by Sam Kriss
It is worth noting that tribal peoples tend to feel that it is they who depict and we who symbolise.
Thomas McEvilley, Doctor, Lawyer, Indian Chief
What does capitalism actually look like?
There’s a standard leftist answer to this question, from the great repertoire of standard leftist answers: we can’t know. Capitalism has us by the throat and wraps itself around our brain stem; we were interpellated as capitalist subjects before we were born, and from within the structure there’s no way to perceive it as a totality. The only way to proceed is dialectically and immanently, working through the internal contradictions until we end up somewhere else. But not everyone has always lived under capitalism; not everyone lives under capitalism today. History is full of these moments of encounter, when industrial modernity collided with something else. And they still take place. In 2007, Channel 4 engineered one of these encounters: in a TV show called Meet the Natives, a group of Melanasian villagers from the island of Tanna in Vanatu were brought to the UK, to see what they made of this haphazard world we’ve built. (It’s almost impossible to imagine anyone trying the same stunt now, just twelve years on. The whole thing is just somehow inappropriate: not racist or colonial, exactly, but potentially condescending, othering, problematic.) Reactions were mixed.
They liked ready meals, real ale, and the witchy animistic landscapes of the Hebrides. They were upset by street homelessness, confused by drag queens in Manchester’s Gay Quarter, and wryly amused by attempts at equal division in household labour. They understood that they were in a society of exchange-values and economic relations, rather than use-values and sociality. ‘There is something back-to-front in English culture. English people care a lot about their pets, but they don’t care about people’s lives.’ But there was only one thing about our society that actually appalled them, that felt viscerally wrong. On a Norfolk pig farm, they watched sows being artificially inseminated with a plastic syringe. This shocked them. They told their hosts to stop doing it, that it would have profound negative consequences. ‘I am not happy to see the artificial insemination. Animals and human beings are the same thing. This activity should be done in private.’
I was reminded of this episode quite recently, when reading, in an ‘indigenous critique of the Green New Deal‘ published in the Pacific Standard, that ‘colonists were warned by word and weapon that a system of individual land ownership would lead to ecological apocalypse, and here we are. What more could you ask from a system of truth and analysis than to alert you to a phenomenon like climate change before it occurs, with enough time to prevent it? That is significantly more than colonial science has offered.’
It’s not that the substance of this claim is entirely untrue (although it should be noted that many indigenous nations did have systems of private land ownership; land wasn’t denatured, fungible, and commodified, as it is in today’s capitalism, but then the same holds for European aristocracies, or the Nazis for that matter). Non-capitalist societies have persistently recognised that there’s an incredible potential for disaster in industrial modernity. Deleuze and Guattari develop an interesting idea here: capitalism isn’t really foreign to primitive society; it’s the nightmare they have of the world, the possibility of decoding and deterritorialisation that lurks somewhere in the dark thickets around the village. ‘Capitalism has haunted all forms of society, it is the dread they feel of a flow that would elude their codes.’ Accordingly, the development of capitalism in early modern Europe wasn’t an achievement, but a failure to put up effective defences against this kind of social collapse. You can see something similar in the response of the Tanna islanders to artificial insemination. What’s so horrifying about it? Plausibly, it’s that it denies social and bodily relations between animals, and social and bodily relations between animals and people. The animal is no longer a living thing among living things (even if it’s one that, as the islanders tell a rabbit hunter, was ‘made to be killed’), but an abstract and deployable quantity. It’s the recasting of the mysteries of fecund nature as a procedure. It’s the introduction of what Szerszynski calls the ‘vertical axis,’ the transcendence from reality in which the world itself ‘comes to be seen as profane.’ It’s the breakdown of the fragile ties that hold back the instrumental potential of the world. When people are living like this, how could it result in anything other than disaster?
This seems to be the general shape of impressions of peoples living under capitalism by those who do not. These strangers are immensely powerful; they are gods or culture heroes, outside of the world. (The people of Tanna revere Prince Philip as a divinity.) At the same time, they’re often weak, palsied, wretched, and helpless; they are outside of the world, and lost. In 1641, a French missionary recorded the response of an Algonquian chief to incoming modernity. One the one hand, he describes Europeans as prisoners, trapped in immobile houses that they don’t even own themselves, fixed in place by rent and labour. ‘We can always say, more truly than thou, that we are at home everywhere, because we set up our wigwams with ease wheresoever we go, and without asking permission of anybody […] We believe that you are incomparably poorer than we, and that you are only simple journeymen, valets, servants, and slaves.’ At the same time, the French are untethered, deracinated, endlessly mobile. The Algonquians territorialise; everywhere they go becomes a home. The Europeans are not even at home in their static houses. They have fallen off the world. ‘Why abandon wives, children, relatives, and friends? Why risk thy life and thy property every year, and why venture thyself with such risk, in any season whatsoever, to the storms and tempests of the sea?’ And this constant circulation is a profound danger. ‘Before the arrival of the French in these parts, did not the Gaspesians live much longer than now?’
There’s something genuinely fascinating in these encounters. Whenever members of non-capitalist societies encounter modernity, they see something essential in what’s facing them. (For instance, Michael Taussig has explored how folk beliefs about the Devil in Colombia encode sophisticated understandings of the value-form.) But it seems to me to be deeply condescending to claim that this constitutes an explicit warning about climate change, that the methods of ‘indigenous knowledge systems’ are the same as the physical sciences, and to complain that ‘Western science has a lot of nerve showing up just as we’re on the precipice of a biospheric death spiral to brandish some graphs.’ The argument that the transcendent vertical axis estranges human beings from the cycles of biological life, with potentially dangerous results, is simply not the same as the argument that increased quantities of atmospheric carbon dioxide will give rise to a greenhouse effect. It’s not that there’s nothing to learn from indigenous histories, quite the opposite. (I’ve written elsewhere on how the Aztecs – definitely not the romanticised vision of an indigenous society, but indigenous nonetheless – prefigured our contemporary notion of the Anthropocene.) But the claims in this essay set a predictive standard which ‘indigenous knowledge systems’ will inevitably fail; it refuses to acknowledge their actual insight and utility, and instead deploys them in a grudge match against contemporary political enemies.
Most fundamentally, the essay doesn’t consider this encounter as an encounter between modes of production, but an encounter between races. In the red corner, white people: brutally colonising the earth, wiping out all biological life, talking over BIPOC in seminars, etc, etc. In the blue corner, indigenous folk, who live in balance with the cycles of life, who feel the suffering of the earth because they are part of it, who intuitively understand climate atmospheric sciences because they’re plugged in to the Na’vi terrestrial hivemind, who are on the side of blind nature, rather than culture. This is not a new characterisation. The Algonquian chief complains that the French believe he and his people are ‘like the beasts in our woods and our forests;’ the Pacific Standard seems to agree.
This shouldn’t need to be said, but indigenous peoples are human, and their societies are as artificial and potentially destructive as any other. Being human means – Marx saw this very clearly – an essential disjuncture with essence and a natural discontinuity with nature. Ancient Amerindian beekeeping techniques are as foundationally artificial as McDonald’s or nuclear weapons. When humans first settled the Americas, they wiped out nearly a hundred genera of megafauna; the essay is entirely correct that ‘indigenous peoples have witnessed continual ecosystem and species collapse.’ Indigenous beliefs about the interconnectedness of life and social relations between humans and nonhumans are the mode of expression of their social forms in agrarian or nomadic communities. (Although some American societies were highly urbanised, with monumental earthworks, stratified class societies, and systemic religious practices. All of this is, of course, flattened under the steamroller of pacific indigeneity.) They are not transcendently true. They can not simply be transplanted onto industrial capitalism to mitigate its devastations.
The ‘indigenous critique’ suggests that, rather than some form of class-based mass programme to restructure our own mode of production, the solution to climate catastrophe is to ‘start giving back the land.’ (Here it’s following a fairly widespread form of reactionary identitarian discourse on indigineity.) Give it back to whom? To the present-day indigenous peoples of North America, who for the most part have cars and jobs and Social Security numbers, who have academic posts and social media, who do not confront capitalism from beyond a foundational ontological divide, but are as helplessly within it as any of the rest of us? (And meanwhile, what about Europe or China? Where are our magic noble savages?) Is ancestry or identity an expertise? Is living in a non-capitalist society now a hereditary condition?
