Stay Worried, Stay Foolish!

I have always been inspired by Steve Jobs’s famous speech at Stanford. So motivating. In particular by his use of the word “foolish”. For foolish he meant to be daring, creative and ready to explore paths unseen to the wise. You must be courageous and determined to do that of course, but above all: fool. That is why I can undoubtedly say that Rome has been in these last two years the splendid lab of that foolishness as Steve Jobs did mean it, especially for what concerns public administration, no joking. Let’s give some examples.

When roads  become for many reasons very dangerous as it is in Rome these days, I guess that organizing public procurements for road maintenance could be considered a wise plan, but this would be so for anybody else but the foolish. In Rome, in fact, it has been decided to solve the problem in a very creative way: reducing the speed limits thus saving the money for road maintenance. Amazing, isn’t it?. So it may happen to drive along large roads that seem highways trying not to exceed the maximum speed limit allowed of 50 km per hour, if you don’t want to be fined. Slow but safe. Of course, a lot of fb pages have flourished with the aim of alerting drivers when there are traffic police units in sight. After all, we citizens have to defend ourselves in some way and naturally, I may define foolish this as well in a certain way. Therefore, for our administration fixing road potholes is nothing but a waste of money, especially when only a shower is enough to make all the maintenance useless here. So this is what driving in Rome has become nowadays and you may understand it better if we compare it to another city like Los Angeles mostly inhabited by the wise:

sobrio= sober; ubriaco=drunk

Of course, in Rome the drunk is the one who keeps the straight line as he can’t see or avoid the potholes. Would you like another example? About 20 years ago the then Mayor Rutelli planned to retrain 100 squares, mostly in the suburbs, not only having them cleaned but also creating a lot of green spaces for families and children. Of course, even those squares and green spaces would have required regular maintenance, but unfortunately it did not happen. So, after 20 years they have become just what they used to be or even worse. The problem of green area maintenance regards also the big and famous parks and villas in Rome, the roads and sidewalks where weeds keep growing wildly and the trees which have not pruned for years. If you ventured to read the post that far I guess you have understood that it seems that there is not much money to spend on this project ( nor any other project), so what would you think the foolish have thought about?

Yes, sheep. So pretty soon my dear tourists, you might see sheep graze in Piazza Venezia or walk lazily along Via del Corso to reach Villa Borghese through traffic. Think about sheep manure especially at summer time, what a pastoral sight and smell! Don’ t forget that we are talking about the capital.

The point is that this foolishness is destined to cross the borders of the capital and become national as the party that runs Rome won the national elections almost three months ago and made a contract with the most reactionary and anti-European faction in Italy in order to rule the country. It is a very ambitious contract, indeed. First of all they aim at reducing the public debt. At last, you would say, as we have the third largest debt in the world, but how? Making reforms, reducing waste or combating tax evasion? Oh,no.That would be too wise. The foolish recipe is: not to pay, as they aim at negotiating with the BCE a cut of the public debt of 250 billions of euros for…..nothing.

Maybe, you may wonder, strategies will be implemented to stop the public debt, for sure. Not exactly, as they have in mind a “flat tax”, that is, two tax rates of 15% up to 80.000 euros and 22% if you exceed that income threshold.  That is the revenge of the Sheriff of Nottingham over Robin Hood, who is rolling over in his grave I am sure by now, as that would mean that the poorer classes will be damaged more and pay for the rich. How can it be that a footballer, for example, and a teacher are subjected to a similar tax rate?

And the poor? Don’t you worry, they will be given a sort of “basic income” of about 1.000 euros or more to stay at home. I forgot to mention that those who are holding the reins of the destiny of this country have little working experience. I don’t mean political experience, bur really working experience. One of them before becoming deputy and now candidate Prime Minister, was a steward at San Paolo football stadium and webmaster. Nothing more can be found in that C.V., but maybe I am not fool enough to understand all this.

 

 

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Foolocracy Made Real

I voted, eventually. No need to say I am not happy about the outcome of these elections and no need to say I was not surprised about it. I will leave my comment, in fact, to a post published on this blog (with a little editing) 5 years ago. It was my very first timid attempt of writing about politics and I did it under the mask of what I am: a teacher of literature. After all I firmly believe that “all world is a stage“.

