A webinar on the pandemic and its challenges to intergenerational justice took place on 4 December.
Stefano Biancu, Caterina Fiorilli, Fabio Macioce, Ferdinando Menga, Laura Palazzani, Matteo Rizzolli, Vincenzo Schirripa, and all the doctoral students discussed this this challenging topic from an interdisciplinary point of view.
Some years ago, Slavoj Žižek was asked to discuss a shattering, traumatic event, an event widely believed to hold world-historic consequence. Žižek began with the following, general qualification:
“When one hears this phrase: ‘nothing will be the same,’ the first approach of a truly thinking person is simply to doubt this.”
The conclusion to be drawn from this remark is that although Pandemic!, the short book of reflections on the Covid crisis that Žižek published in May 2020, was obviously put together at speed, it is not an impulsive first approach. For Žižek, this time round, does think that change is inevitable, and will prove lasting. In wake of the pandemic, writes Žižek,
“We will have to change our entire stance to life, to our existence as living beings among other forms of life. In other words, if we understand “philosophy” as the name for our basic orientation in life, we will have to experience a true philosophical revolution.”
At first approach, and not just to the average ironically distanced philosopher, such a statement reads grossly overblown; in fact, there is nothing overwrought about Pandemic!, which is a serious, almost solemn pamphlet. The philosophical revolution it heralds amounts, of course, to the ethical position Žižek has been elaborating for years, namely a rigorous, conscientious, atheist Christianity. But there is nothing vindictive in Žižek’s delivery, no perceptible delectatio morosa in the fact that an epidemic has, in a number of ways, proven him right.
First and foremost, the pandemic validates Žižek’s appeals for communism. Perhaps to the dismay of his belligerent followers (though most of those have long forsaken him), Žižek takes communism to stand for an attempt to institutionalise (and enforce) basic human decency – and the broad definition needn’t be snubbed at.Pandemic! contains a number of simple — no other are needed — argument-examples for the sensibility of collective action (the virus spreads across jurisdictions) and the nonsense of market forces (that incite speculation on the rising price of protective equipment). The book notes how the reality of a situation which boils down to biological survival has bent (if not quite broken) some ideological fantasies and forced even the most reactionary governments to introduce at least tokens of universal income (USA) or nationalisation (UK):
“This is not a utopian Communist vision, it is a Communism imposed by the necessities of bare survival. (…) As the saying goes: in a crisis we are all Socialists. (…) Trillions will be spent violating all conventional market rules.”
In short, Žižek believes there is a chance that the present predicament will cut across ideological distortions and lay bear the old, essential alternative: socialisme ou barbarie.
Second, the pandemic proves we need a strong, resolute state, something Žižek has long been arguing for (while, to a degree, making the case against ‘civil society’ – or what in reality may well be a reactionary, bigoted, anti-vaccine, homophobic ‘moral majority,’ from which the force of the state should protect us). In this context, the question of invigilation arises, and provokes the first disagreement with Agamben: in the form of a simple cui bono? Žižek dismisses a reading of the pandemic in the lines of a bio-political state of exception and overtly approves of military discipline in the face of crisis. The crucial work lies in maintaining a spirit of trust between the people and a (powerful) system of state:
“(…) the measures necessitated by the epidemic should not be automatically reduced to the usual paradigm of surveillance and control propagated by thinkers like Foucault. What I fear today more than the measures applied by China and Italy is that they apply these measures in a way that will not work and contain the epidemic, and that the authorities will manipulate and conceal the true data.”
Against Agamben and Foucault, Žižek recalls Kant’s injunction apropos the laws of the state: “Obey, but think, maintain the freedom of thought!” In practice, though, Žižek has to concede that some of those doing the thinking must at times make the choice to disobey; for such a contingency “(…) new activists following in the shoes of Chelsea Manning, Julian Assange and Edward Snowden are needed.”
