The people grinding machine

Clara Figueiredo, - so what_, digital photomontage, 2020
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By MARCELO GUIMARÃES LIMA*

In a materially and ideologically polarized society like ours, the important theme of indifference is not new.

In the 1960s, I read in a book by the sociologist Guerreiro Ramos something that, as a teenager and looking for answers, enlightened me then about the country and the events that I, still very young, witnessed: the overthrow of the Jango government, the military coup and the beginning of the regressive, surrendering and murderous military dictatorship. Outlining a historical typology of political life in Brazil in his book The Crisis of Power in Brazil – Problems of the Brazilian National Revolution (Rio de Janeiro, 1961), the sociologist distinguished the phases of 1) the initial clan policy, of the autonomous rural units that constituted the basis of the territorial, political and social order of the country in its beginnings, 2) the policy of the oligarchy that in the beginning empire and in the old republic absorbed local powers and 3) contemporary populist politics, marked by the initial irruption of the people in the political scenario, a scenario that until then was deeply conservative and excluding by design and nature.

Industrial development, the structuring of social classes within the context of institutions, ways of thinking and social relations adapted to a world that was out of date, that was falling apart under the pressure of modernity, as Guerreiro Ramos observed, marked out the Brazilian crisis at the time.

His definition of oligarchy politics also gave me an initial key to understanding what I witnessed in politicians from the conservative and “populist” establishment of the time, such as, for example, Ademar de Barros, governor of the state of São Paulo and a man of “ steals, but does”, among many others.

“The policy of the oligarchy, although it recognizes, from an abstract legal point of view, the public thing, uses it, in practice, as a private thing” (p. 51) wrote Guerreiro Ramos and added: “The oligarchies exercise the power in obedience to family or cronyism criteria. Hence, they do not tolerate in the services of the State other than their minions.”

Treating public things as private, fostering cronyism, intolerance against those “outsiders” of the family or professional group, class, ideological universe, etc., today as yesterday, constitutes a way of life and modus operandi of the “transhistorical” Brazilian oligarchy and its servants, many of them more realistic than the king himself.

My first reaction was one of relative incredulity when reading the recent news about the delegate who forged a statement to assist prosecutors in the processes of the Republic of Curitiba against former President Lula. Law enforcement officers despise the law and act like thugs and are even covered up by other law enforcement officers! Then I thought to myself: in fact, there is not much surprise in this type of initiative, even though it is always shocking and worrying for the common citizen that I am to know about the arbitrariness almost routinely, happily and always easily committed by public agents in Brazil today , agents whose professional obligation is to enforce the law which, in theory, is the same for everyone.

There is no surprise within the coup regime we live in and even beyond it. In reality, there is a general behavior pattern of private appropriation of public property that, one might say, is part of the DNA (or DNA in the national language) of the Brazilian ruling class and its agents and associates, something that explains this and many others well. other cases in all spheres of so-called public power in Brazil, something very well illustrated in the 2016 coup.

Nothing new here with the revelations of the Lava Jato entrails, nothing “exceptional” in the conduct of men and women “of the law”, except, in the case of the Republic of Curitiba, the extension and intensity of the hubris, the arrogance, the shamelessness, the certainty of impunity, the cognitive limitations of those who could never understand the circumstantial nature of their “life and death” power over people and things, careers, destinies, public and private institutions, and sovereignty itself vilified as a result of the irresponsibility of civil service upstarts, such as the prosecutors and the then-accompanied judge, in fact the highest leader of the ill-fated Lava Jato, which defiled justice and the national state. Lava Jato was here an instrument of the neoliberal transnational assault on the nation-state.

Guerreiro Ramos, who was the author of an influential (directly or indirectly) sociological work in his time, had his career interrupted in Brazil by the military coup and ended his life in exile. The military dictatorship delayed the country's social, cultural and political development by at least half a century, and the democratic recovery at the end of the 2016th century proved, in the 2016st century, to be compromised, incomplete and too fragile in the 1964 coup and the rise of the extreme right in power. The XNUMX coup resumed, almost like a caricature combining the ridiculous with the tragic, the reactionary thread of the XNUMX military coup with protagonists of the same quality and function: an organized mob of corrupt politicians, subversive, authoritarian and ultra-reactionary military, a venal press, antipopular and antinational as their coup allies.

Characteristic of the history of peripheral formations is what Trotsky, a connoisseur of history and a revolutionary leader at the beginning of the XNUMXth century, called “unequal and combined development”, which mixes the times and rhythms of social transformations. The development of capitalism in Brazil knew how to combine regressive legacies and “gradual and safe” structural transformations, in the broadest perspective, for the ruling classes, with incomplete ruptures with the past and impeding and high-cost amalgamations for the necessary historical transformations.

Guerreiro Ramos characterized clan politics as pre-politics and observed its absorption, that is, its partial survival, adapted into the politics of oligarchies. Recently, the philosopher Vladimir Safatle proposed considering Brazil today as a kind of “pre-society”: we are witnessing the helplessness of the population in the face of the pandemic, the daily death of many, deaths that could be avoided, and there is no real mobilization of the public. state and its agents to remedy the crisis, there is generally no glimpse of a minimum of solidarity organized by the competent bodies to face the crisis, but a kind of "save yourself who can" that immediately links the greatest possibility of survival physics in the pandemic to the condition of class.

