the slippery slope

Image: Action Group


The formation of the working class, as well as of teaching professionals, demands a complete transformation of its goals, contents and procedures

Like countless citizens, we are stunned by the moment Brazil is going through. It is very difficult to understand how and why so many people still identify with anything related to Jair Bolsonaro, and vote for him. The results of the first round of elections for President of the Republic were disappointing, although Lula was in first place, because they showed a gigantic mass of individuals willing to give power, once again, to the one who currently holds the post.

What can be said to these people about Jair Bolsonaro, who has not yet been? How much do we need to emphasize and underline, with words, voice, facial expressions, gestures and all the vehemence we are capable of, the human, social, environmental, economic and political tragedy that Bolsonaro represents? As impossible as it may be, it is necessary to try to understand what happens in the minds of their voters, which leads them to disregard so many crimes and so many barbarities already committed, many of which they themselves recognize. Something must explain why they close their eyes to the atrocities said and done, and that Jair Bolsonaro is identified by them with something desirable.

In the universe of more than 51 million Bolsonaro voters, it is natural that there are groups with different motives. In a brief reflection, it is possible to point out at least three sets of people with convergent, but not identical, behavioral and intellectual characteristics. A first group is very small, formed by parasites from politics, from the high civil service and from the market that, in some way, enjoy the current administrative complexion of the Federal Executive. Although small, it is not possible to indicate all the members of this group, since they tend to hide themselves, and to them we can credit Jair Bolsonaro's permanence in office, despite the countless crimes he has already committed.

The second, more numerous group is made up of members of the middle class, who have nothing to gain from Bolsonarist management, but who take pleasure in contemplating economic ruin, the decay of values ​​and the suffering of the most vulnerable. This group has as its main characteristics its identification with the life and ideas of the rich and powerful in society, and its aversion to the poor.

The third group, the largest of all, is the lumpenproletariat that has been structured over the last decades of hegemony of Hayekian aspirations – people disdained by public power, relegated to economic and cultural marginality, many of whom were spiritually welcomed in the various churches of the cult. neopentecostal that sprouted across the country. Research shows that, in the evangelical universe, adherence to Jair Bolsonaro is greater than in any other group,[I] which makes perfect sense, since their adherence to Protestant Christianity makes them vulnerable to moralistic and conservative discourse.

It is possible and expected that there are intersections between the three groups, with individuals belonging to more than one of them. Our interest in this reflection is not to quantify the number of those who belong to one or another group, but rather to offer and discuss a conceptual tool that contributes to the understanding of a phenomenon that seems aberrant to us. Comprehension, here, is taken in the sense expressed in the work of Michael Löwy, The adventures of Karl Marx against the Baron of Münchhausen, where he discusses the characteristics of the human sciences, in contrast to the natural sciences.[ii]

According to this author, in the human sciences, the presence of different social worldviews, ideologies and class points of view do not point to psychological or personal issues of the researcher, but to something essential that cannot be extirpated.[iii] Michael Löwy's book is very interesting and timely, especially at this moment, when the specificities of the human and social sciences seem to have disappeared, in favor of a supposedly superior method of the natural sciences. In Michael Löwy's understanding, Wilhelm Dilthey's investigations about the Geisteswissenschaften, and his discussion of the distinctions between explanation and understanding are important conceptual gains.[iv] In fact, Wilhelm Dilthey specified some differences between the natural sciences and the human sciences, as well as between their investigation methods, through the conception that the instrument of natural knowledge is the causal explanation, To explain, while that of knowledge of the sciences of the spirit, intrinsically historical, is understanding, Vertehen.

Indeed, based on the ideas of Wilhelm Dilthey, Michael Löwy discussed the specificity of the human sciences and pointed out several characteristics, which we will not detail.[v] What interests us is the metaphor he created to characterize the different social views of the world that underlie the research, and their double function of concealment and revelation, blindness and visibility.[vi] In our view, what Michael Löwy points out as essential and ineradicable, objective to a certain extent, and which underlies research in human and social sciences, can help explain the phenomenon we are facing in this text.

It is the metaphor of the observation points of a certain landscape, which allows us to reflect on the comparison between more or less vast horizons, between narrower or broader borders of the knowledge that one has of the perceived reality.[vii] Indeed, regarding the characterization of the social scientist, Michael Löwy presents him as the painter of a landscape, thereby offering an apt metaphor to describe the idea of ​​social views of the world and their limits. Accordingly, painting will depend, in the first place, on what the observer can see, on the place from which he observes.

