Long live the dead

Sculpture José Resende / Parque da Luz, São Paulo / photo: Christiana Carvalho


Notes on masks on the chin, beatings on the outskirts, raves in Leblon, parties on yachts and the bouncy Brazilian rush towards collective suicide.

On January 4, 2021, the internationally respected scientist Miguel Nicolelis, coordinator of the Consorcio Nordeste's committee to combat the cornoavirus, summarized the agonizing situation we are experiencing: “the Brazilian equation is as follows: either the country enters a lockdown immediately, or we won't be able to bury our dead in 2021”.

We will not notice, probably and unfortunately. While doctors, health professionals and the mainstream media alert, explain, repeat to exhaustion, insist, implore and even plead with the population to take basic precautions so as not to become infected with SARS-Cov-2 (and its new variants), the Brazilian denialism grows even more vertiginously than new cases of Covid and lethality (deaths increased by 64% in December alone, toasting Brazil as runner-up in this macabre ranking).

Everyone knows, but no one wants to know.

Most Brazilians have become two of the three Chinese monkeys: they don't see and they don't hear. But they talk, and how stupid they are – the vaccine will implant a control chip (but google already did that!) or turn us into communists (a historic miracle of resurrection from the dead).

Everyone knows, but the chip for WhatsApp, twitter and the like, already installed, sends deaf ears on.

Collective delusion? Some attempts to elucidate this paradox – I know I don't want to know – resort to psychology: tiredness, anxiety, depression. Others invoke the bizarre and atrocious example that comes from above (drinking a broth in the sea, without turning or catching an alligator) and which, given the stable popularity of the Myth, lends a hand to serenely spread the plague.

The data is there for everyone to read. But why doesn't anyone, even reading, want to see? The fabulous thing about this widespread denialism, which intoxicates all classes, genders and races, is that it is not the privilege of flat-Earther Bolsonarists. It became a unanimous, nonpartisan denialism. If before the outbreak of the virus in December we still saw a good portion of the population wearing a mask over their nose and mouth, today that unwary person who belongs to a risk group and quickly leaves for the pharmacy with a mask and face shield is the target of ridicule, when not cursed with the growl "you're crazy, uncle". The initial denialism, of the flu, gave way to choleric denialism, irritated with those who dare to maintain social isolation, not to mention the 2 meters of distance, WHO recommendation.

Yes, it would be an insult to point the finger at the Brazilian worker, forced to crowd buses, subways, and queues for a job vacancy because they do not strictly comply with health recommendations. But work (for those lucky enough to keep it) that requires leaving the house is not a choice, like going to bars or shopping, but it is a constraint, and an inescapable constraint for anyone who needs to put beans on the table. Another thing is Rua 25 de Março full of unmasked people for Christmas souvenirs, the same in the refrigerated malls, the same on the beaches piled up with thongs and swim trunks (unmasked) a few centimeters from each other.

Yes, city halls disobey government interdiction orders, governments do not control their police, there are no fines or punishments for organizers and/or participants of death parties. France recently deployed 100 police and a curfew to persuade its citizens to stay indoors. Catalonia fined the anti-civil disobedient. In Chile, 1.400 people were detained for failing to comply with pandemic containment rules. Chancellor Angela Merkel almost lost her composure when she got emotional in her last speech… imploring social isolation.

In Brazil, there is a way. In São Paulo, there was a fabulous case in a concert hall, in which 1.500 people jumped together, glued together, to the sound of funk music. A neighbor reported it. Hours later, two police officers arrive. The manager comes out (without a mask), takes a lero and stays with them. The episode went viral, and someone felt it their duty to call a police battalion, which parked nearby. The reporter asked: what now? The commander of the operation: “We have to wait for the health surveillance”. Another few hours later, two slender young women from surveillance (masked!), who barely have the courage to enter the guest room, arrive. They enter escorted, talk to the unmasked manager. The smartest regulars leave the place. After an eternity, the diabolic feast ends. Was there a fine? How much? It was paid? Did it happen again the next day? In Leblon, there were two successive and well-attended covid-parties, on the beach, on the 30th and 31st.

Everyone knows, but no one wants to know. Can sociology help us, even tentatively? It can, and in the person of the founder of this discipline, Émile Durkheim, execrated as a positivist, thrown into the dustbin of history by the progressives of the rebellious years, and, like all classics, recently rescued.

In the pioneering work “The Suicide” (1897) Durkheim treats the phenomenon as a social fact, not an existential or individual impetus, and seeks to delineate which social and collective predispositions are at play in its occurrence. Briefly, there would be three types of suicide, dealt with in highlighted chapters of the book: the selfish, the altruistic and the anomic.

Selfish suicide is triggered when the individual(s) lose any sense of belonging to society (they stop identifying and introjecting family, groups, religions), and, by killing themselves, they trace a coherent epilogue. Perhaps some examples are the suicide of the rank and file of terrorist groups like Al Qaeda (while the bosses spared themselves), or the contemporary suicidal youth games, or the virulent exhibitionism of many recent attacks, of lone wolves, as they are called, whose greater purpose is the reality show of death itself.

Altruistic suicide does not always live up to the nobility of the term. It is committed in the name of a cause, with a capital C. The classic example is the Japanese kamikazes of World War II. Its contemporary version would be the self-immolation of members of combatant groups, who blow themselves up in enemy territory for the simple reason that they don't have any weapon other than their own bodies. There is a Palestinian film from 2005, Paradise now, which masterfully illustrates (and nuances) this concept of altruistic suicide. Not forgetting the suicide of bonzos, Buddhist monks who set themselves on fire in a public square in protest against the Vietnam War.

Finally, Durkheim refers to “anomic suicide”, typical of periods in which all social and moral compasses have been lost, institutions are in the process of disintegration, customary rules and norms are crumbling, the law no longer governs anything. Unemployment booms and confidence in political systems plummets.

The concept of anomie is fundamental to understanding this phenomenon. If in simple societies, according to Durkheim, solidarity was the result of the attachment of each one to the group, and each one to the tasks necessary for the functionality of the collectivity, with the advent of capitalism, the social division of labor and specialization and segmentation, the 'collective conscience' weakens and solidarity based on moral consensus and appreciation for the group disappears, a lack of coexistence, ties, customary ties appears. Already in his time, Durkheim considered that anomic suicide was the most frequent and present. Durkheim's drug to reactivate cohesion and minimize anomie is likely to dislike Greeks and Trojans alike. But worth reading.

The Brazilian case is the quintessence of Durkheimian anomic suicide. In a country misgoverned at all levels, degrees and latitudes, where there is no healthy division of powers or a de facto and de jure democracy, a country of appalling inequality, of canonical criminality, where the spirit and letter of the law are volatilized, anomie is the norm.

The controversial expression 'new normal', here, is at ease. It is not out of place and reflects in splendor the absolute absence of references and a daily replenished chaos that poisons everything and everyone. There is nowhere to take shelter (except in ignorance). No one is surprised. It is not strange because suicidal anomic denialism is the pejorative and obscene version of that cordiality that Sergio Buarque spoke about: the sympathetic disregard for the norm, with health recommendations, with the guy who is by the side and is not even a “dear one” (somewhat ghostly expression, as it divides humanity between loved ones and other loved ones). The contempt for the law, norms and rules, which is not a Brazilian privilege, but here reaches its peak, is very much our way, the Brazilian way of collective suicide, without sound or fury.

*Marilia Pacheco Fiorillo is a retired professor at the USP School of Communications and Arts (ECA-USP).


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