Lorenzo & his humble friends

The fool doth think he is wise, but the wise man knows himself to be a fool

Category: essays

Un cubano

Ieri partita di calcetto con la squadra che ho messo assieme: è la squadra dell’ufficio, Swiss Forum of Migration (SFM), anche se per il torneo ho deciso che ci chiameremo Savoir Faire à Manger (SFM). Perso 8 a 1. Al Bistrò, poco dopo. Arrivo prima degli altri ragazzi perché sono in bici. Mi siedo e aspetto. Di fronte a me due passano due ragazze. Le guardo felice. Poi il mio sguardo incontra quello di un altro solitario avventore, anche lui chiaramente ammirato dalle donne. Attacca discorso. E’ cubano, si chiama Elias. Continua a parlare della cultura e di come lui la venda. Come, non mi è chiaro. Quel che invece è chiaro è che lui conosce ben poco della storia e della geografia e dell’arte; ma all’Havana ha incontrato Lorenzo Jovanotti e Antonello Venditti e si sente quindi un ambasciatore dell’arte italiana nel mondo. Arrivano i compagni: Marco, Robin ed Elie. Proviamo a parlare di noi, ma Elias ormai non si scolla più. Quando Robin racconta brevi storie salaci sul suo erasmus a Palermo, lui allarga le braccia e urla ‘Questa è cultura! Mi commuovo! Piango! Cultura!‘. Capisco che devo andarmene. Elias mi attacca un ultimo torrone sulla semplicità nella vita e l’importanza di essere positivi e fraterni. Queste sciocchezze da hippie squattrinati mi fanno infuriare. Mi congedo; lui dice che mi ha pagato tutte le birre e la cena, ma non è vero. Insiste sull’andare a fare serata assieme a Berna più avanti questo mese. Me ne vado.

Oggi arrivo in ufficio dopo pranzo. Robin mi chiede se ero già andato via quando il cubano ha rovesciato tutte le birre sul tavolo. Marco mi dice che sono un Giuda e che ‘quel cazzo di cubano si è fatto offrire tutte le birre e la cena‘. Elie non vuole più parlarmi.

Penso che regalerò loro una copia di Prendilo tu questo frutto amaro, live all’Havana 1995.

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The world of today

This post was written on Thursday evening

It is the last time I am going back to Torino by train.

Since I moved there in October I have gone back so many times – on top of my mind I can recall four from Florence, three from Trento, one from Milan… I have discovered new train stations, like la Mediopadana. I have listened to bands I did not know before, like Snarky Puppy and Hiromi Uehara. I have also went back to some other bands I knew already, like The Cat Empire, Passenger, and Bon Iver. I have changed two apartments, but kept my mate Niels with whom I spent countless hours in the night playing ludo, chess, and that bizarre historical game of dates. It was always good to go back.

In Torino I found an elegant, bright, lofty city and I would have wanted to stay. But next Sunday I will have to move out again. Time always passes, seasons come and go, and so do I.

Panache

This is a post I wrote exactly one year ago from now. I am not sure why I did not publish it then. It clearly inspired me to take up some more serious cycling in the following months. I will share it now that my bike is getting rusty again. Perhaps it will wake my spirit up to some new competitions.

***

In December I bought a card game that features thirty of the greatest cyclists of all time and gives them somehow objectionable ratings on different aspects of their character. Before returning home for Christmas I started playing the game with Dani and the question arose: what, exactly, is panache? We looked it up and found that it means elegance, courage, style, verve. I liked the adjective and started throwing it into random conversations, often as a joke.

Part II: Lance Armstrong – again

Those of you who have been reading this blog for some time will know that there is one recurring topic here. And yes, here we go again: during the Christmas vacation I spent time watching a few more documentaries on my old obsession. Not only that: I watched interviews and short clips about some of the other characters of this epic – meant in the literal, ancient Greek sense of the word – tale. There is the simple man who fell from grace; the lesser man who betrayed, threatened, and begged; and there are a few wise men, who seem to be able to reckon what is right and what is wrong. There are many other fascinating characters – the evil doctor, the famous girlfriend, the evasive team director to mention just a few – but I am not going to talk about them now. This period of my life I have been fascinated by one wise man who appears in Lance Armstrong’s story. Until a month ago I did not know him well – at all. And the more I learnt, the more I liked this man. This is what I know now about him. His name is Greg LeMond.

Part III: Greg LeMond
(large parts of this section are taken from a variety of pages online, including wikipedia)

Greg LeMond was born in Lakewood and raised in Washoe Valley, which is a ranch country on the eastern slopes of the Sierra Nevada mountains. LeMond was a standout amateur rider. He turned professional in 1981 and in 1983 he won the World Championship outright, becoming the first American rider to do so. LeMond rode his first Tour de France in 1984, finishing third in support of team leader Laurent Fignon.

