Distinction modes

Image: Jessica Lewis


The desire for distinction seems to be a prerequisite of beings who are blind to abuses of power.

"Trenches of ideas are worth more than trenches of stones” (José Martí, 1891)

In general, societies tend to find ways of classifying people and establishing irreconcilable distinctions between them. At the Index of most notable things, organized by Antônio Vieira, at the end of each volume, the priest referred to the native peoples of the states of Brazil and Maranhão and Grão-Pará as “brasis” or “gentio(s)”. The main meaning was that they were pagan beings, with souls misguided by the devil, who needed to be catechized for the glory of the Lord, increase of faith, territorial and economic expansion of the Portuguese empire.[I]

In the 1997th century, literate men stood out in relation to slaves, craftsmen and small traders, who, evidently, were interdicted and could not access the hidden domains of the court. According to Marco Antônio Silveira (46, p. 47-XNUMX):

“Despite the varied social classes existing within the Lusitanian Empire, what primarily defined participation in the ruling group was prestige; hence the fact that Portuguese society presents a status stratification. Such prestige, capable of granting 'nobility' to members of the estate, less and less, during the modern era, constituted an exclusive privilege of the old land-owning families. On the contrary: as the overseas conquests advanced and it became more evident that the Portuguese economy was eminently mercantile, honorary titles and incrustation in the administrative machinery asserted themselves as means of distinction. Both paths, after all, approached the king. On the other hand, the entire aesthetic, evaluative and behavioral apparatus related to honor was presented as indispensable in defining the place of each one in society”.

Alferes Tiradentes (turned into a “martyr of inconfidência” between the end of the 1930th century and the 1763s) could not be pointed out as a “revolutionary” or “abolitionist”, since he was not against the crown. It is worth remembering that he also owned slaves who worked in his mines… During the XNUMXth century, Rio de Janeiro – seat of the viceroyalty since XNUMX – became the capital of the Empire. José de Alencar even published letters in favor of slavery…

While African slavery was in force, criteria and prerogatives of the so-called colonial society persisted, especially those related to the distinction between the mechanical worker and the liberal professional. During the 1872th century, holding a bachelor's degree in law, engineering or medicine was one of the ways of denoting superiority in relation to slaves, small traders, handymen, aggregates, etc. Incidentally, the first Brazilian census (XNUMX) suggested that few were those who knew how to read, let alone write – factors that became a new criterion of distinction. The caricature of the “literate man” marks one of the chapters of The bruzundangas, by Lima Barreto (1998, p. 62).

“The most scrupulous write some tame articles and then take on the air of Shakespeare; some publish exhausting books and solicit honorable references from critics; others, when already employed in the ministry, have the assistants copy old official documents from the archives, paste the copies with gum arabic on sheets of paper, send the thing to the National Typography of the country, put a pompous title on the thing, are acclaimed historians, scholars , scientists and manage to get good nominations”.

In practice, formal (but not effective) abolition[ii]) of African slavery amended the projects to encourage the immigration of Europeans, since the end of the XNUMXth century, with the aim of “whitening” the country’s population, reinforcing eugenics theses. It is enough to read the account of politicians and historians of the Old Republic and the New Republic to verify this.[iii] From the 1940s onwards, the most powerful sectors of society decided to re-edit the principles of the “colonial era”. In a way, the former “good men” (who occupied city council and other strategic positions in the old villages, between the XNUMXth and XNUMXth centuries), began to be confused with “good men”.

In a cauldron of hypocrisy and authoritarianism in which integralism, militarism, theocracy and opportunism were combined, the lexicon of these groups began to affect patriotism (subservient); praise from the family (albeit unstructured); defense of property (excluding); apology of material and mental modernization (despite the reactionary conservatism) and the fight against the supposed communist threat (which never existed), echoing the ideals promoted by the United States in the years that followed the end of the Second World War.

In short, since the middle of the 1949th century, people began to discriminate against “vagators” or “unoccupied”; “disorderly” or “subversives”, as if they were agents of the evil empire (that is, agents of the former USSR).

According to Claudia Wasserman:

“Patriotic appeals, anti-communist calls and proclamations for the defense of democracy were part of the ideas defended by military and civilian supporters of the ideology of National Security, orchestrated from various organizations, including the Escola Superior de Guerra, the Instituto Brasileiro de Ação (IBAD), the Institute of Research and Social Studies (IPES), the Anticommunist Movement (MAC), the Democratic Youth Front and other representatives of the organized right. The structuring of this thought originated in courses at US military schools, notably the National War College in Washington, which helped Brazilian military colleagues in structuring the Escola Superior de Guerra (ESG) in 1949, and for 12 years maintained a American mission working in that institution”.

As is known, throughout the XNUMXth century, landowners joined hands with industrialists, soldiers and politicians who echoed liberal (and, later, neoliberal) ideology. The myth of order was personified by the “disciplined” men in uniform; the myth of generosity was married to the image of the industrialist who “granted” jobs to the humblest; the myth of the enterprise started to contrast “successful” and “failed”,[iv] in parallel with a State that is increasingly oblivious to serious social issues.