Some indigenous beliefs about the interconnectedness of life and so on persist, long after the modes of production that gave rise to them have vanished. As we all know, the tradition of all dead generations weighs like a nightmare on the brains of the living. But they’re also an artefact of modernity, which ceaselessly produces notions of wholesome authentic mystical nature in tandem with its production of consumer goods, ecological collapse, and death. Unless this relation is established, beliefs are all we get. ‘Real solutions require a rethinking of our global relationship to the land, water, and to each other.’ Think differently, see things differently, make all the right saintly gestures, defer to the most marginalised, and change nothing.
This racialisation is particularly obscene when you consider who else has made dire warnings about the environmental effects of private ownership in land. The encounter between capitalist and non-capitalist society didn’t only take place spatially, in the colonial world, but temporally, during the transition from feudalism. And the same critiques made by the Ni-Vanatu, and the Algonquians, and many more besides, were also expressed by insurrectionaries within Europe. Take just one instance: The Crying Sin of England, of not Caring for the Poor, the preacher John Moore’s 1653 polemic against primitive accumulation and the enclosure of common land: this would, he promised, lead to catastrophe, the impoverishment of the earth, the fury of God, the dissolution of the social ties that keep us human, the loss of sense and reason, the decoding of all codes. The ruling classes, ‘by their inclosure, would have no poore to live with them, nor by them, but delight to converse with Beasts; and to this purpose turn Corne in Grasse, and men into Beasts.’ He, too, saw things as they were. And he was right. Here we are, in a world in which the ruling classes have disarticulated themselves from society in general, in which cornfields are swallowed up by the desert, in which people pretend to be like animals in order to be taken seriously. The solution is obvious. Find the descendants of John Moore, and give back Norfolk.
But then it didn’t happen.
Sam Kriss May—08—2017 03:12PM EST
The world was supposed to have ended in 2012, as foretold by a Mayan prophecy that, in the end, only prophesied that the Mayans would need to buy a new calendar. As the prediction went, our solar system would align with the black hole at the center of the galaxy. The magnetic poles would sweep and switch and falter, leaving the atmosphere to be stripped away by a devastating solar wind; the enigmatic shadow planet Nibiru would collide into ours and turn solid ground into a spray of magma drifting through space.
It didn’t happen. But the prophecies will come back, before long. Isn’t every generation convinced it’ll be the last? People seem to enjoy imagining that they’ll live to see the curtains close on history, but it’s more than just enjoyment; a sense of finality seems to be built into our experience of the whole strange, senseless show that surrounds us. Either you die in the world, another speck to be mourned and then forgotten, or the world dies around you. Unknown planets or rising sea levels, whatever helps you imagine an ending.
Before the Mayan apocalypse, it was the year 2000 that was supposed to kill us all. Aside from the Y2K computer bug that failed to destroy all our soaring dial-up technology, mass-media preachers like Ed Dobson, Jerry Falwell, and Left Behind authors Tim LaHaye and Jerry B. Jenkins confidently expected the final judgement of God to arrive in time for the new year’s celebrations. In turn they were drawing on a legacy of bimillennial fascination that includes medieval Catholic theologians, Marian apparitions, invented Nostradamuses, the Kabbalistic calculations of Isaac Newton, and cultists scattered across the centuries.
Jehovah’s Witnesses have separately predicted that the world would end in 1914, 1915, 1918, 1920, 1925, 1941, 1975, 1994, and 1997. Various preachers in Britain and America spent most of the 19th century convincing their small bands of followers that the world was shortly to cease existence, extrapolating their figures from the dimensions of Noah’s Ark or the tent of the Tabernacle, watching the skies for comets, waiting for the ocean to boil, reading the newspapers to see when the Antichrist would reveal himself. And it never happened, not even once.
Quetzalcoatl, the feathered serpent and the god of wind and learning. Werner Forman / Universal Images Group / Getty Images
But aren’t the oceans boiling? As the air fills with carbon dioxide, the seas are turning to acid mire, a soup of plastic particles and dead coral, where the fish are all dying and only the tentacled things survive. Revelation, chapter eight: “A great mountain burning with fire was cast into the sea: and the third part of the sea became blood; and the third part of the creatures which were in the sea, and had life, died.” Doesn’t Donald Trump, a leering Antichrist in bronzer and self-regard, glower from the front page of every paper? And as warships surround a North Korea bristling with missiles, could the sky not soon be full of dazzling, falling stars, and then empty forever? Isn’t the end of the world really, actually, genuinely nigh? Aren’t we watching it happen, broadcast from our TV screens, right now?
For its critics, this sense of a looming end is an expression of the same spirit that made all those bloated celebrity prophets predict the Second Coming around the year 2000. Panicked jeremiads about climate change are just another form of religious nonsense — so, for some, is Marxism, with its deterministic charts of universal history. The philosopher Tom Whyman, for instance, wrote earlier this year that “we’ve successfully secularized the End Times.” It’s all a kind of wishful thinking, he argues; everyone wants to think that the end of the world is imminent, because it means that all the messy contingencies of life will finally become settled, and this desire is given form and propulsion by a still-dominant Judeo-Christian-Islamic conception of linear time. Once we expected to hear trumpets and angels; now it’s just the wandering honk of a puffed-up president announcing to the world that he’s pushing the button. But it’s the same thing.
Isn’t the end of the world really, actually, genuinely nigh? Whyman considers the end of everything to be a kind of universal blankness, an abstract negation, a “Great Nothing” that blankets all existence without distinction. I disagree. When people imagine that the world is about to end, it’s their particular world that’s doomed, and the nature of that end will always in some way reflect what’s being destroyed. People who live in the desert would not live in fear of a global flood. And the End Times aren’t a unique product of Christianity; some kind of eschatology is present nearly everywhere. Nearly. The pre-Islamic Turkic peoples of Central Asia, for instance, don’t seem to have had any myths about the destruction of the world, and why would they? They lived on an open steppe far from the ocean, where everything is flat and endless. Why would it ever end? Societies that believe in the Apocalypse tend to be those in which the seeds of the apocalypse that’s really happening are already planted. Cultures that have big cities, forms of writing, a discourse of history, and centralized power. Cultures like the old eastern Mediterranean that gave us the Biblical prophets and the Book of Revelation. Or cultures like the Aztecs.
Chalchiuhtlicue symbolized the purity and preciousness of spring, river, and lake water that was used to irrigate the fields. The Metropolitan Museum of Art
The Aztec apocalypse is nothing like the Christian one. It comes out of an unimaginably different history and society to the world of Greece and Rome. But it’s a lot like ours. The collision with Nibiru or devastating magnetic pole shift might have a distinctly monotheistic tang, but it’s possible that the Aztecs might see in our worries over anthropogenic climate change, economic collapse, and senseless nuclear war something strangely familiar. Instead of considering apocalypses through their literary and conceptual lineages, we could think about them instead in terms of what kind of society gave birth to them. How much do modern Westerners really have in common with prophets of the Old and New Testaments like Ezekiel or John of Patmos? Might we be more like Itzcoatl or Huitzilihuitl, even if we’re less likely to know who they are?Our capitalist modernity isn’t a Mediterranean modernity, but a Mesoamerican one. The Aztecs, those strange and heartless people with their stepped pyramids and their vast urban civilization that never came out of the Stone Age or invented the wheel, are our contemporaries.
Original Aztec sources are patchy — most of their beautiful codices were destroyed during the Spanish conquests in the early 16th century — and tend to contradict each other, but what makes the Aztec apocalypse so different to that of any other mythology, and so similar to the one we face now, is that they believed it had already happened.
This world is not the first. There were four that came before it and were destroyed in turn, all in the usual fashion — usual, that is, for end-of-the-world stories. Each was made by and contested over by the two gods, Tezcatlipoca and Quetzalcoatl, as a series of staging-grounds for their constant battles, two cosmic children bickering over a toy. In the first, Tezcatlipoca turned himself into the sun, and a jealous Quetzalcoatl knocked him out of the sky with his club; in revenge, Tezcatlipoca set jaguars loose to wipe out all its people. Together the gods built a new race of humans, but they stopped worshipping their creators, so Tezcatlipoca turned them all into monkeys, and Quetzalcoatl, who had loved them for all their sins, destroyed them in a fit of spite with a hurricane. Tezcatlipoca connived the gods Tlaloc and Chalchiuhtlicue into destroying the next two with fire and with floods. The fifth one, ours, will be destroyed by earthquakes. But in every other respect it’s entirely different from the ones that came before.
