Voices to fight uncertainty - Chronicle of Tuesday 11 October

It's impressive to see nearly a thousand teenagers milling around Plaça Joan Coromines with sandwiches in hand. The first session of the Biennial of Thought is about to begin. Marina Garcés is the only centre of attention on the stage, but the first thing to be heard are the promises for the future that a dozen of these students, from sixteen schools, have recorded during the didactic process that has preceded the conversation with the philosopher: "I promise my parents that I will continue studying and that I will work with the knowledge they have given me", can be heard over the loudspeakers. "I promise to tell them that I love them". "To you, who trusted me, I promise you that I will find the best version of me".

Voices of the present that pledge. "In a promise we place the future between us, it is the place of a bond and a commitment," says Marina Garcés. The first idea is fixed amidst the peals of bells that flood the square.

Soon, Garcés enters the world of uncertainty. The uncertainty that nestles in every promise that may not be fulfilled. And the one that draws shadows on the eyebrows of the young and the world around them. "All the trees and bushes in Barcelona will be at risk in 2050", he says he read on Twitter as he walked towards the square. "What is my word in the face of this? In the face of uncertainty turned into threat, the promise is an act of insubordination. With his word he confronts the multiplicity of discourses that invite him to accept that he has no future".

He quotes Arendt, Kant and Nietzsche, but Garcés, above all, challenges the students by asking questions: "How many people do we constantly expel from our lives? How many collective projects dissolve in time? Or referring to the motive that some people look at with greater or lesser dissimulation: "We all make promises of love, aesthetic, political, of immediate enjoyment, but also of what we will be. We must ask ourselves who makes these promises and how we take charge of them".

Some suddenly look up. The promise rises as an opportunity to discover what we value in the present, who we care about and what actions we commit to despite the possibility of disappointment.

"If I govern one day in this country, I pledge to make real promises," says one girl in the final question time. Enthusiastic applause from peers mingles with unfulfilled promises: "I promise to stay awake," says the last student to take the microphone. And the promise is transformed into an invitation to continue to circle the uncertainty until the historians Yuval Noah Harari and Rutger Bregman take the floor at six o'clock in the same Plaza Joan Coromines. Once again, it was packed to overflowing.

In his first speech, Harari already sets out his message about the threats of the future: "We humans have always heard that calamity was coming, but history is not deterministic. The key is to realise that the future depends on the choices we make in the present. We have the resources and the knowledge to respond even to climate change.

Rutger Bregman, author of Utopia for Realists and Humanity: A History of Hope, agrees with Harari, while trying to approach the historical and future perspective from another angle. It is true that we are in a moment of danger, he says, but "we could also say that we are at the beginning of something great. Perhaps we are in the adolescence of humanity, the future could be immense. That's why, says Bregman, it's important to have something to fight for. Inequalities are still huge. Inevitably, the questions raised by Marina Garcés in the morning come flying back onto the stage.

The conversation then heads down the paths of the dangers of lack of privacy and degrowth as a proposal ("We shouldn't tell people to stop wanting things, but we should find sustainable ways to get them", Harari clarifies), until Bregman again makes a big zoom out to relocate things: "How will the historians of the future judge us? We must ask ourselves what we are doing wrong today". For Harari, the best we can do is to provide ourselves with solid mechanisms of self-correction ("accept that we make mistakes and correct them"), re-establish democratic debate ("democracies will not survive without debate") and create organisations that are capable of sustaining and channelling our desire for change. But also the construction of the narrative is decisive to turn the future around. We must listen to the voices and ask ourselves: is there anyone in this narrative who suffers, says Harari: "Our duty is to listen to their experiences. We don't need any scientific breakthrough to do that, only by changing the narrative will we make a big change".

This is what Svetlana Alexievich knows a lot about, about listening to and attending to the stories of pain. Fearful of cooling off even more, the Nobel Prize winner for Literature begins the last session of a packed Plaza Joan Coromines by asking herself about the innocence and the spirit of freedom that invaded the population with the fall of the Soviet Union. "How is it possible that after socialism we have Russian fascism? Nobody has an answer. In the early 1990s we called it freedom but we didn't understand what it was. Someone who has lived in prison and suddenly comes out onto the streets cannot feel free. Inevitably, however, the current war in Ukraine colonises his words. "We don't see the end of the red man, but the beginning of fascism in Russia and Belarus. People are afraid to die.

And as you put on your jumper, because you begin to feel the cold (of autumn and war), you realise that Alexievich’s words begin to be populated by other voices. Yes, the writer continues to speak of her vision of the conflict ("We have become accustomed to war", "It will take years for the peoples of Russia, Belarus and Ukraine to live as brotherly peoples", "Ukraine must not defeat Putin, we must do it ourselves") but, if you pay attention, you perceive in her discourse an operation similar to the one that dazzles her books. It raises the heart of voices. Alexievich speaks of what she has been told by young Ukrainians who no longer want to read Dostoyevsky, of the families broken by the conflict, of the pro-Putin taxi drivers and the mothers of Buryatia... she even recalls what she was "told" by the cows in radioactive Chernobyl who refused to see the water in the lakes. "We can't see and smell radiation," says Alexievich, but we can be attentive, she seems to remind us. Attentive and awake to the voices of pain that surround us.

Jordi de Miguel