Pandemic! takes issue with the preposition that an epidemic alleged to affect mostly the elderly invites a relapse into a ‘vitalist’ logic of survival of the fittest. While Žižek fully acknowledges the risk Agamben points out – in short: that decency, dignity, and religious convictions will be readily sacrificed for the preservation of ‘bare life’ – his own stance is surprisingly hopeful. Citing acts of solidarity and the massive engagement of volunteers, especially in Italy, Žižek points out that the threat of death actually can be a uniting force, or at least that the matter is ambiguous, and barbarity is not the only possible outcome. For Žižek, there isn’t a shadow of doubt that the proper ethical injunction is contra-vitalistic and anti-utilitarian, it amounts to the call ‘all hands on board:’
“(…) our first principle should be not to economize but to assist unconditionally, irrespective of costs, those who need help, to enable their survival.”
The pandemic and the ensuing enforced isolation have had positive effects in terms of self-reflection. This is a point Žižek is at great pains to contextualist correctly, and Pandemic! not only acknowledges (at considerable length) the all too real suffering, but repeatedly stresses the entanglement of the migrant, race, and ecological crises with the epidemic. Žižek well understands the social stratifications behind the sort of work that can be done remotely and work we call ‘essential,’ he also touches on the danger of widespread, long-term challenges to mental health. Still, taking his cue from Catherine Malabou, Žižek ponders the ‘epoché’ effect of enforced solitude. At their simplest, the reflections of a meditative lock-down are readily accessible, practically irrefutable: what good is an economic system that collapses the moment we buy only what we really need? Of the vulgar indulgence proper to so-called cruise-ships, Žižek writes succinctly:
“We should not be afraid to note some potentially beneficial side effects of the epidemic. One of the lasting symbols of the epidemic is passengers trapped in quarantine on large cruise ships. Good riddance to the obscenity of such ships say I (…).”
This and other examples point to a simple conclusion: a pandemic epoché reveals that our past ‘normal’ was in fact a-normal throughout: “why do we want things to go back to normal, when in fact things have never been normal?” More still, the ‘dead time’ of withdrawal into lock-down may bring about — to the privileged few, Žižek acknowledges — the sort of ‘Gelassenheit’ that reveals, behind the hectic struggle of everyday life, the basic nonsense of our predicament.
The ‘absolute’ ethical stance of unconditional commitment, together with an epoché that undermines the edifice of symbolic (or ideological) meaning, are all proper to the sort of materialist Christian position that Slavoj Žižek has been putting forward for the past twenty years. Uncannily, the current discipline of so-called ‘social distancing’ chimes perfectly with Žižek’s ideal of an ethical community – one need only recall Žižek’s perhaps best-known formulation of this position, from an exchange with John Milbank published in 2011:
“This is where I stand — how I would love to be: an ethical monster without empathy, doing what is to be done in a weird coincidence of blind spontaneity and reflexive distance, helping others while avoiding their disgusting proximity. With more people like this, the world would be a pleasant place in which sentimentality would be replaced by a cold and cruel passion.” (emphasis mine)
Pandemic! recalls John 20:17, Christ’s answer to Mary Magdalene: do not touch me, noli me tangere. The point being that, for Žižek, solidarity appears at the point where we acknowledge that we are all alone – and only as such, are all together. Paradoxically, authentic community is brought about by isolation. This, an idea of Žižek’s voiced a decade ago, is yet another point of his thinking that the pandemic appears to vindicate.
An even more basic ‘Hegelian’ arching of opposites in an ‘infinite judgement’ occurs in how, as Žižek observes, the very lowest iteration of life, the blindly self-replicating virus, provokes the very highest, namely the ‘Holy Spirit’ of universal human communion in solidarity.
Renouncing the pose of philosophical distancing and facile scepticism, Slavoj Žižek chose, in his booklet of reflections on the pandemic, to voice hope. Giving the unfolding of events since May, the reader is left wondering whether this attitude can possibly hold. The anticipation his book provokes is certainly not lost on Žižek: granted the pandemic has proven him right on so many counts – will it not prove him wrong just now, on his grand bet on solidarity and change? The second part of Pandemic! is due for publishing in September.
 Slavoj Žižek and Glyn Daly, Conversations with Žižek, 1 edition (Cambridge, UK : Malden, MA: Polity, 2003) p 157.
