The contest of Values

Veronica Berenice

The world, for its part, was certainly not too distressed: while one by one, and one after the other, the mighty pillars of the past were falling, it focused on ecosustainability, hiding in between its nocks a hint of cheapness.

The year that has just passed by was really the end of an era. To all future readers: it’s the dawn of the month of January, the year is 2023, and I am preparing to write the editorial that our small group of aficionados of La Livella will see published in the next issue in February.


The past year saw the end, by the supreme hand, of two pivotal and powerful figures in our western world: the most famous monarch of the West, Queen Elizabeth II, and the intellectual pope, Benedict XVI – known for being the first, after many centuries, to have asked for and obtained his resignation from the papal throne. And that’s how Christian believers found themselves, once again, having only one Pope.


The world, for its part, was certainly not too distressed: while one by one, and one after the other, the mighty pillars of the past were falling, it focused on ecosustainability, hiding in between its nocks a hint of cheapness. Of the overflowing abundance that we have enjoyed since the second half of the XX° century, in which I would include, with a sardonic smile, the two coeval popes, nothing is left but some ugly buildings and a surreal memory of those diamonds along with fur coats that, from royal icons, have become the hedonistic entertainment of the petty bourgeoisie.

The pageantry is over: in the Grand Canal in Venice, great regal parties are hardly ever celebrated anymore and in the rest of the world a Latin phrase, that was once the motto of the Benedictine monks, has come back in vogue: ORA et LABORA. It is obvious, on one side, what the work part refers to – the dream job, unreachable, unstable employment, a certain but underpaid job. Whereas, on the other side, the prayer part is addressed to the glorified women and men, to those heroic social models to whom we ask the courtesy to let us peer into their perfect lives through a keyhole, as long as it allows us to escape from the desolating alienation where our own life has sunk into.

Hyperbolic narratives and the attraction to magnificence have ended as well, and the dark standard-bearer is the temporal power of the Roman Church whose dying churches can be seen all around the world: crumbling stone-made outposts, so wonderfully empty and decaying. Of the emperors «by divine will and right of birth» there’s almost no trace left.

What to do with the past? Will it have a comeback? Did drained powers like the monarchy and the Church really clear the way and lay down their arms in front of the advent of the new technology era? Of the Chinese capitalistic communism? Of aliens – may they be reptiles, humanoids or fluffy chinchillas?


To yours truly, what seems like a turning point may take us back to where we started, but with a life jacket more resistant to low temperatures. Dismissed values are usually stored away in the under-stairs cupboards of the newborn moralities, a clean, dry place where humanity cyclically amasses trends that are eventually found boring just to go fishing for something fresher. History will eternally repeat itself: maybe rhinos may well become extinct, but animal prints will always make a comeback.

My dearest readers, what seems crystal clear to me is that we in the West have lost our compass; the wind may be blowing somewhere, but we can’t quite fathom where. We aren’t the father-owners of the new technologies and don’t have the raw materials that are needed, and that’s how we are at the back of the long run to win the future. Nowadays, others have taken our place in the hall of fame,as conquerors,  colonizers and inventors of new devices. We are still using our old glance filled with superiority when looking at other places in the world, those countries that are not that far anymore and still not that familiar to us; and there is one doubt eating us from the inside. The Middle East, with its contradicting richness, China, with its unstoppable march, India, with its chaotic resurgence and us, we can’t help but wonder: will they be the new Roman Empire, the new Republic of Venice, the new United States?


Whatever destiny the Manes might have in store for these rising powers – without merely muttering the old “beware of the Chinese![1] – let’s try to unravel the veils to understand what our own future might be. Whether there will still be a seat reserved for us at the world table and what its cost will be. The alternative, I’m afraid, would be to become like the loyal Argo, Ulysses’ dog begging Penelope’s suitors only to get some food and miserably waiting, exhausted, for the return of something that may never come back. A tragic and heroic fate, if consciously chosen.


[1]  This expression refers to a phrase born in the XV° century used by the Italian to indicate something scary and to be afraid of, at that time the Ottoman Empire. The original sentence was: ” Mamma li turchi”.


[2]  The three-way rejection perceived by young Italians – registry, territorial and in terms of gender – encourages the desire to go abroad and, more importantly, causes it to be put into practice. From 2006 to 2022, Italian migration grew by 87% overall, 94.8% women, 75.4% minors and 44.6% for the sole reason of ‘expatriation’.

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