the meritocratic ideology

Image: Bayram Er


Considerations on a text by Marilena Chaui

On the 24th of September I attended the opening table of the VI Hall of the Political Book – event that in this edition brings together 68 publishers in tune with the motto of democracy and bibliodiversity. The session was attended by Sabrina Fernandes, Manuela d'Ávila and Marilena Chaui, mediated by Ivana Jinkings. Aside from the beautiful tributes to Jacó Guinsburg, Sérgio Mamberti, Aldir Blanc, Flávio Migliaccio and so many other companions who have left us in recent times, the speeches were very relevant and timely.

Stimulated by the discussion, and especially by Marilena Chaui's speeches, I intended to extend the dialogue beyond the Internet. I went to the shelf where his books are, looking for texts that describe and problematize certain behaviors of the Brazilian middle class.

It is from there that I extract the following: “[The lawyer] is convinced that the supreme objective is to “climb up in life” and that “climbing up” depends on individual will; because he accepted political impotence in exchange for the crumbs of the “economic miracle” that gave him the illusion of power through the possession and consumption of ostentatious objects, signs of his difference from the popular classes; because, paradoxically, it attributes to the State the responsibility for what it considers to depend exclusively on individuals, having difficulty reconciling its moralism in the face of the corruption of the principals and its ideology of “winning at life”, it is now in panic in the face of the threat of losing its possessions due to the incompetence of the State and the violence of the assault”.[I]

The diagnosis sounds very current, doesn't it? For this very reason, perhaps the reader will be surprised to learn that the article in question was published in a widely circulated newspaper in São Paulo on January 16, 1984, in a forceful response to a series of commonplaces reiterated and handled with cynicism by people from various backgrounds. social and professions: from the “mail clerk” to the “bar owner”; from the “engineer working on the corner” to the “psychologist”.

I've wondered for some time. The meritocratic ideology presupposes that “The sun rises for everyone” and that, in order to “get ahead in life”, it is enough to seize each and every opportunity. The question persists. According to this logic, social inequalities, lack of opportunities for study, employment, sanitation, transportation, housing and health would be compensated thanks to the individual effort and, eventually, the paternalistic gesture of micro, small, medium and large entrepreneurs.

Now, even if we accept this fallacy as an index of truth, what to do with those who did not “embrace” the rare “opportunities” that life generously offered? Leave them under the overpasses, begging for a blanket and food? Massacre them under the pretext of the “disorder” they produce? Hit them with jets of water, during true war operations, in which the armed uniform sees the dispossessed rag as an enemy of the state and a hindrance to the “good” society of São Paulo?

The article in question also refers to three things that Marilena Chaui emphasized during her interventions at the opening table of the VI Hall of the Political Book: (1) The Brazilian State is as authoritarian as the society that ideologically sustains it; (2) This society assumes that it is a legitimate act of the middle class to maintain privileges (that is, to particularize, privatize rights), while the popular classes must cope, on their own, with the multiple socioeconomic, cultural, and work needs , housing, health, etc.; (3) The rise of the current government is largely explained by the existence of a society structured in such a way that some command and others obey, in which cruelty and cynicism stand out in the relationship with others.

In short, the fuel of Bolsonaristas and other accomplices of barbarism (announced since the mismanagement of Michel Temer) is not joy, love, hope and solidarity; but sadness, hatred (for the other), fear and selfishness. The ambivalent relationship with the State is one of the traits that guide these people of ancestry, who only see political radicalism where there are proposals for solutions to the structural problems of lack of housing, food, study and work.

It is impressive that a considerable portion of these “good people” gave such credit to the mytho-mano and the ministers, all very efficient in denying evidence and destroying the few social and health guarantees that existed. Even more appalling is to see that the lie was (and continues to be) adopted as a principle and method by a narrow group that bet on the assumption of monsters as an “alternative” to the “old policy”. Electing them was an act of cynicism. To persist in your blind defense is a manifest symptom of the greatest hypocrisy.

*Jean Pierre Chauvin is a professor at the School of Communications and Arts at USP.


[I] Marilena Chaui. “What if the Middle Class Changed?”. In: SANTIAGO, Homero (org.). Conformism and Resistance. Belo Horizonte, Autêntica, 2014, p. 283.

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