The privatization of assets (that is, the distribution of property by the powerful) almost always orbited around the land – a nerve point in the country's history. Many times, the XNUMXth-century factor, the XNUMXth- and XNUMXth-century plantation owner, the XNUMXth-century baron, the “coroné” of the First Republic were described paternally, as if they were virtuous bosses protecting the territory (and “their ” servants and foremen) of the “invaders”, beings marginal to the law.

Fast forward to our time and place. In the richest and most unequal city in the country, the desire to distinguish themselves from one another reached one of its high points in the 2000s, when associations of residents of neighborhoods considered “noble” – such as Cerqueira César, Moema or Higienópolis – were formed against the expansion of bus lanes and new subway stations, claiming that these places would favor the transit of “different people”.

In short, four centuries separate the “gentile”, coined by Vieira, from the “different people”, classified in this way by the orderly, balanced and good citizens who inhabit the most hygienic, tree-lined and flat streets of Pauliceia. The desire for distinction seems to be a prerequisite of beings who are blind to abuses of power; and hypocrites, as to morals.

This claim to be considered a superior, better and distinct entity in relation to the “people” says a lot about the posture of the elites and the imposture of large sectors of the middle classes. As Florestan Fernandes (2021, p. 43) observed, “[…] the articulation of class totalitarianism with modern plutocracy (in which pro-imperialist local bourgeoisies and imperialist external domination enter) requires a high level not only of militarization, but also of technocratization of the structures and functions of the State. It doesn't matter who the 'president' is […] the essential thing is how to control a “mass society”.

Furthermore, when people of such a lineage say “people”, they almost always do so in such a way as not to be confused with the mass that they assume to be homogenizing. Every time they do this, they highlight the prejudiced way of conceiving the world and the oscillatory character of the class to which they belong. In this sense, the lexicon and posture of the distinguished man indicate how elastic concepts such as ethics, morals and virtue can be. Among other pragmatics, it is these beings who encourage the use of the word work as an absolute value. Evidently, it is not about “value”; nor of “absolute value”, since certain occupations are reserved for “differentiated” people. For the rich, but also for those who confuse work with nobility, being busy is something more specific, which is nothing like “manual service”.

Examining this state of affairs results in several questions, among which: (1) What are those proud of who “distinguish themselves” in relation to those who did not have the same structure, opportunities and means? (2) Who is responsible for combating extreme social inequalities, if not the same State that expelled the “people” to the outskirts of the city and withdrew them from macroeconomics?

*Jean Pierre Chauvin He is a professor at the School of Communication and Arts at USP. Author, among other books, of A thousand, one dystopia (Publisher Glove).



CAMARGOS, Daniel. Nespresso and Starbucks bought coffee from farms caught using slave labor. Available in: https://reporterbrasil.org.br/2019/04/nespresso-e-starbucks-compraram-cafe-de-fazenda-flagrada-com-trabalho-escravo/

CHAUI, Marilena. Against competent speech. In: _____. The ideology of competence. Belo Horizonte: Autêntica, 2014, p. 113-115 (org. André Rocha).

DAVILA, Jerry. diploma of whiteness: social and racial policy in Brazil (1917-1945). Trans. Claudia Sant'Ana Martins. São Paulo: Editora Unesp, 2006.

FERNANDES, Florestan. Power and Counterpower in Latin America. São Paulo: Popular Expression, 2021.

LIMA BARRETO, Afonso Henriques de. The Bruzundangas. Rio de Janeiro: Garnier, 1998.

MARTI, Jose. Our America/Our America. Brasilia: Editora da UnB, 2011.

PÉCORA, Alcir. Slavery in the sermons of Father Antonio Vieira. Advanced Studies Magazine, Sao Paulo, vol. 33, no. 97, p. 153-170, 2019.

SILVEIRA, Mark Antonio. The universe of the indistinct: state and society in Minas Gerais in the 1735th century (1808-XNUMX). So Paulo: Hucitec, 1997.

VIEIRA, Antonio. Index of most notable things. São Paulo: Hedra, 2010 (org. Alcir Pécora).

WASSERMAN, Claudia. The Empire of National Security: the 1964 military coup in Brazil. In: WASSERMAN, Claudia; GUAZZELLI, Cesar Augusto (eds.). Military Dictatorships in Latin America. Porto Alegre: UFRGS Editora, p. 27-44.



[I] As Alcir Pécora (2019, p. 155) points out: “From the many proofs that the indigenous were endowed with the light of reason with which God made every creature analogous to himself, Vieira concludes that the captivity to which he had been subjected was unfair. For him, D. João IV, in order to live up to his title of restorer of freedom, had to also establish it among the Brazils. It is worth saying: it is up to the king to integrate the indigenous into the political body of the State as a naturally free subject, and even a second time freed by birth in faith through conversion”.

[ii] See this complaint made in 2019, for example: https://reporterbrasil.org.br/2019/04/nespresso-e-starbucks-compraram-cafe-de-fazenda-flagrada-com-trabalho-escravo/

[iii] In this regard, read: diploma of whiteness: social and racial politics in Brazil (1917-1945), by Jerry Dávila (2006).

[iv] “Who is the incompetent? In our societies, he is the one who has been expropriated from his condition as a subject and converted into an object of knowledge and practice by the competent. Under the halo of neutrality and objectivity of technical-scientific knowledge, competence is a powerful ideological element to justify (hiding) the exercise of domination” (CHAUI, 2014, p. 113).

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