The higher it is, the more an observatory (class point of view) will allow you to expand the horizon and perceive the landscape in its completeness. What cannot be seen from observatories located further down, although these allow you to see part of the landscape, becomes visible at the highest point. In Michael Löwy's understanding, the point of view of the proletariat is this highest observatory, while the lowest are those of other social classes. Part of the landscape that can be seen from any height, which would constitute certain zones of consensus, located at the lowest and most immediate level of knowledge. An example would be the date of the fall of the Bastille, on July 14, 1789, a landscape common to all.

In our understanding, this metaphor of the observatory is particularly interesting as a way of perceiving some aspects of knowledge that different individuals can form about society. Several interesting conclusions are drawn from it by Michael Löwy. First, that a synthesis or average position between the upper and lower levels does not provide a privileged point of view. Second, that the structural limits of the horizon are not linked to the good will or ill will of the observer, but are the result of the height and position in which he is found. Third, the observer can transit between different observatories, but his horizon and his visibility will always depend on where he is at each moment. Fourth, that the highest observer can locate the limits and truths of the lower levels. And, finally, that the lookout only offers the objective possibility of a determined view of the landscape.

However, the reading of reality is never the product of mere observation, but also depends on existing vocabulary, readings, models and traditions of previous explanations, even if it is a critical reading. Thus, says Michael Löwy, no innovation or strategy of subversion and criticism, in social knowledge, is effective if it does not mobilize the capital of accumulated knowledge.

It is at this point that we believe that the main proselytes of Bolsonarism are acting, in a way that has been very effective until today. One of the greatest examples is given by Damares Alves, former Minister of Women, Family and Human Rights (2019-2022), who is among those who are most able to manipulate the vocabulary, traditions, values ​​and worldview of the larger group than we pointed out above. And this is not exactly because it is evangelical, but because it dominates, like few others, the art extensively explored by Bolsonarists of arguing for fallacies.

We do not claim that they reflectively know the logical mechanisms they employ, but we assume that they have a clear intention to deceive the audience. Among the various fallacies that can be pointed out, we want to discuss one in particular, which seems to us to be the most invoked and which, being so repeated, has already surpassed the barrier of sophistry: the fallacy of the slippery slope, or domino. in your book Attacking faulty reasoning: A practical guide to fallacy-free arguments, T. Edward Damer defines this fallacy as follows: “Assumption, without adequate evidence, that a given action or event is only one, usually the first, in a series of steps that will inevitably lead to a specific, generally undesirable consequence”.

The name "domino fallacy" derives from the children's game of lining up dominoes end to end, an inch apart, and then pushing the first one, causing a chain reaction of falling dominoes. The chain reaction works in this children's game, but not all events are organized for the purpose of successively falling dominoes. In no case should it be assumed that an event will lead to or cause another event or series of events without making specific investigation into the causal factors that may be involved in each of these events.[viii]

The slippery slope fallacy is used repeatedly, and we can say that its entry into the public debate took place with the fabrication of anti-PTism by the hegemonic media. From anti-PTism, there was an indiscriminate attack on the left, in any part of its spectrum, which is now identified by supporters of the right-wing ideology as the great catastrophe for the country. The simplistic, conservative view of the world, located in a shallow observation point, favors the manipulation of the attention of individuals, who do not notice the need for several passages to be added to the reasoning, so that the conclusion could be drawn correctly. Along with the appeal to the gallery, false cause, and complex question fallacies,[ix] Individuals exposed to Bolsonarist opinion makers are guided in their convictions, inflamed in their passions and led in their actions. Perhaps that was what Schopenhauer meant when he said that whoever mastered the mechanisms of the law of motivation, understood by him as a form of the law of causality, could command people as he wished.[X]

The recent case, starring the aforementioned former minister, is a clever use of the slippery slope fallacy. Talking about her in an evangelical cult shocked everyone with a story, apparently made up, about sexually abused children in the State of Pará. The story, so absurdly sordid, requires a sick mind to think it up and a great deal of nerve to enunciate it in public. The scandal caused by the story is intentional, starting by emotionally shaking the audience and dividing the world between good and bad. The fallacy is subtly presented in her speech, and also has other placements, other fallacies already established in the popular imagination and in the media, which divided the world between Bolsonaristas and leftists.

When she claims that Bolsonaro has turned against the most terrifying evil and that, therefore, he faces fierce opposition even from the Federal Supreme Court and the National Congress, she puts him on the side of good. We are in a period of a polarized election, if Bolsonaro represents the good of children, who will represent evil? This is how, after Lula's election, the fallacy makes a slide down the slope to brutal child sexual abuse. This is, possibly, how ideas are organized and gain coherence in the minds of listeners.

