Hélio Jaguaribe 1923-2018

From a generational and biological point of view, he could have been my father. From an intellectual point of view, he was. Helio Jaguaribe was a great Latin American patriot, a thinker as those who no longer exist, from the metaphysical speculation, passing through geopolitics, up to the thorough description of social and political processes. A whole generation of social scientists was inspired by his work. In the pages of his profuse production, Helio is still alive and current.

I was already reading him in my youth when I met him In United States (he was a visiting lecturer at Harvard) in the now distant 1967, in the context of a symposium on Latin America at Brandeis University. With limited resources but a big heart, three sociology apprentices—Margherita Ciacci, Charles Nathanson, and myself—gathered a luminous group of Latin American scientists and writers in the loneliness of Waltham, Massachusetts. Helio Jaguaribe’s intervention was the most brilliant of all. He shone like his name. He shone like a sun.

Years passed. For decades, I had the privilege of knowing Helio and his whole family. From all of them, and from their pater familiae, I got a lot of inspiration, especially the hope for a better future for Latin America. He was a Brazilian lover of Argentina. He always thought that his country and ours could collaborate in a more fruitful way. In fateful times, when we sometimes doubted our future, Jaguaribe used to tell us “Our countries are condemned to succeed.”

He was a man from the Renaissance, reinforced by the Enlightenment. Great connoisseur of the ancient world, particularly the Graeco-Roman world, he was always up-to-date in the diagnosis of contemporary reality, which he enlightened, as few could, in his books, essays, and conferences. He was a great taster of philosophy, music, and wines, from which he always found inspiration.

In homage to his exemplary life, Opinion Sur offers today some paragraphs from his original worldview.

 “Despite the extraordinary progress reached by human knowledge until today, it is interesting to observe the fact that contemporary thought has so little to add to the Greek meditation in this regard. Ultimately, regarding man’s sense and destiny, what we might think has already being formulated by Democritus and Epicurus. Man possesses rational freedom that can be used in his/her short existence on earth. This condition comprises the totality of what is given to man. No supra-terrestrial entity exists to punish man for his/her bad deeds or reward him for his/her goods. No extraterrestrial entity, on the other side, judges human acts and considers them good or bad. Man, as Protagoras said, is the measure of all things.

In such conditions, what is left to man? Indeed, the only thing left to the human being is what the human being gives him/herself. In this condition, it behooves a human being to choose between a life regime where what is personally favorable combines with what is favorable for the rest of human beings, or instead  a behavioral line orientated towards the individual optimization of his/her interests, independently of what happens with those of other beings. It is anthropologically admissible to opt for an efficient form of banditry, that leads to the appropriation through violence or fraud of everything that an individual might want, if it prevents punishment and optimizes conditions for his or her own survival.

However, the problem that remains open is none other than the relevance of life. In his condition of transcendent animal, a human being needs relevance, independently of the fact that, in the last analysis, everything is irrelevant. The world has no sense and will terminate in a Big Crunch, as the cyclical hypothesis goes, or in an infinite dispersion of matter and energy, in a space reduced to the absolute cero. In this finite world, humanity is equally finite, albeit in a much shorter term. And each human individual is finite at an even shorter term. Therefore, nothing in the last analysis is relevant.

However, what is irrelevant in the short-term is the ultimate irrelevance of the world. As long as humanity exists and as long as individual people exist, the problem that is presented is about their respective relevance in this short term. The strange transcendent condition of the human being operates in a way that the meaning of life, for each individual, is derived from the measure in which s/he bestows relevance on this his/her life.

The relevance of life presents an extremely wide spectrum, that depends, for each person, on his/her culture, ability, modality of social insertion and, in the organic base, on his/her vitality. Within the extensive range of possibilities that opens up, according to each human being’s ability and circumstances in which s/he is, a constant can be verified: life’s sense for each human being, in function of the aforementioned elements, will depend on how much s/he transcends the purely psychophysical level.

The fundamental distinction between human beinsg and higher animals comes from the fact that, strictly considered, only a human being is a transcendent animal. For animals, the sense of their respective lives depends on how much they manage to respond satisfactorily to their physiological needs, and if the species is gregarious, on the satisfactory insertion in their pack. In the case of human beings, to the requirements of animal happiness and satisfactory social insertion we need to add the satisfactory attention to their transcendence, according to the levels and characteristics of each person. A worker of cultural and technically low qualification will find satisfaction as long as s/he carries out his/her functions correctly, independently of a better pay. On the opposite end, s/he can find satisfaction as his/her social rebellion finds some modality of expression, in non-disadvantageous terms. Transcendence is exercised in both the good deeds and in the rebellion.

For human beings of a higher cultural level, transcendence is exercised in function of his/her performance, not just in terms of the achieved success that, on a superior psychosocial level, corresponds to a physiological satisfaction, but also, specifically in terms of the social, cultural or ethical objective validity of the object of his/her action.

In a world that presents very pessimistic perspectives, as mentioned before, alternatively an optimistic perspective prevails when it is considered that human transcendence tends to impel a human being to try to make his/her personal interests compatible with those of other human beings in order to give a sense of relevance to their own life. Thus, in the present conditions of the world, the relevance of life for human beings with public duties, consists in contributing to the formation of a more rational and equitable international as well as domestic systems. The possibilities for a better world neither depend on just one case nor on human altruism, considered as virtue, but rather on the impulse by superior beings, gifted with the ability of intervention, giving relevance to their lives while contributing to the construction of a better world. Ultimately, it is about what could be called “transcendent selfishness.” The world can end up being tolerable for all human beings and excellent for many. For that, it depends on the enlightened modalities of such selfishness.”


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