ROME — Mario Draghi is finally the new Italian Prime Minister. On Thursday, the Lower House of Parliament voted him in with a staggering 535 votes in favor, 56 against, and 5 abstentions. Such a wide majority is a telling detail: Italians have huge confidence and sky-high expectations, seeing in Draghi a man who can rescue the country — a kind of superdoctor to cure the sickness eating Italy from inside....
The situation reminds me of the latest work by Seoul-born German philosopher Byung-Chul Han, an intriguing little book titled The Palliative Society: Pain Today. In the Italian edition, the subtitle reads along these lines: "Why we have banished suffering from our lives."
Han is an acclaimed and prolific philosopher. His work often revolves around an indictment of "neo-liberal" society, a somewhat elusive adjective that can match with every tie. His thesis is that our contemporary society rejects pain, both physical and psychological, which is considered useless and scandalous in the creeping neoliberal doctrine.
We reject that we or others could be in pain, which prevents us from unloading it on society. We always blame ourselves instead, and thus we preclude the revolution.
In a "palliative democracy," pain is alleviated, but diseases are not cured.
I am neither a philosopher, or German, but I have always been convinced of the exact opposite. Precisely because we reject pain, when it arrives we unload it on society: our pain is always someone else's fault — anyone but us — and that culprit must be identified and punished so we can simply carry on with our lives as if nothing happened.
After all, the first pages of Han's book are enlightening. They explore the concept of "palliative democracy," a regime in which pain is alleviated, but diseases are not cured. "Palliative politics lacks vision and is unable to implement incisive reforms, which would cause pain," he writes. "It prefers to resort to short-acting painkillers, whose effect is limited to covering up systemic dysfunctions and failures."
It would be difficult to draw a more accurate portrait of Italy in the last few decades. Now, we have a new doctor, Mario Draghi, who is tasked with fixing deep-rooted problems and festering systemic failures. But in order to be effective, Draghi's cure will inevitably have to hurt — and quite badly. But of course, there is always the other possibility: to remain a pain-free, sick society that just wants its painkillers back.
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