The following year he was brought across to La Vie Claire to ride in support of team captain Bernard Hinault who was attempting to win his fifth Tour. In the race Hinault led through the early mountain stages, but suffered a crash and came into difficulty. At this point it was clear that LeMond was an elite rider capable of winning the Tour in his own right. The injured Hinault was vulnerable, and his competitors knew it. At stage 17, which included three major climbs in the Pyrenees, LeMond followed Stephen Roche in an attack, but was not given permission to help build on the gap over the field. The managers of his La Vie Claire team ordered LeMond to sit on his wheel, a tactic to use the rider in front as cover for wind resistance so the following rider uses less energy. At the end of the stage LeMond was frustrated to the point of tears. He later revealed that team management and his own coach Paul Köchli had misled him as to how far back Hinault had dropped during the stage.. Hinault won the 1985 Tour, with LeMond riding as a dutiful lieutenant finishing second, 1:42 behind. As a repayment for his sacrifice Hinault promised to help LeMond win the Tour the following year.

However, Hinault’s support seemed less certain the closer the race approached. LeMond had bad luck during the fist stages, having suffered punctured tires and bicycle changes and slipped to the second stage behind Hinault. By the end of Stage 12, Hinault had a five-minute lead over LeMond and the other top riders. By Stage 17 LeMond has managed to fill the gap, dropping Hinault in four consecutive stages and pulling on the yellow jersey of race leader. The following day in the Alps saw Hinault attack again early on the first climb, but he was pulled back. Attempting an escape on the descent, he was unable to separate himself from LeMond. As they ascended up the next col they continued to pull away from the field, and maintained the gap as they reached the base of the final climb, the vaunted Alpe d’Huez. They pressed on through the crowd, ascending the twenty-one switchbacks of Alpe d’Huez and reaching the summit together. LeMond put an arm around Hinault and gave him a smile and the stage win in a show of unity.

But the infighting was not over. Hinault attacked again on Stage 19 and had to be brought back by teammates Andy Hampsten and Steve Bauer. Commenting on the team situation prior to the final individual time trial at Stage 20, LeMond offered the following with a wry smile: “He’s attacked me from the beginning of the Tour De France. He’s never helped me once, and I don’t feel confident at all with him.” LeMond would keep the yellow jersey to the end of the race and win his first Tour, but he felt betrayed by Hinault and the La Vie Claire team leadership. LeMond later stated the 1986 Tour was the most difficult and stressful race of his career.

LeMond had planned to defend his title in the 1987 Tour de France with La Vie Claire, but he was unable to participate because he was shot during a session of turkey hunting. The facts went as follows. LeMond was resting before the Tour in a ranch co owned by his father in Lincoln, California, together with Rodney Barber and Patrick Blades, his uncle and brother-in-law. The trio had become separated when Blades, who heard movement behind him, turned and fired through a bush. The movement had come from LeMond, who was hit in his back and right side with a devastating blast of approximately 60 No. 2-sized pellets. LeMond’s injuries were life-threatening, but fortunately, a police helicopter was already airborne near the scene and transported LeMond on a 15-minute air medical flight to the Medical Center at University of California-Davis. LeMond was taken for emergency surgery. He had suffered a pneumothorax to his right lung and extensive bleeding, having lost some 65 percent of his blood volume. A physician informed LeMond later that he had been within 20 minutes of bleeding to death. The events effectively ended his 1987 and 1988 seasons.

After struggling in the 1989 Paris–Nice early-season race and failing to improve his condition, LeMond informed his wife Kathy that he intended to retire from professional cycling after the 1989 Tour de France. He had some flashes of form in the Giro d’Italia’s final 53 km (33 mi) individual time trial into Florence. LeMond placed a surpising second there, more than a minute ahead of overall winner Laurent Fignon. However, at the start of the Tour de France LeMond was not considered a contender for the general classification. His own most optimistic hope was to finish his final Tour in the top 20. Without the weight of expectation and other pressures of being a Tour favorite, LeMond surprised observers with a strong ride in the 7.8 km (4.8 mi) prologue in Luxembourg, finishing fourth out of 198 riders. Buoyed by the result, LeMond continued to ride well over the opening flat stages, winning the 73 km (45 mi) stage 5 individual time trial, and gaining the yellow jersey of race leader for the first time in three years.  LeMond remained at the front of the race in the Pyrénées, but lost the lead to his former teammate and rival Laurent Fignon on stage 10 in Superbagnères. After a fierce fight on the mountains, with the yellow jersey quickly passing from one to the other, Fignon held a 50-second advantage over LeMond going into the 21st and final stage, a rare 24.5 km (15.2 mi) individual time trial from Versailles to the Champs-Élysées in Paris. Fignon had won the Tour twice before, in 1983 and 1984, and was a very capable time trialist. It seemed improbable that LeMond could take 50 seconds off Fignon over the short course. Le Monde rode the time trial with a rear disc wheel, a cut-down Giro aero helmet and the same Scott clip-on aero bars which had helped him to the Stage 5 time trial win. Instructing his support car not to give him his split times, LeMond rode flat-out and finished at a record pace to beat Fignon by 8 seconds and claim his second Tour de France victory. The final margin of victory of eight seconds was the closest in the Tour’s history.

