Commentary. The Recovery Fund confronts us with an uncomfortable question: ‘Who do we wish to be?’ The future does not belong to everyone, but only to those who have the power to imagine it.

Politics must describe a collective vision of the future

It is not easy to admit that the Recovery Fund is forcing us to look towards our future and, above all, is asking us to come to terms with the implications that this, as a social and cultural fact, entails for our living together.

The Recovery Fund confronts us with the uncomfortable question, “Who do we wish to be?” Not just, or not so much, as individuals, but as an organized collectivity. The greatest fear is not of the “uncertain future,” but first and foremost regarding the conditions necessary to imagine a shared future. Conditions that force us to ask ourselves with whom will we build the future, through which conflicts, by means of which public debates, through which credible commitments.

The future, argues the anthropologist Arjun Appadurai, is a cultural fact and depends on people’s ability to aspire. Asking ourselves how we use our time and wondering if we are using it well, coming to terms with the finiteness and transience of our lives, is the “generic way of being” that characterizes us as human beings, as Martin Hagglund writes in This Life.

This quality has nothing natural about it, and is not given once and for all, but depends on the material conditions and substantial freedom we enjoy. Thus, the ability to aspire is strongly marked by material and immaterial inequalities relative to wealth, cultural capital, self-esteem and the sense of control. The future does not belong to everyone, but only to those who have the power to imagine it.

Coming to terms with the conditions necessary to imagine who we want to be together means not closing our eyes to the inequalities that prevent a real democratization of the future. In societies in which the ability to aspire is the privilege of the few, the prerogative of the “time elites,” the biographical projects, the scale of priorities and the images of the future held by a minority become the cultural repertoires that shape the legitimate aspirations of all, even of those who do not have the resources to go along with the false promises of a tomorrow imagined by and for the few. This generates disappointment, failed aspirations, misalignment between desires and results, and, therefore, anger, resentment, apathy and scenarios of daily dystopia.

There is no future without the shared construction of an “us” projected into the time to come: who do we want to be as a community? What do we aspire to?

The pervasive lack of political-institutional mechanisms for the construction of “us” leaves room for a retreat into one’s own, desperate, individuality, easy prey to a politics of nostalgia purveyed by the entrepreneurs of fear. Without a common project, there is no real “us” stretching out towards tomorrow, but only a sum of “I”s oriented towards the past. And from a sum of nativist “I”s, as from diamonds, nothing can be born.

Not every type of society is equally suited to expressing a collective orientation towards the future, just as not every type of economic or political organization is. What makes the difference is the presence of concrete places, of territorial ramifications of the public sphere, of intermediary bodies and their necessary intermediations. We feel part of something collective, oriented towards the future, only if there are third places where individual problems and needs in the here and now become shared commitments, projected into the future and accessible to all.

On which occasions today do we have this possibility? How many “future opportunities” does public space offer us? How often do we have the opportunity to experiment, together with others, with actions and reflections where our needs can find solutions that call into question the more general social structures?

Where do possible futures take on the inequalities, powers, individual and territorial diversities that characterize us here and now as a community? That is, where does a private problem—employment, housing, health, quality of life—translate into a future solution that would involve ideas, values and operating mechanisms that are potentially valid for all?

And where does this debate confront otherness and power inequalities by recognizing the needs, values, and interests of marginal subjects? That is, recognizing the “voice” of those who occupy a peripheral position, either because they lack citizenship despite living for years in our country, or because they live in one of the many places that don’t matter, or as victims of class inequalities.

The marginal people, the “others,” in these and other meanings, must be recognized, in their capacity for a future, first of all as moral persons: marginal subjects whose behaviors testify to the validity of a system of values and interests on which everyone’s future depends. Let’s consider this: how much fear do we have of confronting in a radical way the inequalities and diversities that constitute the necessary conditions for imagining our future today?

The public discussion on the resources of Next Generation Europe must start from here, instead of the empty buzzwords in deference to the spirit of the times.

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