We will not be servants of the absurd



Closing speech of the act “Education against barbarism”.


The university must always remind society of an essential value of democratic life, that is, the precedence of the word over any other instrument of power. It is our duty to value argumentation, not aggression, not attack, simply polemic. And that, data and arguments, our act “Education against barbarism” brought, also being an example of our unity and nature.

The university has its ambiguities there. It may just be a space for the elites, for reproduction, competition, even prejudice. But we know this is not your truth. Above all, and today more than ever, it is the space for the expansion of rights, the place where prejudices are confronted, the place for collaboration and creativity. It is a place of science, culture and art. And it bothers you a lot.

Being the place of the word, it thinks the word, sees the limits of the word, and does not accept the curtailment of its positions, nor the disrespect for the rights that are guaranteed to us by the Constitution. It is not acceptable, for example, disrespect for their autonomy in choosing leaders; nor any adjustment of conduct. After all, there is nothing to adjust in our political, scientific, artistic or cultural conduct.

We must thus react to any threats, making what is our own prevail, for example, when we deal with the limits of our own words, which are the instrument of our work; and therefore only we ourselves can say what is unacceptable, in the light of the best arguments.

As public servants, we are servants of the State, not servants of rulers. And, as far as we know, every civil servant's code of conduct states that we must base our decisions on science and not on ignorance. It is, therefore, part of the dignity of the role and position of a public servant to think in the common interest, to seek the common good, and not just to protect their opinions, private interests or prejudices. And our fundamental weapon, guaranteed in the constitution, is the exercise of autonomy, aiming at the production of knowledge.


We had several attacks on the use of expressions at the university. Those of us in the field of philosophy cannot help but reflect on the uses of language. We weigh words and arguments. Attention to language, care for language, is fundamental for us in university life. And that goes beyond the philosopher's interest. The use of language cannot, after all, serve mere aggression, and it is our immediate and strategic duty to re-establish a common base for sociability, one capable of guaranteeing the collective and long-term interests of the State, education being exactly that, a bet of the State's long duration - cannot thus be reduced, belittled.

Let's think about extreme cases of word usage. In the use of language, we know that, sometimes, we use some contradictions as a strong expressive resource; contradiction thus serves us as a way of suggesting the ineffable, that which cannot be expressed. There is no other resource used by Santa Tereza de Jesus, when trying to say that which surpasses all limits, the mystical ecstasy, the contact of the temporal with the divine: “I live without living in myself, / And I hope for such a high life, / That I die because I don't die”.

Contradiction is a strong literary device, which can be tortuous and yet profitable. As in Euclides da Cunha, who, challenged to define the sertanejo, constructs one of the most famous oxymorons in our literature, a combination of words with opposite meanings, which seem to exclude each other, but help to suggest unpredictable shades. “The sertanejo is, above all, strong”, says Euclides; and, to translate this, he uses a rare oxymoron, “Hércules-Quasímodo” – a questionable resource perhaps as an anthropological reading, but sensational in its expressiveness, with which Euclides rescues the strength of the sertanejo, who would lack, however, “the impeccable plastic , performance, the very correct structure of athletic organizations”.

Contradictions seem to succeed in suggesting something, but others seem to suggest nothing but absurdity. What is the point, then, of being forbidden to say “The president is genocidal”, and of seeing, across the country, teachers, technicians or students being persecuted? Why has this combination generated lawsuits and intimidation? After all, the combination does not seem to hurt the grammar, and all of Brazilian society is currently focusing on this question: is there responsibility in the case of the pandemic?

Now, the terms “president” and “genocidal” can come together in one sentence. There is no logical or grammatical incompatibility. Nor would it make any legal sense to limit what can happen within the scope of some sociological, political or epidemiological consideration. However, I believe there is a profound reason for the ban. And I must admit that those who want to ban this combination are right. It is simply repugnant to culture, offends good taste, outrages common sense. Nothing worthwhile can be expected from this combination. In short, it crosses all boundaries to admit that a president can be genocidal, just as we can never accept that a genocide is president.

In the same way, if we have a minimum education, if we are not brutalized, we expect a statesman to be welcoming, supportive, who has composure. Certainly, a statesman (like any of us) has his private opinion, his group interest, but he only becomes a true statesman by being able to place the common interest above his own; for being able to submit his opinion, which is particular, to the sieve of science, whose propositions are, indeed, subject to demonstration, proof, recognition by the scientific community.

