Tag Archives: tolerance

An introduction to the proceedings of the conference “‘Us’ vs. ‘Them’: The rhetoric of ‘othering’ from Aristotle to Frank Westerman”

Everyone who deals with the issue of polarization cannot but study the rhetorical tools available to politicians, theorists, political philosophers, journalists and media experts to construct the “Us vs. Them” dichotomy and apply it to public and everyday discourse.

The present issue hosts a number of papers on this topic that scholars from different countries   discussed in a research meeting at the University of Genova – Italy last November. The field of polarization, political rhetoric and discourse analysis had a long tradition of studies, from the classical Aristotelian Rhetoric to the rise of the New Rhetoric approach developed by Chaim Perelman and Lucie Olbrechts-Tyteca in the late ‘50s, until the significant recent multidisciplinary researches.

In fact, a great number of works have been published in order to enlighten the evolution of democratic societies and the recent escalation of violence, focusing on the rhetoric as the art of influencing the thought and conduct of an audience and the ability to use language effectively.

Furthermore, in the last years, we have witnessed the rise of xenophobic political discourses, populist rhetoric and hate speech in European public space, and some scholars have lately focused their research on these themes. Ruth Wodak in The Politics of Fear. What Right-Wing Populist Discourses Mean has paved the way for other studies that emphasize the degeneration of language and its socio-political impact, such as Mark Thompson’s Enough Said: What’s Gone Wrong with the Language of Politics? and Benjamin Moffitt’s The Global Rise of Populism: Performance, Political Style, and Representation. However, it should be mentioned that social media offer to haters an invaluable tool, the consequences of which for democratic discourse have been highlighted in Cass Sunstein’s #Republic: Divided Democracy in the Age of Social Media.

The European research team that has long devoted itself to the study of political feelings, as well as ideas, and of social cohesion in democratic societies has chosen to start discussing works and ideas of the Italian moral and political philosopher Flavio Baroncelli (1944-2007). Michael Karlsson gives an affectionate philosophical and personal portrait of him, deep and passionate. The portrait is completed by the witty philosophical dictionary à la Baroncelli reconstructed by Giorgio Baruchello.

Baroncelli in his most relevant book, Il razzismo è una gaffe (Racism is a blunder, 1996), analysed the possible social effects of the use and the misuse of political correctness, focusing on its performative efficiency. Today, after more than 20 years,  a lot of individuals, though scholars or not, believe that p.c. is a falsification of reality; that is necessary to use a simple, truthful and raw language since each correctness would be a limitation of free speech.

Moreover, in a global, hyper-connected society, everybody can insult and offend her/his political adversary or simple neighbours, more than ever when relying on social networks, without any visible responsibility.

Hate speech, divisive rhetoric, damnation of the Other, populism, friend-enemy distinction:  those patterns, and many more, are the issues discussed in these papers according to different points of view: philosophical, political, sociological and anthropological dealing and, what is more, with both synchronic and diachronic perspectives.

The starting point is the process of the construction of the Othering, a typical issue of Anthropology. Marco Aime (The Other) tells us that producing the other, the stranger, is an essential step in the definition of ourselves, at least in the definition of what we would like to be or to look like. Having an enemy is important for defining our identity. Besides, discrimination cannot be disabled if we replace racial differences with a sort of “naturalized” cultural difference and we consider culture as an essential entity. In order to overcome discrimination we have to accept that cultures and identities are mobile and changeable.

Changing and the psychological reactions to metamorphoses are the issues of Pascal Nouvel (The changing feeling of Otherness). In his paper, he choose to express the nature and challenge of the change examining the feelings we prove during the process we are involved into.

The question is particularly significant if the changes are involving our identities. Indeed, the plasticity of identities is at the core of any change and especially of those which involve mixing people of various origins.  Nouvel face this task by   examining Frank Westerman’s book El negro and me, “because it describes very vividly a large array of feelings that persons can experience from each other when a change in their vicinity occurs”.

A particular divisive polarization concerns the theme of religious faith, of churches and their believers. Philosophers and theologians has often found the theoretical solution to conflicts in the concept and practice of tolerance. Daniele Rolando (Conversion and Inclusiveness) compares the current notion of religious freedom or freedom of conscience with the current notion of tolerance. His aim is to prove that this connection is far from being plain and easy-to-use. By an accurate analysis of the different answers offered in contemporary moral and political philosophy to the tolerance question, Rolando concludes that the setting given by F. Baroncelli, and namely his idea of an “indifferent” tolerance, is the best way to set it correctly.

In counterpoint, Paola de Cuzzani (Political cohesion, Friendship and Hostility) discusses the return to friendship in current political thinking, communitarian as well as liberal: can friendship be the emotional foundation of social-political cohesion in a modern state? From the radical normative approach to civil friendship proposed by Saint Just to the Carl Schmitt’s emphasis on the friend/enemy divide, rather than proposing other emotional relationships for uniting and directing a political community, de Cuzzani proposes a “Spinozian turn” to fight back the “sad political passions”.

Certainly opposed to the dichotomous vision friend-enemy is the perspective taken into account by Franco Manti (Diversity, Otherness and the Politics of Recognition) from F. Baroncelli’s essay on “Recognition and its sophistry”: the focus is the reflection about otherness, the incommensurability of cultures, their translatability and their being open systems. In fact, we read a critique of communitarian positions based on the idea of plural and mobile individual and cultural identities. The recognition should primarily concern what unites us, just like our belonging to the same species and being inhabitants of the Planet, and, at the same time, in taking on the challenge of cultural otherness. Manti deduces the need for a planetary ethics, founded the non-reducibility of the part to the whole and of the individual to the community.

Polarization in political thinking and attitudes is discussed by Alberto Giordano in Us and Them the Logic of Othering from Pink Floyd to Populist. Giordano offers, at first, a concise sketch of the development of the us/them divide in the realm of political theory since the 18th century to the first half of the 20th.  He goes on, then, in highlighting the changes undergone by the same dichotomy within populist ideology and discourse, focusing on three discursive patterns which marks contemporary political communication.

In turn, a brief speech by Marianna Mancini compares the intellectual and communicative tools shared by different blends of populism in the cultural and political area of ​​the French-speaking world. In particular, the comparison between La France Insoumise and the Front National helps us in the understanding the plural nature of polarization and its likely fashions.

Throughout the debate, the important role of the media and in particular of social media in the construction of the us / them divide was not neglected. Micol Burighel tries to discuss the idea that group polarization is a dangerous phenomenon developing in democratic societies. This mechanism leads to strong fragmentation on political and social issues and, in certain cases, to extremism and fanaticism. Nevertheless, how much did Internet and social media shape group polarization? The answer is based on a review of the current state of the art, referring particularly to Cass Sunstein’s works.

At last, Mirella Pasini questions the possibility of a non-exclusive us / them divide, discussing the Reports of the American Immigration Commission (Washington 1911).

The us/them polarization in public discourse is not really a contemporary phenomenon: just think of Aristotle and oi barbaroi (the barbarians). Today, however, it is close to  racist approach, as van Dijk says, like never before. His ideological discourse analysis is useful to clarify the connection between polarization and racism, through the analysis of a particular case-study, i.e. the construction of prejudice and stereotype about the Southern Italian “race” at the beginning of the 20th century in the USA. This past case is set by Pasini as a model to analyse the political and ordinary language of our time, in order to define a non-discriminatory approach to differences.

Conversion and Inclusiveness

The problem that I intend to try to tackle in this brief intervention of mine is the following: is the current notion of religious freedom or freedom of conscience – I do not mean to distinguish the two things even though one probably should – compatible with the current notion of tolerance? I will briefly try to prove: 1. that this problem exists, 2. that the setting given by Baroncelli to the problem of tolerance is the only way, at least among those I know, to set it correctly.

In the abstract, of course, the two concepts seem to fit together perfectly, after all they were almost always compatible in the internal forum (with the exception of the Catholic inquisition, as far as I know). If, however, we are striving to understand as we are trying to do today, the problem emerges immediately: it happens in fact that often the two concepts will involve, consciously or not, two opposing rhetorics, of inclusion and exclusion, often and willingly at the same time. On the other hand, from a public point of view the principle of religious freedom implies a form of public ignorance (even if almost always this is only very relatively true) with regard to the contents of this freedom; on the other hand, every religious freedom in which it is exercised implies a radical exclusivism: one cannot convert simultaneously to Christianity or Islam or practice different rites at the same time.

The same thing naturally applies to political liberty, but in this case, it is normally stated that the exercise of the aforementioned freedom is subordinated to the acceptance of a set of common values ​​- constitutional principles – and of common rules within which only political freedom is exercisable. This is because political confrontation exists in function of the exercise of a political power: everyone can disagree with any political proposal but must obey it when it turns into law correctly through a series of constitutionally guaranteed procedures. Every discussion or political confrontation is aimed at the conquest of a political monopoly. The purpose of constitutions, or at least of liberal constitutions, is to limit this monopoly to allow the survival of an adequate political dialectic through the protection of oppositions.

The problem lies in the fact that, unlike the political one, religious freedom implies the recognition of a right to a series of external and therefore public behaviours that by definition cannot be compulsively transformed into obligatory behaviours for all, under penalty of the abolition of religious freedom itself as external freedom. A quick examination of Hobbes Leviathan or of Spinoza’s Tractatus Theologicus Politicus – from my point of view the two paradigmatic texts of modernity – would be sufficient to detect the dramatic centrality of the problem: on the one hand both Hobbes and Spinoza admit and defend the freedom of conscience in internal forum, on the other hand they  affirm at the same time the right of the sovereign in power to establish common dogmas and common rituals mandatory from a public point of view.[1] Locke’s ‘tolerance’ has – on the other hand within very clear limits – fortunately amended, not completely erased, from the paradigm of modernity this scheme, but the problem remains and is destined to emerge  periodically in particular situations.[2]

In a certain sense it could be argued that, at least after Locke, religious freedom could be assimilated more to economic freedom than to political freedom:[3] not surprisingly we hear about a religious market and about religious demands to which religions  offer religious supplies and even about a supermarket of the Sacred. That captures something essential that adequately describes the behaviour of many churches and sects within the modern open society.[4] The analogy, however, cannot be perfect because the goods put up – please allow my coarseness – for sale by the various religious denominations are metaphysical as Stark has often pointed out; in other words, while in theory it would always be possible to check the efficiency of any goods put up for sale obviously in relation to their price – and consumer companies take on this function primarily  – there is no metaphysical body that can control the qualities of the goods of ‘salvation’ put up for sale. In other words, the verification can only be internal. Religions are ultimately self-referential realities, even when they are in competition with one another.

The tools through which a hypothetical religious market can function may be, given the aforementioned self-reference, only two: fusion-syncretism and the transition from one perspective to another e.g. conversion. These two elements can be set against each other but are also strongly complementary to each other.[5] Here, with the help of William James, I will only deal with ‘conversion’.

 

What does being reborn mean?

As is well known, William James distinguished religious experiences into two categories: the religions of the healthy self and those of the sick self. Men, claimed James, on the basis of a statement by Francis William Newman,[6] the much lesser-known brother of the well-known cardinal, are divided into two basic categories, those who are content to be born once and those who want to be born twice. The former are in turn divided into two categories. Those who are naturally and instinctively happy with their state, who instinctively rejoice in the fullness of life that flows around them and those for whom optimism is a moral duty – in this regard the model is the hated-loved Ralph Waldo Emerson. The experience of conversion is irretrievably precluded to them: they are too healthy or at least they would like to be so too strongly and energetically. On the other hand, the experience of conversion concerns the second type of men because it implies a leap from a state of melancholy to one of exaltation. The religions of conversion are the most complete for James, although less widespread. Obviously, even if James does not take the trouble to highlight it, they are all of a biblical matrix, with the unique although an extremely important exception of Buddhism.

What  does distinguish these two types? James uses two technical terms in this regard: the first is threshold, the second is field of consciousness which is characterised by the indetermination of the margin; conversion is caused by the presence of an active subliminal self.

1) by ‘threshold’ James means a limit point that varies from individual to individual, and that can also vary within the consciousness of a single individual at different times, warning of the malum mundi.

2) in order to be converted a man must not only have a very or relatively low ‘threshold’ with regard to the malum mundi – or suffer as Job’s particularly tragic life experiences – but have a ‘second self’ available in the unconscious but not present on a conscious level.These two conditions must naturally be equally present. A man could have a very rich unconscious life but a very low threshold, or vice versa feel the malum mundi in a particularly tragic way but have no other ‘self’ in reserve, able to emerge or re-emerge at a decisive moment and therefore be completely devoid of ‘mythopoietic’ imagination.

It is therefore evident that the truly religious individuals are, have been and always will be very few: men, said James with an expression destined to become a common place, are divided into those that have their own religion and those that have the religion of someone else – the majority. One of the effects of secularisation is probably the, at least apparent, disappearance of this majority.

Given the theme of this conference, I will not critically address this approach, which I reserve the right to resume at the conclusion, but I will only briefly examine a passage that James uses to present the subject of his lectures to his Scottish listeners, perhaps to shock them enough to make them pay attention to his speech. This is a passage taken from the Journal of George Fox, notoriously the founder of the most open, reasonable and tolerant religious sect born of the reform. Here is the passage:

as I was walking with several friends I lifted up my head, and saw three steepled-hauses spires, and they struck at my life. I asked them what place that was? They said, Lichfield. Immediately the word of the Lord came to me, that I must go thither. Being come to the house we were going to […] I stept away […] till I came within a mile of Lichfield, where, in a great field, shepherds were keeping their sheep. Then I was commanded by the Lord to pull off my shoes. I stood still, for it was winter, and the word of the Lord was like a fire in me. So I put of my shoes, and left them with the shepherds; and the poor shepherds trembled, and were astonished […] and as soon as I was got within the city, the word of the Lord came to me again saying; Cry, ‘Wo to the bloody city of Lichfield!’ So I went up and down the streets, crying with a loud voice, WO TO THE BLOODY CITY OF LICHFIELD! It being a market day. […] And no one laid hands on me. As I went thus crying through the streets, there seemed to me to be a channel of blood running down the streets, and the market-place appeared like a pool of blood. When I have declared what was upon me, and felt myself clear, I went out of the town in peace, and returning to the shepherds gave them some money, and took my shoes of them again. But the fire of the Lord was so in my feet, and all over me, that I did not matter to put on my shoes again, and was at a stand whether I should or not, till I felt freedom from the lord so to do: then, after I washed my feet, I put on my shoes again.[7]

To be noted that James had already taken steps to inform his listeners of the psychopath or détraqué nature of George Fox, and it is no coincidence that the passage is quoted in his first lecture entitled Religion and Neurology.

