Almost a manifesto in the time of Coronavirus.
Quarantine from CoViD19.
The spaces where students, teachers, project partners and visitors normally meet are empty.
The stream flows. Birds and insects fly. They live their days as before.
I too, like them, live here, in Cittadellarte, together with Armona, my wife, and two of our teenage children.
Michelangelo has returned home, here with Maria.
In these days of reflections I ask myself almost obsessively: What to learn from this epochal experience?
How to be reborn from this pandemic?
What to carry along in the after-coronavirus?
So I wrote this text,
almost a Quarantine Manifesto.
The basis for starting a cooperation and learning initiative.
Starting from the network of Third Paradise Ambassadors.
Two principles as basis: the sense of balance and the science of demopraxy.
From pandemic to pandemopraxy
The consequences of the sudden pandemic of Coronavirus 19, that is, the measures taken to deal with it, have put the world in a situation that has never happened before in history: the growth trend of the global economy has almost stopped, the mighty flow of progress. We witness a slow down (footnote 1) in the continuous growth of production and everything it needs and involves: commercial exchanges, movements of people and goods, operation of all sorts of equipment, machinery, and all the accompanying public and private events of any kind.
It matters little that some economic and financial sectors can experiment strong growth precisely because of the pandemic: the lockdown and the total or partial closure of factories, schools and socio-economic activities is an epochal event.
Whether or not the measures taken are justified is not the main issue. Because nothing exceeds the importance of the fait accompli: the spell of western modernity – that conquered the planet without ever stopping before – has been broken.
In this sense, the pandemic is exactly the opposite of the war, since generally the war even leads to an acceleration of the economy and huge gains to the sectors that have contributed to blowing it up or have been able to ride it.
So the “fact” is not the epidemic, rather it is the impact that the measures taken to address it have had on the global development model.
Capitalist modernity, of course, underwent profound crises, in ’29, ’73, 2008, just to name a few: but in all these cases, the citizens (whether employed or unemployed) were not in quarantine. Today, for most people the lockdown has meant that the consumerist lifestyle has had to stop, whatever the causes of this sudden halt.
The pandemic means many things, and first of all the death of hundreds of thousands of people in a very short time. Let us ask ourselves what the “fact” mentioned above means, i.e. that the race for progress and consumption has (almost) stopped. This is the collapse of the last certainty that has remained intact to humanity or – to put it with Y. N. Harari – the defeat of the model of liberal humanist religion that triumphed with the 21st century (footnote 2).
To look for clues to a possible answer, let’s look at what happens in a person’s life when a belief – considered up to then as a certainty – ceases to exist. The terms with which we refer to this event are generally those of the loss of an illusion, that is, disillusionment and disappointment or, more frequently, an unresolved mixture of both.
Normally people in life face the loss of illusion when the death (physical or ideal) of their parent occurs. Generally as a consequences people experiment pain for the irreversible loss of a state of innocence mixed with a kind of courage deriving from the acquisition of a de facto maturity. The experience of loss involves going through pain, dismay, bewilderment, anguish, mourning, finally leading to a sort of rebirth, not happy, nor serene, however necessary for the continuation of life: also happiness and serenity, however impossible to believe at first, will return to our lives.
We can therefore say that, following the fact that for the first time in history the huge machine of progress has stopped, humanity is dismayed in the face of the unknown and at the same time on the crest of an inevitable assumption of responsibility? This is the interpretation. As such it is the result of a mixture of deductive analysis and projective inference, that is, wish and desire.
Some might say that the comparison with the loss of a parent is not appropriate because while death is incurable, the progress machine now temporarily held back sooner or later will restart at full speed and therefore everything will return as before. Nobody can deny that this prediction is possible and even likely. However, the impact of the events we are experiencing on the collective unconscious should not be underestimated. Above all, one should notice that the measures adopted to combat the spread of the infection have also carried to circumstances which many – more and more in recent years – have hoped for and invoked. Recommendations that mainly concern the growth model, when not the very idea of growth and development; I refer to more visible consequences such as air traffic or more personal ones such as the greater availability of time for one’s family and life companions. There is a striking convergence between the effects (probably secondary if not unexpected) of the contagion containment measures and the requests that a part of humanity has recently vividly made to public opinion and decision-makers. In fact, the response to the pandemic entailed a temporary adoption of behaviors previously considered incompatible with the previous way of life, some of these execrated (in some cases by all), others coveted for years, at least by some. In a brutally simple sentence: what was previously not possible, today not only can be done, but it is reality.
