In his celebrated novel The Day of the Owl – inspired by the assassination of the trade unionist Accursio Miraglia – the Sicilian author Leonardo Sciascia lends these words to Mafia boss Don Mariano Arena: “I have a certain experience of the world; and what we call humanity – all hot air, that word – I divide into five categories: men, half-men, pigmies, arse-crawlers – if you’ll excuse the expression – and quackers. Men are very few indeed; half-men few, and I’d be content if humanity finished with them… But no, it sinks even lower, to the pigmies who’re like children trying to be grown-ups, monkeys going through the motions of their elders… Then down even lower we go to the arse-crawlers who’re legion… And, finally, to the quackers; they ought to just exist, like ducks in a pond: their lives have no point or meaning.”
This is a sad but also very true analysis: what we call humankind – and insist on placing at the centre of all that we desire and envisage – is in fact a far more complex and often disappointing concept. It is an amalgam of ugliness and ignorance, surprise and splendour. To see only the beautiful without the ugly would be illusory and unrealistic. But humankind is also a fluid, changing concept. And because deep-down I am an optimist, I believe that even the “quackers” can evolve, improve, and become more responsible and more aware.
These are my Christmas wishes: that we should see what makes men different from quackers, that we should have the desire and the capacity to choose, and that we should evolve into something better so that humankind shall be not hot air but something most meaningful.