However, the interest in the passage resides not in the more or less pathological state that the passage testifies to. In a certain sense one could say that not only James and his learned listeners, but Fox himself was well aware of it, so much so that the passage goes on to tell how Fox himself strove, through the elaboration of a series of ad hoc hypotheses, to construct an a posteriori rationalisation of this embarrassing word of the Lord, which in its immediate meaning seemed senseless to him too: for what reason in fact would the quiet town of Lichfield have been a bloody city? Instead, I would like to focus on one central point of this narrative: George Fox emerges from the common universe of all men, and first of all pastors who are surprised and frightened by this, for an explicit divine command to take off his shoes, and return, always for another explicit divine command, putting them back on. It should be noted that if there had been a particularly heinous crime in Lichfield a few days earlier, even unbeknownst to George Fox, an essential element, a verifiable ‘fact’, would act as a trait d’union between the two planes of the discourse that would be appearing overall sensible even though he would have remained ‘foolish’ to George Fox, who knew nothing about it.

There is another interesting point in this narrative: George Fox is surprised that none of the peaceful citizens of Lichfield have beaten him up. If they had done, he probably would have understood and apologised – ‘forgive them Lord for they do not know what they do’ as per the Evangelical citation. This could mean that the peaceful citizens of Lichfield, unlike those of Jonah’s Nineveh, had accepted Fox’s behaviour in complete indifference. But I will return to this point at the end of my paper. The passage quoted has the merit of presenting the problem that interests me in a particularly radical way: there are two George Foxes, and above all two different levels of communication, the pathology of the situation has to do only with the fact that these two levels of communication they have no point in common and that therefore the self-referentiality of George Fox’s speech without shoes is total, while in almost all ‘normal’ religious discourses there is still a margin of common meanings that can be more or less broad – think for instance of the five ways of Thomas.

At this point let us try to rethink the notion of conversion set out above: it is clear that the concept of ‘threshold’ becomes central. Let us imagine making this aspect of the question clear that a ‘vegan’ of our days was miraculously present in Lichfield, or more precisely still in its bloody meat market that certainly George Fox must have gone through during his preaching. He would have found Fox’s invective to be perfectly sensible, indeed he would have found it even more sensible than Fox himself, who, as I have already mentioned, had to construct a complicated attempt at rationalisation afterwards, going back to the time of the Roman occupation. The example, however absurd it may be, allows us to understand the deep connection that links the two essential conditions of James: I do not think the horror of blood is a natural fact, since after all man has been an animal hunter since prehistoric times; but it is probable that it has characterised many human individuals throughout the history of our species, so much so that it has always been exorcised in many ways since prehistoric times. To produce a religion such as Jainism, it is necessary that in some individuals a very low threshold for horror for this practice is combined with the emergence from the unconscious of a positive feeling towards every living being. An original James-type of religious experience, and a subsequent mythical transcription of it, was probably essential both to become hunters and to become vegans.[8] An individual, one could conclude, is first and foremost his mythopoeic imagination, and the recognition of religious freedom is precisely for this essential.

 

Flavio Baroncelli and the virtue of indifference

At this point we are almost back to the starting point: how to reconcile the claim of universality of every serious religious discourse with its self-referentiality in external forum? Avoiding both the Talibanism of all the prophets and the inverse Talibanism of all the contemporary atheologists who think of the “religious” as, in the best case, sick to cure, with a very early scientific education.[9]

Probably the best solution remains the small one practised by the peaceful citizens of Lichfield. The virtue of indifference for which they avoided beating up poor George Fox. What is often missed is an adequate theoretical justification for this fact, which did not coincide with prudential arguments – repression would have too high a social cost – or a merciful one – we must tolerate wanderers to give them time to find the truth – or again of a sociological or pseudo-sociological nature – it is a question of residual behaviour destined to be absorbed with the progress of civilisation, or in any case of true religion.

Particularly significant was a theory, different, and in some way opposite and morally more demanding, that was fashionable about thirty years ago, supported by an illustrious Argentine professor, Ernesto Garzon Valdès, who was also a visiting professor in Genoa in those years.[10] Tolerance is a particularly worthy virtue because it forces us to bear the unbearable. The starting point of the article is a story of Manuel Vincent ten years before in which he told of a father willing to tolerate the asocial and rude behaviour of his daughter and her friends until the fateful date of 14th May 1980, when she tried to put her filthy hands on his Mozart to make her friends listen to him. Another important point of reference is an analogous position of Mary Warnock[11], inherent as well prima facieto the complex mother-child relationships. From these two particularly significant exempla Valdès drew an essential conclusion:

in both cases tolerance appears as a dispositional property which in different and repeated circumstances […] is tested. Common to all these circumstances is the rejection that the respective acts immediately arouse in the tolerant person.[12]

The inevitable consequences of this approach are the affirmation that the idea of tolerance is always accompanied by the idea of an evil which should be the object of tolerance itself and therefore the need for a judgment weighed between the evil to be tolerated and the evil of intolerance; secondly the weighting presupposed by tolerance and a good criterion to distinguish this from indifference. It was therefore a matter of finding a new Aristotelian medium between the opposing vices of intolerance and indifference.

It was a version of the virtue of tolerance that was particularly demanding and ascetic in that it imposed the tolerance of the intolerable through a form of castration – even if this term was not used – of our moral or simply aesthetic instinct which should have involved suffering and therefore a complacency of this suffering.

The merit of Flavio Baroncelli was to react to this approach through the elaboration of an alternative hypothesis – the development of which probably would have led to the defence of political correctness in Viaggio al termine degli Stati Uniti  and lastly to Il razzismo è una gaffe  – tolerance is a public virtue that concerns the public space where differences must not be seen or at least noticed even if they are accidentally glimpsed. It is therefore a question of building institutions – and in the broadest sense of the term, even language is an institution, or rather the first institution – that are tolerant, not castrations of our private preferences whose public manifestation becomes a blunder. In this decidedly non-Aristotelian perspective, indifference becomes a public virtue that should not necessarily imply the castration of our private preferences, but if ever their “relativisation” in public space. An intolerant person would become essentially a blunderer, ridiculous not only in front of others, but above all in front of himself.

Only within a framework of this kind can the right to religious freedom in the external forum find its place through the construction of a public space within which, like within a Goffmann-style ‘scenario’, behaviours of religious actors can move. This would imply the need to postulate more alternative, parallel but not necessarily self-excluding public spaces.

The difficulty will then be again in the exercise of what Walzer called the ‘art of separation’ proper to liberalism, the exercise of which is particularly complex and difficult, especially since the World Wide Web seems to have erased the distinction between ‘public’ and ‘private’. I fear it will fall back more and more on the ordinary magistracy. In a certain sense we could say that the need to re-delineate this essential distinction is the difficult task that Baroncelli has left us with.

 

Endnotes & references

[1] From this point of view, the credo minimumrepresents a weak attempt to find a balance between the internal and the external, public and private. In this regard I refer to my ‘Dual language’: ‘Le salut des ignorants‘ and the ‘Homo liber’.The paradoxes of the ‘credo minimum’ according to Spinoza in ‘La ragione della parola’. Religione ermeneutica e linguaggio  in Baruch Spinoza, edited by F. Camera and A. Sangiacomo, II prato, Saonara (PD). 2013, pp. 97-130.

[2] See for instance the problem of the Burka.

[3] In this regard I refer to the General theory of religionwhich Rodney Stark, with the help of William Sims Bainbridge, expounded in the ever valid A Theory of Religion(1sted. Lang, New York 1987).

[4] But not in Europe, considering that in all European countries, excluding France, which on the contrary seems to apply a kind of monopoly of non-religion, there is some weak form of religious monopoly of a dominant confession.

[5] Without syncretism no common religious lexicon could exist and therefore no new religious proposal could find an adequate listener, on the other hand without exclusivism any metaphysical advantage that would make it convenient to support the cost of abandoning the old rites, beliefs and habits would disappear.

[6] Cf.The Soul, its Sorrows, and its Aspirations. An Assay towards the Natural History of the Soul as the True Basis of Theology, 1sted. 1849.

[7] W. James,The Varieties of Religious Experience, Harvard University Press, Cambridge (Mass.) 1985, p. 16.

[8] James’s unconscious appears from this point of view particularly ambiguous: first, taking James’s speech to the letter, it should be understood as a sort of spare wheel of the individual, who can save himself from anguish, allowing another of his possible ‘self’s to emerge; on the other hand, by just forcing James’s discourse, one could think of it as an alternative to Jung’s collective unconscious without its potentially reactionary ambiguities: we can only imagine what is part of our culture and can be understood starting from it, even if we can remix the pieces of a puzzle in a radically innovative way by building something totally innovative. After all, to use the terminology of Ernest Renan, every génie religieux (among which George Fox can certainly be counted) did just that.

[9] Cf. for instance the small volume by V. Girotto, T. Pievani, G. Vallortigara,Nati per credere, Codice edizioni, Milano 2008.

[10] Cf. his article of 1992 ‘No ponga tua sucia manos sobre Mozart’. Algunas consideraciones sobre el concepto de tolerancia, Italian translation in Tolleranza, responsabilità e stato di diritto, il Mulino, Bologna 2003.

[11] M. Warnock,Limiti della tolleranza, in S. Mendus – D. Edwards (eds), Saggi sulla tolleranza, II Saggiatore , Milan 1980.

[12] G. Valdés, op.cit. p.166.

In Lightning Memory: A Philosophical Dictionary à la Baroncelli

The following definitions combine insightful personal memories and personally memorable insights that I recall from, or associate with, Flavio Baroncelli (1944–2007) qua eloquent and witty teacher, brilliant and ingenious writer, fast and sharp conversationalist, generous and kind human being, and committed promoter of the teacher- and student exchange programmes linking together Iceland, my adoptive country, and the University of Genoa, my alma mater. Not all of them must be taken literally or too seriously; besides, I would not agree with some of them myself! All of them are, however, sincere tokens of gratitude, friendship and love to a truly remarkable individual, who enjoyed entertaining and shocking his audiences, but above all liked making them think, debate, and think some more. Furthermore, these definitions are a creative and inevitably poor attempt at exemplifying for the Anglophone public the sort of pithy and humorous style that, inter alia, made Baroncelli famous in Italy in his day.

 

Actuality

Another word for potentiality.

 

Addiction

A disease mistaken for moral failure.

 

Adulation

Causing pleasure by sly words, even when the listener knows that they are lies. Philosophers, in their stately parlance, would call it a perlocutionary speech act.

 

Advertising

The daily demonstration of how little control we have over our own will.

 

Agnosticism

A polite way for educated people to be open-minded pluralists in theory but narrow-minded atheists in practice.

 

Analysis (of concepts)

The bizarre tendency to turn ambiguous profundity into unambiguous superficiality.

 

Analytic (philosophy)

A typically modern attempt at making self-conscious philosophers sound like respectable scientists.

 

Banking

The best way to acquire power in a capitalist society, especially if one wishes to destroy it.

 

Beauty (physical)

One of the most important life-defining characteristics that a person can have the good luck to possess and that philosophers keep stating not to matter.

 

Bedroom

A seemingly private place where both neighbours and State authorities seem often eager to enter.

 

Brotherhood

The least understood yet most important principle of the French Revolution: without a modicum of genuinely felt compassion among fellow citizens, both liberty and equality will get used to ruin someone else’s life.

 

Censorship

A dangerous and stupid way not to listen to dangerous and stupid claims.

 

Chickens

When rasping hopelessly and continuously on a hard road surface, they exemplify instinctual behaviour as opposed to deliberate.

 

Cigarettes

Powerful, sweet, devious killers.

 

Clarity

The curse of any philosopher who may wish to come across as deep, original and worthy of enduring attention.

 

Coherence (aka consistency)

The unhealthy obsession with getting rid of all the instances of personal diversity, creativity, capriciousness and experimentalism that make individual life interesting and collective life possible.

 

Communism

The 20th-century political scarecrow that, for the duration of about one generation, made the de iure liberal countries of the world be actually a little more liberal than their de facto oligarchic past and present flag out.

 

Compassion

The most important virtue cultivated by Christianity.

 

Competition

A much-cherished liberal value, as long as it does not apply to oneself.

 

Complaining

Generally loathed by the very same people who have most reason to complain—an instance of slave morality.

 

Continental (philosophy)

A not-so-modern attempt at making self-important philosophers sound like profound mystics.

 

Courage

Someone else’s form of madness.

 

Culture

The folklore of the rich.

 

Daydreaming

Coping with far-too-real nightmares.

 

Defecation

Its training in infancy reveals how people prefer freedom to be qualified and circumscribed.

 

Discipline (and Punish)

The most important book by Michel Foucault, who taught us that the more societies publicly incense liberty and call themselves “liberal”, the less freedom common people truly enjoy in order to do as they please.

 

Dogs

The ideal sort of loyal, selfless, hard-working and simple-mindedly grateful employees that employers would like to have.

 

Economics (contemporary)

A branch of mathematics mistaken for empirical science.

 

Economics (modern)

A branch of philosophy mistaken for empirical science.

 

Elucidation

Clarification articulating possible meanings of a pithy expression, with consequent loss of aesthetic and thought-provoking value of the latter. Sterilisation by explanation. (E.g. paraphrasing a poem, explaining a joke.)

 

Emancipation

The possibility for all people to be as bad and as silly as the rich and powerful minorities frequently are.

 

Etiquette

Aristocracy’s last ditch at controlling modern society.

 

Euphemism

See “Get lost!” below.

 

Evolution

It is only after Darwin that people understood what the heck Lucretius and Telesio were talking about.

 

Exceptions (making)

The first step towards tolerance and pluralism.

 

Faith

An option generally available only to a person who stops doubting.

 

Folklore

The culture of the poor.

 

Geese

Birds that can be confused with swans, especially in Iceland.

 

Geometry

An exact formal science that can be used rhetorically as a persuasive labelling method for inexact metaphysical reasoning.

 

Get (lost!)

Uttered in a timely fashion, it can save a person the trouble of having to answer a difficult question.

 

Greek

If ancient, it is an excellent way to display one’s own erudition.

 

Health

The true source of happiness, yet regularly forgotten until missing.

 

Hegel (Georg Friedrich)

A typical German philosopher, he wrote several tomes to demonstrate that nothing stays the same.

