Noises in political dialogue



Insensitivity to the ongoing transformations reduces our ability to understand and value them as crucial realities that mark our time.

There are countless possibilities for an analytical approach to contemporary Brazilian society. One of them results from the exercise of memory: evoking the past, by contrast, current characteristics that routines tend to make invisible are illuminated. In our daily experience, we often naturalize innovations, the emergence of new phenomena, the transgression of consolidated expectations, the irruption of differences, including those that challenge us in all dimensions: intellectual, ethical, psychological, political, aesthetic.

Insensitivity to ongoing transformations reduces our ability to understand and value them as crucial realities that mark our time. Without the shock of surprise and the experience of perplexity there is no philosophy, no thought moves – we have known this since classical Greece.

On the other hand, the unilateral emphasis on the continuity of the historical process is suitable not only for the reproduction of relations of domination, but also for the (false perception of) mental stability, because it prevents established theories and beliefs from being threatened. What undermines confidence in traditional concepts does not exhaust its effects in the epistemological sphere, since it disturbs the regime of affections and subverts appeased self-images.

For this reason, it is often the case that intellectual debates, when they subject established categories and parameters to critical scrutiny, move the interlocutors and give rise to defensive attitudes, more typical of repression than of reflective and dialogical openness. What is often at stake, albeit implicitly and indirectly, are cosmovisions, value constellations, ways of life, social relations, group identities and modes of self-constitution of subjects.

These considerations may help explain gaps and intergenerational tensions in the field of social knowledge and political debate. Divergences do not only divide generations, which are not homogeneous either. There are transversal heterogeneities and diverse perspectives, the cuts are multiple. But it is inescapable to recognize the importance of differences between intellectual generations and their political implications - as well as their foundations. This agonistic plurality manifests itself above all in the conceptual language and composition of research agendas. Priority hierarchies in the agendas that guide intellectual production and public debates change.

Synthesizing in a caricatured and reductionist image, it would be said that the mutual criticisms between the groups would allude, on the one hand, to the “postmodern” and “anarcho-liberal” inconsequence or superficiality of young people, who would have renounced the fundamental problem of classes, adopting “identity” guidelines, disregarded as “behavioral” or related to “customs”, and, on the other hand, the melancholy defensive insensitivity of the elderly, trapped by patriarchal and racist traditions (because they are unable to perceive the privileges they benefit from, as men, heterosexuals and whites), reluctant to admit the exhaustion – or at least the insufficiency – of the categories with which they continue to think about reality, whose characteristics would have been radically transformed.

We will see, later, how serious the mistake of minimizing the relevance of guidelines mistakenly called identity or customs is, and how this mistake was responsible for the strengthening of authoritarian perspectives, including neo-fascist ones, in Brazilian society. On the other hand, we will also see how impoverishing and mistaken it would be to abdicate from classic categories to think of a society that was historically built from axes and processes apprehended by those categories, even though radical mutations have accumulated new structuring axes, profoundly altering the lived reality.

In short, we will conclude that intergenerational dialogue is essential, which here is nothing more than a metaphor that alludes to the interaction between different social agents and their cognitive, symbolic, aesthetic, affective and ethical-political models. Or maybe it goes beyond a metaphor, yes, to some extent, because intergenerational tensions exist and play a not inconsiderable role in emptying the interlocution.

Let us resume the thread of the argument. To make this preamble more objective, let us resort to a mental experiment: suppose that a group of Brazilian intellectuals, active in the field of social sciences and humanities – trained, therefore, in the main traditions of critical and progressive social thought – were transported from the middle from the 1980s to 2023. Observing the surroundings, what would surprise you in Brazil today, besides the permanence of poverty and inequalities, in the context of wild urbanization and new forms of communication? Here are some hypotheses:

(I) The presence of the black population in public universities and in several other socially valued spaces, which would reveal how significant their previous absence was and how astonishing and perverse was the normalization of that absence. This presence, the result of the struggle of anti-racist social movements and the adoption of policies aimed at affirmative action, such as quotas, would demonstrate the relevance of the agenda - racism, structural racism, institutional racism - and its collective agents. If our time-traveling characters are mostly white, they will have to deal with the new emerging issue, their “whiteness”, in a structurally racist country.

