On April 15, an Italian CEO of the Enel electricity corporation Francesco Starace, confidant of Prime Minister Matteo Renzi, gave a speech on business techniques at LUISS University.
“To change an organization, a sufficient group of people convinced of this change is needed, not necessarily a majority, just a handful of changers,” he said. “Then, it is necessary to identify the control nodes of the organization to be changed to physically destroy those centers of power.
“To do this,” continued Starace, “the changer needs to infiltrate the organization, giving them a disproportionate visibility compared to their corporate status, thus creating unease within the organizational nodes to be destroyed. Once this malaise becomes sufficiently obvious, attack the leaders opposing the change, and it must be done in the most blatant and manifest way possible, in order to inspire fear or provide positive examples to the rest of the organization. This must be done quickly, decisively and without any respite, and after a few months, the organization will understand, because people do not like to suffer.”
Although it’s an old event, that statement is news — not because he stated it but because while the Italian mainstream ignored the remark, in Chile, Starace’s message made a scandal. On May 20, the Chilean newspaper El Mostrador Mercados published a story with a strong critical tone under the title, “Starace’s fascist recipe to do business.”
Why is something outrageous over there that is not outrageous in Italy? The answer is provided by Starace himself, when he explains what change is and why we change. Change is not about truth. We’ll accept anything because “people do not like to suffer.” Clearly, change has already taken root in us so much that it’s acceptable.
It is no coincidence that Starace was called by LUISS to illustrate the beauty of change and its implementation techniques. And these techniques have been perceived as effective and devoid of political coloration.
Last Friday, in the studio of eight and a half to La7, my statements about Starace aroused the amazement of those present. How can Starace, who is a nice person, say something so politically incorrect? We say that “politically incorrect” is all that is not framed in the Overton Window.
The “Overton Window” is named after its theoretician, an expert in social engineering. In every age, on a particular issue, there is among the public a range of legitimate views that lie between the two extremes, which are the two limits of the so-called window. The acceptable theses range from a minimum to a maximum of tolerability. The interesting thing is that this space, this window, can be changed with a media bombardment on the public.
Let’s take an example.
The Starace speech would have provoked an uprising in Italy in the ‘70s and perhaps would have that effect in France today. Certainly, it has not gone unnoticed in Chile. But it is invisible to us because it conforms to the “scrapping” of values that Italians have now introjected. Or at least the majority of Italians.
Among the techniques to change public opinion, the sense of what is right or wrong, is next to the use of even violent methods with the use of “newspeak,” theorized by Orwell in 1984. And here Starace stumbled.
Starace uses newspeak when he talks of change rather than abolition of trade union rights. But the sterility of his speech is partly unmasked when he clarifies that change is achieved with terror and suffering. And, involuntarily, he triggers an alarm bell, even if only for a few interlocutors, still not “normalized” enough like me. While the inherent cynicism in his speech is rather evident in a space where the change has not yet been completely assimilated.
He is only a spokesman, less evident than others, of the unique thought. Somehow we should reward him for the merit of talking with a kind of innocence, like the child who identifies the emperor’s nakedness, invisible to the rest of his subjects.
Precisely because the unique thought is “natural” and invisible, now we tend to always look for a guilty individual, a scapegoat. The system is good; the individuals are the ones who behave badly, who play the role of bad guys. These arguments are used every time the reality tends to become apparent.
I would like to clarify that I did not mean and do not mean to blame Starace. On the contrary, his speech is significant because it is likely to make visible what usually goes unnoticed in the mainstream media. And so many things go unnoticed. We see the news that populate the media agenda and see how they are treated.
Since March, a phenomenon exploded in France, a stark contrast to the movement against a labor law that is nothing more than a photocopy of the Jobs Act, imposed on us without a fight. One of the slogans circulating around is “We will not end up like Italy,” but in Italy we know nothing or almost nothing about it.
I follow the events unfolding in the French media. Days ago, the whole newscast was occupied by chronicles of the unrest. A short piece concerned a lightning strike. The next day, the Italian mainstream newspapers only covered the lightning, the latest version of the biting dog.
Only now, the newspapers speak of the difficulties in France, related to the energy crisis caused by the strikes, blocking access both to fossil fuels and nuclear power plants, but only because this unfortunate mishap is likely to impede the European Football Cup which is to take place in France this month.
But the examples are countless. The German public television (public I say!) dedicated a report to the exploitation of Greek resources by Germany, comparing Greece to a “colony.” There are countless issues that could cause a scandal and no longer do so.
All the European information works in national silos. The enlargement of the borders for goods, through the Schengen zone, is clearly not extendable to the circulation of news. It is ironic that European integration brings with it the closure of information borders and the formation of a key national and local media agenda.
But at the same time we can understand the meaning of it all. The single European agenda is reflected in the individual countries with different reactions. There was the Spanish protest by Podemos, the rebellion returned to Greece, today the opposition of the French citizens to that employment law that perhaps the government would have withdrawn if it was not under European pressure.
The inert country is Italy. And to preserve this inertia, it is necessary to keep information from circulation, so nobody knows how others judge us. And like the parable of the naked emperor, we can rest assured that the truth is not openly discussed, and we still run the risk of suffering.
Carlo Freccero is a director of Rai.