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Italy: A Normal Country
"When you see that trading is done, not by consent, but by compulsion- When you see that in order to produce, you need to obtain permission from men who produce nothing- when you see that money is flowing to those who deal, not in goods, but in favors- when you see that men get richer by graft and by pull than by work, and your laws don’t protect you against them, but protect them against you- when you see corruption being rewarded and honesty becoming a self-sacrifice- you may know that your society is doomed." – Ayn Rand
After 42 years, I have been in Italy for a period longer than a month. When I return to New York, two months will have passed. I have not stayed in Italy for longer than 3 weeks since I decided, in February of 1971, to leave it for my love of New York. I find that Italy is a normal country that is inhabited by a large percentage of people that are “differently abled” who, in turn, elect other proportional percentage of “differently abled” people. If you were offended by the previous statement, then you are undoubtedly Italian. If, however, you seek an explanation then you are not Italian. In the past 42 years, Italy has undergone many changes. The America that I found when I went there has also changed a great deal. I was born and raised in Rome and racism was a concept that was alien to me. The Christian/Catholic roots that formed the basis of our education taught us to respect others as we would ourselves. When I embarked upon my honeymoon to Florida in 1973, I was surprised to find that in the Deep South, Caucasians could still ask African Americans for identification if they were found outside after 10pm. Today, America has an African American president, which confirms the advent of a social evolution and acts as a statement against the presumption of white supremacy over “colored people”. The Italian news media continue to refer to those who are not “white” as being “colored” and soccer stadiums are frequently disqualified due to the intolerance expressed towards those who are “not white”, even when they are worth $50 million like Mario Balotelli. In democratic countries, language updates itself as an affirmation of respect towards those who, due to globalization, are working to integrate themselves. Italy has evolved by putting forth a collection of euphemisms, such as “differently abled”, that manage to cause confusion with regard to their actual significance. This strange trend has become embedded in our popular lexicon (whereby a “garbage collector” becomes a “sanitation worker”) and has overwhelmed the spontaneity of Dante’s language. The Babel that emerges from the barber (hair stylist) has infected the opinions of the people. Italy is a normal country that cannot seem to grasp the concept of globalization, as is demonstrated by the fact that it has put forth a new vocabulary that is both sterile and complicated in its attempt to explain that its economy and system of production, which are the basis of any modern social system, are frozen. When one speaks of taxes, one must refer to the “tax wedge”: in the meantime we find ourselves wading through a sea of laws and red tape and employers no longer have the power to fire unproductive employees because the latest reforms allow for unemployment compensations to amount to over a year’s worth of a salary. Justice is administered in such a complicated fashion that there are no terms of comparison elsewhere in the world. It is pointless to cite the various world rankings of transparency and functionality that place Italy in embarrassing places. It would be possible to continue this discussion until we reach such levels of paroxysm that even a non-Italian reader would have difficulty comprehending its logic. Yet as I traveled amidst the medieval towns scattered throughout Veneto, Puglia, Lombardy, Sicily, Piedmont, and Tuscany, I found normal people in a parallel Italy that continue to complain about a system of which they do not approve. This is the Italy that works, thinks, criticizes, and generally finds it difficult to have fun. Pope Francis admonishes: “Do not allow your hope to be stolen!” These Italians appear confused.
Then, I realize that I, too, am Italian. I, like millions of other Italians that live abroad, work, think and criticize like those Italians in that “parallel” Italy that have not been contaminated by rhetoric. But I am no longer Italian: I am American. All of my emigrant friends have become citizens of the countries to which they have emigrated. We have lived in different systems and have grown with a different rapport towards our State. We are innocent until proven guilty beyond reasonable doubt in trials that normally last a tenth of the time that they do in Italy. Our rights are managed and protected from simple disputes all the way to the Supreme Court. We think like that “other” Italy: the one that thinks and finds itself disoriented before those who try to explain what is happening. We are conscious of the fact that we live in countries that are far from perfect, yet we have difficulty comprehending Italy, which remains a normal country that is both beautiful and hospitable. To those who live there, we would like to say that peace is more important than many opinions which may be more or less true. We would like to say that in the countries that have adopted us we have found what already existed in Italy but that we could not have for financial reasons. Let us leave rhetoric and philosophy for the poets: the State must be the ally of its citizens. This is our right. If a citizen is born with Down’s syndrome, they will be considered a citizen with a genetic disorder that unfortunately renders them “disabled” (though they will be loved and respected just like everyone else) rather than “differently abled”. In this manner we could re-establish a context of human solidarity, in a more just social context. Without expressing any preconceived criticisms towards Italy: the results we have observed lead us to believe that Italy could do better.