 

History (of ideas)

A way to find out why we think the way we think.

 

Homogenisation

The equalising social process deplored by anthropologists whereby identifying the poor, the outcast, the loathed, the derided and the downtrodden becomes a little less easy.

 

Hume (David)

An uncharacteristically prodigal Scotsman, he noticed that the only way to be sure that all matches in the box do work is to light them all up.

 

Hypocrisy

The misunderstood virtue of avoiding conflict in realty by accepting conflict in principle.

 

Ideology

A set of loosely interconnected concepts, some of which may be even mutually contradictory, that allow people to feel justified in their claims and actions, or at least to project an air of justification for them.

 

Illness

The demonstration of the bodily basis of the mind.

 

Indifference

The least acknowledged yet most important virtue in a pluralist society: by caring little about what other people believe or do, mutual tolerance can be the norm.

 

Insight (aka Intuition)

Prejudice we like.

 

Institutions

The remarkable social invention whereby to preserve the memory of past errors and make the inexorably ignorant new generations less likely to repeat them.

 

Intervention (by the State)

A much-loathed socialist value, which liberals accept as soon as they are in trouble.

 

Jokes

A valuable means of instruction that can reach even those who do not wish to be instructed.

 

Kant (Immanuel)

A typical German philosopher, he wrote two tomes to undo an earlier one.

 

Knowledge

That which philosophers seek and analyse most, and yet have the least of.

 

Language

The precious and inevitable source of all misunderstandings.

 

Lashes (by whip)

As long as someone else gets more than yourself, most slaves will not rebel against slavery.

 

Latin

Another good way to show one’s own erudition.

 

Liberalism

The political wisdom teaching that State authority should be used only to protect a person from her worst enemy: her neighbours.

 

Life

A rather bothersome business, but also the only one in town.

 

Lust

An open motive among men; less so among women. Gender equality’s lewd horizon.

 

Magic

Another way to understand religion.

 

Marx (Karl)

A typical German philosopher, he wrote several tomes to demonstrate that, normally, if the employer gains, the employee loses out—and vice versa.

 

Meritocracy

A neologism by the privileged.

 

Mixed (marriage)

The easiest and fastest way to explain why a marriage did not last. No such option is available for divorces between people of the same ethnic origin, the explanation of which may then take years of keen psychological scrutiny.

 

Montaigne (Michel de)

His essays became so famous and commonplace that later philosophers forgot to mention the source of the ideas they discussed and, eventually, Montaigne himself. There can be such a thing as too much fame.

 

More (Thomas)

Great wisdom expressed with clarity.

 

Nietzsche (Friedrich)

An atypical German philosopher, he wrote aphorisms to acknowledge a major yet neglected motive of human thought and action: resentment.

 

Nothingness

The likeliest outcome of a person’s life, which we spend trying not to think about it.

 

Order

In practice, the supreme official principle of social life.

 

Originality

The future outcome of the present ignorance about the past.

 

Pain (and Pleasure)

The fabric of our inner tapestry.

 

Philosophy

When good, it is the playful use of our imagination and of our reason in order to break apart, toy with and recombine concepts, beliefs and habits of thought, in order to make better sense of them. When bad, it is the skillful use of our imagination and of our reason in order to do the same and be even more confused in the end.

 

Poetry

An artificial reminder of life’s beauty.

 

Political (correctness)

The ungainly social process whereby the less respected members of a community can have a chance to be paid a little more respect.

 

Pornography

A widespread yet uncomfortable signpost of liberal freedom.

 

Potentiality

Another word for actuality.

 

Poverty

A person’s attribute that, if conspicuous, makes other significant attributes deplorable or intolerable to the surrounding individuals: age, race, religious affiliation, ignorance, ugliness, etc.

 

Prejudice

Insights we dislike.

 

Pride

A vice leading frequently to virtuous behaviour.

 

Quality

Often confused with quantity.

 

Quantity

Often confused with quality.

 

Questions

The best instrument available to reveal how ignorant we are, no matter the number of university degrees we may have.

 

Race

A historically popular but unnecessary notion which justifies people being nasty to one another. In its absence, freckles or bad pronunciation can serve the same purpose.

 

Radicalism

The art of making outlandish ideas sound plausible, thus duly impressing unsuspecting young minds and potential sexual partners.

 

Reason

The perplexing faculty to take apart whatever solid conclusion we had reached before.

 

Rhetoric

The unjustly neglected study of how language shapes people’s life under all circumstances.

 

Righteousness

The most dangerous virtue cultivated by Christianity.

 

Scepticism

Unwise over-intelligent overthinking—it is by far too delightful an endeavour for most philosophers to resist the temptation of indulging in it despite their own better judgment.

 

Sparrows

A natural reminder of life’s beauty.

 

Spinoza (Baruch)

Great wisdom could be expressed with more clarity.

 

Stratification

Having someone below you is usually more important than having someone above—another instance of slave morality.

 

Straw-man (fallacies)

Mistaken by logicians as fictional errors, they are the far-too-real claims of ordinary men and women; if one is willing, and brave enough, to listen.

 

Stupidity

The regularly underplayed yet visibly increased outcome of greater freedom in human societies.

 

Swans

Birds that can be confused with geese, especially in Iceland.

 

Syllogism

A structured way of thinking and talking that allows the person using it to come across as astoundingly intelligent and thereby force another to shut up, even if the latter may actually be right.

 

Tolerance

The socially crucial ability to endure people we dislike.

 

Toleration

The perplexing notion whereby tolerance is not enough in society, for we must also like the people that we dislike.

 

Torture

The most efficient way to get bad information from innocent weaklings and no information at all from guilty brutes.

 

Transubstantiation

To modern eyes, an old form of cannibalism.

 

Ugliness (physical)

One of the most important life-defining characteristics that a person can have the ill luck to possess and that philosophers keep stating not to matter.

 

Unpleasantness

That from which all great ideologies wish to free us once and for all, but which all great historians tell us we must accept for any human endeavour to have a chance to work at all.

 

Urination

See defecation.

 

Violence

Whether threatened or applied, it is in practice the supreme unofficial principle of social life.

 

Voltaire

The best example of how being a master of style condemns a man to being remembered as a minor thinker.

 

Wealth

A person’s attribute that, if conspicuous, makes other significant attributes invisible to the surrounding individuals: age, race, religious affiliation, ignorance, ugliness, etc.

 

Will

We like thinking of it as free, despite all contrary evidence.

 

Wittgenstein (Ludwig)

A Continental philosopher mistaken for an analytical one.

 

Xanadu

One of the many words for the imaginary place of endless joy that all cultures have concocted and that only some silly philosophers would state not to want to go to.

 

Youth

The time of peak performance in a person’s life, the rest of which is spent trying to make use of ridiculous concepts that can help that person to enjoy some respect and self-respect: the wisdom of old age, the charm of grey hair, the value of experience, etc.

 

Zionist

Often confused with “Jewish” and “Israeli”, it can be combined with them in the following matrix:

Jewish, Israeli and Zionist

Non-Jewish, Israeli and Zionist

Jewish, Non-Israeli and Zionist

Jewish, Israeli and Non-Zionist

Non-Jewish, Non-Israeli and Zionist

Jewish, Non-Israeli and Non-Zionist

Non-Jewish, Israeli and Non-Zionist

Non-Jewish, Non-Israeli and Non-Zionist

Flavio Baroncelli: A Personal Recollection

This memoire begins, as it must, by recounting some of the facts about the academic life of a good friend—too early departed and profoundly missed—Flavio Baroncelli.1

 

Flavio the Academic: A Brief Curriculum

Flavio was born in Savona on January 15th, 1944. He attended the University of Genoa and completed his laurea degree in 1969 with a dissertation on David Hume, written under the supervision of Professor Romeo Crippa. Between 1969 and 1975, Flavio worked as Crippa’s assistant and in 1976, in the light of independent research conducted in the U.K., published his first book, Un inquietante filosofo perbene – Saggio su David Hume (A Disquieting, Respectable Philosopher – Essay on David Hume; Florence: La Nuova Italia, 1976).Between 1974 and 1977, Flavio taught History of the Age of Enlightenment at the University of Trieste, returning to Genoa in 1977 to teach History of Modern Philosophy. He was co-founder, with Gianni Francioni, of the journal, Studi settecenteschi, and worked together with Giovanni Assereto, Franz Brunetti, Salvatore Rotta and other historians of the Enlightenment.In the early 80’s, Flavio’s examination of the cultural and political processes of modernity caused his attention to shift towards the ideological and social aspects of inequality and poverty. In 1983 he and Giovanni Assereto co-authored a book entitled Sulla povertà, idee leggi e progetti nell’Europa moderna (On Poverty. Ideas, Laws and Projects in Modern Europe; Genova-Ivrea: Herodote), whose content is indicated by its title.

In 1981, Flavio was appointed Full Professor in Moral Philosophy at the University of Calabria, returning once more to the University of Genoa in 1982 as Full Professor in Moral Philosophy.

In the early 90’s, his interests shifted once again towards issues in contemporary political philosophy: the theory and practice of toleration, the causes and evils of racism, the standing of liberal theory vs. the communitarian challenge, and the faults and virtues of “political correctness”. Along with many journal articles on these topics, he published two books: Il razzismo è una gaffe. Eccessi e virtù del “politically correct” (Racism Is a Gaffe. Excesses and Virtues of the “Politically Correct”; Rome: Donzelli, 1996) and Viaggio al termine degli Stati Uniti. Perché gli americani votano Bush e se ne vantano (Voyage To the Limits of the United States. Why the Americans Elected Bush And Boast About It; Rome: Donzelli, 2006).Il razzismo è una gaffe is an analysis of political correctness as a cultural phenomenon. Flavio explains how it came about in the United States and examines the main debates that it generated. The first part of the book, which is mainly reconstructive, paints a very illuminating fresco of the cultural and political processes behind the battles around speech codes on American campuses and their reception in Italy. In the second part of the book, through a very deep analysis that resorts to the conceptual tools of moral and political philosophy and pragmatics, Flavio defends political correctness as a way to achieve a fairer and more tolerant society, notwithstanding its excesses and faults. To Flavio’s surprise and delight, this book was adopted as an introductory text in sociolinguistics in more than one university course in Italy.In his last book, Viaggio al termine degli Stati Uniti, Flavio follows a formula very similar to the one used in the preceding book: he intertwines a narrative description of a long trip to the United States (written in Little Rock, Arkansas, where he was intermittently treated for the protracted illness that ultimately killed him) with philosophical reflections on the opposition between the liberal culture and the neo-conservative culture that was at its apex at the time.

In 2006, Flavio changed the institutional disciplinary area of his professorship to political philosophy.

Flavio died on February 20th, 2007, at Saint Martin’s Hospital of Genoa after a long battle with leukemia. He was in his 64th year2.

 

Flavio the Philosopher

Flavio Baroncelli was a formidable philosopher, albeit an unusual—and even “disquieting”—one. His work is well known in Italy, but little known in other countries. The obvious explanation for this is that Flavio wrote and published almost exclusively in Italian. And that was no accident, for he knew English well and could easily have written much more in English in order to raise his international profile. But for Flavio, the Italian language was a basic philosophical instrument. He employed a great deal of straightforward (and clever) analytical argument. But he also argued (like Nietzsche) by means of humor, irony, story-telling and various forms of linguistic artistry. For this, he needed Italian, in which language he was a master craftsman.

Flavio understood and cultivated the rhetorical aspect of philosophical writing. He seems not to have viewed rhetoric and reasoning as disjoint enterprises, in the manner of Socrates (who also viewed them as antagonistic enterprises), but rather as intersecting. Of course he understood that rhetoric could be malignant, but, like Aristotle, thought that there was also benign, or constructive rhetoric—rhetoric with a legitimate, and thus rational, persuasive force. His admiration for Hume was in large part based upon his appreciation of Hume’s skill as a rhetorician, but what he valued was Hume’s employment of constructive rhetoric, while he rejected Hume’s all-too-frequent descents into sophistry.

In a short piece that recently appeared in English translation, “Rawls and Hume: A Fable” (tr. Gillian Parker),3 Flavio imagines a conversation between Hume and Rawls upon the latter’s arrival at the Elysian Fields. Hume there is made to remark to Rawls that “rhetoric really isn’t your strong point”; and this is meant as a criticism. More specifically, Flavio’s Hume chastises Rawls for having “invented a ridiculous term”—the original position—to describe a “simple and brilliant idea”. Part of constructive rhetoric consists in the apt, lucid and illuminating choice of terminology. On the other hand, Hume is made to chastise himself for being unable to make his own account of justice sound appealing “except by adulterating, by subjecting to the most bombastic propaganda, the psychological mechanisms available to me”.4 This is the sort of rhetoric for which Flavio had little tolerance.

The philosophical methodology that recognizes rhetorical, or perhaps one should say, aesthetic, modes of rational persuasion is indicative of a deeper commitment that Flavio shared with Hume. Humean scholars tend to call this “sentimentalism”, a label Flavio would surely have resisted. But whatever one calls it, the idea is that there is a shared human nature which is at once discursive and sympathetic. Rational appeals may be made discursively or sympathetically; it may even be difficult to view these two elements as entirely distinct. As I understand Flavio, this was his view; and I perceive it to be Hume’s as well. Indeed, I think that this was Hume’s main appeal for Flavio. Flavio felt that the Socratic (or ancient Greek) disjunction between reason and sentiment—or between reason and sympathy—was a false one: one that distorted the nature of human rationality. It was therefore that Flavio rejected all forms of traditional rationalism. In the fable of Rawls and Hume mentioned earlier, Hume confronts Rawls in the following manner:

There’s something I just don’t get; for instance, resorting to practical reason for stability seems odd to me, a sort of oxymoron, because I’m used to thinking it’s the passions that create a minimum of stability, of similarity between us . . . as well as a semblance . . . of brotherhood. . . . [F]or the last two hundred years now you’ve been ashamed of having an idea of human nature and pretend you can do without it, but what’s the result? That you, for example, . . . try to restrict the things for which you require mutual consent, as if all you were worried about were restricting the grounds on which someone different from you could say no, while in this way you actually exclude the grounds on which someone different from you could say yes.5

Of course, Flavio is here speaking for Hume; but I believe that he was also, in this place, speaking for himself.Both Flavio and Hume treated philosophy as a human activity, situated in history, culture and tradition. It addresses itself to people who have the shared nature mentioned above, who have specific traditions and concerns, and who, in any particular discussion, share a certain language which resonates with their beliefs, emotions and sympathies. Rationalism, on their view, attempts to address bloodless wraiths—parodies of the human being. It is exaggeratedly discursive, ahistorical, unsituated, and liable to slide into fanaticism.While one can never, I think, fully appreciate Flavio as a philosopher without reading him in Italian (for the reasons I have explained), I believe that understanding the way in which he conceived and practiced philosophy can help those who read him in other languages (and it is to be fervently hoped that his works will be widely translated) to appreciate his work6.

