Stupidity is endemic like never before in Brazil
I have lived most of my life in a lower middle class neighborhood of São Paulo called Ipiranga. Technically, it is where Brazil was born in 1822, when a Portuguese prince declared our independence from Portugal (yes, I know that is pathetic). Ipiranga is a region that always votes conservative, but it was far from being a place of bigotry. In recent years it experienced a real estate bubble that brought foreigners and wealthy paulistas for the first time since the 1930ies, when industries first set here. Some of those new neighbors aren’t rich, though. They are desperate miserable Haitians.
About 20 of them crashed into an empty building 100 meters from where I live. The place belongs to São Paulo’s archdioceses and it was unused for decades. Still, the Haitians got no empathy from their new neighbors. At our local supermarket, I heard elderly clients say these people are here to form a mercenary army to keep our self-evident communist dictatorship. I heard neighbors make the same comment twice. Preemptively, I mentioned the stupidity of all this to my mother. I feared she’d be dragged into that nonsense. I never felt I had to do such a thing, but Brazil 2015 became a very, very stupid place.
Protesters in Porto Alegre use anticommunist rants… against a Catalonian independence flag
Chants like “Go to Cuba” have become trendy in protests, whenever someone that looks slightly leftist is around — a red shirt can do that trick. Lunatics mistakenly scream that Brazil’s Constitution would allow a military intervention since the current administration has links to the Petrobras scandal — although none of them are connecting to the commander-in-chief of those troops. Even neonazis have come out. Truth be said, those peculiar groups aren’t the majority in the protests, but they are often welcomed and rarely criticized openly enough for others to draw a line between demonstrators and wackos.
Part of the communist delirium started with Glenn Beck like columnists and bloggers years ago. They were responding to a growing online community of government sponsored columnists and bloggers who, with a bit less tenacity, attacked mainstream media and the opposition. Since 2011, the meanness is mostly on the right, feeding itself from smears of the 2010 presidential campaign and social media. Some truth and a great deal of lies now become Facebook threads, Whatsapp messages and anonymous emails. The hoaxes are multiple: here are pictures of people President Dilma Rousseff killed during the dictatorship, take a look the scandal of a maid that wants her to pay alimony after they lived together, see how she faked her cancer…
Former President Lula and his disgraced chief of staff José Dirceu, who was condemned for corruption, were also targets of that stupidity. The first was accused of owning shares of the world’s largest meat processing plant in the world. Another hoax claimed he was making money out of a change in Brazil’s outlets (!!!). Old accusations came back and got a lot of attention, including one stating he lost one of his fingers on purpose in a sweat shop so he could get a pension. The latter was involved in so many accusations — some true, many untrue — that he personifies now the hatred towards his party.
Of course not all the idiocy belongs to right-wingers. A few days ago I heard a leftist say that protesters that recently took to the streets against President Dilma Rousseff should be punched down “like Trotskyists did to the fascists downtown São Paulo in 1934.” It is as if Brazil had not changed at all in 80 years. Others that are obsessed with the Worker’s Party (PT) say that corruption at Petrobras means nothing because you have to do what it takes to finance campaigns, keep alliances and remain in office. They often claim that corruption accusations are a plot of the opposition and mainstream media to overthrow Rousseff.
These are just a few of the hundreds of bizarre comments that are around. It is clear that the rise of social media made all this possible and it is evident that corruption at the federal government played a key role in the antagonism towards leftists (even though the Worker’s Party is as leftist as the Democrats are in the United States). But the level of stupidity has to do with something deeper: Brazilians are okay with lying to make a political point. We used to go along with the tide. Now that there are two sides, people of low education, no matter how wealthy they are, find it hard to engage in honest dialogues. That goes for lower, middle and upper class.
That has made Brazil’s society as divided as the American, with less filters to tell truth from nonsense and more risks to democratic values. All those mean spirited comments from left and right became part of normal political conversations, as if those bizarre topics came from facts, and not from spin doctors and crazy militants of the opposition or of the ruling coalition. The filters in the media matter less and less, people seem to want more opinions than facts. Our journalists, including myself, could do a better job if we were equipped to deal with our complex political landscape and try, at least, to end hoaxes. We can’t even do that at this moment.
Some will say that kind of stupidity existed in Brazil prior to the 1964 coup d’État. But this is 2015. Brazil is a much better country that has absolutely no links to communism. Our finance minister went to the Mecca of neoliberal economic policies, we have an investment grade economy, a housing bubble is on the rise… Add those anticommunist wackos to those that believe Brazil should become a military dictatorship to get rid of communist influence. The result is intellectually catastrophic. Although there are many idiots on the left, those on the Brazilian right are now the vast majority. Brazil’s current level of idiocy has a lot to do with them.
Brazil is stupid like never before. And it won’t get better anytime soon. To those that want to report on Brazil or understand what the country is going through politically, I say listen to what I say: don’t listen to anyone. Not for now.