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The cry from the Earth and the poor asks for dreams and new prophecies

Editorials - The humanism of the "three F's" of young people and the challenge for the coming year of combining integral ecology and economics

By Luigino Bruni

Published in Avvenire 31/12/2019

50 years after '68 and the various world ideologies, young people are once again the first element of change and true social and political innovation

2019 will be remembered for two epochal innovations, intimately connected to each other: the new role as protagonists for young people and adolescents, and a global awareness of the drama and irreversibility of the environmental crisis. Fifty years after 1968, young people are once more the main element of change and true social and political innovation. It took several decades for them to find their place in the "new world". After the end of the ideologies they went through a civil and cultural eclipse, remaining speechless and crushed as if in a long "Holy Saturday", between a world that had ended and one that was taking too late to arrive. Their grit was dampened and darkened by the mourning of their parents and grandparents, and so they poured themselves into smaller things - video games or smartphones – due to the death of the older generation. Because if it is true that we have all come out disoriented and disappointed since the twentieth century, young people have suffered and suffer more and more deeply because of the end of collective narratives, utopias, big dreams. As adults you can last a long time without dreaming together, as young people you resist much less, because utopia is the first fuel of youth.

The end of utopia, however - that non-place – ended up (re)generating a new place, the place par excellence, the place for everyone: Earth. Hence, after that long-lasting period of bewilderment they have now found Earth, which has become the new eu-topia – a good place, the good place - to go back to writing a new great collective story. At the bedside of sick mother Earth, they have found a new bond, a new fraternity and a new religion, and, for many, a new sense of the sacred. The first sacred was born, in the dawn of civilizations, from the experience of mystery and tremendum, linked to the discovery of the existence of something impassable and inviolable. For many of these young people, these girls and boys, Earth's illness has in fact become the new tremendum, the new mystery and the new insurmountable limit; then a new hierophany (manifestation of the sacred), the epiphany of an original and founding experience, a new myth of origin that links them to Earth and to each other. There is a lot of the religious and sacred in these environmental movements, even though they (and everyone) lack the categories to understand it. They felt the "ideological ground" fail under their feet, and instead of sinking with it, they found themselves a new ground to stand on, which they feel and live as the Promised Land for which it is worth continuing to walk in the desert and not give up. They discovered the Promised Land in everyone's land. Each new beginning is multi purposeful and ambiguous; this beautiful, still shapeless morning can generate a new season of authentic spirituality, the heir and continuation of the great religious narratives and of the Jewish-Christian biblical humanism. However, we could also find ourselves in a land populated by post-modern totems and taboos, managed by "for-profit" shamans and haruspices. We cannot say this for sure as of yet; what is certain is that the end of the ideologies has not completed the process of "disenchantment of the world". The world is still enchanted if we know how to look at it through the eyes of the young. The religious sense of the years to come will also depend on how traditional religions will be able to read and interpret this new spiritual spring, if fear or trust will prevail.

No wonder then the alliance that has been created between these young people and an eighty-three year old Pope Francis, felt by the majority as a friend and an ethical reference point. In fact, while in 1968 the Church was part of that old world that the young generation wanted to make collapse, today the Church of Francis is an essential part of the new era that is emerging. Laudato si’ anticipated these youth movements providing many with the cultural and spiritual framework of reference for all the new that is happening. On that Earth left desolate by the end of ideologies, many of us thought of filling that huge void by promising "three big E, I and B" to young people - English, IT, Business; they however replied that these objectives were in fact too small, and instead came up with the "three F’s" - FridaysForFuture. The young people of 2019 are also sending us other messages, although the signals they emit are still weak - but these weak signals are always the most important ones. What is happening in Chile, Lebanon, France, Italy, among other things, tells us that inequality is another form of CO2 and if it exceeds a certain "degree" is becomes intolerable. Although the economic dimension of this diverse youth movement often tends to be less emphasized than the ecological one, the great challenge of the 21st century will be to keep the two together. And this is where the meaning of the event The Economy of Francis (L'Economia di Francesco, to take place at the end of March 2020) can truly be captured, a process that started to offer young people an ideal homeland (Assisi) from where to begin their search for an integral relationship with the 'oikos. A new ecology is possible only concurrently with a new kind of economy - if the oikos is one, an integral ecology is neither conceivable nor feasible without an equally integral economy.

The sustainability of capitalism is multidimensional. The dimension of inequality and therefore of the various forms of poverty that continue to cry out for justice must therefore be immediately added to the more strictly ecological one. We cannot therefore focus only on the most urgent and visible aspect of unsustainability (that of the natural environment) and forget the others, on which it basically depends. For example, for social civil organizations born in past years and decades surrounding challenges of poverty and social inclusion, it is now becoming easier to survive and grow by accessing public funding to combat climate change, and so they risk suffering a mission shift (a change of objectives) guided by public and private incentives. The cry of the Earth cannot and must not cover the cry of the poor, but rather amplify it. The unsustainability of our world therefore comes in many shapes and sizes. Alongside the CO2 of inequality, there is also an increasing unsustainability of a certain kind of business culture and managerial practices of large economic and financial institutions. While on the one hand, a company often sincerely announces a policy that is more attentive to the natural environment and sometimes also to inclusion, its employees are simultaneously crushed by a managerial style that asks more and more of their time, energy and life. In part thanks to new technologies, every boundary between working hours and non-working time has by now been severely eroded with businesses seeking and often obtaining the monopoly of the very soul of their employees. The new generation cannot stand this for long. A new generation, which on the one hand asks the system for a new sustainability and a slowdown in the exploitation of the Earth to enable it to "breathe", and on the other is subjected to extreme unsustainable and accelerated rhythms that do not let them breathe when it enters the workplace.

It is not enough to renounce to or soften the constant strive for profit maximization to become sustainable. Even if a company decides to maximize other variables in addition to profit, until it frees up space and time for its workers, it will never be a truly life-sized environment for people, or a friend of its people and the Earth. The first "profit maximization" problem is the actual maximization element, which remains a problem even when other things are the ones to be maximized. Therefore, if companies do not loosen and improve their internal work relationships, if they do not free and restore time and life to employees, if they do not withdraw from the territories of the soul that they have occupied in recent years, it will prove virtually impossible for them to truly be able to respect and save the planet externally. Relational sustainability deeply linked to people's spiritual sustainability (the spirit is able to live only when it manages to save "not yet maximized" places of freedom and gratuity). This will be a major theme in the labor market and workplace in general in the coming years. A phrase by the prophet Joel that has often been quoted this last year by Pope Francis: «Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your old men will dream dreams» (Joel 2,28). A splendid phrase, which only a prophet could write. Today we could also read it this way: young people will make prophecies if the older people continue having and pursuing dreams. We have not just left our sons and daughters a plundered, overheated and polluted, planet; we have also left them a world depleted of big and collective dreams. The first gift we can give our young is to start dreaming again. This is the kind of wealth that they really need.

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