Francesco Ronzon - April 2020

When the war begins (B. Brecht)

When the war begins
Your brothers may change
So that their faces are no longer recognizable
But you must remain the same.

They will go to war, not
As to a butchering, but
As to a serious task. They
will have forgotten everything
But you must forget nothing.

They will pour liquor down your throats
Like all the others.
But you must remain sober.

I decided to start with this quote from Bertold Brecht for two reasons. The first one, is because I like it. The second one, is because, in these days, one of the most used metaphors to describe our unprecedented social situation is that we’re at war. The thing that scares me the most about war is the the speed with which people lose their heads and their minds to let themselves be carried away by their emotions and be gut driven. Instead of let myself go into the light and satisfying task of offering you my ideas on the future ("I’m not fortune-teller" said Lévi- Strauss), I will limit myself to suggest you how could the virus help us to read and scrutinize three cliché that too often we take for granted in our debates.
The first one is the change. In contrast to what is said, I don’t believe the virus is leading to major modifications of our lifestyles. It’s enough to look at the huge difficulties faced by people of every nation to adapt to the lockdown imposed on their daily routines. To this day, is still possible to find people in pubs, around benches, and meeting on the sidewalks. The "Liquid Society" is a slogan valid only for the most superficial features of the contemporary living. In practice, customs and traditions of the human societies change (and have always changed) with slowness. The real enigma is to foresee what will happen in the future, as result of the clash between the inertia of lifestyles and the new unprecedented financial difficulties.
The second issue pertains the use of the web. The massive use of the internet caused by the social distancing doesn’t underline the inevitable and pervasive new destiny of the social media (as Heidegger said), but on the contrary, it exemplifies more clearly how our lives can’t help needing human interactions. The body of the runner, the music from balconies, the explosion of the solitudes unalleviated by social media, the families who fight to meet their loved ones. The recently Italian news demonstrate that if it’s possible to work online, no-one can yet live there. The 30% increase in China's divorce rate, resulted from the forced cohabitation, is a good indicator of the ordinary and inevitable burden of the social life technologically unmediated. The internet remains a gadget and Matrix is nothing more than a good movie (rather than a good sociological analysis).
The third issue are the profiteers and the opportunists. The states of emergency don’t highlight only human values, but also and especially human weaknesses. It’s recent news the attack on democracy carried out by Orban to Hungary under the pretext of the virus. Never as today, so many gurus, politics and pundits have exploited people’s fear to gather consent and electoral benefits. Together with doctors, nurses and volunteers in the frontlines, the televisions and newspaper are crowded with swindlers, conspiracy theorists and moral entrepreneurs looking for visibility for their sub-products. As in any war, even these times have their share of profiteers who take advantage of uncertainties to carry out their own interests. "You can’t learn anything from time and sea" (quote from Francesco Guccini).
However, I don’t mean to leave you with a dark and pessimistic view. I started with a harsh reflection from Bertold Brech.
I want to end with a hint of resistance from "The Invisible Cities" by Italo Calvino:

The inferno of the living is not something that will be; if there is one, it is what is already here, the inferno where we live every day, that we form by being together. There are two ways to escape suffering it. The first is easy for many: accept the inferno and become such a part of it that you can no longer see it. The second is risky and demands constant vigilance and apprehension: seek and learn to recognize who and what, in the midst of the inferno, are not inferno, then make them endure, give them space.

I hope to meet you
In a near future
In a sunny day, on the road, in spring

Francesco Ronzon - Cultural anthropologist, director of the Academy of Fine Arts of Verona