Urn depicting Tlaloc, the rain god. DEA / G. Dagli Orti / Getty Images
After the creation and destruction of four worlds, the universe had exhausted itself. We live in the shadow of those real words; their echo, their chalk outline. In each of the four previous worlds, humanity was newly created by the gods. Present-day humans were not: we are the living dead. After the destruction of the fourth world, it lay in darkness for fifty years, until Quetzalcoatl journeyed into Mictlan, the Aztec hell, and reanimated the bones of the dead. In the four previous worlds, the sun was a living god. In ours, it’s a dead one. To build a new sun for this worn-out earth required a blood sacrifice: The gods gathered in the eternal darkness and built a fire, and their weakest deity, Nanahuatzin, a crippled god covered in sores, leapt into the center of the flames, and the sun was born.
But it was a weak sun, and it wouldn’t move. All the other gods, one after another, immolated themselves in the fire to bring the dawn, but it’s still not enough. The sun needs more sacrifices; it needs ours. This is why the Aztec priests slaughtered people by the hundreds, cutting out their hearts and throwing their corpses down the temple steps. This blood and murder was the only thing that kept the sun rising each morning; if they stopped even for a day, it would go black and wither to nothing in the sky, and without its light the earth would harden and crack and fall apart. And some day, this will happen: it’s earthquakes that will destroy us all, and when it crumbles there will be nothing left.
The fourth world was the last; we’re living in something else. A half-world, a mockery, a reality sustained only through death and suffering. The first four worlds were created by the gods and destroyed according to their wills or because of their squabbles, just like the four Yugas of Hinduism, or the creation of the Abrahamic God, whose Judgement Day will come whenever He sees fit. Our world is being kept alive only through human activity; it’s a world into which we have been abandoned. The Aztecs were stone-age existentialists, trembling before their misbegotten freedom. This is a theology for the anthropocene — our present era, in which biological and geological processes are subordinated to human activity, in which the earth that preceded us for four billion years is finally, devastatingly in our hands, to choke with toxic emissions or sear with nuclear bombs. But modern society isn’t treading new ground here: the Aztecs came first, five hundred years ago. And their response was to kill.
Most everyone knows about the Aztec sun-sacrifices, the mass daily executions carried out by the priests, but ritual human slaughter was everywhere in their society. Sometimes children were drowned, sometimes women were killed as they danced, sometimes people were burned alive, or shot with arrows, or flayed, or eaten. Hundreds of thousands of people died every year. At the same time, these were the same people whose emperors were all poets, whose young people went out dancing every night, and whose cities were vast gardens filled with flowers, butterflies, and hummingbirds. This might be the reason Aztec human sacrifice is still so horrifying — we’re much more likely to forgive mass killings if we can say for certain why they happened. The Romans killed thousands in their circuses, and in the 21st century we still watch death — real or feigned — for entertainment; it’s extreme but not so different. When the Spanish came to Mexico, they were horrified by the skulls piled up by the temples — but then they killed everyone, and we understand wars of profit and extermination too. But like any mirror, the Aztecs seem to show us everything backwards.
The Aztecs were stone-age existentialists, trembling before their misbegotten freedom.
Still, you can feel traces today. In the neoliberal economic doctrine that’s still dominant across most of the world, something strangely similar is happening. All the welfare institutions that ameliorate capitalism’s tendencies to extreme wealth and extreme poverty have to be destroyed, for the good of the economy. People die from this — in Britain, up to 30,000 people may have died in one year as a result of cuts to health and social care, and that’s in a prosperous Western country. In the United States, a faltering band-aid mechanism like Obamacare has to be wrenched off, with the excuse that it’s being replaced with market pricings, which are natural and proper and, in their own way, fair. But it’s all for nothing. The economics behind neoliberalism are nonsense, but the prophets — these days, drab old thinkers like Friedrich Hayek or Milton Friedman — have warned us that unless they’re followed, we’ll open up the road to serfdom. Ask a liberal economist why millions have to suffer, forced to live in drudgery under late capitalism’s dimming sun, and something horrifying will happen. A weak, indulgent, condescending smile will leak across their face, and they’ll say: that’s just how the market works. An echo of the Aztec priest, dagger held high, kindly telling his victim that his heart has to be pulled out from his chest, because that’s just how the sun works.
But neoliberalism really does work, it just doesn’t do what it’s supposed to. It might not be any good for the population at large, but it has facilitated a massive upward redistribution of wealth; the poor are scrubbed clean of everything, and the rich drink it up. Class power creates both the excess of cruelty and the mythic ideology to justify it. Marxist writers like Eric Wolf have tried to find something similar operating among the Aztecs: Human sacrifice cemented the rule of the aristocratic elites — they were believed to literally gain their powers through eating the sacrificial victims — while keeping the underclasses in line and the conquered peoples in terror. But all contemporaneous societies were class-based and repressive; it doesn’t begin to explain the prescient nihilism of their theology. Something else might.
The Aztecs built an extraordinarily sophisticated state. Their capital, Tenochtitlan, whose ruins still poke haphazardly through Mexico City, might have been the largest city outside China when Europeans first made contact; it was bigger than Paris and Naples combined, and five times bigger than London. Stretching across the Mexican highlands, their empire had, in 150 years, conquered or achieved political dominance over very nearly their entire known world, bounded by impassable mountains to the west and stifling jungle to the east. Without any major enemies left to fight, they found new ways of securing captives for sacrifice: the “flower wars” were a permanent, ritual war against neighboring city-states, in which the armies would meet at an agreed place and fight to capture as many enemy soldiers as possible.
The Roman Empire could never defeat their eternal enemy in Persia, and the dynastic Egyptians were periodically overwhelmed by Semitic tribes to the north, but until the day the Spanish arrived the Aztec monarchs were presumptive kings of absolutely everything under the sun. The only really comparable situation is the one we live under now — the unlimited empire of liberal capitalism, a scurrying hive of private interests held together under an American military power without horizon. We have our own flower wars. The United States and Russia are fighting each other in Syria — never directly, but through their proxies, so that only Syrians suffer, just as they did in Afghanistan, and Latin America, and Vietnam, and Korea. Wars, like Reagan’s attack on Granada or Trump’s on a Syrian airbase, are fought for public consumption. There is a pathology of the end of the world: dominance, ritualization, reification, and massacre.
Tezcatlipoca, the supreme god, and the enemy of Quetzalcoatl. Werner Forman / Universal Images Group / Getty Images
The Aztecs were not capitalists, but their economy has some spooky correspondences with ours. While they had a centralized state, there was also an emerging free market in sacrifices, and a significant degree of social mobility: every Aztec subject was trained for war, and you could rise through society by bringing in captives for slaughter. The Oxford historian Alan Knight describes it as “a gigantic ‘potlatch state,’ a state predicated on the collection, redistribution and conspicuous consumption of a vast quantity of diverse goods. Sacrifice represented a hypertrophied form of potlatch, with humans playing the part elsewhere reserved for pigs.” The potlatch is a custom practiced by indigenous peoples further up in the Pacific Northwest, in which indigenous Americans ceremonially exchange and then spectacularly destroyed vast quantities of goods — blankets, canoes, skins, but most of all food — in a show of wealth and plenitude. In the sophisticated class society of the Aztecs, the grand triumphant waste was in human lives.
We are, after all, assembled from the bones of four dead universes. We were dead to begin with. Perched on the end of history, the Aztecs beheld a dead reality in which life becomes lifeless, to be circulated and exchanged. Four-and-a-half centuries later, Marx saw the same processes in capitalism. He describes it in Wage Labor and Capital: “The putting of labour-power into action — i.e., work — is the active expression of the labourer’s own life. And this life activity he sells to another person […] He does not count the labour itself as a part of his life; it is rather a sacrifice of his life.” (Emphasis mine.) Workers are cut off from their own labour and from themselves by a production process in which they are not ends but means, part of a giant machinery that exists to satisfy the demands not of human life but of “dead labor,” capital. From his 1844 Manuscripts: “It estranges from man his own body, as well as external nature and his spiritual aspect, his human aspect.” His labour-power becomes a commodity; something to be bought and sold in quantifiable amounts, something inert. The worker under capitalism, like the captive walking up the temple steps, is consecrated to death.
We are, after all, assembled from the bones of four dead universes.
The Aztec world ended. When the Spanish came they found an empire of 25 million people; by the time they left only one million remained. Its people were killed with swords, guns, fire, famine, disease, and work. The beautiful garden-city of Tenochtitlan was torn down, a European fort built in its place. Sacrifices were no longer offered to the sun, and somehow it still kept rising every day. You can laugh at their credulity — they really thought the sun would stop rising, and look, everything’s still here! But the end of the Aztec world was dispersed throughout time, until it became isomorphic with the world itself.
