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Thursday, May 04, 2017

MACRON-LE PEN: UN DIBATTITO CHE NON PUO (E NON DEVE) ESSERE NORMALE

Ho deciso da oggi di pubblicare i miei interventi di commento sul mio blog personale invece che sul blog de http://www.ilfattoquotidiano.it/ 


Mi chiedo il perché oggi delle reazioni scandalizzate di molti giornali francesi e internazionali per i toni del dibattito di ieri sera tra Emmanuel Macron e Marine Le Pen : “un duello”, “un massacro”, “una polemica durissima dall’inizio alla fine”, “Un dibattito brutale!”. Ma chi si aspettava qualcosa di diverso? “Un dibattito che ha confuso i telespettatori invece di chiarire i programmi”, recita Le Monde stamattina. E perché? C’era davvero da dire qualcosa di serio sul programma dell’estrema destra fascista, e ripeto: FASCISTA, programma canonico del populismo della nuova lega dell’idiozia internazionale, basato su false notizie, teoria del complotto e richiamo a un passato MAI ESISTITO (chi si ricorda il testo di Eric Hosbauwm, L’invenzione della tradizione? Ebbene il populismo si richiama nostalgicamente a tradizioni passate, a un glorioso passato che nella maggior parte dei casi non è mai esistito, reinventandolo per manipolare il popolo e dargli un senso di appartenenza a una comunità immaginaria che è fatta più di vignette, vecchi spot pubblicitari, film di Fantozzi o Louis de Funès che di fatti.)




Anzi, dirò di più: trovo che sia stata una forzatura dell’esercizio della democrazia stare ad ascoltare due ore e mezza di bufale della signora Le Pen sparate a zero contro l’avversario, il quale, alla fine, si è difeso con dignità, è riuscito a dire le due o tre cose fondamentali che rassicurano i cittadini democratici, come: si resta in Europa, ogni cittadino di qualsiasi religione, etnia, provenienza deve avere uguali possibilità di riuscita, la Francia resta una civiltà inclusiva e generosa e, se ci sparano addosso i Jihadisti, in gran parte cittadini francesi, prima di andare a sparare in giro per il Medio Oriente e fare grandi dichiarazioni sulla privazione della cittadinanza, bisogna interrogarsi per capire dove abbiamo sbagliato e perché l’integrazione non è riuscita. Non molto (non una parola sull’ecologia, non una parola sulle donne), ma abbastanza per rassicurare di avere la speranza di potere essere ancora in un paese democratico dopo il 7 maggio.

Le Pen ha gestito questo dibattito come un candidato che non può vincere: attaccando senza sosta, con invettive ridicole, che hanno messo in imbarazzo il suo stesso campo, come quella secondo la quale Macron sarebbe al servizio degli islamisti! Ora: va bene le cazzate che conosciamo tutti sul banchiere plutocrate al servizio della finanza (ebraica?) internazionale, un tema che in questi giorni è martellato non solo dalla Le Pen, ma anche da quell’altro tristo figuro di Viktor Orban, primo ministro ungherese, alle prese con la chiusura di una delle migliori università europee, la CEU, perché finanziata dal "plutocrate semita" Soros.
Ma Macron marionetta dell’islam? Come le è venuta? E chi se la beve? Cioè, nelle moschee salafiste si tessono le trame dei complotti finanziari internazionali?? Questa è troppo.

Armata fino ai denti di varie cartellette colorate sotto gli occhi, la Le Pen si confonde, accusa Macron di cose inesistenti leggendo da un documento sbagliato e, dopo un pasticcio sull’Euro, l’ECU e il franco senza capo né coda al quale Macron ha risposto in modo molto chiaro, spiegando ai cittadini nel modo più semplice possibile che uscire dall’Euro non è una buona idea perché se il contadino vende le pere in franchi ma compra il trattore in Euro, ebbé, non se la cava più, Le Pen comincia a fare il giullare, a fare il verso a Macron, ridacchiare, fino a dirgli che forse ha dei conti off-shore alle Bahamas, un caso di pura diffamazione che giustamente non dovrebbe avere spazio in televisione.

E questo poteva essere un dibattito normale? Le Pen può essere fiera e soddisfatta di sé di vivere in democrazie così malate e inciuciate con i media che ormai è normale portare alla ribalta farabutti come lei, Orban o Donald Trump. Ma la democrazia non significa che tutto è dicibile e che qualsiasi cretino che apre la bocca va ascoltato. La democrazia è partecipazione e la partecipazione ha delle condizioni: essere capaci di articolare i propri pensieri, avere delle ragioni e delle prove per quello che si dice, ossia essere parte di una comunità di discorso condiviso. Partecipare non significa “esserci”: significa essere capaci di trasformare le proprie emozioni, i propri interessi e i propri bisogni in argomenti che siano validi anche per gli altri. Per questo la democrazia può contribuire allo sviluppo personale, umano, civile e cognitivo dei cittadini: costruendo istituzioni condivise in cui si ragiona con le stesse regole, anche se la si pensa diversamente. Non dando la parola a tutti. Perché dare aria alla bocca è altrettanto spiacevole che fare aria da altri orifizi del nostro corpo.

E questo vale per i populisti italiani, per le cazzate che si bevono sui vaccini del morbillo che provocano l’autismo. Populisti peraltro che mi hanno insultata per anni dalle pagine digitale del quotidiano IL FATTO, nel quale ero entrata a collaborare in tempi non sospetti e che si è trasformato in un organo di sostegno al populismo all’italiana. Con la convinzione delirante che qualcuno - il sistema, la casta ci nasconde la VERITA (sui vaccini, sulla finanza internazionale, sui terroristi) e che un giorno essa, la Verità con la V maiuscola sarà svelata a tutti. La verità è il frutto della deliberazione razionale, non dell'odio per la casta. Non c'è peggior nemico della verità di colui che crede di possederla contro tutti gli altri.

Friday, March 17, 2017

Istanbul - Milan - Refléxions sur l'autobiographie d'une ville

C'est un texte que j'ai écrit pour le Cahier de l'Erne consacré à Orhan Pamuk. Parution : avril 2017. Ne pas citer sans permission

Nous sommes tous des réfugiés de notre enfance, ce lieu mythique, légendaire, magique, perdu pour toujours, ce lieu où les mots ont pris un sens pour la première fois, les goûts ont pris leur épaisseur, une concrétude faite de bruits, d’odeurs, de textures, ce terrain sûr – même si pas forcément heureux – auquel notre existence est accrochée comme un naufragé l’est à une épave.

C’est avec une veine de tristesse donc qu’on se retourne vers l’enfance, une mélancolie qui traverse tout le livre autobiographique d’Orhan Pamuk, Istanbul, auquel je vais consacrer ce bref essai. Un chapitre entier de ce livre (ch. X) est consacré à la tristesse, à sa dimension physique, différente d’une pure condition de l’âme comme la mélancolie : une tristesse plus « diffuse », une sensation qui émane de certaines images, mais aussi une espèce de filtre entre nous-mêmes et les choses.

