Bolsonarist necroliberty

Paulo Capel Narvai, About the strange right to choose your piece of pizza as you like.
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By PAULO CAPEL NARVAI*

Universities are full of professors who pretend to defend freedom, but subordinate scientific knowledge to neo-fascist ideology

Cecília Meireles wrote in the Romance of Inconfidence that, although no one knows what freedom is, it is “a word that the human dream feeds: that there is no one who explains it, and no one who does not understand it!”. Much has been written and said about freedom, whose word is usually accompanied by another, equally difficult to define: democracy. Both always require context, and much more, to acquire meaning and their reframings are, for that reason, made all the time, by humans, everywhere.

Freedom and democracy, although difficult to define and admittedly imperfect, are the core of the best aspirations of men who fight against oppression and arbitrariness, and in favor of equality and justice.

The ideas of freedom and democracy are, therefore, averse to falsification: either they are recognized, and can be exercised daily, or they are absent. The falsifications of freedom and democracy deform the exercise of power and destroy republics, as regimes in which power emanates from the people and must be exercised by them for the benefit of all. When power does not emanate freely from the people, taken as it is by oligarchs, there is no freedom and democracy is not recognized. In these situations, the republican institutions, captured, operate in a make-believe that is nothing more than a mere formality. Democracy is hijacked and, with it, freedom.

In this perspective, the idea of ​​freedom requires not taking as absolute the rights to come and go and to do what one wants, but to consider the need to respect the rights of third parties and, living in society, to consider how much the exercise of individual rights affect social rights, derived from collective needs. It is certainly not a simple matter. And it seems elementary to accept the popular adage according to which “my” right ends where “the other's right” begins.

But this is not how many people think, who do not admit any restriction or relativization of what they consider to be “their rights”. To come and go, to do whatever you want and to… get vaccinated.

In a fierce controversy with Oswaldo Cruz, more than a century ago, the liberal Ruy Barbosa took a stand against mandatory vaccination, whose law was defended by Cruz, arguing that “the mandatory vaccine law is a dead law. Just as the law prohibits human power from invading our conscience, so it prohibits it from penetrating our epidermis”. For Barbosa, “there is no name, in the category of crimes of power, the temerity, the violence, the tyranny to which he ventures, exposing himself, voluntarily, obstinately, to poison me, by introducing a virus into my blood. under whose influence there are the most well-founded fears that it is the conductor of disease and death”.

The XNUMXth century tried to clarify that Ruy Barbosa was wrong in associating vaccines with poisoning or that could lead to “disease and death”. But the XNUMXth century did not solve the problem of “power” which, “reckless, violent and tyrannical” would be committing crimes when crossing the epidermis of citizens.

Although in contemporary democratic contexts it is not “reckless, violent and tyrannical” to use vaccines in programmatic public health interventions, adopted in the execution of public policies elaborated under the control of various instruments by republican institutions and popular representations, as in XNUMXth-century Brazil. XXI, citizens are left with distrust of actions emanating from power. There are reasons for this mistrust, but there are also institutional channels through which it can and should be directed and processed.

But it is not issues of this nature that have led to the questioning of the idea of ​​freedom in Brazil at this time. It is generally accepted that the principle of inviolability of the body applies to the application of vaccines. Therefore, if there is no consent, they cannot be applied. The State, although democratic and entitled, as is the case in Brazil, does not recognize the right to impose vaccines, in a generic and universal way. There are exceptions, but let's stay, for now, with the principle that governs the theme.

On 27/1/2022, the coordinator of the undergraduate course in Medicine at the University of Brasília (UnB) asked termination of office. He justified the decision by claiming to be in “disagreement with the management”, regarding the requirement, made by the Board of Directors of UnB, of proof of complete vaccination against covid-19 for entry into any building of the institution. The professor, who holds a PhD in Medical Sciences, admitted not having taken any doses of immunization against the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus, which causes Covid-19. On the day the professor resigned from her position at UnB, Brazil officially registered 229 new cases of the disease, with 662 deaths, in the last 24 hours. Worldwide, there were 11.945 deaths from covid-19 that day.