(Ii) The transformation of gender relations, making the magnitude and insidious violence of patriarchy perceptible, as well as its relative previous erasure. The transformation impacts all spheres of individual and social life, in multiple ways, demonstrating the centrality of feminist movements as new great historical actors, whose themes and flags can no longer be underestimated. If the imaginary intellectuals, abducted in the 1980s and suddenly thrown among us, are mostly men, they will have to deal with the new emerging issue, their “toxic masculinity”, in an eminently patriarchal society.

(Iii) The revolution in the world of work, making class structures more complex, as one of the devastating effects of neoliberalism, in permanent crisis. The precariousness impacted the forms of union organization of workers, redefining the dynamics that generate political awareness and fragmenting the interests at stake. What, today, could add workers? What could unify them under a common political project? The old answers remain partially valid, but they are no longer enough. How are the relations between interests and values, economy and beliefs, politics and ideology replaced in this context?

(Iv) The new profile of geopolitical tensions, in a globalized capitalist economy, which displaced issues related to nationalities and sovereignty, imploding ideological references of the cold war and undermining traditional utopian models. How are strategic national projects repositioned in a world hegemonized by financial capital and, at best, multipolar? As this whole context becomes even more complex, as a result of the new international division of labor, in which Brazil, deindustrialized, retreats to the place of provider of raw materials, exporter of commodities?

(V) The ongoing revolution in popular culture, specifically in the religious field, and its political effects, weakening the traditional Catholic supremacy and boosting the expansion of neo-Pentecostal evangelical communities, especially in popular territories.

(vi) The centrality of environmental and climate issues, imposing themselves on regional, national and subnational agendas, although refracted by specific conditions. New categories such as the Anthropocene and climate justice began to occupy a prominent position in public debates, revealing both the inadequacy of the old formulas that put nature before culture and the seriousness of the socioeconomic effects of the climate emergency. Such effects intensify inequalities, in all their manifestations: between social classes, races, genders and nations. The future horizon, if the dominant capitalist development model persists, makes hunger, migratory conflicts, pandemics, water and energy shortages, strategic humanitarian issues, revealing the incompatibility between capitalism and the salvation of life (not just human ) in Planet.

(vii) In this new context, the newly arrived intellectuals of the 1980s, who were deeply engaged in the struggle for the redemocratization of Brazil and frankly optimistic about the possibility that the liberal-democratic institutionality, to be created by the 1988 Constitution, would coexist in harmony with the social reformism, promoting a market economy that was socially domesticated and subject to redistributive logic, these characters of ours, fugitives from the political transition, thrown by the time machine into the whirlpool of present-day Brazil, would not be able to hide their perplexity: (a) before the permanence of inequalities and misery (despite undeniable changes and some advances); (b) before the return of the specters of the dictatorship (its speech, its practices including some of its characters); (c) in the face of apparently insurmountable frictions - between the new capitalist economic arrangement, neoliberalism, and liberal democracy; (d) in view of the continuity of police and incarceration practices, typical of dictatorial repression, which they considered incompatible with the democracy reconstituted by the constitutional pact; (e) in the face of the exhaustion of the national-developmentalist model, whether due to globalization and financialization, or due to the material limits of nature.

(Viii) The dissolution of what was lived and understood as the public space, the democratic ideological-political conflict, the argumentative-rational dispute, replaced by the astonishing predominance of what would seem, at first sight, “irrationalism”, but which will require new concepts and the refinement of analytical instruments. Within the scope of the collapse of the public world and the redefinition of the role attributed to the actor once called “public intellectual”, our characters from the 1980s will try to adjust their cognitive virtues to make sense of the surprising articulation between new languages ​​and original technical means, in social networks. , and to understand the functioning of the new communication protagonists, some of which rival the traditional media or even surpass it, in scope and influence.

