A revolutionary epicureanism?

Image: Fidan Nazim qizi


Sensory gardens in suburban public schools

The popularization of science

The debate around what is science and what is pseudoscience has produced some side effects on the reflection on the strategic importance of actions to popularize science, especially the need to strengthen the relationship between schools and public universities. First of all, it is necessary to clarify that the popularization of science is not limited to the image of a digital influencers with a shortage of CVs on the Lattes platform.

On the other hand, it is necessary to recognize that Freud has to go to school, as it is impressive how now in school curricula private organizations (which have always been pressuring the Ministry of Education for public funds) worship the so-called life project. This cult is contested by reports from educators who show how the life project is an imposition of meritocratic projects.

It is very common in these projects to propagate the belief that dreams are equal, in the sense that a young black woman can perfectly dream of being a famous journalist like Maju Coutinho, but without going into depth in discussing the validity of racist projects in the country. or as psychoanalyst Isildinha Baptista Nogueira says, of black people as a character who sublimates their own tragedies, without pointing out that “being black means being excluded from your own humanity”[I] in a white society. A simple analysis of Brazilian childhood dreaming (in the best psychoanalytic sense) will show a constellation of dreams whose content is the death drive.

Let's take as an example the case of 23 students from a public high school, on the outskirts of Belém, who participated in a workshop on the science popularization project.[ii] Flavor is knowledge and, through research into youth dreaming, they reveal a predominance of unpleasant dreams, as shown in the graph below:

In oneirism as a negative experience, students highlight the presence of death as a predominant theme (39%), followed by fear of kidnapping (22%), family losses (parents, brothers/sisters) with 3%. We also have the issue of violence and sexual abuse (9%) and school failure (9%). The fear of drowning with 4% (if not taken literally) indicates the fear of loss or suffocation of their freedom of expression. Research shows that oneirism filters the context of violence in which students live. In other words, this means that we need psychoanalysis in public schools to listen and talk to students.

In another approach, this seems to be the case also with Epicureanism. Our attention is drawn to the fact that spiritual charlatanism has been rekindling a servile epicureanism of the pharmacological industry, such as: live a cheap life, medicine and happiness, as if epicureanism were synonymous with resignation to capitalism.

But the question comes into question: what does this have to do with the popularization of science and philosophy? The point is that these appropriations are always dangerous. In the movie the conformist (1970), Italian director Bernardo Bertolucci clearly showed that a fascist is a pathological model of Platonism because he always creates superior and parallel worlds.

A revolutionary epicureanism?

It has been common in global public events in defense of climate justice to display posters in which activists display the following message: “Ecology without class struggle is just gardening”. In general, the cultivation of gardens has always been associated with the bourgeois lifestyle, because, while workers lived in unhealthy neighborhoods, on streets without sanitation, the industrial bourgeoisie, in turn, displayed their gardens as allegories of social snobbery and with gardeners who belonged to the popular classes. In fact, one of the most scandalous scenes in the history of cinema is the final act of the film. Theorem by Italian filmmaker Pier Paolo Pasolini, in which the bourgeois walks completely naked across a desert, removed and dispossessed from his garden of pleasures.

It is never too much to remember that it was the manifesto[iii] of a far-right thinker who appropriated Epicureanism and enchanted many young people who were skeptical about politics. The ideologue certainly falsified many things about the Epicurean theory with his persecutory mania, but the fact is that he saw himself as an Epicurean leader who proposed a garden against Brazilian cultural institutions and attacked his opponents as those who lived in the gardens of lies. morals. The result of this extremist political appropriation of Epicureanism could only end in the authoritarian experience of the governmental “playpen”.

In this context, can sensory gardens recapture the revolutionary content of epicurean practices in our society? It is necessary to remember that in the Amazon, gardens have always had a symbolic function of resistance. Many of these gardens were connected to the medicine of faith healers and the self-esteem of popular families, whose gardening practices challenged the elitist ideology that spread across the North region, namely: that the poor are always friends with dirt.

It was Epicurus himself (341-270 BC) who, in a letter addressed to his young friend Meneceus, summarized the value of his doctrine. Epicureanism is above all a philosophy of “health of the soul” which says: “Let neither the young be slow to philosophize, nor the old be weary of philosophizing”.[iv] In this simple sentence, the advice given by the philosopher is that we need to get rid of two very common illusions in our lives. The first is that we have all the time in the world (when you are young) and the second is that time is over, that you should no longer dedicate energy and effort to noble projects (old age). What interests us in Epicurus' theory is precisely the revolutionary content of his philosophy in combating the atrophy of the spirit, the premature aging of youth.

