The pocket or life

Alison Wilding OBE, Angry Cartoon IV, 1988


The worldwide confusion that threatens the survival of the human species

I write this comment after having seen the documentary The Purse or Life, by Silvio Tendler. Produced in an “edgy” language, interspersed with several daring animations, the film raises a number of excellent questions and offers some very provocative answers. It can be considered a gloss on the dilemma posed by Jacques Lacan: when choosing between a purse or life, if I choose the first, I lose both, because the thief ends up taking both; if I choose the second, I preserve it, but at the price of giving up part of my life.

In an article written at the beginning of the current pandemic, the psychoanalyst Contardo Calligaris projected Lacan's dilemma onto it, adding a “spice grain”: what if the life in question is someone else's? That is: you are in a closed and protected room, but the hypothetical thief threatens to kill someone else if you don't give him the bag.

The approach exposes the denialism of those who would like to preserve the economy to the detriment of other people's health, a choice insistently presented to the public by the current usurper of the Planalto Palace and his cronies from the Chloroquine League and other products with deleterious effects on patients.

It seems that, despite the insidious campaign, the vast majority of the Brazilian people have been opting for life, through immunization. Paradoxically, at least for those who always exalt the superior advantages of the “first world” over the disadvantages of what they often prejudicedly qualify as our “Tupiniquim” world, the European and North American situation has been exposing its fragility in the face of the “choice of Lacan/Calligaris”.

Halfway through this autumn, we see in the statistics a much better immunological situation in countries like Spain and Portugal, and another much worse one in countries like Germany and Austria, not to mention the catastrophic ones, like in countries as disparate as Romania and Netherlands.

In the Netherlands, careless treatment of the pandemic has developed due to the belief, on the part of the majority of the population, that wearing or not wearing masks and adopting other preventive measures are strictly up to the individual. In Romania, the currently catastrophic situation of the pandemic is due, in large part, to anti-vaccine preaching by broad clerical sectors of the Orthodox Church.

The Netherlands has been adopting restrictive measures regarding the frequency of public places to stop the spread of the pandemic, which has provoked angry reactions on the part of the defenders of that extreme liberalism. Austria adopted a measure hitherto unprecedented in the European Union: it simply prohibited unvaccinated people from going out into the streets, except to go to the supermarket or other form of food supply and seek medical attention in offices, hospitals or pharmacies. The penalty, in case of disobedience, is a fine that can range from 500 to 1.500 euros.

In Germany the situation is one of the most confused. The country is momentarily headless. The government "holy” (Angela Merkel) has not yet come out, and the “incomer” (Olaf Scholz) has not yet entered. Provincial governments do not understand each other; in several cities the hospital situation is already catastrophic. The worst affected regions are Bavaria and the eastern and northeastern provinces of the country, but it is considered serious in almost the entire territory, including the capital, Berlin.

Several comments in the media and in parliament have been insisting that this is now the “unvaccinated epidemic”. A curtain of misinformation has been covering the topic of vaccines, with assumptions that range from a general distrust of vaccines to a supposed threat to women's fertility by anti-Covid vaccines.

The magazine Der Spiegel produced an extensive article on the subject. In the end, he conveyed disturbing information: it is estimated that there are 15 million opponents of the vaccine in the country, that is, almost 20% of the population – although this proportion should be higher if we take into account that it is made up mainly of adults. Of these, 50% vote with the far-right party Alternative for Deutschland (AfD) and another 15% vote for another party of regional expression, also of the extreme right.

In other words: the numerical data confirms the “industrialization” of anti-vaccine proposals by the extreme right. Just last week, an AfD party meeting had to be canceled because half of the participating delegates are not vaccinated – and thus could not attend either hotels or restaurants. More or less like our usurper, who is obliged to eat salami and pizza in the street. In all these manifestations of stupid arrogance, contempt for the lives of others can be read, combined with a feeling of omnipotence: “I define the meaning of my actions, which obey my needs, and nobody else's”. In other words: screw the others. As the usurper said in relation to Petrobras: “I need to get rid of it”, as if it were his.

In Tendler's film, the “Bolsa” opposed to “Life” extends to the economic financialization of the world in opposition to the multiple aspects in which the latter manifests itself: biodiversity, human rights, environmental protection, and others. An extension of the title takes us to the path that it is necessary to build an opposition to the neo-fascist path that the usurper of the Planalto Palace represents. With the awareness that he is not just a “Brazilian anomaly” in the “concert of nations”. On the contrary, it is the local and grotesque symptom of a worldwide “bewilderment” that threatens the survival of the human species.

* Flavio Aguiar, journalist and writer, is a retired professor of Brazilian literature at USP. Author, among other books, of Chronicles of the World Upside Down (Boitempo).


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