The Tupiniquim plutocracy

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By CARLOS EDUARDO ARAÚJO*

An elite of backwardness, like ours, provokes as one of its deleterious effects, among many others, the ill-fated mimicry of its frivolous ideas, its abominable prejudices and its abject and futile way of life.

In the course of the pandemic that is plaguing the country, which has already killed more than seventy-two thousand people and has already infected close to two million, the Brazilian economic “elite” continues, without shame, to demonstrate its insensitivity, its ruthlessness and its indifference in the face of this calamity and the millions of lives endangered and the tens of thousands already lost.

Right at the beginning of the spread of Covid-19 among us, several businessmen externalized their impressions and predictions regarding the disease. They made their disapproval, disdain and lack of empathy very clear for the fate and life of their workers and that of the excluded, marginalized and poor classes and layers of the society they exploit.

They minimized the severity of the humanitarian scourge that was announced, which is being confirmed day by day, with appalling numbers. They stood up against social isolation, placing their economic interests above those related to the health and life of millions of Brazilians.

I think that the lineage of Brazilian entrepreneurs is very well represented in a novel published in the United States, the current epicenter of world neoliberalism, in the distant year of 1908. I am referring to the book by writer Jack London “O Tacão de Ferro”, which constitutes a emphatic libel denouncing the excruciating exploitation to which the working class was and continues to be subjected. A reality that has changed little over the more than one hundred years since the work was published. In the passage below, selfishness and insensitivity, historically associated with the ruling classes, are evident. The protagonist, a trade union leader named Ernest Everhard, speaks of the impressions that contact with the ruling class caused him:

“So, instead of finding myself in paradise, I found myself in the arid desert of commercialism. I found nothing but stupidity, except where business was concerned. I didn't come across anyone who was honest, noble and alive; yet he found many who were alive... rotting away. What I found was a lack of sensitivity and a monstrous selfishness, as well as a very widespread, coarse and greedy practical materialism!” [1]

Recently, two socialites from São Paulo, one of whom is the wife of the highest representative of the State of São Paulo, in a dialogue riddled with debauchery – blatant, vile and futile – held at the seat of the state government, distilled, without mincing words, their contempt, pride and cruelty in relation to the unhappy life of homeless people in big cities, even if they spoke of the particular case of homeless people in the Capital of the richest State of the Federation.

The first lady from São Paulo had as an interlocutor an affected lady who was her partner in the futile and frivolous way of facing social problems, as if they embodied a Tupiniquim Maria Antoinette revivified. The governmental consort shamelessly exposed her abysmal ignorance and impious indifference regarding the social exclusion that thrives in São Paulo and throughout Brazil.

The ladies showed themselves to be oblivious and impassive to the complex human dramas with which the alluded situation is fraught, afflicting a significant portion of the Brazilian population. The street is the last refuge for people who have been disinherited from everything. However, for Bia Dória, life on the street was a premeditated choice of these people, who enjoy living there. According to her: “The street today is attractive, people like to stay on the street”.

Certainly, as a good reader that she is, the first lady, when recognizing the attractive soul of the streets, is echoing the words of the vertiginous chronicler Paulo Barreto, who went down in the history of Brazilian literature as João do Rio. In his classic and delicious “A Alma Encantadora das Ruas”, he states:

“I love the street. This feeling of a wholly intimate nature would not be revealed to you by me if I did not believe, and I did not have reasons to judge, that this love, so absolute and so exaggerated, is shared by all of you. We are brothers, we feel similar and equal; in the cities, in the villages, in the towns, not because we suffer, with the pain and displeasures, the law and the police, but because the love of the street unites, levels and unites us. This is the same unshakable and indissoluble feeling, the only one that, like life itself, resists ages and times. Everything changes, everything changes – love, hate, selfishness. Today the laughter is more bitter, the irony more painful. Centuries pass, slip by, taking away the futile things and the notable events. The only thing that persists and remains, the legacy of ever-increasing generations, is the love of the street”. [2]

The illustrious first lady still exhorts the population not to help those who are “living” on the streets, because according to her “it is not right for you to go there on the street and give lunch, because the person has to be aware that he has to leave the road. […] People want food, they want clothes, they want help and they don't want responsibility”. True, first lady, let them starve and die in the open.

