‘Many forms of Government have been tried, and will be tried in this world of sin and woe. No one pretends that democracy is perfect or all-wise. Indeed it has been said that democracy is the worst form of Government except for all those other forms that have been tried from time to time.’ — Winston S Churchill, 11 November 1947
There are predators and preys in the wild. People, however, express horror when we apply this idea to humans, but, unfortunately, some humans behave as such. The difference is that in the irrational animal world there is nothing that can be done about the predator-prey relationship: that’s the natural order of things, the cycle of wildlife. The lion hunts the antelope and there is not much more left for the antelope to do than running fast. No reasoning or argumentation with the lion will do. The vulnerable ones will be the victims; the ones who run faster save themselves. End of story. If all antelopes escape, there will be a hungry predator waiting for a next prey.
In the human realm, however, many of the predators are not clearly visible or their modus operandi is not fully understood, or a combination of the two. Predators can be found everywhere: running for public offices, in the streets, at the Congress, working as movie & TV producers or as executives, you name it. We can take some precautions, be aware, and try to avoid some of them, but we are not always successful. Since they are predators, thus primitive and visceral, they get to their preys by touching their raw emotions, their fears and perception of danger. Human predators also tend to show dangers away from themselves, toward the preys’ perceived enemies, real or not. The preys tend to trust them blindly and, many times, are ignorant enough to promote or elect these predators into office. Then, at their first chance, the predators destroy the very habitat that allowed the preys to exist. Too late. Yet many of these preys still can’t see the danger in front of their eyes.
We are seeing this dynamic unfold in the United States, where a predator was elected in November 2016 and the effects of his predatory behavior can be felt across the subjects and issues touched by his administration in a clear effort to dismantle the democratic institutions, the foundation of what America is and was built upon. Human predators are far more damaging than the wild ones: they destroy the prey and its whole habitat as well.
Currently, the predator seeking office is Brazilian: Jair Bolsonaro, retired Army captain, who in 27 years at the Brazilian House of Representative, authored 126 Bills but approved only three. He is a far-right primitive and visceral creature. He is running for president in a nation that seems to have lost track of its own history and values, is in a deep recession, is entangled in a severe political crisis, and has a scary problem of violence and public safety. It is very sad to acknowledge he has a good chance of winning this race and that may be the end of democracy in Brazil. Brazil is the very vulnerable prey.
His followers consider him a myth and a savior for Brazil’s current economic and public safety disasters. Bolsonaro preaches to his followers’ outdated ideas and he has a dictatorial means of solving problems, even if he cannot elaborate on any of them, given his profound ignorance of systems and social issues. During the candidates’ debates or interviews, he barely answers questions or simply refers them to someone else, as he does the economic questions to his future economy secretary, Paulo Guedes, for example. He despises diversity, equality, and many more progressive and widely accepted values. As perfectly stated by the Carta Campinas’ article, “he is a world vision. His method of reading life is the simplification. He turns the complex falsely simple (…) he is the shameless ignorance” and yet, people believe his statements as uncontested truth. Like a lower level Trump.
Bolsonaro has issued several and repeated misogynistic and prejudicial opinions, as when he said he and his wife had four boys but by the fifth, he “weakened” and then came a girl (all videos linked here are in Portuguese). Also, when he said that women should make less than men because they get pregnant. He also encourages prejudice against minorities: about the LGBTQ community, he said that “nobody likes gays, we tolerate them”.
Bolsonaro has a tone and a discourse of violence. He has publicly praised the only dictatorship’s torturer recognized as such by the Brazilian tribunals, coronel Brilhante Ustra, already in hell, during the voting session that decided the ousting of the democratically elected president Dilma Rousseff. This process was a disguised coup-de-état, which elevated her vice president Michel Temer to the presidency, who, in turn, further drove the country into economic crisis and passed ill-conceived laws that further impeded the development. Some of the laws include government expenditure ceiling for the next 20 years for education, health, and safety. Bolsonaro supported them all, despite his irrelevancy in Congress.
