01-07-2006 - Traces, n.7

The Heart

The Experience
of Joy

It seems that Power seeks to diminish the breadth of the heart, anesthetized, in order to reduce relationships to bureaucracy. The result: an “I” that is lost, inactive, without direction

by Claudio Risé

The choice before everyone today is to “find again the meaning and the joy of one’s own life,” which Benedict XVI proposes with the enthusiasm of a child as the destiny of man (for example, speaking to the Rome Diocese on educating youth in the faith, on June 5, 2006), or adhering to the bureaucratic dulling of your emotions, beginning with those related to pain, seen as the new sphere of development of the current political power. This second position is described as one in which “pain bursts onto the public scene,” according to the Italian politician in the Left party, Stefano Rodotà (La Repubblica, June 7, 2006), “thanks to the unexpected and welcome initiatives of some ministers of the new government. To ease the pain of birth and the suffering of abortion, Italian Minister Livia Turco has proposed initiatives to make epidurals the standard protocol and to provide the RU-486 pill. For a future with greater hope, Italian Minister Fabio Mussi’s initiative has opened responsibly to European research on embryonic stem cells. To alleviate the existential angst of heterosexual or homosexual couples, Minister Rosy Bindy announces apertures. Minister Livia Turco, once again, addresses the suffering that accompanies illness and the final moments of life, thinking of “the 300 people in comas who are living a precarious destiny in Italian hospitals.” This power that decides to concern itself with the pain of people (perhaps also because the ideologies it has at its disposal have left it short of prescriptions on how to decide on specific topics of government, economics, transportation, international policy, etc.), and its bards, like Rodotà, speak of pain as if it were a neuronal, biological phenomenon that can be resolved with anesthetics, or with an attentive use of substances or practices that induce a sweet death.

Relationship with pain
However, human pain, like joy, is enormously more, and goes far beyond this. The relationship with pain is a direct and personal knowledge, not a government’s thought (which, for that matter, can have practical consequences of great importance). The relationship with pain, as with joy, is an elementary experience of the human heart, of its affections (precisely in the sense in which, picking up from Fr. Giussani, Fr. Julián Carrón spoke of it at the 2006 Spiritual Exercises). Only starting from the heart, from the elementary affective experience that a mother has with her little one who has begun living inside her, who is pressing to be born and leave her body; from the sometimes silent affection for a parent who is on his way to death, or for the beloved who is living in his or her different way a mysterious life, who communicates differently–only starting in this way is it possible to live these situations with human fullness (and not just intellectually, ideologically).
Only by bringing back, each time, the drives, projects, and ideas born inside me, in my affective relationships, only by always leading them back to this very true proof, because it is elementary, because it is descriptive of our “interior human face” (as Fr. Giussani called it in The Religious Sense, p. 11), of our Self (as I would say in psychological terminology), can I truly move closer to the other, express myself, be with him, and love him.
The rest is the bureaucracy of relationships. It is the “disillusionment” Weber spoke of a century ago, speaking of the political and economic power that today has invaded every symbol of the human, and seeks to occupy with ideological interventions, regulations, and prescriptions the entire sphere of sexuality and reproduction. From the psycho-anthropological point of view, with this orientation, the current political power proposes a technology of the substitution of the heart, with ideology of lesser affective cost as lifestyle and relationship style. A lesser cost, a reduced and voided commitment of the heart that entails other gestures, other acts, that are very revealing of contemporary unease. One, for example, is Alexis Carrel’s “little observation… a lot of reasoning” that Giussani quotes early in the opening of The Religious Sense as a sign of the “enervating ease of modern life.”

Totalitarian nightmare
What Rodotà doesn’t suspect, but what any honest worker of and on the psyche can’t ignore, is the fact that all this “ease,” this anesthesia and avoidance of pain, is profoundly enervating in the literal sense of losing your nerves, dulling your capacity to react (affectively, but even mechanically) to stimuli, leaving you lost, no longer in pain, but no longer on the road, inactive, directionless. This tragic program of political action (whose ghoulish nature, as in a smoothly persuasive nightmare, is meaningful because the style speaks more eloquently about the contents than a thousand speeches), detaches us, step after step, from the elementary experiences (among them pain, the brother of joy), without which there is no love for life, no impetus or élan, because there is no heart. If the pain and joy of a pregnancy are erased with a pill, that of a delivery with a sedative, that of an old person lost with other instruments that get rid of him, that of the construction of a sexual identity with a public license of diversity, and so on with all the others, even those that pass for the suppression of the weakest and most defenceless, then we have already lost the freedom for which, first of all, our hearts beat, organizing the forces of reason behind its vital project. And we are already on the brink of entering a totalitarian nightmare where, instead of the Jews, they kill children, and drug identities, to convince them to crouch down in positions of lesser cost, and lesser value, thus more liable to blackmail (after all, as strange as it may seem, there’s always someone willing to monitor our phone conversations).
In response to this quiet, deadly coldness, the psyche, which is also elementary, answers with the primordial passion for life, with the gift of self, my life for yours, because they are inseparable. Unless you transform life into a hell.