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Ovi Symposium; Twenty-fourth Meeting Ovi Symposium; Twenty-fourth Meeting
by Dr. Maria Buccolo
2014-05-08 08:47:31
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Ovi Symposium:

“A Philosophical Conversation on the Nature of Art within Modernity
and the Envisioning of a New Humanism”

between Drs. Abis, Buccolo, Paolozzi, Paparella and Vena
Twenty-fourth Meeting: 24 April 2014

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Symposium's regular participants (in alphabetical order):

alessadraDr. Alessandra Abis is a graduate of the Department of Foreign and Classical Languages and Literatures at the University of Bari. She, with her husband Arcangelo, founded the Adriani Teatro in 1992 in Italy. She has performed in Greek-Latin plays, among others: “Voyage in the Greek World” (Andromaca), “Miles Gloriosus” (Plauto), “The Last Temptation of Socrates (from Plato’s Ione Minor). Also from the Commedia dell’Arte: “Harlequin Doctor Flyer,” and “Without Makeup” (Chechov), “Four Portraits of Mothers,” Lady Madness (Erasmus’ In Praise of Folly).

buccoloDr. Maria Buccolo teaches theater at the University of Roma Tre in Rome, Italy. She is a graduate of the University of Bari and has participated in various projects aiming at establishing cultural bridges among nations and people, one of which is the Project for the Integration of Immigrants via the theater “Leonardo da Vinci Transfert Multilaterale dell’Innovazione” with the participation of four EU nations: France, Italy. Belgium and Rumania).

enDr.Ernesto Paolozzi teaches history of contemporary philosophy at the University Suor Orsola Benincasa of Naples. A Croce scholar and an expert on historicism, he has written widely and published several books, especially on aesthetics and liberalism vis a vis science. His book Benedetto Croce: The Philosophy of History and the Duty of Freedom was printed as an e-book in Ovi magazine in June 2013.

papDr. Emanuel Paparella has a Ph.D. in Italian Humanism with a dissertation on Giambattista Vico from Yale University. He currently teaches philosophy at Barry University and Broward College in Florida, USA. One of his books is titled Hermeneutics in the Philosophy of G. Vico, Mellen Press. His latest e-book Aesthetic Theories of Great Western Philosophers was printed in Ovi magazine in June 2013.

venaDr. Michael Vena is a former professor emeritus at Southern Connecticut State University. He has a Ph.D. in Italian Humanism (with a dissertation on Leon Battista Alberti) from Yale University. He has published a book on Italian theater titled Italian Grotesque Theater (2001). Recently he has published an English collection of modern Italian plays by well known playwrights such as Pirandello, Fabbri and De Filippo.

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Indirect Participants at this meeting within the “Great Conversation” across the Ages (in the order of their appearance): Kalamidas, Verdi, Paul, Chesterton, Croce, Machiavelli, Vico, Descartes, Petrarch, Buber, Kant, Hegel, Fromm, Heidegger, Dostoyevsky, Ellul, Kessler, Fukuyama, Derrida, Berlusconi, Gore, Socrates.

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Table of Contents for the 24th Session of the Ovi Symposium (24 April 2014)

Preamble by way of an abstract by the Symposium’s coordinator Emanuel L. Paparella

Section 1: “Europe and Southern Italy.” A presentation by Ernesto Paolozzi taken from an article which appeared in La Repubblica on May 10,  2009.

Section 2: “The Janus-Face of Western Civilization: Will it Resurrect from the Ashes?” A presentation by Emanuel L. Paparella

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Preamble to the 24th Symposium Meeting by its coordinator Emanuel L. Paparella

In the first section of this 24th meeting of the Ovi symposium, now one year old, Paolozzi and Paparella continue their exchanges on the unification of Italy and the European Union vis a vis the South. A perceptive reflection on the issue by Paolozzi is presented as it appeared in La Repubblica on May 10, 2009. I an substantially in agreement with what Paolozzi discusses in the piece and can personally vouch for the truth and relevancy is what he discusses, for I often travel to Italy’s Southern region of Puglia where I was born and where I still have many relatives. I have witnessed the social phenomena caused by past and present Italian governments described by Paolozzi.