Every time it was the Fool’s turn to go on stage there was a great expectation in the audience. The most important actors wanted to play that role in fact, because he was not only one who juggled or made you laugh with trivial jokes or puns but he was also charismatic, witty, shrewd and, above all, the fool was the only character who was allowed the privilege to say whatever he liked. He was a fool after all. He could target whoever he considered worthy of contempt exposing him to ridicule, king included (with a certain prudence obviously). People laughed with him, people were with him because after all he was one of them, one who could understand their frustrations, misery, rage, disappointed hopes. With a laugh he could exorcise all that. It was a great power indeed and he knew it, but I’m sure that not even in his wildest dreams he would have ever imagined one day to use this power to become a politician and, why not, rule a country. People would have died from laughing. Yes, but it was the Middle Age, the dark age. Nowadays, in the modern age, we have smashed these prejudices and we have allowed fools of any kind to be part of the active political life. Even those who were not really born fool try clumsily to imitate them, because this seems to be what people want.

However, when fools leave the familiar setting of a theatre to seek a better fortune, they seem to suffer from a curious disease: the “all world is a stage” syndrome. Its symptoms are easily recognizable: they keep on acting or speaking  freely without realizing that in the real world acts and words have consequences on people. This happens because they can’t perceive the difference between the fictitious and real life. Problems arise when one of these fools happens to have received the responsibility of ruling a country or anyhow making or sharing a political project with the elected non-fools. He will inevitably have to face an identity crisis, because his job has been for years that of ridiculing, attacking those he is supposed to work with. A fool is very good at destroying, but once he is demanded to reconstruct,his mocking laugh fades away and he starts to display a certain agitation and becomes even aggressive, because all of a sudden he realizes that he just cannot keep on playing his favourite game off the stage. But the question is: can we expect a fool to be responsible and decide the destiny of a country? If the answer is: “Well, yes, why not?”, just follow Italy’s next political vicissitudes and we will see.

The Sorrows of a Disenchanted Voter

Exactly in a week time, new elections will be held here in Italy and I have to say that
maybe for the first time in my life I feel a kind of unwilling to perform my duty of
citizen going to vote. Almost I year ago I confessed all my doubts in a post
about the effectiveness of the democratic system of representation and still the same issue keeps troubling my mind. It is a fact that only on the occasion of elections we are really equal despite, census, education etc. : is this really one of the greatest modern conquests? In that post I asked Socrates’s help to make my point clear and particularly I liked a passage when he affirms that “ voting in an election is a skill rather than a random intuition. And like any other skill, it needs to be taught methodically to people. Letting citizens vote without an education is…. irresponsible“, only education may prove the best antidote to demagoguery (dēmos ‘the people’ + agōgos ‘leading).

However, what happens if those who do not possess that skill represent the majority of a country?  The percentage of those who have relapsed into illiteracy,
that is, those who may not completely understand meanings and concepts, is
increasing in any country and in Italy has reached the 80%, hence, who do you
think propaganda will be addressed to? Modern political speeches have lost their power of seduction, as their message doesn’t aim any longer at being thought-provoking , constructive, but rather, at being catchy, therefore: simple, short and quick. It must stick on you, avoiding the usage of reason if possible.

In my opinion, the most effective slogan I can remember belongs to Berlusconi’s era; as pioneer of Italian Private Television he was a champion of communication : “We won’t put our hands in the pockets of the Italians“. A simple image which doesn’t require to be decoded, as it is extremely effective but dangerous at the same time. In those few words the very first powerful message is that his party won’t levy taxes, which is ok, but the subtle one means that taxes are nothing but robbery, thus mining the faith in that system he would have ruled for almost 20 years ( a maybe more).

Propaganda addresses our fears – real or perceived -, impossible solutions, social envy. There is new-born party here, the so-called five-star party, which has based the entire political campaign on one word only: honesty. Effective and simple, isn’t it? However, 90% of the candidates who have been recruited are completely unexperienced in matters of political administration (and more). May I ask you a question? Would you still trust you doctor if he confessed you that he has never studied medicine, but, don’t worry : he is so honest. I guess you would immediately tear his prescription and find your way out as fast as possible. Well, you wouldn’t believe it , but it seems that one-fourth of the voters of this country is ready to rely on them only because they wave the flag of honesty. I can see Socrates turning in his grave.Rather than a political campaign we have been the witnesses here of a competition among those who rant the loudest and I fear that the winner we’ll be put in charge of the country with the consequences you may well imagine.

I have no other solution to offer than enhancing education, but I understand it is a slow process, very slow, considering the ways education policies are taking, that it seems to me more and more utopian day by day. Will I take to trouble to go to vote, then? I don’t know, yet. I’ve got a nice book to read.

