by the grace of God

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By MARILENA CHAUI*

“Social authoritarianism” as the origin and form of violence in Brazil.

From the Middle Ages until the French Revolution, a man became king through a religious ceremony in which he was anointed and consecrated by the pope. The ceremony had four main functions: first, to affirm that the king was chosen by divine grace, being a king by the grace of God, and having to represent him on Earth (that is, he did not represent his subjects, but God); second, that the king is deified, having, in addition to his mortal human body, an immortal mystical body, his political body; thirdly, that the king is the Father of Justice, that is, his will is law (or, as the saying goes: what the king pleases has the force of law); fourth, that he is the Husband of the Earth, that is, the kingdom is his personal asset to do with and in it as he pleases.

On January 6, 2019 (that is, on Kings Day of the Christian calendar), at the Universal Church of the Kingdom of God, Pastor Edir Macedo anointed and consecrated the newly sworn-in president of the republic, Jair Messias Bolsonaro, declaring that this was chosen by God to govern Brazil. As Husband of the Earth, Messias Bolsonaro is divinely empowered to devastate the environment; as the Father of Justice, he is divinely authorized to dominate the judiciary and to exterminate citizens through both police forces and militia groups; and as an immortal body politic, he is divinely assured that he is indestructible. From the devastated Amazon to the destroyed Jacarezinho, passing through the cemeteries, with 450 thousand dead, reigns Messiah Bolsonaro, president of the republic by the grace of God.

Most of his critics claim he is a sociopath or a psychopath. These designations, however, presuppose scientific knowledge that most of us lack. Therefore, I think that a concept coming from ethics is the most accessible because we are all capable of knowing and understanding it: the concept of cruelty, which ethics considers one of the most terrible vices, as it is the maximum form of violence .

According to vernacular dictionaries, violence is: 1) everything that acts using force to go against the nature of some being (it is denaturing); 2) every act of force against someone's spontaneity, will and freedom (it's coercing, constraining, torturing, brutalizing); 3) every act that defiles the nature of someone or something positively valued by a society (is violating); 4) every act of transgression against those things and actions that someone or a society defines as fair and as a right (it is plundering or deliberate injustice); 5) consequently, violence is an act of brutality, abuse and physical and/or psychic abuse against someone and characterizes intersubjective and social relations defined by oppression and intimidation, by fear and terror.

Violence is the presence of ferocity in relations with the other as another or for being another, its most evident manifestation found in genocide and apartheid.

Therefore, we can ask: is there anything more violent and cruel than the emblematic speech of the president of the republic – “So what? I'm not a gravedigger” – justifying the disregard for the death of its governed, the dismantling of the SUS in the midst of a pandemic, the cuts in health funds, the refusal to buy vaccines, the defense of something potentially deadly like chloroquine, the unnameable emergency aid of R$ 150,00, and the refusal to condemn companies that use slave, child and elderly labor? Is there anything more cruel than, in front of bereaved families plunged in pain, making a motorcycle motorcade in Rio de Janeiro, celebrating the death and suffering of others?

Most critics of Messias Bolsonaro refer to his attitudes towards the pandemic with the term “denialism”. Although it is not incorrect, it seems to me a very mild term to describe them, and could be taken simply as a taste for ignorance and stupidity. I think we will get to the bottom of this darkness if we designate his attitudes and speeches as hatred of thought. Why? Because the essential mark of thought is the distinction between true and false, while the speeches of Messias Bolsonaro materialize what Theodor Adorno called cynicism, that is, the deliberate refusal to distinguish between true and false, making lying the art of governing.

The exposure of cynicism is evidenced with the naked eye by the CPI of covid19 and by the unbelievable presidential declaration that indigenous nations are responsible for the deforestation of the Amazon. In the specific case of education, this hatred is expressed in the ideology of the School without a Party, in the persecution of teachers and researchers who raise their voices against barbarism, in the cuts in funding for fundamental education, for public universities and for promotion of research, cuts that are the political expression of the phrase, also emblematic, of Paulo Guedes: “the social programs of previous governments allowed even the son of the doorman to go to university”.

We can ask why cruelty and cynicism are not considered by a large part of the population as the defining core of Bolsonarist governance. Or why, in the case of the pandemic, following in the ruler's footsteps, many do not perceive themselves as violent by refusing social isolation and the use of a mask, becoming potential agents of the death of others, therefore, murderers. We can respond by saying that Messias Bolsonaro and his cohorts can be exhibited as cruelty or naked violence because, in Brazil, the existence of violence is denied the very moment it is exhibited. I am referring to the production of images of violence that hide real violence and ideological procedures that conceal it.

