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Imagination, Satire, Apocalypse, Humor, Prophecy, Conspiracy: A Nexus via Fellini’s Circus

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[yt_dropcap type=”square” font=”” size=”14″ color=”#000″ background=”#fff” ] R [/yt_dropcap]eaders who may have been following my daily column The Caligula Presidency, will have noticed that it is meant as a satire of sorts, tinged with humor, an attempt of last resort, so to speak, to place some rationale in a confusing and dangerous political situation.

They may further wonder why do some imaginative writers resort to satire, and what might be its nexus with humor, prophecy, conspiracy theories, apocalyptic visions? I will attempt to briefly sort out and answer this rather vexing question, to which rivers of ink have been dedicated, which at first blush may appear bizarre. I will resort to the metaphor of the circus in Fellini’s movies, plus some selected satirical works which will function as background. The literary works are: Caligula for President by Cintia Wilson, Ninenty-eithy-four by George Orwell, and The Battle of the Books by Jonathan Swift. Perhaps then the title of my column will be a bit more comprehensible.

It was very intriguing to me to come across a book written some nine years ago titled Caligula for President. At first, I was under the impression that such a title referred to president Trump, as my column obviously does, but when I looked at the date of publication (2008) I realized that it was about George W. Bush at the culmination of his presidency before the inauguration of president Obama.

I suspect that were the author to prepare a new edition of the book, she would want to consider changing the candidate for the satirical title form Bush to Trump. Trump is certainly a better example of a man who, like emperor Caligula of old, could manage to change a functioning republic into a tyranny with the aim of achieving a guilt-free looting of natural resources for the sake of immediate gratification and accumulation of wealth, declare war on abstract concepts for the sake of imperial expansion, utilize propaganda, psychological operations to create a sense of helplessness in the citizenry to gain their compliance and leave them begging for more. In other words, the best candidate for the utter destruction of democracy as we know it.

Which is to say, Ms. Wilson has managed to get two pigeons with one stone. She wrote a satirical book but she also managed to write a prophecy or a political parable, a cautionary tale. This seems to happen with books from time to time. They interbreed and produce other books, or books about books. Perhaps the best example for this uncanny phenomenon is Jonathan Swift’s The Battle of the Books, also known as “The battle of the Ancients against the Moderns” wherein ancient classical books do battle against modern “enlightened” book in a library at three o’clock in the middle of the night.

Take George Orwell’s Ninety-eighty-four, which I have treated in another article in this publication; a book written in the forty’s but prophesizing 70 years ahead of time the coming of the Caligula Presidency of Donald Trump: the era of “double talk,” “alternate facts,” “post truth,” and “fake news.” Indeed, the human imagination is powerful and uncanny phenomenon. It can predict things to come via powerfully symbolical images and illustrations. Take the Apocalypse in the Bible illustrating the struggle between good and evil and the end-times.

Imagination can also construct conspiracy theories galore imagining “Deep States” and “human tsunamis” out to destroy civilization. We now have one such dark conspiratorial theorist in the White House. His name is Steve Bannon. We have treated his theories extensively in a couple of articles. Invariably, these theories smell of sheer racism and white supremacy. When they become ideologies they can be used to introduce pernicious fanatical political constructs usually leading to war and wanton destruction.

What holds all those disparate political phenomena together is satire, the favored tool of social critics and political scientists out to expose falsehood and lies. Sometimes it is done in a humorous and entertaining way. Perhaps the best satire is that of the comedian which hides the seriousness of the critique under humor and jest.

Here one thinks of Fellini’s movies. Many of them are satirical; one was actually titled “Satiricon” and treated the corruption of the ancient Romans (the times of emperor Caligula) as a cover for that of the modern Romans. The controlling metaphor in many of those movies is that of the circus. Fellini saw modern life as that of a circus where clowns galore would come out and entertain the audience. At the end of his movie Eight and a Half he joins the dance of the clowns to indicate that he is part of the circus, even as a critic and a satirist.

Indeed, the clown is funny and makes us laugh with his funny faces but he may be crying inside. Were we to name the clowns we could dub them as: humor, satire, conspiracy theory, prophecy. They dance with each other but are not afraid, via imagination, to change their role and their hats. That’s the key to understanding Fellini’s view of life. His movies are entertaining but inspirational at the same time.

