The vigilante superegos

Image: Anthony Macajone


“Fascism”, “Nazism” and “perversion” in political criticism.

Since Bolsonaro came to power, and even before that, many have been comparing his political trajectory with fascism, with Nazism and with the clinical figure of perversion as a way of warning of the evil that his government represents for the spirit and for society. Brazilian. Just as no one calls themselves a racist, no one will recognize themselves as a Nazi, with the usual notable exceptions. However, this argument, which could be called an argument from the worst, has been neutralized by a certain complacent digital neoliberalism, always willing to go a little further in tolerating and managing human suffering. It was in this context that the 1990s saw Godwin's law appear, which states: "As an online discussion goes on, the probability of a comparison involving Adolf Hitler or the Nazis tends to 100%."

According to this satirical inference, Godwin's point is the exact moment when someone, exhausted in his arguments, starts to offend the other with the worst of analogies. The emergence of exaggerated comparisons could thus function as a kind of indirect request for the interruption of the conversation. In 2018, to everyone's surprise, Mike Godwin himself, creator of the law, went public to say that the law is still valid, but that it is correct to call Bolsonaro a Nazi.

In the general context of the struggle for Bolsonaro’s deposition and for the country’s re-democratization, many are those who seem to have reserved the use of critical categories for themselves, as if they should not be used either for consideration of the authority of those who enunciate the criticism, or for the trivialization of totalitarian phenomena, or by their historical inaccuracy. Everything happens as if the use of any of these categories could be translated by a simple expression like: “You are a radical taken by your beliefs (as well as who you criticize)”. In this way, the argument only confirms the beliefs of the group who enunciates it and further alienates the group that one wants to conquer or incite to a change of opinion.

For others, more strategic, it is a question of avoiding this argument because it is a kind of all or nothing, which represents in itself what should not be negotiated, conceded or compromised, in the strict sense of anti-politics. In this way, the argument is not effective because those who thought that way before remain where they are and the others, ranging from repentant conservatives, deceived liberals to religious fundamentalists and reactive anti-PT people, would not leave the place. Furthermore, we encourage confirmation that the left remains as radical as before, arrogant and the owner of the truth.

A third group will say that there is inaccuracy, since not all the political conditions of European fascism of the 1930s are given, just as not all the requirements for perversion are met, or that the best diagnostic conditions are not available. Here is how science can become irresponsible by being too responsible. Bench researchers and organic intellectuals refused to get their hands dirty with the empirical world of politics, while others, also irresponsible, created the parallel health cabinet in the shadows.

Such objections are rhetorically pertinent, but how far do they hide a commitment to collaborationism? For example, political analyst Michel Gherman was publicly scolded by the president of the Israeli Federation of Rio de Janeiro, for having referred to Bolsonaristas as Nazis. That is, someone with extensive experience in the political use of religious expressions, such as Shoa e nakba, who dedicated himself to the historical and conceptual understanding of Nazism, can he be thus disqualified by a religious representative? When a presidential candidate says that: “minorities must adapt or disappear”, that should have activated a historic emergency button and warns against repetition.

The case raises another aspect of the problem, that is, institutions and people who believe that they have the meaning and dominion over the use of certain words. When I produced technical material for the impeachment process of Bolsonaro, moved by the Paulista Academy of Law, I had to hear from colleagues that diagnoses should not be politicized. Likewise, when our group at USP published a series of texts showing how Bolsonarism resumed several of the elements of fascism, we heard that this was not a problem, because if not all the elements of fascism were present, we were committing a conceptual abuse.

What stands out in these comments is the complete lack of understanding that experiences such as Nazism and Fascism have a history. This means they transform over time, take on new masks and create allies. But that doesn't change the fact that Auschwitz is not only an exceptional event, it is also a paradigm of what must not be repeated. From Adorno to Agamben, we insist on the fact that the concentration camps are not an effect of the fact that, suddenly, millions of Germans became evil and that this happened, as Gherman says, from 1933 when Hitler came to power, and not in 1941 when the extermination system and the formulation of the final solution was proposed. The paradigm of the fields is a paradigm precisely because it applies outside of itself, to racism, sexism, homophobia, xenophobia and everything else, in the bonds of social production and reproduction, that has a structure of segregation.

In 2015, long before Bolsonaro's candidacy, I made a column on the Boitempo blog saying that he should immediately apologize to congresswoman Maria do Rosário to whom he said “I don't rape you because you don't deserve it”. Apologize to all Brazilians and preferably seek immediate psychological help. Several friends also considered it an exaggeration when I said that a psychoanalyst cannot vote for this subject, because if other professions and training do not require rigorous listening and understanding of what a speech is, to the point of recognizing its potential for dangerousness and violence, we are formed ethically for that. He who cannot see this before his eyes had better retire from office. The inability to realize that “this is going to lead to that”, that “1933 leads to 1941” and that “the openness to weapons leads to a vaccine crisis” is a serious indication of those who think by example and not by concepts. For those “as long as you don't have a mustache and a gas camera, with Ziklon B, then it's not Nazism”. To those I say: “go back now, otherwise the Nuremberg vaccine will arrive for you tomorrow”.

