Among the many images that illustrate the nature of our times is the one that shows a 16-year-old Palestinian girl—with curly red hair like a Polish Jew—lashing out with her bare hands against two Israeli soldiers, in a video that has gone viral. Ahed Tamimi was arrested and judged to be a danger to Israel.
Israel is a country where, only a few decades ago, many Europeans and Americans near this girl’s age, Jews and non-Jews, wanted to live, to work in the kibbutzim, where they believed socialism had been truly realized. Today, Israel has become almost a perfect symbol for the blunders of 20th-century Europe, its faults and its defeats. The main fault was that they forced the Jews to make their own nation-state, which has made them similar to other peoples.
The main defeat, in turn, was that of the Soviet experiment, which eliminated the existence of the alternative. The alternative had different forms, but their common substance was the rejection of the global status quo. This rejection was often just the first step to the next, that of the struggle for a change in power relations. But nowadays, refusal and struggle belong to the past, when the lure of an alternative existed, while in our times we accept things as they are.
It is the first time in the political history of the world than the only ones making war are the followers of various religious faiths. Almost every day, Sunnis and Shiites, Hindus and Muslims are fighting each other, often with weapons bought from the American and European market.
Social, cultural and political contrasts appear to have vanished in a fog; nobody is interested in those anymore. Only power politics is left to motivate political leaders, who, within the boundaries imposed by the nuclear capabilities of each, are teasing each other in the style of the 19th century. Where is the line that North Korea and Trump’s White House will not cross? Maybe they know it, or maybe China knows. We watch them from afar, we see the effects of the reciprocal attacks, triggered by passions, hatreds, vendettas, and ask ourselves what times we are living in, and how we have managed to regress to the state of 17th-century Europe.
If we ask Google about our times, on our computer, mobile phone or tablet, the answer will be a paean sung to the glory of technological innovation. The contemporary theology of technology—uninterrupted and international-global—is yet another of the utopias about social, political or cultural change. It is an answer that we must reject. From the 17th century to Zuckerberg, social change has been a reality, not a utopia.
In 1960, Einaudi published a study on rural workers in Italy, ordered by Di Vittorio, the most important union leader of the time. The research showed just how precarious and subordinate the peasants’ working conditions were compared to those of employed workers. And the proposed possible solution was to make the job of a farm laborer more like an “employed” one. Nowadays, more than half a century later, local farm laborers have been replaced by illegal workers, who are being treated like slaves. And employees work even on Christmas Day.
The defeat of the idea of social change developed slowly, but it was openly acknowledged after 1989. The culture and politics around social change were hit hard. The first consequence was accepting defeat, and with it the culture and politics of those who had won. There was a loss of interest in peering into the mist and understanding the whys or the hows. Because, in the end, changing the relations between human beings was no longer an attractive political objective. It was as if the ability to think of an alternative had vanished without a trace.