 

Flavio the Humanist

Flavio identified himself as a philosopher, and he was, indeed, a philosopher by any standard. But he was perhaps even more a humanist.If you conceive and practice philosophy in Flavio’s way, you are almost necessarily drawn to humanistic subjects and are less concerned with the analytic-synthetic distinction or the question whether it would be possible for something to be red and green all over. Flavio began his philosophical researches in the history of modern philosophy; but even in that period, it is clear that what interested him most was the significance of philosophical movements and they way they shaped Modernity: the way they influenced the manner in which people understood themselves, one another, and human relationships (especially moral and political relationships). What did Modernity have to offer in the face of poverty? In the face of war? In the face of racism and oppression?

These are the things that Flavio thought and wrote about—and he cared what philosophy could say about them and wanted philosophy to have a positive and wholesome influence. And of course he moved on from thinking about the significance of modern philosophy for the human condition (Locke, Smith, Hume, Kant) to thinking and writing about the significance of contemporary philosophy (Rawls, Walzer, Rorty and others). His movement from the history of philosophy and the history of ideas into moral and political philosophy was inevitable and inexorable.

Flavio’s humanism found expression in his intense activity as a contributor to various Italian national magazines and newspapers, such as La VoceVillageIl diario della settimana and Il Secolo XIX. His writings there focussed almost exclusively upon cultural, social and political issues, and he was an insightful and incisive critic of the contemporary scene. Unlike many such critics, he eschewed all forms of fanaticism, while at the same time offering scathing critiques of the beliefs and practices that conduce to human misery.Flavio’s humanism also expressed itself in research. He co-directed various research projects at local and the national level, sponsored by the Italian Ministry of Universities. Particularly important projects were The Ethico-political Philosophical Lexicon in the Italian Culture of the Eighteenth Century (part of a larger project for the creation of an internet library of the Italian culture, Biblioteca Italiana Telematica), and the work on Equal Respect: Its Nature and Its Normative Implications for Institutions, co-ordinated at the national level by Salvatore Veca.

 

Flavio the Human Being

Flavio’s philosophy and philosophical humanism were of course reflections of the soul of Flavio the man. Like the author of this memoire, Flavio was in certain respects a superannuated hippy. He was, after all, 24 years old in 1968. There were no doubt many earlier occasions; but the only time that I actually saw Flavio dressed in a dark suit was when I paid my respects to him, or rather to his earthly remains, in the hospital morgue. He most often appeared at the university dressed in blue jeans and a sports shirt. He confronted people on a social, intellectual and emotional basis—not a sartorial one.

And Flavio was a biker! Of course, many if not most younger Italians are devotees of scooters and cycles, but Flavio continued to ride and travel on his motorcycle long after most of his colleagues had moved over to their more comfortable Lancias (or whatnot). In 1988, Flavio had a serious motorcycle accident while traveling in Turkey that incapacitated him for more than a year and kept him from teaching and research. Right up until his death, he suffered from pain in his foot and leg that made it difficult for him to walk for long distances and sometimes kept him in bed.

Flavio was not a softie. He set severe standards for himself and others but was generally (although not always!) gentle in applying them. Humor, irony and sometimes sarcasm were his weapons, rather than aggression or intimidation.

He was typically adored by his students and had the ability to get them deeply engaged in philosophical questions. A class with Flavio did not end when everyone left the room; some of his classes may never end, even now that he’s gone.

The highlights of Flavio’s personal life were his marriage to Annalisa Siri and the adoption of Gurol, their Turkish son. I met them both at the hospital on a very sad day in February, 2007. In 1997, Annalisa had arranged for my own son to participate in cancer research at the institute where she worked as part of his medical education. This was an indirect consequence of my cooperation with Flavio in the Erasmus program, discussed further below.

During his long, final illness, Flavio was often unable to work at the university. His colleagues missed him and his influence in university affairs, and they were mostly in denial about what from the outside looked clearly like a terminal sickness. “When is Flavio going to come back to work?” one of his close colleagues complained; “We need him!” Of course, I had no answer.

The final period of Flavio’s life was unfortunate for more reasons than one. He had had to spend a number of years caring for his aged, and rather difficult, father, which prevented him from traveling and, often, from working as he wished. And when at last liberated from the duties of a faithful son, he became aware of the illness that eventually ended his life.

Being unable to travel was a serious loss for Flavio. He was fascinated by the similarities and differences among peoples and nations and relished international contact in a way that could not be fully served by the Internet. In 1991-92 he was an honorary fellow at the Department of Philosophy of the University of Wisconsin in Madison, and he was a Visiting Professor at the University of Iceland (1994), Glasgow University (1994) and the University of Bergen (1996). He was also instrumental in organizing Erasmus exchanges for students and colleagues in philosophy.It was through the Erasmus program that I first met Flavio; and it was also through this program that he visited—and became a friend of—Iceland.

We went together with a group of students to a country retreat in mid-winter. Ever the speculator about human motivation, Flavio gazed wonderingly out of the window of our bus at the bleak, frozen landscape. “What did those people think when they came here?” he asked, referring to the settlement of Iceland, which began in 874. “What could they have been thinking of?” He also warned me, “I hope that you are not sleeping with me in the same cabin. I snore like a bear!” He did snore a bit, but not really with bear-like intensity (as I imagine it).

The Icelandic students were as inspired by him as his Italian students, and discussions continued far into the night. Flavio arranged to send students, and a number of colleagues to Iceland, and to receive Icelandic students and colleagues in Genoa. Eventually, others took over this work, but the lively interchanges between the University of Iceland and the University of Genoa continue.

Socrates described philosophy as a preparation for death. But Socrates viewed the body as a kind of prison for the soul, and daily life (and perhaps even human intercourse generally) as a distraction—at least so Plato tells us. Socrates looked forward to bodily death as a liberation of the soul. This was not Flavio’s view. For Flavio, as I maintained earlier, human nature was inseparably discursive, sentimental and sympathetic, with human rationality encompassing all of these elements. This, I maintained, was a Humean vision. Flavio did not understand himself as a soul imprisoned in a body; and he reveled in human intercourse. Despite his fable about a meeting of Hume and Rawls in the Elysian Fields, Flavio did not (I think) believe in an afterlife, any more than Hume did. Even if Flavio had believed in an afterlife, he would surely have wanted to put it off as long as it was possible to live fulfillingly in an earthly life: a life of language, culture, history, society—and in short what I have twice referred to as “human intercourse”. I know from our personal conversations that Flavio—long before he became terminally ill—was disquieted by death. He was afraid of contracting breast cancer, as had one of his male relatives. Philosophy for Flavio was not a preparation for death; it was a preparation for continuing, deepening and advancing the dialogue.Flavio faced illness and death bravely, and was able, despite weakness and pain, to write out of his experience a remarkable book (Viaggio al termine degli Stati Uniti); but I doubt that he “went gentle into that good night”; and why should he have?

 

Flavio Altogether

I have given a somewhat kaleidoscopic recounting of Flavio as a human being. This was the only way I could think of to present him to the reader, not as an academic, but as a person of flesh and blood.

But what unified the kaleidoscopic Flavio was his curiosity about the human animal and about human relations and his passionate hope that people might grow to treat one another better than they do. This curiosity and hope guided his personal life, his interaction with friends, students, and colleagues, his choice of a career, and his philosophical humanism: the honed instrument of his life pursuit.

We have now lost the bodily Flavio, but the spiritual Flavio lives on—not in the fifth dimension, but in Flavio’s own way, in this world. He lives on as long as we remember him, study his work, and are moved by his influence. We will be the better for it.

 

Endnotes

1 I express my special thanks to Valeria Ottonelli, who helped me to collect together some of the essential material concerning Flavio’s life and work.

2 A bibliography of Flavio’s most important work can be found here:

1975 Un inquietante filosofo perbene. Saggio su David Hume, La Nuova Italia, Firenze
1977 Blaise Pascal, Solitudine e storia, antologia degli scritti, scelta, introduzione e note di F. Baroncelli, La Nuova Italia, Firenze
1980 Pauperismo e religione nell’eta moderna (con G. Assereto), «Società e storia», n. 7, 1980
1981 Tra Locke e Smith. Alcune immagini del rapporto col “povero”, «Studi Settecenteschi», n. 2
1982 La droga, il sesso, l’Iliade e l’Odissea in Piacere e felicità: fortuna e declino. Atti del 3° Convegno tra studiosi di Filosofia Morale (Chiavari – S.Margherita Ligure, 15-17 maggio 1980), a cura di Romeo Crippa, Liviana, Padova, pp. 247-63.
1983 (con Giovanni Assereto) Sulla povertà, idee leggi e progetti nell’Europa moderna, Herodote, Genova-Ivrea
1985 Contro la carità discreta. Misericordia, raziocinio e volontà di non sapere in una polemica cinquecentesca sulla povertà, «Materiali per una storia della cultura giuridica», XV (1985), 1
1987 D. Hume, Scritti morali, traduzione, introduzione e note a cura di F. Baroncelli, La scuola, Brescia
1987 I filosofi e la pace. Atti del 5° Convegno tra studiosi di Filosofia Morale in memoria di Romeo Crippa (Sanremo, Villa Nobel, 13-15 dicembre 1984), a cura di F. Baroncelli e M. Pasini, Ecig, Genova
1987 Corpo e cosmo nell’esperienza morale. Atti del 4° Convegno tra studiosi di Filosofia morale (Pietrasanta, 30 settembre-2 ottobre 1982) a cura di Romeo Crippa, edizione a cura di F. Baroncelli e D. Rolando, Paideia, Brescia
1989 Suicidio e garanzie. Riflessioni a proposito di un libro recente, «Materiali per una storia della cultura giuridica», XIX (1989), 2
1993 L’incerta fortuna della critica all’immaginazionismo di James Augustus Blondel, «Studi Settecenteschi»
Cinici e scimmie. Osservazioni sull’anti-etnocentrismo di Montaigne e Rousseau, «Materiali per una storia della cultura giuridica», XXIII (1993), 1
1994 Il linguaggio non offending come strategia di tolleranza, «Materiali per una storia della cultura giuridica», XXIV (1994), 1
1995 Razzismo e verità, «Ragion pratica», III (1995), pp. 79-97
1996 Il razzismo è una gaffe, Eccessi e virtù del “politically correct”, Donzelli, Roma
1997 Giustizialismo, «Ragion Pratica», n.7, pp. 119-137
Post-fazione a Lysander Spooner, No treason n.6. La costituzione senza autorità, ed. e trad. di V.Ottonelli, Il Melangolo, Roma
Etica e razionalità. Un finto divorzio?, «Materiali per una storia della cultura giuridica», XXVII (1997), 1, pp. 230-260
Il riconoscimento e i suoi sofismi, in F. Manti (a cura di), La tolleranza e le sue ragioni, pp. 120-147.
1998 Il riconoscimento e i suoi sofismi, «Quaderni di Bioetica», pp. 120-147.
Come scrivere sulla tolleranza, «Materiali per una storia della cultura giuridica», XXVIII (1998), 1, pp. 49-68.
2000 Razzismo e correttezza politica: la riscossa della natura, in Mezzadra, I confini della globalizzazione, Manifestolibri, Roma
Giudizio, giustizia, giustizialismo, in S. Nicosia (a cura di), Il giudizio. Filosofia, teologia, diritto, estetica. Carocci, Roma, pp. 320-339.
2001 Liberalismo e multiculturalismo in Liberalismo e società giusta, a cura di M. Marsonet, Name, Genova
Le quattro indegnità dei liberali irresoluti. Teoria politica, XVII (2001), pp. 23-47
Il chiliagono della politica mondiale e la povertà della nostra immaginazione, «Ragion pratica», 16 (2001), pp. 135-138
La tolleranza dell’errore e del disvalore, in V. Dini (a cura di), Tolleranza e libertà, Eleuthera, Milano, pp. 257-276
2005 L’onore dei Labdacidi: religione, politica e familismo nell’ Antigone di Sofocle, in M. Ripoli – M. Rubino (a cura di), Antigone. Il mito, il diritto, lo spettacolo, pp. 21-44
2006 Viaggio al termine degli Stati Uniti. Perché gli americani votano Bush e se ne vantano, Donzelli, Roma.

3 Published in Emilio Mazza & Emanuele Ronchetti, eds. New Essays on David Hume (Milano: FrancoAngeli, 2007), pp. 259-63, and originally presented in Italian at the seminar “La filosofia è politica”, held in honor of John Rawls at the University of Milan, 31 Janary 2003.

4 “Rawls and Hume: A Fable”, p. 260.

5 “Rawls and Hume: A Fable”, p. 261.

6 Others who know Flavio’s work may think differently than I about how it should be understood. This piece reflects my personal view, and should at least be of help to those who have yet to encounter Flavio’s philosophy.

Us vs. Them: Ideology and Discourse

No one said the “East” or the “Reds” or the “Soviets” or the “Russians” any more. That  would have been too confusing, since some of Them weren’t of the East, weren’t Reds, Soviets and especially not Russians. It was much simpler to say We and They, and much more precise. Travelers had frequently reported that They did the same in reverse. Over there They were “We” (in the appropriate language) and We were “They”

(I. Asimov, Let’s get together, «Infinity Science Fiction», 2, 1957: 66-7).

 

The question I ask myself about the Us vs. Them polarisation is apparently simple. The phrase is certainly a divisive and adversial but: can it only mean a desire to overcome and subjugate, or is it possible to remark on differences between groups of people without necessarily assume conflict and abuse? In the quoted short story, Asimov wrote:

At the beginning, it had been called a Cold War. Now it was only a game, almost a good-natured game, with unspoken rules and a kind of decency about it (Ibidem: 67).

In sports and in playgrounds, the meaning of “Us vs. Them” is straightforward: teams competing to win a game. Sometimes the competition is fierce, but it is always regulated by precise rules, and characterized by mutual respect. Teams can be assembled, disassembled, and reassembled without any negative consequences on the single members of either team: it is matter of agonism, not antagonism. Except for The Paul Street boys – but that was a war game. And in wars competition is violent and the opponent is an enemy to be killed, as well as defeated.