Their disaster was not waiting for us in the future, a monumental bookend to history, like the Judgement Day of the people who destroyed them — they lived within it, in the ruins of a real world that died with the gods. This is the cosmology of the great German philosopher Walter Benjamin: to apprehend reality we should make “no reflections on the future of bourgeois society;” rather than a series of events leading towards an uncertain end, his Angel of History stands to face the past and sees only “one single catastrophe, which unceasingly piles rubble on top of rubble and hurls it before his feet.”
We exist in that rubble. The Aztec Empire conquered its world, strip-mined its future, and turned human populations into fungible objects. Contemporary society too has nowhere else to go: capital has saturated the earth, and outer space is a void. Our world, with the monstrous totality of its stability and order, is relentlessly producing its own destruction. In fantasies of black holes and the wrath of God; in the actuality of an atmosphere flooded with carbon dioxide and a biosphere denuded of all life. We missed the apocalypse while we were waiting for it to take place. Baudrillard writes: “Everything has already become nuclear, faraway, vaporized. The explosion has already occurred.” Capitalism built a corpse-world. Its sun keeps rising every morning, whatever we do, but it’s growing hotter in the sky; poisoning the seas, frizzling farmlands to desert, carrying out Tezcatlipoca’s last act of revenge.
Giovana Girardi, 15 de dezembro de 2019 | 17h55
MADRI – A expectativa sobre a Conferência do Clima da ONU deste ano (COP-25) não era lá muito grande. Mas o clamor que veio das ruas ao longo de 2019 – impulsionado por dois novos relatórios científicos do Painel Intergovernamental sobre Mudanças Climáticas (IPCC) que reforçaram a necessidade urgente de ações para conter o aquecimento global em até 1,5ºC até o final do século – dava uma esperança de que algo melhor poderia ser alcançado.
A COP de Madri, porém, foi um fracasso praticamente sob qualquer aspecto que se olhe. E bateu uma sensação de apatia e de desânimo de que talvez não haja mais vontade política para conter o desastre.
Pôsteres no centro de convenções de Madri onde ocorreu a COP pedem ação imediata contra as mudanças climáticas. Crédito: Giovana Girardi / Estadão
O clima – na falta de palavra melhor – nos corredores da Feria de Madrid ao longo dos últimos 14 dias era completamente oposto ao que se viu há quatro anos em Paris, quando 195 países se mobilizaram de modo inédito para fechar o Acordo de Paris.
Na época, os maiores poluidores do planeta, Estados Unidos e China, estavam na mesma página. O Brasil atuava como um facilitador para minimizar conflitos históricos entre países desenvolvidos e em desenvolvimento. União Europeia tinha cacife para pedir mais ambição.
Em Paris todos toparam se esforçar para conter o aquecimento a planeta a bem menos do que 2ºC até 2100, e se possível deixá-lo em 1,5ºC – limite da tragédia principalmente para os países mais vulneráveis às mudanças sofridas pelo planeta.
Todo mundo ali sabia, no entanto, que as metas que cada nação estava voluntariamente oferecendo (as chamadas NDCs – contribuições nacionalmente determinadas) para ajudar o esforço global não seriam suficientes para isso. Elas ainda colocavam o mundo no rumo de aquecer 3ºC, o que pode ser trágico até mesmo para os países ricos e mais bem estruturados. Era preciso evoluir rapidamente. O Acordo de Paris, então, trouxe uma cláusula: de que em 2020 seria feita uma nova rodada para atualizar e melhorar as metas.
De lá pra cá, as condições pioraram. As emissões mundiais não estão caindo – chegaram a subir nos últimos dois anos –, e as concentrações de gases de efeito estufa na atmosfera estão cada vez maiores. De acordo com cálculos do Programa da ONU para o Meio Ambiente (Pnuma), as emissões precisariam cair 7,6% ao ano para colocar o planeta nos trilhos do 1,5ºC. Queimadas em tudo quanto é canto, ondas de calor e tufões são alguns dos eventos críticos que ocorreram neste ano atribuídos ao aquecimento global que mostram que este é um problema atual, não para o futuro.
O apelo, desse modo, era pra ter sinalizações mais concretas desse aumento de ambição já em 2019, na COP que era para ser na América Latina. Que era do Brasil, foi pro Chile após desistência do presidente Jair Bolsonaro, e foi pra Espanha após as convulsões sociais entre os chilenos. Faltaram rédeas curtas para a presidência chilena, mas, acima de tudo, faltou o espírito de Paris nesta COP. Ela terminou com um mera reafirmação do Acordo de Paris, sem acrescentar quase nada.
Nações mais pobres ou menores, que pouco contribuíram para a quantidade de gases de efeito estufa que sufocam hoje a Terra, foram as mais ativas. Se comprometeram a aumentar suas metas de redução de emissões, mas, juntas, elas não respondem nem por 10% das emissões do planeta. A União Europeia também se comprometeu com neutralidade de carbono até 2050, mas pode ser tarde demais.
Os Estados Unidos, que chegaram a Madri após apresentarem oficialmente sua “carta de demissão” do Acordo de Paris, abandonaram qualquer bom senso, assim como a Austrália, apesar de o país ter literalmente pegado fogo neste ano, e, para surpresa dos demais negociadores, o Brasil. O País, com forte tradição ambiental e diplomática, que em geral atuava destravando as negociações, adotou uma postura bem pouco construtiva.
O ministro do Meio Ambiente, Ricardo Salles, que chefiou a delegação brasileira, esteve na conferência do primeiro ao último dia, e passou boa parte do tempo cobrando seus pares a pagarem o Brasil por feitos do passado. Por emissões que o País reduziu quando cortou o desmatamento, nos governos Lula e Dilma, e por créditos emitidos no regime anterior, o Protocolo de Kyoto, que nunca foram pagos. Não se manifestou sobre as condições ruins que carregava nas costas – a alta de 29,5% no desmatamento neste ano.
Outros países chegaram a relatar constrangimento com a postura e houve críticas de que o Brasil estava dificultando o estabelecimento de um acordo, especialmente sobre o artigo 6 do Acordo de Paris, que estabelece mecanismos de mercado. Esse era um dos objetivos da COP de Madri – definir as regras para esses mercados, mas mesmo depois de a COP se prorrogar até este domingo – deveria ter fechado na sexta, 13 – não foi possível chegar a um acordo.
Brasil ganha “fóssil do ano’ por aumento no desmatamento, mortes de indígenas e por não ajudar na COP do Clima em Madri. Crédito: Giovana Girardi / Estadão
Justiça seja feita, não foi só o Brasil. Cada país queria uma coisa para esses mecanismos. E Salles disse à imprensa brasileira, no seu único posicionamento coletivo aos jornalistas nacionais, que queria um acordo sobre mercado de qualquer jeito. Mas ele pedia regras consideradas bem pouco razoáveis, que poderiam resultar na chamada dupla contagem de redução de emissões para cumprimento de metas de dois países, comprometendo a integridade do Acordo de Paris.
O Brasil chegou a ser chamado de pária ambiental e, por isso, foi por três vezes “homenageado” por ONGs internacionais como um problema para as negociações. Pela primeira vez na história das COPs, recebeu o prêmio “fóssil do ano“.
Nada deu certo. A decisão sobre mercado de carbono e sobre ambição ficou para a COP seguinte, em Glasgow, na Escócia. Parece cada vez mais impossível ficar em 1,5ºC.
Para compensar nossas emissões na COP, um almoço veggie! pic.twitter.com/NUtLvYLn9m
— Ricardo Salles MMA (@rsallesmma) December 15, 2019
Salles optou por fazer troça ao final da COP. Depois de postar um vídeo no seu twitter dizendo que a “COP-25 não deu em nada”, apesar “de todos os esforços do Brasil”, algumas horas publicou em suas redes sociais uma foto de um prato enorme de carne dizendo: “Para compensar nossas emissões na COP, um almoço veggie!”. A pecuária e sua expansão sobre a Floresta Amazônica são o setor responsável pelo maior fatia das emissões de gases de efeito estufa do País.
* A repórter viajou a convite do Instituto Clima e Sociedade (iCS)
December 13, 2019 9.33am EST – original article
Mikael Klintman PhD, Professor, Lund University
Despite creative efforts to tackle it, belief in conspiracy theories, alternative facts and fake news show no sign of abating. This is clearly a huge problem, as seen when it comes to climate change, vaccines and expertise in general – with anti-scientific attitudes increasingly influencing politics.