Epicurus' garden

Epicurus did not escape the fame of an individualist philosopher in his time. Hence its immediate association in modernity with alienating bourgeois pleasures. But Marx himself was a philosopher who rehabilitated the Epicurean theory of justice and the importance of his ethics of freedom against the superstitions of the world. Marcuse also did not fail to value aspects of Epicureanism as an anti-hedonistic philosophy of bourgeois pleasures. In fact, what bourgeois society does is just “repress” other social pleasures to the detriment of its wild, exploitative and individualistic hedonism. We cannot forget that Epicureanism is a philosophy of cooperation. [v]

Epicurus' garden was a technology of life. It was the space for exercising the autonomy of the individual (like an atom), but the individual, like an atom, is always something universal. In this aspect, the Epicurean gardens were places of non-hierarchical reception for “women and men from subaltern classes” and even foreigners.[vi]

Epicurus saw politics as a space for disturbances. In this context lies the criticism of Marx and Marcuse. It was, however, for modern materialism to see politics also as a space of emancipation, but in any case, the Epicurean garden was not a cloister or hiding place but, rather, a “new form of community”, in which it was “it is possible to live freely, among friends, without despots (adéspoton). "[vii]

Of course, Epicurus' world – it is always good to remember – was no longer the democratic Athens of the Socratic-Platonic experience, Greek man himself felt disoriented. Greek nationalism had already collapsed for a long time. Epicurus himself did not fail to retain the image of the failure of the political philosopher: precisely when Plato tries to convince a tyrant of Syracuse about justice and virtue. Of course, Cicero (another model of political philosopher) was a critic of Epicureanism in this sense of social isolation, treating it as a philosophy of childhood, chained in the fantasies of his garden.

The Epicurean schools

Epicureanism was not a political philosophy of social segregation. Epicurus's gardens were conquests of small spaces, conquests of the self and their philosophical background was that of a garden as a space of nonconformity against the oppressive politics of the time. It is true that Socrates walked and debated in public squares, but his schools were highly specialized, “it was necessary to already master the conceptual tools of philosophy”.[viii] And this does not disqualify Epicurus who, in turn, chose “a garden on the outskirts of the city”.[ix]

In the case of sensory gardens for children and young people from the periphery, the aim is to create social awareness and environmental sensitivity in their lives. Sensory gardens as activities aimed at public school children aim to contribute to sustainable education. They help develop scientific practices through chemical characterization of plants and seeds; awaken children's scientific protagonism for Amazonian biodiversity; awakens sensitivity, kindness and affection through caring for vegetables (as respect for the plurality of life) and encourages children to spread environmental practices with their own families.

Figure 1 – Public school children participating in activities in the sensory garden.

Source: Flavor is Knowledge Project (SEDUC-Pará. CNPQ Support/Ministry of Science, Technology and Innovations).

It is curious that when developing this type of project we go straight to one of the very serious problems in basic education: it is how in public schools themselves the middle class myth is reproduced – including among teachers – of rude students, who will break vases and tear off the leaves and flowers. At the end of the activity, the children, including the most “naughty” ones, ask for permission to take the pots with the plants and ask how often they should be watered. It is gratifying to see children – accustomed to aporophobia from an early age – carrying their plants as if they were a symbol of friendship, as a respite from the daily rudeness and absence of parental love.

Palliative project? The point is that if we do not educate children from an early age to have a plurality of sensations and respect the diversity of colors, sizes, smells and beings, we will leave an open field for fascism, and fascism loves to enchant children. A characteristic of Brazilian fascism is to associate sensitivity and kindness with effeminate culture.

The very Bolsonarist expression that said: “the forest doesn't burn” is a typical content of fascist sadism that translates nature as a permanent laboratory for experiments of torture and destruction. In this context, Epicurus' lesson is still valid in the sense that we are not “self-sufficient” and, therefore, the individual needs “other individuals to create a community: a community of friends”.[X]

*Flávio Valentim de Oliveira He has a doctorate in education from UFPA. Book author Animality and critical thinking (Paco). [https://amzn.to/3RCJdEI]

*Rachel Margalho Barreira Valentim She has a PhD in Amazon Natural Resources Engineering (UFPA). Author of the book Eutérpia in the kingdom of açaizais (Dialectic). [https://amzn.to/3EYgCCc]


[I] NOGUEIRA, Isildinha Baptista. “From the other’s eyes. To the sublimation of becoming black” in: Psychoanalysis at the crossroads. Challenges and paradoxes facing racism in Brazil. DAVID, Emiliano de Camargo; ASSUAR, Gisele (eds.) São Paulo/Porto Alegre: Hucitec, 2021, p. 47.

[ii] This is the Flavor is knowledge project. Science Fairs Support CNPQ and Ministry of Science, Technology and Innovations. Process: 423817/2021-3.

[iii] This is Olavo de Carvalho's manifesto. The garden of afflictions. From Epicurus to the resurrection of Caesar: essay on materialism and civil religion. Rio de Janeiro: Atelier 19,1998, XNUMX.

[iv] Epicurus, “Letter to Meneceus” in NICOLA, Ubaldo. Illustrated anthology of philosophy. From the origins to the modern age. São Paulo: Globo, 2005, p.107.

[v] FUSARO, Diego. The pharmacy of Epicurus. Philosophy comes from animal therapy. Lombardy: Il dish/Icentotalleri. 2006. See especially chapter 9: “An individualist philosophy? The friendship, the politics, the theory of her giustizia.”

[vi] FUSARO, Diego, op.cit.

[vii] MORAES, João Quartim de. Epicurus: the lights of ethics. São Paulo: Moderna, p. 62

[viii] FUSARO, Diego, Op.cit.

[ix] Idem.

[X] FUSARO, Diego, op.cit.

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