We do not need to quote Machiavelli or Lionardo in the Libri della famiglia (The Family in Renaissance Florence) by Leon Battista Alberti, to note that some traditional games for boys have been interpreted as a preliminary exercise to prepare for war.

My question is, therefore: can a group of people feel different from another group of people without necessarily feel superior? Or is any difference implicitly – if not openly – discriminatory? When does equality in difference become inequality, and how? Is this inevitable?

Social psychology studies about diversity and prejudice offer no univocal answer. Many theories analyse stereotyping processes according to the cognitive-motivational approach. Some focus on the contrast between a deeper prejudice (someone could describe it as innate, but I prefer implicit) and controlled beliefs. Patricia Devine pointed out the phenomenon of ambivalence (see Devine 2012). Acknowledging the existence of implicit prejudice even in those individuals who deliberately refuse prejudice – be it racial, sexist or homophobic – is a necessary step to develop containment and control strategies. Devine and Cox, who prefer to define the implicit bias as unintentional bias, try to demonstrate «that unintentional bias is like a habit that can be broken with sufficient motivation, awareness, and effort». Moreover «the habit-breaking intervention produces enduring changes in peoples’ knowledge of and beliefs about race-related issues». And about bias reduction strategies they write: «We believe … that the prejudice habit-breaking intervention causes its recipients to recognize bias and its consequences for minorities, then address it in the world around them» (Forscher, Mitamura, Dix, Cox, Devine 2017). If biases are as manageable as habits, they can be overcome just like bad habits.

Social Dominance Orientation theorists seem less optimistic: according to them, in hierarchical societies, such as modern industrial and post-industrial societies, individual minds are permeated with prejudice (Sidanius-Pratto 1999). The Social Dominance Theory, developed in the ’90s, recently experienced a revival in relation to the migration phenomenon. The SD theory maintains that in groups – and between groups – there is a kind of predisposition to inequality, confirmed by the wish to maintain hegemony by those higher up in the hierarchy. The SDO seems to be pervasive in contemporary society, albeit in different degrees depending on gender and personality. It is strictly connected with conservative policies and social attitudes, with racism and sexism – «ideologies that promote or maintain group inequality are the tools that legitimize discrimination» (Pratto-Sidanius 1994: 741).

Susan Fiske states that cultural biases and sterotypes are the base for the Us vs. Them polarization and the resulting discrimination, where the other group – “Them” – is dehumanized. Fiske hopes for the scholars’ focus to move from discrimination to a search for balance in diversity (Fiske 2000). This is what she said in a public debate:

It’s only human to be comfortable with people who you think are like you; there’s nothing wrong with that. In fact, it gets us through a lot of stress – to be attached to our in-groups is our backup system. But the downside is that you’re then excluding people who are not in the in-group (Smith 2013).

The trouble is: if in feeling part of the “US” we find warmth, trustworthiness, and friendliness, what happens when we feel “THEM”? What are the individual and social consequences of these processes?

It seems useful to approach the problem from another point of view: e.g. from a sociolinguistic perspective. The purpose is to find a method to analyse interpersonal and public communication in order to identify the traps of essentialist differentialism – gender, culture, people, nation – and its heavy social repercussions.

The research carried out by Teun van Dijk about ideological discourse structures could prove particularly useful at this time in the history of European societies – our history – when national  revanchism seems dominant.

 

Ideology

The topic is complex. It refers to the long history and different meanings of the concept of ideology, starting from the lucky lexical invention by Destutt de Tracy in Élémens d’Ideologie (1825-27). We have been experiencing a “crisis of ideologies”, involving views of the world on which political establishments are founded. However, this does not imply the end of ideology as a system  of thought and behaviour.

Ideologies can be expressed through all forms of communication – verbal, gestural, visual. We shall focus on verbal communication, limiting our field of research to discourse, both as written text and oral expression.

Van Dijk started studying verbal communication of racist ideology in the ’80s, identifying in the opposition us/them one of its typical discursive structures. It must be noted that Van Dijk describes ideology as a cognitive and social structure. Thanks to this definition of ideology, Van Dijk can carry out his investigation at a macro level – groups and societies – as well as at a micro level –  individual interactions (Van Dijk 1998).

«Ideologies, then, are the overall, abstract mental systems that organize such socially shared attitudes», he wrote in his Discourse Analysis as ideology analysis (Van Dijk 1995: 18). In other words, ideologies are a group’s defining characteristics. Ideologies affect the cognitive construction of mental models organizing experiences and actions of both individuals and groups.

For those who wish to study the matter more in depth, Van Dijk developed a complex multilevel system for the analysis of the relationship between ideology and discourse – social, cognitive, and communicative. His intuition is apparently elementary: ideologies control social interactions, text and talk. The opposite is also true, however: social interactions convey social notions – i. e. ideologies.

Discourse Analysis can thus be described as ideology analysis, with well known applicative results in the social and ethic fields (see also Van Dijk 1985).  This is nothing new, if we think about the way news are offered in newspaper headlines.

 

Scientific Ideology

Considering Discourse Analysis as a tool for ideology analysis – actually the tool for those who deal with communication – I think that to analyse at a macro level the way the US/THEM, inclusion/exclusion issues are expressed, the premises to the work by epistemologist Georges Canguilhem on the definition of scientific ideology could still prove very useful.

The ideological use of science – or, rather, the supposed scientificity of ideology – plays an important role. Canguilhem wrote:

Is the notion of scientific ideology relevant? Is the term a suitable one to designate and properly delimit the whole range of discursive structures claiming to be theories, the whole  variety of more or less  consistent representations of interphenomenal relations, and the whole spectrum of more or less permanent structures in terms of which men have interpreted their everyday experience? In short, is it  a useful way of denoting those pseudosciences whose falsity is revealed solely by the fact that a genuine science has been established to refuse their claims (Canguilhem 1977: 35)?

Discursive structures claiming to be theories:  what closer connection between ideology and discourse?

As far as discrimination is concerned – in particular, racial or ethnic discrimination (see Amselle-Bokolo 1985) – we can say that science no longer supports discriminatory ideology. But it remain in public opinion.

 

Aliens

To better explain the above considerations on methodology, I would like to illustrate a case study about the US/THEM issue – and, ultimately, racism – in the past and nowadays, from scientific discourse to media debate.

Recently Italian media and social networks have been arguing about “Italians were migrants, too!”. From L’Orda. Quando gli Albanesi eravamo noi, by journalist Gian Antonio Stella (2002)  to anthropologist Marco Aime’s lectures, the “We were migrants, too. We were illegal, too” argument has proved rather controversial (for the debate in USA see Stapinski 2017). In 2018 migration stopped being a crucial issue for both media and politicians, but racial ideology, attitudes, and expressions, as van Dijk would say, remain widespread.

The following passage was broadcast by Italian Rai News24 between 2009 and 2011, and circulates on the Web, widely commented by fact-checking professionals and amateurs:

They are usually short and dark-skinned. They don’t like water. Many of them smell because they keep the same clothes for weeks. They build huts for themselves out of wood and aluminium in the outskirts of cities and towns, very close to each other. Whenever they move towards the city centre, they rent out dilapidated flats at high prices. They come in pairs, usually, and look for a room and a kitchen. After a few days, there are four of them, six, ten.

They speak unintelligible languages, probably ancient dialects.

Many children are sent out begging, while in front of the churches women in dark clothes and old men ask for pity in whimpering and irritating tones.

They have many children, whom they struggle to support, and are very close-knit. They are said to be prone to thieving and, if confronted, violent. Our women ignore them not only because they are wild and unattractive, but also because they are said to attack women who walk home from work along empty streets and rape them.

Our authorities have opened the borders to too many people, without checking whether they were coming to our country to work or to live by expedients or even illegally.

I suggest preference is given to those who come from Veneto and Lombardy, as they are more willing to work, although slow of understanding and uneducated. As long as their families can be together, they are willing to live in houses where Americans would refuse to stay, and do not negotiate for higher salaries. The rest of them – on whom this first report largely focus, come from the South of Italy.

You are requested to check where they come from and to send back as many of them as you can. Our security must be our first concern.

This is proposed as a passage from a Report by the US Congress Inspectorate for Immigration into the United States dated October 1912. Actually, it is a popularisation of some pages of the Reports of Immigration Commission – the famous Dillingham Commission, named after its chairman, Republican Senator William P. Dillingham – which from 1907 to 1910 studied immigration to the United States, collecting data and developing recommendations.

The Reports consist of 41 volumes, now available on-line: the summary on Italian immigrants quoted above is quite reductive. Reading the original documents is very interesting for those who study migrations, but also for statisticians and sociologists. The Reports are indeed a thought-provoking example of scientific ideology and political discourse, with more or less obvious social repercussions. We cannot analyse the issue in depth, here, but I would like to point out a few points in the Reports which show the ambiguity in passing from scientific ideology to public discourse and, therefore, to social bias.

I recommend reading a few pages of Volume 5, Dictionary of races or peoples, Volume 36, Immigration and crime, and Volume 38, Changes in bodily form of descendants of immigrants, published by the Government Printing Office, Washington, in 1911. The Abstracts of Reports and Recommendations in Volume 1 and 2 will help us draw a few general conclusions.

 

Dictionary of races or peoples

This Dictionary of races or peoples (by anthropologist Daniel Folkmar, “assisted” by Elnora Cuddeback Folkmar) originated from a need for study and classification explained in the Introductory. Following the new ethnical factors resulting from immigration to the US from Eastern Europe, it was felt that the true racial status of most immigrants was unknown. It was not clear what race those new aliens were. Before 1899, immigrants were recorded only according to their countries of birth, with no indication of  race or people. Under the Bureau of Immigration, there were 45 races or peoples, 36 of which were European. Under the Dictionary, there are more than 600 subjects!

The Commission’s survey was not for ethnologists, but rather for those who studied migrations, and its purpose was to collect sources and data and to promote «a better understanding of the many different racial elements that are being added to the population of the US through  immigration» (Dictionary: 2).

Given the «present imperfect state of science» and having decided to classify by race – there being 3 races according to some scholars, 15, 29 or even 63 races according to others –  the authors adopted Johann Friedrich Blumenbach’s classification of human races. The father of physical anthropology had identified 5 groups: “Caucasian, Ethiopian, Mongolian, Malay and American,  or, AS FAMILIARLY CALLED  [my capitals] white, black, yellow, brown an red races”.

The Report compilers were clearly aware that the various possible classifications were not objective, and chose the one that was best known in the US. It was a communication decision, a political, rather than scientific effort. The fact that the new “races” introduced in addition to the original five were based on linguistic differences – cultural parameters – further proves the scientific inadequacy of these divisions claimed by physical anthropology.

Let’s stop here. However, one cannot help but wonder: what was the ratio behind this racial (racist?) classification of immigrants, if the authors themselves specified that it had little practical use, since inspectors in the Immigration Office  had no time to classify each new entry as dolichocephalic o brachycephalic (Dictionary: 4)? As we’ll see later, an answer can be found in the recommendations on “ethnically” restricted migration policies – dangerously close to eugenics and “biopolitics”.

As far as it concerns US closely, wrote the author. Well, as far as it concerns us, here, we’ll deal with the Italians (Dictionary: 82 ff.). The Bureau of Immigration divided them into two main groups: Northern Italians and Southern Italians, different in looks, language, temperament and geographical distribution. The former lived in the river Po basin, the latter in the rest of the peninsula and the islands. Even the Genoese were considered Southern Italians.

It is the same distinction drawn by the famous Italian anthropologist Giuseppe Sergi, who “invented” the Mediterranean race. According to Sergi, the Mediterranean race originated from the Kamits who lived in the highlands of Ethiopia, who were not «true Africans», notwithstanding «some traces of infusion of African blood in certain communities of Sicily and Sardinia» (Dictionary: 82). While according to Sergi the Mediterranean race was mainly an alternative to the Arian explanation of the origins of European peoples, in a crudely simplified version it could be used to confirm that Northern Italians were not only different from, but also superior to, Southern Italians.

If complemented by the results of another Italian anthropologist, Alfredo Niceforo, such physical and psychic distinction between the two ethnic groups would show the “decay” and “degeneration” of Latin peoples, especially from the South of Italy. Finally, statistical data indicated that Italy had the highest crime rate as regards offences against the person, in the South more than in the North (Bosco 1891). In the Report, Italy was described as «one the most illiterate countries in Europe», with 48.5 % of its population who could not read or write –  78.7 % in Calabria, as we can read.

For the compilers of the Dictionary, the number of Italian immigrants in itself showed that Italians, especially from the South, were a problem – 2,284,601 from 1899 to 1910, 1,911,933 of whom from Southern Italy. Just in 1907, out of 297,000 immigrants to the US, 240,000 were from Southern Italy – definitely the most numerous race. It was a significant data, compared to the overall number of Italians who emigrated that year: 415,000. Most of them were from Sicily and Calabria, the least productive and most poorly developed regions. The quoted number of immigrants from Liguria, South Italian in race, is higher than the number of immigrants from the whole North of Italy – it is a figure we find difficult to believe.

Italian immigration was a problem as it continued, because of its high birth rate, even when people from other countries stopped emigrating to the US (Dictionary: 84). Southern Italians were the most numerous race in absolute terms, followed by Jews, Polish, German and Scandinavian people. The problem, therefore, was their demographic weight in the whole immigrant population.

 

Immigration and crime

Notwithstanding the migratory waves from Southern and Eastern Europe (the language is not that different from that used today) the author of the Report on Immigration and crime is determined to disprove the preconceived notion that there is a causal link between immigration and crime. In the Introduction, Leslie Hayford maintains there is no evidence of the fact «that immigration has resulted in an increase in crime disproportionate to the increase in adult population. Such comparable statistics of crime and population… indicate that immigrants are less prone to commit crime than are native Americans» (Immigration and crime: 1).

The uneven distribution of immigrants, however, who lived mainly in cities and towns in the North-East, caused the author to wonder: «is the volume of crime in the United States augmented by the presence among us of the immigrant and his offsprings?» And «If immigration increases crime, what races are responsible for such increase» (ibidem)? These questions assume there is a link between immigration and crime, even though no evidence is provided to support it. It is obvious that immigration affected crime, increasing the number of offences against the person, public policy and chastity, even though more crimes were committed by Americans than by immigrants.