Guilhermo Gil, in his Master's thesis, in which he studied and observed the population that lives on the streets of the capital of Rio Grande do Sul, Porto Alegre, listening to their dramas, puts us in contact with a situation that clashes head-on with the statement "so authoritative” of the first lady:

“In a conversation with a street resident, in April 2018, I raised the question, whether he saw the street as a different world from the one he previously lived, when he lived with his wife and mother-in-law, before ending up on the streets . (as he had reported to me) The response was instantaneous. He told me that yes, the street is a world without choice. “You no longer choose what clothes you are going to wear, what you are going to eat for lunch, or who you are going to fight with the next day. But then the tie (I believe he was talking about researchers from public bodies and social agents) comes and asks you if you're on the street because you want to... we say yes, right? It gives an impression that the guy chooses something. But it's complicated... we always say the same thing, we are always asked the same thing too”. [3]

In an academic work of the same content, Jorge Garcia De Holanda, living with and interviewing homeless women in the capital of Ceará, Fortaleza, brings us this record of the speech of a homeless woman:

“I am a very sad person, my life is a very sad life. I suffer a lot here on the street. I always cry, you know? I really cry. Do you know what time I cry the most? When it starts to get dark, I see people all going to their homes, and I'm still here on the street. For me, this is the worst part of living on the street: seeing that when the day is over, people go home, but that the day on the street is not over for me, because I don't have a house to live in (Julia)”. [4]

The lack of empathy and solidarity shown by the fate of these people is appalling and fills us with disgust and indignation.

The Brazil of the oppressed, dispossessed and marginalized has succumbed, for centuries, under the iron grip of a selfish, predatory, petty, futile, empty elite with no plans for the nation and its people. It constitutes, in the pertinent expression of Jessé Souza, the “Elite of Delay”. In Jesse's words:

“The current Brazilian crisis is also and above all a crisis of ideas. There are old ideas that bequeathed us the theme of corruption in politics as our great national problem. This is false, although, as with every lie and fraud, it has its grain of truth. Our real corruption, the great fraud that makes it impossible to rescue a forgotten and humiliated Brazil, is elsewhere and built by other forces. It is these forces, made invisible to better exercise real power, that the book intends to reveal. This is our backward elite”. [5]

Zygmunt Bauman, in his book “Parasitic Capitalism”, talks about the economic system, in which our vile economic elite germinates and thrives:

“Without mincing words, capitalism is a parasitic system. Like all parasites, it can thrive for a while, as long as it finds an as-yet-unexplored organism to provide it with food. But it cannot do this without harming the host, thus destroying, sooner or later, the conditions for its prosperity or even its survival.” [6]

What is the meaning of the term “elite” and what would be its function in a society? Before discussing the infamous Brazilian elite, it is necessary, first, to conceptualize and delimit the scope and possible meanings of this word. It is a semantic and sociological exercise, which we impose on ourselves in order to proceed.

Our starting point is dictionaries. What do they tell us about the meaning of the word “elite”? The helpful Caldas Aulete defines the term as follows: “The elite, the flower of a society. Fittest, or strongest, dominant minority in the group. Used in the plural, it has a more general sense and refers to cultural, political or economic minorities in whose hands the government of the State is held”. [7] 

In a more concise and no less enlightening way, Laudelino Freire establishes: “What is best in a society or group; the choice, the flower, the cream”. [8]

Nicola Abbagnano, in his respectable Dictionary of Philosophy, provides us with elements to elucidate the meaning of the word:

“The theory of the E. or chosen class was elaborated by Vilfredo Pareto in the Trattato di Sociologia generale (1916) and consists of the thesis that a small minority of people of people is the one that counts in every branch or field of activity and that, even in politics, it is such a minority that decides on the problems of the government”. [9]

And Abbagnano concludes: “This theory was one of the fundamental points of the political doctrine of fascism and Nazism”. [10]

In the Twentieth Century Dictionary of Social Thought, edited by William Outhwaite and Tom Bottomore, he takes the following from the entry “elite”:

“The word elite was used in France in the 1916th century to describe goods of particularly superior quality. A little later it was applied to superior social groups of various types, but it would only come to be widely used in social and political thought around the end of the 19th century, when it began to be spread by the sociological theories of elites proposed by Vilfredo Pareto (1896). - XNUMX) and, in a slightly different way, by Gaetano Mosca (XNUMX)”. [10]

Definitions in the fields of Semantics, Philosophy and Sociology converge to the idea of ​​“elite” as a caste of people, endowed with intrinsic attributes, related to their moral, technical, political or intellectual quality, which would enable them to exercise leadership and direct those intended by a government or a society. Dictionaries speak of the elite as the “cream” and “choice” of a given society, made up of a minority.

One look at the set of economic and political elites in Brazil is enough and we are convinced that the attributes that qualify them are of an antagonistic nature to those required or expected by the Theory of Elites or decanted by dictionaries. They are, in fact, the antithesis of the attributes that should constitute and guide leadership.

