Deautomatisation and good infection for a pandemopraxy
Paolo Naldini, director of Cittadellarte, intends to argue that the proposal of demopraxy and the method of social design that refers to it can offer adequate tools for dealing with the urgent challenges that our societies are called to respond to. The contribution focuses on four skills in particular (creativity, dialogue, research, civic engagement), taken as key devices to proceed along the path of deautomatisation. The argument develops into how to reduce the intensity of the automaton condition. In fact, it is assumed that the path traced by these four abilities opens up to the exercise of authorship. And that the latter form the basis of any conscious and responsible practice. The central thesis of the text is that demopraxy occurs when the organisations that make up the social fabric (community of practice) exercise conscious and responsible, therefore deautomatised, practices within their fields of action and along the supply chains and networks of which they are part. The thesis is supported by analysing the functioning of creativity-dialogue-research-civic engagement as counterweights to the corresponding and opposite psychic and social dynamics. Invoking the metaphor of the virus and the pandemic, the text proposes the good infection of demopraxy through these four abilities as an antidote to the failure in the fulfilment of the democratic promise. And it invites everybody to participate in a research laboratory of artistic practice, cultural studies, political science and active intervention with the actual experimentation of devices for social design based on participatory practices of civic engagement.

In its beautiful ending, the song by Subsonica dedicated to the Third Paradise recites:
How will you smile?
What air will you breathe?
How will you dress?
What language will you speak?
How will you greet?
How will you work?
What will you believe in?
What dreams will you dream?
How will you smile?
What air will you breathe?
How will you nourish yourself?
What language will you speak?
How will you greet?
How will you work?
What will you believe in?
Who knows if you will remember?
Will you remember me?
What will you remember?
Will you remember me?
What will you think?
Will you remember me?
Who knows what you will remember?
Will you remember me?
What dreams will you dream?

During the months of March and April 2020, in the first lockdown due to Covid-19, this song – allow me to introduce a personal note – helped me develop the idea that the pandemic could bear not only disease and pain, but also desirable if not necessary transformations: the way the pandemic had managed to spread globally and change the world, or at least to lay the foundations for a truly possible change, demopraxycould too infect democratic society as a good virus.
But what does this term mean? The concept of demopraxy was born around 2011 in Biella, in the context of Cittadellarte, founded by Michelangelo Pistoletto in the ’90s. Demopraxy means the replacement of the cratòs with the praxis. The basis of the outline for this political and social philosophy is the recognition that the ecologies of practice perform the function of micro-governments. Although already operating in the social fabric, these sub-governments are deactivated or latent due to a lack of self-awareness and of effective methods for incorporating them into the system. Cittadellarte and the worldwide network of over 200 Rebirth embassies have developed a method (The Art of Demopraxy, see to promote both these conditions, vision for self-awareness and framework for a method. This is a social planning proposal that offers a format for a work of civic participation based on the 2030 Agenda for sustainable development. The objectives of the Agenda (a non-insignificant circumstance) were publicly presented at one of the first events on a global stage in Havana, Cuba, specifically as part of the launch of the first Demopractic Work by Cittadellarte in November 2015. The framework of demopraxy includes three phases or ‘scenes’ (Chorus with mapping and exhibition, Forum and Working Site) and is being tested in several European cities, in Australia and, as mentioned, in Cuba.

The first lockdown from Covid-19 during the months of March and April 2020 acted as a catalyst to think about whether demopraxy could extend to democratic society as a good pathogen. This led to the publication of an almost manifesto at the time of the coronavirus, dedicated to pandemopraxy, available at the link, and the initiative (curated for Cittadellarte by Saverio Teruzzi, coordinator of the Rebirth embassies network) which saw the participation of 100 subjects2 who answered questions drawn from or inspired by the Subsonica song.

Some characteristics of the virus immediately revealed themselves as particularly significant.

First: the pandemic is transmitted through direct exchange between people. One to one. And from one to the other. Which confirms that the relationship between two people is at the basis of social phenomena; it is a bit what molecules are to matter. We could say that the relationship between two individuals is a social molecule. This concept is in full harmony with the theory of demopraxy, which ascribes (at least in normal times) the role of builders of social life to the communities of practice: the relationship between two people is in fact the basic building block of every group or more numerous and complex organisation.

Second: infection tends to occur in places where people spend more time. These are precisely the social organisations that demopraxy identifies as micro-governments: offices, hospitals, shops, restaurants… these are the places and environments that we call ecologies of practice3, organs and places of demopraxy. If ever there was a need for experimental proof that society is made up of groupings of people and of the fluid relationships that are continually created and recreated between organisation and organisation, the pandemic was it. If the relationship between two people is a social molecule, organisations are proteins.