So why can’t we stop such views from spreading? My opinion is that we have failed to understand their root causes, often assuming it is down to ignorance. But new research, published in my book, Knowledge Resistance: How We Avoid Insight from Others, shows that the capacity to ignore valid facts has most likely had adaptive value throughout human evolution. Therefore, this capacity is in our genes today. Ultimately, realising this is our best bet to tackle the problem.
So far, public intellectuals have roughly made two core arguments about our post-truth world. The physician Hans Rosling and the psychologist Steven Pinker argue it has come about due to deficits in facts and reasoned thinking – and can therefore be sufficiently tackled with education.
Meanwhile, Nobel Prize winner Richard Thaler and other behavioural economists have shown how the mere provision of more and better facts often lead already polarised groups to become even more polarised in their beliefs.
The conclusion of Thaler is that humans are deeply irrational, operating with harmful biases. The best way to tackle it is therefore nudging – tricking our irrational brains – for instance by changing measles vaccination from an opt-in to a less burdensome opt-out choice.
Such arguments have often resonated well with frustrated climate scientists, public health experts and agri-scientists (complaining about GMO-opposers). Still, their solutions clearly remain insufficient for dealing with a fact-resisting, polarised society.
In my comprehensive study, I interviewed numerous eminent academics at the University of Oxford, London School of Economics and King’s College London, about their views. They were experts on social, economic and evolutionary sciences. I analysed their comments in the context of the latest findings on topics raging from the origin of humanity, climate change and vaccination to religion and gender differences.
It became evident that much of knowledge resistance is better understood as a manifestation of social rationality. Essentially, humans are social animals; fitting into a group is what’s most important to us. Often, objective knowledge-seeking can help strengthen group bonding – such as when you prepare a well-researched action plan for your colleagues at work.
But when knowledge and group bonding don’t converge, we often prioritise fitting in over pursuing the most valid knowledge. In one large experiment, it turned out that both liberals and conservatives actively avoided having conversations with people of the other side on issues of drug policy, death penalty and gun ownership. This was the case even when they were offered a chance of winning money if they discussed with the other group. Avoiding the insights from opposing groups helped people dodge having to criticise the view of their own community.
Similarly, if your community strongly opposes what an overwhelming part of science concludes about vaccination or climate change, you often unconsciously prioritise avoiding getting into conflicts about it.
This is further backed up by research showing that the climate deniers who score the highest on scientific literacy tests are more confident than the average in that group that climate change isn’t happening – despite the evidence showing this is the case. And those among the climate concerned who score the highest on the same tests are more confident than the average in that group that climate change is happening.
This logic of prioritising the means that get us accepted and secured in a group we respect is deep. Those among the earliest humans who weren’t prepared to share the beliefs of their community ran the risk of being distrusted and even excluded.
And social exclusion was an enormous increased threat against survival – making them vulnerable to being killed by other groups, animals or by having no one to cooperate with. These early humans therefore had much lower chances of reproducing. It therefore seems fair to conclude that being prepared to resist knowledge and facts is an evolutionary, genetic adaptation of humans to the socially challenging life in hunter-gatherer societies.
Today, we are part of many groups and internet networks, to be sure, and can in some sense “shop around” for new alliances if our old groups don’t like us. Still, humanity today shares the same binary mindset and strong drive to avoid being socially excluded as our ancestors who only knew about a few groups. The groups we are part of also help shape our identity, which can make it hard to change groups. Individuals who change groups and opinions constantly may also be less trusted, even among their new peers.
In my research, I show how this matters when it comes to dealing with fact resistance. Ultimately, we need to take social aspects into account when communicating facts and arguments with various groups. This could be through using role models, new ways of framing problems, new rules and routines in our organisations and new types of scientific narratives that resonate with the intuitions and interests of more groups than our own.
There are no quick fixes, of course. But if climate change were reframed from the liberal/leftist moral perspective of the need for global fairness to conservative perspectives of respect for the authority of the father land, the sacredness of God’s creation and the individual’s right not to have their life project jeopardised by climate change, this might resonate better with conservatives.
If we take social factors into account, this would help us create new and more powerful ways to fight belief in conspiracy theories and fake news. I hope my approach will stimulate joint efforts of moving beyond disputes disguised as controversies over facts and into conversations about what often matters more deeply to us as social beings.
Senhores a quem entregamos a riqueza de nossos dados. Programas e objetos “encantados” que comandam nossas vidas. O conhecimento comum controlado, como na Inquisição. “Novas” tecnologias ameaçam conjurar vasto retrocesso
OutrasPalavras Tecnologia em Disputa
por Max Read
Publicado 09/12/2019 às 19:29 – Atualizado 09/12/2019 às 19:57
Por Max Read, na New York Magazine | Tradução: Antonio Martins | Imagem: Camponeses pagando tributos a seus senhores, xilogravura do século XV
No final de agosto, um barco de velas pretas apareceu no porto, carregando uma visionária de 16 anos, uma garota que navegara do norte distante através de um grande oceano. Uma multidão de moradores e viajantes, encantados por suas profecias, reuniu-se para lhe dar boas vindas. Ela viera para falar às nações da Terra, para advertir-nos de nossas vaidades e da catástrofe que se aproxima. “Havia quatro gerações saudando-a e dizendo, em cânticos, que a amavam”, observou o escritor Dean Kissick. “Quando ela pisou em terra, pareceu algo messiânico”.
Não posso ter sido a única pessoa a sentir que estava vivendo, estranhamente, nas páginas de um épico fantástico, no momento em que Greta Thunberg desceu em Nova York. Durante a maior parte de minha vida, o paradigma para imaginar o futuro foi a ficção científica distópica. Em cada foto de uma cidade reluzente de neon, em cada história de ciberguerra sem regras e limites, refletiam-se as visões ultramodernas e hipercapitalistas de escritores cyberpunk como Wiliam Gibson, cujo trabalho foi tão influente que moldou a forma como os primeiros arquitetos da internet compreenderam sua criação. Mas onde se encaixaria, no futuro noir e high-tech que me ensinaram a esperar, uma menina profetisa navegando do norte gelado para confrontar os reis e rainhas do planeta? Que conto de ciber intriga corporativa incluiria uma visionária liderando um exército de crianças em marchas pelo globo?
Refletindo depois, percebi que a história lembra menos o futuro cyberpunk de Gibson que o passado fantástico de J.R.R. Tolkien; menos tecnologia e cibernética que mágica e apocalipse. A internet não parece estar nos transformando em sofisticados ciborgues, e sim em camponeses medievais rudes, extasiados por um sempre presente reino de espíritos e cativos de senhores autocráticos e distantes. E se não estivermos sendo impulsionados rumo a um futuro cyberpunk, e sim atirados em algum passado pré-moderno fantástico?
Em minha própria vida quotidiana, eu já me relaciono constantemente com forças mágicas ao mesmo tempo sinistras e benevolentes. Observo de longe, através do cristal, os movimentos de meus inimigos. (Ou seja, eu odeio-e-sigo pessoas no Instagram ou Facebook). Leio histórias sobre símbolos amaldiçoados tão poderosos que tornam incomunicativo qualquer um que os contemple (Ou seja, glifos Unicode que paralisam seu iPhone). Recuso-me a escrever os nomes de inimigos míticos por temer trazê-los a minha presença, assim como os membros de tribos proto-germânicas usavam o termo eufemístico marrom, em vem de urso, para não invocar um deles. (Ou seja, intencionalmente altero palavras como Gamergate quando as escrevo)1. Realizo rituais supersticiosos para obter a aprovação dos demônios (Ou seja, daemons, os programas autônomos de retaguarda sobre os quais a computação moderna se desenvolve).
Esta estranha dança de rituais e superstições irá se tornar ainda mais intensa na próxima década. Graças a smartphones ubíquos e ao cellular data, a internet tornou-se uma espécie de camada sobrenatural instalada no topo de vida quotidiana, um reino facilmente acessível de poder temível, visões febris e batalhas espirituais apocalípticas. O medievalista Richard Wunderli descreveu o mundo dos camponeses do século XV como algo “encantado” – “limitado apenas por uma barreira translúcida e porosa, que levava ao reino mais poderoso dos espíritos, demônios, anjos e santos”. Não soa tão diferente de um mundo em que barreiras literalmente translúcidas separam-nos dos trolls, demônios e ícones pop-star a cujas menções no Twitter, e comentários no Instagram, eu deveria fazer uma peregrinação quase religiosa.