Once again it is the character of Jack London's novel, Ernest, who interprets with critical insight the quality of these corrupted and parasitic elites, which swarm in Brazilian social life:

“He was surprised by the quality of the clay that had shaped them. Life showed that it was not kind and generous. He was frightened by the selfishness he found, but he was much more surprised by the absence of intellectual life. He, who had just come from revolutionary circles, was shocked by the imbecility of the ruling class. He realized that, despite their magnificent churches and their highly paid preachers, these men and women were entirely oriented to the material world. They were talkative about their little ideals and attached to little moralities. But despite this chatter, the outstanding feature of their lives was materialistic. They did not have a true morality: for example, the one that Christ had preached, but which today is no longer preached”. [11]

Agassiz Almeida, in his interesting essay “A República das Elites”, arrives at conclusions very similar to those reached by the character of Jack London, in 1908:

“Faced with this materialized culture in the form of overwhelming riches, the Tupiniquin elites plunge into ecstasy. It is there that we find the colonialist ideology well defined or – in Northeastern parlance – the bestialized admiration for North American civilization. Traveling through Brazil, we observe in the capitals and in the big cities, in the resorts and summer resorts, rich and opulent mansions, many of them bordering the miserable slums where the last meal of the day is lacking, what is left in the kennel of the magnates' mansions. Babylonian mega-mansions, modeled in the American style, rise throughout Brazil, as monuments of aggressive challenge and contempt for a society in which fifty million miserable struggle between the frontiers of indigence and poverty”. [12]

According to Jesse Souza:

“The landlord elite maintains its usual predatory pattern. Land grabbing, cowardly and murderous as always, was and still is a kind of primitive accumulation of eternal capital in Brazil. The big landowners increased their land and wealth by threatening and murdering squatters and neighbors, as, incidentally, still happens today.70 Nothing significantly changes with today's money elite that buys Parliament, judges' sentences, the press and the government. whatever else is needed […] to keep your pocket full”. [13]

Even Adam Smith, the father of economic liberalism, sung in prose and verse, for the praise he promotes of the “invisible hand of the market”, in his classic “The Wealth of Nations”, published in 1776, had to recognize the exploratory character that leads to social and economic inequality, which capitalism entails. In a work published in 1759, “Theory of Moral Sentiments”, he recognizes that: “Wherever there is great property, there is great inequality. For a very rich man, there must be at least five hundred poor people.” [14]

Smith still offers us this denunciation, so well known in our daily lives:

"The disposition to admire and almost idolize the rich and powerful - and to despise or at least neglect persons of poor or miserable condition - is the great, and most universal, cause of the corruption of our moral sentiments." [15]

Our elites have a slave ancestry, which is noticeable in gestures, behavior and words. This hideous ancestry is indelibly embedded in their DNA and makes them exude, through their musty pores, their iniquity, squalor, violence and selfishness.

As a parasitic and predatory elite, it destroys or starves its vulnerable host, which constitutes the majority of Brazilian society.

As the antipodes of education, our backward elites transmit, to a portion of the middle class, their miseducating morals. Thus, the oppressed assumes the discourse of the oppressor. An example of this occurred recently when a couple, when approached by an inspector from the City of São Paulo, due to the non-use of masks on public roads, intended to humiliate and disqualify him. When the man was called a “citizen”, the woman aggressively questioned the inspector saying that “not a citizen, a trained civil engineer, better than you”. The couple in question, as it turned out later, do not belong to our nefarious elite. He is among those “oppressed” by it. However, it assumes the ancestral discourse of the oppressor.

This situation was addressed in the classic “Pedagogy of the Oppressed”, by the brilliant Paulo Freire:

“The big problem is how the oppressed, who “host” the oppressor themselves, will be able to participate in the elaboration, as double, inauthentic beings, of the pedagogy of their liberation. Only to the extent that the oppressor's “hosts” are discovered will they be able to contribute to the midwifery of its liberating pedagogy. As long as they live the duality in which to be is to look like and to look like is to look like the oppressor, it is impossible to do so”. [16]

And Freire continues:

“There is something, however, to consider in this discovery, which is directly linked to liberating pedagogy. It is that, almost always, in the first moment of this discovery, the oppressed, instead of seeking liberation, in the fight and for it, tend to be oppressors too, or sub-oppressors. The structure of their thinking is conditioned by the contradiction experienced in the concrete, existential situation in which they “form”. Their ideal is really to be men, but for them to be men, in the contradiction in which they have always been and which, of course, it is not clear for them to overcome, is to be oppressors. These are his testimony of humanity”. [17]

It is clear, from the excerpts reproduced above, from Freire's classic work, that an elite of backwardness, such as ours, causes as one of its deleterious effects, in addition to many others, the ill-fated mimicry of its frivolous ideas, its abominable prejudices and of their abject and futile way of life.

It should also be noted that the “Theory of Elites” was conceived as an opposition to socialist ideas and mainly against Marx's conception of a classless society. This theory sought to legitimize the privileges and dominion of social life by certain people, due to a supposed intellectual, moral or economic superiority over the mass of the population, under which the greatest prejudices and mistrust were formed.