Third: the two main vehicles of infection are: the exchange of a handshake, i.e. physical contact, and breathing, i.e. the spirit. The pandemic relies on our instinct to share corporeality and spirit, our being social, meant in Aristotelian4 terms rather than referring to the Californian Silicon Valley, home of social media, and in line with the discoveries by Rizzolatti et al5 on mirror neurons. This aerial, volatile aspect of the infection is evidence of the fact that we live at the bottom of an ocean of air and that breathing6 unites us to one another (as well as to the other) in a disconcerting, intimate and complete way. The virus therefore denounces and reveals the taboo of the indecent mixing of earthly identities. Breathing the same air, i.e. inhaling through the mouth and lungs the same fluid that has already penetrated the body of our neighbour, is an unacceptable indecency because it exposes our promiscuous bodily identity without clear boundaries.

In those distressing days of the first lockdown, at the end of March 2020, after suffering from the disease, whose symptoms I developed on 7th March, I too, in dismay at the outbreak of the pandemic, wondered as to why a phenomenon that afflicted the health of the world seemed to succeed in the endeavour of uniting humans in a common destiny through one of their most beautiful instincts, that of sharing. Was that the secret of the virus? Had it been transmitted by other means, would it have been just as effective? What did it mean that the pandemic was travelling driven by our need for interpersonal relationships? That the more our contacts were intimate, the more the virus would benefit? I imagined that fighting the virus would mean limiting our tendency to share. What consequences would it have on our individual and collective psyche? Would the theory of the individual versus the community regain its hold on people, just now that it seemed to have lost its ability to deceive, after centuries of a narration culminating in Thatcher’s famous line “… and who is society? There is no such thing! There are individual men and women and there are families and no government can do anything except through people and people look to themselves first”?

I therefore delved into my reflection on this instinct to share which we could call instinct to assume the nature of condividuals7. As we know, this tendency towards sociality has been effectively countered by the drive to recognise oneself as an individual instead, separate and even at war with each other, one against all. The great Western narratives consubstantial with the capitalism of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries (suffice it to mention Darwin and Freud) have created a landscape, a background in front of which our lives unfold, designed to enhance this vision of a society parcelled out in monads at war or in competition with each other. These narratives are powerful, they have a profound influence on us. They are present in our soul as a monument can be imposing and influential in the square where we live or as natural elements such as the mountains and the stream that we see every day can be; they are presences that we often look for, even if sometimes only with unconscious movements of the gaze. These presences constitute a shared and therefore collective psychic geography in which we find ourselves: a landscape familiar to us, our landscape. Like in the famous film The Truman Show, perhaps luck and certainly a shrewd critical spirit are needed to detect the artifice that surrounds us. The dominant narratives (think of progress) are precisely like mountains which, once the deception is revealed, turn out to be false scenic backdrops, conventions planned coherently with a design aimed at convincing us that reality is useful as it is to those who can articulate these narratives, draw these scenarios, write this show of which we are unaware and free protagonists, and at the same time greedy paying consumers.

We need to open our eyes and understand that the landscape in which we move is the result of these narratives. To counteract them, we just need to decode them and build our own. That is, we have to understand the landscape and participate in creating a counter-landscape8 of which we know the authors and the ends, since we ourselves are the co-authors. The congeries of these thoughts in lockdown led to the production of a text and a video that constitute an almost manifesto at the time of the coronavirus, dedicated to pandemopraxy.

But going back to the initial question, how can a good virus fulfil the promise of democracy? What social mechanism can act as a (good9) infection and spread the vision and practices of demopraxy?

The reflection on power accompanies the history of ideas and here is not the place (nor am I able) to trace even a reference to the philosophies that, from Plato to Foucault, developed the conceptual elaborations at the basis of the ways in which we see ourselves and society.

However, our experience of over twenty years in socially engaged art practices, to use an expression used in international conversation and debate at least since the ’90s, leads us to be familiar with not only the foundations of political history, but above all with the psychological, cultural and professional approaches and traits that open interesting perspectives on this field, where one now ventures with the help of the compass of demopraxy.

The transversal or ‘cross-sectoral’ nature of artistic practices has brought into our daily work and life not only artists, philosophers, historians, economists, entrepreneurs, educators, administrators, but also scientists and above all social scientists, who have shared their expertise in history and political doctrines, and not just Western ones. They have often participated as mentors and lecturers in Cittadellarte’s school of higher education, Unidee – University of Ideas, which we founded in the ’90s in Biella and which in recent years has also been established as an Academy of Fine Arts to provide formal education in the AFAM sector of the Ministry of University and Research, and whose legal value of the corresponding diplomas is currently being formally recognised.

