From America to Europe, to Italy, there seems to emerge, fomented by politicians and irresponsible media, and magnified by opinions expressed on social media, an open climate of racism and xenophobia, as if the expression of racial hatred against migrants or of minority groups, including hate language and acts of violence, were no longer a taboo but legitimate opinions. While the refrain against migrants is always the same: “Given that I am not a racist …”. What’s happening to us? We turned the question to psychiatrist Vittorino Andreoli, but the gist of the matter is simple and discouraging: “I don’t like this society.”

What is happening to our Western societies?

A set of principles underlying our civilization that was born in ancient Greece, followed by the inception of Christianity, have been depleted, and perhaps also destroyed. There is no more respect for others, death has become commonplace, thus murder is a way to solve a problem. Gone is the sense of human mystery and limits. The episode of Fermo [where a Nigerian man was beaten to death] is set against the backdrop of a disastrous civilization. Moral principles are no longer present in society, replaced by a jumble of laws – as if laws could replace principles. Today the culture of the enemy prevails. Widespread shallowness causes self-identity to be based on the existence of an enemy. The individual defines himself solely through his enemy. It’s a veritable anthropological regression that is ruled by drives. This attitude is fuelled by political parties that foment hate, whereby social action is made of enemies. The enemy is sometimes present even within religious institutions. Within this setting racial issues re-emerge.
Some people say: “it isn’t racism – it’s superficiality.” I reply: no, it’s racism. It’s considering the other person inferior because of specific features, and therefore that person must be combated. If someone is different from you he is an enemy, reaching the extent of the law of retaliation. People go up in arms because diversity is seen as an enemy that takes away our money, our jobs, and so on… Just like the hierarchy of the powerful there is also a hierarchy of races, for only some are seen as targets.

However, racism and prejudice are universally present in man’s heart, regardless of nationality. The recent episodes in the United States are but an example.

It’s an instinct that is present in our biology, part of human nature. It’s the fight of survival expounded by Darwin, the fight for the defence of our territory. But culture is part of mankind just like human biology. And culture should be a condition whereby we respect others and we manage to curb our instincts. The problem is: why has the culture characterizing humankind, consisting in the control over drives, ceased to exist? An entire culture that developed into epigones of love and brotherhood is acted out but isn’t put into practice.
This Country – along with the whole Western world – is regressing to the level of human drives, to the man of impulse. What scares me and makes me sad is that it takes a long time to reach a given cultural development, and that level of culture can disappear from one generation to the next.
The recent episodes are silently sustained by a large number of people. They say nothing but they approve them. We must prevent others from fanning the flames. Nobody speaks about the value of the knowledge that can serve to draw near other human stories and cultures. Everything is described as negative, accordingly, migrants cause unemployment; they bring violence and crime. The problem is that exclusion is an underlying factor. It’s terrible. We are growing into an uncivilized people.

In public debate, notably on social networks, it’s always “us” against “them.” The migrants, the weaker brackets, become the scapegoats of all evils.

Indeed, this is Darwin’s principle. Evolution is connected to the struggle to survive: “mors tua, vita mea”. We must eliminate the enemy. My tribe has to win in order to conquer your territory. It’s a dreadful form of regression. Moreover, the present crisis has stirred up fears and uncertainties. Fear always generates violence. Can you imagine that in a Country whose population hardly reads a book a national newspaper offered readers Hitler’s Mein Kampf? Why didn’t it give away Kant’s “Perpetual Peace”?

Marketing, quest for consensus and votes, irresponsibility: in your opinion what are the reasons for such dangerous decisions? How can they be stemmed?

It’s not insanity, it’s stupidity. It is necessary to take a firm stand. We can no longer afford to turn a blind eye. This is a phoney society that play-acts. We are bound to face an increasing number of tragic situations. There is also need for greater courage inside the Church. The Pope has bravely sided with the migrants, but not all agree. It is necessary to begin to say that this Country needs to form wise and intelligent men and women. We are choosing the worst ones. There is widespread ignorance. It is necessary to talk, to explain, to understand each other. This requires the presence of credible figures that will speak to the young generation. But culture remains the preferential tool. We need to work on education. We need to highlight the positivity characterising the victims of hate, in order to prompt respect towards them.

This is easier with young people as they are like white pages of a book yet to be written. What about adults? Is it a losing battle?

It isn’t, for the explicit expression of prejudice stems from a feeling of support. Until they have not yet expressed their thoughts there are chances of recovery. Problems arise when many people think the same. We need to help them discover the goodness in the other person, the true significance of diversity in society.

Unfortunately on social media nobody conceals his thoughts: the computer screen acts a barrier that avoids direct confrontation. Statements are increasingly violent while voicing prejudices, even in rational ways, only serves to reinforce the ego…

This is true and it makes things even worse. For while in the past if someone remained silent and expressed himself only at home, his evil actions were confined within the family, now these actions are widespread, and they have turned into veritable propaganda.
Patrizia Caiffa