A estrutura da internet aponta para um arranjo que Bruce Schneider, um especialista em cibersegurança, chama de “feudalismo digital”. Por meio dele, os grandes proprietários – plataformas como o Google e o Facebook – estão se tornando nossos senhores feudais, e estamos nos reduzindo a seus vassalos. “Nós vamos abastecê-los com o dados que emanam de nossa navegação, em troca de vaga proteção contra saqueadores que buscam brechas de segurança”. O senso de impotência que podemos sentir diante da justiça algorítmica opaca das megaplataformas – e o senso de mistério que tais mecanismos deveriam engendrar – não teriam parecido estranhos para um camponês medieval. (Uma vez que você tenha explicado, é claro, o que significa um algoritmo).
E à medida em que a internet enfeitice cada vez mais objetos – “smart” TVs, “smart” fornos, “smart” alto-falantes, “smart” vibradores – sua lógica feudal abarcará também o mundo material. Você não possui mais o programa de seu telefone, assim como um camponês não possuía seu lote de terra. E quando seu carro ou fechadura de casa forem igualmente encantados, um senhor distante poderá expulsá-lo fácil e arbitrariamente. Os robôs de assistência ao consumidor aos quais você entregou seu caso serão tão impiedosos e incapazes de perdão como um xerife medieval. Izabella Kaminska sugere, no Financial Times, que no âmbito do controle quase feudal do capitalismo de compartilhamento por seus contratantes, há “potencial para o retorno da estrutura de guildas”. Motoristas de aplicativos, por exemplo, podem, em algum momento, criar um corpo independente credenciador, para garantir a portabilidade dos dados e da reputação entre as “fronteiras” dos “senhores” (ou seja, Uber, 99 ou Lyft), assim como os artesãos usavam o pertencimento a uma guilda como credenciais, no início do milênio passado.
Para onde esta camada de mágica, carregada espiritualmente e organizada à moda feudal, levaria nossa política e cultura? Poderíamos olhar para governantes como Donald Trump, que manejam o poder como um rei absolutista ou um papa caviloso e que fala, como diversos observadores notaram, como um herói grego ou um senhor de guerra anglo-saxão. Ou seja, no estilo fanfarrão e altamente repetitivo da poesia época, característica das culturas orais.
Paradoxalmente, o caráter efêmero e a densidade rala dos textos nas mídias sociais estão recriando as circunstâncias de uma sociedade pré-letrada: um mundo em que a informação é rapidamente esquecida e nada pode ser facilmente consultado. (Como os monges medievais copiando Aristótoles, o Google e o Facebook coletarão e ordenarão o conhecimento do mundo; como a igreja católica medieval, controlarão rigorosamente sua apresentação e acessibilidade). Sob tais condições, a memorabilidade e a concisão – as mesmas qualidades que podem fazer alguém hábil no Twitter – serão mais valorizadas que a força do argumento; e líderes políticos bem-sucedidos, para os quais a verdade factual é menos importante que a perpétua repetição de um mito duradouro, focarão no auto-engrandecimento repetitivo,
Tudo isso, é claro, ocorrerá diante de um pano de fundo de desastre: um mundo natural volátil, em ruínas, estranho e imprevisível em sua força e violência. Está ficando cada vez mais difícil prever o tempo, e os efeitos da mudança climática atiraram no território das dúvidas o vasto conhecimento que tornava o mundo familiar e governável. A natureza aparece para nós como tempestades aniquiladoras, incêndios furiosos, enchentes épicas, uma manifestação literal de nossos pecados terrestres. Presos numa cena pré-letramento, governados por ilusionistas e nepotistas, cativos de senhores feudais, circundados por ritual e magia – é de surpreender que nos voltemos a uma garota visionária, para nos salvar do apocalipse que se aproxima?
Terrence McCoy – 12 dez 2019
Ele ouviu batidas fortes na porta. Estranho, pensou o sacerdote –ele não estava esperando ninguém.
Marcos Figueiredo foi até a entrada do terreiro e abriu a porta.
Armas. Três delas. Todas apontadas para ele.
O “Bonde de Jesus” havia chegado. Eram três membros de uma quadrilha de cristãos evangélicos extremistas que assumiu o controle do bairro pobre de Parque Paulista, em Duque de Caxias.
Primeiro a quadrilha montou barreiras nas ruas para impedir a entrada da polícia e criar um refúgio seguro para o tráfico a uma hora de carro do Rio de Janeiro. Agora, estava atacando qualquer pessoa cuja religião não se alinhasse com a sua. Isso incluía impor o fechamento de templos de religiões de matriz africana, como o terreiro de candomblé de Marcos Figueiredo.
“Ninguém aqui quer saber de macumba”, disse um dos agressores a Figueiredo, segundo o depoimento que ele deu às autoridades. “Você tem uma semana para acabar com isso daqui tudo.”
Eles foram embora dando tiros no ar e deixando Figueiredo com uma escolha impossível: sua fé ou sua vida.
É uma decisão que mais brasileiros estão sendo forçados a tomar. À medida que o cristianismo evangélico reconfigura o mapa espiritual do maior país da América Latina, atraindo dezenas de milhões de fiéis, conquistando poder político e ameaçando a hegemonia histórica da Igreja Católica, seus fiéis mais radicais, em muitos casos filiados a gangues criminosas, vêm atacando com frequência crescente membros de minorias religiosas não cristãs no Brasil.
Sacerdotes foram mortos. Crianças foram apedrejadas. Uma idosa foi gravemente ferida. Provocações e ameaças de morte são comuns. As quadrilhas hasteiam a bandeira de Israel, país visto por alguns evangélicos como necessário para assegurar o retorno de Cristo à terra.
Como a santeria e o vodu, o candomblé tem suas raízes nas crenças trazidas para a América Latina por escravos vindos da África ocidental. E está desaparecendo de comunidades inteiras.
“Alguns deles se dizem ‘traficantes de Jesus’, criando uma identidade singular”, disse Gilbert Stivanello, comandante da unidade de crimes de intolerância da polícia do Rio de Janeiro. “Eles portam armas e vendem drogas, mas se sentem no direito de proibir as religiões de matriz africana, dizendo que estão ligadas ao demônio.”
A violência crescente deixa os evangélicos tradicionais chocados. “Quando vejo esses terreiros, rezo contra eles, porque há uma influência demoníaca em ação ali”, comentou o missionário americano David Bledsoe, que vive no Brasil há duas décadas. “Mas eu condenaria esses atos.”
O Rio de Janeiro, que durante muito tempo abrigou um conjunto diverso de religiões afro-brasileiras, hoje também é o centro do neopentecostalismo brasileiro, uma vertente acirrada do movimento evangélico que é mais frequentemente vinculada à intolerância.
Frequentemente defendidas pelos pastores pentecostalistas brasileiros, ideias como essas agora ecoam nas favelas cariocas.
As denúncias de ataques contra adeptos das religiões afro-brasileiras aumentaram de 14 em 2016 para 123 nos dez primeiros meses deste ano no estado do Rio de Janeiro. As autoridades estaduais dizem que essas cifras são inferiores ao número real; muitas vítimas teriam medo de abrir a boca.
Mais de 200 terreiros foram fechados neste ano em função de ameaças, segundo a Comissão de Combate à Intolerância Religiosa (CCIR), sediada no Rio. É o dobro do número do ano passado. Milhares de pessoas foram privadas de seus locais de culto.
Marcos Figueiredo não tinha dinheiro para se mudar para outro lugar. Não podia fundar uma congregação nova. Tinha que fazer uma opção.
Resistir? Ou fechar seu terreiro?
Ele tinha uma semana para decidir.
Em uma geração o Brasil passou por uma transformação espiritual como a de poucos outros lugares no planeta. Ainda em 1980, cerca de nove em cada dez brasileiros se identificavam como católicos. Mas essa parcela caiu vertiginosamente, para 50%, e em pouco tempo será superada pela dos evangélicos, que hoje formam um terço da população.
O televangelismo corre solto na TV. A indústria de música evangélica movimenta cerca de US$1 bilhão. Políticos evangélicos puxaram o país para a direita nas questões sociais. E o sistema carcerário, há anos o maior centro de recrutamento das quadrilhas criminosas, virou o campo de uma conversão.
Pesquisas revelam que 81 das cem organizações religiosas que trabalham com questões sociais dentro dos presídios são evangélicas. A IURD diz que despachou um exército de 14 mil fiéis voluntários para converter os detentos.
A professora de sociologia Cristina Vital da Cunha, da Universidade Federal Fluminense, estuda há décadas o evangelismo nas favelas cariocas. Ela disse: “Alguns pastores e denominações fizeram uma aposta estratégica na conversão dos traficantes nos locais privilegiados na hierarquia do crime”.