The question arises: where are the Fellinis of our sad times to make us laugh and lift our depressed spirits? We need them more than ever.

Professor Paparella has earned a Ph.D. in Italian Humanism, with a dissertation on the philosopher of history Giambattista Vico, from Yale University. He is a scholar interested in current relevant philosophical, political and cultural issues; the author of numerous essays and books on the EU cultural identity among which A New Europe in search of its Soul, and Europa: An Idea and a Journey. Presently he teaches philosophy and humanities at Barry University, Miami, Florida. He is a prolific writer and has written hundreds of essays for both traditional academic and on-line magazines among which Metanexus and Ovi. One of his current works in progress is a book dealing with the issue of cultural identity within the phenomenon of “the neo-immigrant” exhibited by an international global economy strong on positivism and utilitarianism and weak on humanism and ideals.

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African nations leading the way on ‘food systems transformation’

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African countries are at the vanguard of a vital transformation of food systems to simultaneously address food security, nutrition, social and environmental protection – all while boosting resilience – said the UN chief on Thursday. 

António Guterres was addressing the start of a high-level policy dialogue at UN Headquarters in New York, part of the Africa Dialogue Series 2022, convened to strengthen resilience in food supplies across the continent, at a time when “decades of progress on hunger are being reversed.” 

Deep connections 

He said for too long, nutrition, food security, conflicts, climate change, ecosystems and health have been treated as separate concerns, “but these global challenges are deeply interconnected. Conflict creates hunger. The climate crisis amplifies conflict”, and systemic problems are just getting worse. 

He noted that after more than a decade of improvements, one in five Africans were undernourished in 2020, while 61 million African children are affected by stunting. Women and girls bear the brunt, and when food is scarce, “they are often the last to eat; and the first to be taken out of school and forced into work or marriage.” 

Mr. Guterres said that UN humanitarians and partners were doing their utmost to meet Africa’s needs amidst crisis, but aid “cannot compete with the systemic drivers of hunger.” 

Other “external shocks” were exacerbating the situation, such as an uneven recovery from the pandemic and the war in Ukraine, with African countries among the most heavily impacted by grain shortages and rising debt.  

Climate crisis frontline 

Building resilience also requires addressing the climate crisis. 

African farmers are on the frontlines of our warming planet, from rising temperatures to droughts and floods,” he said. 

“Africa needs a massive boost in technical and financial support to adapt to the impact of the climate emergency and provide renewable electricity across the continent.” 

He added that developed countries must deliver on their $100 billion climate finance commitment to developing countries, with the help of international financial institutions, so African countries, in particular, can invest in a strong recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic, on the tide of renewable energy.  

Food systems, said the Secretary-General, “connect all these challenges”, as highlighted at last September’s UN Food Systems Summit

“Many African Member States led the call for fundamental change, through inclusive transformation pathways, which aim to address – simultaneously – food security, nutrition, social protection, environmental conservation and resilience to shocks.” 

He welcomed the African Union (AU) decision to designate 2022 as the Year of Nutrition – a pledge to act on the strong commitments made at the Summit. 

Collective expertise 

“Through national, regional and global cooperation, we must build on lessons learned and harness collective expertise. Together, we must deliver on these pathways”, Mr. Guterres added. 

The international community must rise to the occasion”, he declared, adding that scaling back support when demand is at an all-time high, was “not an option.” 

Official Development Assistance, or ODA, based on a percentage of available public funds, is more necessary than ever, he said. 

“I urge all countries to demonstrate solidarity, invest in resilience, and prevent the current crisis from escalating further.” 

The UN chief said that during his recent visit to Senegal, Niger, and Nigeria, he had been inspired by the resilience and determination of the people he met. 

“Women and young people in particular were committed to lasting, sustainable solutions that enable them to live in peace with their neighbours and with nature.” 

If we work together, if we put people and planet before profit, we can transform food systems, deliver on the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and leave no one behind.” 

The ambitious goals, he concluded, of ending hunger and malnutrition by the fast-approaching 2030 deadline, were realistic, and achievable. 

“The United Nations stands by your side, every step of the way.” 

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UNICEF urges leaders to keep schools safe following deadly Texas shooting

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Governments must take greater action to ensure school remains a safe place for boys and girls, the head of the UN children’s agency, UNICEF, said on Wednesday, following the latest deadly school shooting in the United States. 