LeMond’s return to the pinnacle of cycling was confirmed on August 27, when he won the 259 km (161 mi) World Championships road race in Chambéry, France, defeating Fignon again and edging Dimitri Konyshev and Sean Kelly on the line. The next year Le Mond won the Tour de France again, though in a less spectacular fashion than 1989. But then his conditions deteriorated. LeMond acknowledged that the increasing prevalence of doping contributed to his lack of competitiveness. Said LeMond: “Something had changed in cycling. The speeds were faster and riders that I had easily out performed were now dropping me”. Nonetheless, LeMond said there was something more, related to his body not functioning as it would have before. “I figure I had three months that went right for me after the hunting accident,” three months in which he won the two Tours and a world road race championship. “The rest were just pure suffering, struggling, fatigue, always tired.”

After retiring from cycling, LeMond founded LeMond Bicycles, invested in real estate, and opened a restaurant. He received intense criticism in 2001 when he publicly expressed doubts about the legitimacy of Lance Armstrong’s Tour success after learning of his relationship with Dr. Michele Ferrari. His outspokenness placed him in the center of the anti-doping controversy. Trek, the longtime manufacturer and distributor of LeMond Racing Cycles, had threatened to end the relationship at the behest of Armstrong. He described the two years following the forced apology as the worst in his life, marked by self-destructive behavior that ultimately led him to disclose his sexual abuse to his wife and seek help.

In 2007 Floyd Landis called him in August to ask why the former Tour champ had been so publicly vocal in the days after it was reported that Landis’s A sample from stage 17 of the Tour had tested positive for synthetic testosterone. LeMond made numerous TV appearances in the aftermath, and spoke in general terms about why he thought Landis should come clean if he had in fact doped at the 2006 Tour de France. “At first, I didn’t believe it was him,” said LeMond during direct questioning from USADA attorney Matt Barnett. “I was shocked he was calling me only because I thought it was a prank phone call. I confirmed it was really him and he asked why I would be making these public comments.” LeMond explained that he told Landis that if he did have a positive that it was a devastating thing for the sport. “I was very clear that I didn’t judge that he did or didn’t because the B sample wasn’t positive at the time,” LeMond continued, adding that he told Landis that he could “single handedly salvage the sport” by “[coming] clean.”Landis, according to LeMond, responded, “What good would it do?” then added that if he did “it would destroy a lot of my friends and hurt a lot of people.” LeMond went on to reveal that he told Landis that keeping dark secrets can ruin one’s life, then relayed his own story of being sexually abused as a child, a story LeMond said he had shared with only a few people and never talked about publicly until Thursday. “I was sexually abused before I got into cycling it nearly destroyed me,” LeMond said, adding he told Landis that he should come clean because, “This will come back to haunt you when you are 40 or 50…this will destroy you.

The drama continued on the eve of LeMond’s testimony, when LeMond received a phone call from a mysterious caller, who identified himself only as “Uncle Ron.” LeMond said he was perplexed at first, but that changed to concern when the caller made direct references to the conversation about sexual abuse that he had with Landis last August.“He said ‘Hi Greg, this is your uncle. This is your uncle Ron and I’m going to be there tomorrow,’” LeMond recalled. “I said, ‘Who is this?’ He said, ‘I’m going to be there and we can talk about how we used to hide your weenie.’ I got the picture right away that there are very few people who know about that. I figured this was intimidation.” The three-time Tour champ said the caller then hung up, and when LeMond redialed he got a voicemail message identifying the call recipient as “Will.” LeMond said he tried calling back three more times, finally getting an answer from someone who identified himself only as “Bill.” The conversation was inconclusive, so LeMond hung up and then called the police. A subsequent check of the number saved on LeMond’s mobile phone showed that it belonged to Landis’s business manager Will Geoghegan. Undeterred, LeMond took the stand and testified, before admitting to the world that he had been molested.

Prendendo a calci i giganti

E’ stata una campagna referendaria bizzarra e oggi Andrea ha scritto una cosa che mi ronzava in testa da tempo.

Semplificando, credo che nel corso della campagna ci siamo divisi in due blocchi non apertamente contrapposti, a differenza di quelli dei Sì e del No. Da un lato, il “blocco della ragionevolezza” ha cercato di maturare una decisione frugando tra varie analisi, esplorando dati e resoconti, testando la validità delle tante considerazioni che si potevano fare. Dall’altro, il “blocco delle anime pure” ha costruito giorno dopo giorno il senso eroico della propria posizione, identificando le considerazioni da enfatizzare (qualcuno anche quelle da nascondere), santificando i propri profeti e demonizzando quelli degli avversari. Durante la campagna, i ragionevoli avevano la necessità di capire, i puri avevano già capito tutto e preferivano battagliare;  i ragionevoli sono diventati i depositari del dubbio e dell’apertura, le anime pure gli apostoli delle proprie verità e certezze; i primi cercavano la riflessione, i secondi preferivano l’invettiva; i primi potevano ammettere apertamente le proprie mancanze, i secondi solo le colpe degli altri.