A statesman need not be an academic. As a matter of fact, we already had academics who did not consider it so important to extend the benefit of access to universities to broader sections of the population. In this sense, even the academic can be ignorant. In short, academic or not, the true statesman must be able to dialogue and listen to the academy, to the most refined knowledge, just as he values ​​the knowledge of his people. He must be cultured, in a deeper sense, by which he honors the office and gives it dignity.

A statesman values ​​life above any and all interests. The combination “ignorant statesman” is therefore inadmissible. One cannot believe that someone who is rude, without composure, who disdains life, threatens, attacks, disrespects freedom of the press, university autonomy, freedom of professorship and expression, has the stature of a statesman. He will never be a statesman who, finally, is incapable of solidarity, who favors brutality and violence, who prefers weapons to books.


Our act comes, therefore, at a limiting moment for our society. At a time when fundamental institutions of culture are under attack and we are now the ones being judged by our decisions. We can no longer, for all the reasons presented here, for all the arguments, for all the words, fail to express our repugnance to barbarism.

And we must also express our repugnance to the barbarism that disguises itself in apparently rational means. It is the barbarism that we have called "destructive politeness." I repeat here the quotation (which I made earlier at the opening of the second UFBA virtual congress) of a text by Theodor Adorno, who, in a lecture in 1967, more than two decades after the Second World War, reflected on the return of fascist movements in Germany , in a dangerous constellation of rational means and irrational ends, when the irrationality of the ends contaminates and distorts the supposed rationality of the means: “One should not underestimate these movements – insisted Adorno – due to their low intellectual level and due to their lack of theory . I think it would be a complete lack of political sense if we believed, because of this, that they are unsuccessful. What is characteristic of these movements is rather an extraordinary perfection of means, namely, a perfection in the first place of propagandistic means in the widest sense, combined with a blindness, with an abstruseness of the ends that are pursued there” (Theodor W. Adornment. Aspects of the new right-wing radicalism. Publisher Unesp, p. 54.).

And one of these ends being pursued is the dismantling, the destruction, the deconstruction of the public, free, inclusive and quality university. Thus, now using more silent means, we see leaders replacing the aggression before made in the Twitter by resorting to an atrocious budget reduction, with which they make, on the pretext of the crisis, a devastating choice, dismantling and destroying the bet that society has made and must continue to make in education – a bet that, as civilized countries have taught us, is still more certain and necessary in moments of serious crisis.


Our act denounces. With immense voracity and speed, with even more terrible consequences, due to the pandemic, the desert is growing. Threats mount, chaos deepens. But if the desert grows, our act also says, it will not grow within us.

We thus trust that our act will not end in itself. One act alone does not weave the morning, as João Cabral de Melo Neto teaches us, in one of his most well-known poems, “Tecendo amanhã” [Published in education by stone, 1965] – in which, by the way, with great art, he uses the incompleteness of the verses, the materiality of slightly interrupted verses, to evoke the beautiful image of the collective construction of a morning.

In the poem, incomplete sentences (such as “From one who catches that cry that he”) are sustained, however, in following sentences (such as “and throw it to another; from another rooster”), so that the verse/cry, in instead of falling, it remains suspended and rises through another verse/scream that continues it and, in the intertwined plot, completes it.

A rooster alone does not weave a morning:
he will always need other roosters.
Of one who catches that cry he
and cast it to another; from another rooster
who catches the cry of a rooster before
and cast it to another; and other roosters
that with many other roosters cross paths
the strands of sunlight from his rooster cries,
so that the morning, from a tenuous web,
go weaving, among all the roosters.

And embodying itself on canvas, among all,
raising a tent, where everyone can enter,
entertaining for everyone, on the awning
(the morning) that soars free of frame.
The morning, awning of a fabric so airy
which, woven, rises by itself: balloon light.

An act breaks if it is not accepted by another. A scream becomes silence if it doesn't reverberate in another. Let a plot be constructed then; and, in each new act, in each speech, in each gesture, when we mobilize and carry out our daily duty of teaching, research and extension, we can all say. We will not be hostages to the absurd. We will never be complicit in destruction. We will never be the servants of barbarism.

Precisely because we are public servants, servants of the State, and not servants of the government, we are the ones who cannot accept certain combinations of words; we are the ones who can never be accomplices, hostages or servants of the absurd. And we close this act, saying once again no to barbarism and saying yes to education.

And long live the public university!

Joao Carlos Salles he is rector of the Federal University of Bahia (UFBA) and former president of the National Association of Directors of Federal Institutions of Higher Education (Andifes).


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