In a note, addressed to “teachers, technicians and students” at UnB, the professor stated that her decision “was motivated by the recent implementation of the health passport at the Faculty of Medicine”, acknowledged that she makes up “the group of non-vaccinated servers” and that her “position as coordinator was at odds with the management of the faculty”. She declared “being sensitive to the pandemic moment experienced by all of us” and that, as “it is known”, “vaccines are in development and, at this stage, both safety and effectiveness raise numerous questions”.

He argued that “the available vaccines do not prevent infection or contagion” and that it would be “an incongruity to impose the health passport, disregarding individuals who have recovered from the Covid-19 infection and who have natural immunity, as well as those who do not feel safe in the available vaccines and judge that the risk outweighs the benefit”. She considered being, “in addition”, a “hard defender of individual freedoms”, asked for “common sense in decision-making by university managers”, made herself “available to help everyone to the extent of my abilities” and ended the conversation note with a “Grace and peace to all!”.

Among more than three thousand higher education institutions worldwide, UnB occupied the 604th position, in 2021. The public university is among the ten best in Brazil and, among the federal ones, it is the 7th. Its undergraduate course in medicine occupied, in 2019, the 12th position, among 243 Brazilian courses.

Such characteristics, of the course and of the university, and also because the professor addressed the “professors, technicians and students”, require that the UnB episode be analyzed in detail, bearing in mind the consequences of the professor’s words, now not only for the UnB community, but for society as a whole, which sees the institution as an important reference on matters of public interest.

First, however, it should be noted that this is not an isolated fact. The teaching staff of Brazilian universities is full of university professors who think like the professor at UnB. Of all universities, both state and private – or “public and private”, for those who fear the word state, for supposedly “communist”.

It is worth, by the way, reaffirming that education is public and that all universities are public, according to rules. The university is not a domestic affair, it concerns private life. It is a public matter, whatever the form of its ownership: state or private.

One more reason, therefore, due to its relevance and significance, not to “let go” of the dismissal that occurred at UnB. The teacher's public grade needs to be questioned. Publicly. There is much to question, and I focus on some aspects, in the expectation that many other points will be analyzed by others interested in the subject.

I begin by arguing that, contrary to what the professor stated, it was not her “position” “as coordinator” that collided with the institutional position of UnB, but her personal position, because “as coordinator” she did not have the right to assume, as position of the course coordination, its personal and anti-scientific position on the subject.

As Ruy Barbosa, the precursor anti-vaccinationist, would remember, the teacher has, personally, the right not to be vaccinated. In that case, during a pandemic that is proven to kill, she must remain in isolation. As a public office holder at a state university, she does not have the right, not being vaccinated, to expose her contacts to the risk of contracting the disease. It's that simple. She is not obliged to get vaccinated. But you have no right to expose others to the risk of being contaminated by it. The reason for this legal impediment is also very simple: as a person, citizens have the right not to do what they don't want to do. But, as an agent of a state institution, it is obliged to protect the population and cannot harm them. That simple. It can be found in any good manual on public administration and public law.

That said, it is incoherent that, having recognized that it makes up “the group of unvaccinated public servants” it is “sensitive to the pandemic moment experienced by all of us”. This just doesn't make sense.

The most serious thing, however, in that note is the statement that “the available vaccines do not prevent infection nor contagion”, because even if the argument for the condition of an individual is admitted, there is abundant scientific documentation, with an epidemiological basis , showing an opposite effect in the collective dimension, regarding contagion. There is no scientific basis, therefore, for the statement that “the imposition of the health passport would be an inconsistency”.

There is no incongruity, there is rationality in this measure, even though it is based on knowledge that is not shared by the rationality adopted by the teacher. The statement that “the risk outweighs the benefit” of vaccines also makes no sense, as there is, at the moment, a formidable set of data, in Brazil and in the world, showing, in a complete way, that it is the opposite: the benefit largely outweighs the eventual risk of using anti-covid-19 vaccines. For these reasons, there is no technical-scientific basis for the decision of the former coordinator of an undergraduate course in medicine, who has a doctorate in medical sciences, not to get vaccinated.