Jorge Duarte, 63, era sacerdote do terreiro de candomblé mais antigo do Parque Paulista. Ele se recorda de quando o Terceiro Comando Puro tomou o poder, por volta de 2012.
O Terceiro Comando Puro controlava a programação dos terreiros, decretando um toque de recolher, permitindo as celebrações religiosas apenas em dias determinados e limitando o número de fiéis que podiam ir aos terreiros. Carros desconhecidos que entrassem na comunidade eram barrados por homens armados. O uso de roupas brancas, tradicionais no candomblé, foi proibido em público.
Começaram a chegar a Parque Paulista histórias de perseguição religiosa em outras partes da cidade: disseram a uma menina de 11 anos que ela ia arder no inferno e depois lhe deram uma pedrada na cabeça. Uma mulher de 65 anos foi apedrejada. Imagens de seu rosto ferido se espalharam pela televisão em toda a cidade.
Uma sacerdotisa de candomblé foi forçada sob a mira de armas a destruir todos os artefatos em seu terreiro, enquanto bandidos a atormentavam.
“Todo o mal precisa ser desfeito em nome de Jesus!”, disse um homem em um vídeo da agressão. “Sou a favor da honra e glória de Jesus!”, acrescentou outro. “Quebre tudo, porque você é o diabo!”, outro comandou.
Faz dois anos que Carmen Flores foi forçada a destruir seus artefatos –seus vasos de cerâmica e estatuetas de orixás. Mas ela ainda ouve as provocações em sua cabeça.
“Tenho medo de alguém vir para cá e nos massacrar”, disse Flores, 68. “Tenho medo de sair para a rua. Tenho medo de pegar o ônibus. E não sou só eu.”
Pouco depois da visita que fizeram a Marcos Figueiredo, os homens do Bonde de Jesus foram ao terreiro mais antigo do Parque Paulista. Quatro membros da quadrilha bateram à porta, apontaram uma arma para a sacerdotisa de 86 anos e mandaram que ela destruísse todos os objetos religiosos da casa e ateasse fogo a ela.
“É tortura psicológica”, disse sua neta, Vivian Lessa. “Você tem uma coisa como sagrada e é forçada a quebrar essa coisa, enquanto eles ficam dizendo ‘ninguém vem te salvar’.”
Isso mostrou a Figueiredo tudo o que ele precisava saber. Se a quadrilha estava disposta a fazer isso com uma senhora de 86 anos, o que não faria com ele?
Ele não resistiria. Fecharia o terreiro.
Em agosto, a polícia anunciou a prisão do Bonde de Jesus, formado por oito membros do Terceiro Comando Puro. Segundo as autoridades, no prazo de algumas semanas seus integrantes haviam destruído ou forçado o fechamento de um terreiro depois de outro. Um dos homens era o líder do Terceiro Comando no Parque Paulista. Além de suas responsabilidades na quadrilha, trabalhava como pastor evangélico.
Figueiredo viu os relatos da imprensa mas não viu os rostos de seus agressores entre os detidos. Eles ainda estavam lá fora e retornariam. E quando o fizessem, como ele poderia confiar que outros moradores o ajudassem, sendo que não haviam ajudado antes? Como poderia confiar que o governo ajudaria, quando tantos políticos são evangélicos?
Seria mais seguro fechar o terreiro. Em pouco tempo, todos os terreiros que ele conhecia no Parque Paulista tinham desaparecido.
“Este daqui fechou”, disse Figueiredo, percorrendo o bairro de carro e apontando para uma casa abandonada.
“Fechado, também”, falou, vendo outra. “Lá na frente havia outro terreiro, mas fechou as portas.”
Olhando para o bairro, onde sua religião foi proibida, Figueiredo enxergou o futuro.
“A teocracia”, disse.
Com reportagem de Heloísa Traiano
Tradução de Clara Allain
By Amy Harmon
Oct. 18, 2018
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N. is a black high school student in Winston-Salem, N.C., who does not appear in my article on Thursday’s front page about how human geneticists have been slow to respond to the invocation of their research by white supremacists. (Note: N.’s full name has been removed to minimize online harassment.)
But the story of how he struggled last spring to find sources to refute the claims of white classmates that people of European descent had evolved to be intellectually superior to Africans is the reason I persevered in the assignment, even when I felt as if my head were going to explode.
N. had vowed to take up the subject for a persuasive speech assignment in his Rhetoric class. Googling for information that would help him, however, yielded a slew of blogs and videos arguing the other side. “There’s only one scientific response for every hundred videos or so,” he told me when we spoke on the phone.
“Could somebody please debunk this blog post, if it can be debunked?” he finally posted on the Reddit forum r/badscience. “It’s convincing me of things I really don’t want to be convinced of.”
I was introduced to N. by Kevin Bird, a white graduate student at Michigan State University who had answered N.’s Reddit query, and others that had been flooding that forum about claims of racial differences that invoke the jargon and scientific papers of modern genetic research.
I had misgivings about simply reporting on the rise of a kind of repackaged scientific racism, which I had been tracking as a national correspondent who writes about science. Under the coded term “race realism,” it implied, falsely, that science had found a genetic basis for racial differences in traits like intelligence and behavior. Why draw attention to it?
But a series of Twitter posts from Mr. Bird late last year crystallized a question that had been on my mind. Unlike in the case of climate change, vaccines or other areas of science where scientists routinely seek to correct public misconceptions, those who study how the world’s major population groups vary genetically were largely absent from these forums. Nor was there an obvious place for someone like N. to turn for basic, up-to-date facts on human genetic diversity.
“Right now the propaganda being generated from misrepresented population genetic studies is far outpacing the modest attempts of scientists to publicly engage with the topic,” Mr. Bird had tweeted. “Why,” he asked in another tweet, “are scientists dropping the ball?”
In the course of investigating that question, I spent many hours digesting scientific papers on genetics and interviewing their authors. Some of them, I learned, subscribed to a common ethos among scientists that their job is to provide data and let society decide what to do with it. Others felt it was not productive to engage with what they regarded as a radical fringe.
It was more than a radical fringe at stake, I would tell them. Lots of nonscientists were just confused. It wasn’t just N. Mr. Bird had fielded queries from a graduate student in applied physics at Harvard and an information technology consultant in Michigan whose Twitter profile reads “anti-fascist, anti-bigot.’’ I talked to an Army veteran attending community college in Florida and a professional video gamer who felt ill-equipped to refute science-themed racist propaganda that they encountered online. It had come up in a source’s book group in Boston. They wanted to invite a guest scientist to tutor them but couldn’t figure out who.
But another reason some scientists avoid engaging on this topic, I came to understand, was that they do not have definitive answers about whether there are average differences in biological traits across populations. And they have increasingly powerful tools to try to detect how natural selection may have acted differently on the genes that contribute to assorted traits in various populations.
What’s more, some believe substantial differences will be found. Others think it may not be feasible to ever entirely disentangle an immutable genetic contribution to a behavior from its specific cultural and environmental influences. Yet all of them agree that there is no evidence that any differences which may be found will line up with the prejudices of white supremacists.
As I struggled to write my article, I began, sort of, to feel their pain. With each sentence, I was striving not to give credence to racist ideas, not to misrepresent the science that exists and not to overrepresent how much science actually does exist — while trying also to write in a way that a nonscientist, like N., could understand.
It was hard. It did almost make my head explode. I tested the patience of a very patient editor. The end result, I knew, would not be perfect. But every time I was ready to give up, I thought about N. Here was a kid making a good-faith effort to learn, and the existing resources were failing him. If I could help, however incompletely — even if just to try to explain the absence of information — I felt that was a responsibility I had to meet.
A few weeks ago, as I was getting the story ready to go, I asked N. for an update. “I’ve read a lot more papers since then,” he wrote. (He aced his presentation.) “Many of my arguments are stronger, some have been discarded. I’ve also become much more aware of this stuff around me. In some ways, it’s regrettable, but in other ways, it’s satisfying knowing so much.”
By Amy Harmon
Dec. 7, 2019Updated 11:43 a.m. ET
COLORADO SPRINGS — Biology textbooks used in American high schools do not go near the sensitive question of whether genetics can explain why African-Americans are overrepresented as football players and why a disproportionate number of American scientists are white or Asian.
But in a study starting this month, a group of biology teachers from across the country will address it head-on. They are testing the idea that thescience classroom may be the best place to provide a buffer against the unfounded genetic rationales for human difference that often become the basis for racial intolerance.