 

Un aspetto spaventoso di questa dinamica è che moltissime persone, quelle che Andrea chiama ‘i puri‘, hanno deliberatamente ignorato i fatti. Lo hanno fatto per tante ragioni: per opportunità politica o professionale, per ignoranza, oppure per sentirsi in pace con se stessi. Farò alcuni esempi. In molte discussioni si sosteneva e si sostiene tutt’ora che il nuovo senato non sarebbe eletto dai cittadini: questo è palesemente falso, in quanto il nuovo articolo 57 dice che ‘i Consigli regionali e i Consigli delle Province autonome di Trento e di Bolzano eleggono, con metodo proporzionale, i senatori fra i propri componenti‘ e come voi dovreste sapete i consiglieri regionali e quelli delle province autonome sono direttamente eletti. Un altro tema caro agli oppositori della riforma è l’indebolimento del Senato, cosa questa che indebolirebbe la democrazia: quest’argomento dovrebbe far inorridire chiunque abbia una minima nozione di politica comparata o del funzionamento dei sistemi democratici in Germania e nel Regno Unito, per dire. Anche sul fronte del Sì non sono mancate le dabbenaggini. Come ho già spiegato, difendere una riforma in funzione del risparmio sui costi fa tremare i polsi a chiunque abbia sinceramente a cuore il funzionamento delle istituzioni pubbliche.

In un sistema in cui prevale la ragionevolezza, tutte queste argomentazioni non avrebbero potuto circolare per più di qualche ora, perché non hanno senso. Si tratta di applicare ragionamenti consolidati nei secoli e condivisi tra i maggiori esperti di teorie politiche e eliminare il campo dalle fandonie. E’ quello che si usava fare un tempo: saliamo sulle spalle dei giganti, cioè i grandi studiosi che ci hanno preceduto, per vedere meglio la realtà. Ma oggi quei giganti preferiamo prenderli a calci. Lo si è fatto nel Regno Unito e negli Stati Uniti, dove gli esperti sono stati derisi. E’ ormai tristemente nota l’uscita dell’ex segretario alla giustizia inglese Michael Gove, che in piena campagna Brexit disse che la gente ne aveva avuto abbastanza degli esperti. In Italia sta succedendo la stessa cosa. Provate anche voi a entrare in un dibattito referendario spiegando che alcune delle tesi promulgate da uno o dall’altro schieramento – più da uno che dall’altro, a onor del vero – non hanno alcun senso. Nel migliore dei casi verrete ignorati; nel peggiore verrete considerati parte dell’élite che ha causato la rovina di tanti ordinari cittadini.

Un fatto piuttosto grave, a mio avviso, è che i ricercatori e docenti universitari siano parte in causa di problema. Moltissimi di loro, quasi tutti invero, hanno deciso di entrare nella campagna referendaria come ‘puri‘, non come ‘ragionevoli’. E così gli accademici hanno giocato a difendere l’uno o l’altro lato del dibattito senza spiegare al pubblico la natura della riforma in modo tale che ciascuno potesse farsi una propria opinione al riguardo. Paradossalmente, una delle uniche eccezioni in questo panorama è stata quella di uno dei professori che è anche politico, Francesco Palermo, che ha scritto una serie di illuminanti articoli sulla riforma e sul referendum.

Illuminanti, già. Perché l’idea che la ragionevolezza dovrebbe dominare il dibattito pubblico viene dall’illuminismo, che contribuì a portare l’analisi razionale nel mondo, strappando il diritto di distinguere la realtà al divino e portandolo all’umano – in particolare alla ragione umana. Ne avevo già scritto in un lungo articolo che avevo pubblicato due mesi fa e che purtroppo torna ad essere estremamente attuale anche nel dibattito italiano. La mia speranza è che invece di seguire ciecamente gli slogan dei nostri salvatori e profeti possiamo cominciare a cercare ragionevolmente le nostre opinioni, magari salendo di nuovo sulle spalle di quei giganti che ci hanno preceduto nei secoli.

8 novembre

E’ il secondo martedì di novembre e come succede ogni quattro anni i cittadini americani si stanno recando a votare in quelle che sono le elezioni più seguite al mondo. Io non ho scritto nulla al riguardo, se non qualche riflessione tangenziale. Non che non abbia seguito questa campagna elettorale, intendiamoci: negli ultimi mesi ho letto molti articoli di persone che spiegavano ad altri come usare il proprio voto e ho ascoltato lunghi ragionamenti sul carattere dei candidati, il loro curriculum, i loro stipendi, il loro look. E’ che mi è un po’ passata la voglia, ecco tutto. Questa nevrotica iper-personalizzazione del dibattito fa sparire la parte nobile e divertente della politica, quella in cui discutiamo sul tipo di società in cui vorremmo vivere.

Io, ad esempio, trovo molto più politico degli articoli che molti di noi condividono sui social network quello che fanno Marco e Leila, due amici ritrovati qui a Torino. Loro non si lanciano in iperbolici appelli al voto e non scrivono strampalati articoli su un blog iper-narcisista e auto-referenziale. Semplicemente, comprano cibo di cui conoscono l’origine, vanno alle manifestazioni per i diritti dei lavoratori precari, studiano e quando possono cercano di organizzare attività per persone in difficoltà economica. Insomma, sono una coppia di hippie che cercano di vivere in maniera consapevole e credo sia anche per questo che è bello passare del tempo con loro.

Post scriptum: Forse il nesso tra Marco, Leila e le elezioni di oggi è un pochino labile, ma spero coglierete il concetto. Per tutto il resto ci sono la newsletter di Francesco Costa e gli articoli di Lorenzo Ferrari.

