The reasons for rancidity

Image: Felix Mittermeier


Resentment and negativity on social media and on the streets

One piece of clothing has started to draw attention on the streets of Brazilian cities in recent years: many people have started to wear blouses and T-shirts with the term “ranço” prominently printed. A quick search shows the variety of templates, with different designs, layouts and presentations. It is a curious term. Originally, "rancid" has a conception of repulsion to some substance, either because of its peculiar smell or strange taste.

One of the available copies of the play brings us a dictionary definition of the term: “Ranço (sm): 1. Feeling of repulsion towards something or someone; 2. A repudiation, an abuse, something you don't want to see even painted gold; 3. When you get rancid, even the person's walk irritates you. 4. How she chews. 5. How she claps her hands; 6. The smile; 7. Everything.” The definition involves some irony, and extends the definition of the term to human relationships, showing a mixture of dislike and specific reactions in contact with certain people. However, the play's relatively unusual message stimulates reflection and makes one think about the moods and feelings of contemporary social life.

The presence of the piece and its variations on Brazilian streets, including publications on social networks – the “digital squares” – shows that the term has entered the vocabulary and that many people are keen to show it off. However, it also draws attention to the fact that a term that carries a meaning of negativity starts to circulate with relative constancy. In the specific case of our country, the presence and display of “rancidity” may sound even more strange, given the qualifications of our culture and identity linked to joy and a certain “cordiality”, which would make us friendly and receptive.

Even if such characteristics are contested as common sense representations of what we are and how we live, it is relevant to note how in recent times social, political and economic tensions have changed the country's social moods. This change can be observed in the violence of public debates, disseminated by the power of digital social interactions, which open spaces for the exposure and exhibition of opinions and situations. This “sentimentalization” of the public and social sphere is probably connected with the presence of “ranço” in Brazilian life.

Two recent publications about the times we live in can help to understand the role of these feelings and emotions in social and political life, especially in the case of the atmosphere of negativity involved in current social contexts. In the first of these, in a book entitled The Age of Anger: A History of the Present (2017), the Indian essayist Pankaj Mishra argues that we live in “times of anger”, in which dissatisfaction and constant resentment have come to dominate public spaces and debates. According to his analysis, such adverse emotions are largely due to the absence of stability and responses in a world where globalization has expanded the processes of modernization and displacement in social, political and economic terms. Along with this, family ties, political organization and work also changed, generating anxieties and frustrations. As not everyone had or has access to the benefits of modernization and its emancipatory promises, resentments and increasingly violent reactions arise.

In this context, the liberal democrats' assumption that the end of the XNUMXth century's conflicts would give way to an era of economic prosperity accompanied by global harmony and tolerance was based on a misunderstanding of what people actually live. Such evaluations did not consider the situation of part of the world's population that was left out of the process of globalization and material advances. An example is the situation of many, many young people who experience inadequacy and discomfort in relation to a world undergoing intense changes, devoid of expectations regarding what to do with their own lives.

In a way of life whose main goals are not possible for everyone, many people will “be left behind”. Politics and institutions find it difficult to deal with such tensions and populist and extremist discourses will find fertile ground in this scenario of discontent. In Mishra's words: "An existential grudge against the being of others, caused by an intense mixture of envy and feelings of humiliation and impotence, this resentment, as it recedes and deepens, poisons civil society and undermines political freedom, a is currently ushering in a global shift linked to authoritarianism and toxic forms of chauvinism.”

In this scenario, in the “history of the present” cited by Mishra, hatred and violence can be mixed with politics, mainly from the rise of demagogues who placate frustrations with reactive discourses, however, little committed to social stability and democracy , relying on technological tools specially developed to capture and promote intense emotions. The social, political and economic tensions of today are thus directly linked to promises and hopes based on such expectations that did not deliver the agreed - at least for most of us, who now openly manifest the "rancidity" in relation to everything and everyone. .

A second reflection that contributes to understanding the tensions of our era was published by the French sociologist François Dubet in 2019 and has an informative description in the title: The time of sad passions. Inspired by the analysis of Baruch Spinoza (1632-1677) on the dynamics of affects, Dubet argues that the regime of multiple inequalities and individualization in contemporary societies has produced tensions and resentments, along with little recognition of the importance of participation to face social challenges existing. In this context of “each man for himself”, in a socioeconomic system of high competition and with few spaces for approximation and attribution of citizenship, where the other is always a potential competitor, “sad passions” prevail – including “rancidity”.

It is not that in the past social tensions were non-existent or that social safety nets guaranteed total stability; however, it is undeniable that the insecurities and difficulties of contemporary life increasingly impact, and the growing individualization makes it difficult to create and maintain bonds that could lessen the impact of the feeling of insecurity and impotence.

Digital social interactions contribute to the spread of these “sad passions” such as anger, resentment and indignation. The constant mobilization of emotions – there is evidence that content involving indignation and intense moral emotions spreads with more speed and intensity than other content on social networks – together with the constant comparison between the unequal ways of life among people amplifies even more these tensions and difficulties.

In this way, the conditions are challenging for democracy and for dialogue, so that people are taken by adverse feelings and without answers to their afflictions. Such sensibilities can border dangerously on resentment and hatred, as well as the ever-present specter of authoritarianism as an answer to societal challenges. In the words of Dubet: “Angers and accusations previously considered unworthy now have the right of citizenship. They invade the internet. In a large number of countries, they found political expression in authoritarian nationalisms and populisms.”

Mishra and Dubet's reflections are relevant contributions to understanding the “spirit of our time”. In addition to revealing diagnoses of our challenges as a society, they also highlight the social and political risks of the constant mobilization of insecurities, indignation and dissatisfaction – including the “rancidity”, which now populates our minds and our streets. Such reflections help us understand why we see so much resentment and negativity in social networks, feelings and emotions that overflow into the political and social field, configuring fractured and resentful societies. And, based on this understanding, build means and possibilities to better deal with the difficulties and dissatisfactions of this time of “sad passions”.

*Jose Costa Junior Professor of Philosophy and Social Sciences at IFMG –Campus Ponte Nova.



DUBET, François. The time of sad passions. Translation by Mauro Pinheiro. Belo Horizonte. Vestigio Publisher, 2020.

MISHRA, Pankaj. The Age of Anger: A History of the Present. New York: Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, 2017.


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