Brazil is experiencing the same rise of populism and authoritarian ideas as the rest of the world. The tribalism and the speed in which any type of news, real or fake, is spread in the social media has led us to this position. Jeffrey Goldberg states this well at The Atlantic: “Twitter, Facebook, and other platforms have accelerated public discourse to warp speed, creating virtual versions of the mob. Inflammatory posts based on passion travel farther and faster than arguments based on reason,” Jeffrey Rosen, the legal scholar and an Atlantic contributing editor, writes. Constitutional scholars such as Rosen argue that the rapid diffusion of all manner of information — the false and the decontextualized, especially — can just as easily expedite the formation of mobs”. Algorithm-sorted timelines increase the sense of isolation and tribalism because they show lots of the same, all the time, severely limiting the access to different perspectives and points-of-view, failing to show the “other” or depicting it under the light of prejudice and preconceived ideas. The “social” in social media is lost since friends and family disappear in the avalanche of similar posts identified by the algorithm. It leads to a sense of “what is different from me is undesirable and, many times, considered dangerous or threatening”. Mobs are created easily and if you are against their ideas, there is no tolerance or space for conversation and reasoning: you are the enemy and, therefore, must be silenced or eliminated. It is a time when thinking by yourself may be perceived as dangerous, as crazy as it may seem. Facebook (and social media in general) must run the algorithm for their advertising only, not to regulate what people see in their timelines. Let them see everything, have contact with other, the unknown, the unthought. Why? Because niche market, niche audiences, later exacerbated by algorithm-controlled timelines, is the reason why intolerance increase in the world to these alarming levels we see currently. This type of environment is a fertile soil for characters like Trump and Bolsonaro to grow and to impose their own agendas.
When mass media invaded human life, around mid-20th century, people reunited in front of a TV set or radio with programming that covered everything: from left to right ideas, from rock & roll to foxtrot, from tear-jerking soap operas to news to the man on the moon to civil rights activism. When taking a road trip through the newly inaugurated freeways in America, children had to listen to everything and anything that played on the radio, like it or not. It created a generation of creatives who understood references outside their tribes and niches, who learned many different things and developed tolerance and resiliency. These people were resilient, resourceful (for example, if you hated R&B and it came to a one-hour R&B show on the radio while you were on the road, you had to figure out how to entertain yourself), even if just socially. People didn’t offend or was offended so fast, for so little. There was space for reasoning most of the time and conversation could solve many issues and prevent problems. In the past, both here and in Brazil, we saw intolerance being strong and intense in certain areas in which there was a limited source of news and information and not everyone had access to it. In these locations, populists and demagogues grew untamed, seeding their twisted ideas where people were fearful, vulnerable and/or had limited or faulty education, but their damage was easier to fix. Similar to what we have today but in a smaller, localized scale.
George Lakoff states clearly: “The answer came from a realization that we tend to understand the nation metaphorically in family terms: We have founding fathers. We send our sons and daughters to war. We have homeland security. The conservative and progressive worldviews dividing our country can most readily be understood in terms of moral worldviews that are encapsulated in two very different common forms of family life: The Nurturant Parent family (progressive) and the Strict Father family (conservative). (…) In the strict father family, father knows best. He knows right from wrong and has the ultimate authority to make sure his children and his spouse do what he says, which is taken to be what is right. (…) Through physical discipline they are supposed to become disciplined, internally strong, and able to prosper in the external world. What if they don’t prosper? That means they are not disciplined, and therefore cannot be moral, and so deserve their poverty. (…) This reasoning shows up in conservative politics in which the poor are seen as lazy and undeserving, and the rich as deserving their wealth. Responsibility is thus taken to be personal responsibility not social responsibility. What you become is only up to you; society has nothing to do with it. You are responsible for yourself, not for others — who are responsible for themselves”. The opposite view is the Nurturant-Family Model, progressive: “The nurturant-family model is the progressive view: in it, the ideals are empathy, interdependence, cooperation, communication, authority that is legitimate and proves its legitimacy with its openness to interrogation.”. Worse yet in the case of Brazilian conservatives, it looks like their worldview has been constructed around the military strict father. Many of the conservatives voting in this election grew up during the military dictatorship and the problems associated to it and raised their children during the chaotic years of democratic reconstruction that followed the dictatorship, including all misdeeds and the ten-fold increase in the urban violence. But what is not said is that the drug traffickers took hold of the poverty-ridden favelas almost entirely unbothered during the military dictatorship while the police were directed to find and silence the ordinary citizens who were against the regime. When the dictatorship was over, the criminals had already taken the favelas for good. In addition, the dictatorship also trashed the education, favoring professional training at high schools. Decades of poor education and disconnection from History lead to a lack of critical thinking and questioning in general. Furthermore, most of the conservatives voting for Bolsonaro have something to lose: they are the upper middle class and afraid to lose their class privileges. This scenario was a fertile ground to develop such a worldview. Despite the extreme cases of corruption and incompetence, Brazilian politicians have promoted democracy in the past 30+ years. It is imperfect, faulty, but it is a democracy. Then, Bolsonaro, amorally, vocalize the population’s fears and worries with impossible and flawed promises for solving them. Their strict father has arrived as a predator and the prey is ready to jump into the trap.
