Alfonso Berardinelli: “We are all a bit xenophobic, not racist. Recognizing this is an act of honesty “


Italian intellectual Alfonso Berardinelli. | File

Alfonso Berardinelli (Rome, 1943) – one of the most famous intellectuals in Italy. For twenty years he was a professor of the history of modern literature, and when he left his department in 1995, tired of the innate and suffocating nature of the Academy, he caused a great resonance in the country. Since then, he devoted himself to writing and became one of the freest and most important columnists in the national arena. His style and his convictions make him look for contradictions on every pressing issue, always trying to reconsider what is accepted by the majority and think for himself. Published in Spain in 2016. Reading is a vice… Now get back with Against the vice of thinking (Círculo de tiza), a collection of articles on three fundamental themes: migration, the health of democracy, and the challenges highlighted by the pandemic. From his home in Italy, he answers the LD questionnaire in writing:

Question: Thinking is a vice? Who perceives it this way?

Reply: Only those who do not want to risk understanding themselves and others, what is true and what is false, can believe that thinking is a vice. It is less risky to obey what the majority thinks, a leader, a church, a political party, any group or sect. However, from another point of view, it is also true that for some professionals of thought, for example, for some philosophers, thinking can be almost a vice. It depends on how you understand it.

Q: Has it ever been easier in history to think for yourself without getting carried away by platitudes?

A: Thinking freely has always been difficult. In the past, there were absolute social, political and religious authorities that prohibited and punished freedom of thought. Today, freedom of thought is a constitutional right, that is, a formal one. But in reality, the market, the industry of consciousness and culture, fashion, advertising, the media, from television to smartphones, make it difficult to think. Not thinking becomes a habit. It is also more convenient and faster. Thinking is also a passion that not everyone has.

Q: Is it easier to find out the truth now, having all the means at your disposal, or, paradoxically, more difficult?

A: New information technologies offer convenience and speed – two things that are hard to resist. They spread the habit or vice of increasing speed and comfort, the opposite of knowing and thinking. Reading the best books is very helpful, if not necessary, for understanding and thinking. Instead, moving your finger across the screen for hours creates a kind of hypnosis, lulling or paralyzing the mind.

Q: The first part of the book is called “We are all xenophobes.” Is it difficult for us to admit that uncontrolled immigration can be a problem?

A: Recognizing that continued massive immigration is a problem is an act of honesty because it feels like a disturbing habitat change. Our social instincts also have this “ethological”, animal aspect … Especially in societies like Europe, where there are more elderly people than young people, immigration creates a sense of instability and insecurity. It is easier to understand what a compatriot can and do than an Asian or African. Verbal communication is also more difficult. The moral obligation to welcome migrants does not eliminate a certain amount of xenophobia. Xenophobia must be distinguished from racism. This is socially natural in the face of large migrations. On the other hand, racism is a terrible ideology. After all, we are a little xenophobic even among compatriots from different regions, right?

Q: In general, is the Western population morally hypocritical?

A: The point is that in every civilization there is a component of virtuous hypocrisy because it tends to deny certain primary instincts. Controlling them is good, but denying their existence is hypocrisy. We Europeans want to be the most moral people in the world. But we are not who we want to be. Protecting your own well-being and safety should never be underestimated.

Q: What is Europe’s unfortunate response to the problem of integrating migrants and refugees and is there a correct way to tackle this problem?

A: I do not believe that “adequate policies” are possible with regard to current migrations. The challenge is to control them as much as possible, prevent migrants from dying, and then know how to welcome them. But this is the hardest part. We are companies in crisis, unstable and therefore unable to guarantee a true and satisfactory welcome. However, immigrants feel more or less humiliated. And this humiliation in the future will cause resentment, sometimes even hatred, towards companies that received little and bad from them. I don’t see a solution. It would be too much to limit the worst.

Q: Another problem that you talk about in the book is radical Islamism. Are we at war?

A: You have to fight this. But you should also know that this is a political phenomenon, not a religious one. And it is also a grave danger that most peaceful Muslims suffer from, because it sows the absurd suspicion that every Muslim is a potential terrorist. Islam is the toughest and most belligerent of the great religions. But all religions today must be reformed, becoming more rational and limiting intolerance. We know that religion is too strongly based on myths, rituals, dogmas. The most rational forms of classical religions, most suitable for modern times, are yoga, which came from Hinduism, and Zen Buddhism. But more than religions, they are philosophy, discipline and mental practices.

Q: Is democracy in danger?

A: Democracy has always been in crisis since its inception. It is a method that serves to overcome crises through discussion, free political competition, confrontation and dialogue between different ideas. I do not think that democracy is in more danger today than it was yesterday. The real problem is, rather, in the changes in society, the weakness of social ties, the growing and absolute dominance of the market. The coexistence of capitalism and democracy creates problems because democracy is based on the principle of free choice of individuals, while capitalism must transform individuals into masses of consumers of goods. And every product, as we know, is also a cultural product.

Q: Is populism itself negative or can it be positive?

A: Populism is an overused term. It was the left, unable to understand society and losing the election, that spread the misuse of the word “populism”. After all, we no longer know exactly what a city is today. But on the other hand, democracy is based on populist necessity, it is “the rule of the people”, that is, the majority. The worst happens when the so-called people, that is, the majority, become undemocratic, illiberal, do not accept democratic rules and do not respect minorities. Concerns about migration have made Europe less liberal and may favor an authoritarian and illiberal right wing, transforming some xenophobia into violent racism. The left, who pretends and always considers himself “politically correct”, has caused bad populism. However, it should also be said that there is always right-wing populism and left-wing populism. The problem is that today’s political parties are weak, muddled, short-lived, and devoid of true culture. They think thinking is a vice! But the responsibility for this lies not only with the parties, but also in the cultural market. The market rewards the most violent cultural forms. The most violent cultural forms encourage stupidity. Democracy cannot feed on stupidity. Thus, the cultural market threatens democracy.

Q: How has the pandemic changed the global landscape? Were we able to respond to the virus without seeing the threat to our lifestyle? Can we see all the global ramifications of this pandemic, or have we not yet fully grasped its true ramifications?

A: No one can predict the changes that the pandemic will bring in the future. Also because it is unclear how long it will last and how to deal with it. However, it is clear that the world has become smaller. Pandemic Communication revealed this at a time when a very rapidly spreading virus was able to reach all corners of the planet in a short time. The entire biology of planet Earth is in danger. Unfortunately, politicians, politicians, it seems, are not quite capable of dealing with this problem honestly and effectively. On the other hand, the responsibility falls on our economy, which needs constant growth, continuous development. What a monstrous farm animal that must always grow! There is something devilish in its absurdity.

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