The long conversations, the sharing of thoughts, the discoveries that have accompanied the research and work of hundreds of socially engaged artists and designers or – to call them with the terms that year after year have been used to basically identify the same types of people – change makers, place makers, social innovators and social entrepreneurs, and the extraordinary opportunities we have had to socialise with them and get to know directly from them the ideas that animated them has led us to identify what seems to be the psychic and behavioural dynamics most closely involved in activating or non-activating the conditions that allow demopraxy: automatisation. Or rather: the dynamic balance between automatisms and creation. A shift from acting as automatons to acting as authors.

In The Civil Disobedience10, Thoreau expresses this concept very clearly: “The mass of men serve the state thus, not as men mainly, but as machines, with their bodies. They are the standing army, and the militia, jailers, constables, posse comitatus, etc. In most cases there is no free exercise whatever of the judgment or of the moral sense; but they put themselves on a level with wood and earth and stones; and wooden men can perhaps be manufactured that will serve the purpose as well”.

Carlo Sini11 explores the concept of becoming human as a shift from animal automata to machine automata, made such by word and by culture, of which man is also the author. The process of hominisation creates the machine body that we commonly call automaton: it is the one whose action is determined, oriented by what we call culture. A culture12 that involves the internalisation of power within us, through conditioning and automatisation, resulting in a vicious circle in which we ourselves become a contributing cause to our own becoming automatons.

The tension between automaton and author has always been present to philosophers as to the common man, we only have to think of the legends of the Golem of Prague and the machines of Hero of Alexandria, and then Pygmalion and even Pinocchio, up to the etymology of the term ‘robot’, from the Czech ‘robota’, meaning ‘forced labour’, the name given to the automatons that act as workers in a play by K. Čapek.

Yet the same concept of automaton carries with it a double and opposite meaning: automatos is what operates or occurs spontaneously, a machine that moves by itself, as if it had a life of its own; at the same time, however, the automaton is also the opposite of what has life and moves by itself: it is a lifeless machine, a robot. This latter meaning currently prevails. Today we are accompanied by modern versions of the automaton expressing the existential drama of being created and creators, reflecting who we are. Just think of Asimov13’s and Clarke14’s masterpieces, but also of Mary Wollenstoncraft Shelley and her Frankenstein. There are tens, thousands of automata that carry within themselves a living spirit, a ‘ghost in the shell’15.

But automaton has the same root as automatic, automatism and automatisation. And it is to this meaning that the following analysis refers.

Automatism has allowed us achievements that would otherwise be unthinkable, e.g. the advantages deriving from having automated vital processes such as circulation and breathing, which would alternatively dissipate a large part of our conscious psychic faculties. But it has also often held us back and neutralised us in our vital momentum, almost in preparation for the state of unbreakable stillness that a part of our being yearns for.

According to the thesis supported here, the automaton in us is also at the basis of the reason why (good) ideas and practices (and therefore the establishment of favourable conditions for demopraxy) often have difficulty in spreading and taking root. And this is for a probably very numerous and varied set of psychic dynamics among which at least four stand out: mental resistance to change (habit), preference for situations that use less energy even though they involve cessation of autonomy (subjection), the fear of failing and suffering damage (fear) and the convenience of an immediate conformation to the rules (obedience, or the attempt to escape from them by deception).

All four of these companions in our life are excellent allies for the exercise of social control that the most diverse groups in history have adopted to maintain their hegemony.

Our analysis of these psychosocial traits starts from the observation that they really offer advantages for those who apply them in their choices and behaviours, and that is why they have been so successful.

Habit16, to begin with, involves an undeniable saving of resources. It indissolubly accompanies learning: it is a vitally important mechanism that allows us to treasure our experiences and not to always have to start over again17. In fact, automatisms are essential in the first steps of our growth, in learning to walk, in optimising the control of our body both as an entity in itself and in relation to the environment. Also, many social interactions must become automatic (and rapid) for our survival, for example when they involve fight or flight behaviours, or activities such as driving a car. But just think of how difficult it was to repress the habit of extending and shaking hands as a greeting at the time of the coronavirus (how will you greet?). Habit, however, inhibits or prevents the use of creativity. How many opportunities have we missed in life for ‘not thinking about it’? If we have not thought about it, the reason is often because we were used to doing things in a certain way and habit serves precisely to not think about it.

If, on the other hand, we want to think about it, it will be necessary if not to completely zero our trust in previous experience, at least to reduce its importance. What happens when our reliance on habit ceases? A space opens up for new, unprecedented, different, original thoughts and behaviours. This is ground for creativity. Here is creation. And it is something that can happen in every moment of our life, even in the course of the most banal activities. It is not an exclusive prerogative of great artists, even if the artist makes this attitude their daily profession.

There is therefore a tension that links habit and art. The exercise of creative faculties, as is evident, brings with it a high rate of non-automatic and non-converging thoughts and behaviours. This means that creativity causes a deautomatisation and divergence effect. There is a good deal of alternativity or inverse proportionality between the author and the automaton: the greater the authorship, the lesser is the automaticity.