The appropriation of terms and concepts, if not of words, is a curious political problem because it creates, on the one hand, specialists and scholars who should not speak out and, on the other hand, communities of taste, religious and non-political, which acquire property, trademark patent and prerogative of use.

There is something more complicated going on here than just the territories and discursive policies of selective silencing and tolerance. There is the effect of trauma represented in each of these expressions. Trauma easily creates its vigilante superegos to reproduce itself. It silences and disallows the experience as a collective one, individualizing its actors. He makes the return of his violence invisible through a small make-up job, also called by Freud “symbolic deformation”. Furthermore, the trauma repeats itself. Hence the importance that Nazism, Fascism and perversion (in what it carries with the traumatic around it) have a structure of repetition. The way in which such repetition is interrupted demands a completely different memory process than what we see with the modes of remembering.

I was recently in a debate with Ilana Feldman and Felipe Poroger about how Germans are dealing with this repetition of trauma through a new filmic language. They are films that allow us to understand how the framing, the fictionalization-factualization regime and the separation between naming and the Real are elaborative elements of historical traumas.

For example, in Colleagues (Janis Kieffer, 2020) we see how the third generation of descendants of Nazism can now talk about it without falling into the monumentalism and descriptivism that characterized the early times of the elaboration of Nazism. Auschwitz never again. Two rural workers are shown making Nazi swastikas and other artifacts in a frame of apathy and alienation. We soon realize that it is “another film about Nazism”. But our indifference is broken when it comes to testing the extermination furnace. Even knowing that it is just a portico, bottomless and poorly made, the characters are seized by a silent moment of infinite uneasiness when the scene director yells for prisoner number 6, dressed in costume, to enter the oven. It is only at this moment that the actors seem to wake up to the unusual tone given to the treatment of the theme, that is, the point at which the joke went too far. That is, it is not only through the rigorous and conceptual use of terms that an experience is elaborated, but also through the respectful irreverence of the deformation brought about by art, allowing a new fragment of truth to emerge in the midst of apathy.

In the second short, The lie (Rafael Spínola and Klaus Diehl, 2020) we see how it is possible to resort to love, to narrativize the trauma. A Stasi spy objectively portrays the details of a couple's life in a drab documentary with a slideshow of empty rooms and the aftermath of a party. No characters appear, only hypotheses about what could have happened. However, in the end, the espionage report supports a love letter. This love letter, written at the bottom of the expert's report, is the focus of the documentary about the documentary, made 30 years later, and which explores the trauma of love linked by the affinity of anguish.

Em The One Who Crossed the Sea (Jonas Riemer, 2020), we follow the trajectory of an East German fugitive who becomes, himself, a policeman who pursues illegal immigrants. But it is only when he listens to himself, asking key questions, in the context of interrogations, that the temporality of the trauma can be redone, realizing in the other the dreams that were once ours.

It is necessary to incorporate the silence of the survivors, renew nominations, collect versions and work so that certain words are separated from the immovable frame of the museum: “Nazism”, “fascism” and “perversion”. We need to ask ourselves what these words mean today, without them being closed in a concealing reconciliation or becoming the property of some, since they belong to all of us. Also, it is very important to give way to nonsense. Hence, a certain amount of humour, parody and constructive irony is needed to avoid the moral superiority complex of losers and winners.

Annette Wieviorka recalls how the narrative we have today of the holocaust owes much to a somewhat sensationalist documentary produced for a television series in 1978. Considered kitsch and in bad taste by survivors, such as Elie Wiesel, it nevertheless inspired the construction, during the Jimmy Carter of the Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington DC, and the repeal of the amnesty law for those who participated as bureaucrats and technocrats in the holocaust. Although imprecise and not very rigorous, and perhaps for this very reason, the television series inspired a wave of new testimonies. The very redefinition of the death camp experience as a “holocaust” or as “Shoah” comes from the desire to say: “it was not like that”, that is, to say once more, to say better, what we cannot represent in all its extension. The appearance of the film itself Schindler's List (Spielberg, 1993) is another chapter in this process. Even if now the testimonies tend towards conciliation, with each one “putting a stone on top of what happened” in memory of the just men, there will be those who say that other versions will come. Would it have been better if the movie hadn't existed because of that?

In other words, the work of correction, the elaboration of more rigorous versions, the debate to define the scope of these words seems to be a better path than the restricted, corporate and administered use. History moves to another level when it remakes itself and when we find in it material of resistance and memory for the reinvention of the present.

*Christian Dunker He is a professor at the Institute of Psychology at USP. Author, among other books, of pathological coastlines (Nverses).

Originally published on Boitempo's blog.


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