Narrative, fascism, epidemic

Image: Ivan Dražić
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By NUNO GONÇALVES PEREIRA*

The problem of fascism is a linguistic problem. It lacks words to say the dead, the prisoners, the exiles and all the others that are being abandoned along the way

1.

The rise of the politician Jair Messias Bolsonaro to the position of president of the federative republic of Brazil significantly altered the national political order. Although elected in accordance with the electoral process established by the democratic republican regime; the aforementioned politician embodied, for decades, a set of ideas opposed to the legal, ethical, aesthetic and political foundations of this regime. The long period of parliamentary activity of the subject in question is enough to attest to his coherence of principles and his efforts to constitute a project of power based on a positive vision of the Brazilian military dictatorship (1964-1984).

The extraordinary conditions that allowed the anomaly of an anti-democratic power project, based on undisguised authoritarian, militaristic and fascist principles, are inseparable from the way in which the transition that founded the current republican regime took place. The amnesty – broad, general and unrestricted – and the neglect of the treatment given to this period within the scope of regular and institutional teaching of history, greatly contributed to the non-effectiveness of a social pact around the collective memory of the events that marked those two decades of the last century.

In many ways, this absence – which, in practice, endorsed impunity for crimes committed by military actors – paved the access roads to the presidential palace of Jair Messias Bolsonaro and his supporters.

Unlike the presidents who preceded him, since the 1988 constitution, Jair Messias Bolsonaro is elected with a speech of rupture with a political order that he denounces as corrupt, degraded and unsatisfactory to the popular aspirations. His identification as a “myth” and the daily reproduction of this identification through the media only confirms and highlights the fact that his political project is incompatible with the norms, rules and principles defined as valid in institutional political clashes.

This split was quickly felt in the realm of language and, suddenly, certain words and expressions, previously relegated to restricted and specialized discursive fields, were rescued and incorporated into the discursive regime of permanent confrontation, established by the fascists ensconced in the presidential palace against the institutions that, by definition and nature, found themselves, necessarily, in opposition to the institutional establishment of an authoritarian regime based on principles contrary to the system's sustaining principles. Mito e narrative are two such expressions. Without any theoretical reflection or epistemological care, we witness the displacement of these terms from ethnographic, historical, anthropological and literary studies to the pages of newspapers, political websites and blogs, social networks and the scope of ordinary and commonplace language of popular discussions on policy.

Raised to the status of a myth, the president of the republic did not miss the opportunity to reinforce and propagate the divine nature of his mission. The repeated mention of his physical survival after being stabbed in Juiz de Fora was the missing touchstone in the construction of a hagiographic self-image of the trajectory of an obscure and aggressive parliamentarian, dedicated to the most reactionary causes, converted into a savior of the country and incarnation of desire of the Brazilian people.

The end of the story is unknown to us. We are in the heart of the cyclone, inside the storm. It is from this place that we will try to build these brief notes.

Three days ago – that is: on August 18, 2021 – Brazilian army reserve general Luis Eduardo Ramos made headlines in all the media by stating that there was no dictatorship between 1964 and 1984 and defined what happened there as a very strong military regime. In the same speech, the general, occupying the position of general secretary of the presidency, defined the issue as a problem of semantics. The day before – that is: on August 17, 2021 – another reserve general, Braga Netto, stated, in his capacity as minister of defense, before a plenary session made up of parliamentarians who are members of three commissions of the Federal Chamber – the commission for financial supervision and control , foreign affairs and national defense commission and labor, administration and public service commission – exactly the same: there was no dictatorship, there was a strong regime. Going beyond mere conceptualization, the general explained the basis for his choice of the term as being adequate to describe what happened in the recent national past: if it had been a dictatorship, many would not be here.

It is rather a problem of semantics that political rhetoric has incorporated terms such as myth e narrative imprecisely, thoughtlessly and vulgarly. It is this phenomenon that we will take as an object when writing these notes. And what moves us is the certainty that many are not here because they were cut down by the last dictatorship. Also the certainty that many of us will not be here if this new dictatorship manages to establish itself in state control.

Faced with the poetics of death that plagues our present, perhaps survival is really a question of semantics: at the beginning of everything there was a dictatorship and this dictatorship was succeeded by an amnesty that legitimized impunity and clouded our memory of those fateful years. The relations between ideology and narrative are much more complex than Bolsonarist discourse intends to make us believe by imposing the term narrative. The polysemic possibilities of what can be understood as myth they go far beyond the vulgar pragmatism that has associated this project of power with the mythical idea of ​​redemption on a daily basis. At the base of everything operates a strategy of direct association between the terms ideology e narrative as synonymous terms that would semantically oppose the synonymous terms truth e myth. Self-identified as holders of the truth, the followers of the myth name any and all discourse that opposes their objectives as a narrative and advance, in the open, against the entire regime of legal, discursive, political, ethical and aesthetic practices that characterized our fragile and incipient democracy.