Pamuk décrit la tristesse de l’enfance comme la buée sur les vitres des fenêtres, dans la cuisine de la maison pendant la préparation d’un repas ou lors de longs voyages en voiture en hiver. Ces vitres sur lesquelles on dessine un cœur ou un petit visage pour se distraire sont la métaphore parfaite de la tristesse enfantine ou de la tristesse qui accompagne la révocation de l’enfance. Ce monde est là, en quelque sorte intact, pourtant loin, entouré d’un brouillard épais, le même qui filtrait nos expériences d’enfants, forcément déformées par nos sens pas encore mûrs faits pour absorber le monde qui nous entoure et non pas pour l’observer et le comprendre. La buée sur la vitre est aussi la tristesse de notre regard d’aujourd’hui sur l’enfance, la distance impossible à combler entre nos égos adultes et les petites habitudes, les joies minuscules qui tracent la géographie de nos premières années.

En 2006, l’édition italienne de Istanbul parut en Italie aux éditions Einaudi. Moi, je terminais mon autobiographie, consacrée à ma ville natale, Milan, qui parut en Italie en 2008. Écrit sous la forme d’un dictionnaire des mots de mon enfance, un lexique secret que chaque famille concocte et qui cristallise en quelques mots les atmosphères, les préjugés, les ambitions et les déceptions d’une époque, d’une ville, d’un milieu social, ce livre avait été pour moi une sorte de thérapie par la parole.

 Le jeu de « l’idiolecte milanais » avait commencé sur un blog que j’avais créé pour y recueillir les expressions que j’avais pensé longtemps appartenir à ma langue maternelle, l’italien, pour me rendre compte en m’éloignant de cette langue pour vivre à l’étranger, qu’elles faisaient partie seulement de mon italien et de celui de ma sœur, de ma grand-mère et, bien sûr, de ma mère, figure tutélaire de mon éducation de jeune fille rangée, emportée par un cancer quand j’avais dix-huit ans. Reconstruire tout ça par le biais de ce dictionnaire personnel m’avait permis un accès à mon passé filtré par le langage dont je m’éloignais de plus en plus. La distance linguistique que je sentais augmenter avec l’italien se manifestait dans de petites incertitudes sur les mots, un manque de spontanéité que mon italien d’émigrée commençait à dévoiler. Les mots de l’italien n’étaient plus au « premier ordre », naturels, spontanés : ils devenaient comme ceux du français ou de l’anglais, au second ordre, je les sentais dans la tête comme s’ils étaient entre guillemets et avaient besoin d’être interprétés. Cette distance sémantique était survenue après un long séjour aux États-Unis, ou j’avais dû m’efforcer d’écrire en anglais, une langue avec laquelle j’avais depuis longtemps une relation intellectuelle très profonde. Le retour l’été en Italie, en passant par la France où je vis depuis vingt-cinq ans, avait été brusque : mon italien n’était plus accordé à celui des autres, la langue avait évolué, la mienne était restée immobile, toujours pareille, comme le monde de mon enfance que je me tournais à regarder pour la première fois.

C’est à ce moment que j’ai lu le live d’Orhan Pamuk sur Istanbul. Pamuk n’a jamais quitté sa ville, il a une intimité avec elle que je ne peux plus avoir avec la mienne après tant d’années d’absence. C’est ainsi que son autobiographie se confond avec celle de la ville, sa tristesse enfantine se peint sur les ruelles sombres de certains quartiers d’Istanbul ou sur les mouettes immobiles sous la pluie posées sur les bateaux incrustés d’algues et de moules du Bosphore. Son histoire et la géographie de la ville se mêlent comme si chaque détail architectonique, chaque mur, chaque petite boutique dans la rue du palais Pamuk, où habitait sa famille, parlaient la langue de son enfance.

Une expérience très différente de celle d’une émigrée comme moi, dont l’intimité avec sa ville de naissance n’est qu’une utopie, la consolation d’un lieu intact quelque part qui nous accueillera un jour comme le fils prodigue. C’était encore plus surprenant donc de me retrouver dans le livre de Pamuk, y retrouver mon enfance dans les détails de la sienne. Moi, qui avais été seulement une fois à Istanbul lors d’une croisière avec ma grand-mère à onze ans, je me retrouvais en intimité avec l’enfance d’Orhan Pamuk, ses parents, ses maisons, ses promenades sur le Bosphore. Le recoupement des détails semblables de nos enfances était presque inquiétant : la robe de chambre de sa mère couleur crème avec des dessins à fleurs rouges je l’imaginais identique à celle que ma grande mère portait à l’hôpital les derniers jours de sa vie. Elle m’avait demandé d’ailleurs d’aller lui chercher une autre robe de chambre en soie blanche, car il lui semblait disgracieux de mourir en portant une robe de chambre à fleurs rouges.

L’antagonisme avec le frère aîné, les multiples altercations, les combats physiques me rappelaient les disputes et les hurlements entre ma sœur aînée et moi, les luttes par terre dans sa chambre, les morsures et les cheveux tirés. Pamuk décrit un détail de ces querelles entre frères qui me frappe par sa précision : en fait, bien qu’extrêmement violents et physiquement épuisants, les combats pouvaient s’arrêter instantanément avec l’apparition d’un adulte, ou si quelqu’un sonnait à la porte, comme si ce rituel féroce n’était au fond qu’un jeu de complicité. C’était la même chose entre ma sœur et moi : nous étions capables d’interrompre nos luttes pour ouvrir la porte gentiment à un visiteur, et recommencer ensuite de nous battre avec la même sauvagerie.

Les sorties sur les bords du Bosphore en voiture – la mère et le père devant, les deux frères derrière –, les disputes entre les parents comme si les enfants n’existaient pas, me rappelaient nos trajets pour aller à la campagne, le week-end, dans la petite Cinquecento de ma mère. Mes parents se disputaient, ma sœur et moi nous avions le dos tourné, nous regardions par la vitre arrière les plaques d’immatriculation des voitures qui nous suivaient en essayant d’en apprendre leur numéro par cœur. Les « scènes » de la mère au père, ses menaces de se « jeter par la fenêtre » – une expression qui fait partie du lexique de ma famille et qu’on utilise ironiquement encore maintenant –, la disparition parfois de la mère ou du père : « Votre père est en voyage », ou « votre mère est malade », cette façon de gérer les crises familiales était identique chez moi et nous laissait, ma sœur et moi, soucieuses de ces mystères en partie révélés dans les querelles qui se produisaient sous nos yeux et en partie cachés. L’année du divorce de mes parents ma mère « disparut » tout l’été et nous restâmes avec ma grand-mère en vacances sur les plages du nord de la Toscane – où nous avions l’habitude de passer tous nos étés – avec l’angoisse de savoir si ma mère reviendrait un jour. Notre père n’était jamais « malade » : il était en « voyage d’affaires ». C’est lui d’ailleurs qui eut le courage de nous dire la vérité sur ce qui était en train de se passer. Il nous invita un soir de l’automne qui suivit l’été des disparitions dans son nouvel appartement de Milan où deux grandes photos, celles d’une femme et de sa fille, nous présentaient sans besoin de trop d’explications celles qui allaient devenir notre nouvelle famille.