Do not, however, think that the exercise of art does not involve automatisms, just think of the technical aspect: a violin virtuoso would have developed an extraordinary array of automatisms. But for their interpretation to be equally extraordinary, it will have to appeal to authorship, and open the door to the non-repeated, to the new, to something that is somehow connected to the space and time in which the interpretation is taking place, space and time that, by definition, are different from previous ones. The contingent, the situated, the situation, the specific and even a certain amount of the unpredictable must be accepted if the virtuoso is to be recognised as great even as an artist.

Cultivating art is therefore an antidote to the scleroticisation that awaits us when our mind is too prone to automatisation. There is scientific evidence18 that art helps in therapies against neuro-degenerative diseases, and this seems consistent with the paradigm that attributes an important role to art in the passage from the automaton to the author.

Said that, creating for the sake of creating (art for art’s sake) can itself become a mental automatism, for which the new becomes a synonym and fetish for the good, with no relation to the concrete circumstances in which creation takes place, the social and environmental ecosystem with which to negotiate the meaning of what is created, and of the very act of creating. The risk of transcendence19 and idealism is always lurking in the human spirit and even if we can easily delude ourselves that artists, as autonomous subjects, are immune to it, it is reasonable to think that they are overwhelmed by it as much as everybody else.

If habit is as necessary as it is toxic when it is allowed to take over the dominion of our psychic life, what about subjection?

What do we mean by subjection? A close synonym of the term could be ‘domestication’. Subjection is being a subject, in the sense of being submissive. It is therefore actually submission. Like habit, subjection also brings advantages that often turn out to be real safety devices, as young primates who dare to challenge the alpha male are well aware. Or dogs. Or kids fighting. Or soldiers, employees of a company, teammates. Even for the most talented of fighters, the moment always comes when a dignified retreat is a more suitable compromise than a further battle. Subjection is a most useful practice for most individuals. But it too leads to risking losing opportunities, and sooner or later every human is faced with the need to appeal to all their courage and face the alpha male (whatever form it has taken). On many occasions in life, courage can help individuals and social groups develop a way of dealing with the other, when they are the bearers of visions and intentions opposite to ours, making use of the technique (of the art) of dialogue. Dià logos. Discourse. Language, mainly – but not only – verbal. The maximum expression of this art is found in the Socratic method. But just as art is a human faculty (in the sense that it belongs to all humans, not that it belongs to them alone, there are many examples of other animals capable of creating) and artists are those who practice it by profession, dialogue is also a tool universally available to all humans, but Socrates and his ancient and modern followers are probably the artists of dialogue. We do not mean the art of rhetoric, but the Socratic dialogue specifically. It presupposes and at the same time promotes critical spirit, as well as courage, as you will recall from the circumstance of challenging the alpha male. The critical spirit and courage are as important for the development of the physical person, i.e. of the individual with his or her identity, as they are for society. It is no coincidence that dictatorships are savage to those who exercise the two abilities we have outlined, art and critical dialogue. The subversive potential they bring is very high. A society of authors and thinkers does not correspond to the dream of the dictator who prefers a mass of automatons.

Moving on to the third ability, we identify the psychological trait most dear to dictatorships of all kinds, from those of totalitarian regimes to those exercised within domestic walls: fear. It is known to be one of the main tools of social control. But there is a form of dictatorship that often afflicts us, that is, the one exercised by ourselves on ourselves. The fear of making mistakes, of failing is often so terrible that it makes us helpless and passive. Yet, even fear is our friend, one of our first friends in life actually. Through it, an incredibly refined metabolic process is activated which brings the body into a profoundly different physical state within hundredths of a second. And this allows a sudden escape being able to rely on the maximum performance of our physical and psychic apparatus, up to the point of not feeling any pain, for example while we flee chased by a predator, until we have reached safety, and the comfort of the escaped danger is accompanied by the emergence of the damage reported in the escape.

If the mechanism of acute fear is so salvific, the chronicisation of fear can become a form of slavery. We can end up feeling as constant preys, on every occasion, not only when the grasses of the savannah are moved by a lioness in ambush. Fear can become a psychic automatism and many psychosomatic disorders testify to the effects it can have on our health.

Some fears are motivated and healthy, whereas others are less motivated, if not downright unmotivated and harmful.

What antidote for fear do we know of? How can we understand if a fear that grips us is reasonable and therefore useful, or on the contrary unmotivated and therefore harmful?

What we have all experienced in life is that some of our fears turn out to be unfounded once we have understood their true nature.

