the unproductive failure

Image: Elyeser Szturm


The depressive atmosphere that hangs over all citizens who strive for institutional normality in the face of a government that attacks the democratic State

At the end of the launch speech for his candidacy for the presidency, Lula summarized the current concerns of his electorate: “No more threats, no more absurd suspicions, no more verbal blackmail, no more artificial tensions”. The enunciation of enough! follows the realization of a need: “the country needs calm and tranquility”, that is, “more is needed than governing – it is necessary to take care of it”, “and we will once again take care of Brazil and the Brazilian people with great affection ”.

Behind this commitment, not only with the task of governing, but with the zealous dimension that accompanies it, Lula captured something more than the yearning for social change: he realized how much the turmoil of the current government fomented a warlike, distressed, bustling.

Behind this more visible collective torment, it is essential to understand how it occurs in the very formation of neoliberal subjectivity. In Brazil, Maria Rita Kehl and Christian Dunker are the ones that have advanced the most in this field. In contrast to the formation of repressive hypothesis, which Foucault developed in relation to Freud, in which neurotic pathologies respond to the patriarchal social imposition of the law and the disciplinary regime, Christian Dunker launches a depressive hypothesis in the neoliberal era, in which the individual, faced with the imperative of productivity and business success, succumbs to unproductive failure.


civic depression

What I propose here is to further specify the scope moved by the update itself. Frei Betto mentioned, in 2015, that Brazil was going through a “civic depression”, at the time when the impeachment it hadn't even happened. This expression had already been used by Benedetto Croce in enumerating the causes of Italian Fascism. Christian Dunker recalls that the word “depression” was also used in an economic sense regarding the crash of the New York Stock Exchange in 1929, before acquiring a pathological sense, which confirms the crossing of the social and individual dimensions.

I intend to focus, in this sense, not on the depressive individual itself, but on a sort of depressive atmosphere that hangs over all citizens who strive for institutional normality in the face of a government that incessantly attacks the structures of the democratic State. This stratum, generally more politicized, has felt the incessant blows from the plateau as attacks on its citizenship. I am not referring to society as a whole, as supporters of the government do not suffer from these attacks, on the contrary, they participate in them, and those who are indifferent do not know very well what is going on.


we have never suffered so much

Therefore, I am referring, more specifically, to the civic depression that generally affects a progressive layer of the population, which does not necessarily develop individual depressive symptoms, but participates in a true collective pain arising from the torture that is following the daily news, deal with conflicts in the family, at work and participate in the restlessness of social networks. It is a mental torment, but not individualized. It is a psychic suffering that affects the fragility of Brazilians, attacked by the daily bombardment of various forms of institutional dismantling. We suffer, therefore, more as citizens and not so much as individual subjects.

It is not a question of thinking about depression within the larger scope of the neoliberal system as a whole, but within the branch of alt-right current neofascist. Such specificity is justified precisely because never has a government acted so perversely with a view to making citizens aware of their rights suffer and we have never suffered so much because of a government's relentless aggression against the institutions of the rule of law. If there is a time when people actually suffer from civic depression, it is from 2018 until today, even if the process began in 2014.

Generally, when talking about all the attacks against democracy, the discussion takes place within a legal, political and administrative scope. Little is said about the affective and psychic aspect of the issue. I must assert that this gap aggravates the problem: when we only feel civic pain, but we are not aware of its particularity, precisely at this point the aggressors stun the attacked. Only if we manage to talk and think about such pain will we be able to elaborate it and make possible some kind of reconstruction not only formal, in a desired electoral victory, but affective of citizenship.

To recognize the modalities of this suffering, it is necessary to ask: where does this kind of civic pain arise? I propose to subdivide the public space into three fields: the direct activity of the government, the approach of the media and the movement of social networks.


alert normalization

The current government's public activity is all planned as a hybrid war against the common citizen. It consists of a series of disparate, confusing and mismatched information. For example, when it seeks to claim “freedom of expression” to better attack bodies guaranteeing freedom of expression, it promotes a naturalization of the contradiction itself. She keeps shifting discussions of political decisions to moral agendas; likewise, it thrives on strategic advances and setbacks in the management of its decisions.

