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“Where do these people come from?”

Studies reiterate that Brazilian invisible inequality will not be resolved only through the country's economic growth

eduardo cesar“The poor will have preference in our government. I’m convinced that the solution to the problems of Brazilians is no longer to make the people suffer with heavy readjustments, which end up falling upon the people; the solution lies in economic growth”, states president Lula da Silva in a speech he made shortly after being re-elected. “The concept of classes, among us, is still perceived on the economic level (who do not perceive the cultural and symbolic construction of social distinction) of old fashioned Marxism. Economic progress is seen as the panacea to resolve problems such as inequality, marginalization and second class citizenship. It is a magic wand, which makes of the awaited economic growth the resolution of our social questions”, says Jessé Souza, the chaired sociology professor at the Federal University of Juiz de Fora (UFJF). A curious ideological trap, since Lula da Silva, in defending economic like solutions such as these, even affirmed that “if you know a very old and left wing person it is because that person has a problem”, showing that he continues to be wrapped up in Marxist illusions.

“The debate about Brazilian inequality had been locked into the sign of knowledge fragmentation and of reality perception. To criticize the economic solution and liberalism, which is its most worm out ideology, doesn’t mean the non-recognition of the fundamental importance of the economy and the market place. But it is necessary to go against the superficial slow reading of a complex and unequal world, as if the only variable was the economic one”, reiterated the researcher, who has just published, A invisibilidade da desigualdade brasileira [The invisibility of Brazilian inequality] and defended her associate professorship about this theme at the University of Flensburg, in Germany. “The book is the first result for the formation of a ‘theory of social action’ for a more adequate interpretation about contemporary Brazil, which does not perceive the marginalized citizen as someone with the same available capacities as a middle class individual. If this were to be the case, the miserable person and their misery would be fortuitous, mere chance of destiny, having their privation situation reversible, it being enough to provide passenger and topical help from the state so that they can walk on their own two feet. This, unfortunately, is the logic of the national welfare policies who are condemned to the short and myopic term”, he evaluates. A blindness that reaches into the left and the right eye.

“The economic solution followers do not know that the reproduction of marginalized classes involves the production and reproduction of cultural and political conditions of marginalization. On the other hand, the ‘glorification of the oppressed’ is the best manner of reproducing misery and indefinite abandonment”, he criticizes. In his studies, Jessé Souza goes in the opposite direction of sacred Brazilian thinking that always identifies the causes of our malaise, especially that of inequality, seen with total naturalness, as a left over from our ‘pre-modern’ origins. “The naturalization of inequality is more adequately perceived as a consequence, not of our pre-modern inheritance and personalism, but of a contrary fact, such as a result of an effective modernization process, ‘imported’ from outside to within”, he noted. Quickly inequality is visible not because it is a trace from the past, but simply by its ‘impersonality’, typical of modern values and institutions, which, in the opinion of the researcher, makes the day to day life opaque  and of difficult perception.

Culturalist theories, such as those of Gilberto Freyre, Sérgio Buarque de Holanda and even Roberto Da Matta, tend, according to the professor, to interpret the Brazilian as a homogeneous type, who will show us ‘more warmth and humanity’ than the citizens of advanced societies. This ’emotional theory of action’ will be a ‘compensating fantasy’ that will understand the Brazilians as an ’emotionally integrated’ society, without any division of class, only differing in the income earned by each individual. Hence, economic progress is taken as the solution to all problems. “This puts in second place fundamental and non-economic aspects of social inequality, such as the absence of self-esteem, of social recognition, of family learned basic roles, as well as the reality of social reproduction of the ‘riffraff’, whose moral, political and social substrate is different from that of the middle class”, he observed. The researcher gave a practical example: a European who, by negligence, knocks down a poor citizen has a high possibility of being punished, the reverse of what occurs in Brazil. “This doesn’t signify that people don’t care. But the value of a poor Brazilian is comparable to that given to a domestic animal and the inquiry, even when open, will end up in nothing, via an implicit agreement between the agents involved in the situation.”

