"The arrest of older Camorra bosses has 'created a power vacuum,' allowing younger, less disciplined men to recruit Kalashnikov-wielding youngsters who 'follow absolutely no rules.'" Image Source: The Independent.
On 28 December 2015, BBC's programme Hard Talk broadcast an interview between Stephen Sackur and writer Roberto Saviano. In 2006, Saviano became famous for his non-fictional account of the mafia of Naples, the Camorra, entitled Gomorrah; he was an average Neapolitan citizen who exposed the crime syndicate which plagues his city. In the BBC interview, he claimed that average citizens must not ignore, or pretend to ignore, crime and brutality. He observed that the Russian mafia has eaten up Greece, and in this, as in its spread elsewhere, "We are complicit."
"Roberto Saviano claims the war against drugs is 'unwinnable.'" Image Source: The Telegraph.
Saviano and his family paid a price for his exposé. He goes everywhere surrounded by armed guards and his family lives in hiding. Writer Salman Rushdie, who hid and moved constantly for years after a fatwa was issued against him, counseled Saviano; the latter described Rushdie's advice on Facebook:
"You must take back your freedom. Remember that freedom is all in your head," Rushdie told him. To live in fear is to live as one who is quasi morto - a 'near dead.' With that term, these writers summarized what is evident but less understood. That crime, addiction, violence, and brutality exist because of the broader population's allergies to truth and courage. The former problems are an index of the latter. When Saviano talks about the mafia, he is not talking about the mafia. He uses them to hold a mirror up to the mentalities of law-abiding citizens.«Devi riprenderti la tua libertà. Ricordati che la libertà è nella tua testa. Ti diranno che siccome sei vivo e non ti hanno ucciso allora sei una bufala. Diranno i più stolti che se ti vogliono morto sei morto e quindi sono i tuoi nemici a volerti vivo. Idiozie. Ti costringeranno a vivere come un quasi morto. Non farlo: la tua vita è la prova della tua vittoria. Divertiti, vivi, scrivi.» Salman Rushdie aveva passato più di dieci anni a nascondersi dal regime di Khomeini prima di trasferirsi a New York. Mi disse queste e altre parole d'incoraggiamento. Ancora oggi non so dirvi quanto profondamente abbiano segnato la mia esistenza.
Image Source: Houston Chronicle (2014) via TruthDig.
Saviano's new book, ZeroZeroZero, about the global cocaine trade, was published in Italian in 2013 and in English on 14 July 2015. The book bears the tagline: "Look at cocaine and all you see is powder. Look through cocaine and you see the world." Saviano argues that cocaine drives a vast economy. FT reports on the trade's incredible death toll in Mexico:
Saviano also claims that cocaine supports the western mainstream. The Independent:From Mexico and Colombia to Russia, Saviano dissects the groups that have built empires of blood on running coke from, through and into their territories. In Mexico, the deaths attributed to these gangs and, later on, the police and the military amount to more than 100,000 since 2007, with about three times that number internally displaced. If it were anywhere else — or if the causes of the slaughter were different — this would be recognised the world over as a humanitarian catastrophe. But the carnage in Mexico just hums along in the background.
This is before westerners even touch drugs like nicotine and alcohol, and wild new arrivals, which present another world of problems. The UN's World Drug Report for 2014 is here; and the report for 2015 is here.Wachovia Bank, HSBC, Bank of America: all have been found guilty of or investigated for allowing money-laundering by traffickers and let off with a fine or nothing. The stunning sums and profit of cocaine was, during the economic recession of the late 2000s, the only liquidity that kept some banks going, with 97.4 per cent of cocaine revenue laundered by Colombians passed through US and European banks. Cocaine's damage is not confined to wretched countries such as Mexico and Colombia. "I want to scream this loud enough so that people will know," writes Saviano, "so that they prepare themselves for the consequences."
"Have you ever bought drugs off the Dark Net?" Answers in percentages of over 100,000 respondents. Image Source: Global Drug Survey (2015).
Cocaine, unlike opiates and synthetics which are more popular in Russia and Asia, is the stimulant of choice in western societies already in hyper-drive, compelled by the technology they worship and to which they are additionally addicted, to never rest (except when they relax with cannabis). Machines dictate that we have no time as it organically experienced; that slowness is an abomination; that we must self-punish and extinguish all soulful humanity to preserve productivity and efficiency. And machines, in the form of the Dark Net, make buying and selling drugs easier than ever before. ZeroZeroZero's opening paragraph affirms this: if you don't use cocaine, then someone you know does, because it is the only way they can keep up with the pace of change. And that means you are connected to cocaine's dark world, whether you admit it or understand it, or not.