 Slavoj Žižek, Pandemic!: COVID-19 Shakes the World (Polity, 2020) p 78.
 Žižek-scholars have been wary of looming ‘functional conservatism’ in Žižek’s writings since the early 2000s, and especially in his rapprochement with Christianity. The ‘problem’ of Žižek’s conservatism is, to the mind of the present author, a paragon of warped tunnel vision endemic to the modern campus.
At least at our latitudes, the Covid-19 pandemic represented an absolute and radical novelty. Not even the most elderly among us, who have witnessed immense tragedies such as war, have ever experienced anything like this. In a short period of time everything changed under the threat of a terrible and invisible enemy: lifestyles, educational systems, the labor market, public policies, and international relations. Nothing seems to be the same as before: a new normal, still characterized by many uncertainties, has imposed itself on a global level. The whole world has been touched by it. In this sense, the pandemic represents a testing ground for intellectuals, who have posited novel interpretations of a radically new phenomenon based on pre-existing paradigms which have not always proven adequate. The round table – resulting from the collaboration between the University of Notre Dame Rome Global Gateway and the international PhD program “Contemporary Humanism” at LUMSA University – aims at drawing an early assessment of those intellectual attempts. In the awareness that the pandemic represents, in all respects, a challenge also for thought.
Location:Webinar and In-Person Event – Notre Dame University Rome Global Gateway
La nuova edizione, curata dalla moglie e orientalista Grazia Marchianò nell’ambito dell’Operaomnia, consente al lettore di attingere ad un testo che, pur da molti anni fuori commercio, mantiene intatto il suo interesse per la contemporanea riflessione filosofico-religiosa. A prima vista non si direbbe certo un saggio di attualità, ma scorrendo le pagine ci si accorge che i problemi trattati dall’autore sono, proprio per il fatto di essere inattuali, di estremo interesse per il presente.
La prima parte si concentra sulla struttura della soggettività, analizzata da Zolla nelle sue parti costituenti, ovvero il corpo, la ragione, l’anima e lo spirito. Se l’essere umano medio si trova imprigionato tra le maglie della triangolazione corpo-ragione-anima, ovvero materialismo-razionalismo-sentimentalismo, è possibile individuare nello spirito o intelletto la possibilità di una liberazione dalle catene e di un’apertura ad una dimensione dell’umano extrasoggettiva ovvero impersonale. La seconda parte analizza tale possibilità passando in rassegna i modi in cui l’essere umano è stato suddiviso nelle varie culture. L’autore individua cioè le diverse modalità in cui nel corso della storia si è declinato il tentativo di riforma interiore, che trova il suo culmine nella vita intellettuale, ovvero in quella esperienza di trascendimento delle opposizioni binarie e di raggiungimento dell’Unità.
Chi era dunque Zolla e perché l’edizione dell’Opera omnia risulta di estremo interesse tanto nell’ambito accademico quanto per il lettore appassionato di filosofia e storia delle religioni?
Elémire Zolla (Torino 1926-Montepulciano 2002) è stato un intellettuale di spicco del secondo Novecento italiano. Oltre all’opera saggistica e all’impegno in iniziative culturali quali le attività presso l’Istituto Accademico di Roma o l’Istituto Ticinese di Alti Studi, si è dedicato a portare la cultura fuori dallo stretto circolo del mondo accademico attraverso la collaborazione con riviste e giornali quali ad esempio il “Corriere della Sera” o “Il Sole 24 ore”. L’interesse per la filosofia critica proposta dalla Scuola di Francoforte e l’esigenza di trovare una via di fuga dalla crisi della moderna società industriale lo hanno portato ad avventurarsi nello studio della mistica, con un movimento che da Occidente ha sempre più portato verso Oriente.