One is does intend to see Europeans ‘better’ than Brazilians, but to understand, historically and philosophically, two differentiated developments. In the origin is Weberian Protestant asceticism, which reveals the valuation of work, of discipline and of reason, seen as constituent elements in day to day ‘dignity’. “It’s the sharing, in the West, of this determined psycho-social structure, the implicit fundamental of social recognition that makes it possible for a person to speak of citizenship.” In the Brazilian case, the process of ‘Europeanization’ is one of importation, like readymade artifacts, of institutions of the modern world, such as the capitalist market. “The arrival in Brazil of the true modern Europe of moral individualism and capitalism is late and is going to run diametrically opposite to a diverse grouping of rural potent forces with little unity among themselves, a society viscerally anti-individualistic and anti-equalitarian”, he notes. In this context, professor Jessé Souza makes use of the concept of habitus (the effective and emotional component inscribed in the body and in the spontaneous manifestations of individuals, a specific type of socialization), of Bourdieu, in order to explain the differences. The ‘primary habitus’ would have the capacity of recognizing the other as an  equal through the participation of the same emotional and valued economy starting from the person’srecognition as a useful member of the community. On importing, at a late date, the ideology of Europe, Brazil has not managed to implant here the ‘primary habitus’ that would allow for the process of equalizing both in the emotional economy and in the process of basic recognition. Without this inter-classes  consensus we’ll have an internal fragmentation of the process of social recognition, which is fundamental for the exercising of citizenship.  We’ll be cultivating the ‘precarious habitus’.

eduardo cesarMore terrible: this differentiation develops upon the veil of modernism, which offers an ‘opaque’ aspect, invisible and ‘naturally’ incommodious. In Brazil we don’t have citizens who, under conditions of relative equality, fight for a chance of social classification in the various social spheres of performance that make up secondary segmentations based on differentiated performance, as in the central countries. “Among us there exists a primary segmentation that reproduces itself molecule by molecule in the everyday life of the opaque and impersonal manner, which separates ‘gentlemen’ from  ‘non-gentlemen’. A ‘modern’ and efficient process.”

This mechanism of naturalization of inferiority makes the very victim himself appear biased (whether it be of class, gender or color) to the point where his failure is personal, merited and justifiable, the researcher notes. Through this same pattern it is possible to rethink the question of color/race, seen as a definite factor for inequality, an action that, according to Jessé Souza, “simplifies and confuses multiple and complex causes into a single one”. The researcher is skeptic about affirmations that skin color and phenotype classify and place in hierarchy, by themselves alone, the selective access to wealth. “Would it not perhaps be the resultant process of the abandonment of the negro population, of the de-structuring of the family, the difficulty of access to schooling and information, that is responsible for the effective declassification of the black o population”? Still in agreement with it, in this case, color would be more of a supplementary index to indicate the ‘non-Europeanization’, in terms of ‘primary habitus’, than the primary cause of discrimination. “Skin color, in this context, acts like an additional wound to the subject’sself-esteem, but the center of the problem is the combination of abandonment and maladjustment that strikes him independent from skin color”, he believes. Thus, the ‘precarious habitus’, although the researcher underlined the virulent presence of racial prejudice, would be not ‘merely skin color’, but a certain type of ‘personality’, judged as unproductive and disruptive for society as a whole.

“As we don’t understand, whether it be in common sense or in methodic reflection, how the ‘racism of class’ works between us, it is that very race that goes on to be the unique visible aspect of our extraordinary inequality. This does not impede us from recognizing the reality of racism of color/race that demands that one creates a conscience for your virulent action and mechanisms for combating it”, observes Jessé Souza. For him, this type of thinking, which emphasizes the secondary data of color (which would permit, supposedly, to attribute ‘guilt’ of marginalization only to prejudice), throws water on the idea of an economic and evolutionary simple type of explanation, which supposes marginalization to be something temporary, modifiable through high levels of economic growth, which, by some obscure mechanism, will end up including all of the marginalized sectors. “In the same manner the ‘school’ could be the panacea of ten out of ten economists who write about inequality, as if the ‘riffraff’ had not arrived as losers at the school itself (when there is a school) before beginning. In the face of the common liberal generalization of an economic solution, one has to understand that social reality is structured in ‘social classes’ whose chances are pre-stipulated”, he evaluated. Such as ‘racism’.

“This perceives prejudice as the principal cause of Brazilian inequality, repeating, in an inverted manner, the obscurity that was always the center of importance of race in Brazil: to serve as an icon of integration, obscuring all of the other conflicts, especially those of class. This does not negate the perverse character of our racial prejudice, but only puts it into context”, explains the researcher, for whom this would be the typical example in that “inertia takes the place of an explanation”. The important question is not addressed, as very well observed by the singer Chico Buarque in Brejo da cruz: “But there are millions of these human beings/ who disguise themselves so well / that nobody asks / where do these people come from.”