How “cordial” is the Brazilian People?
Calling a Brazilian a «cordial man» derives from the writer Ribeiro Couto. The expression was popularized by Dutch Sergio Buarque, in his well known book, Roots of Brazil, (Raices de Brasil, 1936), where he dedicates all of chapter V to it. To clarify, in contrast to Cassiano Ricardo, who would understand «cordiality» as goodness and delicacy, he said that «at its core, our ordinary form of social coexistence is exactly the opposite of delicacy» (from the 1989 21ª edition, page 107). Sergio Buarque understands cordiality in the strictly etymological sense: that which comes from the heart. Brazilians are ruled more by the heart than by reason. From the heart may come love or hatred. Well, says the author: «enmity can be just as cordial as friendship, because both are born in the heart» (page 107).
I write this so as to understand the «cordial» emotions that erupted in the 2014 presidential campaign. On the one hand, there were expressions, to the point of fanaticism, of enthusiasm and love for the candidates, and on the other, profound hatred, and haughty expressions by both sides of the electorate. What Buarque from Holland wrote was affirmed: the lack of delicacy in our social coexistence.
Perhaps in no previous electoral campaign were the «cordial» gestures of the Brazilians better expressed, in the sense of the love and hatred encompassed by this word. Those who followed the social networks noticed the low levels of good education, the lack of mutual respect, and even the absence of a democratic sensibility, understood as the coexistence of differences. That lack of respect also affected the debates between the candidates, broadcast on TV. For example, the fact that one of the candidates called the President of the country «a loose woman and a liar» falls within this meaning of «cordial», but it reveals a great lack of respect for the dignity of the highest office of the nation.
To better understand this «cordiality» of ours, it helps to mention two inheritances that weigh on our citizenry: colonization and slavery. Colonization produced in us a feeling of submission. It made us adopt the political structures, language, religion and customs of the Portuguese colonizer. Thus, La Casa Grande and La Senzala were created. As Gilberto Freyre showed, it is not just about external social structures. They were internalized as an insidious dualism: on one side is the master who owns and orders everything, and on the other, the servant who owns little and obeys, or as in the social hierarchy exposed by the great divide between rich and poor. That structure persists in people’s brains, and has evolved into a code for interpreting reality.
Another very perverse tradition was slavery. We must remember that there was a time, between 1817 and 1818, when more than half of Brazil was composed of slaves (50.6%). Today, nearly 60% have something of the African slave in their blood. «Patience, resignation and obedience» was the catechism priests taught the slaves; the slave owners were taught «moderation and benevolence», which, to tell the truth, was not practiced much. Slavery was internalized in the form of discrimination and prejudice against the Black, who had to always serve. To pay a salary is still understood by many as charity and not as a duty, because slaves did everything for free before, and they imagine it must continue that way. In many cases, employees, domestic workers, or ranch hands are treated in that manner.
The result of these two traditions is found in the Brazilian collective unconscious, not so much in terms of class conflict, (that also exists), but of social status conflict. It is said that Blacks are lazy, even though we know that it was the Blacks who built almost everything in our cities. People from the North are unschooled because they live in semi-arid areas with harsh environmental limitations, but they are very creative, astute, and hard working people. The main writers, poets and actors come from the North East. In today’s Brazil, it is the region with the highest economic growth, on the order of 2-3%, above the national average, but prejudice dooms them to inferiority.
All these contradictions of our «cordiality» are on display in twitter, facebook, and other social networks. We are contradictory beings.
I also add an anthropological argument to understand the emergence of the love and hatred in this electoral campaign. It is about the essential ambiguity of the human condition. Each possesses a dimension of light and darkness, sym-bolic (that unites) and dia-bolical (that divides). The moderns say that we simultaneously are demented and wise (Morin), this is, people of rationality and goodness, and simultaneously, of irrationality and evil. Christian tradition says that we are both saints and sinners. Saint Augustine expressed it well: everyone is Adam, everyone is Christ, this is, each person is full of limitations and vices, and at the same time, is a carrier of virtues and a divine dimension. This situation is not a defect but a characteristic of la condition humaine. Each must know how to balance these two forces and in the best case, to give primacy to the dimension of light over that of darkness, to that of Christ over that of old Adam.
In these months of the electoral campaign, who we are within was revealed: «cordial» in the double sense of the word: filled with rage and indignation and at the same time with positive exaltation and serious and self controlled militancy. We must neither laugh nor cry, but try to understand. But to understand is not enough; it is urgent to seek civilized forms of «cordiality» where the will of cooperation for the common good predominates, the legitimate space for a serious opposition is respected and the different political options are welcomed. Brazil needs to unite so that together we confront the grave internal and external problems (wars of great devastation and the grave crisis of the Earth-system and of the life-system), in a project assumed by all, so that what Ignacy Sachs said of Brazil, «The Land of Good Hope», may become true.
Free translation from the Spanish by
Servicios Koinonia, http://www.servicioskoinonia.org.
Done at REFUGIO DEL RIO GRANDE, Texas, EE.UU.