May 15, 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?