The dukes of Savoy and Sicilian ice-cream

The House of Savoy is one of the oldest royal families in the world, being founded in year 1003. The dukes of Savoy used to rule the historical Savoy region around Nice, but that changed in 1563, when they decided to shift their capital from Chambéry to Turin. By then it had become abundantly clear that the Po Valley offered more room for expansion.

In fact, military expansion was the dynasty’s principal ambition. This can be easily noticed today by any person who wonders around Turin. Across the city’s squares there is a magnificent abundance of statues of kings, princes, generals, and soldiers. My favourite is in Piazza Carlo Alberto, with the bronze figure of the king waving his sword mounted on his horse and and four bersaglieri with their bayonets underneath.

Historically, not many people are aware of the fact that the first significant expansion of the Savoy was the annexation of Sicily to their Kingdom in 1713. In all truth, the way in which Sicily became part of the new Kingdom of Piedmont was twisted, to say the least. After centuries of Spanish rule, armies of both French and Austrian emperors had both occupied the island. In 1707 the Peace of Utrecht gave precedence to the Austrians. They, in turn, decided to hand Sicily over to their newly acquired friend, Victor Amadeus of Savoy. This was a rather bizarre decision, as no part of Italy is so unlike Piedmont as it is Sicily. Victor Amadeus sailed to Palermo in 1713, probably indifferent to these nuisances.

His enthusiasm, however, proved to be short-lived. In his masterpiece on The pursuit of Italy, David Gilmour explained that ‘coming from a place where nobility had a tradition of military and state service, Victor Amadeus could not understand why Sicilian aristocrats were so unwilling to be soldiers or administrators. He called their assembly in Palermo an ice-cream parliament, because eating ice-cream seemed to be its members’ most conspicuous activity. The nobles were equally contemptuous of this rustic-looking northerners and regretted the disappearance of Spain’s elegant and elaborate viceregal court. Victor Amedeus soon tired of trying to rule an ungrateful island offered it back to Austria provided he was compensated by somewhere else where he could be called a king; eventually he managed to get himself made King of Sardinia’.

At the time he could not know that more than a century later, in 1861, the Dukes of Savoy would regain possess of Sicily and thus become the first monarchs of the nascent Kingdom of Italy.

Facts, facts, facts

In the late summer several newspapers started writing about the widespread diffusion of post-truth politics. I digged into it and began working on an article for Unimondo myself. After a couple of weeks, however, I realised the article was coming out too long, too broad, too prescriptive. I had two ways out: cut, simplify, submit; or extend, develop, and publish the result on my blog instead. I opted for the latter. Here is the essay.

***

Quello della menzogna in politica è un tema vecchio quanto la politica stessa. Già per i filosofi dell’antica Grecia la scelta di parlare in maniera chiara e franca, detta parresia, costituiva uno dei tre fondamentali atteggiamenti etici del buon cittadino. Alcuni secoli più tardi, in uno dei più longevi prodotti letterari dell’Italia rinascimentale, Niccolò Machiavelli spiegava che ‘quelli Principi aver fatto gran cose, che della fede hanno tenuto poco conto, e che hanno saputo con astuzia aggirare i cervelli degli uomini, ed alla fine hanno superato quelli che si sono fondati in su la lealtà’. In età contemporanea ‘Verità e Menzogna’ diventa il titolo di un’opera in cui Hanna Arendt spiega che una delle caratteristiche essenziali del totalitarismo è proprio l’inclinazione a trascurare il dato di fatto e a fabbricare la verità sostituendo, attraverso la menzogna sistematica, un mondo fittizio a quello reale.

Nel mondo dove sono cresciuti i miei genitori il tema della menzogna in politica era ancora molto importante. Farò alcuni esempi. Nel 1971 il New York Times pubblicò alcuni stralci dei documenti segreti del Dipartimento della difesa, i Pentagon Papers, che riconoscevano l’assoluta inutilità strategica dell’impegno americano in Vietnam. Che questa ammissione fosse stata conosciuta e tenuta segreta dai governanti statunitensi fu motivo di profonda indignazione nell’opinione pubblica. Ci fu poi il Watergate, durante il quale Richard Nixon dichiarò ripetutamente di non essere coinvolto: quando fu poi smentito dai fatti dovette pronunciare la famosa frase “Non sono un imbroglione” (I’m not a crook). Un altro presidente degli Stati Uniti, Ronald Reagan, passò buona parte del 1986 insistendo che la sua amministrazione non aveva scambiato armi per gli ostaggi in Iran. Quando fu smentito nei fatti ammise: “il mio cuore e le mie migliori intenzioni mi dicono che è vero, ma i fatti e l’evidenza mi dicono che non lo è. Più recentemente, Tony Blair ha dovuto scusarsi in seguito al rapporto della commissione indipendente che accusa il suo governo di aver usato informazioni false sul possesso di armi chimiche o biologiche  nelle mani di Saddam Hussein per convincere il parlamento britannico e l’opinione pubblica del proprio paese ad approvare la guerra in Iraq. Sono solo alcuni episodi; avrei potuto sceglierne altri. Il punto è che siamo cresciuti in un mondo politico in cui generalmente, dopo un lungo –talvolta lunghissimo–  dibattito sui fatti, emergeva una verità.