From childhood to adult fears, understanding what they really are is a process of research and learning that also belongs to all humans (and other animals). We all do what (scientific or humanistic) researchers do for a living. We analyse situations, we get information, we investigate, we do inspections, we listen to the opinion of experts, in a word: we do research. Research defeats many fears in our lives or, at least, helps us circumscribe them and become more aware of them, but also able to explain their nature. And perhaps even to, one day, find a remedy for their cause. Research helps cure fear and is a prerequisite for trying to modify its origins, including objective or external ones; understanding the behaviour of the predator, the footprints and traces it leaves, to the point of being able to predict its probable behaviour is in general of great assistance in facing it and even beating it, perhaps relying on the art of critical dialogue, thus unifying the three abilities traced so far (creativity, dialogue, research).

The spirit of research is professionally exercised by scientific and humanistic researchers. They too are looked at with suspicion by dictatorships, which, at least as far as scientific researchers are concerned, tend to try to put them at their service, by hook or by crook.

But research is an activity of thought and practical life that we all exercise, or would exercise if, as someone proposes, it were recognised as a universal human right20. “… Research is a specialised name for a generalised ability to make disciplined inquiries into those things we need to know, but do not know yet. I maintain that knowledge is both more valuable and more ephemeral due to globalisation, and that it is vital for the exercise of informed citizenship. I acknowledge the 30% of the total world population in poorer countries who may get past elementary education to the bottom rung of secondary and post-secondary education, and state that one of the rights that this group ought to claim is the right to research – to gain strategic knowledge – as this is essential to their claims for democratic citizenship”.

In this third case too we are faced with a trade-off between the advantages brought about by a natural endowment incorporated in our genetic patrimony and the opportunities created by the exercise of an ability which also belongs entirely to the set of natural skills with which we are born. Deautomatisation does not therefore occur through liberation from fear, but from its tyranny. Learning to live with and indeed making use of fear is obviously healthy. And research seems to be the most suitable ability to dynamically counterbalance the effect of fear on our lives.

The list of psychic dynamics that favour automatisation, and the corresponding deautomatisation abilities that can help us operate in a relationship of dynamic balance with these, would be quite long, and Cittadellarte intends to start a research project dedicated to these topics, within the Accademia Unidee of the Third Paradise. Moreover, since this paper is dedicated to a first exploration of the epistemological reasons that pertain to the political project of demopraxy, there is a fourth dynamics that is important to mention here, because it refers directly to the sphere of the relationship between powers actually exercised by citizens. It is the tendency to conform to rules, to norms. The history of political philosophy has dealt extensively with this fascinating subject. In particular, the investigation of the origins of normativity21 leads to the recognition of the evident convenience of following the existing norms both according to the voluntary or legal-positivist vision, that is, of the one “who rediscovers the unity of the normative system by going back to the ultimate authority from which, either by direct command or by delegation, the rules that compose it derive, and is satisfied when he has managed to find the power above which there is no other power, which is precisely the sovereign power”22, which also determines and imposes sanctions; and according to the rationalist ethical or natural law vision of one “who tries to build an ethical or juridical system on the basis of pure reason, and in the end claims to have built a ‘more geometrical demonstrata’ ethics”23, also because of mere awareness of the impracticability for most and on most occasions to proceed with such an ambitious intellectual exercise.

The convenience of an ethical attitude based on conformation to the existing regulatory order becomes therefore evident. In this regard, particularly effective is the acknowledgement of the semantic affinity between the concepts of normality and normativity and of the strong suggestion that what is normal is ethically valid, and this not only in an explanatory sense, i.e. that it would be valid for such and such a reason, but also prescriptive, i.e. that it would have binding force on us in an ethical sense. How many faithful Catholics who in the early 2000s evoked the new crusades with Rumsfeld and Bush would be Taliban if they had been born and raised in Iraq instead of Arkansas?

Now that we have outlined the theme, that is, the trend towards ethical conformation with respect to the social norms in place, we can identify in it a profile or a form of the automatisation that we are dealing with in this paper. We can therefore at least suspect that there is a positive correlation between ethical conformation and unconditional surrender to the automaton within us. Korsgaard herself, in her neo-Kantian elaboration, proposes a way out through the practice of reflective approval, that is, the exercise of the reflective faculty, of questioning ourselves about the rightness of our following or resisting an impulse. However, I would like to bring the discussion to a more practical level, also in accordance with the final goal of this paper, which is to contribute to a draft of the theory of demopraxy. So, how can we deal with our natural tendency to conform to norms even when they seem to lack prescriptive validity, that is, when we do not feel that we can or have to rightly adapt, without giving up a part of ourselves that we care very much about, call it coherence, intellectual honesty or decency?

