By Elisabetta Cuccaro
The Covid-19 outbreak is a crisis that is showing us the true face of our society: the virus, in itself so ‘democratic’ -everybody can get it and die because of it-, reveals with crude realism the inequalities present in our times. The most vulnerable categories are suffering the most, their precarity enhanced. How can you stay home, if you have none? How can you wash your hands, if there is no water? We could say that the health crisis provoked by the virus is actually a symptom or an indicator of a deeper crisis. We call it ecological crisis, doomily summarized as climate change.
Of course, looking at this bigger crisis which is threatening our own survival as a species, the question that spontaneously arises is: what are the causes of climate change? How can we mitigate it (we are already so far that it is unavoidable)? Science is warning us since a very long time: “In 1972, Limits to Growth was published as the first worldwide report on the human environment. […] The report stated that if human habits did not change, industrial production did not revolutionize, and ecological concerns were not embedded in business models, the limits of the Earth’s resources would be reached in the next 50 to 100 years” .
Evidently, things did not take a different path: not only our habits did not drastically change, but also the very denial of the problem has been ongoing: “Faced with a crisis that threatens our survival as a species, our entire culture is continuing to do the very thing that caused the crisis, only with an extra dose of elbow grease behind it” . We can agree that this denial seems to be the real problem, the scientific facts are ignored as not valid. But why? Following Castillo and Egginton, the spread of anti-intellectualism and the subsequent disregard for scientific indictments can be analyzed as follow: “The explanation for this apparently willful ignorance lies in today’s medialogy.”. This statement summarizes in the concept of medialogy the problems of our times. This term, at once, describes both the partiality of media and their specific functioning as framing device. Medialogy, which can be intended as the logic of the media, is the current state in which media are used by a limited elite as the main tool to make people see reality in the way that will make the elite profit. The logic of medialogy is neoliberalism, and it works for the latter’s aims. Medialogy’s interpretation of the world reduces it into a series of exploitable resources, while the person is represented or intended just as a consumer. The aim of this frame is the unlimited growth of the market, its constant expansion, as well as an increase of profit. Our medialogy frames reality as such, pretending to be the only viable way of interpretation.
Thus, survival of our species seems to lie in a battle of interpretation, where what reality could be and how we should read it is at stake. Here the Humanities enters in the game, as the possible savior, being the field where to practice interpretation: “Literature, art, and philosophy have the capacity to teach us to think differently, precisely and especially when they are not captive to a strictly representationalist or objectivist logic. […] Reading literature and viewing art and thinking and writing about these experiences is the vital and indispensable foundation for any possible liberation from today’s medialogy and the self-destructive traps of desire it engenders”. This because the Humanities allow us to see not just a different version of the world, but “[…] how the world can produce so many versions of itself”.
But here it emerges the hardest observation that is truly needed, the real crisis that the Humanities are facing. Humanities are a medicine nobody knows it is needed, and this ignorance is not only medialogy’s fault. In order to save the world, the Humanities have to overcome an even longer-lasting crisis: their own crisis, the crisis of culture tout court. A crisis brilliantly diagnosed already in 1936 by Denis de Rougemont in his book Penser avec les mains. He finds that the problem lies in the separation between culture and the productive world; in other words between intellectuals and who is described as “profane”, who is not an intellectual (I would say, who is busy with state or market affairs). De Rougemont believes that intellectuals are guilty: “The fault I imputed them (the intellectuals), is not to have badly guided public opinion. Rather, they have refused of guiding it, invoking the pretest of our cowardice: the pretest of impotence” . What is the result? That culture speaks in a vacuum. This happens because: “[…] it asks nothing […] culture in considered as a commodity and not as an activity of production”. The active side of culture has been lost. Culture should be a “battle, […] a means for fighting”. Action and words have to join forces again, to change culture’s fate as well as human survival.
The Humanities resemble democracy in that they share the same risk of “talking to nobody”. Both should keep in mind that they have practical implications, as suggested by the title of George Huszar’s book Practical Implication of Democracy (1945). When he wrote his book, his worries were that: “[…] the nation might soon experience the kind of “disintegration” of democratic culture which enabled the rise of dictators in Europe and Japan. And this was because democracy had become a thing of words rather than actions. Huszar writes, “Democracy is something you do; not something you talk about. It is more than a form of government, or an attitude or opinion. It is participation” (xiii)”. Paraphrasing it: culture is something you do. It is an active participation in the ongoing process of society. And today, this process needs all of our creativity and engagement for the good of our own survival. We need to imagine differently, and we need to make these alternative visions a shared value. This could be the duty of the Humanities right now: “In the all- pervasive market society, it is not enough to defend the value of the humanities in an increasingly corporatized university. Instead the humanities can and should go on the offensive to denounce the blinding effects of market fundamentalism and poke holes in the media- framed reality that’s coextensive with it”. Humanities, let’s get our hands dirty.
Once we’re all agreed that we’re living in a world in ruins, the ways in which we go about tackling the possibilities for change are important. (Fabrizio Terranova in interview with Sophie Soukias, BRUZZ 2016).
Addendum in memory of George Floyd.
The world is trembling, injustices hit harder and riots cannot but spread.
It is not
enough to be non-racist and we need to be anti-racist. Non-racism resembles the
appearance of talk-democracy, while anti-racism the one of do-democracy. We
need to be engaged, one by one, and take a stance, and our behavior has to
follow our values, and our values have to shape our behaviors. I think the same
of culture, of the Humanities. It is not enough to be non-ignorant. We need to
be anti-ignorance. And maybe the combination of anti-ignorance, anti-racist,
anti-homophobic acts and values will make the difference needed to break the
 N. Petrešin-Bachelez, On Slow Institutions, in How Institutions Think: Between Contemporary Art and Curatorial Discourse, eds. P. O’Neill, L. Steeds, M. Wilson, MIT Press, 2017, p. 41.
 N. Klein, This Changes Everything, 2, quoted in D. Castillo, W. Egginton, The Humanities in the Age of Information and Post-Truth, Northwestern University Press, 2019, p. 99.
 Ibid. p. 101
 Ibid. p. 98.
 Ibid. p. 97.
 D. de Rougemont, Pensare con le mani. Le radici culturali della crisi europea, Transeuropa, 2012 p. 23
 Ibid. p. 28.
 Ibid. p. 33.
 D. Castillo, W. Egginton, The Humanities in the Age of Information and Post-Truth, Northwestern University Press, 2019, p. 103.