At a recent training in Colorado, the dozen teachers who had volunteered to participate in the experiment acknowledged the challenges of inserting the combustible topic of race and ancestry into straightforward lessons on the 19th-century pea-breeding experiments of Gregor Mendel and the basic function of the strands of DNA coiled in every cell.
The new approach represents a major deviation from the usual school genetics fare, which devotes little time to the extent of genetic differences across human populations, or how traits in every species are shaped by a complex mix of genes and environment.
It also challenges a prevailing belief among science educators that questions about race are best left to their counterparts in social studies.
The history of today’s racial categories arose long before the field of genetics and have been used to justify all manner of discriminatory policies. Race, a social concept bound up in culture and family, is not a topic of study in modern human population genetics, which typically uses concepts like “ancestry” or “population” to describe geographic genetic groupings.
But that has not stopped many Americans from believing that genes cause racial groups to have distinct skills, traits and abilities. And among some biology teachers, there has been a growing sense that avoiding any direct mention of race in their genetics curriculum may be backfiring.
“I know it’s threatening,” said Brian Donovan, a science education researcher at the nonprofit BSCS Science Learning who is leading the study. “The thing to remember is that kids are already making sense of race and biology, but with no guidance.”
Human population geneticists have long emphasized that racial disparities found in society do not in themselves indicate corresponding genetic differences. A recent paper by leading researchers in the field invokes statistical models to argue that health disparities between black and white Americans are more readily explained by environmental effects such as racism than the DNA they inherited from ancestors.
In a 2018 survey of 721 students from affluent, majority-white high schools, Dr. Donovan found that one in five agreed with statements like “Members of one racial group are more ambitious than members of another racial group because of genetics.”
A similar percentage of white American adults attribute the black-white income gap to genetic differences, according to an estimate by a team of sociologists published this fall. Though rarely acknowledged in debates over affirmative action or polling responses, “belief in genetic causes of racial inequality remains widespread in the United States,” wrote Ann Morning, of New York University, and her colleagues.
For his part, Dr. Donovan has argued that grade-school biology classes may offer the only opportunity to dispel unfounded genetic explanations for racial inequality on a mass scale. Middle schools and high schools are the first, and perhaps the only, place that most Americans are taught about genetics.
The new curriculum acknowledges there are minor genetic differences between geographic populations loosely correlated to today’s racial categories. But the unit also conveys what geneticists have reiterated: People inherit their environment and culture with their genes, and it is a daunting task to disentangle them. A key part of the curriculum, Dr. Donovan said, is teaching students to “understand the limits of our knowledge.’’
In the pilot study that helped Dr. Donovan secure a research grant from the National Science Foundation, students in eight classrooms exposed to a rudimentary version of the curriculum were less likely than others to endorse statements suggesting that racial groups have defining qualities that are determined by genes. The new study will measure the curriculum’s effect on such attitudes by asking students to fill out surveys before and after the unit.
The training exercise, which a reporter attended on the condition that names would be withheld to avoid jeopardizing the study, showed what it might take to offer students, as one Colorado teacher put it, “something better than ‘don’t worry about it, we’re 99.9 percent the same.’”
For the trainees, from five states and seven school districts, much of the opening morning was devoted to brainstorming how to check in with students, especially black students, who seem defensive or scared, sullen or silent, and how to recognize the unit’s fraught nature.
“Something like ‘These ideas are dangerous, and ‘How do we have a safe conversation about unsafe ideas?’” one teacher said. “But I would have to practice it so I don’t choke up like I am now.’’
Before breaking for lunch, Dr. Donovan, a former middle school science teacher who studied under the Stanford population geneticist Noah Rosenberg while pursuing a science education Ph.D., had a message for them: “If you back out at the end of this,” he said, “I’ll understand.”
Nature, Nurture, the Liberal Agenda
The lessons are structured around two fictional teenagers, Robin and Taylor, who both understand that the differences between the DNA in any two people make up about one-tenth of 1 percent of their genome. But they disagree about how those differences intersect with race.
Taylor thinks that there are genetic differences between people but that those differences are not associated with race.
Robin thinks that the genetic differences within a racial group are small and that most genetic differences exist between people of different races.
The truth is that neither has a completely accurate view.
As human populations spread around the globe, with people living in relative isolation for millenniums, some differences emerged. But the genetic variation between groups in, say, Africa and Europe are much smaller than the differences within each group.
Taylor, who had downplayed the significance of race, eventually had to admit there were some proportionally small differences between population groups. And Robin had to acknowledge having vastly overemphasized the amount of DNA differences between races.
But the two fictional teenagers still clashed over the opening question. Robin believed that there are genes for athletic or intellectual abilities, and that they are the best explanation for racial disparities in the National Football League and in the worlds of math and science. Taylor said genes had nothing to do with it.
Again, neither was completely right.
In their typical classes, the teachers said, they highlight traits driven by single genes — the texture of peas, or a disease like cystic fibrosis. It is an effective way to convey both how traits are transmitted from one generation to another, and how alterations in DNA can produce striking consequences.
But such traits are relatively rare. In Dr. Donovan’s curriculum, students are taught that thousands of variations in DNA influence a more common trait like height or IQ. Only a small fraction of the trait differences between individuals in the same ancestry group has been linked to particular genes. Unknown factors and the social and physical environment — including health, nutrition, opportunity and deliberate practice — also influence trait development. And students are given data about how racism has produced profoundly different environments for black and white Americans.
For Robin, the lessons said, grasping the complexity of it all made it impossible to argue that there was a gene, or even a few genes, specifically for athletics or intelligence, or that the cumulative effect of many genes could make a definitive difference.
And yet, on whiteboards, teachers listed comments and questions they anticipated from real students, including one that recurred in various forms.
“Isn’t this just a liberal agenda?”
Dr. Donovan told teachers that the curriculum also counters the viewpoint represented by Taylor — that ability is affected only by “how you’re raised, the opportunities you have, the choices you make and the effort you put in.” Recent studies, they are told, show that genetic variants play some role in shaping differences between individuals of the same population group.
Teachers participating in the training said that student beliefs about racial genetic differences at their schools surface in offhand pronouncements about who can dance and who is smart. They also lurk, some suggested, behind the expressions of intolerance that have recently marked many American schools. And what students learn about human genetic variation, teachers said, can lead to misguided conclusions: “They know DNA causes differences in skin color,” said a teacher from Washington State, “and they make the logical jump that DNA causes ‘race.’”
Class time in which to dispel confusion is limited. “It’s always like ‘O.K., but now we’re going to start the lesson on peas,’” said a Kansas teacher. Pent-up curiosity, said one from Indiana, routinely arises in year-end surveys: “I’m wondering if you know any resources where I could learn more about the genetics behind race,” one of her juniors wrote last spring.
‘Sensitive Nature of the Research’
Science teachers have had no shortage of reasons in recent decades to cede conversations on race to the humanities.
There was, for one thing, the need to repudiate the first half of the 20th century, during which science textbooks were replete with racial stereotypes and uncritical references to eugenics.
And 21st-century geneticists looking for clues to human evolution and medicine in the DNA of people from around the world took pains to note that they were not studying “race.”
“We basically decided, no, race is still a social construction, it’s not a biological thing,” Ken Miller, an author of the widely used Prentice Hall biology textbook, told the science magazine Undark of the decision to omit mention of race.
And not everyone is eager to reinsert it. Several school districts have rejected Dr. Donovan’s application to participate in the study, even when teachers have expressed interest.VideoCreditCredit…David McLeod
“I am denying the research request based on the sensitive nature of the research,” the research supervisor for one Colorado district wrote in an email.
But Jaclyn Reeves-Pepin, executive director of the National Association of Biology Teachers, said efforts to avoid lending scientific credibility to unfounded perceptions of genetic difference may themselves be sowing confusion.
“If I was a student asking about race and my teacher said, ‘Race is a social construct, we’re not going to talk about it in science class,’ well — that’s not an explanation of what students are observing in their world,” Ms. Reeves-Pepin said. In advance of the group’s annual meeting this fall, a session featuring Dr. Donovan’s curriculum received the highest score from a review panel of biology teachers of all 200 submissions, she said.
As in any experiment, the subjects will need to be informed of the risks and benefits before they consent to participate.
The benefits, a group of Midwestern 12th graders who will begin the unit this month were told, include “a research-based curriculum designed to teach complex genetics.” For the risks, the students were warned that they may feel some discomfort in science class.