Let’s start with the images used to talk about violence:

- talk about slaughter e Massacre to refer to the mass murder of defenseless people, such as children, residents of communities, prisoners, indigenous people, the landless, the homeless;

- talk about indistinction between crime and police to refer to the participation of police forces in organized crime;

- talk about unspoken civil war to refer to the landless movement, clashes between miners and Indians, police and drug traffickers, homicides and thefts committed on a large and small scale, and to talk about traffic accidents;

- talk about vandalism to refer to robberies of stores, markets and banks, the depredations of public buildings and the breakdown of buses and trains in public transport;

- talk about weakness of civil society to refer to the absence of entities and social organizations that articulate demands, demands, criticisms and inspection by public authorities;

- talk about weakness of political institutions to refer to corruption in the three powers of the republic;

- talk about disorder to indicate insecurity, absence of tranquility and stability, that is, to refer to the unexpected and unusual action of individuals and groups that erupt in the public space, challenging its order.

These images have the function of offering a unified image of violence: slaughter, massacre, vandalism, tacit civil war, indistinction between police and crime and disorder are intended to be the place where violence is situated and realized; weakness of civil society and weakness of political institutions are presented as powerless to curb violence, which, therefore, would be located elsewhere and not in the social and political institutions themselves. Now, precisely because it is an image and not a concept, the very origin of violence remains hidden in it.

Let's move on to the ideological procedures that conceal it:

– procedure of exclusion: it is said that the Brazilian nation is non-violent and that, if there is violence, it is practiced by people who are not part of the nation (even if they were born and live in Brazil). It is about the difference between a non-violent-Brazilian-us and a violent-non-Brazilian-them;

– procedure of distinction: distinguishes between the essential and the accidental, that is, by essence, Brazilians are not violent and, therefore, violence is accidental, an ephemeral event, a “wave”, an “epidemic” or a localized “outbreak” on the surface of a defined time and space;

- procedure legal: violence is limited to the field of delinquency and criminality, crime being defined as an attack on private property (theft, robbery, depredation) followed by murder (robbery). This makes it possible, on the one hand, to determine who the “violent agents” are (in general, the working class and, within it, blacks) and, on the other hand, to legitimize police action against the poor population, the landless, the blacks, indigenous peoples, homeless people, slum dwellers, and affirm that the existence of children without a childhood stems from the “natural tendency of the poor towards criminality”;

- procedure sociological: there is talk of a “wave” or “outbreak” of violence as something that happens at a defined moment in time, the one in which the “transition to modernity” of populations migrating from the countryside to the city and from the poorest regions takes place for the richest, causing the temporary phenomenon of anomie, in which the loss of old forms of sociability has not yet been replaced by new ones, causing poor migrants to tend to practice isolated acts of violence that will disappear when the “transition” is completed ;

– procedure of inversion of the real: machismo is considered to protect natural female fragility; racism, protection against the natural inferiority of blacks, indigenous peoples and orientals; repression against lgbtq+, natural protection of sacred family values; wage inequality between men and women, between whites and blacks, indigenous people, orientals as an understanding of the natural superiority of white men in relation to other humans; the destruction of the environment is heralded as proof of progress and civilization; and so on.

Preserving the marks of colonial slavery and patrimonialist society, Brazilian society is marked by the predominance of private space over public space. It is strongly hierarchical in all its aspects: social and intersubjective relations are always carried out as a relationship between a superior, who commands, and an inferior, who obeys. Differences and asymmetries are always transformed into inequalities that reinforce the command-obedience relationship.

The other is never recognized as a subject, both in the ethical and in the political sense, he is never recognized as subjectivity or alterity, much less as a citizen. Relations between those who consider themselves equal are those of “kinship” or “compadre”, that is, of complicity; and, among those who are seen as unequal, the relationship takes the form of favor, clientele, guardianship or co-option; and, when inequality is very marked, it takes the form of oppression.

We can therefore speak of social authoritarianism as the origin and form of violence in Brazil. A situation now amplified and aggravated by neoliberal policy, which does nothing but deepen the shrinkage of the public space of rights and the expansion of the private space of market interests by diverting public funds, destined for social rights, to finance capital, in such a way that such rights are privatized when they are transformed into services sold and bought in the market, exponentially increasing the social division and inequality of social classes.

This is why the pandemic exposes, beyond all admissible limits, the wound that consumes our society, that is, the realization of the class struggle for the maximum polarization between the absolute misery of the exploited classes and the absolute opulence of the ruling class (stupidly imitated by a part of the middle class), whose power does not hide its own cynicism, which is expressed in full support for the gravedigger ruler, a militiaman anointed and consecrated by the grace of God.

*Marilena Chaui is Professor Emeritus at FFLCH at USP. She is the author, among other books, of about the violence (Authentic).

 

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