L’atmosphère d’une famille d’Istanbul dans les années 1950 et celle d’une famille milanaise dans les années 1970 se ressemblent étrangement. Comme Pamuk, la phrase que j’ai le plus entendu dans mon enfance est : « Éteins la lumière ! » Nous appartenions aussi à une famille aisée, bourgeoise, avec un respect pour la culture et le bon goût et une forme de mépris pour la religion, considérée comme l’apanage des gens pauvres et simples d’esprit. Adolescente, ma mère m’avait interdit de me faire percer les oreilles pour ne pas ressembler « aux paysannes catholiques ».

 La religion n’était pas critiquée en soi : je ne me souviens pas de débats sur l’existence de Dieu avec mes parents. C’était le style religieux, le monde rétrograde des catholiques, leur façon de vivre, de s’habiller, leurs lectures ringardes, leurs jugements bornés de « bien-pensants » que mes parents n’appréciaient pas. Comme les Pamuk étaient occidentalisés, nous étions « modernes », ce qui voulait dire à peu près la même chose.

Mon père écoutait du jazz (en faisant semblant de jouer du saxophone un peu comme le père d’Orhan écoutait des disques de musique classique en faisant semblant de diriger l’orchestre), on buvait du Ginger Ale, boisson à l’époque à la mode en Italie parce que cela faisait très « anglais ». Mon père se faisait faire des chemises en tissu Oxford et des vestes en tweed. Notre « supériorité sociale » ne venait pas de notre fortune, bien que mon enfance fût très aisée, mais de la « modernité » de nos mœurs. On était laïcs, on écoutait de la musique moderne, on allait voir Giorgio Strehler ou Dario Fo au théâtre, on lisait trois ou quatre quotidiens, bref, c’était un milieu privilégié plus à cause de son capital symbolique qu’à cause de son argent. Les nouveaux riches qui ont envahi Milan à partir des années 1980 ne nous impressionnaient pas. Ils n’étaient pas « comme nous », ils n’avaient pas de goût, ils parlaient mal l’italien, n’utilisaient pas les subjonctifs et regardaient les spectacles de variété grand public à la télé, que mon père nous interdisait de regarder.

Le va-et-vient d’oncles, tantes, domestiques, nounous dans la maison était caractéristique de chez ma grand-mère, comme il l’était du palais Pamuk, que la famille habitait dans l’enfance d’Orhan. L’ennui de l’enfance, les après-midi interminables, les jeux inventés avec ma sœur qui s’achevaient toujours dans la bagarre, tout ça, je le découvrais en lisant Istanbul, était pareil chez les frères Pamuk. L’atmosphère de ces deux villes si distantes, si différentes, passées au filtre de la vapeur de la tristesse enfantine, devenait semblable : ainsi une ville très continentale du nord de l’Italie, sans fleuve ni mer, et Constantinople, capitale de l’Empire d’Orient, point de jonction entre l’Orient et l’Occident, ville de rêve, magique, exotique, pouvaient se ressembler dans les bruits des tramways qui les traversaient, dans le brouillard matinal et les couleurs sombres des murs, dans cette espèce de tristesse unique du Sud, qui s’écroule sous le poids de son passé, qui ne peut avancer qu’au prix d’un oubli de soi-même.

La tension entre modernité et tradition qui écrase les villes italiennes est un trait commun à l’urbanisme d’Istanbul. Tout est une perte : les maisons et les palais en bois qui ont brûlé, les nouvelles constructions qui changent le paysage, la géographie de ces villes ne peut avancer qu’en perdant quelque chose, comme nous le sommes vis-à-vis de notre enfance. Dessinateur et architecte, Pamuk est un observateur minutieux de sa ville, qu’il nous peint aussi grâce au regard porté par d’autres écrivains. Il est plus facile selon lui d’écrire sur une ville lorsqu’on ne l’habite pas, lorsqu’on est de passage. Très peu de livres ont été écrits sur les villes par leurs habitants.


Les voyages de Stendhal en Italie, de Maupassant en Sicile, de l’écrivain italien Edmondo De Amicis à Constantinople sont plus parlants que ne le sont les écrits de leurs habitants. La ville se « présente » au voyageur qui la scrute, l’interprète, la décode, tandis qu’elle se « représente » à l’habitant qui la vit tous les jours, la traverse, l’absorbe dans ses propres émotions, en est parti. Pourtant, ce regard osmotique avec sa propre ville en fait un théâtre de l’âme. Il y a beaucoup à dire et à écrire sur Istanbul-Byzance-Constantinople, il n’y a presque rien à dire sur Milan, mais en tant que théâtres des âmes de leurs habitants elles deviennent semblables, elles accompagnent une enfance, une éducation, elles sont le lieu des premières expériences qui porteront pour toujours leurs couleurs, leurs odeurs. Comme notre vie, les lieux de notre enfance nous sont familiers et étrangers en même temps : nous ressemblons à nous-mêmes mais nous ne sommes plus la même personne que celle que nous étions quand nous avions 10 ans, 20 ans. C’est un sentiment de familiarité qui se mêle à l’amertume de la perte, un peu comme lorsqu’on rencontre un amant avec lequel on a vécu une grande intimité et qui ne compte plus dans notre vie.

Ces lieux familiers sont toujours là, pourtant ils ne sont plus les « nôtres », ceux de nos premières promenades, des amis d’enfance dans les jardins, des premières amours. Ils nous accompagnent, nous regardent, se mêlent à nous, mais ils ne nous protègent plus de la perte que toute vie porte avec soi. Le lieu magique de l’enfance est tout proche, en nous, autour de nous et pourtant perdu pour toujours.

Monday, January 04, 2016

Séminaire EHESS 2016 CONNAISSANCE ET SOCIETE



Séminaire EHESS - EPISTEMOLOGIE SOCIALE - Gloria Origgi
CONNAISSANCE ET SOCIETE 
Lundi de 13 h à 15 h (salle 5, 105 bd Raspail 75006 Paris), du 4 janvier 2016 au 11 avril 2016

Le séminaire explore le rôle du savoir en démocratie. Le savoir est un bien commun qui est produit et consommé collectivement. Pourtant, dans nos démocraties à forte densité informationnelle, plusieurs décisions politiques sont prises sur la base d’expertises techno-scientifiques qui sont au-delà du contrôle citoyen. Une nouvelle forme d’autorité est de plus en plus invoquée pour légitimer l’autorité politique, ce qui risque de violer le principe de « neutralité » vis-à-vis des opinions qui caractérise les démocraties libérales - les opinions des experts ayant plus d’autorité que celles des autres. Quel est le rapport entre ces deux formes d’autorité en démocratie ? Qui sont les experts ? Quel est le niveau « épistémique » requis pour une participation démocratique dans les sociétés de la connaissance ? Ce séminaire introduit aux thèmes classiques de l’épistémologie sociale, tels que le rapport entre connaissance et autorité, le rôle des experts, le rapport entre cognition et société.

Chaque semaine un texte sera distribué en forme électronique et sa lecture est obligatoire pour la semaine suivante. Les textes seront recueillis sur un moodle.

Validation : un travail écrit sur un sujet proposé par l’étudiant et approuvé par l’enseignant et une présentation orale de 15 minutes sur le sujet à la fin du séminaire.