Indeed, those who wish to pass as our paternalistic benefactors are those we need to be most watchful of. Thanos Kalamidas has also editorialized regarding the relationship within the EU of the North vis a vis the South, Greece in particular. Indeed, the EU founding fathers’ vision had precious little to do with Machiavellian power games, and much more to do with genuine solidarity. Alas, that seems to be sorely lacking from the present bureaucratic EU led by myopic visionless politicians whose only concern seems to be the economy, and that is why its preaching to the reawakened Russian bear sounds rather hollow, and it will continue to sound hollow till one’s wallet is put where one’s purported ideals are.

Falstaff sings at the end of the famous Verdi opera “tutti buffati e gabbati,” all made fun of and fooled too,” as Paolozzi also aptly expresses it, albeit in different words, regarding the problematic relationship of South and Northern Italy, purported to be one indivisible country in solidarity among all of its regions. What obtains within Western Civilization nowadays is a global mind-set of myopic inept politicians in bed with bureaucrats, bankers and entrepreneurs incapable of envisioning anything further than their pragmatic nose, never mind idealistic visions or utopias for the future; not to speak of the fact that the so called economic “Italian miracle” of the 60s was constructed in part on the back of a cheap labor force migrating from Southern Italy to its Northern industrial centers.

In the second section of this meeting Emanuel L. Paparella continues the analysis of Western Civilization, and the European Union in particular, via the symbol of the Janus face: a civilization that looks backward and forward at the same time, which has humanistic and rationalistic (enlightenment) roots, which has declined and resurrected several times before via aesthetics, and that, most importantly, seems to have as its main paradigm that of its main religion (Christianity): that of death and resurrection. That may explain to puzzled readers the quote from G.K. Chesterton at the beginning of the presentation, about the eruption of Easter in springtime upon the world at large but more specifically upon Western civilization. Unless Europeans are able to envision their identity within the process of Christianization that began with the travels of Paul to the gentiles in the first century AD, they will also lose sight of their true identity, not only as believers but even as non-believers.  Paparella does not consider this process of cultural identity, which now appears dead, deterministic even if it can be proven progressive: man remains free to bring the process to its telos or final purpose or desist from doing so. In any case, he continues to warn that to start on the wrong track of the process of cultural identity means to put the cart before the horse. Before Italy or Europe is formed one has to clearly know what it means to be an Italian or a European and why do they wish to form a more perfect union and continue to stay together.

The whole symbolism of heaven and hell hints  at the fact that man remains free to generate heaven or hell even here on earth within time and space, as man has in fact repeatedly done throughout history which is one of his creations: it’s up to him to choose freely which universe he wants to inhabit by examining the natural law. Natural law, allowing man the freedom to express himself freely not only does not restrict freedom but enhances it, as Paolozzi has elucidated in his Ovi book Croce and the Philosophy of Freedom. In short, a resurrection of sort is still viable with the proviso that we keep well in mind that Good Friday always precedes Easter Sunday.

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1
Europe and Southern Italy
A Presentation by Ernesto Paolozzi
(By way of an article that appeared in La Repubblica on 10 May 2009
as translated into English by Emanuel L. Paparella)

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The European Union as presently Constituted

But it is true that Southern Italy has always been on welfare? That we, Neapolitans, Campanians, Calabreses, are all lazy and wasteful, and represent the ball and chain dragged by the foot of the country impeding its development?

It 's not true, it is simply not true in these terms. That Southern Italy has major problems since the time of the unification of Italy is true. It 'also true that we needed, and we still need, an extraordinary intervention. But it is equally true that the policies of national governments, and especially the most recent ones, have always tended to be biased in favor of the Central-North part of the country.

An extraordinary intervention such as the famous “Cassa per il Mezzogiorno” (Aid Funds for Southern Italy) were supposed to be a supplement of the Italian State to the existing European funds. More often than not they were a substituted for such expenditures. It’s as if I suddenly began to complain that one of my two sons is always asking me more money than the other to then become aware that my wife does not provide for the alimentation of this son who has to provide food for himself.

I apologize for the banality of this example but nowadays it is better to be very clear on certain issues. This does not mean, of course, to deny that in the South there are  waste, patronage and, above all, a ruling class, which is on the whole, weak. But not to the extent of legitimizing and justifying the shortcomings and, sometimes, the abuses of the national governments.