So here we are now. We did it. We almost stopped, we slowed down almost everything, except of course the health management and the organization of the so-called cure. We spend more time with the people we care about most. We consume less. We have re-established a greater sense of proportion with the context in which we live, of which we are becoming more aware, for example in the form of the neighborhood or the urban or natural landscape that surrounds us. We feel, without the possibility of denial, of being part of a single planet and of a single humanity that inhabits it, but at the same time we live with immediate certainty the local dimension of our being there, situated in places that are the result of a continuous work of creation and modeling of communities to which we belong, more or less openly. We have rediscovered the vital civil mission of services provided by an army of peace made up of people with the vocation to take care of others: public or even private officials such as doctors, nurses, state bodies, volunteers. But also of administrators and maintainers of the functioning (good or bad) of the gigantic organizational articulations of the community. We have learned how technology can offer the opportunity to exercise on a large scale functions that until now were practicable only through the physical movement of our person and huge quantities of means and tools. We have found that science is the most direct way to reconnect with nature, both to protect and take care of it, both to understand it, and to combat its harmful aspects and organisms such as this virus.
Above all, we have rediscovered that we are fragile and connected to each other: by radicalizing this awareness a little, we have rediscovered that we are brothers of all the living and inanimate organisms on the planet.
What, then, are we to bring in the post-pandemic era, in addition to the awareness that all this has happened, that it can return and that we will have to prevent it, avoid it and – should it unfortunately happen again in the acute form that we are experiencing now – manage it better? Which viaticum to provide ourselves with?
There are two principles, two algorithms that seem to emerge as the main integrators to the toolbox of knowledge and experience that we have so far put together to face the future, and neither is absolutely new; rather, they are our travel companions but we have neglected, if not really mortified, them in our capitalist modernity. The first is the sense of balance; like a sixth sense, may it never leave us. I mean balance as it is entailed by the principle of trinamics (footnote 3) and as expressed by the symbol of the Third Paradise (footnote 4): the symbol and the principle represent the continuous search for a balanced relationship between different and even opposite phenomena. Phenomena, therefore also organisms, animals, people, peoples.
A balanced relationship also implies the possibility of changing, according to the changing of the specific features of each contingent place, of each situation.
The expression sense of balance highlights the feeling and the consequent action of continuous rearrangement of the balance itself: it is therefore a tightrope and acrobatic balance, rather than a static balance.
The other algorithm with which to venture into the post-pandemic is the Demopraxy (footnote 5) method, with its three phases making up the Demopractic Opera: the first, that is, the Choir, in turn divided into census, mapping, exhibition; the second, that is the Performance, articulated in the forum; and the third, that is the Working Site, consisting of the actions carried out in the organizations involved and the institutional joint. The Demopractic Opera is a device that distributes people’s government within the people.
How is this achieved? By developing the practices that participants of organizations (of all kinds and types) carry out in their own context, that is, in their own community of practice (footnote 6).
The practices exist regardless of ideologies and ideal instances, of the false myths and fictions that attempt to aggregate people by detaching them from the real source of power, i.e. doing and being able to do in everyday life.
Will we be able to bring the grammar of these two algorithms, the sixth sense of balance and the art of demopraxy to the world after the pandemic? This text is aimed at this goal.
When we exit the quarantine and lockdown phase, we will have to go back to dealing with every aspect of our lives and we will have to chance to bring about changes in the way we manage life. Or, we can also resume every activity exactly as before.
If we wanted to try to change, how could the algorithms of the demopraxy method and the principle of balance be useful? Where to start?
There is a song by Subsonica, a well-known Italian band, dedicated to the Third Paradise; the ending fades into a series of questions perhaps addressed to the listener, perhaps to each of us, perhaps to our children who will face the future. How will you smile, What air will you breathe, How will you dress, What language will you speak, How will you greet, How will you work, What will you believe in, What dreams will you dream, How will you smile, What air will you breathe, How will you feed yourself, What language will you speak…
Each of these questions indicates an area, a field, of our individual and collective needs. And all the questions identify an approach, a perspective, a way of facing reality. If the scope is a field, the approach is a force.
