Dear Princess ‘Ishka,

Few things are as scary as the thought of one’s own death. We can joke about it, we can believe that our soul is immortal, we can convince ourselves that we care more about the death of our friends. But if we seriously take a moment to think about our lifeless body, our own vitreous eyes, unable to take a glance of the world anymore, at the end of our inner, vibrant life made of organs and electric connections, we are overwhelmed by a sense of emptiness.

If we feign in our minds our own death, we can’t find anything valuable anymore. Why wake up in the morning? Why work, study, eat, take care of how we look and of our health, think about other human beings, our relationships in general? Why move at all? Why breathe?

It is plain to see how counterproductive engaging with such a thought might be. Especially because it can’t stay a cold and detached speculation for that long. The contrast with our actual life is too great and too close to be avoided, and negative feelings start slithering between our thoughts, accompanied by the silent veil of depression.

Is there a way to think about the end of our existence as sentient material beings without such negative feelings? Is there any antidote to such desperation, however illusory it might be?

Many religions offer systems of powerful narrations about how to face the thought of death. In the Christian tradition, the soul survives the material death of the body. Hinduists believe in re-incarnation, whereas for Buddhism we are one and the same with nature and we should try to bridge the gap between our subjective existence and the material body, which are one ad the same.

However, these narrations stand on complex metaphysical assumptions, which often end up in mystery, esoterism and ascetism. For a more down to earth approach, the material body with its subjective existence is fundamental and the thought of its irreversible death ineludible. So we shall play within our limited existence, with what we have already and not with promises or hopes that are grounded elsewhere.

Recall the motive of death in the Harry Potter saga. J.K. Rowling often underlines the fact that Harry survived the lethal enchantment of Voldemort because of the love of his parents, Lily and James Potter, who sacrificed their lives to save him.

The story might have gone in two ways: Lily and James Potter were overwhelmed by a feeling of love which made them forget about the fear of death, or they were conscious of the risk but they told themselves none the less the “love story” and suddenly their death made sense as a cost to be paid for something more valuable. The second way is much more heroic, but needn’t be more imaginary. Indeed, we often need reason for action and, unless we want to say that Lily and James Potter acted on a bare stronger feeling, we shall admit that a story like the one Rowling tells us is precisely what the characters were telling themselves.

The philosopher Baruch Spinoza claimed that a passion can be contrasted only with a stronger passion but, in the case of the thought of death, the fear of death strongly depends on our imagination and on a story we tell ourselves. Does this mean that we can tell the story we prefer? Not quite, for the stories about ourselves are “monitored” by our friends and can’t be manipulated as we like.

The coolest part of stories is that they don’t belong only to their inventor. They become public and they are shared between audiences and story-tellers. The more other people know about your story, the less your story stays a burden of yours. In this sense, the “love story” between Lily, James and the little Harry created a context where the death of the parents wasn’t a burden for them individually, but it was shared in the wider narration of the saga. Accordingly, it might have been a little less scary and less meaningless.

We are not alone. We value things and people first-personally, it’s true. But people do value us as well – and certain nonhuman animals too. To a certain extent, “we live in their eyes” and we live in the stories we tell and that are told about ourselves. As a consequence, the more we share our stories, the less we need to face death on our own.

The love story didn’t only save Harry that night. It saved all its protagonists.

Forever yours,




Dear Princess ‘Ishka,

Talking about Islamic culture in western societies is an extremely hard task, which needs multidisciplinary knowledge and can’t be settled by simplistic political standings. Still, Islam has grown in recent years as a major worry for many political parties, which catalyze fears and insecurities of the masses against what seems to be a clear and well defined enemy. The major worry of such parties is not Islam within traditionally Islamic countries. It is rather the process sometimes called “Islamization”, taking place, according to such politicians, in western societies.

But what is this so-called Islamization? To my understanding, the term is often understood as referring to a group of phenomena regarding the growing presence of people of Islamic faith and habits in western societies. I try now to sparsely list what I think certain people find most worrying about this presence:

  1. There is a neat incompatibility between “western values” and “Islamic values”;
  2. Islam, as a religion, has a higher potential to lead people to violence than other religions, especially the Christian one;
  3. Islam is intrinsically oppressive of women and lgbt people;
  4. Western populations have a lower birth-rate on an average than people of Islamic culture that, together with immigration, would result in the uncontrolled growth of Islamic population and a consequent negative influence of Islamic values on western institutions;

I know few or nothing about Islamic culture, but knowledge of Islamic culture is not necessary to analyze the four points I consider constitutive of the worry of Islamization.

