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Intolerance in present day Brazil and in the world

05/02/2015

The recent murder in France of the Charlie Hebdo cartoonists, and the last Presidential elections in Brazil, have highlighted a latent fact of Brazilian culture and the world: intolerance. I will restrict myself here to intolerance in Brazilian culture, because my previous article dealt with that reflected in the Charlie Hebdo murders. Brazilian intolerance is part of what Holland’s Sergio Buarque characterizes as «cordial» in the sense that hate and prejudice, like hospitality and sympathy, come from the heart. But rather than cordial, I would prefer to call that of Brazil passionate.

What the last electoral campaign showed was «cordial-passionate», in the form of class hatred (contempt of the poor), and racial discrimination (Blacks and Northerners). To be poor, or to be Black and a Northerner, was deemed a defect, hence the absurd desire of some to divide Brazil between the South «rich» and the North-East «poor». That class hatred derives from the archetype of La Casa Grande and the Senzala that persist in some social sectors, well expressed by a wealthy madame from Salvador: «the poor, not satisfied with meeting basic family needs, now want to have rights as well». That presupposes that if previously they were slaves, they should do everything for free, as if the abolition of slavery had not occurred and rights meant nothing. Homosexuals and other LGBTs are insulted even in official debates between candidates, revealing an «intolerable» intolerance.

To better understand intolerance we must delve deeper, to the crux of the problem. Today’s reality is contradictory at its core, and complex, because it is the convergence of the most varied factors. In it is found original chaos and cosmos (order), light and shadows, the sym-bolical and the dia-bolical. In fact, they are not construction defects, but the very real condition of in-plenitude that exists in the universe. This forces universal coexistence with differences and imperfections, and tolerance of those who do not think or act as we think and act. Expressed in direct language: they are two opposing poles, but the poles of a singe and unique dynamic reality. These polarities cannot be suppressed. All attempts at suppression result in terror by those who presume to have the truth and try to impose it on others. The excess of truth ends up being worse than error.

What everyone (and society) must know is how to distinguish one pole from the other and to make one’s choice. Humans show themselves to be ethical beings when they take responsibility for their actions and for the consequences of those actions.

One could think: but then, is all good? Is there no longer difference? It is not that all is good or that differences are erased. Distinctions must be made. Weedy grasses are weedy grasses, and not wheat. Wheat is wheat and not just a weedy grass. The torturer can not have the same fate as the tortured. Humans must not equate and confuse them. Humans must be discerning, and make decisions.

To achieve coexistence without confusing these principles we must nourish tolerance in ourselves. Tolerance is the ability to positively maintain this difficult coexistence and tension between the poles, knowing that they are opposite, but that they are part of one unique dynamic reality. Even though they are opposite, they are the two sides of the same whole, the left and the right.

The ongoing risk is intolerance. Intolerance diminishes reality, because it only accepts one pole and denies the other. Intolerance forces everyone to adopt one pole and annul the other, as the Islamic State and Al Qaeda do in a criminal form. Fundamentalism and dogmatism deem their truths to be absolute. Thus they condemn themselves to intolerance, and neither recognize nor respect the truth of others. Their first action is to suppress freedom of opinion, pluralism and to impose their unique thought. Attacks such as the one in Paris derive from this intolerance.

One must avoid passive tolerance, the attitude of accepting the other’s existence, not from choice, and recognition of its value, but because it cannot be avoided.

Rather, active tolerance must be encouraged, consisting of coexistence, with an attitude of positive coexistence with the other, out of respect, and an awareness of the value of difference, through which we can enrich ourselves.

Above all, tolerance is an ethical experience. Tolerance represents the right of all people to be who they are, and to continue being that. That right was universally expressed in the golden rule: «do not do to others what you would not have them do to you». Or positively stated: «Do unto others as you would have them do unto you». This principle is obvious.

At its core, the truth found in tolerance is summarized thusly: each person has the right to live and coexist on planet Earth. They all have the right to be here with their specific differences. That right precedes any expression of life as a vision of the world, a belief, or ideology. This is the great difficulty of European societies: the lack of acceptance of the other, be it an Arab, Muslem, or Turk, and in the Brazilian society, it is the lack of acceptance of the African descendant, the Northerner, the Indigenous. Societies must be organized in such a way that, by right, everyone may feel included. Hence peace is born, that according to The Earthcharter, is «the plenitude created by correct relationships with oneself, with other persons, with other cultures, with other lives, with the Earth and with the main Whole of whom we are part» (n. 16 f).

Nature offers us the main lesson: no matter how diverse the beings are, they all coexist, interconnect and create the complexity of reality and the splendid diversity of life.
Free translation from the Spanish by
Servicios Koinonia, http://www.servicioskoinonia.org.
Done at REFUGIO DEL RIO GRANDE, Texas, EE.UU.
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