In this new sphere, singular individualities, histrionics, idiosyncrasies, ideological-political hybridisms, “parallel realities” and violent conflagrations, alien to interventions or control by conventional methods, reign. Our time travelers will hear about fake news and it will probably be difficult for them to understand that the phenomenon does not only mean “fake news” (thus liable to mere rectification, or easily corrected by the institutionalized educational process), but constructions of alternative worlds, involving conspiratorial fantasies, values, affections, desires, old reprocessed beliefs, in addition to renewed experiences of belonging.

There are much more than eight items in the repertoire of perplexities caused by the accumulation of changes in recent decades. However, the referred topics are enough to indicate the seismic shock that would result from the sudden confrontation between progressive Brazilian intellectuals typical of the 1980s and the contemporary national (and not only) reality. When we mention intellectuals, we are referring to typical ways of thinking, feeling, acting and living life. Affections, values, beliefs, expectations, worldviews, ways of knowing and reasoning form the human spirit, immersed in bodies and relationships, inscribed in historically constituted collectivities.

Here is a model for analysis, an ideal type so that one can reflect with some critical distance, and objectivity, on a certain intellectual generation, molded above all in the temper of its formative years, those most remarkable for the construction of identities, alliances, antagonisms and trajectories.

Time travel does not exist. Therefore, intellectuals or researchers of the social are not thrown into future decades; they go through the years, accompanying the changes and seeking to adapt, personally and intellectually, with more or less flexibility, more or less creativity – including identifying trends and anticipating, when possible. However, it still makes sense to insist on the thought experiment of time travel as a means of underlining how destabilizing the ongoing process, unleashed over the last thirty-five years, can be, given the speed of transformations and the multidimensionality of their impact, which reaches from the most radically intimate and subjective (such as the discovery that sex, gender and the body are separate entities, susceptible to recombinations, according to different aesthetics of the self, as demonstrated by increasingly important libertarian movements, such as those of women and LGBTQIA+ groups ), to the broader reality, which escapes calculation and imagination, when the reference is, for example, the geological scale of the Anthropocene.

In this context, strained by metamorphoses at the micro and macro levels, the very idea of ​​adaptation seems inappropriate and insufficient. What may be required is perhaps just the awareness that the openness to revising concepts and judgments must be permanent and daring, without this implying, evidently, giving up either social and political commitments, or parameters that are current or resistant, precisely because they deal with aspects of continuity under the avalanche of changes.

The generations of intellectuals (scholars, thinkers, researchers in social areas) who began their training after the cold war and the enactment of the Brazilian democratic Constitution, who grew up under the aegis of contemporary procedural complexity, without prejudice to what they owe to the traditions of their respective disciplines and the peculiarities of their institutions, had from an early age to deal with the stimuli, provocations and demands not only of specific labor markets, of particular institutionalities, but also and perhaps above all with the imperatives and urgencies of their time and of his world, provincial and globalized: to say about himself before anything else, to become authorial (author, subject, master of his own nose, master and mistress of his ideas and his bodies) to prevent submission to alien powers, find and establish himself in his place, a place understood as a unique and non-transferable source of his voice and his desire.

The place of speech, the body, the ancestry, the horizontality against power, the rejection of the State and politics, the rejection of mediations are privileged. Collectives are idealized, a new version of social movements and substitutes prêt-à-porter of the traditional parties of the left, constituting themselves in niches of voluntarism and spontaneity, the “old generation” would say, urged, this one, to “call what is not a mirror bad taste”, as Caetano Veloso warned – the irony is accurate, although criticism of activist experiments is not always inappropriate, as we shall see.

It can be deduced from this why progressive intellectual generations formed after the conquest of democracy in Brazil – and maximum caution is needed to avoid homogenizing generalizations – would be much more in tune with questions of gender and race, as well as the extinction of the species (or of life in the world). planet), and because, for them, only from these emerging issues could the more, shall we say, conventional inquiries about society and its economic-political destinies, based on notions such as class, class consciousness, etc., make sense.

