Challenges facing society today and how culture may offer answers to them

September 22, 2010, 10:41 am

In his book The Disturbing Guest*, the Italian philosopher, Umberto Galimberti, sustains that today’s youth is confronted with the presence of what he calls a “new guest”: nihilism. He believes that the existing discomfort among young people does not have psychological roots, its origin being strictly cultural. Indeed, he writes that “the remedies elaborated by our culture appear to be ineffective, both in their religious version because God is unquestionably dead as well as in the version provided by the Enlightenment because it is not reason that appears to regulate the relationships between human being in our times. It is therefore only “instrumental reason” that remains, which guarantees technical progress but that, given the lack of thought and the barrenness of feeling, does not broaden our horizons of what makes sense.”

The book is at times alarming, because if our society lacks the means to provide young people with the instruments by which they can give sense to their lives it follows that the world, such as we have known it, is heading towards disaster. But, as Galimberti puts it, human beings have always felt the need to give meaning to their lives, and to the world they live in. It seems therefore, that we are today in situation in which human beings need “sense” but are no longer, at this point, capable of creating it.

If the “disease” is cultural, then the solution should be looked for in culture. This entails, on the one hand, the need to generate a process of renovation and, on the other, to develop the capacity of individuals to provide for new sense in their lives. However, the main question still remains: how should we go about achieving this? According to Galimberti the answer lies in going back to ancient Greek philosophy and its belief in “knowing oneself” and in understanding  the “art of living” in order to find sense in our lives.

Nevertheless, if this were to be a possible solution, how and by whom should it be put into effect? The truth is that it should be a collective endeavour, with the main responsibility lying in the system itself which has to be capable of providing our society with new cultural instruments. In order to do this, it is necessary to give culture a political sense, if by politics we understand the affairs of state, and therefore of government. It derives that culture, also in its meaning of “provision of knowledge”, is a constituent part not only of the “art of governing” but of “citizenship”. Both are therefore needed to shape a society, understood as a system, which not only provides for sense but also makes sense, thus giving human beings the possibility to lead their lives in order, with an ensuing feeling of fulfilment.

Mercedes Giovinazzo, chair of the Executive Committee

*Galimberti, U., L’ospite inquieto: il nichilismo e i giovani, Serie Bianca Feltrinelli, 2007

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