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For nearly twenty years now, from both the left and the right, has existed an hermetically sealed single thought, basically one of propaganda and TV and radio broadcasting, through which such a situation, which is concrete and real, has been hushed up, if not ridiculed at some point, with the result of having damaged the South even in psychological terms, I would say, in the very dignity of the individual. We have almost believed it, in fact, being duped twice. I do not want to imagine the laughter that this has created among the Legha party and their friends in government. It 'important, therefore, that the Democratic Party has finally decided to reverse course and go back, firmly, to place anew on the table the issue of the South in its real and concrete terms.

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The Flag of the European Union

In the future it is to be hoped that data can be provided that is rigorous and reliable. Be that as it may, just reading the current daily news, we can understand how our country’s reality is warped. I do not want to resort to talking about the data that the Fiscal Police has discovered that the greatest evasion of taxes in the construction sector occurs in Lombardia with Lazio taking second place. Wouldn’t most people have bet on Campania? Instead I wish to remember how the cuts in education, in order to contain public expenditure, have been executed especially in the South and, particularly, in Naples and Campania. Moreover, in the White Paper presented by the government on the welfare of the state, have reappeared, albeit disguised, the data on salaries which are the lowest in the South. To justify this the lower cost of living is often cited, forgetting all the other difficulties that a worker from the South has to meet daily, starting with that of finding a second job to make ends meet, often in single-earner families on which the likely prospect of the eventual unemployment of their  children is a serious menace.

Let this be a warning, so that besides being taken for lazy slackers we are also not taken for outright fools. While the extraordinary intervention or lack of it is in fact visible and clear, the ordinary ones are often tricky and imperceptible. When, at the end of the seventies, for example, it was decided to eliminate the so-called gasoline vouchers for tourists, the measure looked completely neutral, but it hit the South nonetheless because, of course, German tourists stopped on the Adriatic coast no longer attempting to reach our Southern shores. This was explained to me, for I was a boy at the time, by an old and well-known Southern Italian Neapolitan.

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2
The Janus-Face of Western Civilization: Will it Resurrect from the Ashes?
A Presentation by Emanuel L. Paparella

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“On the third day the friends of Christ coming at daybreak to the place found the grave empty and the stone rolled away.  In varying ways they realized the new wonder; but even they hardly realized that the world had died in the night.  What they were looking at was the first day of a new creation, with a new heaven and a new earth; and in a semblance of the gardener God walked again in the garden, in the cool not of the evening but of the dawn… Easter, which is the spiritual New Year, should be a time for the understanding of new thoughts and the making of new things. The representatives of the rising generation can give us any number of negative reasons for not observing certain forms or traditions. They do not seem to see that it is their business as artists to create forms. They will not realize that it is their business as builders to found traditions. If the old conventions have really come to an end, the others have to do something much more difficult; they have to come to a beginning. I doubt if they have any clear idea about how to come to a beginning. They do not understand that positive creations are founded on positive creeds.”
                                                                                   –G.K. Chesterton
                               

What is urgently needed in the debate on the future of Western Civilization is the substitution of old Machiavellian paradigms, based on "real politick" considerations, with new imaginative ones based on humanistic considerations. Unless we manage that substitution we shall end up pouring new wine in old putrid wineskins. One of the cultural guides for discovering such paradigms and creating a novantiqua Europe, the cradle of Western Civilization, Greece in particular, is Giambattista Vico.

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Giambattista Vico (1668-1744)

Were one to read carefully the more thoughtful contributions to the debate on the future of Europe, one would have to come to the conclusion that, culturally speaking, Europe has a Janus-face, almost schizophrenic: one side is rationalistic beginning with Descartes and ushering in the Enlightenment, and the other is humanistic beginning with Petrarch and attempting to synthesize antiquity (the old) and modernity (the new) and proposing a Europe that is "novantiqua." In my opinion, the foremost proponent of this novantiqua Europe is the philosopher of history Giambattista Vico (1668-1744), a philosopher of European and global stature, author of The New Science (1725), and considered by many scholars as the culmination of Italian Humanism. Such a work leads the readers to a deeper notion of Europe’s cultural identity, and may even motivate them to adopt him as a cultural guide (its “Leitkultur”) for the New Europe still in the making.