The real story in both of Saviano's books is one of mass psychology and how people disengage from cause and effect, from actions and consequences. This is the cyberethical crisis of conscience of the Communications Revolution. People will sell their souls and live like quasi morto - the nearly dead - rather than face the core reasons for drug consumption. Self-imposed silence about the criminals who serve that consumption - like the Neapolitan citizens Saviano described in Gommorah - comes later. In other words, demonize the mob if you will, but the problem starts inside yourself.
Saviano is obsessed with cowardice. He sees how civilized people will abandon their morals, principles and values to appease monsters, whether they are monsters like the mafia or monsters inside themselves. And, he suggests, criminals prosper and dominate the planet because they know this. From the NYT review of ZeroZeroZero:
Drugs - labeled in popular culture as chemical tools to subvert authority - lie at the heart of vanity, indulgence and consumption in materialist, developed societies. Rather than being hallmarks of courage and conscious freedom, they are gatekeepers of cowardice and mental slavery. They are the vice which marks the bleeding edge of civilization. But even then, vice is not the paramount concern. The main concern is self-delusion around drug consumption, the denial of how our inner lives are now infinitely connected with the inner and outer lives of other people.The second chapter begins with the story of Don Arturo. We never learn exactly who this is, beyond the first name and the honorific. He is like a character out of One Hundred Years of Solitude, a rich old patriarch who in his younger days grew poppies for morphine production. Saviano writes of the day a general arrived at Don Arturo’s Mexican estate and set fire to his growing crop. Don Arturo watched the flames grow higher, incinerating live animals and even some peasants who had fallen asleep in his fields. While villagers feared the flames too much to attempt a rescue of their burning neighbors, the story goes, a dog braved the conflagration to pull its puppies to safety: “He remembers because it was there he learned how to recognize courage, and that cowardice tastes of human flesh.”
The drug trade and consumption also reveal how people are failing to face consequences because they fear and deny death. In a constantly changing society, not to change is to die; moreover, as I noted in this post, death is no longer part of the social contract. Thus, beyond its account of organized crime, ZeroZeroZero examines - and exemplifies - the point where fear of death crosses the dividing line between inescapable truths and the lies we tell, whether the lies are about ourselves, or about the world.
For all these reasons, Saviano believes average citizens keep themselves willfully blind to the darkness on which their mainstream is based, even as their daily choices bind them to that darkness. There is an inscription in ZeroZeroZero, in which Saviano chooses instead the hard-bitten truth, the harsh, ugly reality of the new Millennium. He wants to make cause and effect line up on a straight line again. It is his only chance at finding real freedom: "I'm not afraid they'll trample me. Trampled grass soon becomes a path."
This is where things turn strange for Saviano, because he is telling docu-dramatic stories, with real incidents and real names of real people. The NYT criticizes the book because Saviano's sourcing "is left to the imagination." Indeed, Saviano faced criticism that passages from ZeroZeroZero were plagiarized from lesser-known authors. The Guardian wants to know what the author's favoured new genres of 'docu-fiction' and 'investigative writing' are:
Saviano's style is rather like the output of another Gen X author, Karl Ove Knausgård, whose six-volume autobiography became a meta(non)fictional account of real life. Today, real truth is supposed to be a panacea. As any lover of whistleblowers or any conspiracy theorist knows, the 'higher truth' is the new Millennium's Holy Grail. Truth is supposed to be the silver bullet which blows apart the carcass of an increasingly complex and blindly authoritarian technocracy. Truth should rescue the quasi morto from their morally-ambiguous delusions and nightmares about who they are and what reality they have chosen for themselves. It is odd, then, that Saviano's truth arrives on a blurred line between fact and fiction, at precisely the point where actions and consequences no longer connect.At the heart of the controversy lie some nuanced questions. Saviano says he does not portray himself as a journalist, but writes for a newspaper and claims his work is based on his own investigative work and primary sources.Should he be held to journalistic standards? Or is he a master of a genre that Truman Capote made famous – the “non-fiction novel” – that presents a narrative that is essentially true but not necessarily factual?If that is the case, as John Dickie, a professor at University College London who knows Saviano, puts it, can he still pass himself off as a “voice of truth”? Dickie recalls how young Saviano was – just 28 – when Gomorrah took off. “People just loved the idea of him being a martyr to truth and I wonder what would have happened if, instead of saying, ‘I’ve been targeted for the truth’, he could have said, ‘Hang on, what I write is part of the product of imagination, my evocation of this world’,” he says.
ADDENDUM (29 May 2016): On 28 May 2016, BBC interviewed author Roberto Saviano on his work which confirms that the City of London is a centre for money laundering of Mexican drug money and the Italian mafia. Thus, the wealth and lifestyles of the City rest on violence and crime discussed in the following posts:
- Post-Apocalypse Rehab (6 October 2015)
- Quasi Morto (29 December 2015)
- Mysteries of Things to Come (30 December 2015)
- Stains on the Heartland (18 March 2016)
- Quid Pro Quo (3 April 2016)
BBC interview with Roberto Saviano (28 May 2016). Video Source: Youtube.