Pandemic and the Brazilian dialectics of barbarity

In Brazil, barbarism is represented by reactionism, neo-Pentecostal fanaticism, anti-scientism, necropolitics and the new logics of disinformation. Español Português

Rafael Heiber
20 April 2020, 2.13pm
Supporters of far-right Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro protest against the recommendations for social isolation of the Governor of Sao Paulo, Joao Doria, during the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak, in Sao Paulo, Brazil, April 18, 2020.
Cris Faga/SIPA USA/PA Images. All rights reserved

It already affects almost half the planet. In just a few weeks COVID-19 has become a pandemic, forcing unthinkable paralyses and confinements. Since then, a series of debates on the potential paradigms of a new normality and the urgency of another globalization have begun: In most cases, reformist rhetorics based on reflections matured decades ago in the counter-hegemonic intellectual circuits; in others, questions about the regulation of the latest technology and its role within a new social contract leave a breach of uncertainty as to whether we are on our way to a more solidary or authoritarian world.

The first studies endorsed by the scientific community allow us to conclude that humanity has been lucky. The pandemic is caused by a virus much more feared for its ability to spread than for its lethality. If many of us remain in quarantine, it is for no other reason than to avoid the simultaneous contagion of the entire population, in order to maintain the maximum normality in the healthcare systems so that they meet both the most serious cases of COVID-19 and their routine health demands. No government conditionates the agenda of restoring everyday life to the manufacture of a vaccine.

Besides demographic, urban, cultural, and socioeconomic factors, it has become evident that the intensity of the current social distancing and economic paralysis is proportional to the submission of healthcare systems to the rules of business administration. The limits of the all-acclaimed global dynamism, incapable of offering adequate hospital inputs to potential 5% of the population with the most acute symptoms of the disease, have become apparent. The inability of the wealthy areas in the Northern Hemisphere to deal with such sudden number of patients (Lombardy, Madrid, New York and others) only proves that these health systems worked perfectly well, according to their administrative guidelines. What was fundamentally wrong were, and continue to be, the market principles applied to spheres that escape their competence. Sweden, a traditional example of welfare state, considered itself ready to abstain from quarantine. In a few months' time, a comparison with its more cautious Nordic neighbours will highlight the global misconceptions of recent decades.

It is too early to know whether this pandemic will open up new horizons for the world, whether it will definitely suspend the last state of normality, or whether the status quo will return to its business as usual. In short, a world of unjustifiable accumulations, regulated with a mixture of meritocratic fantasy, phagocytized State and functional charity. What is certain is that this short circuit precipitates the ongoing geopolitical trend - which began with Bush's war on terror and culminated with Trump's arrival to the presidency - in favor of China to the detriment of the United States, threatening for the almost bankrupt European project and reckless for regions like Latin America and Africa.

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Bolsonaro's endless denial of the risks of SARS-Cov2 now places Brazil at the door of a true residual genocide

In Brazil, where the president fired his health minister for defending quarantine, the pandemic has echoed into the political lexicon a new notorious term: pandemonium. It is the result of Jair Bolsonaro's prejudiced, obscurantist and subordinate stance to the interests of his counterpart Donald Trump, which wiped the altitude of Brazilian diplomacy off the map and gave ultraliberalism total control over public policy. In 2016, this same sector brought Michel Temer to the presidency and approved the fiscal reform that opposition congressmen called "Constitutional Amendment of Death". Already insufficient spending on health, science and education has been frozen for the next twenty years. The current government has advanced with this doctrine of the Minimum State, carrying out privatizations harmful to citizens' assets and a pension reform that has maintained the traditional privileges of the military and high public offices, always to the detriment of the impoverished mass, in order to guarantee the flow of capital to the financial rentism. The government's official support for forest fires and the extermination of native peoples was, internationally, the most visible face of a government whose hazards do not respect borders.