Renseignements : Gloria Origgi : gloria.origgi@gmail.com

Programme :
4 janvier Le savoir est-il essentiellement autoritaire?
Texte : R. B.  Friedman: “On the Concept of Authority in Political Philosophy” in J. Raz (ed.) Authority, 1990, NYU Press
11 janvier Autorité épistémique et autorité politique.
Texte : G. Origgi “What Does it Mean to Trust in Epistemic Authority?” in P. Pasquino, P. Harris Concept of Authority, Rome, 2007. En ligne à : http://academiccommons.columbia.edu/catalog/ac%3A130569
18 janvier Autorité, justification et rationalité
Texte : J. Raz “Authority and Justification” in Raz, 1990
25 janvier Epistémologie et démocratie : la tension entre égalité et qualité 
Texte :  D. Estlund, Democratic Authority, 2008, Princeton UP, ch. 1 “Democratic Authority” et ch. 2 “Truth and Despotism”
1 février Politiques de la crédibilité : Justice et injustice épistémique
Texte : M. Fricker Epistemic Injustice, 2007, Oxford UP, ch. 1 “Testimonial Injustice” et ch. 2 “Prejudice in the Credibility Economy”
8 février Jean-Claude Monod (Ecole Normale Supérieure) : Typologies de l’autorité
Texte : J. C. Monod Qu’est-ce qu’un chef en démocratie ? Seuil, 2012, ch. 1 “Typologies”
15 février Pascal Engel (Dir. D’Etudes - EHESS) : La fable de l’injustice épistémique
Texte d’arrière plan : P. Engel “Une épistémologie sociale peut-elle être alethiste ?” Raisons Pratiques, 2006. En ligne à :https://www.unige.ch/lettres/philo/enseignants/pe/Engel%202006%20Une%20epistemologie%20sociale%20peut%20elle%20etre%20alethiste.pdf
29 février Les compétences du public : John Dewey
Texte :  J. Dewey The Public and its Problems, 1927, ch. 6 “The Problem of Method”
7 mars La question de l’expertise 
Texte : S. Turner The Politics of Expertise, 2014, Routledge, Introduction et ch. 1 “What is the Problem with Experts ?”
14 mars La volonté de savoir. Une lecture épistémologique de Foucault
Texte : M. Foucault, La volonté de savoir, 1970, Gallimard
21 mars Confiance et expertise
Texte : G. Origgi “What is an Expert that a Person May Trust Her ?” , 2015, Humana Mente, vol. 28, en ligne à :http://www.humanamente.eu/PDF/Issue28_Papers_Origgi.pdf 
4 avril Présentations des étudiants
11 avril Présentations des étudiants
Gloria Origgi
CNRS - Institut Nicod
Ecole Normale Supérieure
29, rue d'Ulm
75005 Paris
Office: + 33 1 44322688


Thursday, August 13, 2015

Jack Goody (1919-2015)





DI GLORIA ORIGGI E DAN SPERBER

Published on IL SOLE 24 ORE. All rights reserved

E’ morto Jack Goody, nel giorno del suo novantaseiesimo compleanno. Umanista, storico, antropologo, sociologo, Jack Goody è stato soprattutto un intellettuale a tutto tondo, mosso dalla curiosità intellettuale non meno che dalle esigenze scientifiche, capace di scavalcare con eleganza le barriere disciplinari per riuscire a capire come si formano e si stabilizzano strutture sociali e tradizioni culturali così diverse da una società all’altra.

Goody entra nel 1938 al St. John College di Cambridge dove studia letteratura inglese e storia e incontra pensatori come Eric Hobsbawm, con il quale condivide le idee marxiste. Allo scoppio della Seconda Guerra Mondiale si arruola e combatte in Nord Africa, in Germania e in Italia, dove è fatto prigioniero dai tedeschi negli Abruzzi. Ed è proprio la sua permanenza negli Abruzzi, senza libri, nel mezzo di una società arcaica e rurale, a farlo convertire all’antropologia. Tornato a Cambridge nel 1946, comincia una tesi di antropologia, con l’obiettivo di “gettare un ponte tra l’antropologia e gli studi storici e comparativi”. L’antropologia sociale britannica, grazie a pensatori come Radcliffe-Brown, Evans-Pritchard, Meyer Fortes attraversava in quel periodo una stagione d’oro, un’era di produttività, di esigenza intellettuale e di eccellenza che ne faceva un modello disciplinare. Goody sceglie come terreno etnografico l’Africa occidentale e parte nel 1950 per il Ghana, che viene chiamato ancora con il suo nome coloniale: Costa D’Oro. 

Dopo un primo libro di etnografia abbastanza classica sull’organizzazione sociale dei LoWilii, Goody pubblica nel 1962 un secondo libro, sempre basato sul suo terreno ghanese, ma nel quale già emerge la sua prospettiva comparativa: Death, Property and the Ancestors, mostrando come la funzione dei rituali funebri sia quella di gestire i conflitti tra generazioni, ossia le tensioni legate ai diritti sessuali e all’autorità familiare da un lato, e alla gestione e trasmissione dei beni dall’altro. Un’analisi dei riti funebri ispirata non dogmaticamente da Marx e Freud che ne mette in luce gli aspetti psicologici e al tempo stesso economici. L’antropologia e stata animata dall’inizio da un progetto compartivo. Pochi però sono gli antropologi che hanno veramente sviluppato un’ opera comparativa. Goody l’ha fatto in grande scala con più di 15 libri su diversi temi, alcuni su temi classici delle scienze sociali come la famiglia o il ruolo della scrittura, altri più originali come la cultura dei fiori.

Nel suo lavoro sulle strutture della famiglia in Asia, Africa e Europa, emerge chiaro un tema chiave del pensiero di Goody, ossia i rapporti tra struttura familiare e sviluppo economico, che fa dell’antropologo britannico un pensatore fondamentale nelle scienze sociali del Novecento, al pari di Durkheim e di Max Weber. La struttura familiare influenza ed è influenzata dai modi di produzione economica, questa è una verità di base delle scienze sociali. Ma come? Una classica opposizione distingue tra società tradizionali, strutturate in clan e in tribù in cui le donne sono un bene di consumo che circola al pari degli altri beni, e società cosiddette più “evolute” e complesse, fondate su una famiglia ristretta e monogamica e in cui le donne possono beneficiare di strategie di successione destinate a preservare l’integrità del patrimonio. Insomma, a farla breve, da un lato noi europei civilizzati, dall’altro tutto il mondo “primitivo”, Asia e Africa insieme. Il vantaggio europeo sul resto del mondo sarebbe dunque il risultato di un’astuziosa organizzazione familiare che permette l’accumulazione di capitale. Contro questa visione, Goody mostra che la dicotomia non tiene e che i sistemi familiari extraeuropei sono molto più differenziati. Un confronto tra sistemi africani e asiatici permette a Goody di mostrare come in Asia i sistemi di riproduzione permettano comunque la formazione di élites e la gestione del patrimonio. E un’esplorazione storica della famiglia in Occidente nel suo libro del 1983 La famiglia nella storia Europea, gli permise di mostrare il ruolo cruciale della Chiesa nell’eliminazione di pratiche familiari come l’adozione o il matrimonio tra parenti, nell’intento di massimizzare le donazioni patrimoniali in suo favore. 