A very ancient text, the Apology of Socrates, helps us answer. If Socrates had violated the laws and escaped from prison, Socrates would have committed an injustice towards his fellow citizens, who, moreover, are innocent of the sentence that was inflicted on him. Violence against the laws does not erase the injustice they have carried out; it is instead necessary to convince the city that they have carried out an injustice, and therefore need to be changed. What did Socrates propose then? The commitment to full and authorial civic participation: contributing to writing the laws, and therefore to changing them when deemed unjust. The counterweight to conformation is the exercise of the political dimension. Here demopraxy can assist us. Not all citizens feel ready to take the road that leads to legislative power, whether it is a candidacy through the party system for electoral representation or the launch of a national debate for a popular law or referendum initiative. The institution of delegation to many citizens does not seem to offer real alternatives, although there is no lack of concrete opportunities even simply in protest action, as the Black Lives Matter and Fridays for Future movements have recently demonstrated.

So how can citizens participate in the definition or modification of the rules in an active, proactive, constitutive manner? The founding thesis of demopraxy helps provide an answer: every citizen is primarily engaged in their own community (or ecology) of practice, an organisation within which explicit or implicit decisions with substantial impacts and effects on the lives of those belonging to the same community are taken on a daily basis. Here, everyone is given the opportunity to exercise a significant counterbalance action to conforming to the rules. This is not simple and immediate, but it is evident that the scale at which this action unfolds is much more attainable than that of the national parliament or central government. An option which, by the way, remains open to anyone who decides to exercise it.

We have thus come to the conclusion that demopractic (as well as democratic) political participation is directly effective in the process of deautomatisation and therefore in the transition from a society of automatons to a society of authors.

In all four cases of automatising dynamics that we have touched on (habit, subjection, fear and conformation), we can easily see how modern liberal democratic societies have in most cases developed antidotes, that is the counterweights of abilities, i.e. the arts, the critical spirit of dialogue, research and political commitment. All these are in fact fundamental democratic values, ​​or comparable to these. Yet, it is difficult to deny that the evolution of contemporary societies in a ‘neotechnical’ key, to quote Mumford negatively, and of liberal democracies tends to shift our life towards the automaton rather than the author within us.

These mechanisms bring the automatisation that occupies the cultural and behavioural dimension into the daily life of communities and individuals.

So they tend to occupy the space of the initiative, draining it and deeply neutralising it.

It is to some extent inevitable for the established power (corporations, simple and sovereign hedge funds, supranational institutions) to rely on our natural inclination to habit, subjection, fear and conformation, as well as to other psychic dynamics of automatisation yet to be described. Consequently, it is not surprising that there are considerable interests in promoting thoughts and behaviours (in fact models of consumption) that are automatised and socially “tested” as functional.

At this point, having clarified that automatism is (at least or also) promoted by habit, subjection, fear and conformation, it should be clear that deautomatisation can actually help free us from the condition of passivity and neutralisation to which automatisation tends to relegate us, the position of an automaton devoid of its own will both in an ethical-normative sense and in a psychic and practical sense. If we agree that deautomatisation leads to emancipation in different and not yet fully explained ways, it is reasonable to think that the emancipation promoted by deautomatisation can tend towards demopraxy, that is, the full realisation of democracy, the fulfilment of the dream and the promise of the government of the people. Therefore, there seems to be a mutual relationship between deautomatisation and demopraxy: one feeds the other.

And it should be equally clear that the fostering of authorship (that is, of the arts, but also of the spirit of critical dialogue, research and civic-political commitment) is associated with an emancipation from the condition of automaton. This transition from being an automaton to being an author is, probably and in most cases, temporary and partial, yet it represents the most radically generative and regenerative practice that individuals, organisations and society can cultivate.

Is the position and practice of the author exercisable by everyone? Quoting Michelangelo Pistoletto‘s motto creating is human, this faculty would be within everyone’s reach, and the same can be said of the other abilities we have outlined: critical spirit (as Socrates argues), research (as Appadurai promotes) and direct civic participation (as proven by the news, if not by history). But these natural abilities are not enough if they are not accompanied by the freedom to exercise them as an actual possibility; therefore not a formal attribution of generic rights, but a real, concrete, practical opportunity for everyone to exercise them. It is evident that the theory of abilities of Amartya Sen and Martha Nussbaum are a direct source of inspiration for this argument, which tends to explore the relationship between authorship and automatisation as subjection.

If we are inculcated with the prejudice that these abilities are reserved for a select few, their exercise becomes difficult, even if they actually reside in our psyche. It is essential that we learn to regain possession of what has always been ours, through training, through a school dedicated to this mission of emancipating and building a society of authors.


Art (in this paper specifically meant as creativity combined with critical spirit, research and political commitment) represents the road to the good infection of demopraxy.

As mentioned, the almost a manifesto of pandemopraxy, which invites people and organisations of the networks in which we participate as Cittadellarte to take action and experiment this practice, is dedicated to this perspective.

And it was at that juncture that the art of the band Subsonica came in assistance.