Ebbene, proprio l’intreccio tra critica della modernità e tentativo di trovare una via di uscita da tale impasse è uno dei punti di forza del pensiero zolliano, che al rigore metodologico affianca una inesausta passione per la verità. Mentre fioriscono gli studi contro il mondo della tecnica o a suo favore, mentre l’ambientalismo viene di volta in volta osteggiato o applaudito dalla società, mentre si cerca di individuare dispositivi economici atti a mitigare la dilagante crisi sociale, ambientale, finanziaria, Zolla dal recente passato indica una strada diversa, una via in interiore homine, una possibilità di riforma dell’interiorità prima ancora che della società. Solo a patto di non essere più automi e di seguire il motto delfico “conosci te stesso” fin nelle più desolate contrade della propria anima, solo a condizione di scendere nell’Ade della nostra interiorità per emergerne ricchi di esperienza e conoscenza, sarà possibile individuare i nodi che impediscono di vivere una vita degna di essere vissuta, una vita libera tanto dalle coazioni sociali quanto da quelle personali.
Questa è la strada che nella sua opera di poligrafo Zolla ci indica, una strada che continua ad arrivarci come un sussurro nel caos metropolitano.
“What can I know?” “What must I do?” “What may I hope?” are the three questions that, since Kant’s time, are recognized as essential in every attempt to think about human existence and reality. Three questions to which the experience of the pandemic has taken away any simple answer.
What is in our control and what is not.
Many times, during the pandemic, the situation appeared out of control. The Kantian question on what we can know could be translated as follows: what is in our control and what is not? You control what you know, what you do not know controls you.
The virus has forced us to grieve over the illusion that we can have everything under our control. It has also unfolded right before our eyes the necessity to do all the possible good things that are in our power. The virus – in other words – has made evident to us our condition of both vulnerable and responsible beings.
We are vulnerable: something we do not control can, at any time, hurt and even destroy us. No life insurance can protect us from that. On the other hand, the vain attempt to immunize ourselves from any risk brings more disadvantages than the expected benefits. If you avoid every risk in order to protect life, you end up destroying the life you want to protect and preserve.
An accepted vulnerability is also what gives us access to the greatest experiences of our humanity. Investing your energy in a project that – despite everything – may fail; expressing your convictions freely, even if they may not be accepted and later you will have to pay for them; declaring your love to a person who may not return it; choosing to share your life with a person who may one day hurt you; trusting a friend who may not understand you or even betray you; being generous with someone who may take advantage of it. These are all experiences of an accepted vulnerability that exposes us to the risk of suffering and failure, but which also opens up the only gateway to our humanity, making us truly alive. At the end of our existence, we will know that we have lived inasmuch as we have accepted our vulnerability. Missed opportunities are as many sacrifices on the altar of the pretension of not exposing us to the risk of suffering and failure.
If the fact that we cannot control everything makes us vulnerable, the fact that we can control something makes us responsible to ourselves and to others. We are not almighty and yet, for our part, we are responsible.
The choice to quarantine entire countries around the world, putting at risks the world economy, was a choice of responsibility for the benefit of all, and in particular the most vulnerable. In the near future, we will have to be as much responsible towards those made vulnerable by the economic crisis.
From here, ethics will have to start again: from accepting that not everything is under our control and that the pretension of protecting ourselves against all risks kills life. But also from accepting the responsibility of doing all the good which is in our power to do: in favour of all and in particular the most vulnerable.
What we must do.
We have called them heroes – doctors, nurses and healthcare workers who, in the dark days of the pandemic, have put their lives at risk to save others’. Proportionally, similar risks were taken by many other workers. None of that was included in their employment contracts and yet none of these heroes have ever claimed – and presumably ever even thought – that they did something beyond the call of duty.
What we have experienced will urge us to radically change our understanding of duty. We need to recognise that duty is broader than what is required by a rule or by the rights of a third party. Up to now we have considered solidarity, fraternity, love as supererogatory attitudes: i.e. good, but not strictly due. The experience of the pandemic has shown us that, beside the “minimum necessary” of what is due (what someone can demand from me), there is also a “maximum” that is just as necessary. No one – individual or institution – can demand it from me and yet I know that it is somehow due. I must do it.