It is clear that the purpose of the survey, albeit patchy and incomplete was to emphasize «the change of character of crime in US which had resulted from immigration and the crimes peculiar to various races and nationalities»  (Immigration and crime: 9). Italians ranked high in in blackmail, extortion, kidnapping, kidnapping of minors, homicide and offences against public policy, at least in the 5 districts of New York (Immigration and crime: 17-18).

The only data from the Bureau of Census that could be used to draw such conclusions refer to alien prisoners and juvenile criminals. Two graphs show that in 1904 the largest percentage of aliens under sentence for murder and attempted murder were Italian (Immigration and crime: 26), while in 1908 Southern Italians were at the top of the list (over 2000), followed by the Irish, Polish, German, and Northern Italians (less than 500, see Immigration and crime: 180).

Notwithstanding Hayford’s determination, the above connections between specific crimes and races could not but have a political and social impact.

 

Recommendations

The first repercussions concern the Recommendations set forth by the Commission. Immigration laws in force and recommendations resulting from the research concerned mainly the physically and morally unfit, but it is stated that future laws would have to be based primarily on economic or business considerations touching the prosperity and economic wellbeing of «our people» (Abstracts: 45). A slower industrialization would have been preferable to the rapid process implemented through high numbers of workers imported from abroad, who lowered the American standard of wages and conditions of employment  (ibidem).

American society should first of all be protected against unfits: any immigrants convicted of serious crimes within five years after they arrived just like those who became a public charge within three years should be deported. Aliens trying to persuade immigrants not to become American citizens were also subject to deportation.  Aliens having no intention to become American citizens and unskilled single labourers should be excluded, as well those who were considered undesirable because of their personal qualities and habits (Abstracts: 47). Exclusion could also depend on race: the authors suggested that the Chinese continue to be barred, as they had been since 1882.

Considering that the recent massive immigration, mainly from Southern Europe, had caused worse working conditions  for natives and older immigrants (Abstracts: 500ff), decreasing the number of aliens in those areas would be beneficial. Some aliens used forms of economic and social control often leading to exploitation and abuse: the “padrone system” was widespread among Italians and Greeks (Abstracts: 29).

The best – and most feasible – way to reduce undesirable immigration, according to the majority of the members of the Commission, was to introduce of a reading and writing test (Abstracts: 48). As many Southern Italians were illiterate, such test was deemed a good method to reduce their number.

 

Assimilation

The stated purpose of the Dillingham Commission was to promote the assimilation and naturalization of immigrants, and their possible settlement in farming states.

In a context where physical anthropology was so important, assimilation implied physical changes in immigrants’ offspring:  «even the racial physical characteristics do not survive under the new social and climatic environment of America». Changes in bodily form of descendants of immigrants by Franz Boas, an anthropologist whose theories were never based on the concept of race, contains a number of tables illustrating the changes occurring in American born descendants of Bohemian, Jew, Sicilian and Neapolitan immigrants – weight, stature, but also headforms (Changes: 500-509). The American environment apparently made some a little less brachycephalic and others a little less dolichocephalic. Such observations, adequately documented, would undermine racial fixity.

Assimilation, however, could be achieved only in certain conditions: immigrants must be healthy, literate, skilled labourers, with a family and a spotless record. Those who did not fit these criteria should be sent back. In particular, surveys and data collected showed the rather problematic situation of immigration from Southern Italy (and from Liguria).

 

Migration policy, scientific ideology and prejudice

What were the consequences of such a description of hundreds of thousands of Southern Italian on migration policies? What was the impact on the public opinion of “natives” (that is American-borns) and “older” immigrants?

The Emergency Immigration Act of 1921 and the Immigration Act of 1924 introduced quotas in a free immigration system – a restriction policy.

However, our concern here is: to what extent did this «statistically obtained situation» contribute to the “Us vs. Them” polarization, to racial stereotyping and prejudice? Could the ambiguous absence of judgement in a survey whose scientific grounds were doubted by the same authors, the scientific ideology of racial classification, have turned into social ideology?

Those who collected data and wrote the Reports were not a homogeneous group. A cultural anthropologist like Boas must have introduced elements of historical and environmental analysis into the general race perspective: significantly, Boas specified in his Report he had chosen the word type but the Commission changed it into race. This, however, does not alter the perspective. If the new immigrants from Eastern Europe (Hebrews were the “problem”) e from Southern Europe (here the “problem” were Southern Italians) were incapable of proper assimilation and could not become US (American and “us”) they had to be barred. If not, they would continue to be “them”, a threat to the living conditions of the “natives” (i.e. the descendants of 17th – 18th century settlers, not “native Americans”). The only alternative was to adopt inclusive and support policies as suggested by Leslie Hayford, the author of the Report on Immigration and crime, who, as secretary of the North American League for Immigrants in Boston, promoted public schools for immigrants’ children to encourage assimilation.

Despite these oscillations, the contrast “Us vs. them” in the Reports generally means that certain races have traits which the writers deemed incompatible with the American way of living to the extent of compromising proper assimilation. So it can justify discriminatory policies, not only, but increase a discriminatory ideology, racist in Van Dijk’s sense, what we can find in the Dillingham Commission and in the contemporary public debates.

A similar approach, albeit without any scientific pretence, can still be found in day-to-day discourse, as well as in the political discourse of those who believe in the superiority, identity and non-equality of US.

How can we react positively? How can we deconstruct the divisive polarization and discrimination?  Is it enough to use positive metaphors in order to find  the “warmth” Susan Fiske hoped for?

May be something else is required –  non-discriminatory ideologies, i.e. systems of  thoughts and social practices. Perhaps we should not remove differences, but stop classifying them as values or axiologies. As Baroncelli said in his Il razzismo è una gaffe (Racism is a blunder).

 

References

Alberti, L.B. (2004 [1434-40]), The family in Renaissance Florence, Waveland Press.

Baroncelli, F. (1996), Il razzismo è una gaffe, Roma, Donzelli.

Amselle J.L. -’Bokolo E.M, edd.,  (1985), Au coeur de l’ethnie, La Découverte, Paris.

Benton-Cohen (2018), Inventing the Immigration Problem: the Dillingham Commission and its Legacy, Harvard UP.

Boas, F. (1912), Changes of bodily form of descendants of immigrants,  American Anthropologist, n.s. 14: 530-562.

Bosco, A. (1891), La studio della delinquenza, Bulletin de l’lnstitut international de Statistique, vi: 167-214.

Canguilhem, G.  (1977), Qu’est-ce qu’une idéologie scientifique? [1969], in Ideologie et rationalité dans l’histoire des sciences de la vie, Librairie J. Vrin, Paris.

Devine, P. et al. (2012), Long-term reduction in implicit race bias: A prejudice habit-breaking intervention, Journal of  Experimental and Social Psychology, 48: 1267-78.

Duckitt J. – Sibley Ch.G. (2007), Right Wing Authoritarianism, Social Dominance Orientation and The Dimensions of Generalized Prejudice, European Journal of Personality, 21: 113-130.

Fiske, S.T. (2000), Stereotyping, Prejudice and Discrimination at the seam between the centuries: evolution, culture, mind, and brain, European Journal of Social Psychology, 30: 299-322.

Forscher P.S., Mitamura C., Dix E.L., Cox W.T.L. and  Devine P.G. (2017), Breaking the prejudice habit: Mechanisms, timecourse, and longevity, Journal of Experimental and Social Psychology, 72. Available from:            https://www.researchgate.net/publication/316874118_Breaking_the_prejudice_habit_Mechanisms_timecourse_and_longevity.

Pratto F., Sidanius J., Stallworth L.M., Malle, B.F. (1994), Social dominance orientation: A personality variable predicting social and political attitudes, Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 67.

Reports of the Immigration Commission (1911), Government Printing Office, Washington:

vol. 1: Abstracts of Reports of The Immigration Commission, with Conclusions and Recommendations:

 https://archive.org/details/reportsofimmigra01unitrich/page/n5

vol.  5:  Dictionary of races or peoples:

 https://archive.org/details/reportsimmigrat02croxgoog/page/n6

vol. 36:  Immigration and crime:

 https://archive.org/details/reportsimmigrat08dillgoog/page/n6

vol. 38: Changes in bodily form of descendants of immigrants:

 https://archive.org/details/reportsofimmigra38unit/page/n5

Sergi, G. (1901), The Mediterranean race: A study of the origin of European Peoples, London.

Sidanius, J. – Pratto, F. (1999), Social Dominance: An intergroup theory of social hierarchy and oppression, Cambridge UP,  Cambridge.

Smith, J.A. (2013), What does prejudice reveal about what it means to be human?, Greater Good Magazine, october 21:

https://greatergood.berkeley.edu/article/item/what_does_prejudice_reveal_about_what_it_means_to_be_human.

Stapinski, H. (2017), When America barred Italians, The New York Times, 2017/06/02.

Van Dijk, T. (1985), The Role of Discourse Analysis in Society, in Handbook of Discourse Analysis, Academic Press, London, 4: 1-8.

Van Dijk, T. (1995), Discourse Analysis as ideology analysis, in C. Schäffer-A.Wenden (eds), Language and Peace,  Routledge, Aldershot.

Van Dijk, T. (1998), Ideology: A Multidisciplinary Approach, SAGE Publications, London.

Zeidel, R. (2004), Immigrants, Progressives and Exclusion Politics, Northern Illinois UP.

The Changing Feelings of Otherness: Surprise, empathy, hostility as evidenced in Frank Westerman’s El negro and me

We are in a time of changes. Climate change, population change, social change, political change, identity change (in many countries).

It is very likely that, in the past, people often had the sensation that they were living in a time of change. It is even possible that one of the things that never change in human history is the fact that people have the impression to live in a time of change. The Heraclitean way of looking at things existed and probably prevailed since a very long time. Nothing is new under the sun, including the impression that things are changing.

However, something is different this time because the change does exhibit certain specificities. First, the change is not restricted to a specific area: it is global. It is physical (warming) as well as demographic (population change) and it has diffuse and complex consequences on identities. For these reasons, it is not comparable to previous experiences of change. We are thus not only in a time of change but also in a time of a new kind of change.

And one could ask: Can we adapt to the changes that are going on? Can we absorb the changes that are coming? Or are these changes too massive to be bearable for many of us? If these changes are involving our identities, is the plasticity of human identities sufficiently elevated to render these changes possible? Indeed, the plasticity of identities is at the core of any change and specially of those that involve mixing people of various origins as it has been already noted by thinkers of identity  (see, for instance, Taylor, 1989).

One of the ways to address these questions is to examine, not the change itself, but the feelings associated with that change. Indeed, although this change has new features, it involves also traditional forms of feelings that can be analyzed through many ways.

 

 

El negro and me: a book from Frank Westerman

Among these ways, I chose to take a careful look to a book from Frank Westerman called El negro and me because it describes very vividly a large array of feelings that persons can experience from each other when a change in their vicinity occurs (Westerman, 2004).

Frank Westerman is a Dutch writer and a journalist. He published El Negro and me in 2004. The book tells the story of a stuffed man who was exposed for decades in a museum in Spain. But it is also a reflection on multiculturalism. Multiculturalism, Westerman argues, is not about cultures but about feelings. This idea can also be found in the work of Charles Taylor who published an important book on multiculturalism in 1992 that has, since then, become a classic: Multiculturalism (Taylor, 1992). More precisely: it is about feelings that arise when cultures are coming close to each other.

What are the feelings that are described in El Negro and me? At a first glance, the book seems to be full of political correctness. In other terms, it conveys or, at least, seems to convey, good feelings (an entity that is always suspicious in the debate on multiculturalism, although probably unavoidable) more than rigorous thoughts. When Westerman discovers «El Negro» for the first time, he would confess, he felt ashamed to see that people could have done this. He relates these feelings with his Christian education. But this is only, as one will see, a first impression. Indeed, the analysis of feelings that Westerman would be lead to conduct turned out to be very insightful.

 

 

History of « El Negro »

Let me describe briefly the content of the book. From its opening in 1916 to 2000, in the museum of the city of Banyoles, in the north of Spain (almost in the midst between Barcelona and the Perpignan), a stuffed black man could be seen. The book is the history of what happens to «El Negro», as he was called by the inhabitants of Banyoles.

The man called «El Negro» is a «bechuana» that comes from South Africa and that has been stuffed like an animal after its death, probably around 1830, by a Frenchman named Jules Verreaux, an animal stuffer and the son of an animal stuffer that was, at the time, commercializing many kinds of stuffed animals (lions, crocodiles, elephants, turtles and many species of birds) in Place des Vosges, in the very center of Paris.

Jules Verreaux did «dig out» a freshly buried man from Bechuana (now called Botzwana) in South Africa. He had to proceed very carefully, because this is one of the thing that can lead to a deadly trial if people from Bechuana discovered it. He thus took important risks when he decided to do what he did. And he felt that these risks were giving him some rights on the cadaver.

Jules Verreaux took «El Negro» with him when he went back to France. He expected to have a great success with the exhibition of a specimen of humanity that was quiet unknown in Europe at that time (first part of the XIX th century).

People in France (or later in Spain where he was exhibited, as we will soon see: this point is not clear) probably found that the specimen was not black enough because someone decided to spread shoe polish on its skin in order to give him a brighter tincture. However, the success of the «piece» (as he was called) was not as great as expected and Jules Verreaux finally decided to sell «El Negro». It has been acquired by Francesc Darder, a doctor from Barcelona, presumably directly in Verreaux’s shop in Paris.

The stuffed man was exposed in the anthropological museum created by Francesc Darder that opened in 1916 in Banyoles. At the beginning, the exhibition was not well accepted by the population of the city who found strange to have a black person exposed in a museum. But later, «El Negro» became a sort of attraction and the most remarkable piece of the museum. El Negro was thus «adopted» by the population of Banyoles who finally found that it was part of its identity. This change of feelings of the population of Banyoles regarding his calm and painted guest is very remarkable and is the focal point of the analysis that Westerman will develop on the case. Let me continue the story before turning back to that point.

Meanwhile in 1991 a man from Haïti named Alphonse Arcelin, physician in Cambrils (at about fifty kilometers in the south of Barcelona on the Mediterranean coast), who married a Spanish woman, heard about the presence of « El Negro » in the museum of Banyoles. He was immediately shocked and felt aggressed by the presence of such a piece in the museum. He was even shocked by this term of «piece» used to described the stuffed man. Indeed, the adequate world to describe it is not without rising problems: it is not a thing, it is not a person, it is not a statue, it is not a cadaver either, although it has been prepared from a cadaver. But the term «piece» that contributes to agglutinate El Negro with things like potteries and weapons that were making a large part of the things exposed in the museum was not a correct term, according to Arcelin.