It would not be, therefore, just a question of individualism and the triumph of liberal egoic utilitarianism, but of new modalities of connection between the formation of subjectivity, the inscription in the social -the social division of labor no longer responds, in the traditional extension, to identity and belonging - and the experience with communication, with accessible repertoires and with the increasingly challenging phenomenon of recognition. If the position in the work structure, the career and its horizon of ascension are no longer enough, the reward for status achieved or coveted, the predetermined family itinerary, not even the supposedly irreducible anatomy and materiality of the body, if face-to-face communities lose precedence before the virtual constellations of profiles and avatars, one understands both the Revival of religious salvationism, as well as the defense of a psychically and symbolically armored space to breathe and exist, as well as the proliferation of initiatives that aim to mark places, that is, that aim to ontologically anchor subjects – and networks of loyalties and antagonisms – in new and archaic iconographies and metaphysical speculations.

The purpose is to exist with meaning, to survive with dignity – a dignity that is the result of respect, which is obtained through recognition, the crucial experience that transcends individuality and inserts it into society.

In other words, it is dissolving into thin air, in the XNUMXst century, after the neoliberal explosion and the implosion of the Soviet bloc, which was taken for granted and natural in post-war capitalism (saving the distinctions between metropolises and colonial peripheries): the construction of the subject's self, in society, for a place in the social division of labor and in the organization of family reproduction. That is, what, in the past, was guaranteed by the patriarchal structure, at the price of subordinating women in the domestic world -not only- and black men and women in the universe of work, now needs to be produced by other means and ways.

The disruptive character of neoliberalism helped to break shackles – contradictions move historical processes, as we know – even if its dynamics of precariousness, shattering ties and rights, point to the intensification of inequalities, the deepening of alienation and the exacerbation of exploitation rates from work. In the current convulsed context, in which economic, family and political structures, once solid (temporarily stable), are decomposing – the globalization of value chains, financialization and the acceleration of technological development participate in this fragmentation –, taking care of oneself (among , with and for others and others) became a titanic undertaking, sometimes epic, involving more than aesthetic interventions in the body and adaptations in affective and evaluative grammars.

Tattoos, neologisms, new collective rituals, community celebrations, new art languages ​​and the old aggregator device of popular festivals are not enough. It has been necessary to mark the place of oneself and for oneself in the unfolding of struggles for the appropriation of command over the process of repealing patriarchy and racism (command that belongs, for other reasons, to neoliberalism), leading this movement to its ultimate consequences, in benefit of the set of subordinate classes, even if the vocabulary neglects to refer to classes.

The defensive reaction of the agents of the dominant classes that lead the implementation of the neoliberal agenda has been the diffusion of the meritocratic ideology, propagated as capable of providing ethical criteria and teleological objectives to the millions that are lost in the storm. Meritocracy states that fortune mirrors individual virtue, destiny is always right, it is always fair, it accurately expresses the quality and effort invested by each individual, society being a chimera in the Hobbesian jungle of cities.

Against meritocratic cynicism, the new generations of progressive intellectuals and activists (I adopt the adjective for lack of a better qualification) affirm the commitment to move forward with the task initiated by capitalism in its neoliberal stage: the repeal of patriarchal and racist structures, effect unintentional of the avalanche that precipitated, breaking the previous work, reproductive and family structures.

And here we clearly see one of the most serious and problematic misunderstandings in the intergenerational intellectual and political dialogue: the defense of workers' flags typical of the previous phase of capitalism often sounds regressive to younger people, even with the risk of bringing with it the stains patriarchal and racist old-timers, for not naming them and because these flags were, in the past, articulated to the old social division of labor.

Let's think of an example that is nothing more than lateral, yet significant: what do the images of union assemblies from the 1980s represent? Let's not be reductionist, but let's not overlook the obvious: the women are not there. They were at home. The world in which there were workers and unions was also one in which women belonged to the domestic universe, subordinated to their husbands, or toiled in three shifts, as (doubly) domestic servants. Is this not worth mentioning? Is it only important the class struggle stamped in the photo?

What do the photos of the platforms at the demonstrations for redemocratization say? Where are the blacks and the blacks? Let us not even mention the indigenous question, which would make these reflections even more complex.