However, it is not enough to point out this fallacy and insist that it is a fallacy, because, as Michael Löwy stated, the horizon in which the observer is located does not exactly depend on his will, but on the height and position in which he is located. . This is true, at least, in relation to the third group of supporters of Bolsonarism that we pointed out above. But it is necessary, in any case, to expose the mechanism and bring the fallacy into people's consciousness, for, apart from all that has been said, fallacies are in themselves extremely persuasive. Therefore, although the premises do not support the conclusion in fallacies of relevance like this, they continue to be repeated to exhaustion.

The road will be long until we can raise the public debate from the terrible level at which Bolsonaristas have placed it, and where they have kept it. In our opinion, it will require a lot from everyone who has critical thinking and conditions to expose and unmask the deceptions, and there are no guarantees that general knowledge will be raised to this level. However, certainly, these tricks prevent the poor, the proletarian class, from reaching the truth about their own condition and, with it, about the means that can improve their lives and lead them to emancipation. In the words of Michael Löwy, “The ruling classes, the bourgeoisie (and also the bureaucracy, in another context) need lies and illusions to maintain their power. He, the proletariat, needs truth...[xi]

If, however, there is something that can be pointed out as a possible way for the largest number of workers to reach this critical level of observation, such a path goes through public schools. In fact, the formation of the working class in general, as well as, specifically, of teaching professionals, demands a complete transformation of its goals, contents and procedures. The streamlining of training, the attack on the disciplinary organization of fields of knowledge and the dilution of curricula, resulting from the educational counter-reforms of recent decades, only contributed to the deepening of the obscurantist atmosphere, where Bolsonarism was managed.

*Katie Santos is a professor at the Federal Rural University of the Semiarid (UFERSA).

*Antonio A. Neto Master in Human and Social Sciences Teaching at UFERSA.


DAMER, TE Attacking faulty reasoning: A practical guide to fallacy-free arguments. Belmont-CA, USA: Wadsworth Cengage Learning, 2008.

LÖWY, M. The adventures of Karl Marx against the Baron of Münchhausen: Marxism and positivism in the sociology of knowledge. Translation by Juarez Guimarães and Suzanne Felicie Löwy. 2nd ed., São Paulo: Busca Vida, 1987.

SCHOENHAUER, A. On the fourfold root of the principle of sufficient reason. Edition in German and Portuguese. Translation and presentation by Oswaldo Giacoia Jr. and Gabriel Valladão Silva. Campinas: UNICAMP, 2019.

SCHOPENHAUER, A. About freedom of will. Translated by Lucas Lazarini Valente and Eli Vagner Francisco Rodrigues. São Paulo: UNESP, 2021.


[I] Express Letter. Ipec: Lula leads among Catholics and Bolsonaro maintains the lead in the evangelical electorate. 17.10.2022.

[ii] See LÖWY, M. The adventures of Karl Marx against the Baron of Münchhausen: Marxism and positivism in the sociology of knowledge. Translation by Juarez Guimarães and Suzanne Felicie Löwy. 2nd ed., São Paulo: Busca Vida, 1987.

[iii] Ibid., p. 47 et. seq.

[iv] Ibid., p. 69 et. seq.

[v] See: Ibidem, p. 193 et. seq.

[vi] Ibidem, p. 197.

[vii] Ibid., p. 203 et. seq.

[viii] DAMER, TE Attacking faulty reasoning: A practical guide to fallacy-free arguments. Belmont-CA, USA: Wadsworth Cengage Learning, 2008, pp. 185-186.

[ix] Briefly: appeal to the gallery is the fallacy in which the interlocutor appeals to the opinions or passions of the audience in order to gain adherence to his thesis; false cause is the fallacy in which a false cause is attributed to a given effect (non causa pro causa), or a cause is attributed to an effect, just because it arose after it (post hoc ergo propter hoc); complex question is the fallacy in which questions are formulated that cannot be answered clearly and directly, without admitting unfavorable positions to oneself.

[X] In this regard, Schopenhauer claims that the law of motivation guides human actions, just as causality operates in the natural world. The difference is that, in the law of motivation, causality acts through knowledge, the intellect, which, however, does not interfere with its rigor as a natural law. Cf. SCHOENHAUER, A. On the fourfold root of the principle of sufficient reason. Edition in German and Portuguese. Translation and presentation by Oswaldo Giacoia Jr. and Gabriel Valladão Silva. Campinas: UNICAMP, 2019, §§ 20 and 43. A consequence of this relationship between causality and human actions is the possibility of investigating history, politics, ethics or psychology according to the law of motivation. Cf. About freedom of will. Translated by Lucas Lazarini Valente and Eli Vagner Francisco Rodrigues. São Paulo: UNESP, 2021, Chap. III.

[xi] LÖWY, M. The adventures of Karl Marx against the Baron of Münchhausen. Translation by Juarez Guimarães and Suzanne Felice Léwy. São Paulo: Busca Vida, 1987, p. 209.

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