Nelle ultime campagne elettorali, invece, stiamo assistendo sempre più spesso a un fenomeno definito dall’Economist ‘post-truth politics’ (la politica post-verità): i fatti non sono contestati, semplicemente non contano più nulla. E la verità si sdoppia, si moltiplica addirittura. Gli esempi più clamorosi sono quelli relative alla campagna elettorale del candidato repubblicano alla Presidenza degli Stati Uniti, Donald J. Trump, che nell’ordine ha: sostenuto la tesi secondo cui Barack Obama non è nato negli Stati Uniti bensì in Kenya; raccontato di aver visto migliaia di arabi esultare nel New Jersey al racconto delle Torri Gemelle in fiamme l’11 settembre 2011; suggerito che il padre del suo sfidante alla nomination repubblicana, Ted Cruz, fosse coinvolto nell’assassinio di John F. Kennedy; e che Obama fosse il fondatore dell’ISIS e Hillary Clinton la co-fondatrice. La sfacciata disonestà di Trump è senza precedenti: le sue bugie sono talmente numerose che è impossibile tenere il conto. Mentre i giornalisti di The Dailywire ne hanno messe assieme 101, il sito di verifica dei fatti Politifact ha rilevato che il 15 per cento delle affermazioni di Trump è per lo più falso, il 36 per cento falso e il 19 per cento rientra nella categoria “panzane clamorose”. C’è una grossa differenza tra queste bugie e quelle di Nixon, Reagan, Blair. Trump, in effetti, non contesta i fatti: li ignora, li inventa, li costruisce.

Mentre l’attuale candidato repubblicano rappresenta forse il caso più estremo di post-truth politics, vale la pena ricordare che si tratta di un fenomeno globale. Nel Regno Unito, la campagna per la Brexit è stata costellata da informazioni completamente false. il sito infacts.org ha raccolto cinque colossali deformazioni dei fatti che sono state diffuse per convincere il popolo britannico a votare per il Leave: “La Turchia diventerà membro dell’Ue nel 2020”; “Siamo sempre messi in minoranza da Bruxelles”; “La UE ha bisogno di noi più di quanto noi abbiamo bisogno di loro”; “Ogni settimana la Gran Bretagna invia a Bruxelles ben 350 milioni di sterline”; e “Lasciare la Ue per salvare il Sistema Sanitario”. Aaron Banks, che è il fondatore della campagna Leave , ha spiegato il segreto del successo in questi termini: “La campagna Remain si è basata sull’idea fatti, fatti, fatti. Semplicemente non funziona. Devi connettere con la gente emozionalmente”.

Come è possibile? In altre parole, quali sono le ragioni per cui in politica è possibile ignorare i fatti? E perché un tempo non troppo lontano non era così facile stravolgere la realtà? Una spiegazione ha a che vedere con la diffusione di internet e, in particolare, dei social network. Questi spazi di comunicazione contribuiscono in maniera fondamentale alla scomparsa dei fatti dal dibattito pubblico – almeno in tre modi diversi. In primo luogo, gli algoritmi di facebook e twitter creano degli ecosistemi di informazione. E’ quello che gli esperti chiamano homophilous sorting: invece di presentare agli utenti visioni differenti, la selezione dei link contribuisce a rafforzare le opinioni preesistenti. In secondo luogo, molti degli articoli sono scritti da persone che non hanno alcuna preparazione: è una delle conseguenze della democratizzazione di internet, che fornisce a tutti un amplificatore per farsi sentire, senza aver bisogno di passare esami e di ricevere qualifiche e certificazioni. In terzo luogo, su internet – e sui social network in particolare – le menzogne, gli articoli faziosi non sono necessariamente sottoposti a rettifica. Restano invece nell’etere, a consumo degli utenti. Tanto che ormai governi come quello cinese o russo non si preoccupano di rimuovere articoli critici nei loro confronti. Un recente articolo pubblicato su Wired ha spiegato che il regime della Repubblica Popolare, fra le tante strategie per tenere al guinzaglio la pubblica opinione, avrebbe anche a disposizione un esercito di due milioni di persone quotidianamente operative sui social network drogando i dibattiti digitali dei cittadini con una montagna di commenti e opinioni che conducano quelle discussioni verso fronti più graditi al governo di Pechino. A chi chiede ai gestori di Facebook e degli altri social network di fornire un servizio migliore agli utenti, i gestori rispondono che non si tratta di siti d’informazione e come tali non sono regolamentati secondo le stesse norme che disciplinano i giornali tradizionali.

C’è una seconda spiegazione per cui, in un modo più avanzato tecnologicamente, i fatti contano sempre meno. Viviamo in una realtà frammentata in cui esistono moltissime fonti di informazione e in questo calderone è facile perdere la bussola. L’incertezza suscita volontà di rivalsa e provoca in molti individui l’esigenza di risposte semplici e immediate; anche perché c’è chi alimenta deliberatamente questa confusione. In un memo del 2003 Frank Luntz, un sondaggista per il Partito Repubblicano, scriveva così: “Se il pubblico credesse che le questioni scientifiche sono risolte, le loro visioni sul riscaldamento globale cambieranno di pari passo. Perciò bisogna continuare a fare della mancanza di certezza scientifica una questione primaria nel dibattito”.  Non c’è dunque da stupirsi se viviamo in una realtà in cui sempre più persone dubitano dei media e delle istituzioni pubbliche.