In this environment, even the most irrelevant, secondary, and mistaken ideology became sect with zealots defending them at the slightest perceived disagreement. Values, empathy, and critical thinking are inexistent. The ideas and arguments circulating are based on everything but critical thinking and examination of social issues. Fascist ideas and dictatorial behavior abound.
Two episodes illustrate the limitation of these conservative zealots. One was very embarrassing and the other was dictatorial. The German Embassy in Brasília published a video about Nazism, in which they state Nazism as an ultra-right ideology and talks about the efforts of Germany in informing their population and keeping the memory alive to make sure it never happens again. Several Brazilians, many of whom are Bolsonaro’s followers, started posting on the embassy’s Facebook page, saying that the German Embassy is wrong: Nazism is a leftist ideology, some even pointed to the “Workers” word in Hitler’s party name as evidence (other Brazilians, embarrassed, posted apologizing for the ignorance of the others).
The other episode is a blatant and dangerous show of the fascist and dictatorial nature of this candidate and his followers. A group of women was created on Facebook: “Women Who Are Against Bolsonaro”. Very similar in nature and behavior as the famous “Pantsuit Nation” group created in the USA, the group was a congregation of women of all races, classes, genders (trans women were welcome, too). It didn’t matter which other candidates they supported-the mission was to empower each other to stop Bolsonaro’s election and safely voice their opinions. Women from all over Brazil and abroad (Brazilians vote for president abroad) were talking, sharing, and building a movement against fascism. It was created on September 12 and reached 2.5 million members in less than a week. However, on Saturday, September 15, a group pro-Bolsonaro hacked the profiles of the group’s administrators, stole their personal information, threatened to publish in the web, then they hacked the group. They changed its name and photo and started posting several messages supporting their candidate, some very aggressive and/or very offensive to the women there. They used mysoginistic slurs to offend the members. Facebook finally shut down the group after detecting “suspicious activities” and restored the group to its administrators. Some women were scared and left the group: the damage was done. Other groups were created almost immediately but did not reach the same level of sorority and hope that the first one managed to do. Bolsonaro, who is in a hospital, recovering from a stabbing at the beginning of the month, did not repudiate the attack in any form. Any decent person in favor of democracy and civil rights would issue at least a note. In fact, one of his sons celebrated the cyber attack. This is a very worrisome scenario: if Bolsonaro approves the shut down of dissents during his presidential campaign, one can just imagine what he will do when in power. Dictatorial and predatorial.
Another alarming sign of the candidate’s dictatorial tendencies comes in the form of his chosen running mate. The vice-president, a retired general (no surprises here), recently issued some disturbing ideas such as ”we don’t need to elect people to have a Constitutional assembly, we write a Constitution with appointed specialists”, while he was heavily criticizing the Brazilian Constitution as “too lengthy and not well done” (it was done with a specially elected Constituency Congress and issued in 1988, a few years after Brazil emerged from a 20-yr military dictatorship). Again, Bolsonaro did not issue a note condemning the general’s statements. He and his vice-president were active duty military during the military dictatorship, which issued a “new” Constitution in 1967. Let that sink in.