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Renè Descartes (1596-1650)

If we survey the Italian tradition of Humanism, we will soon discover that it was fundamentally concerned with the question of the primacy of the poetic word and metaphor. For this tradition, the metaphorical image is not a "reproduction of reality." In the image, "another" reality is expressed which can only appear under the veil of the senses. This is the new human reality of Humanism. It is the sensory "veil," as the Humanists say, that we make use of in metaphor and which in no way is a hindrance, but rather a necessary and appropriate instrument for the realization of man's existential act of "being-there," or what Heidegger calls Dasein.

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Francesco Petrarca, Father of Humanism (1304-1374)

In other words, the metaphor is that which cannot be derived by mere logical inference and cannot be expressed through rational language. It expresses that which is beyond the grasp of rational logic: the particular and the concrete. Man is his own history and he makes history through cultural artifacts: language (which is primary), art, and political and religious institutions. Paradoxically, Vico never gave up the opposite pole of the Universal which he calls Providence. He holds them together in a complementary mode. He also holds together the transcendent and the immanent within his concept of Providence, something lost on some idealists who have attempted to subsume Vico under Hegelian philosophy. The point here being that Vico is far from the dichotomy made by Descartes between purely rational and humanistic modes of thinking with his famous "Cogito ergo sum." He understands that to divorce mythos from logos is a very risky cultural operation leading to charismatic men (the Nazi type in love with the myths of the super-race) or technological man (man as a machine, the "Terminator" type in love with push-button technological solutions).

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Martin Heidegger (1889-1976)

Vico's problem is fundamentally that of origins, the “archai” of historicity of the human world. A discovery in which he uncovers the indicative semantic principles that are at the basis of the "humanization" of nature. We can only attain a "humanization" and "historicization" of nature by giving meaning to the phenomena that our sensory tools offer to us and with regard to the realization of human existence. As Vico himself elegantly puts it: "And the order of human ideas is to observe the similarities of things, first to express oneself and later for purposes of proof." (The New Science of Giambattista Vico, trans. Thomas Bergin, Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1948, par. 498). Ingenium is for Vico "the capacity to unite things that are separated." (De Antiquissima Italorum Sapientia, an oration of Vico, in Opere di G. Vico, ed. Fausto Nicolini, Naples: Ricciardi, 1953, p. 2956).

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Immanuel Kant (1724-1804)

In accordance with Vico's position, we are dealing with two Europes and two philosophical traditions seen at variance with each other. If this is so, it makes eminent sense that traditional logic, as well as the a priori thinking of German Idealism from Kant to Hegel, and formal logic (including formalistic structuralism), are all forced to deny to the Humanist tradition any kind of philosophical relevance and to put aside the problem of imagination and ingenium as metaphysically inessential, since they have no place for these questions in their general scheme of things branded as rationalism and mistaken as the non plus ultra of reason itself.

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Friedrich Hegel (1770-1831)

Most modern and post-modern humanists with a holistic view of what constitutes reason assert however, is that it is Vico, with his theory of the topical, ingenious and imaginative form of thought, who truly makes clear what the philosophical meaning of the Humanist tradition is. He remains essential for a recovery of that tradition; for indeed when man arrives at the third cycle of history (that of pure reason) there is a real danger of falling into what Vico calls the "barbarism of the intellect," into a rationality devoid of the poetical, an imaginative that makes the trains run on time with no concern for their destination, that plans a Holocaust in two hours, executes it in two years, and then logically rationalizes the monstrosity with an ideology.

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Jacques Ellul (1912-1994)

This phenomenon is well illustrated in the novels of Dostoevsky (The Possessed being the most exemplary), or the commentary of Martin Buber on the same, or Erick Fromm’s Escape from Freedom, or Jacques Ellul’s The Decline of the West. On the particular issue of topics in Vico, an essay that immediately jumps to mind is Edward Kessler’s "Vico's Attempt Towards a Humanistic Foundation of Science"; also see chapter six pp. 67-77 of my book on Vico titled Hermeneutics in the Philosophy of Giambattista Vico (Mellen Press, New York, 1993).

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Hermeneutics in the Philosophy of G. Vico (1993)
By Emanuel L. Paparella

There is however another consideration regarding the Janus-face of Western Civilization and it is this: History in the West has always had a Janus face: that of Utopia and that of Ideology which are often seen as contrary to each other; in reality they can be harmonized despite Fukuyama’s “end of history” pronouncements. The fact is that the concept of Utopia cannot even be theorized unless its contrary is also considered: a sense of dissatisfaction with the present realistic condition and a longing for a future more just world which is presently envisioned as utopian. As any doctor worth his salt will inform us, a prognosis proves impossible without a previous diagnosis of what needs attention and healing. Any utopia implies a sense of unhappiness and dissatisfaction.