In questo contesto, chi sfida il sistema non è punito, ma preso come esempio di come bisogna rispondere alle élite al potere. C’è, ovviamente, qualcosa di positivo in un atteggiamento di dubbio della verità, dal momento che lo scetticismo verso le istituzioni aiuta a sviluppare senso critico. E tuttavia c’è una grossa differenza tra mettere in dubbio la verità ed ignorare deliberatamente i fatti. Quando Michael Gove, ministro della giustizia del governo Cameron nel Regno Unito, diceva che “la gente in questo Paese ne ha avuto abbastanza di esperti”, stava dando voce a un sentimento di diffusa, ripetitiva pulsione a cercare cospirazioni, un fenomeno molto radicato anche in alcune formazioni politiche italiane.

Il mio professore di Politica Comparata ci raccontava che quando lui era studente presso Karl Popper, la prima cosa che l’anziano docente scriveva sulla lavagna all’inizio di ogni lezione era ‘Facts, facts, facts’. Senza i fatti, in una realtà completamente malleabile, prevale la massima di Nietzche secondo la quale esistono solo interpretazioni. Un altro filosofo, Norberto Bobbio, diceva che chi non crede nella verità sarà sempre tentato, soprattutto in politica, di “rimettere ogni decisione alla forza”. Prima di lui, fu l’illuminismo a portare l’analisi razionale nel mondo, strappando il diritto di distinguere la realtà al divino e portandolo all’umano – in particolare alla ragione umana. Cartesio, e il suo “penso, dunque sono”, rappresentava il massimo di questa filosofia, che oggi è sfidata, nei fatti, da candidati repubblicani, movimenti politici populisti, giornalisti in mala fede, e commenti pressapochisti postati sui social network da persone magari benintenzionate ma evidentemente poco avvezzi all’arte della parresia.

Reinventing oneself

Some lessons I learnt after living for two months without a home and spending all my time on trains, planes, and friends’ houses (thanks!). A note for the random visitor: these are just scattered notes I write for myself, not a coherent post.

Communication

People seem to waste too much of their time communicating with digital devices. This is an old refrain, I know, but it is scary how people use their phones nowadays – and for what? I have been on trains where all the persons of a family of four never spoke to each other for the whole ride, because they were all incessantly looking at their devices. Whatsapp, Facebook messenger, emails, sms, Twitter, emails, Telegram: even me, I am inundated by applications to chat. I often think of a line of a certain Passenger’s song, we pretend to be friends on the internet when in real life we have nothing to say. As a reaction I have grown increasingly more inept at communicating with my phone. Forget long messages. Rather, I have elected four simple ways of communicating with you: (1) this blog; (2) a short sarcastic message, picture, or video to laugh about; (2) a handwritten letter, for those of you who really matter; (4) a flight/train ticket to come and see each other in person.

Smartphone apps, more generally

There was a moment of my trip when I was craving for a map of Berlin. Until that point I had been getting around anywhere just fine using googlemaps. Sure, the app was working well; but I realised it was my fourth time in Berlin and I still had no idea of how the city was structured and I could not even remember the name of the neighbourhood where I was staying. The way I use googlemaps is just to get to A to B and, as a consequence, I never memorise the information. I made a resolution for myself to start using old paper maps again – like these. It is not for a case that when I was still in Trento I had the ambitious project of creating one. (I failed, but not for lack of trying).

Being a guest

I received precious hospitality by Giallu, Martina, Pietro, Giulia, Jonas. I learnt to wake up in the sun, listen to classical music, treat wooden objects with respect, prepare a smoothie, separate clothes in the laundry machine. But – hei – I am just not made for being a long-term guest. I feel like I am invading someone else’s space. So this experience confirms that I am a bourgeois deep down in my bones. The word bourgeois, as you know, denotes a person that takes for granted the sanctity of property. This brings me to point 4 of my diary.

Stuff

Niels, who is going to live with me in Torino in a couple of days, says that he wants to have his belongs packed in one simple bag. A-ha: nonsense. Living in Florence for three years I have accumulated an incredible amount of stuff: books, clothes, games, bikes, paintings, a scooter, laptops, tables, all sorts of technology. This stuff -material stuff, really- reflects my personality; in some ways, it is even an extension of it. This is why I feel so strange knowing that it is now scattered around six different houses (err – and I take the opportunity to thank again my friends for their patience).

Home

Material stuff reflects my personality, sure. There is another reason, though, why it is so important to me: it also captures a particularly happy period of my life. So now when I take up Bruti I remember the late evenings playing it with Dani; when I take that one glass of whiskey I remember the night when I was with Thomas and he knew he got into law school; when I look at the little school bus I remember of my improvised journey all the way to Denmark with Iris; and so on: you got the gist. Now – of course you realise I have been bloody sentimental about leaving my home in Florence, but I think that is for a reason. At the moment I doubt I will ever find a place so welcoming, so radiant, so relaxed as that. But then, who knows? When I got there in 2013 I had just experienced Brussels with Mindo, a truly marvellous flatmate and friend. So I was convinced I could not find anything better than that. In fact, half an hour after my arrival in the house Ada and I were fighting -literally fighting- over the consequences of Spanish colonisation in South America, leaving short of words both Jonas, who had rented the cheapest room but was forcefully assigned the most expensive one upon his arrival ‘because you are the last one who arrived and since we have already put our luggages in the other room it be a bit of a hassle to move them now, no?‘; and Dani, who had been accepted in the house at the last minute just because the girl who had been favoured over him turned out to be pregnant. It ended up going swimmingly: they are my closest friends now. So let us be surprised again.

