The role of prejudices

Image: Daniel Reche


Contrary to what the Enlightenment supposed, in the 18th century, prejudices cannot be eliminated simply in the light of reason

No one escapes everyday life and the trivial questions that accompany us from the moment we wake up, have breakfast, leave the house and exchange opinions with people about the weather and football. Everyday life is the sphere where prejudices cement the habitus. The rigidity with which we face new situations reveals our values ​​when faced with an artistic intervention in the subway or sad begging at traffic lights, with posters about hunger in the country of agro-exports.

Ultrageneralization about those who confront normality is an expression of conformism, in morals and customs, which feeds back on discriminatory and dehumanizing feelings in society. Stereotypes form the thought assimilated in the social environment, which so many are proud to assume.

Philosopher Georg Lukács's favorite disciple at the Budapest School, Agnes Heller, considers that “overgeneralization is inevitable in everyday life”, as she writes in the collection about The daily life and history. The dynamics of such heterogeneous activities in metropolises helps to impose the rule of traditionalism on the liquid reality of post-modernity, by saving the psyche. Psychologists attribute practical wisdom to this to blend in with the crowd without drawing attention to yourself. Convenience dictates pragmatism for common sense, and belonging.

However, authorized by authoritarian and totalitarian governments, provisional moderation gives way to the exaltation of ignorance and brutality as a way of demarcating a Cartesian, “clear and distinct” position for those who challenge hegemonic standards. So the dogs that guard the status quo They have the right to stipulate acceptable procedures and punish unacceptable ones, on public display.

The trade unionist and Workers' Party (PT) activist from Foz do Iguaçu, Marcelo Arruda, was murdered while celebrating his birthday. A Bolsonarista considered the celebration with a decoration in honor of Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva to be outrageous. The killer invested himself with the power attributed: “This is Bolsonaro”, he growled. He could have barked, “Here is Globo”. Arrogance generated grief.

With the meteoric rise of the extreme right, the critical attitude typical of dynamic eras towards segregation was replaced in the static period (2018-2022) by many verbal invectives, which increased the crimes of racism, feminicide, homophobia and transphobia. Words, according to linguistics, put into action the selective movement against diversity. Neofascism with the law of the strong, neoliberalism with the super-exploitation of workers and neoconservatism with traditionalist supremacism converge in covert symbolic violence and, at the limit, physical violence. The logic of domination and subordination thus encourages small dictators.

Ethnocentrism, meritocracy

Prejudice is the prior, inflexible and negative judgment about an individual or a group. The term derives from Latin, prejudice, prejudice, even in the face of contradiction based on facts. In political science, it designates advance judgment: cognitively governed by beliefs; affectively riddled with antipathy and aversion; evaluatively capable of invoking (or not) institutional measures to protect those affected, depending on the governments. Generalizations support angry rejections. “Immigrants poison the blood of the country,” says Donald Trump, stirring up the Pit bulls. Prejudice is not innate, it is socially learned. It needs to be contained ethically and legally. Reporting racist demonstrations to judicial bodies helps reduce incidents.

Ethnocentrism is the visible tip of colonialism, starting from the cycle of discoveries in the 16th century. European colonizers have always seen themselves in the paradigmatic condition of civilizers. They appealed to the notion of “danger” to designate and subject enslaved indigenous people and Africans. As their culture determined what was correct and true, obviously, evil remained outside the continent. Ethnic and racial categories are social constructions re-updated by right-wing populism. The fear of economic competition makes discrimination reasonable, in the imaginary of conspiracism.

Meritocracy in bourgeois society sets the parameters of intelligence and competence to overcome the outdated criteria of ancien régime, based on birth, wealth and noble titles. The postulate of education, seen as a lever for mobility, would lead individuals to a higher position in the hierarchy, according to the fable of social climbing – a myth. The multiple constraints on school performance reproduce stratification and hinder the transcendence of family deformations, which are not compensated by public authorities. The circle confines the alternatives within the reach of subordinates. The meritocratic regime is a systemic adaptation.