With the emergence of democracy, based on the idea of ​​popular participation and the ideal of legal and perhaps social equality, the ideologues of liberalism sought to create the idea that the popular classes were not ready to participate in public and political life. A range of theories were formulated that aimed to justify, with pretense of scientificity, as is the case of the Theory of Elites, the political and social exclusion of the masses and their intervention in social life. An ideologized and distorted echo of the conceptions exposed by Plato, in his classic “The Republic”.

Bourgeois governments, throughout history, undertook a rigid control over any possibilities of political emancipation of the masses, even if for that it was necessary to resort to violence.

I am reminded of two books, published between the end of the 1895th century and the first decades of the 1926th century, which very eloquently reveal the prejudices, prejudgments and distrust that were created around the masses. The first of these is “Psychology of the Masses”, a work published in XNUMX by the French physician and psychologist Gustave Le Bon. The second book by the Spaniard Ortega Y Gasset, published in XNUMX is “The Rebellion of the Masses”.

The theory known as psychology of the masses was an important instrument of social exclusion, at the service of the bourgeois class, based on two central arguments: the irrationality and the dangerousness that the masses would represent. By the argument of irrationality, it was intended to prove the poor aptitude of the masses for politics and the consequent need for a ruling elite in power. On the other hand, through the argument of dangerousness, an attempt was made to justify the repression, even if violent, exercised against the popular classes in the name of order and peace. One of the bloodiest and most sordid episodes in the history of this repression was the massacre of the workers who dared to organize themselves in the “Paris Commune”, in 1871. The unfortunate event was brilliantly analyzed by Marx in his work “The Civil War in France”.

Even if, to argue, it were possible to reconcile the democratic regime with the existence of a ruling elite, our Brazilian elite would not meet the basic requirements to appear as such. We only have to take a look at its main representatives to be invaded with embarrassment. And it is worth reiterating, without fear of adding adjectives: the Brazilian elite is crude, dazzled, futile, empty, ignorant, anti-intellectualist and laughable. His image, it occurred to me now, corresponds to that of Oscar Wilde's character “Dorian Gray”: a young man in love with himself, who follows a path of luxury, beauty and crime. A beautiful and fragrant envelope, inside which the most putrid cult of futility, selfishness, violence and indifference to the fate of others lives. Just like our egotistical Brazilian elite.

*Carlos Eduardo Araujo, Master in Theory of Law from PUC (MG).

Notes:


[1] Jack London. The Iron Heel. Boitempo Editorial, 2003.

[2] John of Rio. The Enchanting Soul of the Streets – Chronicles. Companhia das Letras, 1997.

[3] Guillermo Gil. Homeless people – A reading of the images and places of speech present in the problem of homeless people. 2019. 122 f. Advisor: Paulo Reyes. Dissertation (Masters) — Federal University of Rio Grande do Sul, Faculty of Architecture, Graduate Program in Urban and Regional Planning, Porto Alegre, BR-RS, 2019.

[4] Jorge Garcia De Holanda. The Street System in Action: an ethnography with homeless people in Fortaleza (CE). Dissertation presented to the Graduate Program in Social Anthropology at the Federal University of Rio Grande do Sul as a partial requirement for obtaining the Master's degree in Social Anthropology.

[5] Jesse Souza. The backward elite: From slavery to Lava Jato. House of the Word/LeYa, 2017.

Abel Jeanniere. Plato. Jorge Zahar Editor, 1995.

[6] Zygmunt Bauman. Parasitic Capitalism. Zahar, 2010.

[7] Aulete Tails. Contemporary Dictionary of the Portuguese Language. Vol. 2. Delta, 3rd edition, 1978.

[8] Laudelino Freire. Great and Brand New Dictionary of the Portuguese Language. Vol. 3. José Olympio, 1957.

[9] Nicola Abbagnano. Dictionary of Philosophy. Master Jou, 1970.

[10] Nicola Abbagnano. Dictionary of Philosophy. Master Jou, 1970.

[11] William Outhwaite and Tom Bottomore. Dictionary of Social Thought of the 1996th Century. Jorge Zahar Editor, XNUMX.

[12] Agassiz Almeida. The Republic of Elites – Essay on the ideology of Elites and Intellectualism. Bertrand Brasil, 2004.

[13] Jesse Souza. The backward elite: From slavery to Lava Jato. House of the Word/LeYa, 2017.

[14] Adam Smith. Theory of Moral Sentiments. Martins Fontes, 1999.

[15] Adam Smith. Theory of Moral Sentiments. Martins Fontes, 1999.

[16] Paulo Freire. Pedagogy of the Oppressed. Peace and Earth, 35th edition, 1987.

[17] Paulo Freire. Pedagogy of the Oppressed. Peace and Earth, 35th edition, 1987.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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