By Giorgio Scichilone

We are living in hard and bitter times. This second belle époque, born in the economic boom, the radiant hopes of a future of peace and prosperity, the flag of Western civilization that flies from the Moon, of scientific discoveries and the liberal achievements of trade, is now over. From space we fall back to Earth and find out the fixity of boundaries, pressure and fear. We have lost the certainties that began to be built after the brutal catastrophes of twentieth-century conflicts. The older generations had horizons of trust that the young generations can’t see. I want to employ an expression of Emmanuel Carrère referred to the Siege of Sarajevo (the second, because things come back when history is unsuccessful) and adopt it to the present moment, therefore I think the time has come to «put the truth before what we would like the truth to be». We see entire nations moving from the devastated regions of the planet always driven by needs and suffering, which appear in the form of hunger, poverty, war, harsh environment. Should we look for the historical and political culprits of this situation? Not now. For now, it is enough to pay attention to children’s faces and voices, or to their dead bodies on some Mediterranean beach. This is the best point of view if we want to consider the vulnerable and violated human rights. And to understand that we have reached an unbearable level of barbarity, by allowing all this. Beyond many considerations, not all of which are improper; even beyond subtle sophisms that tend to absolve us of responsibility and push the system of duties, which our own humanity should impose on us, beyond the borders of our warm homes, to evoke an excellent expression of Primo Levi; even beyond our temporary political beliefs, the time has come to take a stand, at least from an ethical point of view of a wider scope, like the starry sky of Kant. Because there comes a time when we have to pick a side. And not driven by a leader or by some violent newspaper, but by our conscience, which is a silent and demanding tribunal, and also by intelligence, which requires the exercise of subtle analysis. As I said, these situations are complex and only new barbarians cut them with the axe. Either because they are interested in selling their solutions in a simple way, which do not solve anything, or simply because they are not able to understand the depth of problems. Thus the primordial refuge of instinct, narrow yet reassuring like the walls of a cave, always overcomes the slow times of reason, with its sometimes uncomfortable perspectives. Norberto Bobbio had suggested this second way, assigning to intellectuals the painstaking role of mediation, caution, and doubt. The task of trying to understand before looking for certainties. But it is the corollary of this lesson that is thought-provoking: «Impartial as much as possible, not neutral». Here, well beyond the arrogance of those who make it simple and know everything, and even before every refined labyrinth of arguments, in the end we are called to give up neutrality to know where to stand. I go back to Carrère and use his page to close mine. He describes two war reporters, and this reference is already relevant. The front from which they report is that between Serbs and Croats. The writer admires them because, «curious about the world in its complexity, if they are facing a situation that is against their point of view, not only do they not hide it but they also highlight it». «This honesty – Carrère has observed – strikes me even more because it does not result in the belief that “they are all the same”, which is the temptation of those who know a thing or two. In fact, because the time has come when you have to pick a side, or decide at least from which position you will analyze what happens. After the first phase of the Siege of Sarajevo, when, at full speed and at the price of deep fears, it was still possible to move from one front to the other, one had to choose whether to report the events from within the besieged city or from the positions of the besiegers. Even for men like the two Jeans, reluctant to join the finest spirits, the choice was natural: when one is weaker and the other stronger, in the spirit of honesty you continue to emphasize that the weaker is not entirely white and the stronger is not entirely black, but you also take the side of the weaker. You go where the bombs fall, not where they originate».

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