(in)civil engineering

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By LUCIANO NASCIMENTO*

The best chance of achieving, in Brazil, a plausible form of civility, stricto sensu, lies in the real investment in communicational educational practices that are, by principle and method, transcultural and empathetic

The concept of uncivil society has been developed by the journalist, sociologist and writer Muniz Sodré. It is a proposal for the description of a complex contemporary phenomenon: the emptying of the ethical-political discourse (hence, socially responsible) within the processes of mediatization and financialization that globalization has implied. I do not intend here to retrace the paths of Sodré; I want, rather, to use its theoretical perspective, to call the reader's attention to the effective everyday occurrence of such a phenomenon, and then to bring up my own hypothesis regarding a feasible strategy to counteract this emptying. The hypothesis is the following: the best chance of achieving, in Brazil, a plausible form of civility, stricto sensu, lies in the real investment in communicational educational practices that are, by principle and method, transcultural and empathetic. I want to believe that there are already examples of spontaneous initiatives like this underway, a fact that suggests the feasibility of identifying and systematizing their contours and practices, in order to consciously promote the necessary resistance to the accelerated edification of our daily barbarism.

Responsibility X Responsiveness

In an opinion article published at the end of 2019, Muniz Sodré clarifies what he calls uncivil society: “a human order governed by communication technologies and in solidarity with the destabilization of consensual forms of representation of the world”[I]. The current stage of real-time information flow technologies allows the establishment of interconnectivity relations that, on the one hand, hypertrophy the fluidity of capital (especially speculative capital), and, on the other hand, greatly atrophy the processes of constituting subjectivities. According to Sodré himself, a crucial piece in all this gear is the computational algorithm, agent for the eventual creation and constant promotion of market niches and perceptive bubbles.

In a scenario like this, the construction of the neoliberal spike goes ahead. In Brazil, it is firmly rooted in the patrimonial and slavery heritage of the Brazilian economic elite, and already has several slabs: one for the super-informed greed of the very rich, another for the uninformed despair of the very poor, another, certainly the largest of them, for the ignorant delirium of the remedied... the latter, by the way, have a privileged view of the dreadful horizon of Gerson's Law, and they firmly believe that the important thing is to always have an advantage in everything, without great moral concern.

There is the blueprint of the uncivil society, a term that, after all, “'(…) is in fact not a mere play on words, but a concept pertaining to the economic, political and publicistic deterioration of the agendas stipulated by classical liberalism. The attribution of exclusive social responsibility, through the absolute decentralization of decisions to the 'individual-citizen' –– a supposed 'instrument of oneself' – is one of the priority verses of the gospel of the market, raw material of political neoliberalism”[ii].

Social (ir)responsibility is the adequate faithful to measure the incivility – and, by extension, the barbarism – that we experience in Brazil. However, in order to make such a measurement, it is essential to have a clear distinction between responsibility and responsiveness.

Responsibility is the faculty that emanates from and does not dispense with the ethical-political component immanent to the social relations of being-in-the-world; it is the subjective ability to respond symbolically to the political and cultural dynamics of the community in which one lives. Responsiveness, in turn, is mainly a conversational competence, it does not presuppose or imply a conscious or deliberate ethical-political link; it is, in short, mere ability to retort.

It is not difficult to infer, therefore, that, in Brazil, one of the pillars of civil society, freedom of expression (in theory extended by advances in communication technologies), has lived daily with the shock generated by the transformation of social networks into a gigantic babel of responsiveness. Cyberbullying, hating (haters), fakenews, culture of cancellation, office of hate… are symptoms of this other pandemic that we are going through: the compulsion for the public expression of opinion – supposedly its own, but usually immediate result of the herd effect generated by algorithmic logic, that is, of pure subjection, as perhaps Michel Pêcheux would say. Such a disease is verifiable in the eagerness to comment on everything, in the rush to respond quickly to any question, a response that is often hateful and detached from reason and truth, almost always speaking in vain and disrespectful to the interlocutor, whether close or distant. In summary, in our country, social networks have been an arena in which responsiveness has been beating responsibility – the concern with respect for the Other, for the diversity of opinions, for different symbolic registers. And where there is no responsibility, there is no civility… barbarism looms large.