No one can demand love from me, but if I do not love – and do not act accordingly – I do not respond adequately to the appeal that comes to me from the other. Nor do I live. It is not only for believers that love is a commandment – it is to live as humans. It is from here, from a broader understanding of duty, that ethics should restart after the Covid-19.
What we may hope.
“It’s gonna be okay”, we have repeated ourselves like a mantra. But we have ended up repeating it with less and less conviction. A column of military trucks taking away the coffins of the dead ones has also taken away our illusions. By the end, not everything will have gone well, at least not for everyone.
Yet the experience of the virus, which has left a huge pile of human rubble, has shown us that – despite everything – we can hope, and therefore we must do so. At the condition that we do not understand “it’s gonna be okay” as “nothing bad will happen to us”. Hope is not the illusion of not being vulnerable, i.e. immune from evil and pain. Rather, it means hoping that all this immense pain will have a meaning – that bad things do not happen in vain. A meaning, perhaps not immediately evident, must be there. And it is up to us to act so that it will be there.
For this hope, which does not illusorily remove vulnerability but accepts it, we are all responsible. It will depend largely on us if all this will make sense – if from this rubble we will be able to rebuild a different and better human world. In the name of a love which is certainly a “maximum”, but a “necessary” one.
Che cosa possiamo conoscere, che cosa dobbiamo fare, che cosa possiamo sperare sono le tre domande che, fin dai tempi di Kant, riconosciamo come essenziali per ogni tentativo umano di pensare l’esistenza e il reale: tre domande rispetto alle quali l’esperienza della pandemia ci ha sottratto ogni facile risposta.
Ciò che è in nostro controllo e ciò che non lo è
Molte volte, durante la pandemia, la situazione ci è apparsa fuori controllo. Proprio così potrebbe essere tradotta la domanda kantiana intorno a ciò che possiamo conoscere: che cosa è in nostro controllo e che cosa non lo è? Ciò che conosci lo domini, ciò che non conosci ti domina.
Il virus ci ha imposto di fare il lutto della illusione di poter avere tutto sotto controllo. Ma ci ha anche messo davanti agli occhi l’esigenza di fare tutto ciò che di buono è in nostro potere. Il virus – in altri termini – ci ha con forza ricondotti alla nostra condizione di esseri vulnerabili e responsabili.
Siamo vulnerabili: qualcosa che non controlliamo può, in ogni momento, ferirci e finanche annientarci. Non c’è assicurazione sulla vita che tenga. D’altra parte, il tentativo vano di immunizzarci da ogni rischio produce un danno maggiore del beneficio atteso. Se per salvaguardare la vita eviti ogni rischio, finisci per annientare quella vita che vorresti proteggere e preservare.
Una vulnerabilità accettata è anche ciò che ci permette di accedere alle esperienze più grandi della nostra umanità. Investire energie in un progetto che – nonostante tutto – potrebbe fallire, esprimere liberamente ciò di cui si è convinti anche se magari non sarà accettato e dovremo pagare per questo, dichiarare il proprio amore a una persona che forse non lo ricambierà, scegliere di condividere la vita con una persona che forse un giorno ci ferirà, confidarsi con un amico che potrebbe non comprenderci o che magari ci tradirà, essere generosi con qualcuno che forse se ne approfitterà: sono tutte esperienze di una vulnerabilità accettata che ci espone al rischio della ferita e del fallimento, ma che anche costituisce l’unica porta di accesso per la nostra umanità, rendendoci vivi. Alla fine della nostra esistenza, sapremo di aver vissuto nella misura in cui avremo accettato la nostra vulnerabilità: le occasioni perse saranno altrettanti sacrifici sull’altare della pretesa di metterci al riparo dal rischio della ferita e del fallimento.
Se il fatto di non poter controllare tutto ci rende vulnerabili, il fatto di poter controllare qualcosa ci rende responsabili, di fronte a noi stessi e agli altri. Non siamo onnipotenti e tuttavia, per la parte che ci compete, siamo responsabili.