The ending of their song quoted at the beginning of this text is in fact, in its own way, a subtle device of deautomatisation, as simple and as deeply effective as art is often capable of being.

How will you do what you will do? This question, declined in concrete examples familiar to each of us (speaking, dressing, working, eating, thinking, smiling, dreaming …) is a powerful method for accessing the regions of our being in which these actions are codified and (almost always) automatised through the combined influence of habit, subjection, fear and conformation (and other psychic dynamics yet to be explained).

To answer the questions of the song, it is therefore necessary to create, with a critical spirit and on the basis of constant research activity, and together with other citizens and members of our community of practice; that is, to study what these simple questions really ask and what they imply in our life, in the context in which we live, in our ecology24 of practice, in our home, in the place where we work, where and with whom and how and with what traces and consequences we spend our time.

Research, even more when experienced as an inalienable right, can trigger political commitment by activating and engaging people in their own communities and ecologies, transforming them into agents of change, rather than individuals passively subjected to the research and practices of others, whether they are their legitimate delegates or other subjects.

Through deautomatisation, each of us takes on a fundamental role in the social structure, because our very identity25 is no longer linked to pre-existing and prefabricated narratives, but derives from creating, researching, civic dialogue, political commitment and the outcomes to which these abilities can lead us.

What will we find by researching in our neighbourhood, in our office, in our home, in our workplace? And what will we create in these contexts, making use of the spirit that dwells in each of us, a spirit aimed at creating, generating and regenerating, by nature and by right?

The art of demopraxy assumes these elements as its foundation; art, dialogue and research as driving forces of social and civic engagement. And this engagement is played out within our ecologies of practice. Promoting art (engine of creation), Socratic dialogue (form of expression of the critical spirit) and research (source of verification) for an autonomous judgment and a consequent responsible and active action within the civic forum in which we live is therefore the drug or good infection that Cittadellarte is committed to spread and research, through the networks in which it participates and through its school, in particular the Accademia Unidee of the Third Paradise.

It is an open and collective project, not without pitfalls and substantial structural, organisational and financial difficulties, as well as requirements of adequate epistemological endowments and tools, in which we call on authors from every field and experience to collaborate.

It is a research laboratory based on art, philosophy, political commitment, sustainability, social sciences, activism and potentially every field of activity, to which research bodies, artistic collectives, civil movements, training institutes and any other community of practice that considers these traces as a possible perspective of knowledge and action are invited to contribute. Research but also action, as the invitation is extended not only to Cittadellarte’s already active Rebirth embassies, but also to the most diverse communities willing to experiment with the framewok of the art of demopraxy in their own territorial and social context.