Four very recent episodes smoothly scrutinize the environment described here. First episode: urged by a journalist to comment on the growing number of deaths from COVID-19 in Brazil, the President of the Republic (none other than the President of the Republic) answered: "And? Am sorry. What do you want me to do? I am the Messiah, but I don't do miracles”. Second episode: in a high-end building in Recife-PE, an employer leaves her housekeeper's son alone in the elevator; the boy, only 5 years old, goes up to the 9th floor, leans over a security wall, which breaks; the child falls and dies; in testimony to the boss says: "I did all I could". Third episode: warned by a health surveillance agent about the need to use masks to prevent the spread of the coronavirus, a couple from Rio de Janeiro face the civil servant who, with professionalism, treats the man as a “citizen”; the emblematic answer of the woman is: “'Citizen' no! Civil engineer, graduated, better than you”. Finally, the fourth episode: walking calmly along the promenade of a beach in Santos-SP, without a mask, when being questioned by an agent of the Santos municipal guard, a judge of justice disrespect the agent tries intimidateit and finally fulfills its threat: rips up and throws the notice of fine drawn up by the guard on the floor.

Faced with the degree of absurdity of these occurrences, the only order I managed to use when exposing them was temporal. It can be argued that it is the supreme absurdity of a magistrate not to respect the law, but I fear that we are already too used to that in Brazil. Furthermore, having taken "all possible care" with a five-year-old child cannot even be conceived of as anything less than the absolute opposite of abandoning that child to its own death. I believe that there must still be those around these lands who think that the highest point of nonsense it is the President of the Republic who publicly declares his disdain for the deaths of thousands of his subjects, but, in times of barbarism, the number of subjects who applaud him for this is enormous, and perhaps growing. It is all so absurdly irresponsible that, for the purposes of this text, I prefer to draw attention to the response of the woman from Rio de Janeiro: “No 'Citizen'! Civil engineer, trained…”.

Because that is exactly what it is about: as Paiva & Sodré (2019) teach, citizenship and civility have very close roots (etymological and ethical). So close that it is legitimate to say: it is not really a citizen who lacks civility. And, as civility implies responsibility, an ethical-political commitment to the Other, whoever exempts himself from it, from responsibility, and adopts the practice of pure responsiveness, embraces barbarism, does not care about the preventable death of tens of thousands of human beings. In the end, I was right (though without having any reason) the impetuous and reckless new star of the fluminense sky. Never before in the history of this country the consequences of our social formation were so evident, since 1500 prisoners in the corridors of a strange socio-anthropological labyrinth, the work of an intricate uncivil engineering. The same one that once invaded lands, decimated indigenous populations, enslaved and trafficked human beings, and now destroys the environment, attacks women and gays, kills or lets die in the name of a customized God, guarantees a gun gesture and reform good citizens. It's tragic.

The civil, citizen response: empathy

However, escaping from a Manichaean view, it is possible to perceive that, despite the disaster (political, social, ethical, etc.) exacerbated by social networks in Brazil, some practical civil reaction is already being drafted in them. I take three of these occurrences as an example and, next, I advocate an ethical-political posture of methodical assimilation, with pedagogical purposes, of certain nuances of these occurrences. Let's do it.

One of the obvious consequences of the social distancing imposed by the pandemic has been the exponential increase in the number of live broadcasts of private content on social networks. the now frequent lives sometimes they bring together millions of people, depending on who promotes them. That was how the singer Anitta probably introduced her lawyer Gabriela Prioli to some of her fans. The two talked on Instagram about politics, based on the gesture of Anitta, who assumed her lack of knowledge about the subject, and asked Gabriela for lessons. This attitude has strong pedagogical and political potential. After all, one should not despise the power of influence of idols, Myths...

