How a single cell slime mold makes smart decisions without a central nervous system
Date: February 23, 2021
Source: Technical University of Munich (TUM)
Summary: Researchers have identified how the slime mold Physarum polycephalum saves memories — although it has no nervous system.
Having a memory of past events enables us to take smarter decisions about the future. Researchers at the Max-Planck Institute for Dynamics and Self-Organization (MPI-DS) and the Technical University of Munich (TUM) have now identified how the slime mold Physarum polycephalum saves memories — although it has no nervous system.
The ability to store and recover information gives an organism a clear advantage when searching for food or avoiding harmful environments. Traditionally it has been attributed to organisms that have a nervous system.
A new study authored by Mirna Kramar (MPI-DS) and Prof. Karen Alim (TUM and MPI-DS) challenges this view by uncovering the surprising abilities of a highly dynamic, single-celled organism to store and retrieve information about its environment.
Window into the past
The slime mold Physarum polycephalum has been puzzling researchers for many decades. Existing at the crossroads between the kingdoms of animals, plants and fungi, this unique organism provides insight into the early evolutionary history of eukaryotes — to which also humans belong.
Its body is a giant single cell made up of interconnected tubes that form intricate networks. This single amoeba-like cell may stretch several centimeters or even meters, featuring as the largest cell on earth in the Guinness Book of World Records.
Decision making on the most basic levels of life
The striking abilities of the slime mold to solve complex problems, such as finding the shortest path through a maze, earned it the attribute “intelligent.” It intrigued the research community and kindled questions about decision making on the most basic levels of life.
The decision-making ability of Physarum is especially fascinating given that its tubular network constantly undergoes fast reorganization — growing and disintegrating its tubes — while completely lacking an organizing center.
The researchers discovered that the organism weaves memories of food encounters directly into the architecture of the network-like body and uses the stored information when making future decisions.
The network architecture as a memory of the past
“It is very exciting when a project develops from a simple experimental observation,” says Karen Alim, head of the Biological Physics and Morphogenesis group at the MPI-DS and professor on Theory of Biological Networks at the Technical University of Munich.
When the researchers followed the migration and feeding process of the organism and observed a distinct imprint of a food source on the pattern of thicker and thinner tubes of the network long after feeding.
“Given P. polycephalum‘s highly dynamic network reorganization, the persistence of this imprint sparked the idea that the network architecture itself could serve as memory of the past,” says Karen Alim. However, they first needed to explain the mechanism behind the imprint formation.
Decisions are guided by memories
For this purpose the researchers combined microscopic observations of the adaption of the tubular network with theoretical modeling. An encounter with food triggers the release of a chemical that travels from the location where food was found throughout the organism and softens the tubes in the network, making the whole organism reorient its migration towards the food.
“The gradual softening is where the existing imprints of previous food sources come into play and where information is stored and retrieved,” says first author Mirna Kramar. “Past feeding events are embedded in the hierarchy of tube diameters, specifically in the arrangement of thick and thin tubes in the network.”
“For the softening chemical that is now transported, the thick tubes in the network act as highways in traffic networks, enabling quick transport across the whole organism,” adds Mirna Kramar. “Previous encounters imprinted in the network architecture thus weigh into the decision about the future direction of migration.”
Design based on universal principles
“Given the simplicity of this living network, the ability of Physarum to form memories is intriguing. It is remarkable that the organism relies on such a simple mechanism and yet controls it in such a fine-tuned manner,” says Karen Alim.
“These results present an important piece of the puzzle in understanding the behavior of this ancient organism and at the same time points to universal principles underlying behavior. We envision potential applications of our findings in designing smart materials and building soft robots that navigate through complex environments,” concludes Karen Alim.
In order to make sense of the natural and human-induced disaster that has struck Texas, the nation will first need an accurate picture of who lives here. Yes, Texas has its oil barons, fossil-fuel lobbyists, and opportunistic political “leaders” who have extracted wealth from the state at the expense of the environment and human needs. But the real figure that should stand out is 17 million people.
That’s roughly the Latinx, Black, Indigenous, and Asian population of Texas, which comprises nearly 60 percent of the state. Only 3 states and 69 countries have a larger total population. Denmark, Finland, and Norway combined do not total 17 million residents. Of the 13 cities in the U.S. with populations above 900,000 today, five are in Texas (Houston, San Antonio, Dallas, Austin, and Fort Worth) and only 25 to 48 percent “non-Hispanic whites.” Thus, any story of Texans freezing, dying or hospitalized from carbon monoxide poisoning, losing power for vital medical equipment, or suffering without water or pipes bursting is more than likely occurring among the states BIPOC majority.