In fact, Arcelin always refused to see «El Negro». He only heard about him. The simple idea of the presence of a man stuffed in a museum was repulsing enough for him. He felt that exposing dead people like animals was a kind of disrespect. Arcelin consequently began a struggle that would last for nine years and that were to result in the «restitution» of El Negro to South Africa where «El Negro» is now buried, invisible for anyone.

 

 

Changing feelings

So let me turn back to the feelings described by Westerman. Very interesting are the changing feelings triggered by «El Negro». I said that Westerman was first ashamed when he saw the «piece». But it turned out that his feelings were much more complex as the inquiry he was conducting did goes on. This is partly due to the fact that Westerman adopts the feelings of the people he describes in his story. As a journalist, he was trying to describe the often-contradictory nature of these feelings.

These feelings involve religious values, as we have seen, but they also involve money and profit, as well as a notion of identity, a notion of national (or local) pride, political commitments, a kind of empathy, sometime, they involve a feeling of distance, sometimes, a kind of hostility, a sense of humanity, and so on.

In other terms, it is not a feeling but rather a bunch of contradictory feelings that Westerman had to describe when he was investigating on El Negro. Westerman shows that the encounter with the otherness involves feelings that cannot be subsumed under a single concept. In such a way that in the course of its inquiry, instead of finding answers, he found emerging questions which prevent him to formulate any definitive conclusion.

But the fact that the author cannot conclude is, in itself, an interesting conclusion. In the description of these feelings, Westerman was thinking to build a kind of multiculturalist theory of being with others. He did not achieve to build such a theory. But because it gives some clues to those who are seeking to do the same thing, it is interesting to look carefully at the points he did mentioned and to address these points as objections to the contemporary theory of multiculturalism.

 

 

«El Negro» integrates into the identity of the inhabitants of Banyoles

Westerman showed that «El Negro» progressively became a part of the identity of the city of Banyoles, in such a way that when Arcelin attempted to make its stuffed body go back to Africa, a large part of the population of the city of Banyoles did demonstrated under the cry of «Queda’t»: «He stays».

Thus, we have a complete inversion of roles: Arcelin who presented himself as the one who was acting for the dignity of «El Negro» finally did contribute to make him disappear, while people from Banyoles were ready to fight for him and were seeing him as a symbol of what they are and of their openness to others. This is showing, at least, how versatile and changing the feelings of identity can be. What can appear as strange and curious at a given time can turn out to be a part of identity a few years later. The history of all populations and of all countries provides many examples of such «changing» identity.

Multiculturalism is sometimes criticized for diluting social cohesion or for creating cultural fragmentation, or even, for destroying national identity and for providing a ground for radicalism, for encouraging a restriction of freedom of expression, amongst other things (Prins and Saharso, 2013).

In a debate that grows since decades «multiculturalism» is opposed to «republican integration», the latter being supposedly a remedy for the bunch of feelings that Westerman has identified: all these feelings are indeed supposed to melt in a common «republican feeling».

The opposition of these two models, the republican model and the multiculturalist model, is the focusing point of a large discussion in which many aspects of the opposition has been evaluated. Canada, partly because of the structure of its population and partly for historical reasons (the country did develop a multiculturalist policy at the end of the 20th century), has been a case in point in the debate. The Canadian philosopher Charles Taylor did propose a thorough investigation of the notion of multiculturalism and was also appointed by the Canadian government to elaborate propositions for the policy of the country.* Taylor argues that «we define our identity always in dialogue with, sometimes in struggle against, the things our significant others want to see in us» (Taylor, 1994).

 

 

The correct question to be addressed

The feelings generated by the encounter of the other depend, Westerman shows, on the changes of identity that are experienced in the encounter itself. When the changes are occurring rapidly, the feelings of hostility predominate. Examples in contemporary Europe could be found easily. However, identity being itself a highly changeable feeling, it is also very sensitive to time.

In other terms, the otherness of today is the identity of tomorrow but with an important «if»: If time is given for the new identity to be build. Thus, to go back to the initial question, the question is not «can we absorb the new changes that are coming?» but rather «do we have time to absorb the new changes that are coming?»

This is, in fact, a very different way to address the question of identity than the way from where we started. Identities need time to change. Taylor and Bouchard, in their report to Canadian government write: «Identities are thus shifting and assuredly constructed, even occasionally contradictory, but not artificial for all that» (Bouchard-Taylor, 2008). Thus, the question is not are identities changing but how fast does identity change? How long does it take to rebuild identity according to a new situation? And, above all: is the situation changing faster than identity can change or is the opposite true?

These are the questions to which the reading of Westerman can lead. Accordingly, the reading of El negro and meis presumably more helpful to displace questions than to answer questions. But precisely: displacing questions can be more important than answering questions. Therefore, it constitutes an important matter in the debate.

 

 

References

Barrett M. (ed.) (2013), Interculturalism and multiculturalism: similarities and differences, Strasbourg, Council of Europe Publishing.

Bouchard G. and Taylor  C. (2008), Building the future. A time for reconciliation, report to the Gouvernement du Québec, Legal deposit – Bibliothèque et Archives Nationales du Québec.

Bouchard G. (2015), Interculturalism, a view from Quebec, Toronto, University of Toronto Press.

Joppke C. (2018), “War of words: interculturalism vs. multiculturalism”, in Comparative Migration Studies, 6 (1): 11.

Kymlicka  W (1995)., Multicultural citizenship, Oxford, Oxford UP, 1995.

Kymlicka W. (2016), “Defending Diversity in an Era of Populism: Multiculturalism and Interculturalism Compared”, in N. Meer, T. Modood, & R. Zapata-Barrero (eds.), in Multiculturalism and Interculturalism: Debating the Dividing Lines, Edinbugh, Edinburgh UP.

Prins B. and Saharso S. (2013),Multiculturalism and Identity”, inThe Oxford Handbook of Gender and Politics, ed. by G. Waylen, K. Celis, J. Kantola and S.L. Weldon, Oxford, Oxford UP.

Taylor C. (1989), Sources of the Self: The Making of the Modern Identity, Harvard, Harvard UP.

Taylor C. (1992), Multiculturalism and “The Politics of Recognition”, Princeton, Princeton UP.

Taylor C. (1994), “The Politics of Recognition” in Multiculturalism: Examining the Politics of Recognition, A. Gutmann (ed.), Princeton, Princeton UP.

Westerman F. (2004), El Negro and me, tr. en. by David Colmer, Amsterdam, Atlas.

* As the report states (Gérard Bouchard and Charles Taylor, Building the future, A time for reconciliation, report to the Gouvernement du Québec, Legal deposit – Bibliothèque et Archives nationales du Québec, 2008): «On February 8, 2007, Québec Premier Jean Charest announced the establishment of the Consultation Commission on Accommodation Practices Related to Cultural Differences in response to public discontent concerning reasonable accommodation. The Order in Council establishing the Commission stipulated that it had a mandate to: a) take stock of accommodation practices in Québec; b) analyse the attendant issues bearing in mind the experience of other societies; c) conduct an extensive consultation on this topic; and d) formulate recommendations to the government to ensure that accommodation practices conform to Québec’s values as a pluralistic, democratic, egalitarian society». In 2013, Gérard Bouchard published a book partly based on the work he made with Charles Taylor: G. Bouchard, Interculturalism, a view from Quebec, University of Toronto Press, 2015. On the difference between multiculturalism and interculturalism, see: C. Joppke, “War of words: interculturalism vs. multiculturalism”, in Comparative Migration Studies, 6 (1): 11, 2018 ; see also: W. Kymlicka, “Defending Diversity in an Era of Populism: Multiculturalism and Interculturalism Compared”, in N. Meer, T. Modood, & R. Zapata-Barrero (Eds.), Multiculturalism and interculturalism: Debating the dividing lines, (pp. 158–177), Edinburgh, Edinburgh UP, 2016 ; see also: M. Barrett, Interculturalism and multiculturalism: similarities and differences, ed. M. Barrett, Strasbourg, Council of Europe Publishing, 2013: «First, it is important to note that interculturalism shares a number of features with multiculturalism […] However, over and above these similarities, interculturalism places a central emphasis on intercultural dialogue, interaction and exchange».

Speech of Dr. Luigi Patronaggio, Chief Prosecutor of Agrigento

I wish to express my gratitude to the organizers of this meeting, all belonging to a remarkable psychological field and I apologize to them in advance for the diversity of my language and for the incursion in “other knowledges”, hoping that this diversity could represent a source of mutual enrichment.

Part 1 – From retributive justice to restorative justice.

In more than thirty years long of professional experience, I have often bumped into the shadows of evil: how much vile darkness there is in a raped child, in a colleague magistrate or in some friends, policemen blown up by mafia-related criminals. Orin those innocent victims blown up while they are going to the beach, to a concert or to watch a football match at the stadium, or even in the bodies of young women, children and men floating in the same sea where new slave traders, unscrupulous merchants, have dragged them with the promise of a better life.

After a pistol shot, a burst, after the cries of the shipwrecked victims on a sinking boat … after all … it remains only darkness and quiet. Where there previously was life and joy, now there is silence. Darkness replaced the light.

To continue the metaphor, dear to people who are familiar with symbols, the legal order of a democratic State is a rational construction, and generally an ideal, geometric and illuminated city. Any time this order is violated the geometric shape is compromised and the lights turn off or dim according to the entity of the crime that has violated the law.

Rationality gives way to emotionality.

From the earliest times the violated law, or better the violated order, is restored through the punishment and the expulsion from the civil cohabitation of the criminal.

Since the earliest times,men have always responded to evil with evil: this happened with the vengeful God of the Jews (… it will take centuries until he becomes the Merciful God of the Christians). It happened with the Romans up to the Islamic world. If you do evil you will receive evil.

But be careful: it is a good thing that the order has laid down certain rules to overcome the rupture and go ahead, otherwise, we would still be stuck to the ordeal.

The Western juridical civilization has provided rules with universal validity:  “Nullumcrimennullapena sine lege”, stated the Latins, the creators of the principle of the strict legality in the criminal law. This principle is still a pillar of the Western civilization. Likewise, the principle of non-retroactivity of the criminal law and the one corollary to the right to a fair trial,are fixed points in our civilization, codified in the European Convention on Human Rights.

And nonetheless, our human and legal sensibility has been more and more refined to get to understand that the violated order doesn’t always recreate through the punishment and the expulsion from the civil cohabitation.

This is not the place where to reaffirm (something too obvious) the necessary re-educative function of the punishment or the rejection of the death penalty. Or even, the tendential unconstitutionality of thelife sentence with the “never ending serve the term of imprisonment”.

What we want to highlight here, is that there are moments and contexts where it is necessary to go beyond the concept of retributive justice and enter the restorative or reconstructive justice: the so called “Restorative Justice” in the Anglo-Saxon world.

A justice that allows the executioner and the victim to communicate and together overcome evil. Only then, the violated order can be recreatedthrough the germination of healthy cells instead of being mutilated of its sick parts through surgical operations.

There are now many examples of this “other” justice, and all are renowned. The best-known of all is perhaps the one of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of South Africa.

Where the apartheid was brought to an end not through the victory of a faction against another and with the imposition of the criminal law from the winner, but through a process of voluntary participation where was given voice to the victims;where the executioners recognized their own faults and promptly act to fix them; where everybody made every effort to create a new state and where the prosecution intended as a punishmentremained in the background of this process until it disappeared.

Other examples of restorative justice are found in the juvenile criminal law, in the criminal mediation and now, at a European level and in the international legislation, the principle of a “different” justice is also appealed in official documents (see the Council of Europe Recommendation of 1999 on the criminal mediation).

There are also olderexamples, such as the extended amnesty issued by the Italian Minister of Justice Togliatti that, by the pay off of crimes, committed both by the winners and the losers, allowed the Italians to resume apeaceful and democratic dialogue with each other after the civil war following the 8th September 1943.

For instance, the latest laws on the matter of stalking, highlight the need to take actionnot only on the victim but also on the stalker in order to understand its push toward violence and to educate him tothe respect for women and more generally for vulnerable people.

Furthermore, family mediation tries to make a couple, facing an hard communicative time, in a dialogue situation in order to help them solve together their troubles, in the main interest of their children, leaving as a last resort, the authoritarian decision of the judge.

Thus, rebuilding starting from the victims, giving them voice and helping them to dialogue with the responsible for the crimes committed against them.

Then, restoring the order not through the isolation or the state violence, but through the restorative reconstruction where the voice of the victim, in a central position, is able to generate a process of reviewing of the evil by the criminal, with the aid of a third impartial mediator.

Certainly, this is an easy-to-apply paradigm in case of less serious crimes, i.e. a paradigm to apply in case of global and complex situations where the basis for the dialogue still exist.

But, is it possible to apply this paradigm against the international terrorism that threats us inside our houses, or against the humanity and war crimes? The most obvious reply is negative: the answer to the most serious crimes can be only a punitive reply, although with the most evolved forms of the international criminal law with which we have hardly endowed ourselves, since the Nuremberg trial of the Nazi war criminals.

Anyway, the choice of a proper international criminal law appeal doesn’t exempt us from the duty to understand and to face the shadow… to keep satisfying the symbolic language, well appreciated in this forum.

This is not the right place where to discuss the matter of the international criminal law, its entitlement as a non-codified right applicable to any person recognized as a guilty of crimes against humanity, regardless of where the crimes have been committed, or to reject the accusation put forward to that punitive claim as the criminal law of the enemy, as the winner’s right.

It must be stressed that, with the creation of the International Criminal Court (The Hague – July 2002), the western society, once again, has tried to overcome the de-structuring of the civil cohabitation through the rational means of the written law, the certainty of the rules and the punishments, by codifying fair and guaranteed procedures, overcoming a principle that had established after the tragedy of the Second World War, according to which “ in delictisatrocissimispotestjudexjuratransgrendi”, i.e. “in delictisatrocissimisjuratransgrendi licet”.

Principles that unfortunately came again to the surface after the 11th September in USA with the use of legalized torture and the opening of special detention centers, such as Guantanamo.

Moreover, not all States took part to the Rome Convention, and as a matter of fact only 124 States approved the Rome Statute, and 32 signed but not approved the same agreements, such as USA, Russia, China and Israel.

“To Understand” is now then the new imperative to overcome, restart and restore.

Essential condition to face any attack to the civil cohabitation is to nevergive way to irrational and authoritarian temptations. It is also necessary a big effort of all social sciences and the combinationofall methods for the development of a social heuristics.