In hindsight, the attitude recalled by the song is specific to the modus operandi of science and art: it is about placing yourself in front of things as if it were the first time and at the same time aware of everything that has been achieved so far.
How will you do?
At Cittadellarte (footnote 7) we have experienced this approach of fields and forces since the 1990s. We have brought it in many areas, making the city of Biella (footnote 8) a real-size laboratory. We started by setting up a school, later called the UNIDEE Academy of the Third Paradise, a space dedicated to research, study, listening and practical experimentation. We applied, among the first fields, to feeding.
How you will feed yourself. So how to cultivate the land. How to reap the benefits. How to distribute and transport them. How to exchange them. How to consume them.
Local communities of practice have concrete answers to these questions. To reformulate them with the naive but informed approach of above mentioned gaze, we therefore organized the research and study of the various and most interesting answers that the organizations in our area are formulating. Applying the demopraxy algorithm, we decided to build a mapping of these items and practices and then organize a forum for a thorough and structured comparative analyses, from which to generate proposals for concrete actions to be implemented within the participating organizations. This process takes place with the constant comfort and support of administrative institutions but also of research bodies such as universities.
In short, it is a matter of articulating the syntax of the algorithms of Demopraxy and the Third Paradise, proceeding with a sense of balance.
How you will dress. In the same way, but in different ways because different are the characteristics of the context, we worked in the field of fashion. The force? The pursuit of sustainability. Second skin is the second most impactful industry (footnote 9) as an unsustainable factor in this anthropocene. But fashion also has enormous symbolic power. There is continuous creation and very rapid elimination. But this cycle which was under the illusion that it was circular on a global level, instead leaves gigantic non-renewable waste. What are the laws of real circularity, if it were really possible for fashion? What criteria and standards? With a pool (footnote 10) of designers and companies (manufactures and brands) at Cittadellarte we are looking for the answers to these questions, which we have helped to bring to the United Nations, with an initiative of great momentum, dedicated to the Traceability and Transparency of Textile and Apparel Supply Chain (footnote 11).
How you will live. How you will learn. How will you communicate. How will you express yourself. How you do everything you do.
This is the program of the school that was created in Cittadellarte in the 90s, a campus where to live and “share”. An Academy of the Third Paradise, called UNIDEE from the merging of the terms University and Ideas. Where the radical faculty of creation, advocated by art, meets design in each discipline and in each field based on the principle maximum freedom = maximum responsibility.
So how can we restart from this pandemic experience?
Each city, each local context, will be able to face the post-pandemic with pandemopraxy, a movement of re-appropriation of doing what we already do, learning from each other, accepting the idea that life and work feed on continuous research, which is not the prerogative of professional elites, but is the right, duty and joy of every citizen (footnote 12).
How to start again?
• after the pandemic we must be able to aspire to a future of sustainable prosperity, because not only have we been able to accomplish centuries of civil and technological progress, but also we can govern the mighty theater of production and consumption growth that seemed to govern us;
• we can develop methods for making decisions that activate systematic initiatives;
• we can broaden our knowledge horizon as much as possible without relying “only” on the research of the elites who propose “new ideas” and “new models”, rather realizing that our own practices already offer us clues to a wider horizon and above all that we have the right to develop this action-based research ourselves, that is to recognize the value of our practices in order to make systematic decisions;
• this right to research (using the expression of Appadurai), is a right to take part in the transformation of the world based on practices and therefore to make the transition from demo-cracy to demopraxy. From pandemic to pandemopraxy.
Only through the fielding in every field of human activity of the organizations that daily manage those same spaces of action will we be able to apply the lesson we learned from this pandemic experience.
The human intelligence that led to the Anthropocene certainly also has the ability to restore humanity to the planet in a harmony that we have never experienced before.
The depth of our knowledge and the power of our technology, as far as we are still far from having everything included and everything under control, offer us an opportunity that we never dreamed of having: that of establishing a new pact with our planet and every form of life, human and non-human, that the planet hosts and supports.
If we still don’t know where exactly this virus came from and how it spread, we can decide where it will direct us. No one else will make this decision for us.
Each of us, in our own organization, in our community of practice, whether it is a commercial enterprise or a charity, a public institution or an industry, each of us, after the pandemic, will have to ask themselves: how will you dress, how will you build, how will you communicate, how will you learn…
We will be able to respond as we answered before the virus. Or we may look for new, concrete, practical, real answers.