There would be, according to Safatle, a learning experiment directed at indifference to the destruction of living conditions and even the immediate condition of survival for the majority, the domain of necropolitics that transforms social exclusion processes into Nazi-fascist molds of pure and of “superfluous” populations for globalized capitalism.

Possible experiment precisely in a “pre-social” context. The normalization of the absurd, the everyday shock of the abnormality to desensitize, desublimate the subjects, is the keynote, we would say the “aesthetics”, in the broad sense of the conjunction of form and emotion, of the Bolsonaro government. Safatle's analysis describes important elements of the ideological and experiential context, however, except for a misreading on our part, it seems to us to run the risk of "essentializing" our situation which, moreover, presents some common traits, for example, with the situation in the US. Here and there, the magnitude of the crisis and the state's inaction, the high loss of life, prevented initiatives or possible responses, albeit circumscribed, by civil society.

In a materially and ideologically polarized society like ours, the important theme of indifference is not new. In its colonial past, as in reflex and dependent modernity, Brazil has always been, in the apt expression of Darcy Ribeiro “a mill to spend people”, millions of Indians, blacks, mestizos, millions of migrants, peasants transformed into urban workers, etc. ., sacrificed in the colony and in the national state for the wealth of other peoples and of a barbaric, ruthless, internally oppressive and externally servile elite.

“The clearest characteristic of Brazilian society, wrote Darcy Ribeiro (O Brasil como problema, Brasília, 2010) is the social inequality that is expressed in the extremely high degree of social irresponsibility of the elites and in the distance that separates the rich from the poor, with immense barrier of indifference of the powerful and fear of the oppressed. Nothing that is of vital interest to the people really concerns the Brazilian elite. ”

in the structure of apartheid Brazilian social-racial indifference is reflected throughout society. In the face of popular misery, adds Darcy Ribeiro, “our elite, well nourished, looks and sleeps peacefully. It's not with her. Unfortunately, it is not just the elite that reveal this cold or disguised indifference. It spreads throughout public opinion, like a hideous common heritage of centuries of slavery, enormously aggravated by the perpetuation of the same posture throughout the Republic. The sad truth is that we live in a state of calamity, indifferent to it because hunger, unemployment and disease do not affect privileged groups.”

And in his analysis of the country at the turn of the century, Darcy Ribeiro notes: “Nothing is more astonishing these days than the fact that almost no one rebels against the horror of Brazil's human landscape. We are killing, martyring, bleeding, degrading, destroying our people! What the set of public institutions and private companies of our ungrateful Brazilian homeland of the 1990s does, effectively and efficiently, is to spend the only asset that resulted from our centuries of sad history: the Brazilian people.”

The crisis of the nation-state, a universal crisis in neoliberal globalization in the XNUMXst century, today takes on even more dramatic specificities in our case, which is certainly not exclusive, but has its own contours as a kind of accumulation of past, present and future contradictions: a past of authoritarian violence and exclusion that does not pass and haunts, a present that is absent, a future that demands urgent, unavoidable decisions that escape us, past and future taking their toll on a present in a state of material impoverishment and profound moral misery .

With the 2016 coup, the national elite, the Brazilian ruling class, abdicated any project of a discreetly sovereign and minimally integrated nation in favor of something like a “neocolonial regression” in a world contradictorily unified by the technologies of control of production and mentalities, of “virtualized” wealth and guided (programmatically) by the hegemonic project and the military power of the self-proclaimed “indispensable power”.

But both in the center of neoliberal power and in the various peripheries, the stakes of time are high: mastering the contradictions of new programs and processes is a broad and difficult task, with increasing costs and always uncertain results, both for those who direct and for those who reproduce. the global models imposed on the economy and societies.

It is true that, in the current neoliberal context, we live in a crisis of human time itself, a crisis of acceleration and compression of time subsumed in the circuit of virtualized capital, in which abstract time absorbs lived time more and more quickly, without rest, without truce as a “universal machine for grinding people”.

However, humanity's time is always dual: the time that destroys is the same time that creates. In this sense, history, the one we suffer and the one we realize, consciously or not, is not just the inexorable burden of the past making our steps difficult and pulverizing our dreams. It is also, in its multidimensionality, the domain of creation, of the new, that is, of what did not exist, could not exist. before.

The new time is the one that, even when its work cannot be recognized as such, appears in the wake of a world that is falling apart, in the midst of destruction, and always appears without asking permission or passage from the established powers.

Like, for example, the power of the current owners of the world, as well as the apparently “incontestable” power of its smaller partners in the Brazilian oligarchy.

*Marcelo Guimaraes Lima is a writer, researcher, teacher and visual artist. Author of Heterchronia and Vansihing Viewpoints – art chronicles and essays (Metasenta Publications).

 

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