Outrage has erupted in Texas and throughout the nation, perhaps building on the momentum of the 2020 uprisings against white supremacy and police-perpetrated violence. Coming on the heels of the Trump-fueled mob attack on the Capitol and GOP refusal to hold the former president accountable, the catastrophe in Texas may be similar to the many “100-year” or “500-year” events that have now become commonplace. Floods, wildfires, freezes and heatwaves wreak havoc today but provide a preview of much worse effects to come from the compounded effects of industrial pollution and capitalist consumption.
As a result, three long overshadowed problems are now being widely discussed.
First, after the popular revolts of the 1960s, global powers responded with neoliberal restructuring designed to heighten the free reign of capital while weakening the collective power of workers and unions. This is what the Zapatistas called the Empire of Money, and it’s the mentality behind the deregulation and privatization of energy markets and utilities that leaves people literally in the cold when rapidly changing realities overwhelm systems designed to cut corners for immediate profiteering.
Second, Gov. Greg Abbott’s spurious scapegoating of renewable energy for the power outages—a perfect exposition of what Naomi Klein has called “disaster capitalism”—has escalated demands for a Green New Deal. More broadly, it has exposed the need for an immediate and transformative response to the climate crisis rooted in principles of climate justice that empower and uplift peoples in the global South and the most oppressed sectors of the global North bearing the brunt of the crisis.
Third, Ted Cruz’s “let them eat cake” vacation to Cancun was a visible reminder of the cruelty of our political system — a system that rewards politicians propped up by corporate money, right-wing lies, and racist ideologies for blaming others and evading responsibility. The elites most responsible for the disastrous effects of climate change, racism, ableism, and poverty would have us believe that it is always others who must suffer instead of their own families.
The policies that have caused death and suffering have not “failed”; they have worked exactly as intended. The exponential growth of the billionaire class has been a direct product of five decades of neoliberalism, but the gains for the working and middle classes have been deliberately illusory. Yet, there can be no innocent return to the era of liberalism and the New Deal. We need to appreciate from history how the problems illuminated now in Texas are interconnected with the decline of the white majority and the liberal order.
Herrenvolk Democracy and the New Deal Order
Prior to the policy reforms of the first half of the 20th century, there was little assumption that the government had a responsibility to intervene to redress even the most grotesque economic injustices, such as exploitation of child labor, starvation wages, deadly working conditions, or food contamination. FDR’s New Deal galvanized a new and unprecedented coalition in support of social and economic reform, creating both employment and relief programs in response to the Great Depression and safety net measures like Social Security and Unemployment Insurance that have continued to the present.
The age of FDR represented a dramatic shift from the laissez-faire Hoover administration and a form of dominance that has been largely unparalleled in U.S. politics since. At its core, however, the New Deal coalition embodied the central contradiction in American democracy. Going back to at least Jefferson and Jackson, the push to expand the franchise and economic opportunity was tied to white supremacy. Thus, in the words of the late sociologist Pierre van den Berghe, it promoted herrenvolk (master race) democracy, or the concept that only the dominant group was entitled to such rights and capable of using them responsibly. White small farmers, settlers and workers routinely internalized a belief that they earned their freedom and citizenship rights as Americans through wars of genocide, campaigns of dispossession and reactionary social movements to uphold white supremacy.
The New Deal, though never coming close to achieving full equality, provided a new opening for labor unionization, civil rights, and Native sovereignty, thereby raising the prospects for multiracial democracy. Yet, the New Deal also continued to reinforce the contradictory unity of democracy and white supremacy. For example, it established public housing on a limited and racially segregated basis. However, the greater and longer-term impact of federal intervention was to subsidize white homeowners to buy homes with government-backed mortgages in neighborhoods restricted to whites by racist developers, realtors, and covenants.
Particularly in the South, FDR and national party leaders embraced white supremacist Democrats who prevented most African Americans and Mexican Americans from voting. So long as Black and Brown voters were shut out of the system, whites could perceive their votes as being for liberal economic policies like infrastructure development that served their self-interest, rather than simply voting against what they feared.
In Texas — part of the “Solid South” backing the Democrats almost exclusively for over 100 years — FDR won his first three elections with over 80 percent of the vote. Even when prominent conservative and white supremacist Democrats defected in 1944, he prevailed with 71 percent. During this time, the population of Texas was on average 70 percent or greater “non-Hispanic whites.”