For consolation, this principle is framed in article 6 of the Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen, of 1789, by which citizens “may be equally admitted to all public dignities, posts and employments, according to their ability and without other distinction than his virtues and intelligence.” For sociologists such as Pierre Bourdieu or Jessé Souza, the indisputable axiom at the formal level of (false) equality of opportunities is nothing more than an ideology to justify existing inequalities, making them legitimate for winners and losers. Capabilities are decided at birth, which foreshadows subsequent privileges. Differently, Marx points to an evaluation, not of merit, but of attribution: “To each one according to his needs”.

Rebutting linguistic fallacies

Contrary to what the Enlightenment supposed, in the 18th century, prejudices cannot be eliminated simply in the light of reason. The affect of prejudice is faith, not ratio. Faith is linked to the satisfaction of a particular-individual being, and not to the generic-human that affects the global development of humanity: the climate crisis or the neoliberal precariousness that separates 1% of citizens from 99% of sub-citizens, in the species of Homo sapiens. Faith is made by the binomial of love and hate. Hatred is directed at people who do not believe in the same path, in this case, redemption without participation in the class struggle, placing themselves at a lower level of confidence. Emotional intolerance is a consequence of faith, all the greater as the minimum state grows, leaving the poor in abandonment. Self-help literature and the pastor's friendly shoulder are compensations that even God cannot reach.

Neo-Pentecostals are dedicated to atomized salvation, with a theology of dominion. The left appears to be the enemy to be defeated, as it prioritizes the organization and collective consciousness of the community. Extremism strengthens class, racial and gender prejudices that restrict autonomy to make choices and add water to the mill of magic. Society does not exist; only individuals and families. The workers who surrender to Silas Malafaia or Edir Macedo are manipulated, on the board of prejudices.

To counter demagoguery, empty eloquence is not enough. The refusal must be energetic, tenacious, without the conciliatory tone of the “third way” speeches, drowned in the tide of 2008. The context benefits the financial casino of high interest rates, of the Central Bank. Deindustrialization removes formal jobs and fills the temples in the valley of tears, on the outskirts.

Great personalities recovered good politics to intervene, in contemporary times, with a praxis associated with the concept of freedom: Carolina Maria de Jesus, Salvador Allende, Simone de Beauvoir, Mandela. Politics understood as a vocation for freedom, in exact proportion to its implementation in the social field, exorcises prejudices and encourages relationships of equality. On the contrary, politics in the sense experienced by the extreme right is incapable of integrating individuals into a welfare state, as it survives on exclusions inferred in everyday life and the degradation of conviviality to guarantee illegitimate and indecent inequities, such as anachronistic ones. today's monarchies. Not even the republican model has managed to become universal yet.

The main conservative Edmund Burke refuted the Enlightenment with an irrationalist doctrine and made religion the foundation of the moral and social order, against atheism and utopianism. The thesis of the opponent of the French Revolution is that only tradition and prejudices, instrumentalized by a project of power, can stop the changes promoted by the people as subjects of history.

Today it is up to the right-wing extremist dystopia, with the battering ram of necropolitics, to crush all progressive forces, dismantle the emancipatory rights conquered, dig the insurmountable gap between classes, races and genders, profit from the extractive greed of mining in Yanomami territory, cross the river Amazons on foot, killing the last bird in the foul air, selling water from polar glaciers in Cafés de Marte.

As in the poem by Cecília Meireles, Fatigue: “It was a heart of uncertainty, / made not to be happy; / always wanting more than life / – without end, limit, measure, / as has rarely been wanted”. This is capitalism with the heart of the free market, too exhausted to ask for an encore.

* Luiz Marques is a professor of political science at UFRGS. He was Rio Grande do Sul's state secretary of culture in the Olívio Dutra government.

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