Stories that move me around

Last week I gave a short and simple presentation for Atlas on the topic Why do we travel? A talk about the kind of stories that inspire us to continue exploring our environments and its remote cultures. The talk is part of a new series of events that we decided to call Science of Travel.

Science of Travel.jpg

I started by asking the question of Doug Lansky: why did travelling go from this to this? One answer to this question is that travelling has got a lot easier: not only in the sense that there are more planes and means of transportation available to all; but also in the sense that the experience itself has changed. The spread of global brands like tripadvisor, hostelbookers, hostelsworld, mcdonalds, marriot’s has transformed tourism into a much more accessible, impersonal, standardized experience. Nowadays we can find the very same venues in all the main tourst locations around the world and when we use them we know exactly what to expect from our journey. This, of course, makes the life of travellers much easier.

At the same time, easy tourism defies the original purpose of travelling. Travelling was always a way of loosing ourself, to be disoriented, so that we can understand ourselves better. In fact, travel was always a spiritual experience. It is not by chance that some kind of voyage figures prominently in all the main monoteistic religions: Moses travels to Mount Sinai too get the ten commandments, Jesus travels across the desert to find himselfm, Mohammed’s first encounter with God is in Cave Hira, and even buddah becomes the Buddah when travelling in the wilderness. Religions show us the transformative aspect of travel. When we are disoriented, our thoughts are amplified and we establish a more unique connection with what is around us. So now it should be clearer why travelling with technology and relying on mass tourist destinations and global brands… is not really travelling at all. As Chelsea writes in her 1 year without a cell phone, ‘I didn’t want to have Google Maps at my disposal, pull up answers in the palm of my hand, or browse through the Top 10 Places to See on a screen. I wanted to touch the shoulder of a stranger and ask for help, get local advice, hear stories firsthand. I didn’t want a search bar telling me where to eat‘. By contrast, the millions of people who travel this way are more like consumers walking into supermarkets than travellers experiencing surprising destinations.

How can we have a more authentic travel experience, then? Relying less on technology and going for something hard is a good starting point; but it is not only about being more connected to nature than to the internet, though. It is also about doing something hard, as opposed to something easy. Many people nowadays walk the Camino de Santiago looking for something that is not predictable, and not standard. Hardness gets us moving – and it brought us to the moon: it was JFK who famously said ‘we decided to go to the moon not because it was easy, but because it was hard‘. Tough obstacles make for nice stories.

This is why, when I set off for a trip, I go with the objective of writing one short story about one person I will meet. It is not much about the act of writing: it is more about changing my mindset and actively looking for encounters. This is how I learnt to pay more attention. But then, of course, each of us has a different way of looking for and telling their own stories. In Gran Canaria I met a variety of creative persons. Marco, for instance, does it by playing music: his Kamelen Goni is a means of fostering encounters and transmitting his feelings. Abel uses the light to write stories through the photos of his camera. Silvia paints. I write. At the end of the day we all travel for a story.

Sembra di stare a Roma

It took us six months longer than initially announced, but we are now moving out from our house and we are leaving Florence.

It is a huge change for me: this has been my life for the last three years. I cannot imagine a better place and a better routine than this. But as I have written previously, I am a bit like a bike: balance only comes when I am in motion. So off again.

Before moving to the future, I wanted to take a second to recollect some thoughts on the past. Daniele and Anna have been my point of reference since I moved here. I am not going to bore you with the usual sentimental rants: Daniele is a brother to me, full stop. Rationally, however, I can identify those things that brought us together: we shared the same silly irony, the cultural references (boris, stories about panache, impressions, suicidal bunnies), the desire to take up little nerdish things and get passionate about them (poker, bruti), the striving for new projects (gingerello, cineforum, hostels, dinners and presents) and plans for the future (morocco, dolomitesmaremma, poggio la noce, pelago – am I the only one to see a pattern here?). With him, just like with Matteo, it was a constant sdrammatizzare. (It is term that I won’t bother translating in English). Looking back at these experience I realize we always involved other people. It is going to be a lot harder without him, and Ada, Jonas, Meha, Nele, and Markus.

The house, of course, was special also because it came with a certain magic of itself. The last few days we were packing everything and cleaning up the storage room and the mezzanine. It was a bit like public works in Rome: any time we were moving something some strange memories from the past would emerge. I will write more on this in the next few days, as I will officially move out next week and I will spend some days in Ponte alle Riffe 39 alone with all my demons.

Before that, I am off to Switzerland for the hardest bike race I have ever done, with the worst preparation I could possibly have, and with a very messy road trip ahead. The red team is on the move again. I am very happy I am going to go.