Come the Linate disaster. Every morning.
Or as if every night was there a terrorist attack similar to that of the “Bataclan” Paris.
As if, finally, two or three “Morandi” bridges collapsed, all always in one day, and only in Lombardy. This, in terms of deaths, is Covid-19. Indeed, if you look at the number of deaths, it is (and has been) even much worse. Juxtaposing distant and disconnected facts can be an alienating exercise. Create a gap in the individual psyche. It triggers a short circuit in public perception. Above all, it generates questions. It forces an entire society into a (self) deep interrogation.
It can start from November 13, 2020. That day, of Covid, 118 people die in Lombardy. And then take a step back: 8 October 2001, the Linate massacre, the most serious plane crash ever in Italy. The victims are the same: 118.
With the coronavirus, however, the temporal framework must be broadened. Going back to the heartbreaking images of the SAS plane hitting the Cessna, crashing into the hangar, the fire, the city and national mourning. Here is the comparison: second wave of Covid-19 in Lombardy, from 26 October to 20 December, therefore 8 weeks, 56 days, the victims were 7,144, which means 128 deaths a day. As if the Linate plane crash (or rather something more serious in terms of victims) was repeated every morning, for two consecutive months.
It’s still. The third wave of Covid-19 in Lombardy is causing fewer victims than the second. It seems a reassuring fact. How many deaths are there? From 15 March to yesterday, 7 April, 2,153: almost 90 deaths a day. The ISIS attack on the «Bataclan» in Paris, November 13, 2015, with the boys being mowed down by submachine guns while they were attending a concert, caused 90 victims. From 15 March to yesterday, therefore, it is as if in Lombardy there was, every day, a devastating terrorist attack like that of the «Bataclan». Finally, in the collapse of the “Ponte Morandi” (Genoa, 14 August 2018), the victims were 43. Compared to the consequences of the coronavirus, it is as if in Lombardy alone 2 or 3 “Morandi” bridges collapsed a day.
Do these combinations make sense? A single event with a very violent symbolic impact is unique. And numerical analogy has little weight in mass perceptions. But the question forced by the parallelism of the numbers remains: we are removing the daily tragedy of coronavirus deaths (around 100 per day in recent weeks, a year ago they were over 500 every 24 hours, more than 31,000 in all from February 2020 to today in Lombardy alone)? This is the first question that the Courier service he addressed to Flaminio Squazzoni, full professor of General Sociology at the State University.
Are we removing the dead?
«Removing means not reckoning. To put aside. Don’t elaborate. So the answer is no, we are not removing the drama of the dead from Covid ».
So, are we addicted?
“Neither. This is not about addiction. Quite the contrary. Social elaboration is underway. A process that helps us to live in a collective dimension of reassurance ».
What consideration do we have, then, of the continuing catastrophe of deaths?
“We are ‘normalizing’ it, and we are doing it through rituals. Which in this case are the use of masks, the physical distance, the queues ordered outside the supermarkets, the continuous washing of hands. Collective ritualization reduces uncertainty, lowers the perception of risk, lowers the level of stress. It gives the illusion of being in control, and therefore reassures us. In this historical moment, moreover, the rites also have an effective value of prevention ».
Why does the high number of “fallen” from the pandemic no longer impress us?
“There is a discrepancy between objective analyzes, statistics and social reactions. The quantitative analogy between the victims of an air disaster (a determined, exogenous, sudden event, over which we have no control) and those of a day of coronavirus (a pervasive temporal sequence that has accompanied us for a year now, on which we think we have some control) doesn’t work in people’s minds. In perception and collective memory, events impact beyond quantification by their own nature ».
What are the rites for?
“Societies have always developed collective behaviors and practices to reduce uncertainty and stress, to delude people into exercising control over uncertainty.”
Are we also doing this with the pandemic?
“Exactly. The current practices of hygiene and distancing have a practical value as a tool for preventing contagion, but they are also rituals with a very deep collective dimension. We know that we are all involved and we all observe those practices or rules. But we also know that, on a conscious or unconscious level, ritualization with respect to an adverse event allows us to trigger an illusion of control. It’s a classic cognitive mechanism: overestimating one’s ability to control in the face of an adverse event. It is a reassurance. In this case, we repeat, the rites are also functional to prevention and social order ».
Do we also wash our hands to banish fear?
“We don’t have the power to control over a disaster or a terrorist attack. Virus prevention practices are necessary, but they also reassure us that we are working to avert the risk. Then, again to return to the similarities between coronavirus deaths and deaths in attacks or disasters, it does not escape anyone that the perception of risk is uneven “.
Is it in this ritualization that the victims are forgotten?
«The time factor worked a lot on this. Social evolution teaches us that in the face of dangers and disasters we must trigger adaptation mechanisms. We are doing it. However, let’s consider that the normalization of risk through collective rites has been going on for over a year. The period of time in which these rituals have “worked” on the psyche of people is now very long. For the same time the illusion of control has “worked”. And therefore, as we have normalized the danger, we have also normalized the perception of death. It is the other side of the coin. A sort of dehumanization price that we have to pay ».
Does not a normalization that leads to lower consideration of the catastrophe and the suffering of tens of thousands of families have negative effects on society?
“Woe betide if this ritualization and normalization didn’t happen. They are functional to social control, to reduce panic. They allow people to live as normal a life as possible. If this did not happen we would be in a desperate society, with unpredictable consequences. Without the normalization process it would be anomie, barbarism, social schizophrenia, we could face unexpected social tensions and outcomes – let’s think of social protests. We cannot live in a situation of continuous stress and uncertainty. How could a human being or a society stand without reducing uncertainty during a pandemic that is sweeping everything? But since all social processes have a double nature, the “cost” of normalization is not realizing the drama anymore. We work to be able to control an invisible enemy, we rely on rules, institutions, experts and we are no longer aware of the 500 deaths a day ».
By following this reasoning, does the “cost” risk leaving a deep wound in society?
«The wound will not be that. The worst fact is that most of the dead are elderly and that after all the figure of the elderly, from a social point of view, seemed expendable. It is a wound with a very high symbolic value: having taken for granted that the elderly had somehow less right to survival and care. The abandonment of the elderly to themselves was a subtle concept, but at times also an elaborate one, because even today there are those who say: “Well, basically they would have died anyway”. The care of these fractured intergenerational relationships will be fundamental to reweave society, its balances, relationships in the post-pandemic phase ».
Public communication, especially at the beginning of the pandemic, also seemed to swing on that conception.
“It is one of the many things that the pandemic will bequeath and that we will have to alleviate, such as psychological illnesses. This imbalance in considering people’s right to life has had and will have a heavy impact, it is a laceration in the social fabric that will need to be healed. As well as the importance of a leap in educational investments for the younger generation, devastated by Dad ».