On Democracy, Demoguery and Foolocracy

soc2

In Book Six of Plato‘s The Republic, there is a very illuminating passage about the nature of democracy. Socrates is discoursing with Plato’s brother Adeimantus trying to get him to see the flaws of democracy by comparing a society to a ship. “If you were heading out on a journey by sea“, asks Socrates “who would you ideally want to decide who was in charge of the vessel? Just anyone or people educated in the rules and demands of seafaring?” The latter of course“, says Adeimantus, ” So why then“, responds Socrates,” “do we keep thinking that any old person should be fit to judge who should be a ruler of a country?

soc1Such display of distrust in the democratic system from one of the foundling fathers of  philosophical thought and symbol of that idea of civilization which has Ancient Athens as universal icon, sounds quite striking. However, that means that since the very beginning the issue of representation was seen as the weakest aspect of democracy. Should electors require any skill to exercise their right to vote, census, education etc.? Or should we presume that democracy by birthright is the greatest modern achievement?

Socrates’s point is that voting in an election is a skill rather than a random intuition. And like any other skill, it needs to be taught methodically to people. Letting citizens vote without an education is as irresponsible as putting them in charge of that ship sailing to the frightening ocean. If they are not qualified, it might very likely crash against the rocks when the first storm comes. It sounds snobbish, I know,  but he was not. For Socrates only those who” had thought about issues rationally and deeply should be let near a vote”.Giving the vote to all without connecting it to that of wisdom could lead a system the Greeks feared above all:( demagoguery: dēmos ‘the people’ + agōgos ‘leading) and only education could be the most effective antidote.

soc3Ancient Athens had indeed experienced  what being ruled by demagogues meant with Alcibiades. Rich, charismatic, smooth-talking,he had slowly eroded basic freedoms and helped to push Athens to its disastrous military adventures in Sicily. However, any era has seen the birth of one or more Alcibiades, because their real skill is exploiting our desire for easy answers, that is all. We want to believe to their alluring world made of slogans and promises without  taking the trouble of pondering on how all could be achieved or their consequences on people. We always enjoy a good story, don’t we?

As a demonstration of how our minds work, Socrates wanted us to imagine an election debate between two candidates: a doctor and a sweet shop owner. The sweet shop owner’ s speech would sound more or less like this:

“Look, this person here has worked many evils on you. He hurts you, gives you bitter potions and tells you not to eat and drink whatever you like. He’ll never serve you feasts of many and varied pleasant things like I will”. Socrates asks us to consider what the reaction of the audience would be like: Do you think the doctor would be able to reply effectively? The true answer – “I cause you trouble, and go against your desires in order to help you’” would cause an uproar among the voters, don’t you think? That’s why we prefer to give our vote to sweet shop owners rather than doctors.

But, if Socrates could be here among us and see who are the captains in charge of many “vessels” around the world, I guess he would regret that sweet shop owner, wouldn’t he?

Foolocracy (1)

3fool

Every time it was the Fool’s turn to go on stage there was great expectation in the audience. The most important actors wanted to play that role in fact, because he was not only one who juggled or made you laugh with trivial jokes or puns, but he was also charismatic, witty, shrewd, but above all, the fool was the only character who was allowed the privilege to say whatever he liked. He was a fool after all. He could target whoever he considered worthy of contempt exposing him to ridicule, king included (with a certain prudence obviously). People laughed with him, people were with him because after all he was one of them, one who could understand their frustrations, misery, rage, disappointed hopes. With a laugh he could exorcise all that. It was a great power indeed and he knew it, but I’m sure that not even in his wildest dreams he would have ever imagined one day to use this power to become a politician and, why not, rule a country. People would have died from laughing. Yes, but it was the Middle Age, the dark age. Nowadays, in the modern age, we have smashed these prejudices and we have allowed fools of any kind to be part of the active political life. Even those who were not really born fool try clumsily to imitate them, because this seems to be what people want. Will it work? We’ll see. God bless Italy.

