The Aura of Mediocrity

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By FLAVIO AGUIAR*

Our perception of time has been changing since the invasion of cell phones; everything has to be very fast, immediate

We are going through a time when, in order to aim for some success on the right, it is necessary, in addition to being reactionary, to strive for the mediocrity of ideals, ideas and language. Gone are the days when being from the “conservative” camp required some style. Carlos Lacerda could be “the Crow” for the left; but he was an intellectual of some sort and a brilliant orator. The Catholic Gustavo Corção was extremely reactionary; at the same time, his hateful articles were lessons in good Portuguese. Today both have been replaced by a bunch of murderers of the Portuguese language and good manners, like Weintraub and Olavo de Carvalho.

Médici commanded one of the most violent governments in the history of Brazil: however, he did not throw ridiculous tantrums like Augusto Heleno. Eugênio Gudin, Delfim Netto, Mário Henrique Simonsen, Roberto Campos and others were notable for their reactionary leadership; next to them, Paulo Guedes is shallow, rough, mediocre. Juracy Magalhães, as ambassador in Washington, said that what was good for the United States was good for Brazil; Ernesto Araújo leads an Itamaraty for whose diplomacy what is good for Brazil is only what thrives in a wing of the Republican Party of that country, the crudest, headed by Trump, who is powerful, but is also of an astonishing mediocrity.

Looking through all the quadrants of the Bolsonaro government, there is practically not a single idea that is worthy or that even stands up. There are obsessions and villainies. There are very few exceptions. One of them, astonishingly, is found in the Minister of Agriculture, nicknamed “the Muse of Poison”, because at least it seems that she understands what she is talking about and says something with something. One or two phrases by General Mourão make sense; not that one agrees with him, but these or other phrases are intelligible, at least. For everything else is a cavernous assault on intelligence. And nobody tells me that Bolsonaro is a political genius. It is not. He can be smart, with his family clan and militia; for the rest, he stands out for the primary stupidity of his ideas and lines.

The “thing” is not limited to the federal government. Like the last plague in Egypt, the angel of mediocrity invades everything: the republic of Curitiba, vast sectors of the Public Prosecutor's Office, various declarations by ministers of the Supreme Court. The demonstrations of Bolsonarist fanatics also invade the streets, of businessmen who, more or less willingly or unwillingly, support the government, the journalists who paved the way for the rise of the worst ruler in our history, including hereditary captaincies, and who now act as if they had nothing to do with the deplorable state they helped to build for the nation. Pastors like Malafaias and Macedos, Chloroquine courtiers like Alexandre Garcia, hallucinators like Sara Winter, generals with or without pajamas can only articulate their own stupidity.

Is mediocrity a Brazilian exclusivity? No way. Look for some interesting idea from the point of view of its consistency in the Trump administration and its supporters: the desert is astonishingly astonishing and redundant. Steve Bannon? It's nothing more than a smartass manipulator of algorithms. Very effective, but that's about it. Further down the list: Orban in Hungary, Duda in Poland, Salvini in Italy, Lukashenko in Belarus, Cardinal Raymond Burke in the Catholic Church, Duterte in the Philippines, Shinzo Abe in Japan… even Gert Wilders in the Netherlands, Marine Le Pen in France , the leaders of the AfD in Germany do not stand out for the brilliance of any idea, but for the manipulation of low-level buzzwords from xenophobia to exclusionary nationalism, from the specter of criminality to the criminalization of opponents. Netanyahu needs a constant climate of war to hammer home his aggressive ideas, devoid of any glimmer of intelligence.

I place conservative Angela Merkel in a niche of her own. She has the bearing and stuff of a statesman; it is not mediocre; nor the extreme right; but stands out, conservative, for making rice and beans (or sauerkraut and sausage) of politics, and for absorbing ideas from opponents, dismantling their arguments, as it did with the scheduled closure of nuclear power plants in relation to the Greens and the minimum wage national in relation to the SPD.

Looking at the other side of the “Wall”, there is nothing to highlight either. Putin and Xi Jin Ping are excellent poker players. Unlike Trump, they don't bluff. And they don't need, for the moment, belligerent climates inside or outside their country. But that's it.

The question remains: why has mediocrity gained so much space and success on the right? The attack on science helps to understand, but it certainly does not explain everything. A certain pathological and contagious exhibitionism also helps understanding. I watched the pathetic scene of Argentine journalist Viviana Canosa, on Canal Nueva, taking a sip of chlorine dioxide to fight Covid-19; there was a hint of voayeurism in reverse, of showing off as brave and defiant. The same goes for these idiots who walk around without masks, challenge inspectors, insult office boys and engage in other unruly attitudes that mix defiance with cowardice.

There is another component in the search for crudely simple explanations for extremely complex facts and situations. In terms of Europe, it is easier to blame the “foreign invader” or the “refugee” for the precariousness of life than the “healthy financial austerity plans”, which punish the common taxpayer and safeguard finances. In terms of Brazil and the United States, blame the “internal difference”: leftist, feminist, LGBTI, quilombola, indigenous, favelado, etc.

I think there is still something more, something I call “anxiety for the moment”, for the “short time”. Our perception of time has been changing since the invasion of cell phones; everything has to be very fast, immediate. Thinking, maturing ideas, is equivalent to “wasting time”. It is necessary to cultivate, more, to cultivate the immediate response, the ready-made reaction instead of one's own thinking: thus the path to exultant mediocrities is open, with the air of being the "only possible", whether in terms of economy, sociability , religion, etc. This cult of the immediate and of the feeling of belonging to a group that moves in the right direction is part of the cement of mediocrity.

* Flavio Aguiar is a writer, retired professor of Brazilian literature at USP and author, among other books, of Chronicles of the World Upside Down (Boitempo).

 

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