Brazil between two denialisms



The public denial of the coup 60 years ago gives rise to its reaffirmation and constant renewal. It implies its defense and the prevention of a previous page being actually turned over

Brazil faced four years of scientific denialism, starting in 2018. The most serious period occurred during the pandemic (2020-2022), with the anti-vaccination campaign, promoted by the former president. It was something abject, which resulted in an incalculable number of human losses.

To the complete surprise of any democratic spirit, we are once again experiencing a dark denialist climate in 2024. This time we have historical denialism, which, by ignoring a consistent examination of the past, blocks reflection and the construction of alternative futures. Seeking to erase the 1964 coup from official memory is an equally repugnant initiative.

The two denialisms have different motivations. While the first sought to consolidate support in irrationalities and religious dogmas to build an obscurantist, and therefore authoritarian, idea, the new denialism is based on defensivism, retreat and the strange conception that the best way to pacify a conflict is renounce the fight. We thus have a strange denialism based on capitulation and self-demobilization.

Where do these attempts to deny reality come from? denialism is a relatively recent neologism in political science. O policy dictionary, organized, among others, by Norberto Bobbio (1983), does not mention it. The Brazilian Academy of Letters defines denialism as “a biased attitude that consists of refusing to accept the existence, validity or truth of something, such as historical events or scientific facts, despite the evidence or arguments that prove it”. The speech and action of what is conventionally called “denialism” is a powerful tool for political dispute in society. Denialism represents the substantiation of denial, forming what would be a type of doctrine or theory.

The term acquired the air of a concept from the constitution of a forceful idea disseminated by far-right groups in Western countries, in the last decades of the 20th century, whose intention is to construct a particular reading of History. This is the assertion that the genocide of the Jews by the Nazis in the context of the Second World War did not happen or did not happen in the manner or proportions historically recognized.

Later, the actions of so-called “climate deniers” gained prominence in debates on the environment, defined as those who – contrary to all scientific evidence – contest the existence of global warming of anthropogenic origin, that is, resulting from human activities. . Those who reject (generally for religious reasons) the theory of the evolution of species, which became, following the discoveries of Charles Darwin, one of the foundations of modern biology, are also considered deniers.

Sigmund Freud sought to psychoanalytically classify the phenomenon of denial – not denialism – as a form of ego preservation, in a small – five pages – and complex text from 1925, entitled precisely “Denial”. He wrote: “The function of judgment has essentially two decisions to make: it must confer or refuse a thing or a certain quality and it must admit or contest whether or not a representation exists in reality. The quality to be decided could originally have been good or bad, useful or harmful.”

Denial would function as a sublimation of the real. Freud follows: “to deny something in judgment basically means: this is something that I would prefer to repress. (…) Through the symbol of negation, thought frees itself from the limitations of repression and enriches itself.” Denying – or denying based on a judgment –, according to Freud, “is the intellectual action that decides the choice of motor action, [which] puts an end to postponing thought and makes the transition from thinking to acting”. It is from there that “the creation of the symbol of denial allows thought a first degree of independence from the consequences of repression”. Denial is part of everyday defenses to avoid frustration or failure.

It can be said that denial, at the individual level, has a defense function in the face of uncertainty and instability. Through it, parts of reality that cause fear or insecurity are avoided.

On a political level, denial also seeks to avoid insecurities, but it can, in certain situations, be an oppressive device. Denial ceases to be a defensive resource and becomes a tool for imposing a certain value judgment from one part of society on another. Or the diktat of what would be one truth over another. It doesn't matter that this truth, objectively, is a lie. Its imposition aims to create a new scenario in which social disputes will take place. Denial in these terms – in the political sphere – is part of the dispute for hegemony.

The two cases reported at the beginning – the denial of science and the denial of history – are part of an authoritarian imposition, which aims to block contrary political actions. The refusal to examine and criticize the 1964 coup is not limited to removing from the scene a dictatorial class order built from that founding milestone of 21 years of authoritarianism, with ramifications that reach the present day. Implicitly, negation is also the affirmation of its opposite.

Thus, the public denial of the coup 60 years ago gives rise to its reaffirmation and constant renewal. It implies its defense and the prevention of a previous page being actually turned over. It ultimately implies the legitimization of a non-democratic order, poisoning the current political environment.[1]

*Gilberto Maringoni is a journalist and professor of International Relations at the Federal University of ABC (UFABC).


[1] Parts of this text are part of an article written in partnership with Igor Fuser.

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