A new initiative.
With this document, I would like to mark the start of a further initiative of the school of Cittadellarte. I see it as an opportunity to resume the ranks of all the activities that Cittadellarte develops, especially the experimentation of the art of demopraxy.
Looking to the immediate future, it is now a matter of bringing the antibodies that we have developed or are developing in this quarantine to the restart.
In fact, I think that the algorithms of the sense of balance and the demopractic method are the antibodies that we needed as a society.
The measures taken by governments to deal with pandemic infection have been like a cure for symptoms. But only we can decide to develop antibodies and apply them in everyday life. Where? In our specific communities of practice.
Indeed, many have been doing it, some for some time.
How? What difficulties and opportunities have they encountered and encounter? We will ask some of those who are part of the network of cultural operators, administrators of manufacturing companies, officials of government organizations, teachers, journalists, farmers, designers, etc. that has grown around Cittadellarte in these almost thirty years.
We will ask them: how do you enact this sense of balance in your practice? How do you share in the context of your community of practice the reasons for the different phenomena, opposing interests, conflicting cultural and economic points of view? How do you learn by connecting what you knew and what you didn’t know? How do you combine your individual being with personal needs and aspirations with your constituting a wider community, with its needs and objectives? Meanwhile, we too, as we all wish, will try to start again, study these answers, transmit them to our students and those who follow us, make antibodies or better: pro-bodies, balancing the reasons for the phenomena, of people, of ecologies in a dynamic balance always in motion.
As Pistoletto proposed in 2012, when a millenarian contagion that imagined the end of the world spread, we propose today a rebirth from this pandemic.
This virus did not come to exterminate humanity. There is no need for a new or old virus for this: we are already doing it.
The lesson we can learn from this pandemic and the consequences of strategies to combat it is that we can still save ourselves, just the opposite of what many associate with CoViD disease 19. The lesson is that if the cure for coronavirus has not yet been entirely found, that for our systemic disease already exists. And we can implement it. We have the tools, the algorithms. We have the motivation. Only one thing could be missing, and it is the most important for humans, the characteristic that has allowed us to make the evolutionary leap of the last ten, fifteen thousand years.
It’s called cooperation and learning.
The union of the ability to cooperate in small and large groups, up to entire communities of millions of individuals, with the ability to continuously learn from our and others’ experience, is the resource that can make us make the change necessary to survive and above all to live a good life.
That we will be able to defeat the pandemic is more than plausible, even if it will still involve a lot of suffering. That we will be able to find a balanced, fair, prosperous and sustainable way of life also depends on us. It can be done. Starting from the concrete practices of our communities of practice: companies, associations, institutions, schools, families.
Paolo Naldini, Cittadellarte, Biella, April 13, 2020
1: See International Monetary Fund, World Economic Outlook, April 2020: The Great Lockdown: “… As a result of the pandemic, the global economy is projected to contract sharply by –3 percent in 2020, much worse than during the 2008–09 financial crisis”.
2: Harari, Yuval Noah, Homo deus. Breve storia del futuro. Bompiani, 2017.
3: Michelangelo Pistoletto, Theorem of Trinamics. Vedi anche Pistoletto M., Ominiteismo e Demopraxia, Chiare Lettere, 2019.
4: Michelangelo Pistoletto, Il terzo paradiso, Marsilio 2010.
5: Paolo Naldini, the Art of Demopraxy.
6: See Wenger, Etienne (1998). Communities of Practice: Learning, Meaning, and Identity. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. A good introduction is provided by wikipedia: Community of practice
7: Cittadellarte is a non-profit foundation created in Biella in the 90s on the initiative of M. Pistoletto. See www.cittadellarte.it.
8: Biella, one of the world capitals of wool, became UNESCO Creative City in 2019 with the symbol of the Third Paradise as the logo and concept of the candidacy. Biella and Cittadellarte are models of a regenerative relationship between territory and culture.
9: Amongst the many resources, see wikipedia: Environmental Impact of Fashion.
10: See Cittadellarte Fashion B.E.S.T. – Better Ethical Sustainable Transformation (link).
11: See UNECE, Enhancing Traceability and Transparency for Sustainable Value Chains in Garment and Footwear. (link).
12: See A. Appadurai, The right to research, Globalisation, Societies and Education Vol. 4, No. 2, July 2006, pp. 167–177 (link).