We are fragile, but not helpless creatures: change is possible (di Paolo Costa)

venerdì, 20 Marzo, 2020
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Volentieri riprendiamo questo testo di Paolo Costa sul significato della nostra fragilità, uscito sul Magazine online della Fondazione Kessler.

 

WE ARE FRAGILE, BUT NOT HELPLESS CREATURES: CHANGE IS POSSIBLE

di Paolo Costa

Many people think that the health emergency we are facing today is the most insidious challenge that could have happened to a complex society like ours. Where does this common feeling come from?

The explanations that are read in newspapers generally revolve around a key concept, that of “fragility”. The bottom line is that the big lesson the coronavirus epidemic is teaching us is that we are more fragile than we thought.

As a philosopher, I might agree with this argument if the people who endorse it actually meant something along these lines. Our moral lives as human beings are fragile because situations can arise that confront us with choices over whose consequences we have very little control. In fact, for a few weeks now we have been continually forced to make decisions whose effects we not only cannot measure, but we are not even sure of their moral quality. Our days are overwhelmed by statistical dynamics, whereas most of the time we would rather need to understand what damage we could inflict on the flesh-and-blood people with whom we continuously deal: isn’t it that our keeping them at a distance will offend them? And is the maxim of always privileging public health compatible with our special duties towards the people we love? And what about all the rest that goes beyond the value of health – for example personal freedom or democracy – when our moral coherence could cause damage not to our lives, but to the lives of others?

These are difficult questions indeed, but what people generally mean when they say that we have discovered our fragility, is that in the past few weeks we have realized that we are mortal. But, let me be frank, did we need a pandemic to find out that we are finite and vulnerable creatures? Except for some teenagers in full delusion of omnipotence, this seems to me to be a hazardous claim. Personally, I am convinced that even the boundless trust that modern people place in technology is more the symptom of an acute sense of their biological fragility than vice versa.

Those who point out to us that in such difficult circumstances our mortality showed up as an extreme contingency are likely to come closer to the truth. In other words, we feel abandoned to a sort of gigantic global lottery where the evolution of events is almost entirely entrusted to fate – both in the sense of the evolution of the epidemic (why in Italy and not in Austria? Why in Korea and not in Vietnam?) and in the sense of the development of an every day more and more likely infection (why only two lines of fever for me and pneumonia for someone else?). This confuses us, even if the truth hard to digest, on a closer inspection, is that for people less privileged than us this has always been the norm, not the exception to the rule.

All in all, however, the true fragility that the coronavirus emergency has brought us is definitely not our individual mortality. It is rather the surprising vulnerability of a civilization that has chosen as modus vivendi what the German sociologist Hartmut Rosa has appropriately described as a form of life based on dynamic stabilization: we live in societies, that is to say, that in order to stay in balance must continually rush. They can neither slow down nor stop. They must frantically innovate, compete, increase productivity, efficiency, mobility, etc., while they do not seem to care about the vulnerability of social bonds. I do not deny that such a society has many virtues and several exciting sides, I only observe that it has very little to do with the precariousness which by definition characterizes natural balances.

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