The professor is left with the argument of being a “hard defender of individual freedoms”, which is a right, but which does not justify her position, “as coordinator” of collided with the institutional decision of UnB, of which she is a public servant. It is therefore absurd, as it is pointless, not to mention offensive, his request for “common sense in decision-making by university managers”, since there was neither lack of sense, nor nonsense, nor bad sense in the decision. On the contrary, UnB's decision is based on the best knowledge available on the subject.

I will certainly say nothing, as unnecessary, about making himself “available to help everyone” to the extent of his “skills”, nor about the slogan “Grace and peace to all!” – with exclamation point and all, which closes the public note.

Finally, it should be noted that although the public note does not inform, photos of the former UnB course coordinator participating in public acts in support of President Jair Bolsonaro are accessible on digital social networks. This condition, as a supporter of Bolsonaro’s ideas, and not the “numerous questions” about “both the safety and effectiveness” of vaccines, is the true foundation of her personal position of not vaccinating. This is what she should have written in her public note and not the rhetorical manipulation of her individual position, made the “position as coordinator” which would have been “at odds with the management of the faculty”.

The manipulation of the truth, and the transformation of opinions into supposed facts, in the best post-truth style, is recognized as a distinctive, although not exclusive, feature of Bolsonarism, in which this manipulative practice is recurrent.

“I'd rather die than lose my freedom”, said Bolsonaro, broadcast on digital social networks, in December 2021. On 10/12/2021, the Minister of Health, Marcelo Queiroga, echoed Bolsonaro and assessed that “ what we are doing has worked, because we respect individual freedoms", he reaffirmed that "sometimes it is better to lose life than to lose freedom (...) and that our commitment is to that, it is to life, it is to freedom, it is to the implementation of public health policies”. Cornered by the press in the following days, he defended himself, quoting a verse from the Independence Hymn: “Either the homeland be free or die for Brazil”. The minister, who pretend to be anti-vaccination to please the boss, he seems to believe that his actions at the head of the Health portfolio are contributing to contain the pandemic in Brazil and that he would be, effectively, defending life. It is gross forgery. But in an interview with the newspaper The Globe, on January 29, 2022, Queiroga said he wants to be seen “as the man who ended the pandemic of covid-19”.

The defense of an abstract and decontextualized idea of ​​freedom is nothing more than rhetoric from Bolsonaro and his followers, including, as can be seen from the UnB episode, among doctors in the biological area and in the university environment. There is no lack of professors who, under the pretext of defending individual freedoms, subordinate scientific knowledge to neo-fascist ideology and pose as libertarians. But if the idea of ​​freedom they propagate is abstract, its consequences are deadly, as the evolution of the covid-19 pandemic in Brazil shows. The numbers of the contemporary Brazilian genocide indicate that it is a kind of “necroliberty”, as its supporters brandish, sometimes fiercely, the defense of a type of freedom that does not mind killing. It is a very strange “defense of life”; a freedom that kills.

Cecilia Meireles' verses about freedom were in the play's text freedom, freedom, by Millôr Fernandes and Flávio Rangel, in a theatrical production shared in 1965 by the groups Opinião and Arena. The montage, which included among others Paulo Autran, Tereza Rachel, Oduvaldo Vianna Filho, Nara Leão and Claudio Mamberti, was a libel against the suppression of freedoms promoted by the civil-military coup of 1964. in the post-AI-5, of 1968, but the text foresaw what was to come and traveled, through the voice of different authors, different historical periods that went from Antiquity to the bourgeois revolutions and reached the XNUMXth century, in which freedoms were crushed . The play itself was a victim of lack of freedom: despite the enormous public success, a few months after the premiere, censorship prevented the continuity of the presentations.

The play by Fernandes and Rangel spoke of freedom, but of a type of freedom that has nothing to do with freedom, necro-freedom, of which the UnB professor says she is a “hard defender”.

Ah, freedom! Spread your wings over us.

*Paulo Capel Narvai is Senior Professor of Public Health at USP.

 

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