La scelta di mettere in quarantena interi Paesi del mondo, con gravi rischi per l’economia mondiale, è stata una scelta di responsabilità a favore di tutti, e in particolare dei più vulnerabili. Nel prossimo futuro altrettanta responsabilità dovremo esercitarla verso coloro che la crisi economica avrà reso vulnerabili.
Da qui l’etica dovrà ripartire: dall’accettare che non tutto è in nostro controllo e che la pretesa di assicurarci da ogni rischio uccide la vita; ma anche dall’accettare la responsabilità di fare tutto ciò che di buono è in nostro potere fare: per il bene di tutti e in particolare dei più vulnerabili.
Ciò che dobbiamo fare
Li abbiamo chiamati eroi: medici, infermieri e personale sanitario che, nei giorni bui della pandemia, hanno messo a rischio le loro vite per salvare altre vite umane. Proporzionalmente, rischi simili li hanno assunti molti altri lavoratori. Niente di tutto questo era previsto nei loro contratti di lavoro eppure nessuno di questi eroi ha mai dichiarato – e presumibilmente neppure pensato – di aver fatto più del proprio dovere.
Ciò che abbiamo vissuto ci imporrà di cambiare radicalmente la nostra comprensione del dovere. Dovremo riconoscere che il dovere è più ampio di ciò che è esigibile rispetto a una norma o ai diritti di un terzo. Finora abbiamo considerato la solidarietà, la fraternità, l’amore come attitudini supererogatorie: buone, ma non strettamente dovute. L’esperienza della pandemia ci ha dimostrato che, accanto al minimo necessario di ciò che è esigibile (ciò che qualcuno può pretendere da me), esiste anche un massimo che è altrettanto necessario: nessuno – singolo o istituzione – potrà esigerlo da me, eppure so che è in qualche modo dovuto. Lo devo fare.
Nessuno può esigere da me amore, ma se non amo – e non agisco di conseguenza – non rispondo adeguatamente all’appello che dall’altro mi giunge. E neppure vivo. Non è soltanto per i credenti che l’amore è un comandamento: è per vivere da umani. E da qui, da una comprensione più ampia del dovere, dovrà ripartire l’etica che verrà.
Ciò che possiamo sperare
Andrà tutto bene, ci siamo ripetuti come un mantra. Ma abbiamo finito per crederci sempre di meno e abbiamo iniziato a ripetercelo con sempre minore convinzione. Una colonna di camion militari che portano via le bare dei caduti si è portata via anche le nostre troppo facili illusioni: alla fine non tutto sarà andato bene, perlomeno non per tutti.
Eppure l’esperienza del virus, che ha lasciato dietro di sé una immensa montagna di macerie umane, ci ha dimostrato che – nonostante tutto – possiamo sperare, e che dunque dobbiamo farlo. A patto di non intendere quel “tutto andrà bene” come un “non ci accadrà nulla di male”. Sperare non significa illudersi di non essere vulnerabili, di essere immuni dal male e dal dolore. Piuttosto significa sperare che tutto quell’immenso dolore avrà un senso: che ciò che di male accade, non accada invano. Un senso, forse non immediatamente evidente, ci deve essere. E a noi spetta di agire perché ci sia.
Di questa speranza, che non rimuove illusoriamente la vulnerabilità ma la accetta, siamo tutti responsabili. Da noi dipenderà in buona parte se tutto questo avrà avuto un senso: se da queste macerie sapremo ricostruire un mondo umano diverso e migliore. All’insegna di un amore che sa di essere un massimo, ma un massimo necessario.
I am a Professor, I work with words. I know how to fill in any kind of space or time gap with words. I know how to catch the attention of an audience through funny words or emotional phrases. I know how to skirt issues smartly when I do not have all the answers. I have learned all of that, these are the tricks of my job.
But now I have no more words. The words I used to have are not enough to express what I am witnessing, what we are going through. They are not enough and they even bother me. I would like to escape from all this, but I do not know where to go, for we are all in the same boat: the neighbour next door and the faraway neighbour who lives in the other hemisphere.
The only word still left in my mind is “why?”. Why all this? Why in these proportions? I have no answer to this question, and this time I cannot skirt the issue smartly.