Before the small, slow, hard-won advances since the 1988 constitution become part of the realm of it was a time we would like to revisit the dictionary and, who knows, semantics and rhetoric will help us to understand something of how the poetics of death resurrected from the realm of oblivion an ideology that we all thought dead and finished.

2.

In the middle of the road there was a biological epidemic. Halfway there was a health disaster. Halfway there was a strange flu. All the consequences of Bolsonaro’s election, the militarization of the Brazilian State and the establishment of an authoritarian regime are immersed in a specific context determined by a contingency: the spread of Covid-19 and its variants.

The position taken by the federal government in relation to this phenomenon determined, to a large extent, the response that the actors in the democratic political field constructed. In this scenario, the discourse that identified the terms science and truth was forged, seeking, through this semantic unification, to institute a political tool contrary to what was named as a denialist narrative.

The opposition between the scientific narrative and the denialist narrative was reproduced within the political debate on ways of confronting and controlling the expansion of the pandemic. This discursive operation updated, fed and radicalized the Manichaeism contained in the formulation of Bolsonarism's fascist power project. On the one hand, truth, science and democracy; on the other, fascism, ideology and genocide.

By opposing paths, the discursive territories to be occupied by historical subjects were reaffirmed in the ongoing political struggle. On the frontiers of this ideological repositioning, we seemed condemned to throw into the waters of the river any more refined discussion about imagination, subjectivity and language, under penalty of being defeated by the crudest and most vulgar version of the events we are experiencing. The temptation of an epistemological return to positivist dichotomies between fact and fiction, reality and imagination, truth and ideology, historiography and poetics became almost an ethical imperative in the face of the spread of denialism, authoritarianism and militarization that made up the hard core of the fascist power project. Any relativist hesitation could drag us into the anything-goes scenario where all claims about reality would be equally valid and, therefore, any choice between democracy and dictatorship, science and quackery, history and ideology, would only be the result of personal empathies and specific values. not subject to logical and rational parameters of measurement.

Apparently technical issues – the use or otherwise of face masks, the effectiveness or otherwise of immunizing vaccines, the effectiveness of vertical or horizontal social isolation measures, restrictions on the functioning of economic activities, limitations on the movement of individuals in public spaces – concealed a series of propositions that they escaped medical postulates about sanitary measures to be put into practice.

Aware that their survival as a political project depended directly on the perpetual replacement of Manichaean positions, the fascists did not take long to base their decisions on establishing a new dichotomy: health versus the economy. Every solution presented by the opposition was immediately identified as an obstacle to the functioning of the economy and the proper development of the world of work, causing irreparable damage to the process of generating wealth and capital conceived as the ultimate value and defining parameter of the desired progress of the nation.

The Manichean crossroads led us, through tortuous paths, to the hard epistemological principles of positivism: the objective knowledge of reality was presented as the only and necessary methodological posture capable of producing the heuristic tools capable of providing the weapons against denialism, militarism and authoritarianism. We were at war, the generals took the health ministry by storm and took the mission seriously. Between the virus and fascism, we lost the ability to dream. Between the virus and fascism, we saw our health and freedom drain away. Between the virus and fascism, we watched the spread of massive impoverishment and the approval of political reforms that masterfully updated the links of economic dependence on the international system.

The agribusiness insurrection against the laws protecting traditional communities and the regulations of the legal frameworks for the exploitation of labor finally found a group capable of conducting and implementing its aspirations. That this group was of military origin and displayed a certain nationalist veneer that, like a patina, covered the dismantling of mechanisms for the protection of national economic interests, made the solution even better.

There was no war. Viruses do not form armies, nor do they defend flags of enemy nations. The rhetoric of war against the disease of our bodies and our productive and commercial structure served vested interests. Just as the rhetoric of homeland, freedom and the fight against corruption concealed other interests. All a question of semantics: the protection of the military as a limit to the exercise of civil powers.

Only the knowledge of medical science would free us from the pandemic. Only the knowledge of historical science would free us from obscurantism and fascist ignorance. The two failed by leaps and bounds and everything was turning into ruins. Death, misery and terror spread at an accelerated pace and neither medicine, nor law, nor history were able to stop the irresistible advance of disease and ideology. In the scorched earth, amidst the ruins of the most optimistic expectations, there seemed to be no room for imagination. The resurrection of realism rose as a categorical imperative and condemned imagination to exile, prison or silence. All relativism was suspected of complicity with tyranny, and even the most mechanistic of vulgar schemes for the economic interpretation of factual reality were presented as morally more praiseworthy and desirable than any product of the imagination.

Narrative has become a pejorative term to reduce the argument of the other to ideology, baseless discourse, a distorted view of reality. Both sides adopted this position, and mutual accusations adopted this principle. The most superficial examination of the senators' debate in the Covid CPI sessions is more than enough to prove how this term came to be handled within the political dispute.