At least 19 children and two teachers were killed on Tuesday when 18-year-old gunman Salvador Ramos opened fire at Robb Elementary School in the small city of Uvalde, Texas, located near the border with Mexico. 

How many more? 

Catherine Russell, UNICEF’s Executive Director, said there have already been “horrific attacks” this year on schools in Afghanistan, Ukraine, the US, West Africa and beyond. 

“Tragedy after tragedy, shooting after shooting, young life after young life: how many more children will die before government leaders act to keep children and their schools safe? Because until they do, these horrors will continue,” she said in a statement. 

Ms. Russell emphasized that outside of their homes, school is the one place where children should feel safest. 

She noted that in addition to the lives lost, “many more children, teachers and school staff who witnessed the carnage will bear the emotional and psychological scars for the rest of their lives.” 

Shock and sadness 

UN Secretary-General António Guterres was deeply shocked and saddened by “the heinous mass shooting”, saying it was particularly heart-wrenching that most of the victims are children.  

Mr. Guterres has extended his heartfelt condolences to the families and loved ones of the victims and to the entire community, his Spokesperson said in a statement issued on Tuesday. 

UN Deputy Secretary-General Amina Mohammed expressed her outrage in a post on Twitter. 

“When children go to school, they should only be concerned about learning,” she wrote.  “Children should not go to school fearing for their lives!” 

Ms. Mohammed said her heartfelt prayers are with the families, classmates and teachers who are mourning this “devastating loss”. 

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Zimbabwean peacekeeper selected as UN Military Gender Advocate of the Year 2021 Award

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Following reports of sexual and gender-based violence against women collecting firewood in Rubkona, South Sudan, Captain Irene Wilson Muro and and Major Winnet Zharare (2nd from the right) reached out to local women to discuss ways to stem the abuse. Photo: UNMISS

A Zimbabwean peacekeeper who recently completed her assignment with the UN Mission in South Sudan, will receive the 2021 United Nations Military Gender Advocate of the Year Award. 

Military Observer Major Winnet Zharare, 39, served in Bentiu, South Sudan in 2021-2022, and will receive the award from the Secretary-General António Guterres during a ceremony marking the International Day of UN Peacekeepers on Thursday, 26 May 2022.

Created in 2016, the United Nations “Military Gender Advocate of the Year Award” recognizes the dedication and efforts of an individual military peacekeeper in promoting the principles of UN Security Resolution 1325 on Women, Peace and Security, as nominated by Heads and Force Commanders of UN peace operations.

Secretary-General António Guterres commended Major Winnet for her award. “Major Zharare is a role model and a trailblazer. Through her service, she has demonstrated the invaluable role that women play in building trust, advocating for change and forging peace,” he said. “Her example shows how we will all gain with more women at the decision-making table and gender parity in peace operations,” Mr. Guterres added. 

Major Zharare expressed her gratitude and pride in receiving  the award which, she said, “motivated [her] to maintain [her] course towards gender equality.”

“My parents gave us equal opportunities with my brothers, so I believe that equal opportunities should be given to both men and women in all aspects of life,” she added.

Major Winnet Zharare deployed to UNMISS in November 2020. Throughout her 17-month-long service, she advocated for gender parity and women’s participation, within her own ranks, among local military counterparts, and in host communities.

As the Chief Military Information Officer in UNMISS’  Bentiu field office, she helped ensure that patrols included both women and men to improve protection efforts as well as build trust between host communities and the Mission. Her efforts also contributed to an increase in  gender-aggregated data so that issues raised by local women and girls would gain appropriate attention.

Advocating for gender parity and womens’ participation in an environment where they are traditionally excluded from decision-making, she encouraged local civilian and military authorities and community representatives to involve both men and women in meetings with the UN. Her diligence and diplomatic skills quickly gained her the trust of local military commanders who would systematically reach out to her on issues pertaining to women’s protection and rights. During her patrols and numerous community engagement initiatives, Major Zharare also successfully encouraged men and women to work together in farming and in the construction of dikes around Bentiu town to alleviate food shortages and prevent further displacement.

Major Zharare is the first Zimbabwean peacekeeper to receive this prestigious award.

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