So the question arises: in the light of the present ominous economic and cultural crisis that one can observe on both sides of the Atlantic in Western Civilization and the prevalent sense of general dissatisfaction, what are the erroneous assumptions that have landed us in a serious crisis? On the surface it appears as a mere financial crisis, but I submit that such is merely a symptom of a deeper cancer eroding the very core of Western civilization and caused by an inability to imagine a radically different social paradigm.

Let’s briefly look at some of those pernicious assumptions:  The first is that spending must be drastically cut if budgets are to be balanced. The second is that the West’s liberal economies must always compete with the emerging economies of developing countries, and this can happen only by reducing labor costs. Lately we have witnessed the sorry spectacle of European financial ministers in China begging for credit loans. In any case, this can only mean that in order to become competitive the life of the worker in the West must be impoverished and perhaps brought to the level of that of the Chinese laborer. Nobody has ever explained why the only criterion for evaluating wealth must be financial in nature, nor is there much imagination discernible to conceive a different criterion.

The third assumption is that while the worker’s productivity must be increased salaries must be reduced. This produces the effect of over-production. The fourth assumption is that the age of retirement must be raised, as there will be too many young people and too few old people in the future. But the rationale here is faulty. The productivity of the average worker in the West has increased at least fivefold over the past fifty years, so when the time comes, fewer young people actually will be able to feed more old people. But in reality, raising the retirement age is a trick for reducing labor costs. Corporations nowadays would rather pay a poor, old worker a salary than a deserved pension, and leave the young to find their own way, accepting any kind of occupation, whether precarious or simply underpaid. This is what is actually happening as we speak and it explains the protests by the young in every major city of the West.

None of the myopic visionless unimaginative politicians of today dares to challenge these false assumptions. Those who protest against these disastrous measures are accused of being unable to comprehend the task at hand: to advance the very deregulation that produced the present collapse. If lower taxation on high incomes led to a fall in demand they say, let’s lower high-income taxation. If hyper-exploitation resulted in the production of unsold and useless cars, let’s intensify car production. One must wonder if those who think this way have all their screws in their head. It is not even logical, never mind idealist or utopian.

On both sides of the Atlantic the myth is proposed that the people are in charge  of their destiny since they live in a democracy. But this democracy proves to be rather fictitious and governed by autocratic organisms called central banks, federal reserve, or financial institutions, not to speak of the entrepreneurs and corporations financing political campaigns to extract an unfair political influence. The Chinese have actually done us a service by exploding the myth of the connection between democracy and the market economy: the so called “free markets.” Their economy is now growing at 10%; the West at 3% at best. We now go to China with thin cup in hand to beg for credit. How pathetic indeed.

While the US Federal Reserve was established to stabilize the value of currency and maximize employment, the primary goal of the ECB charter is to fight inflation. This goal has become irrational, as deflation is the overwhelming trend. Citizens can do nothing to influence the politics of the ECB, as the Bank does not respond to political authority, and this is why European citizens have been conscious of the meaninglessness of European elections. In the future, these same citizens may well come to view the EU as their enemy.

The discourse of modernity, of romantic Sturm und Drang, of the Faustian drive to immortality, the endless thirst for economic growth and profit, the denial of organic limits has always buttressed the myth of Western Civilization’s  sense of superiority. That is how empires and colonies were rationalized, as a civilizing mission of sort, the white man’s burden, almost a duty. Indeed, the romantic cult of youth which begins with Goethe’s Faust, is the cultural source of idealistic nationalism. In late modernity, this depiction became an essential feature of advertising. But contrary to Fascist discourse, late modern advertising does not abuse old age, but denies it, claiming that every old person can be young if he or she would simply accept to partake in the consumerist feast.

The Fascism that triumphed in Italy after 1922 first had a cultural component which was dubbed Futurism. It idolized energy and youth. One of the iconic fascist songs was “giovinezza” or youth. Berlusconi brought back this sheer arrogance, but the actors of the present comedy are old men who require face lifts and Viagra to inhabit a self-created image of energy and potency. The former was based on the youthful virtues of strength, energy, and pride, the latter employs the mature virtues of technique, deception, and finance.