In lavori successivi, Goody mostra che le differenze di struttura matrimoniale tra Oriente e Occidente sono in realtà meno importanti di quello che la tradizione sociologica eurocentrica ci dice, fino ad argomentare, in un libro recente, Eurasia, storia di un miracolo, che la grande rivoluzione che fa delle società europee, mediorientali e asiatiche un miracolo è stata l’introduzione di tecniche culturali come la scrittura invece dell’accumulazione di capitale. La scrittura non è una tecnica di accumulazione, ma di gestione del surplus economico, alla quale per esempio gran parte dell’Africa non ha avuto accesso per lungo tempo.

Proprio sulla differenza tra oralità e scrittura Goody si confronta con la questione dell’impatto cognitivo delle rivoluzioni culturali, andando al di là del marxismo e comprendendo il ruolo della mente nell’evoluzione dei rapporti sociali, un tema che aveva già affrontato nella sua critica alla nozione di “pensiero selvaggio” di Levi-Strauss nel suo libro L’addomesticamento del pensiero selvaggio.

Il contributo maggiore dell’opera di Goody è di aver arricchito la riflessione sui grandi temi delle scienze sociali con una conoscenza profonda e dettagliata delle pratiche culturali. Così, temi apparentemente secondari, come le abitudini culinarie, diventano un modo di ripensare le gerarchie sociali in Cibo e Amore, o la cultura dei fiori diventa uno spunto per ripercorrere le trasformazioni sociali legate all’avvento dell’agricoltura e, sorprendentemente, della scrittura nel bel libro La cultura dei fiori.

Pensatore indomabile, Goody ha dedicato gli ultimi vent’anni delle sue ricerche a una critica feroce dell’etnocentrismo europeo, in particolare nel saggio: Il furto della storia, in cui mostra l’inadeguatezza della dicotomia Oriente/Occidente e la falsa narrativa della supremazia occidentale nell’invenzione della modernità. Una lezione di metodo e di tolleranza indispensabile per ripensare le scienze sociali all’era del mondo globale.

Monday, July 27, 2015

Peut-on mentir à soi même ?





Conférence à l'IEA de Paris dans le cadre de la journée Mensonge et Aveu, organisée par Philippe Rochat le 1er juin 2015.

Monday, March 30, 2015

Otto e mezzo

My performance at the Italian television on March 27th :  http://www.la7.it/otto-e-mezzo/rivedila7/otto-e-mezzo-27-03-2015-151036


Monday, January 12, 2015

Charlie Hebdo è vivo

Articolo pubblicato su il Domenicale de Il Sole 24 Ore l'11 gennaio 2015. Tutti i diritti riservati.



Conosco bene quella redazione massacrata ieri mattina a Parigi. Una camionetta della polizia mi aveva accolta poco più di un anno fa mentre mi recavo a intervistare per Micromega, Gerard Biard, caporedattore di Charlie Hebdo, per fortuna sopravvissuto all’attentato (si trovava a Londra). 
Settimanale satirico “Bête et méchant”, dichiaratamente anti-clericale, era stato fondato nel 1960, sotto il nome di Hara-Kiri, da François Cavanna e da Georges Bernier, alias Professor Choron. Dopo numerose incarnazioni, censure e resurrezioni, Hara-Kiri viene definitivamente proibito dal Ministero degli Interni nel 1969 per un famoso titolo sulla morte di Charles De Gaulle. Facendo eco ai titoli dei giornali che avevano commentato pochi giorni prima la tragica notizia di un incendio in discoteca che aveva provocato 146 morti, il giorno dopo la morte del generale De Gaulle nella sua casa di Colombey, Hara-Kiri esce col titolo: “Tragico ballo a Colombey: un morto”. Il giorno dopo la polizia mette i sigilli sulla porta della redazione. Ma Cavanna, Topor, Wolinski - ucciso senza pietà a ottant’anni - non si arrendono e in una settimana trasformano il mensile Charlie con cui collaborano tutti, un giornale di satira e fumetti molto vicino al Linus italiano, in un nuovo settimanale: Charlie Hebdo.

L’atmosfera della redazione mi riportava indietro di trent’anni, ai Linus accumulati sul divano nel salotto di mio padre, ai libri di Claire Bretecher che leggeva mia madre, insomma, al laicismo spensierato e impertinente della mia infanzia negli Anni Settanta. A quell’irriverenza allegra dei fumetti e dello spirito libertario e laico, quel senso di sicurezza che solo la libertà di parola ci può dare, perché solo chi è veramente libero è sicuro di sé.

Avevo chiesto a Biard che cosa significasse essere un giornale “ateo”, come Charlie Hebdo si dichiarava. Con il suo tono sornione mi aveva risposto: “Essere ateo significa essere un giornale che si oppone a qualsiasi dogma religioso, che non crede ovviamente alla superiorità di nessuna religione sulle altre e soprattutto che si oppone a qualsiasi ingerenza del mondo religioso sul terreno politico”.
Mi raccontava che erano sommersi dalle denunce e dai processi: associazioni religiose musulmane, cattoliche, ebraiche…quella che li aveva denunciati più sovente era l’AGRIF, Alliance Génerale contre le racisme et pour le respect de l’identité française et chrétienne, un’associazione di destra integralista cattolica francese. Che il direttore, Stéphane Charb, morto ieri in ospedale, aveva una guardia del corpo. Ma che tutto ciò non li spaventava troppo. Perché, mi diceva, la laicità è una causa per la quale vale la pena di morire: “Perché è il senso stesso della democrazia. Sappiamo ormai che la democrazia è l’unico sistema di governo possibile. Senza laicità la democrazia non funziona. E’ la condizione della democrazia, che è un sistema politico che accetta di essere continuamente rimesso in questione”.

L’irriverenza di Charlie Hebdo può certamente disturbare i benpensanti, ma i benpensanti democratici tollerano di essere disturbati. E’ questa la democrazia. Tollerare di essere disturbati dalle credenze e dalle dichiarazioni degli altri. Tollerare che ci sia gente che incroci tutte le mattine, a cui dici buongiorno, con cui lavori, che magari non la pensa come te.
Credenti, non credenti, atei, mistici, benpensanti, compriamo tutti Charlie Hebdo questa settimana per dire forte, ad alta voce, che nessuno chiuderà mai la bocca alla libertà.

Monday, May 26, 2014

Fear of Principles? A Cautionary Defense of the Precautionary Principle

Draft submitted to Mind&Society, journal. Do not quote without permission. For any comment or question, write to: gloria.origgi@gmail.com





Should fear guide our actions and governments’ political decisions? A leitmotiv of common sense is that emotions are tricky, they blur our rational capacity of estimating utilities in order to plan action and thus they should be banned from any account of our rational expectations. Yet, the way in which our judgments are biased by emotional dispositions may sometimes make us end up with better choices than pure rational choices. For example, a huge literature has shown the universality of our risk-aversion and loss-aversion (Tversky and Kahneman, 1974; Kahneman 2011). These universal features don’t harm the evolution of human society. Rather, they explain the emergence of a variety of different complex (and fit!) behaviors[1]. In this paper, I would like to challenge the prejudicial idea that fear of loss should not guide our behavior at all and, especially, our collective behavior when it takes the shape of a principle of general loss-aversion, as in the case of the Precautionary Principle. In particular, I will discuss Cass Sunstein’s rejection of this principle on the basis of its incoherence by arguing that Sunstein’s criticism based on human cognitive biases misses the target of the principle. I will then argue for an ethical defense of the principle on the basis of a new vision of our moral imperatives towards the future and a different, non evidential, concern for potential catastrophic events.