Bolsonaro's endless denial of the risks of SARS-Cov2 now places Brazil at the door of a true residual genocide, the risk of letting hundreds of thousands of "expendable subcitizens" die without help or farewell. Jair Bolsonaro bets that most will not make it into the statistics either. Although we are facing a democratic virus, in the most unequal republic on the planet, relief is aristocratic. SARS-Cov2's journey into the country confirms this: brought by wealthy tourists returning from Italy and the United States, it has made of a concierge and a housemaid its first victims.

In the more Hegelian sense, Brazil has reached the third and final movement of its own dialectics. In the first act, conservatism as a thesis; fruit of a colonialist, relational, aristocratic and unequal society. In the second, vulgarity as antithesis; through the installation of a neoliberal model, of alienating individualism and narcissistic subjectivity. An anthesis that does not deny the thesis, that absorbs it and assimilates it until contingency allows the third act: barbarity as a synthesis of Brazilian dialectics. Barbarity represented by reactionism, neo-pentecostal fanaticism, anti-scientism, necropolitics and new logics of disinformation; which reinforce the ignorance, resentment and iniquity of those who, active as never before, made Jair Bolsonaro their maximum representative, also called "the myth".

Under the neo-liberal model still in force (Hayek and Mises indoctrination have operated efficiently since Thatcher and Reagan) it is the anathematized State that goes out with its most substantial resources to rescue banks and the financial market. In this case, it invariably does so under simplistic and deceptive justifications. To the people, a Trojan announcement was enough: more autonomy for the Central Bank to protect the economy. This will mean the direct transfer of US$200bi from the National Treasury to the bankers. Once again, control in the hands of representatives of big private capital, followers of the mantra that turns crisis into opportunity. To the citizens without sustenance during the pandemic, Minister Paulo Guedes' offer was US$40 a month, raised to US$120 by opposition congressmen.

When global warming or structural inequality causes a similar level of exceptionality to the one of this pandemic, it will be too late to find any alternative

As expected since the beginning of the current government, the majority of the pseudo-civilized and opportunistic right wing have abandoned Bolsonaro. The advent of the pandemic will help this dangerous group of politicians, businessmen and journalists to consolidate a collective amnesia and to dissociate themselves from their former host. Captain Bolsonaro is left with a cabinet commanded by his sons, the support of the evangelical benches and with the tutelage of the generals, who exercise a de facto military government.

If the coup against Dilma Rousseff opened the Pandora's Box, the pandemonium amplified by the pandemic could declare its closure. In 2018 it was reasonable to expect Bolsonaro would not end his mandate. Today, it is clear that he may not even fulfill half of it. In less than a year, uncomfortable suspicions have been added to the political disarray: the murder of Captain Adriano, officially decorated by the Bolsonaro family and Marielle Franco's alleged murderer; the disappearance of Fabrício Queiroz, the Bolsonaro family's main advisor in Rio de Janeiro, known for operating militias in the city and making deposits in the account of the current First Lady; the sudden infarction of the former ally and recently disaffected politician, Gustavo Bebbiano. Facts that only add up to old practices of corruption and disservice gathered for almost three decades by the Bolsonaro family in the legislative power of the country. The political figure of Bolsonaro is a symptom and will pass, but the causes will remain: incorrigible reactionism, rising fundamentalism, the ignoble elite and Lawfare as a tool of political manipulation. Any attempt at republican re-foundation must confront these enemies of democracy and carry out a profound examination of the failures collected over the last four decades of democratic exercise.

For the global community, the pandemic is also a chance to rebuild its principles and fight its myths. One of them, the absolutist liberal myth that praises the achievements of a triumphant modernity, made possible by the unquestionable exponential accumulation of knowledge and doings. It ignores, however, the alternatives to the world's must-be that this cognitive capital would make possible, but restrains because of its appropriation that leads to asymmetric power and domination. At the end of 2020, deaths from traffic accidents and air pollution from automobiles will be superior than those from SARS-Cov2. A statistic that has been recurring for decades, but life is still cunningly programmed so that as many people as possible desire and depend on the car. When global warming or structural inequality causes a similar level of exceptionality to the one of this pandemic, it will be too late to find any alternative.

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