The Founding Fathers here in the United States warned about the evil men is capable and whether men can establish good government by reasoned choices by the people or will always rely on the dangers of accidental, forceful governments. The Federalist №1 states: “It has been frequently remarked, that it seems to have been reserved to the people of this country, by their conduct and example, to decide the important question, whether societies of men are really capable or not, of establishing good government from reflection and choice, or whether they are forever destined to depend, for their political constitutions, on accident and force.” And The Federalist №51 states clearly: “If men were angels, no government would be necessary.” Exactly because men are not angels we must choose carefully and with reason those we vote to represent and govern us. Since the Federalist Papers were written, the world has witnessed innumerous damaging governments and politicians and all the harm they can cause to the ordinary citizen. Didn’t we have enough?
As correctly stated by Juremir Machado at his Carta Campinas’ article: “Bolsonaro uses the democracy to asphyxiate it”. They will use voting to kill the democracy in Brazil, if he is elected the next president. Authoritarianism in government is usually and historically evil. We need authorities, in affairs and in life, not authoritarians; from authoritarians in power will derive the submission, which is harmful. Therein lies the danger. A thousand times an imperfect democracy than a frenzied and ignorant authoritarianism derived from the raw and irrational primitivism preached and executed by an unprepared, ignorant, and dangerous predator.
References and further reading
Brasil será asfixiado pela mentalidade do ‘homem medíocre’ by Juremir Machado — Carta Campinas http://cartacampinas.com.br/2018/09/xx-bolsonaro-o-brasil-pode-ser-engolido-e-asfixiado-pela-mentaliade-do-homem-mediocre/
Brasília, we have a problem (The danger posed by Jair Bolsonaro) — Editorial — The Economist https://www.economist.com/leaders/2018/08/11/the-danger-posed-by-jair-bolsonaro
Brazil Flirts With a Return to the Dark Days — By Carol Pires — The New York Times https://www.nytimes.com/2018/08/24/opinion/brazil-flirts-with-a-return-to-the-dark-days.html
Fui criado pela minha mãe e irmãs porque a Ditadura Militar matou meu pai — by Marcelo Rubens Paiva- Carta Campinas http://cartacampinas.com.br/2018/09/marcelo-rubens-paiva-fui-criado-pela-minha-mae-e-irmas-porque-a-ditadura-militar-matou-meu-pai/
Grupo de personalidades lança manifesto contra Bolsonaro — da Redação — Veja Magazine — https://veja.abril.com.br/brasil/manifesto-contra-bolsonaro-democracia-sim/amp/
Jair Bolsonaro, Latin America’s latest menace — by — The Economist https://www.economist.com/leaders/2018/09/20/jair-bolsonaro-latin-americas-latest-menace?fsrc=scn/tw/te/bl/ed/jairbolsonarolatinamericaslatestmenacebrazilspresidentialelection
Jair Bolsonaro, Presidential Candidate in Brazil, Is Stabbed — By Ernesto Londoño and Shasta Darlington. The New York Times. https://www.nytimes.com/2018/09/06/world/americas/brazil-jair-bolsonaro.html
Manifesto Democracia Sim. https://www.democraciasim.com.br/
Nurturant Parent Model — https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nurturant_parent_model
The American Crisis — by Jeffrey Goldberg — The Atlantic https://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2018/10/editors-note-the-crisis-in-democracy/568276/
The Federalist Papers — https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Federalist_Papers
Understanding Trump by George Lakoff — Author of Moral Politics: How Liberals and Conservatives Think, Third Edition. https://press.uchicago.edu/books/excerpt/2016/lakoff_trump.html
Untellable Truths by George Lakoff — https://georgelakoff.com/2010/12/10/untellable-truths/
Will Brazil’s Next President Be a Far-Right Nationalist? by Bruno Carazza https://www.foreignaffairs.com/articles/brazil/2018-07-12/will-brazils-next-president-be-far-right-nationalist?cid=soc-tw