What sort of principle?

The Precautionary Principle (PP in the following) is the more and more referred to in debates relating to environmental and health risks. It appeared for the first time in public debates around ecological issues in Germany in the Sixties and was rapidly adopted by ecologists especially in northern European countries. It began to be alluded to, at least implicitly, in international declarations such as the Stockholm declaration of the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) in 1972[2]. In 1982, The World Charter of Nature, sponsored by 34 “developing” countries was adopted by the United Nations. An open reference to the PP is made for the first time in this text at a global level. It is interesting to read through the text, because it shows very clearly the new philosophy of nature that underlies the endorsement of the principle. The charter was modeled on the UN declaration of Human Rights and structured in five principles and a series of recommendations. The preamble to the principles states that the General Assembly, aware that: “(a) Mankind is a part of nature and life depends on the uninterrupted functioning of natural systems which ensure the supply of energy and nutrients, and (b) Civilization is rooted in nature, which has shaped human culture and influenced all artistic and scientific achievement, and living in harmony with nature gives man the best opportunities for the development of his creativity, and for rest and recreation” and convinced that: “(a) Every form of life is unique, warranting respect regardless of its worth to man, and, to accord other organisms such recognition, man must be guided by a moral code of action, (b)  Man can alter nature and exhaust natural resources by his action or its consequences and, therefore, must fully recognize the urgency of maintaining the stability and quality of nature and of conserving natural resources”, declares that: 1. Nature shall be respected and its essential processes shall not be impaired.
In 1987, the Montreal Protocol on Substances that Deplete the Ozone Layer, made the first explicit reference to a “precautionary approach” to the problem of the ozone layer. The PP took its first globally accepted definition in 1992, at the Rio Earth Summit, on of the major United Nations conferences on environmental issues, whose outcome was a Declaration on Environment and Development structured around 27 principles. The 15th principle is the following:


In order to protect the environment, the precautionary approach shall be widely applied by States according to their capabilities. Where there are threats of serious or irreversible damage, lack of full scientific certainty shall not be used as a reason for postponing cost-effective measures to prevent environmental degradation.

Further international developments of the PP can be found in the 1997 Kyoto Protocol, an international agreement related to the United Nation Framework Convention on Climate Change, which acknowledged responsibilities of developed countries for the high levels of GHG emissions and set an international agenda for monitoring and reducing emissions around the world.
In Europe, the PP has been integrated into the Lisbon Treaty, in the second paragraph of the article 191:

Union policy on the environment shall aim at a high level of protection taking into account the diversity of situations in the various regions of the Union. It shall be based on the precautionary principle and on the principles that preventive action should be taken, that environmental damage should as a priority be rectified at source and that the polluter should pay.

The precautionary principle enables rapid response in the face of a possible danger to human, animal or plant health, or to protect the environment. In particular, where scientific data do not permit a complete evaluation of the risk, recourse to PP may, for example, be used
to stop distribution or order withdrawal from the market of products likely to be hazardous.

The European philosophical roots of the principle

The idea of the possibility of environmental risks at global scale related to the awesome power of modern science and technology became a mainstream theme in the European ecological thinking, especially in Germany, in the mid Seventies. The vorsogeprinzip[3] became part of the conceptual tool kit of environmentalists in Germany, especially around the issue of acid rain  and clean air. It was also on line with a general trend of modernization of the country that should match new challenges like globalization, environmental management and the protection of global commons such as air, water, etc. In 1970, a first draft of new clean air legislation in Germany made direct reference to the idea of vorsoge. Literally, the verb Vorbeugen is commonly used in medicine and means “to bend beforehand” so that to reduce the risk of being broken. The political atmosphere that encouraged the emergence of the idea of a social responsibility in protecting the future of environmental commons was the German social democratic administration aiming at including environmental policies as part of the project of a fairer society[4]. The concept though bore a certain ambiguity among different interpretation and aims. Many authors point to a number of possible lines along which the appeal to the principle can be interpreted. It contains at least the ideas of: preventative anticipation; safeguarding of ecological space; proportionality of response; duty of care; promoting the cause of intrinsic natural rights; and paying for past ecological damage. All these concepts are evoked and included in various formulations of the principle and leave room for different applications and political uses of the principle. However, in the late Seventies, the work of the German philosopher Hans Jonas contributed to a clearer definition of the ethical reasons that underlie the principle.

Jonas and the Prinzip Verantwortung

In 1979, Hans Jonas published a book Das Prinzip Veratnwortung, later translated into English under the title: The Imperative of Responsibility. His main idea is that the new alliance between global capitalism and technology creates possibilities of action for human beings that require a wholly new ethical reflection. Many of the worries that the previous formulations of the vorsogeprinzip raised in the political discussions and the many possible interpretations of the principle were due to a lack of precise understanding of the requirements of a new ethics for the future of mankind. Jonas’ contribution may be considered the philosophical foundation of the PP. Without taking into account the “ethical turn” that Jonas puts forward, many aspects of the PP as well as its apparent incoherence - that Cass Sunstein stresses in his book[5] -  are very difficult to explain. Jonas gave voice to a diffused idea that we have entered a new era in which the intervention of humanity on nature can bring about not only irreversible harm, like global catastrophes, but irreversible transformations of the metaphysics of nature and humanity. What is at stake today is not only the destiny of humanity, but the very conception of what “being human” is and means. We can do things that make us being no longer humans, we can act in such a way as to radically change the nature of nature. That is the novelty that sustain the PP and the new responsibilities we have as actors that can modify in an unprecedented way the deep ontological intuitions we have about being human. Ethics has always dealt with human action and responsibility in a fixed natural context. Today, technologically-mediated human action can modify the environment in such a way that we cannot consider nature anymore as a neutral environment that is the theater of our actions. Nature is the target and the object of our actions whose causal consequences are incomparable to what we have seen up to now. A new form of responsibility that takes into account these potential irreversible consequences has to be at the center ethics today. Traditionally, ethics, has dealt with questions that concerned the immediate environment of action: “Treat others as you would want them to treat you”, or “Subordinate your own good to the common good”, whereas the causal consequences of human actions today make them having a potential impact on the whole universe. Jonas then presents a new categorical imperative, echoing Kant’s anti-utilitarian ethics, in the following forms: “Act so that the effects of your action are compatible with the permanence of genuine human life”, or: “Act so that the effects of your actions won’t destroy the future possibility of such a genuine human life” or else: “Include in you own choice today the future integrity of the humankind”. As for Kant’s categorical imperative, the form of knowledge required in order to be able to recognize the truthfulness of these principles is not of the same order of scientific knowledge. Ethical competence, according to Kant[6] doesn’t require any empirical knowledge and any special expertise. Anyone can acquire a moral competence: “Because in moral concerns human reason can easily be brought to a high degree of correctness and completeness, even in the commonest understanding, while on the contrary in its theoretic but pure use it is wholly dialectical”. In this sense, the new ethics put forward by Jonas doesn’t depend on the acknowledgment of new scientific facts, but on a new order of responsibilities that humans must endorse towards themselves and the survival of the natural world.
An aspect of this new ethics, according to Jonas, is that of taking into consideration the future as and not only the present as a moral dimension. When we consider future forecasting in order to take decisions today, we must adopt the principles above and, for example, prefer a less optimal outcome today if this means a better outcome for the survival of future generations.
Many commitments are implied by this imperative. First of all that we want to preserve human life in its known form, and thus exclude any futurological idea of post-humanity. Second, that we have duties toward the future generations that can be more compelling than the duties we have towards our own present. Third, that we acknowledge duties also towards non-human entities, such as water, air, etc. All these implications of the new ethics of responsibility that underlies the PP can be discussed and challenged. But, surprisingly, the angle of attack of the PP doesn’t privilege at all the ethical discussion. Rather, it focuses on the “rationality” or the “compatibility with science” of the principle, as it was obvious that an ethical principle should be justified by empirical evidence.
In the following, I will discuss Cass Sunstein’s attack to PP, together with other criticisms, and will try to argue that the target to the criticism is inappropriate and it is based on a deep misunderstanding of two main dimensions:

