funeral fog

Paulo Pasta, Untitled, 2013, Oil On Canvas, 50 x 60 cm


Prologue to the newly released novel

I was sitting in the lobby of the gym when I saw the sky suddenly darken. It was still around three in the afternoon and, from one minute to the next, day had turned to night. I remember that phenomenon had an effect on me, I took the situation as an apocalyptic harbinger. It seemed that the very composition of the atmosphere wanted to alert us, to announce the result of harmful and degrading practices that the economic system perpetrates against nature.

The next day, I tried to discuss the episode with a friend.

     – Did you see what happened?

     “Yes,” he replied. – They are saying that this is smoke from the Amazon. But how was the smoke going to get from there to here? It's each one they invent...

We are from São Paulo and I soon realized that this was another attempt to downplay any concerns that might threaten his president's reputation. 2019 was a year of many setbacks, especially for environmental policy. We all very quickly reap the negative fruits resulting from this, although many people prefer not to understand. It was the year of the “day of fire”, when rural producers joined together to set fire to one of the greatest environmental assets on the planet, the Amazon Forest, with the intention of expanding the area of ​​pasture and agricultural cultivation.

By itself, degrading an ecological entity that regulates rainfall – and thus makes the climate more conducive to the continuity of life on Earth – is a serious threat to all of humanity. But the landowners were only free to commit the crime at the convenience of the State, which had just dismantled all environmental protection policies. It became very comfortable to break the law, as the government would not interfere, except to help.

For days on end, flames crackled over the trees, consumed the plants and incinerated the ecosystem. Pillars of smoke rose into the sky. Soon after, on August 19, 2019, dark clouds formed in conjunction with the soot particles and completely blocked the passage of light.[I] The atmosphere was metamorphosed, taking on the contours of an apocalyptic announcement.

     - Oh yes. Do you know the concept of atmospheric circulation? – Was all I could do to answer.

I remember him adopting an emphatic tone, intended to ridicule any concerns outside the loop of commercial interests. For some people, this is the only kind of concern worth keeping. That friend spoke as if this were all an absurd hypothesis, an implausible scaremongering, the stuff of hysterical people or opposition intrigues... For him, there was no way the smoke from the fires from the Amazon could reach São Paulo. So, I had to remind you that atmospheric circulation exists, that the globe rotates and that the Earth is not flat...

Why did simple elementary school subjects like air masses escape the mind of a middle-class man with a graduate degree?

First, we live in a society that does not value intellectual activity. If in a classroom the student says “why am I going to study this?” or “what is this going to do in my life?”, he runs the risk of becoming an adult who is unable to appropriate pedagogical knowledge to decode the phenomena that humanity witnesses, nor to articulate the basic content he has learned to interpret his own life. reality.

The educational system today, instead of preparing students for public life, seeks only to train technically qualified labor for the job market. As they are not instructed to exercise citizenship, the student leaves school unfit to enjoy and participate in the common social sphere, which is still very precarious in Brazil. Thus, it discards much of the content that could help you understand current phenomena.

In a participatory democracy, intellectual exercise would be a natural demand of public life, a basic precept for collective decision-making. But it is not this kind of mental activity that our social formation requires. Our insertion in society does not take place through full citizenship, but through market operations, such as the supply of the workforce to a market and the consumption of commercial goods. Moreover, we can continue with an alienated routine, detached from reality, without thinking beyond the limited field of vision that everyday activities provide us.

On the other hand, it is also so given that we are separated from the means of decision-making and the machines of political influence that, by nature, it is not convenient to reason about the problems that we are not able to solve, nor to assimilate these phenomena in a more coherent and profound way. to understand the world.

The modern individual, as the isolated atom that he presumes to be, knows that he does not have access to the dominant structure that directs society, so he just continues the alienated routine. For many, working to participate in a sphere of consumption, the only place that capitalism assigns you to live “freely”, is the established life horizon.

But if the sleep of reason produces monsters, Minerva's owl needs to take flight. My friend's stance is also an example of an era where misinformation is rampant. When intellectuality is not valued, reasoning is not used to understand the phenomena we witness; and easy-to-digest ideas, which do not require cognitive effort, are consumed and reproduced without having their veracity questioned.

We just live, we experience the events of life without reasoning correctly about them and without producing a rigorous, complex understanding out of it. An example? The pandemic itself. We all witnessed this atrocious phase, suffered its impact on our skin, and witnessed the loss of millions of lives... But are we reflecting correctly on all of this?

The sanitary crisis was the result of a bad interaction with nature, of an abusive practice with wild life. And so far, going through this dark experience has not caused us to change the structure of this relationship. Even after the catastrophe has unfolded, animals continue to be confined under abusive treatment with antibiotics, forests are cleared, the thaw exposes new viruses to the atmosphere and so on... No substantial change has been brought about, and we are still waiting for the awakening of a new consciousness, despite all the suffering experienced.

Many hoped that the pandemic emergency could somehow change the paradigm of societies, or contribute to a change of perspective. Some even announced the coming of the new communism. But the “intellectuals” have never been so wrong. We are still guided by the same flawed model of socioeconomic organization that triggered the problem.

The same goes for climate change. We live day after day, we vividly feel on our skin all the effects of global warming. But we still haven't reasoned correctly about it, we haven't assimilated this fact into a more coherent way of understanding reality. On the contrary, we continue to be exposed to an overload of separate and disconnected information, which is lost in the continuous flow of instant news, and we do not handle or interconnect events to produce a macro understanding of the phenomenon, a unitary understanding.

Thus, climate events appear as isolated tragedies and not as a symptom of a larger problem, the result of the reproduction of a system. The general public, without an efficient collective intellectual effort, is no longer able to produce a connected and coherent understanding of the phenomena it witnesses.

It is in this context that the transforming role of pedagogy enters. We need to articulate loose data and disconnected information, gather them to compose a framework within an analytical understanding, aware of the transformations and elements that make up our reality as a coherent whole. We can no longer continue as apathetic spectators, as the problems of our time demand a new position in relation to the reproductive cycle of social life, not only physically, but intellectually as well.

In a more idealized sense, effective education can favor the full exercise of citizenship. It should prepare us for public interaction, make us see new forms of sociability, and not just instruct us in a conforming way for the job market. Without the necessary understanding, we will never correctly visualize the problems, and without visualizing them, we cannot solve them. As Paulo Freire said: “If education alone does not transform society, without it society does not change either”.

Perhaps, in the most optimistic hypothesis, if my friend had it clear in his head how the circulation of the atmosphere works, he would understand very well that, when moving, the air masses bring with them the characteristics from which they came. With the necessary skills, he would visualize the semi-apocalyptic phenomenon in all its magnitude, and would be able to understand its gravity. In this case, there was so much soot, such was the proportion of the fire, that there was no option but to combine with the wind...

I was 21 years old when the smoke usurped the light from the sky. I knew that sooner or later I would have to explore the psychic effect the episode had on me, intellectually or artistically. All the yearnings I had accumulated for years needed to be channeled…

Gabriel Dantas Romano is a history major at the University of São Paulo (USP).


Gabriel Dantas Romano. funeral fog. São Paulo, author's edition, 2023.


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