When a friend of mine started studying Japanese, I accidentally discouraged him from doing so. It wasn’t because I thought learning a language was a bad thing, but because he had fetishized Japanese to an unhealthy degree, and I explained to him why he was wrong. I may have the opposite problems, as all the countries I am involved in some way with tend to be places which, to some degree or the other, I dislike.
Italy bothers me to a large extent. I associate it with small scale but rampant charlatanism and non-skeptical standards for beliefs. Mind you, this is the place I consider myself from. But these are the experiences I have had here (although, to be fair, this is somewhat true everywhere I have gone) in Italy, for better or worse. It is, however, concerning to be in a country that seems to be just not very critical.
Or perhaps I am wrong.
Della gentilezza e del coraggio, Of Kindness and Courage, confronts the problems of current events via the two virtues of the title. The thesis is that these are the things needed to engage people of different mind sets in difficult conversations that may help them engage in reality. The book does so by going over the dire political situations the past few years, Trump, Brexit, Il movimento cinque stelle, and radical populism writ large, up to and including the covid-19 and anti-vaccination denial, and talks in limited detail about the problems with many of these arguments and how to overcome them. Or at least, how to try.
It isn’t so much that I have found another person who, like myself, is concerned about what is happening in our times. Rather, it is that I have found myself a person who is concerned in the same way and about the same specific facets of what is going on as I am. I gets into epistemology, heuristics, how to talk to people, why people believe stupid things, why we are not so smart, where the burden of proof lies, the Dunning-Kruger effect, and so much more. This is how I have been thinking about the issues at hand for some time, and as it seems to me that the world is ready to turn to violence over these issues, it is good to see an endorsement for conversation, as well as a how to guide.
To be fair, it isn’t all roses with this book. Specifically when it comes to non-fiction, I have always disliked Italian writing styles. This is better than some of the others I have read, but it is still something that seems to me to be needlessly difficult. It’s all about the basic structures of the work, and it really does feel a bit more haphazardly cobbled together than what I normally prefer to read. This is a wide-spread problem in Italy, and I am to this day convinced that a seasoned Italian journalism veteran would not pass an English composition class in even a low tier university. But now I am just moaning about other things, as this book really held together well.