Let’s start with point 1. How can we understand this incompatibility between western values and Islamic values? Is Ramadan incompatible with Christmas? Or the religious prohibition to drink alcohol incompatible with wine and beer culture? Such things are not incompatible, they can perfectly coexist in a multicultural society. So what does this incompatibility consist of? I see no answer other than connecting point 1 to points 2 and 3. Islamic values are incompatible with western values because they would have a higher potential of spreading violence and they would be oppressive of women and lgbt people.

The question is now: are western values innocuous and not oppressive of women and lgbt people? What do we understand as western values in the first place? If we think of western values in terms of Christian values we have a history of compatibility of Christianity with spreading of catastrophic violence and oppression of women and lgbt people, which goes on nowadays. If we think of western values as the evolution of the ideas of Enlightenment, feminism and progressive social phenomena, we must understand western values as liberal and secular values. But then, the contrast with Islamic values would be void, for liberal and secular values are overarching religious and cultural values, not exclusive of them. What gets excluded are archaic cultural and religious understandings of moral and scientific matters, but not cultures and religions themselves. If such incompatibilities were intrinsic to religions, there wouldn’t be place for Christians in secular societies.

We can think of the incompatibility of point 1 as the one existing between Christian and Islamic cultures, but then again, do we think western values are exclusively Christian? If this were the case, we would be blind to centuries of social, moral and scientific progress, which has absolutely nothing to do with Christianity, and was often condemned by religion. Instead, if western values are supposed to be those of culturally-inclusive secularism, then there is nothing intrinsic to Islam that would imply “neat incompatibility”. Of course, this doesn’t mean that integration is an easy process or that western societies are as secular as they should be. But the hardness of reality isn’t a good reason to draw false conclusions about Islam.

Finally, point 4 addresses the concrete issue of the growing number of people of Islamic faith in western societies. This has of course to do with very complicated migration policies as well as with the birth rate of different populations. Still, if we think about the true causes of migration and uncontrolled birth rates, we see that religion is just a contextual factor. Migration crisis are caused by wars, famines, but mostly by lack of opportunities and poverty. Uncontrolled child birth by lack of education and (guess what) poverty.

“Ok with that” might say the defender of the I-word, “Islamization is contextual, not necessarily depending on religion and not necessarily incompatible with western societies. But still it coincidentally takes place and we have to deal with that”. The problem now is one of definition: do we really think it is fair to label all the phenomena related to people who by chance happen to be of Islamic faith and/or customs “Islamization”? Isn’t this term putting too much weight on religion, when the big problems are actually to be found in the global history of economic and political inequality? Religion certainly doesn’t help simplify such issues, but does it give enough reasons to talk about Islamization?

I don’t think so and I’ve explained why. Not only is Islamization a simplistic myth about a much more complicated reality, it is also dangerous for it might easily hide xenophobia. Let’s hear the words of experts on the topic rather than those of politicians talking about apocalyptic “clashes of civilizations”, for we might start believing that we owe all our modernity to Christianity, and witches certainly wouldn’t cherish.

Forever yours,



Dear Princess ‘Ishka,

It is not without a little embarrassment that I will approach today’s topic, which is (drum roll…): masturbation! Yay!

There is a huge stigma on masturbation, which makes it a topic to be cautiously handled – if you know what I mean. I mean, seriously, one simply does not talk about masturbation. It is considered dirty and shameful, the favorite activity of losers. Well, guess what? There are way more losers out there than what one might expect, dear.

I suspect that this stigma comes from (surprise surprise) the Christian influence on our culture. After all, like most of the stigmas and taboos in the western world do.

Christianity has always seen sexuality as necessarily related to reproductive purposes. No wonder that mere “recreational” sexual practices have been historically abhorred. However, our societies have become much more liberal in recent decades, breaking down many taboos related to contraception, virginity and pre-marital sex.

But why does masturbation remain so obscure and “dangerous” to be talked about? If practiced in private and with healthy and careful procedures, what should be wrong about it? Why is the religious taboo still holding for masturbation and not for “collective” sexual activities?

My intuition is that we have never gotten completely rid of the stigma on sexuality itself. We think that sexuality must have to do with the exercise of sexual practices with someone else and that it should be, at its best, crowned by love, romantic feelings and the like. We think that “love is love” and that homosexuals should be granted the same rights as heterosexuals because love makes us equal.

But sexuality is something way more essential than “love”. It is deeply rooted in our biological constitution and it has primarily nothing to do with sexual intercourse. It is an essential part of what we individually are made of. It grounds most of our drives, independently of the way they can be satisfied, if at all.

