“You cannot eat illusion“, said the woman.
“You cannot eat it, but it feeds“, replied the Colonel.
I borrow this dazzling exchange, taken from “No one writes to the Colonel” – short novel by Gabriel García Márquez – because it illuminates, more than a thousand words, the path that you asked me to travel. How? Simply replacing illusion with culture. To short-sighted singers of the unfortunate mantra “You cannot eat culture“, allow me, then, to respond: “You cannot eat it, but it feeds“.
Answer that – I must confess – I give with a certain unease. The discomfort of seeing myself forced to emphasize, for the umpteenth time, one thing that – especially in a country like ours – should be obvious; a fact, a starting point and not a point of arrival toward which suggest to – laboriously – travel.
The obvious cannot be a conquest. Must not. Or humanity will never make a step forward. The question, then, is: how comes we reached this point? Why a truism seems to us a conquest, furthermore unattainable?
Because we have committed the most serious error that we could commit: to consider freedom and democracy as irreversible achievements. It is not like that. Nothing, in fact, is more difficult to conquer and, at the same time, easier to lose than democracy and freedom. Nothing is more beautiful; nothing is more fragile. Why? For the human nature, suggests one of the greatest minds of modernity: “Nothing has ever been for man and for the human society more intolerable than freedom!”, Dostoyevsky writes it in “The legend of the Grand Inquisitor“. And he adds: “There is no more anxious thought for man than to find as soon as possible one to whom to donate the gift of freedom with which this unhappy creature was born “. That is why. Let us take a look around us: the reality that surrounds us – from North to South, from East to West – witness it with disturbing daily evidence.
“We are witnessing the refusal of liberal democracy on a global scale and its replacement with some form of populist authoritarianism “. These are not my words but of Arjun Appadurai, one of the most important living anthropologists. He and other fourteen among the greatest intellectuals of the planet, have tried to explain the crisis of the time that we live in an assay – released a few days ago – that has a title that says a lot about our present: “The great regression“.
We deluded ourselves, and History now presents us the bill. And – as we see from everything that happens around us – it is a very expensive bill. The theme that has been entrusted to me is at the same time simple and impossible. Simple, because it can be conveniently synthesized in a revealing chiasmus: “Culture is politics. Politics is Culture“. Impossible because it all depends on the content that we give to these two words.
Culture should nourish politics and politics, in return, feed culture. However, what happens if the nourishment is insufficient or of poor quality, or both? “Salt is good – we read in the Gospel of Mark – but if the salt loses its saltiness, how will you make it salty again?”
I never believed in the contraposition between “civil society” and “uncivil politics“. It is a false and instrumental contraposition. Each tree bears its fruits. Good trees give good fruits; bad trees, bad fruits. The tree of politics is man.
If he is civil, the politics will be civil; if, instead, he is uncivil, the politics will be uncivil as he is.
Can we – in all conscience – define as civil the society in which we live? I am not only referring to our country: I speak in general.
If I look around me, for how painful it can be to have to admit it, I am forced to answer No. The evangelist Mark is right – therefore – when he writes: “Have salt in yourselves”. Or the salt of the politics is in us or there is no.