To Brazil, with love

Image: Yayoi Kusama


Presentation of the recently released book by Juliana Monteiro & Jamil Chade

Love is a ubiquitous word in our society. It is one of the most powerful tools in marketing today. Love sells almost any product. But for that very reason it is important to know what he means. Scholars are divided between those who support the existence of a “true love” and those who accept that there are several types of it. The first distinction is perhaps between an erotic love, predatory at the limit, and a dedicated love, which at its limit is donation, it is the mother's love for the child. Not by chance, in this beautiful exchange of letters, both Juliana Monteiro and Jamil Chade talk about the experience they had when their children were born.

Juliana weaves an opposition between motherhood and war. To thrive, she says, for a mother, is to see her offspring thrive, as we say of a plant: it is consolidating itself as a living being. (It is very different, practically the opposite, from taking revenge). Mothers fear, for days or months, maybe years, that something bad will happen to their child. Fortunately, I add, infant mortality has plummeted in the last century, thanks in particular to public health, clean water and sewage treatment. Child deaths fell, per thousand births, from triple digits to just one.

Parents no longer need to have countless children for one or two to survive and, in turn, support them in old age. Jamil talks about the fear he had, when his son Pol was born, of losing him. I remembered Montaigne telling me that he had “two or three” children who died in infancy. Commenting on this passage, historian Philippe Ariès observes: what parent today would not know whether two or three children died at the age of 1 or 2? Was there a greater coldness at that time, or was infant mortality simply so common that loss was already expected, and memory adapted to it?

Usually, when we talk about love, the tendency is to distinguish it from passion. The classic definitions of love identify it as wanting the best for the person you love – which has everything to do with the love for children I mentioned earlier. But the usual meaning of love in today's culture, such as soap operas and popular songs, is closer to sexual desire. Now, the latter aims at the good of the lover more than that of the loved (or desired) person. Crimes of passion are just that: if she's not going to be mine, let her die.

My first advisor, Gilda de Mello e Souza, was outraged when Doca Street murdered Ângela Diniz at the end of 1976. And she told me something like this: a crime of passion is a farce; to believe that a man cannot live without the person he claims to love, the logic would be for him to kill himself. Killing her and surviving shows very well that this supposed love was a lie. It wasn't wanting the other well, but the desire to dominate him.

Well, we are flooded by a media that presents love as desire, as sex. (For this very reason I have insisted that, if we need to have sex education in families and schools – even to avoid unwanted pregnancies, sexual abuse and the transmission of diseases, including fatal ones –, it is as much or more necessary to educate for love ).


Talking about love in a time of hate is a priority, as our two authors say in many ways. We lived, between 1980 and 2010, thirty glorious years – not like those after the Second World War, whose glory was in the economic development of the richest countries and in the formatting of a State of social welfare, but like those of the fight against hunger and the advancement of democracy in the poorest countries, including Brazil. In 2013, we left the Hunger Map, to which we unfortunately returned in the following administrations. The fight for democracy seemed victorious. Could we imagine the great regression that came afterwards? Could we believe that loved ones, even our relatives, would come to support governments that want the death of so many people, including their blood relatives or childhood friends?

Not by chance, Juliana and Jamil insist on the democratic role of love and the passions related to it, such as friendship. I remember a passage by Jorge Luis Borges, when he evokes the homage of a medieval warrior to a dead enemy. I also remember an observation attributed to Margaret Mead, who dates the humanity (in a figurative sense and not as a species, as an ethical quality) of the human bone that healed after a fracture: there had to be someone who cared for the injured person, who supported him, until he heal from the wound.

I note that, in recent months, I have come across this reference several times to the comment, genuine or not, of the great anthropologist. It means that hope grows in the idea that humanity, as a human species, has the possibility of recovering humanity as a feeling of compassion and practice of cooperation.

Or let us remember the question of the ethics of care, raised a few decades ago by Carol Gilligan. It starts from an experiment proposed by her master Kohlberg on the moral development of children. Kohlberg put each child in front of a problem: her mother was on the verge of death, depended on a very expensive medicine to cure herself, and the pharmacist refused to give it to her. What to do then? Putting the question this way, it practically elicits an answer in the Antigone way: ethics requires breaking the law. That's how the boys responded, but not the girls, who insisted on trying to persuade the pharmacist. Kohlberg inferred from this a deficiency in the girls' understanding of the problem – and of what he called the ethics of justice – but Gilligan disputed this. What they would express would be an ethics of care, a set of values ​​around the conviction that a solution would be possible through agreement, not through confrontation, not through cutting (recalling that decisions contain divisions, cuts, at their core). The masculine way of seeing things would be incisive, cutting; the feminine would be encompassing, inclusive.

Now, isn't the advancement of women's role in today's society a sign of what we can call a growing feminization of our culture? Note that, contrary to what some authors have criticized in Gilligan, none of this is supposed to predicate a masculine or feminine essence, a bellicose nature in men or compassionate in women. We can follow his intuition, understanding it as a simple reference to roles constructed over the millennia and which were identified on two different supports, one on the XX chromosomes and the other on the XY chromosomes, but which can be present in both men and women.

If we go back in time, we will see that in medieval society women, or the feminine, played an important role in the adoption of more careful and respectful customs, a process that Norbert Elias called “civilizing customs”. It was their presence that led, for example, to modern manners, such as not spitting on the table (or at the table), not drinking soup directly from the tureen, not blowing your nose on the plates on which food was served. This care, which today is sometimes retroactively associated with hygienic purposes, actually originated from forms of respect. It was respectful towards the other, and especially the woman, to refrain from practices that aroused discomfort or even disgust.

The woman was the other par excellence. The aim was to please her, to win her over: for this reason, those medieval machos, comparable to coarse landowners from a Brazil that fortunately disappeared, to a Paulo Honório like the one Graciliano Ramos portrays in his São Bernardo, adopt ways that they imagine to give women pleasure, and that it would be theirs. Therefore, it makes sense to think here about maternal love: the love that Juliana and Jamil dedicate to Brazil is a mother's love.

Is our country a child? Every country is. No country is an essence prior to its citizens. Every homeland, or homeland if you prefer, is a constant creation of affection. In Portuguese, we call the little person we are raising a child. Creating, in our language, is not a flashy, instantaneous act, like the divine creation of the world out of nothing, in the Judeo-Christian version. It is a long work, with a lot of affection invested, that lasts ten years or more. Until recently, by the way, it was a mother's task, more than a father's. And it is not fortuitous that the hatred that has taken hold of our country, and so many others, in the hands of the extreme right in recent years has so much to do with a furious return of machismo.

There are men who feel strange, lost in a world where they have lost the privileges they had just because they were born into a certain sex, class, sexual orientation: and with the decline of democracy since the economic crisis that started in 2008, they considered themselves authorized to revenge on those who dared to place themselves as their equals, worse than that, to think they could teach them something new and different.

But this is the path of the future, that of the different, of the “other par excellence”, as women were for thousands of years: and that is why Juliana and Jamil, both wanting to return love to a country that was plundered by hatred, write to the Brazil (and about Brazil) from the perspective of European otherness, but with the heart of someone who addresses a beloved child.

*Renato Janine Ribeiro He is a retired full professor at the Department of Philosophy at USP. Author, among other books, of Machiavelli, democracy and Brazil (Freedom Station).



Jamil Chad & Juliana Monteiro. To Brazil, with love. Belo Horizonte, Autêntica, 2022, 136 pages.


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