1. The ethical novelty of the principle
2. The statistical interpretation of the so-called “ruin-problems” or catastrophes.

Sustein’s argument fails to take into account both dimensions, by avoiding the discussion of the Kantian dimension of the PP (that is in deep opposition with any utilitarian approach to ethics) and by confusing the forecasting problem posed by the principle with classical statistical problems (hence the reference to probability biases) instead of a very special class of problems that have been defined in the recent literature as “ruin-problems”[7].

Five so-called “biases” of the PP

Cass Sunstein criticizes and rejects the PP, at least it its strongest form of requiring regulation of activities even if it cannot be shown that those activities are likely to produce significant harms on the basis of different arguments, one of which raises the question of its rationality. According to Sunstein, the PP is influenced by at least five well-known psychological biases that are very well studies in social psychology and behavioral economics:

1.     Loss aversion: according to Prospect Theory[8] people tend to be loss averse, that is, they consider more undesirable a loss from the status quo than a potential gain. In the case of PP, it means that people focus on the possible losses of a certain risky situation instead of appreciate the potential advantages that are inevitably lost by the introduction of the regulations.
2.     The myth of a Benevolent Nature: in the perception of risks, people impute more responsibility to human beings than to nature in potential harm. Nature is perceived as passive, benevolent and harmonious, while human intervention is seen as a cause of imbalance and loss of equilibrium. According to Sunstein, defenders of PP endorse this vision of nature that is not evidence-based. He brings about examples and case - like the one of man-made vs. natural made chemicals[9] - that show that human-made products may be far less toxic that nature-made ones.
3.     The availability heuristics: as largely shown in the psychological literature on heuristics and biases, people tend to be influenced by the cognitive availability of a certain risk to judge its probability. More familiar, salient or easily retrievable risks will be considered more probable than less available ones.
4.     Probability neglect: another well confirmed bias of the human mind is the tendency to miscalculate or underconsider probability. In emotionally charged situations, people tend to overestimate the probability of harm or of success. In the case of PP, it is clearly the probability of harm that, according to Sunstein, is overestimated.
5.     System neglect: Sunstein reports a rich psychological literature about the failure of most people to understand the systemic effects of a certain policy, while focusing only on one or few variables and being unable to see the causal cascade among the many parts involved in a system. PP is victim also of this neglect, because it focuses on risks in a part of the system without considering the overall trade-off of the intervention within the whole system.

First of all, it is unclear in Sunstein’s argument to understand who is the target of his criticisms, that is, who is affected by all these psychological biases. The policy makers who endorse the PP? Citizens who support it? Or the PP itself? The rhetoric varies between these different interpretations. Examples of these shifts of meaning can be found in the following statements: “Sometimes the precautionary principle operates by incorporating the belief that nature is essentially benign”[10], and: “People will be closely attuned to the losses produced by any newly introduced risk, or any aggravation of existing risks, but far less concerned with the benefits that are foregone as a result of regulation”[11] or elsewhere: “In fact many of those who endorse the principle seem to be especially concerned about new technologies”[12]. Who is then the target of Sunstein’s criticism? Policy makers? The general public opinion? The “operations” of the PP itself, as the PP was an acting agent? I think that these ambiguities show a deep misunderstanding of the level at which the results of social psychology behavioral economics should be applied. Sunstein mentions a rich experimental literature, but no evidence at all that the policy makers in Europe or around the world have been victims of these biases and neglects. Decisions in policy-making settings are not taken in the same form than decisions in everyday settings. People are asked to give reasons for a political decision or a regulatory intervention, and usually evidence-based decisions are highly appreciated. So, one could reasonably think that decisions are taken by taking into consideration these biases. If it is not the case, then, the burden of the proof rests on Professor Sunstein.
The second option is that the target of his criticism is the people in general and the public opinion. If it is so, then, another, different argument is needed in order to claim that what people think and fear, if it is biased by rational standards, should not be considered as a legitimate source of insight for policy making. We are not talking here of cases of massive irrationality or paranoid contagion, whose spreading should be avoided. We are talking here of universal psychological biases that no evidence can correct and that - given that they belong to human natural cognitive asset - have not prevented humanity to develop and survive. Prospect Theory, that is mentioned by Sunstein, is not a “bias”: it is, according to its inventors, a normative theory about human behavior; more precisely, an alternative to the homo oeconomicus, that even economists should consider in order to come out with better predictions and more accurate descriptions of human action.
More broadly, the question of the minimum standards of rationality that should be imposed to the citizens in order to participate in public life is an ancient debate that divides those who think that democracy should be based of political egalitarianism and opponents to this idea[13]. There is a tension in liberal democracies between political equality (one person, one vote) and political quality (not all points of view have the same weight to take wise decisions). One of the major problems of mature democracies is that of bridging the gap between competence and political participation. To what extent citizens must be competent? To what extent their judgments and opinions should be considered all equal? Sunstein’s invocation of cognitive biases goes with the standard complaints about democracy today that people are too ignorant, too uninformed to express a wise opinion, therefore their judgment can be manipulated and the overall objective value of the expression of their opinions be harmed. But is it so? Is this a justified complaint? Should the judgment of the many imply a certain level of rationality or probabilistic expertise in order to be taken into consideration? Should we get rid of “emotionally charged” expressions of preferences, affections, fears and commitment to deep values (like for example that of “respecting the environment” or “not eating animals”) when we assess the “rationality” of the public opinion? What sort of democracy is that envisaged by Sunstein, where our everyday understanding of our relationship with our environment and our future should be mediated by the readings of the fanciest results in behavioral economics? A true liberal democratic regulatory policy should be able to take into account values and different points of views, even about probability, without being so self assured about its epistemic superiority. Does it make any sense to ask whether Gandhi was right or wrong about his philosophy of nature given the import of his political action and the consequent democratic improvement for the whole world of India’s liberation? Could the alleged superiority of Cambridge-based techno-science in the last century over Gandhi pre-modern philosophy of nature[14] have been invoked to justify a change in policy making in India? If Sunstein’s five biases apply to citizens’ beliefs, then the burden of the proof that a better democratic action needs unbiased psychological subjects rests again on Professor Sunstein.
As for the third option, that is, that the PP is in itself biased, it is hard to figure out what exactly means that an ethical principle is biased and how psychological biases apply to international declarations.

