Edoardo Albinati: Yesterday com­ing to Amsterdam I was think­ing about the sub­ti­tle of this sym­po­sium that ends with the words in a dis­put­ed age.” So this is sup­posed to be a dis­put­ed age. And I was remem­ber­ing for the hun­dredth time some won­der­ful vers­es by William Butler Yeats from a poem called The Second Coming” in which he says more or less the best lack all con­vic­tions while the worst are full of pas­sion­ate intensity. 

So in a way, if I am dispir­it­ed I’m quite hap­py to be, com­pared to the ones who are spir­it­ed now. I would like to make a sort of defense of a term that has been used in the very inter­est­ing debate between Mr. [Aleksandr] Dugin and Mr. [Bernard-Henri] Lévy. That is the word nihilist,” or nihilism.” I feel I’m one. And I’m not proud and not ashamed to be. At least in the sense that I’m very dif­fi­dent towards val­ues, any kind of. Because you know, val­ues can be very dan­ger­ous. And as the poem of Yeats says, the pas­sion­ate inten­si­ty in believ­ing in some­thing can be very dangerous. 

I taught and I teach to peo­ple who belong or belonged to crim­i­nal orga­ni­za­tions who were full of val­ues. Who had val­ues for every [one] of us. And faith. They were faith­ful men. And pas­sion­ate. So, if this is a dispir­it­ed age, we should at least defend for awhile our sick­ness, our weak­ness, our doubts, our lack­ing of con­vic­tions instead of hav­ing ones too strong and dan­ger­ous. [audi­ence applauds]

Leon Wieseltier: I have a ques­tion for you. I think that it’s clear, it’s obvi­ous, that beliefs and val­ues and con­vic­tions can be abused and can be per­vert­ed. And that evil can be com­mit­ted in the name of val­ues that pur­port to be good. I think this is cer­tain­ly his­tor­i­cal­ly true and etc. 

But do you real­ly think that a life with­out belief is prefer­able to a life spent in clar­i­fy­ing the dif­fer­ence between true belief and false belief, or good belief and bad belief? In oth­er words I have fam­i­ly, too. I can’t imag­ine how I could raise my son on an absence of con­vic­tion. And my ques­tion to you is, it is true that some­times you are giv­en meals that are very ter­ri­ble and that can even poi­son you and kill you. But for that rea­son would you stop eat­ing entire­ly? Would you give up all food because some food can do you harm? I don’t… I’m not sure I under­stand what you’re argu­ing for. 

Albinati: Maybe it has been a mir­a­cle with my fam­i­ly, but I nev­er had to teach to my chil­dren val­ues like respect the oth­ers or don’t kill the oth­ers. I had just to say to them go and wash your hands. 

Nadine Labaki: That’s a value. 

Rob Riemen: What is it that you learned about human nature, teach­ing those pupils of yours in prison?

Albinati: That’s a wide, wide ques­tion. Well, I learned what I knew before going there, that human nature is bad. And so you have to do your best to pre­vent, to lim­it the dam­age that a man can do to oth­er men or women. And that’s all our duty. Not much more than this. To put down the the pain and suf­fer­ing and… But because evil is is there, is among us, is us. If the [ban?] would be per­fect there would be not much use in mak­ing such great effort. 

I had a very strange con­ver­sa­tion when I was work­ing fif­teen years ago in Afghanistan as a vol­un­teer of the United Nations togeth­er with oth­er peo­ple doing my same job. And I was the only one to think that man was bad. [Riemen laughs] And we were sur­round­ed by destruc­tion. So what are we doing here, if man is not bad. We have proof [crosstalk] of this simple—

Labaki: I don’t agree. I don’t agree with you. I mean it’s too fatal­is­tic to say man is evil. I mean, there’s a— Of course there’s evil, but there’s a rea­son why this evil exist­ed and I think it’s all in the child­hood, it’s all in… I think the source of evil in the world is unloved child­hood, is neglect­ed child­hood. We can­not just deal with it as if it was a fact of life. We should go to the heart of the prob­lem and start work­ing on it. I think it would be too fatal­is­tic and cyn­i­cal to just say evil is there. We are wired for empa­thy. We are wired for love. We are wired for feel­ing the oth­ers. I don’t agree at all with your vision of humans.

Further Reference

Nexus Institute Symposium 2019, The Magic Mountain Revisited: Cultivating the Human Spirit in Dispirited Timesevent page

Help Support Open Transcripts

If you found this useful or interesting, please consider supporting the project monthly at Patreon or once via Cash App, or even just sharing the link. Thanks.