The perverse dimension of Brazilian “cordiality”

On October 31st, 2014, I published in the JB, Jornal do Brasil on line, an article on the Brazilian interpretation of “being a cordial human;” I publish it again, amended, for its burning actuality. The last two years we have experienced a wave of hatred and discrimination unprecedented in our history. Particularly during the presidential election campaign. There have been libel, defamation, millions of fake news and all sorts of coarse words. Hence the perverse side of the “cordial” Brazilian people showed.

To say that the Brazilian is a “cordial man” comes from writer Ribeiro Couto and the term was generalized by Sérgio Buarque from Holland in his famous book: Roots of Brazil, 1936, to which the entire chapter V is devoted. But—in contrast with Cassiano Ricardo, who understood “cordiality” as kindness and kindly treatment—he clarifies that “our ordinary form of social coexistence is basically just the opposite of a kind treatment” (p. 107, the 21th edition, 1989) .

Sergio Buarque takes cordiality in the strictly etymological sense: it comes from the heart. Brazilian is oriented more by the heart than by reason. Love and hate can come from the heart. The author well says: “enmity may well be as kind as friendship, given that both come from the heart” (p. 107). I would say that the Brazilian is more sentimental than cordial, which I think is most appropriate.

I write all this to try to understand the “cordial” feelings that have erupted in the presidential election campaign of 2018. On the one hand, there have been statements of enthusiasm up to fanaticism, and, on the other hand, of fascism and deep hatreds and cocky expressions. What Buarque of Holland wrote was verified: the lack of a kind treatment in our social life.

Anyone who has followed social media, must have noticed the very low levels of education, lack of mutual respect, and even the lack of democratic sense as living with the differences. This lack of respect also affected parties’ programs on television.

To better understand this our “cordiality” we must refer to two legacies hanging over our citizenship: colonization and slavery. Colonization produced in us the feeling of submission, having to assume the political forms, language, religion and habits of the Portuguese colonizers. As a result, the Casa Grande and Senzala were created. As was clearly showed by Gilberto Freyre, it is not about external social institutions. They were internalized as a perverse dualism: on the one side, the Lord, who owns everything, and, on the other side, the servant, or server, that has little and must submit. Social hierarchy was also generated, that is revealed by the division between rich and poor. This structure, which still survives in the head of major oligarchs and has become a true code for the interpretation of reality, clearly appears in the way people are treated in social media.

Another perverse tradition was slavery, well described by Jesse Souza in his book: The elite of backwardness: from slavery to Lava-Jato (2018). It is worth remembering that there was a time, between 1817-1818, in which more than half of Brazil was composed by slaves (50.6%) …! Today, about 60% have in their blood something from African-descent slaves. They are discriminated against and pushed to the peripheries, humiliated to the point of losing their self-esteem.

Slavery was internalized in the form of discrimination and prejudice against the black who should always serve, because as before he did everything for free that should continue. Because that is the way in which, in many cases, employees and domestic workers or laborers on the estates are treated. An upper-class madame once said: “the poor already receive the bag-family, and on top of that they believe they have rights.” This is the mentality of the Big House.

The consequences of these two traditions are present in the Brazilian collective unconscious in terms, not so much of class conflict (which also occurs), but mainly of conflict of social status. It is said that the black is lazy, when we know that it was he who built almost everything in our historic towns. That the Northeastern is ignorant, when it is a highly creative, awaken, and working people. From Northeast come great writers, poets, actors and actresses. But prejudices punish them to inferiority.

All these contradictions of our “cordiality” appeared in the twitters, Facebooks and other social media. We are too contradictory beings.

I still add a philosophical anthropological argument for understanding the emergence of love and hate in this electoral campaign. It is the frontal ambiguity of human condition. Each one has his/her dimensions of light and shadow, symbolic (that links) and diabolic (that splits). Modern say we are simultaneously sapient and demented (Morin), i.e., people of rationality and goodness, and, at the same time, of irrationality and evil.

This situation is not a defect of creation, but a characteristic of human condition. Everyone has to learn to balance these two forces, and prioritize the dimensions of light over those of shadow, and of sapient over those of demented.

We must neither laugh nor mourn, but try to understand, as Spinoza said. But understanding is not enough. It urges us to practice civilized forms of a “cordiality” in which can predominate the willingness to cooperate for the common good, minorities are respected, and different political options are embraced. Brazil needs to unite, so that together we address the serious internal problems in a project undertaken by everybody. Only then will the Brazil who was called “Land of Good Hope” (Ignacy Sachs) be gestated.

The elected president will not be the person of national reconciliation, because he, for his style, is a factor of division and creator of a social atmosphere of violence and discrimination.

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