of his adolescent idols: Bruce Lee and Ricky Martin —  here's the final X Factor result
Later in the story, we discover that all he wants is a girlfriend. Riccardo provokes tender and sad feelings in the viewer: we all wish that he will overcome his infantile fixations and have a good, decent life.
On the other side, the ruthless and cynical Fabrizio Corona — although good looking for the (vulgar?) nowadays-predominant aesthetic standard — raises other kind of sentiments. Nevertheless, Corona is the cool winner and Riccardo is the nerdish looser. So far, the only existing Italian Dream — clearly delineated, and that many people believed in — is Berlusconi’s Pleasure Pen-Is-Land. The dream turned out to be a nightmare for the culturally and morally ignorant people who believed it — as well as for anybody who lives in the country. Here a clip about Berlusconi's average political campaign video. I strongly encourage you to watch the documentary Videocracy and the BBC documentary The Berlusconi Show along with our ex-Italian prime minister profile, and Citizen Berlusconi.
As we are cultural animals, the antidote to this bacchanal as always been (and still is) education good education, I feel the need to distinguish because I do not take for granted that there is a clear common agreement about what a good education is. Tullio de Mauro, an Italian linguist, in La cultura degli italiani (Laterza, Roma-Bari 2010) states that only 30% of Italians are able to understand what they read, if they read at all. It means that 70% Italians are functionally illiterate. Nevertheless, everybody watches television.
Below the results of PISA 2009 International Student Assessment — mean of reading, mathematical and scientific literacy — for the “West”, Euro-American Countries (not small as Luxembourg). It’s not by chance that Italy, Spain and Greece are facing such a huge economical crisis. The correlation between education and economy (development in general) is evident. Other cultural indicators — books and newspapers reading — point in the same interpretative direction. A qualitative and holistic (as I like to call it) approach takes into account quantitative data, in this sense European Cultural Values (Eurobarometer 2007) and Cultural Statistic (Eurostat 2011) are two useful sources, among many others (see WWS in this blog).
Thus, good education is the only possible way out to the crisis.  Along with an "educational revolution," Italians (unfortunately not only Italians, we live in a globalized world) need to undergo a tough and long cultural transformation. Berlusconi has influenced profoundly our society, and Berlusconi expresses deeply rooted attitudes of many (many, more than the people who voted for him) Italians — I have friends who declare to hate Berlusconi and anything he stands for and feel-think-act as perfect Berluscones. The profound transformation involves both Italian male and females. In a male chauvinistic culture, women have played and are still playing an "active" role, whoever they are: intellectuals, housewives, velinas (showgirls), or Ministers for Equal Opportunities, like Mara Carfagna.

The first step for a cultural revolution is to make up our mind about what is important and what is superfluous in our lives; that is: to reconstruct our hierarchy of values
Milan Kundera in The Unbearable Lightness of Being — total lightness is not bearable for human beings, in my interpretation — through the words of the protagonist Tomáš (the Czech surgeon, intellectual and womanizer) reminds us the inescapable idea of what a value is: values are heavy: “Unlike Parmenides, Beethoven apparently viewed weight as something positive…. Necessity, weight, and value are three concepts inextricably bound: only necessity is heavy, and only what is heavy has value” (1999, New York: Harper, 11).  

The story, challenging Nietzsche’s “eternal recurrence,” expresses an alternative to the idea of “heaviness” in our existence (Nietzsche’s metaphor of  “weight”): we have just one life to live, and anything in our life occurs only once and never again — the “lightness” of being. Einmal ist keinmal: what happens but once, might as well not have happened at all; if we have only one life to live, we might as well not have lived at all.
"And again he thought the thought we already know: Human life occurs only once, and the reason we cannot determine which of our decisions are good and which bad is that in a given situation we can make only one decision; we are not granted a second, third, or fourth life in which to compare various decisions. […] Einmal ist keinmal. What happens but once might as well not have happened at all. […] History is as light as individual human life, unbearably light, light as a feather, as dust swirling into the air, as whatever will no longer exist tomorrow." (5.15.15-20).
 If you follow (as some people do) this “existential logic,” life becomes insignificant and decisions do not matter; life becomes light-without-light: what we do has no consequences. However, an insignificant life — our choices have no effects — is unbearable for human beings: we need to transcend the here-and-now of life in order to be fully human. And in order to transcend, we need to think that our actions have a certain universal significance. This is my personal interpretation.
We could also move on, and bring at the center of the reflection Dostoevsky (The Brothers Karamazov): “Each of us is guilty [responsible] before everyone for everyone, and I more than the others”.  Lord said to Cain “Where is your brother Abel?”; “I know not,” he replied: “Am I my brother's keeper”. Although I cannot live completely up to my moral standards, I sure give it a try. And Cain, let’s put it this way, is not my personal hero. Therefore, I am responsible for the Italian “midlife” — we are a very young democracy — cultural crisis.  
Erik Erikson writes that people in middle adulthood face a peculiar identity crisis: Generativity vs. Stagnation (Self-Absorption). Generativity is an extension of love into the future, a concern for the next generation and for all future generations. Generativity means having and raising children; it also means teaching, writing, inventing, being socially active, etc. Generativity means to contribute to the welfare of future generations. According to Erikson stagnation is self-absorption, caring for no one, no longer participating in or contributing to society, panic at getting older. The Culture of Narcissism?