Who’s then this terrorist that threat us right inside our home, that prevent us from going to a concert, enjoying an exhibition or enjoying the right to democratic participation?

Part 2 – The identity of the terrorist.

Speaking of Mafia, as I already marked before, I defined the mafia-related criminal as an individual without identity who finds it inside the mafia organizationby moving the ideals of this selected group which is in contrast to the others, and whose language is only violence and prevarication. A cooperating witness used to say that before becoming part of “CosaNostra”, he was “nudduimmiscatucùnenti” (Italian translation in the text: I was anyone mixed up with anything).

Likewise, I would like to define the denominational terrorist (and I deliberately adopt this definition, not only to be politically correct) as a weak individual in search of a strong identity.

On the basis of our experience in investigation, we know that the terrorist organizations recruit young people in the occupied territories by the illusion of a status and the flattery of belonging to a selected elite, that the systematic recourse to acts of violence is justified in the name of a higher project; that all those people who don’t belong to the group are considered inferior because they are traitors, unfaithful and corrupted.

They usually wear black uniforms and have a long beard to underline the difference between them and the others. We all know the images of the ISIS troupes on the Internet, with a black background and waving black flags. It’s no coincidence that they choose this color: black is the denial of all colors, as the Nazi aesthetics had already stated about 100 years ago.

Certainly their weak, or better, wounded identity, is the result of centuries of a western ethnocentrism that turns a deaf ear to the claims of the third world countries.

It is no coincidence that terrorism develops in the occupied territories where people live in marginal conditions, but also in the suburbs of the European cities where the cultural integration process hasn’t occurred.

And I want to dispel here a cliché that identifies terrorism with immigration.

And I will dispel it with my long professional experience and the strength of the actual numbers issued by the Italian Ministry of the Interior: the terrorists don’tarrive here with the immigrants on the boats in the Sicilian Canal. Andeven if a terrorist that is running away from the war in Libya, reaches our shores, he doesn’t travel on unsteady boats, but only on comfortable motorboats for deep-sea fishing. It means only under safe conditions.

The terrorists are in our houses, in the suburbs of our cities, in our prisonswhere they often  radicalize themselves. Descendants of past immigration,result of the post-Colonialism period, never integrated into the cultures of the host countries, they are often unemployed andexpress their hate towards the West culture through terrorism.A culture thatthey envy for its level of well-being and quality of life; hatedand denied at the same timebecause unreachable.

The terrorist is often formed on the Internet that deliberately provides him theimage of a fake and virtual world, just and ordered, opposite to the real world, represented as corrupted, that for the aspiring terrorist is a source of desire and frustration at the same time. And even the “holy war” is represented on the Internet as a triumphal advance full of violence and cruelty that the Foreign Fighters will experience and that probably theywill never be able to leave.

I would like to make it clear that terrorism has nothing to do with immigration.

The terrorist is in search of a strong identity, the immigrant instead, has a clear and rooted identity and he is only in search of a country where he can express its identity, denied in his own country because of wars, famine and persecutions.

 

The terrorist exports blind and angry violence. The migrant instead, only uses violence against himselfby putting at risk his own lifeand the one of his family,undertaking journeys under unsafe conditions,during which they are often physically and sexually abused.

We shouldn’t be scared; we shouldn’t fear the immigrant; we shouldn’t fear the cultural influence because it is only a source of enrichment; we should feed from the culture of acceptance; we should have the ability to distinguish between hate and fear, to recognize other people’s roots, to listen to the other: the victims of this epic phenomenon.

I would like to conclude my speech by going back to the need to listen to the others, the victims, and inviting you to listen to these people coming from the other part of the Sicilian Canal and to pay attention to their stories.

Stories full of pain and violence. They travelled thousands of miles through the desert, in the hands of unscrupulous human traders that drive poor people on overloaded old off-road vehicles letting them to die of thirst in the desert.

Stories of human traders that sell these poor people to the best bidder; migrants that are sold to different military factions, raped, divested of their belonging and harassed; traffickers that extort considerable amounts of money from their victims by blackmailing them with their abandonment; traffickers that cram the immigrants inside sheds located along the coasts of Lybia, under the burning sun and in slavery conditions.Stories of migrant women that quietly accept to be constantly raped by their captors, trying only to avoid unwanted pregnancies. The government forces are absent, legality is absent, there are only armed and violent factions and tribes that live by trading human beings.

These are the voices we must listen to, voices that make us act and qualify what happens on the Libyan coasts and in the Sahara desert as crimes against humanity. Those voices must lead us to  strongly claim the opening of an humanitarian corridor from Libya, under the ONU signatures, to accommodate and redistribute migrants in Europe.

There is a right that must be affirmed as “Human Right”, and as such protected, and that is the right to migration, the right to escape from wars and deportations, to famines and epidemics. It is mandatory to stop military operations, and its political strategies and reversals between the various European nations committed to governing the Canal of Sicily. Stop with political disputes made of ephemeral and uncertain boundaries to be protected.

Pope Francis said: “it is necessary to become builders of bridges not of walls”.

Let’s just look inside, we should not be afraid, but believe in our Western, lay, tolerant, relativistic culture, produced after the dark years of the two World Wars. A cultural model open to multiracial and multi-confessional society. A cultural model we must insist on building a Europe of Nations, of people, not a Europe of banks and markets.

Francesco Giacomantonio, Introduzione al pensiero politico di Habermas. Il dialogo della ragione dilagante (Milano-Udine: Mimesis, 2010)

Our age of crisis has taken many more forms than just the widespread rejection of Enlightenment ideals. Possibly, its most visible contemporary manifestations are: (a) the devastation of the planet’s “ecological equilibrium” (25); (b) the consistent anthropological impoverishment and individualistic atomisation of human societies (e.g. “social conflicts” read as individual “psychic problems” [26]; “anomie” [31]; “confusion between… [individual] success and… [collective] understanding” [32]); and (c) the undiminished international instability (e.g. religion’s “self-destructive forms” [63]; “Western military interventions in various areas of the planet” [77] ).

Patiently and laboriously, Habermas has addressed in his complex oeuvre all of the aforementioned forms of crisis of our age. It is Giacomantonio’s task to survey Habermas’ accounts in this slender book (99 pages).

Specifically, Giacomantonio praises the erudite, articulate and abstract “theoretical wealth” of leading German sociologist and philosopher Jürgen Habermas (b. 1929) as a rare exception to current scholarly and scientific trends (78). Avoiding academic partisanships and specialist parochialisms, Habermas is said to have scrutinised and engaged with an “ample spectrum of stances” in the attempt to provide a reasoned, synthetic as well as analytical understanding of the enduring age of crisis (77). Swimming against the current, Habermas believes the Enlightenment project—modernity itself—to have to be brought to completion, not discarded.

Habermas’ first major intellectual accomplishments are claimed to be his 1960s and 1970s studies in the economic and administrative structures of late-modern Western industrial societies. Then, Habermas focused primarily upon the legitimisation of such structures via political procedures of mass participation, as well as upon the growing class fluidity, which Giacomantonio describes as the “dissolution” and “fragmentation” of traditional class consciousness and discourses (25).

According to Habermas, the post-war decades had seen capitalist societies benefiting from large-scale entrepreneurial pursuits, under the cooperative scrutiny and sophisticated direction of the State, which allowed these pursuits to serve vastly accepted inclusive social aims (e.g. “urban and regional planning”, “research and development”, “unemployment benefits”, “public welfare”; 25). These aims facilitated the legitimisation of the pursuits themselves, as well as the State’s own authority. Then, this virtuous circularity ended. For Habermas, the 1970s mark the beginning of the age of crisis.

The 1970s “late” or “mature” capitalism (23) continued to display massive State intervention in the economy. Yet, an increasing outgrowth of private interests started to escape from State control, leading to “systemic” failures (24) and to a generalised loss of faith in the State. This reduction of legitimacy was indicated by declining political participation, which was due too to the opacity of class consciousness in now tertiary-dominated economies. A variety of rescue plans were implemented by national governments, often via ever-increasing State intervention and techno-scientific legitimisation thereof. Regularly, these plans proved of little success, at least as the previous inclusive social aims were concerned.

Rather, the recurring reliance upon science and technology as grounds for political action induced considerable “de-politicisation” (28) of collective life and institutional decision-making. Within this novel frame of reference, whereby political issues were turned into “technical problems”(28), the public opinion was morphed into a passive spectator or sheer recipient of the diktats of a self-enclosed—and often self-serving—“expert” bureaucracy. In any case, the vastly accepted inclusive social aims of the post-war decades started to wane, becoming a more and more remote memory of better, foregone times.

It is Habermas’ opinion that the highly educated “expert” bureaucrats of recent decades have failed consistently to perceive the unavoidable connection between factual scientific investigation and value-driven technical application. To counter this phenomenon, Habermas has recommended the establishment of a more open critical exchange amongst experts and between experts and the public at large. In this perspective, communication should serve as an antidote to the former’s intellectual insularity and to the latter’s political disaffection.

Concerned with the de-politicisation of socio-political phenomena and populations of democratic countries, Habermas began to explore the socio-political relevance of “communication and linguistic dimensions” that were to become the hallmark of his later intellectual production (31). Indeed, the 1980s witnessed a vast output of studies by Habermas on the deeper structures of anthropological impoverishment and atomisation in modern nations. In them, Habermas came to conceive of “society” as comprising: (a) the “system” of professional, formal networks of “strategic behaviour”; and (b) the personal, informal “life-world” of existentially meaningful behaviour (“Lebenswelt”; 31). On the one hand, human activity was being described by Habermas as the “success” or “influence” of the competitive individual; whilst on the other stood the truly life-defining, cooperative linguistic (“communicative”) praxes seeking mutual “understanding” and engendering shared “identities” (32).

Initiating the age of crisis, the former dimension had been invading the latter by using communication instrumentally, i.e. the shared linguistic means for genuine self-expression and social cohesion were turned into sheer means of self-maximisation. To respond to this invasion, Habermas has recommended the overcoming of national barriers and the creation of a “cosmopolitan… deliberative democracy” centred upon ethical and normative issues and aims (35). Roughly speaking, more conversation about justice, the common good and the like–as already anticipated in his reflections on science and technology of the 1970s–would mean more democracy; more democracy would mean more legitimacy; more legitimacy more effective laws; and more effective laws more social and socially acceptable results. All of this, however, should be taking place on a global scale.

Habermas’ reflections on democracy became even more relevant in the 1990s. Then, in the face of an even faster-paced post-Cold-War economic and cultural globalisation, it was the very cradle of modern democracy that was to experience its deepest crisis, i.e. the nation State as such. Apart from intensifying the problems that Habermas had already tackled in the 1970s and 1980s, fin-de-siècle globalisation further deprived States of the crucial means of control over the “economic dimension” (40). In particular, free capital trade robbed the State of those vital “fiscal” resources that were needed for its administrative functions (44). Weaker States became even less credible to the populations, whose interests they were still expected to serve. The legitimacy of their power and even their own raison d’être became shakier. In the process, the vastly accepted inclusive social aims of the post-war decadeswere even openly rejected by leading parties and statesmen, who engaged actively in the persistent reduction of the public sphere. Deprived of the State’s support, larger and larger sectors of the population found themselves poorer, marginalised, and more vulnerable.

In the final decade of the 20th century, Habermas stressed further his commitment to a “cosmopolitan” solution of the ongoing crisis (43). In his view, a global economy needs a global deliberative democracy. This is not the same thing as to say that the world needs a world State. Rather, the world needs actual world politics and actual world policies. International organisations are already in place (e.g. the “United Nations”, the “World Trade Organisation”, the “International Monetary Fund” [46]). What is missing is the democratic appropriation of those institutions as positive means for global governance.

Interestingly, the “European Union” has been described by Habermas as an example of existing trans-national coordination and a possible force for progress, which he understands as the generation of a new political community reflecting truly democratic values and substantial ethico-political aims, such as solidarity and social inclusion (45). As an opposite model of global governance, Habermas has often highlighted the “hegemonic unilateralism” of the United States of America, which has accompanied throughout an economic globalisation capable of producing a “more unjust… more insecure” world and a threat to our “survival” as a species (48).

In particular, Habermas has stressed of late the centrality of the rule of law for the proper functioning of any complex social arrangement. As opposed to the brutal force exemplified by military intervention, a binding legal framework springing from democratic deliberation would constitute in his view a powerful means to a noble, desirable end: “to include the other without assimilating him” (50).

As further explained and substantiated in Habermas’ works of the 2000s, democracy should be thought of as much more than just a set of public institutions and formal procedures, for it is also an array of informal social praxes and individual forms of conduct. Within his deliberative and cosmopolitan model of democratic rule, Habermas has ended up combining the “liberty of the ancients” with the “liberty of the moderns” (51). In other words, both republican active participation and liberal individual-rights-protecting public guarantees are embraced as important components of actual democracy. Societies need both enduring compromises amongst rights-endowed self-interested individuals and the formation and expression of collective will via societal “self-clarification” (37).

Habermas resolves in an analogous manner the tension between liberals and communitarians on the much-debated issues of multiculturalism (51-6) and religious tolerance (61-8). Both universal, trans-cultural principles and cultural rights are said to be important for the socially inclusive survival of democratic States in a more and more inter-connected international reality. Disagreements and problems are bound to arise; still, what matters most is to have enough institutional and conceptual resources as to be able to tackle such disagreements and problems without falling into either coercion or social disintegration, which destroy genuine social cohesion and solidarity (54-6).

This, albeit sketchy, is the overview of Habermas’ intellectual production that Francesco Giacomantonio offers in his new book. It is indeed a clear and effective account of Habermas’ nearly unique oeuvre, as the author of the Introduction to the Political Thought of Habermas cites Touraine and Castoriadis as the only other equally daring grand theorists of recent times (80). The book comprises six chapters, an introduction, some final considerations and an appendix by another author. The presentation waves between a thematic subdivision and a chronological organisation of the material. Either way, the book addresses all the essential aspects of Habermas’ vast production. By this feat alone, it deserves much praise.

If any criticism is to be passed on it, then it must be pointed out that the book could be even more slender: the appendix by Angelo Chielli is redundant and unnecessary (83-90); whilst the 6th chapter, which deals with Habermas’ relevance to contemporary academic pursuits (69-75), could have been reduced to, and included with, the author’s final considerations (77-81). Also, the book would benefit from an analytical index of cited topics and authors.