No hall public assumptions of personal ethical-political convictions, the youtuber Felipe Neto also used his social networks to attack the Jair Bolsonaro government head-on, and thereby exposed the virtual agora Brazilian to a kind of digital earthquake of many degrees in twitter scale. Still amid the tremors generated by the clash between supporters and detractors, Felipe, in an interview with Roda Viva (which had a record audience at the time and already has more than 2,5 million views on Youtube), returned to criticize the government, further shaking the uncivil national edifice. Afterwards, the digital influencer took two other very significant actions from the point of view of building a civil reaction to the advance of barbarism: he published a harsh opinion video, in English, about the political situation in Brazil on the website of the The New York Times, and, in the wake of the anti-racist demonstrations sparked by the murder of George Floyd in the US, he ceded the management of his networks to Yuri Marçal, a comedian who permeates his art with strong and undeniable black activism. In this last gesture, Felipe was joined by other celebrities, who also lent their hammocks to black artists and intellectuals.

But, in the context of social struggles, the idea of ​​someone giving in, lending something to someone else is controversial. Assignment and loan are temporary, presuppose the return of the assigned or lent thing to the hands of the effective holder, without lasting changes in the status quo. Even so, in the midst of the in-civil war we are experiencing, the gesture deserves to be highlighted.

Gregório Duvivier, in turn, explicitly assumed his place of speech privilege and turned GregNews, his show on HBO (which is also available on Youtube), in the nightmare classroom of defenders of school without party. Facing a camera, sitting at a table, maintaining a tone that is both playful and professorial, Gregório speaks clearly and didactically about racism, violence against women, LGBTQI+ and indigenous populations, capitalist exploitation of the working class, embezzlement of public funds, apology for crime... in short, about barbarities in general. Everything always with surgical precision and absolute journalistic rigor (sometimes almost scientific, even). Each program is a class and, specifically the one dedicated to Delivery, Duvivier joins Paulo Freire’s arm and transforms discourse into action: after denouncing the exploitation of courier labor by delivery application companies, he encourages the creation of a platform, “Idvogados”, aimed at facilitating contact between exploited workers and labor lawyers. Coincidence or not, this episode of GregNews aired on 17/04/2020 and, since then, there have been two app delivery strikes. Again, there is a clear indication of the pedagogical and political potential of initiatives engendered in social networks.

These three cases attest to the existence of feasible ethical-political alternatives for the promotion of systematic confrontation with the advance of incivility in Brazil. Such alternatives have in common, without naivety or embargo of any idiosyncrasies, the manifest empathy of Anitta, Gabriela Prioli, Felipe Neto and Gregório Duvivier in relation to the enormous contingents of people who, at present, due to ignorance, poverty, prejudice, etc., have died, concretely and/or symbolically in our country. Combating incivility guided by empathy is not only possible, but necessary, urgent and will be all the more effective the more influencers, artists, intellectuals and, in particular, teachers get involved with it, sharing intersectional and transcultural actions, promoting understanding of the equal value of the various knowledges.

Such a process undoubtedly demands new and even more intricate civil engineering. But it is impossible not to believe in the viability of this project, not to fight for it, when one witnesses, for example, Emicida's lucidity and critical sense in the live wheel (with pun please!). From the point of view of this view of Brazilian social construction, one also sees a Conceição Evaristo, a Sueli Carneiro, a Sílvio Almeida, a Djamila Ribeiro, an Aílton Krenak, a Laerte... But there are still millions of anonymous people abandoned to their own misfortune. It is credible that a large number of them are potentially as capable as other intellectually autonomous and respected citizens. It is urgent that we exercise our social responsibility and share our privileged perspective as much as possible, so that the death of so many Brazilians does not continue to be just something that get in the way of traffic, traffic, saturday...

* Luciano Nascimento, education teacher

Notes:


[I]SODRÉ, M. Uncivil society and barbarism. São Paulo: Folha de São Paulo, 10/11/2019).

[ii]PAIVA, R.; SODRÉ, M.. “Communitarianism and uncivil society”. Porto Alegre: Famecos Magazine, v. 26, no. 1, Jan-Apr. 2019.

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