Accepting our sexuality means in many cases accepting ourselves. You can’t love a person “no-matter-what-her-sexuality-is”. It matters a lot that you respect and accept that sexuality, no matter what your religious and cultural background is! No matter if there is love between two human beings, one hundred or just within a single individual. No matter if it is promiscuous, shy, dolt, original, awkward. No matter if it is sexuality or a-sexuality.

I think everyone would benefit from appraising the value of a life that is sexually fulfilling, independently of one’s relationships with other people. I am not just saying that masturbating is “alright”. I am indeed saying that masturbation should be cultivated! Masturbating without regrets makes you know your body and it is extremely helpful to get to enjoy sex together. I am strongly convinced that masturbating enhances also one’s creativity. For example, I will never see Nivea roll-on deodorants in the same light again…

Sex toys are the best to explore one’s sexuality. Not only for “solo-players” but also for couples, triplets and full-blown orgies! It must be however acknowledged that, contrarily to people, sex toys don’t complain, don’t stink, don’t judge and, on top of all, never disappoint.

I am joking – well… except for the last line, perhaps. At any rate, what I find important in this whole talk, is that we should strive for the self-confidence necessary to make us respect our individual sexualities, no matter if we have sexual partners or not.

Intersubjective relationships are still of extreme importance and sex makes some of them just funnier and more savory. But, as one very inspirational person is used to remind us, “if you can’t love yourself, how in the hell you gonna love somebody else?”.

Forever yours,



Dear Princess ‘Ishka,

Back to when we were used to go clubbing together, to lay down on the grass side by side in early summer, and to find mutual comfort in the arms of one another, I was also used to consider you mine.  You were my friend when I was alone, my happiness when I felt lost, my confessor when no one seemed to understand me.

The possessive adjective “my” acquires a special meaning when it refers to people we particularly care about or relationships of mutual affection. Indeed, we don’t use it only to designate material possession, like when we say “my t-shirt”, “my bank account”,  etc. It can express an almost infinite number of relations, in which the possessor is not necessarily owning the possessed thing, like when we say “my hometown” or “my university”. It is interesting to note, that the relation of “belonging to” implied by the possession is not unidirectional, because a t-shirt belongs to me, whereas I belong to the university and not the other way around.

My professor”, “my parents” and “my volleyball team” are all examples of social relationships. At a first glance, it could seem that “my friend” falls neatly in this category. And for most of the cases it does.

But when I say that I considered you mine, I don’t talk about a social relationship among others. I want to characterize myself as a possessive person. You were mine because I was jealous of our friendship and I kept it as something inestimable, a deep and complicated feeling locked inside my heart. But most probably I was also jealous of you as a person.

Jealousy can be the natural side effect of affection, but it has devastating outcomes if brought to its extreme consequences. It is because of jealousy that most “crimes of passion” are committed. Jealousy is a constitutive part of the patriarchal power of men over women and it is strictly linked to greed of specific intersubjective relationships. It’s not surprising that Christianity, taken as the religious phenomenon which has legitimated historically countless forms of hierarchies and conservativisms, forgot to put jealousy among the seven deadly sins, but not to fight the subversive (even if perverse) potential of envy.

What about being possessive? Is it necessarily a bad thing? It obviously is if the sort of possession is of the same kind of “my t-shirt”. But, as we have already seen, the adjective “my” can govern both directions of “belonging to”. So, when I say you were mine, I mean not only that you were belonging to me but also that I was belonging to you. This very peculiar kind of friendship is based at the same time on possessing and being possessed. What is possessed is not an external individual, but the reciprocity and the feelings it gives rise to. And among these feelings, jealousy is certainly one of the most recognizable.

Thus, when I say that you were mine, I say more about my status than about yours. I don’t say anything about you being “owned”, but rather about my being jealous, attached, needy and, on top of all, vulnerable. Was our friendship worth the costs?

I think that, sometimes, our lives are too a great responsibility to be lived on our own. Sometimes, it is just too hard to live as isles, communicating with each other only through naval expeditions. Sometimes we need to build bridges to enable a pacific invasion of ourselves, and to deploy part of the burden of living on other special people. This is the strongest remedy against loneliness, but it exposes ourselves to the threat of emotional dependence.

Yes, I think it was definitely worth it. And it is also now, as I begin to understand what it means to pay those costs for another friendship of mine. Still, I can’t wait for the time of being yours again.

Forever yours,