Words,words,words

paese incantato

Once upon a time, in a remote part of the South of Europe, there was a kingdom sun-kissed and pine fragrant, whose blue waters lazily washed pink white beaches of shells and corals. The inhabitants of this enchanted place were also renowned for their constant effort to add to the other celebrated beauties the most precious one:democracy; because despite the country was a true paradise on earth, anybody who attempted to visit it could see that lacked the most basic foundations of social organization. Furthermore signs of moral decay could be detected almost anywhere.
“Democracy! This is what we need, and we’ll be saved”: somebody started to say.
Till one happy day, the most important people of the country decided that it was time that the first elections should be held. The hopeful citizens rushed en mass to the polling stations and enjoyed so much this ritual that decided to repeat it once, if not twice a year. Unfortunately they soon understood that democracy was not so easy to achieve. In fact election after election, decade after decade, scandals, the corruption and degradation of the political system had not been stopped yet:
“Maybe, this democracy doesn’t work here!” they wondered.
“Maybe, it’s because of the sun” pondered one “or the sea”, said a woman. Maybe. Any possible solution had been explored, besides the inhabitants of the beautiful kingdom sun-kissed, pine fragrant whose shores were washed by crystalline seas, had slowly started to desert the polling stations. But one glorious day something totally unexpected happened. There was a man, whose speeches had started to inflame the hearts of men and women again triggering a sparkle of hope. Well, he wasn’t exactly a man, he was a FOOL ,a real fool, not like those other fake fools who had ruled the country the previous years. His words were captivating and passionate and people were overwhelmed by his impetus and somebody even assured that he was a sort of wizard because he a magic panacea which would have helped heal their rotten country: the WEB. When the next elections were held, the inhabitants of the beautiful kingdom sun-kissed, pine fragrant whose shores were washed by crystalline seas went joyously to vote with the certainty that THIS time something would have changed for sure. The party of the fool conquered one-third of the voters, it had been a huge success: for the for time in the history of the known world, a fool might have changed the course of events.
” This could be a model to be exported abroad”, said a man.
“This time WE might teach something to the other kingdoms” he added proudly and the others nodded.
“Yes, let’s call it foolocracy. It will our brand all over the world”. And they quickly set out to register it.
After a few weeks, the people still crowded the public meetings of the Fool but with less enthusiasm:
“This Fool keeps on talking and talking, but when do you think he’ll start to do something?”
“Maybe, it’s not time. I’m sure he is certainly planning something sensational, you’ll see”.
But time went by and nothing happened. The Fool kept on talking and threatening the other two parties, without realizing that his followers had started to abandon him. One day, during another of his public meetings, there were just a few people who were absently listening to him when they heard just like a distant sound of something arriving. It seemed like a train.
“A train? There isn’t even a railway  here. It’s impossible!”
Everybody turned toward the strange thing that was coming closer and closer. It was actually a train, a big sparkling train with a bright flashing signboard, where there was clearly written: GREAT CHANGE TRAIN, LAST RUN.
The train was approaching quickly, so all the people started to shout to draw the Fool’s attention, who was still talking and talking:
“C’mon, jump on the train and drive us to the change! C’mon, what are you waiting for? YOU FOOOOOOOOOOOOOOoooooooooolllllllllllll!!!!!!!!”
The train had now gone. The people, now silent, were horrified, because maybe it was the heat or the rage, but everybody could see the ghastly image of the previous fool who had ruled the kingdom the past twenty years, slowly rising behind the stage where the Fool was still talking and talking and talking.
It was Sunday and another election day had arrived. The inhabitants of the beautiful kingdom sun-kissed and pine fragrant, whose blue waters lazily washed pink white beaches of shells and corals were ready to reach the polling stations to vote. But this time some of them decided not to go, because they thought that they had better spend their time doing some housework, some others had to go to an important football match that evening and needed time to arrange everything. Many others had really nothing to do, but remained at home anyway. They were puzzled because they had the feeling they hadn’t actually understood how democracy worked and needed more time to study the instruction booklet.

Foolocracy (2)

jester

When fools leave the familiar setting of a theatre to seek maybe a better fortune, they seem to suffer from a curious disease: the “all world is a stage” syndrome. Its symptoms are easily recognizable: they keep on acting or speaking  freely without realizing that in the real world acts and words have consequences on people. This happens because they can’t perceive the difference between the fictitious and real life. Problems arise when one of these fools happens to have received the responsibility of ruling a country or anyhow making or sharing a political project with the elected non-fools. He will inevitably have to face an identity crisis, because his job has been for years that of ridiculing, attacking those he is supposed to work with. A fool is very good at destroying, but once he is demanded to reconstruct,his mocking laugh fades away and he starts to display a certain agitation and becomes even aggressive, because all of a sudden he realizes that he just cannot keep on playing his favourite game off the stage. But the question is: can we expect a fool to be responsible and decide the destiny of a country? Only real fools would give him such a mission.This is the point.