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Carlo Federico's MANIFESTO




Stupidity, yes. Recklessness, definitely. But, you know, I felt so relaxed, reading that book by Barbara Tuchman. Because this piece of history is of great consolation, after all. The Distant Mirror shows that our time's hardships are not so special, and as John Dryden writes on the characters in the Canterbury Tales, "Mankind is ever the same and nothing is lost out of nature, though everything is altered".
My great relief comes from the comforting confidence that most of the people [not] reflected in that Distant Mirror overcame their hard times of stupidity and brutality. So why shouldn't we? This is exactly what the author says in her foreword: in any recorded history there is a great deal of overload of the negative. The normal does not make news. History is made by the documents that survive, and these lean heavily on crisis and calamity, crime and misbehaviour, because such things are the subject matter of the documentary process - lawsuits, treaties, moralists' denunciations, literary satire, papal Bulls. No pope ever issued a Bull to approve of something. No document mentions the good housewives of that time, though they were many, aren't you sure?
And nobody recalls, not even Barbara Tuchman, the successful technical innovations of that time. As a colleague of those obscure engineers I feel obliged to mention the camshaft fulling mill complex on the Seine river from rue des Barres to the eastern tip of the Ile Notre-Dame, the steel production plant at Pont de Audemer in Normandy, the masterly mechanical clock built by Giovanni di Dondi in 1348, the splendid innovative architectural engineering of Villard de Honnecourt some decades earlier in Laon tower and Reims cathedral with his invention of flying buttresses to give maximum light to the churches while raising the vaults higher and higher.. Did you ever hear anything about? History is written in general by literati, and, except Leonardo da Vinci (who was a man of letters, too) they seem to disregard scientific achievements as well as engineering competence and efficiency. Fran Lebowitz wrote: Science is generally practised by those who lack the flair for conversation. And Samuel Coleridge: It would take many Newtons to make one Milton.
Quite so: but this is the problem We the heirs of the craftsmen of antiquity with our canoes weapons and king-tombs will remain too diverse to be united with intellectuals by anything more than the mutual desire to never mingle.

Hmm. I forgot what I wanted to say. Ah yes: disaster recounted in this Tuchman's history (like in any other's) is rarely as pervasive as it seems from recorded accounts: persistence of the normal is usually greater than the effect of disturbance, as Miss Tuchman wrote and as we know from our own times. After absorbing the news of today TV reports, one expects to face a world consisting entirely of stone-throwing and window-smashing squatters, of strikes, crimes, drug-addicts, neo-Nazis and rapists: and then you can come home in the evening, in a lucky day, without having encountered more than one or two of these deplorable phenomena.

Do you agree, my friends, that many common-wisdom conclusions are less than convincing?
Do you concede that this time of ours is not the worst of all past times, and a "spiritual" approach to solve present problems is to be taken with a large grain of salt?

Here we are faced with a set of intertwined questions that I mentioned while closing Part I of this essay of mine and are now maybe easier to answer, after we smashed some panel fence of our maze: is "common wisdom" anything to be considered by all means wise, because it reflects the opinions of the majority? Is the middle-class, the cradle of the majority-rule and hence of democracy, peculiarly wise? What is our Rich position vis-a-vis such majority criterion?

Let's start from the simplest part: do we the Rich have any clear idea about democracy? Well, we all know a lot of venomous definitions: a festival of mediocrity (E.M. Cioran, a sour chap I will mention later about Utopia); a government in the hands of men of low birth, no property and unskilled labour (Aristotle); a government by discussion but it is only effective if you can stop people talking (Clement Attlee); a form of government by popular ignorance (Elbert Hubbard); a system where one fifth of the people are against everything all the time (Robert Kennedy); the art of running the circus from the monkey cage (H.L.Menken); a selection by the incompetent many for the appointment of the corrupt few (G.B.Shaw); a device which ensures we shall be governed no better than we deserve (G.B.Shaw again). Much of this is all too familiar. I remember Mayor Dinkins as a clubhouse politician who spent 30 years winning favour by doing favours. The Liberal Democratic Party of Japan is a collection of factions whose role is not to present different views about policy but rather to provide different paths of personal advancement to faction members. Maybe it will be a long way to make Japanese politics less of a market for exchanging favours and more of a mechanism for discovering and shaping the policies voters prefer.
Let me charitably not mention Italian politics where some 50 governments amused us within a time of circa 50 years.
However I think you will agree that democracy is better than dictatorship, not just morally but practically too. It rests on consent rather than coercion, and contains the mechanism for its own renewal: which means that, even if the government is elected by poorly informed dupes, the very same dupes have the right to kick out their elected representatives after four years or so, if the gullible can wake up a bit from their somnambulism.

So now, the question we eschewed some pages above: are we the Rich supposed to play any role in Pope's Dunciad republic? Please e-mail your comments. Meanwhile I might tell you my idea: we ought to do nothing. The sheer existence of happy persons amidst the frenzy of long-faced disconsolate somnambulists who presume to arouse themselves and mobilize the others to achieve the solution for their haplessness while they themselves are part of the problem... our mere existence is the best gift we can offer. If anybody can wake up to discover and share our happy richness, good for him or her. That's all. We are the Saccharomices who, by our sheer existence alone, can change the fructose of life into exhilarant wine, a Dyonisian touch indeed, and that's our gift to anybody able to appreciate it.

(9. To be continued)

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