Inside a changing social space
Ezio Mauro It is almost as though the undercurrent of generosity that you see emerging under the pack ice of our time has found no way to express itself. Or at least not in a public form capable of leaving a political mark, of reorganizing structures of value, behaviour and hierarchy. It is unable to turn, as you say, into a philosophy of life, a model, a paradigm, a reference point. One may say that a sum of private generosities - if they do actually exist - does not add up to a collective culture, does not reverse the sign of the times we are living in. We are lacking greater agents able to transform undercurrent into culture, trend into movement, individual gesture into universal meaning. In other words, we are lacking politics. And the spontaneous movements that we are witnessing, these too are far from neutral, they work by breaking apart what they cannot piece back together. A blatant example of this, in my opinion, is the development of the phenomenon of inequality, the new inequalities that that are becoming the trademark of our times. Nobody talks about this any more. And yet these fault lines are tearing our societies apart and - upon closer examination - they carry with them almost all the questions we have raised so far. Of course, inequalities have always existed in our Western societies. But they used to be somehow covered by the sense of 'the whole' that we mentioned and that now no longer exists, or has grown considerably weaker. What are we talking about exactly? The sense of being part of a collective story of unique, free individuals, belonging to different social groups, having various interests and coming from different circumstances, yet still sharing a common vision of development and growth, with shared core values. It is what we call a society. Inequalities used to be tolerated thanks to the offer of a vast array of opportunities. I am referring to universal education, the welfare state, the market for talents, which in many cases managed to compensate imbalances of class, wealth. Even when the weak became aware of such inequalities, they knew nonetheless that they could count on the future of their children, projecting them into better circumstances, investing in a part of that future, increasing their security and their faith in what tomorrow had in store, and thus finding meaning in their commitment to their work and in their role in the complex workings of the machinery of society.
But what were such workings, exactly? First of all, a general trend of growth, the feeling of living in times of disorderly, fragile and maybe even dangerous development, dotted with bubbles of instability: but development nonetheless. Then, the clear and recognizable nature of the various roads to upward social mobility, which were powered by talent, education and by the powerful start of the new forces of technology, with the entire cultural and professional spread that they carried with them. Today those roads are blocked and impassable. All this was probably the last variation of an old socio-political category from past centuries - progress, which kept encouraging us to invest in the future, to think of tomorrow. What we are living nowadays, in contrast, may be read as the end of progress, at least when it is conceived as a unified process. Progresses become plural, and thus each stands on its own; the category breaks into several innovations and regressions that coexist and overlap, without cancelling each other out. And they do this merely by virtue of their separation.
The difference between who is at the top and who falls at the bottom, between those who are safeguarded and those who are expelled is all too noticeable - because this is what we are talking about, the new words capture the new quality of these fault lines. That is why today inequality is the straw that will break the camel's back, disru