Risk management vs. dealing with Black Swans

Precaution is different from prevention because it deals with potential risks instead of known risks. Yet, the notion of “potential risk” is quite obscure. Does it mean that the probability of the occurrence of these risks is unknown? Or does it mean that the impact of these risks is difficult, or even impossible, to anticipate? Here lies all the ambiguity of the PP, and, indeed, its difficult application as a risk management tool. Clearly, when risks are known, probabilistic risk management is sufficient to deal with potential harmful technological innovations. Take the case of the use of nuclear energy and the installation of new nuclear power plants. It raises strong emotional reactions among many people. But, as Bar-Yam, Read and Taleb (2014) say: “because of the known statistical structure of most of its problems and the absence of systemic consequences at small enough scales, at such scales the problem is better left to risk management than to PP”[15]. For a coherent application of the PP, it is essential thus, to distinguish it from a tool for risk prevention. The PP doesn’t deal with rare or unlikely events, it doesn’t rest on our cognitive failures in assessing probability distributions, nor it is a declaration of public paranoia. The PP deals with a very specific classes of events that are just not predictable, but thinkable, that is ruin-problems, or catastrophes. Catastrophes are notoriously black swans, to use the expression introduced to the large audience by the statistician and trader Nassim Nicholas Taleb[16]. A black swan is a highly improbable, hard to predict, rare event that has an enormous, disruptive impact on a system. Such extreme events are outliers, that is, they don’t lie on a Gaussian curve: their distribution is not normal. We can’t calculate the odds of a black swan, we cannot just predict it. Its probabilities, according to Taleb, are invariant to scale hence do not drop fast enough for the consequences to have a weak expected impact. Complex systems such as the techno-capitalist systems that drive our societies have scalable distributions of events. In these complex systems, rare, extreme “winner-take-all the effects” event are likely to be found. The probability distribution that contains a black swan has a fat tail, that is, the sum of the probabilities of all events will be dominated by a single one whose impact is incomparable with all the other ones. The penetration of technology within natural systems makes nature and biosphere part of these modern complex systems.
The PP deals with these kinds of events that, in such complex systems are likely to occur: ruin-events that, if they occur, are no-return events. I can survive ten times to attempts to poison me, but this doesn’t say anything about the probability that I will survive to the eleventh attempt to poison me. Rather, I may have become more fragile because of the exposure of the previous attempts. The risk of an environmental catastrophe is neither sustainable nor predictable. We have to live with and try to become more responsible and more robust to its possible occurrence. For example, diversity and redundancy are strategies that made of the evolved natural world a very robust system. Exercising the PP against the reduction of diversity and redundancy, for example of agricultural crops, may be a wise way of making us more robust to a possible radical systemic change induced by the continuous introduction of GMO in agriculture.
The PP thus cannot be neither criticized nor interpreted through the lens of a consequentialist ethics based on an estimate of the trade-offs of different probability distributions. And I agree with Sunstein about the ambiguity of some formulations of the PP that introduce this trade-off dimension. For example, the formulation in the Maastricht Treaty was the following: “The absence of certainties, given the current state of scientific and technological knowledge, must not delay the adoption of effective and proportionate preventive measures aimed at forestalling a risk of grave and irreversible damage to the environment at an economic acceptable cost”. But of course, this formulation in incoherent, because, if the risk is a major catastrophe, there is no trade-off with the “acceptable costs” to avoid it. Effectiveness, commensurability and “reasonable costs” are not the vocabulary of the unknown.

Conclusions

The PP introduces an ethical, normative principle for dealing with an uncertain future, where, given the complexity and interconnectedness of the natural and social systems in which we live, catastrophic black swans are more likely to occur. It introduces a future-oriented ethics by stating that the future of humankind should be part of our concerns in each choice. It introduces a bias towards the negative outcomes, that is, given the non-sustainability of a catastrophic outcome, being aware that it may happen, makes a lot of sense. It doesn’t help us in forecasting catastrophic events, but, by teaching us to fear them and to incorporate their possibility in our everyday thinking about our actions, it guides us to become more robust to them.
Indeed, we should not fear fear too much. Sometimes fear can make us stronger and wiser.










[1] Cf. Brennan, T. and Lo, A., 2011, “The Origin of Behavior”, Quarterly Journal of Finance 1: 55–108.
[2] Cf. http://www.unep.org/Documents.Multilingual/Default.asp?documentid=97&articleid=1503
[3] Cf. S. Bohemer-Christiansen: “The Precautionary Principle in Germany” T. O’Riordan and J. Cameron (1994) Interpreting the Precautionary Principle, EarthScan Publishing.
[4] Cf. ibidem, p. 35.
[5] Cf. C Sunstein (2005) Laws of Fear: Beyond the Precautionary Principle, Cambridge University Press.
[6] Cf. I. Kant, 1785 Fundamental Principles of the Metaphysics of Morals, translated into English by Thomas Kingsmill Abbott.
[7] Cf. Y. Bar-Yam, R. Read, N. N. Taleb (2014): “The Precautionary Principle”; J. P. Dupuy “The Precautionary Principle and Enlightened Doomsaying: Rational Choice before
the Apocalypse.” Occasion: Interdisciplinary Studies in the Humanities 1, no. 1 (October 15, 2009), http://occasion.stanford.edu/node/28.
[8] Cf. D. Kahneman, A. Tversky (1979) “Prospect Theory: An Analysis of Decision under Risk” Econometrica, 2, vol. 47, pp. 263-292; D. Kahneman (2011) Thinking, fast and slow, Allen Lane, New York.
[9] Actually, he mentions cases discussed in Paul Slovic’s work on risk perception. Cf. P. Slovic (1987) “Perception of Risk”, Science, 236, 4799, pp. 280-285.
[10] Cf. Sunstein (2003) on line at: http://ssrn.com/abstract_id=307098 , p.29.
[11] Cf. ibidem, p. 27.
[12] Cf. ibidem, p. 29.
[13] Cf. J. Stuart Mill (1861) On Representative Government; J. Dewey (1916) Democracy and Education, MacMillan, New York. For a recent discussion of the tension in liberal democracies between political quality and political equality, see D. Estlund (2009) Democratic Authority, Princeton University Press.
[14] For a recent account of Gandhi’s philosophy of nature, see A. Bilgrami (2014) Secularism, Identity and Enchantment, Harvard University Press.
[15] Cf. http://www.hup.harvard.edu/catalog.php?isbn=9780674052048
[16] Cf. N.N. Taleb (2007) The Black Swan, Random House.