Who is responsible for that? To my students I always explain that an action is not a “mere fact”. It presumes a free and responsible agent, someone I can hold responsible for their action, someone I could ask to justify their action, to make it fair to my eyes.
But today there is no one we can hold responsible for what is happening to us. All attempts to find a culprit – someone who can answer for what is happening – seem to be vain. The virus is not even a living creature. It kills and destroys even lacking the motivation – questionable but understandable – of having to survive: mors tua, vita mea.
We have tried to find some culprits: pollution, some kinds of husbandry practices with animals, the lies of the Chinese government, the inefficient organisation of our country, the cuts in the healthcare system budget, and even the runners. At some point, it looked like it was them – the runners – the cause of the catastrophe. If you run while people are dying, you must be the one to blame. I must confess that, as long as it was permitted, I was one of the runners, too. I used to run to feel alive and I did it without putting anybody’s life at risk. Because of this, I know runners are not the ones to blame. We are very mean to each other, desperately searching for a culprit. Let’s find that someone and the problem will be solved!
Here lies the tragedy: this time there is no one to blame. There is no one who can answer for all this. Some choices – wrong or delayed – may have made the situation worse, or may not have sufficiently limited the damage, but no one is really guilty of all this death and destruction. And in lack of a response, we do not even have words anymore. And yet we need words as much as we need the air that the virus takes away from those who are attacked by it.
It is not true that everything will be fine. This time the cure will inevitably have some very serious side effects. We are saving lives by putting others’ at risk. The choice between pandemic and famine is an unsolvable dilemma, just as it is having to decide who must live and who must die. At the moment the most important principle is to concentrate on the most urgent threat, but this argument will not be valid forever. Very soon hunger and solitude could start killing just like the virus. We do not know what to say, everything is so uncertain.
Everything will be fine, this is what we have been saying to ourselves repeatedly like a mantra. But now we know that not everything will be fine, at least not for everyone. The human cost of this sad event will be very high for many, and for some it will be even higher. Also in this case the motto we were holding on to – “everything will be fine” – collapsed, dragged away from a trail of military trucks crammed with coffins.
What will ever give words back to us in the midst of this void of answers? In this situation in which it seems that, whatever we do, we are mistaken or at least we do not solve anything? In this continuous killing of illusions for which every day it becomes more and more obvious that not everything will eventually be fine?
Now more than ever, it has become clear that hope is not a passion, not just a feeling. It is the result of a decision, a choice. Today we can choose hope. In what we are experiencing, we are more vulnerable than responsible. There are more things beyond our control than in our control. And yet there is one thing we are responsible for: our hope.
Hope is not the illusion that evil will not strike us, the illusion that we are not vulnerable. It is the confidence that this immense nonsense can make sense. Words will come back to us. But for this sense and for these words we will be responsible.
All of this will make sense if we do not waste this extreme time of isolation and quarantine. It will make sense if we use it to work on ourselves, now that the situation requires that we face our real selves without any social filter. The manager, the worker, the janitor, the top model are alone, confronting themselves the same way. This time will make sense if we use it to build up on our human relationships, now that the social relations have thinned out. It will make sense if each of us, according to our possibilities, contributes to dream and design a different world. Different politics, different economy, a different Europe, even a different ethics.
A kind of ethics that will have measure up with those impassably vulnerable and responsible beings which the virus has revealed we are. A kind of ethics for beings who do not have everything in their control but who must do the good they can, far beyond what the rights of a third party or the obligations of a law may require.
Everything that in the past we considered supererogatory – that is to say, good but not required – has now become a daily duty. That is the necessary response to the appeal of the most vulnerable ones, and the essential condition to live as humans. The commandment of love – the supererogatory par excellence –, that something that nobody can demand from you – has always been considered valid only for the believers. Today, it has imposed itself as the living core of ethics. Sine amore non possumus.
Perhaps the happy ending will not be what we imagined while saying to ourselves that everything would be fine. We are vulnerable. But another happy ending is still possible and it is within our reach. And for that, we are responsible.
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