The main characters of the government play the role of avatars, trolls, which amuse their people, frighten their enemies and produce the gamification of politics. All this leads to a disorientation of the public space. The recurrence of these same attitudes arouses anger in the citizen, but ends up tiring him out. When it seems that there is some effective reaction from the CPI, STF and other threatened institutions, the result is meager, which confirms an increasingly bitter state of hopelessness and fear.

Conjuncture analysts, editorials and various media columnists repeat the same warnings of the seriousness of the situation. There is a strange contradiction in listening to various imperatives to combat anti-democratic boldness and confirming the permanence of the attacks. Evidently, a naturalization of the aggressions and a litany of formal repudiation of the specialists is being sedimented.

The president's absurd statements lead commentators to treat him as if he were a naughty child, but this infantilization is dubious. Everything he says is strategically linked to what will later be reflected by his agents in the alternative media, and much of this informational engineering is sophisticated and effective.

Therefore, the simplification and cold transmission of very serious news creates in civic sentiment a normalization of the catastrophe and a suspicion of false reaction, false criticism of the news. The citizen makes a considerable mental effort not to accept, not to participate in normalopathy, not to become indifferent and, however, his revolt is vain, impotent and miserable.

The reporter's affective neutralization mismatches fear of loss of institutional ground. If there is a complaint of unconstitutionalities, there is no punishment. Therefore, the impunity of the aggressors naturalizes the breakdown of democracy. It seems that everything conspires to trivialize evil.



In complete contrast to the neutrality of the official media, social networks are full of angry denunciations, where the affection is raw, without any filter. Personal rants hysterically brag their outrage and the same defiant posts are shared. It doesn't take long for the subject to realize that networks are tireless and exhausting, insatiable and nauseating.

They contribute to mental retardation, cognitive involution, and the citizen needs to make one more costly effort not to fall into stupidity. He observes in others a manic-depressive alternation that he himself experiences and sees his solitary impotence confirmed in shared impotence.

The worst of social networks is not even restricted to this. They are conceived in such a way as to stimulate hatred, “bullshit”, artificial polemics that throw bubbles from the left against each other. The gesture of solidarity that normally should occur in situations where suffering is shared is replaced by a constant nervous agitation that demonstrates the political failure of digital communication, to the happiness of platform managers. Civic depression quickly leads citizens to dislike everything: consensus and dissent, disagreement and agreement, gestures of rejection and solidarity. An abysmal malaise in public communication hangs in the networks.

Faced with this fatigue, it is clear that the user enjoys many types of escape: fun memes, colorful tourist landscapes, happy photos of friends, games, movies, series. But he sees its incurable superficiality. Absence from the news and discussions is undoubtedly a way of not contributing to the naturalization of the unacceptable, but it is also another symptom of weakness.

The daily coexistence with the appalling news, with the bolsominions and with the internal fights of the left increases the sensation of fear and distress, because everything indicates that there is no escape: we are back to the same dead end. The daily torture is complete: horrendous news, suspicious media inertia, impunity for the aggressors, exhausting agitation of political discussion on social networks and banal escapes.

When Lula said that it is necessary to do more than govern, it is necessary to care, he explained what is lacking in the affective dimension of the public space. This is what did not happen satisfactorily in the pandemic and is not happening in the pandemic government. Neither the official media nor the network platforms seem interested in taking care of a fragile citizen, on the contrary, they participate, each in their own way, indirectly or not, in an orchestrated massacre. In the midst of media, cultural and political warfare, progressives need real collective care.

*Eduardo Guerreiro Losso He is a professor at the Department of Literature Science at UFRJ. Author, among other books, of Sublime and violence: essays on contemporary Brazilian poetry (Quicksilver).

Originally published on the magazine's website Cult.

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