Paolo Naldini, Biella, January 2021

Notes from the summary
1 – Deautomatisation: The term, used here in a common sense, is connected to the treatise of Bernard Stiegler, see Stiegler, B. (2019). Automatic Society. 1. The future of work, Milan, Meltemi.
2 – Ecology of practice: the term is derived from the notion of “community of practice” by Wenger and Lave, see Wenger, E. (1998). Communities of practice: learning, meaning, and identity. Cambridge University. New York, Oxford University Press.
Notes from the text
1 – The concept of demopraxy was born around 2011 at Unidee, the school of Cittadellarte, Biella and is based on the replacement of the cratòs with the praxis, identifying in the ecologies of practice the function of micro-governments already operating in the social fabric, but deactivated or latent due to lack of awareness and systematic approach. Cittadellarte and the network of nearly 200 Rebirth embassies spread all over the world have developed a method (The Art of Demopraxia, see which proposes a framework for a work of civic participation founded on the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. The objectives of the Agenda were publicly presented in one of the first global events in Havana, Cuba, specifically as part of the launch of the first Demopractic Work in November 2015. The outline of demopraxy includes three phases (Chorus, mapping and exhibition; Forum and Working Site) and is being tested in various European cities, in Australia and in Cuba.
2 – The project has involved journalists like Milena Gabanelli, animation artists like Bruno Bozzetto, religious figures like Father Enzo Fortunato, politicians like Francesco Rutelli, writers like Silvia Avallone, singers like Massimo Ranieri, MiBACT officials like Maria Laura Orrico, chefs like Carlo Cracco, musicians and producers like Frankie Hi-nrg, sound artists and composers like Max Casacci, conductors like Nicolas Ballario, leaders like the president of the Red Cross Francesco Rocca, as well as teachers, managers, critics and curators, entrepreneurs, UN officials…
3 – The definition of community of practice (proposed by J. Lave and E. Wenger, 1991, as indicated in note 2 from the summary) can be extended with the expression ‘ecology of practice’, by which we mean not only relationships between human beings, but also with any other animal, vegetable, mineral and hyper-objectual entity.
4 – Man, a social being (Politics, 1252a): “Man is by nature a social being, and whoever lives excluded from the community is evil or superior to man, as well as the one who is blamed by Homer as “wicked without social constraints”; in fact, such a man also desires war. It is therefore evident that man is a social being more than any bee and more than any herd animal. In fact, nature does nothing, as we say, without a purpose: man is the only living thing to possess the ability to speak; the voice, in fact, is the sign of pain and pleasure, since it also belongs to other living beings: their nature has made progress until it has developed the sensation of pain and pleasure and the ability to manifest these sensations to others; the word, on the other hand, is able to convey the useful and the harmful, as well as the just and the unjust: this, in fact, unlike all other animals, is a prerogative of men, to have the perception of good, evil, right and wrong and other things. And the commonality of these things creates the house and the city”.
5 – Mirror neurons are a class of motor neurons that are activated involuntarily both when an individual performs a purposeful action and when the same individual observes the same purposeful action performed by any other subject (Wikipedia, ref. January 2021) . Many commentators identify the physiological basis of empathy in mirror neurons.
6 – An extensive and inspired discussion on this theme can be found in Emanuele Coccia, 2018, Il Mulino. “… What contains us, the air, becomes contained in us and, conversely, what we contain becomes what contains us. Breathing means being immersed in the environment that penetrates us with the same intensity with which we penetrate it … “
7 – Francesco Remotti, Somiglianze. Una via per la convivenza (Similarities. A way to coexistence), Laterza, 2019.
8 – See the project Contropaesaggio (Counter-landscape), which can be consulted at the website
9  – The term “good” does not refer to any judgment of intrinsic value; here we want instead to express the concept of desirability as generally understood.
10 – Henry David Thoreau, Civil Disobedience.
11 – Carlo Sini, L’uomo, la macchina, l’automa. Lavoro e conoscenza tra futuro prossimo e passato remoto (The man, the machine, the automaton. Work and knowledge between the near future and the distant past), Bollati Boringhieri, Turin, 2009.
12 – Norbert Elias, The Civilising Process.
13 – Isaac Asimov, I Robot, 1950.
14 – Arthur C. Clarke is the author of the novel 2001: A Space Odyssey, 1968, whose co-protagonist is the thinking machine HAL 9000.
15 – Written and drawn by Masamune Shirow, serialised for the first time in Japan from 1989 to 1991, it hit theatres in 1995.
16 – The notion of habit as the foundation of human understanding of the world was developed in particular by David Hume in his essay Treatise on Human Nature.
17 – The notion of habit as the foundation of human understanding of the world was developed in particular by David Hume in his essay Treatise on Human Nature.
18 – Crystal Ehresman, From rendering to remembering: Art therapy for people with Alzheimer’s disease, International Journal of Art Therapy, Volume 19, 2014 – Issue 1: Art Therapy and Neuroscience. “Throughout the last two decades, creative arts therapies have been increasingly used for support and therapeutic care in a variety of health care facilities. Personal growth through artistic activity is possible at every stage of life, even for those with dementia due to older age. Alzheimer’s disease (AD) is a prevalent neurological condition without definitive cause and with limited effective treatments and interventions available. The brain regions and mechanisms involved in creating visual art are not irreparably compromised for those with Alzheimer’s disease. Art therapy as a treatment for people with dementia can improve the quality of life through the benefits that come from using the visual arts to communicate inner experience and connect with others. Furthermore, creative activities stimulate several regions of the brain simultaneously, encouraging a healthy brain in older adults by promoting the brain’s plastic processes”.
19 – The inclination to transcendence could be analysed as an effect of the contributing causes indicated in this article (habit, subjection, fear, conformation) and immanence as an antidote provided by the four corresponding abilities (creativity, critical spirit, research, political commitment), but this is not the right place to develop this argument.
20 – Appadurai, Arjun. (2006). The Right to Research. Globalisation, Societies and Education.
21 – Korsgaard, Christine, (2014). The origins of normativity.
22 – Bobbio, Norberto (1977-1984). Enciclopedia Einaudi, pp. 876-907.
23 – Bobbio, Norberto, ibidem.
24 – The definition of community of practice (by J. Lave and E. Wenger, 1991, as indicated in a previous note) can be extended with the expression ‘ecology of practice’, by which we mean not only relationships between human beings, but also with any other animal, vegetable, mineral and hyper-objectual entity.
25 – The reference to identity alludes to the theory of practical identity by Christine Kosgaard: The origins of normativity. From the introduction: “… identity practice … that is, the description by which you find that your life is worth living, and that your actions are worth undertaking “, it consists of a set of roles and identities that make up who we are, the most important of which is that of members of the Realm of Ends. Kantian morality, in Korsgaard’s reworking, therefore consists in a formal law, the principle of universalisation, and in the content of this law which is provided by our practical identity.