What we desperately need at this crucial point of Western history is a new paradigm for social life, a new conception of prosperity and happiness understood in the ancient Greek sense of “eudemonia.”  As Derrida warned us in the 90s, as he reflected on what the New Europe meant  for the West and for the world, we are fast reaching a point of exhaustion; energy is flowing away from Western Civilization relentlessly and the decline may be on the horizon unless a return to origins is envisioned.

Actually the West was first advised of exhaustion in 1972, when the Club of Rome commissioned the book The Limits to Growth. For the first time, we became aware that the physical resources of the planet are not boundless; and we now have seven billion persons inhabiting the earth. Some months after the publication of the report, the Western world experienced the first oil shortage following the Yom Kippur war in 1973. Since then, we are expected to be conscious of the fact that energy is leaving the physical body of the Earth. But there are ignorant politicians who refuse to accept those scientific conclusions; they consider them not convenient for the national interest, or as Al Gore puts it, an “inconvenient truth.” If science proclaims otherwise, so much the worse for science.  At the beginning of the twenty-first century, the collapse of the dot-com economy led to the pauperization of both physical and intellectual workers, while the financial meltdown of September 2008 initiated a process of pauperization of the overall society. Millions of young well educated people are now unemployed. But the worst may still be coming.

In the coming years one third of the population in the West—the baby boom generation born after World War II, when the fulfillment of the modern promise of peace, democracy, and well-being was apparently at hand—will reach old age. The new generation now entering the labor market does not possess the memory of this past civilization, nor the political force to defend their existence from the predatory economy. The age of senility is upon us, and it may introduce a generalized form of dementia: a disastrous loss of historical memory coupled with xenophobia. But one can also envision a different scenario wherein this process of senility may open the way to a cultural revolution based on the force of exhaustion, of facing the inevitable with grace, discovering the sensuous slowness of those who do not expect any more from life than wisdom—the wisdom of those who have seen a great deal without forgetting, who look at each thing as if for the first time. The wisdom of an old Socrates who taught us that the unexamined life is not worth living. Neither is the unexamined civilization. Civilizations too, like people, die the way they live.

This is the lesson that we may hope the West may learn if it musters the courage and the vision to  come out from the capitalist obsession with accumulation, property, banks and greed. A radical contemplative attitude toward the meaning of life, individual and collective, would dispel the ethos of relentless productivity. The mother of all the bubbles, the bubble of work, would finally deflate. Indeed, we have been working too much over the past three or four centuries, and outrageously too much over the last thirty years. What demons are we trying to dispel? The Spaniards ought to have learned a lesson from the Tainos Indians of Puerto Rico who worked only four hours a day and then Marx would not have had to write his utopia of a worker’s paradise.

The current economic recession may be a blessing in disguise and mark the beginning of a massive abandonment of competition, consumerist drive, and slavish dependence on work. But that will not happen if the West is afraid to decline, if it fails to grasp that to decline is not necessarily to die, it may well mean a rebirth from the ashes or a renaissance. Indeed, if there is something unique to Western Civilization it is its various renaissances. Ultimately that would mean that we might be able to recover the imagination to return to our origins. And here lies the paradox: Greece is the place where the West began. It remains the place where the West must return to recover its origins and cultural identity, or on the other hand, it could be the place where it commits suicide and dies with no possibility of rebirth. The choice is ours, for indeed the existential dread and angst at the freedom we are endowed with in choosing our destiny is what keeps us human. Paradoxically, even to refuse to choose is in the final analysis a choice.

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END  OF 24TH SESSION OF THE  OVI  SYMPOSIUM (24/04/2014)

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Intro - P. 1 - P. 2 

2nd Meeting - 3rd Meeting - 4th Meeting - 5th Meeting - 6th Meeting - 7th Meeting - 8th Meeting -

9th Meeting - 10th Meting - 11th Meeting - 12th Meeting - 13th Meeting - 14th Meeting - 15th Meeting -

16th Meeting - 17th Meeting - 18th Meeting - 19th Meeting - 20th Meeting - 21st Meeting -

22nd Meeting -23rd Meeting - 24th Meeting -

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