Let us return here to the narrative thread: the first item among the scares highlighted in our thought experiment referred to universities. Let us return to them and conclude this brief reflective exercise. In libraries and classrooms, where the intellectuals of the 1980s were trained, as well as in the central committees of leftist parties, there were few women, few authors and fewer female professors. And how many were black or black?

At the cost of some redundancy, let us reiterate: the post-war period, until the end of the cold war, seemed more susceptible to being described as the historical continuity of patterns, whether by simple reproduction, or by their reversal, under the mode of reform. or revolution. The paths of modernization varied, the paths of development of capitalism, the paths of building socialism, the social-democratic drifts. The archetypal figures of man and woman were not at stake; and the struggles against racism were struggles for equal rights, forms of anti-colonial resistance.

Technological leaps (the development of productive forces) and the expansion of critical awareness would give way to human emancipation, in the form of the abolition of labor exploitation. With few exceptions, and until the feminist movement (and its female thinkers) began to gain ground, patriarchy was seen as a theme for eccentric ethnologists and historians -or extravagant poets, such as Oswald de Andrade. Racism was predominantly seen as a kind of epiphenomenon of labor exploitation: it would be overcome by socialism.

The new generations cannot accept these diagnoses and prognoses, which have already been discarded by the facts. They cannot and should not for conceptual and existential reasons. This point is very relevant. Conceptually, because they are empirically and theoretically unsustainable diagnoses and prognoses – and many authors, such as Frantz Fanon and Simone de Bouvoir, have already affirmed this in the past, including in Brazil, going against the prevailing perspectives.

Existentially, because our time, as we saw above, having swept away model macro-political references from the geopolitical and sociological maps, demands, with excruciating brutality, from each and every one, the unique marks that record resistance to annulment.

We already know why it is essential that the generations formed before the end of the cold war recognize the indispensability of rethinking traditional categories, in the light of historical changes, and that they do not adopt intellectually and psychologically defensive postures in the face of what they may not yet fully understand, disqualifying by identity, much more complex and fruitful socio-psycho-political-cultural processes.

The question that remains, then, is very simple: why would it be important also for the new generations of activists and critical intellectuals, who work in the field of humanities, to interact with the critical perceptions of (and of) colleagues formed in a previous historical moment? The answer might be: such interaction would be valuable insofar as it would help to understand the limits resulting from the loss of contact with the conceptual and political language of social classes, a language forged in the analytical description of the processes of historical gestation of capitalism and its variants .

The absence of references to historical processes, class structures and the relationship between economics and politics tends to make the role of the State and institutional mediations invisible. Ignoring political regimes, legal-political institutionalities, bureaucratic agencies and political-institutional entities, variations in force correlations and the societal dynamics associated with public policies, prevents, for example, conjunctural diagnoses and prognoses, without which political practices become disoriented, even because tactics and strategies become indistinguishable.

In this context, doctrinal principles, voluntarist sectarianism, and inconsequential spontaneity begin to prevail. Without examining the mediations, which requires adequate conceptual elaboration, the multiple layers in which the complex skein that we call reality is assembled ends up being neutralized, which gives rise to a unilateral, unilinear and unidimensional vision, which submits the clash of movements, tensions , tendencies and conflicts to the uniformity of a continuum. This extreme reductionism ultimately leads to the conclusion that is both Jacobin and immobilist: either everything changes, or nothing changes. In the dispute between everything and nothing, with very few exceptions, impotence and conservation of the status quo.

Here are some reasons why intellectuals and activists from different backgrounds should be willing to dialogue, on a frank and systematic basis, including and especially those who were formed in different historical moments. Perhaps it is an exaggeration to say that this interlocution can benefit the common achievement of multidimensional, individual and collective emancipation. But it will not be to recognize, for each and every one of us, participants in the dialogue, its intellectual and existential benefits.

* Luiz Eduardo Soares is a political scientist, anthropologist, professor at UERJ and former national secretary of Public Security. Author, among other books, of Demilitarize – Public security and human rights (Boitempo).

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