One last note: if the opposition held the seal of science as guarantor of the truth of its discourse and practices, Bolsonaristas also needed to show theirs. It was also a semantic issue: it was enough for the leader to resort to the language of common sense and ceaselessly promote the idea that just as his language was the language of common sense, his project was the project of the people and, ultimately, he was the people and the people was him. It was not difficult to carry out such a task, but the icing on the cake was still missing: ordinary authoritarianism had to be adorned with transcendental airs. Evangelical pastors readily responded to the call.

3.

Prosperity theology is one of the most miserable chapters in the history of religions. This blind servant of progress that neo-Pentecostals and charismatics have sown has grown like a weed and suffocated our spiritual imagination. Disseminated and legitimized by the Vatican as a barrier to contain liberation theology and used, in the most unscrupulous ways, by shepherds willing to round up desperate people and plunder their miserable economic reserves; the theology of prosperity dealt a profound blow to the constitution of engaged forms of religious experience supported by community experiences.

The theology of prosperity, allied to individual entrepreneurship and endowed with devices for issuing condemnatory moral judgments about any activity alien to the production and reproduction of wealth; this infamous spiritual current abolished all transcendental meaning to human experience and generated a powerful and influential network of political alliances at the service of the Bolsonarist power project. Anointed by the strange eschatology of a faith that, in a semantic slip, identifies divine grace and enrichment (even when by illicit means) the Bolsonarist power project found the ideological legitimation of its caudillo catechism. All the more useful for bringing along a properly indoctrinated herd.

The holy trinity was complete: the truth of God, the truth of the people and the truth of Bolsonarism were just different moments of the same truth. Apparitions of the same ghost. This is how God rescued his leader from death after an attack. That was how God allowed an obscure politician with no party base and no support from big capital to rise to the unattainable post of president of the republic. A republic corrupted by the actions of unscrupulous civilians, malicious leftists and all sorts of representatives of abominable practices. The instrumentalization of God in favor of fascism is as blatant as was the instrumentalization of charismatics against liberation theology.

The specter of socialism needed to be fought by all means. Twitter, radio stations, television, hundreds of thousands of churches in the outskirts, missionaries in indigenous and quilombola lands. Add to this the propensity for messianism and millenarianism that characterizes our formation, and we are faced with a tragedy that is more than announced. It is no coincidence that in recent days the soldiers of the Bolsonarist army have not tired of repeating in their battle against the ministers of the Federal Supreme Court that power emanates from the people, that is, that the truth emanates from the people. But what people are we talking about if not the people of God? Of the people anointed by God? Of the people blessed by God?

Engaging God in the war of narratives is a fundamental premise of Bolsonarism and it would be pointless here to invoke any rational, scientific or methodologically demonstrable argument in our favor. Perhaps Ogun, lord of all wars, can fight on our side, even if a part of his armies goes to the enemy's side; as Arjuna had Krishna we will have him on our side.

You can't fight myth with history. Ignorance cannot be dispelled with understanding. Bolsonarism is a myth, it represents a sad moment of the misery of the imagination. It is not by denouncing the deliberate falsity of his assertions about reality that we will defeat him. Even less by feeding it back with sterile political practices that guarantee its right to coexistence within the democratic state of law. Bolsonarism is, like all fascism, a vulgar outgrowth of romanticism. Without the refinement of Gustavo Barroso, Plinio Salgado or Marinetti. By incessantly disqualifying the criticisms aimed at them as narratives, Bolsonaristas unconsciously reveal the nature of their own rhetoric: its inconsistency and lack of foundation. Giving in to the temptation to fight them with a positivist epistemology is like trying to prevent a disease caused by a virus with a medicine designed to eliminate worms; in addition to being bitter, the treatment has already been proven to be ineffective.

A certain professor of philosophy used to say, in his ethics classes, that we talked a lot about metaphysics because we didn't have any in action; it seems that today it is the same, we talk a lot about narrative because we have none or because all the ones we have lead us to the dead end crossroads between the barbarism of civilization and the civilization of barbarism. In both cases, indigence will remain to the imagination. Let's hope that from these ruins another myth can be born, another world too. And that it be a world intolerant of intolerance that, out of fear of the shadow that feeds like a wild beast in the garden, erases the paths that it has traversed with avidity and haste. Here is a last semantic question: wild shadows and intolerances inhabiting the same garden.

The problem of fascism is a linguistic problem, I agree. It lacks words to say the dead, the prisoners, the exiles and all the others that are being abandoned along the way. It is a serious linguistic problem a political regime that extracts, by forceps, the word freedom from the dictionary of everyday life. More than ever, Ginzburg's warning is valid: reality is not always reactionary, dreams and desires are not necessarily revolutionary. Without combining the two, there will be no epistemology capable of opening, in this accursed labyrinth, a crevice that signals us the direction of a poetics of immensity. Enough. These notes consumed me an entire Saturday of procrastination.

*Nuno Gonçalves Pereira Professor of American History at the Federal University Recôncavo da Bahia (UFRB).

 

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