The End of Liberal Hegemony
The Civil Rights Movement was born of a refusal to allow the white supremacist rule of herrenvolk democracy to continue. The right-wing currents that emerged in response were thus distinctly grounded in white supremacy. Though the new right was led by the corporate class — eventually finding a firm home in the GOP of Nixon and Reagan — it came to power with the fracture of the liberal order by winning middle and working-class whites away from the Democrats. This was a national phenomenon not limited to a “southern” strategy. In my 2017 book The Fifty-Year Rebellion: How the U.S. Political Crisis Began in Detroit, I argue that Detroit, once the model of progress for capitalists and socialists, alike, became a model for the new right strategy of Black disenfranchisement and neoliberal dispossession.
During Detroit’s 2013 bankruptcy engineered through a state takeover, the autocratic “emergency manager” worked with moneyed interests to take away or gut union jobs, homes, water, pensions, and health care benefits in order to impose austerity on the people and pave the way for billionaire developers and investors. This was an extreme form of a national trend to dismantle social programs and impose a Social Darwinist neglect of human needs by writing oppressed communities out of the social contract. The racist, classist and ableist response to COVID-19 has made this all too tragically clear.
As in Detroit, right-wing revanchism and race-baiting generally arose wherever demographic growth heralded a nonwhite majority. California was a pioneer of the dog-whistle racism that Republicans used to win over suburban whites from the 1960s to 1990s until the new majority came of age. Texas, whose once-commanding “non-Hispanic white” demographic majority disappeared between 1970 and 2010, has perfected much of the voter suppression, gerrymandering, and racist/heteropatriarchal scapegoating at the heart of the neo-Confederate playbook for minority rule by the current GOP.
The wealthy, privileged whites served by the Texas’s dominant political class are a small minority of the population. That’s the ongoing legacy of conquest, colonialism and proletarianization. Seen in this light, the unnecessary human suffering and death during the current catastrophe — whose full effects may not be known for some time — connect Texas to New Orleans and Flint, where short-term economic and political expediency have combined with racist, classist and ableist dehumanization to render mass populations disposable before, during, and after natural and human-induced disasters.
Contesting Minority Rule
This is how the bifurcation of herrenvolk democracy is now playing out: We are simultaneously moving toward a new social order that fulfills real democracy and a worse system driven by “master race” ideology. In Texas, where new and sustainable infrastructure is desperately needed, the New Deal has been supplanted by conspiracy theories and political Ponzi schemes. Like deregulated energy rates, these schemes promise cost savings at the expense of long-term stability and security, ultimately drowning households and local governments in debt while the Dow reaches record highs.
What is conceivable with the empowerment of a new majority in Texas and everywhere? We need structural change in politics to sweep away the politicians controlled by big money and dependent on lies, climate denial and scapegoating to remain in power. We all saw what Trump was able to get away with, and his legacy continues through the likes of Cruz and Abbott. But we also know that these crises are not limited to red states, and that Democratic policies have generally been inadequate, even as bolder and more promising proposals and leaders linked to activist movements have begun to arise and challenge the party’s establishment.
As Grace Lee Boggs recognized the growing illegitimacy of dominant institutions, she taught us that “the only way to survive is by taking care of one another.” That does not mean we should let those in power off the hook. What it implies is that we must do more than protest. We must to look to grassroots organizers, Indigenous peoples, and women of color feminists for models of solidarity in this transitional era of systemic collapse. In recent years, movements at Standing Rock and Mauna Kea have responded to colonial desecration by projecting a future centered on Earth, water and life.
During this catastrophe, Mutual Aid Houston has reported an “overwhelming wave of support” to provide food, blankets and money to people in need. The self-described BIPOC abolitionist collective formed in response to the COVID-19 pandemic and police brutality. It demonstrates scholar-activist Dean Spade’s point that mutual aid is not charity: “It’s a form of coming together to meet survival needs in a political context.” These local acts are putting into practice the values and concepts of community-based care that can establish relations for a more humane social order.
Cambridge University team say their findings could be used to spot people at risk from radicalisation
Our brains hold clues for the ideologies we choose to live by, according to research, which has suggested that people who espouse extremist attitudes tend to perform poorly on complex mental tasks.
Researchers from the University of Cambridge sought to evaluate whether cognitive disposition – differences in how information is perceived and processed – sculpt ideological world-views such as political, nationalistic and dogmatic beliefs, beyond the impact of traditional demographic factors like age, race and gender.
The study, built on previous research, included more than 330 US-based participants aged 22 to 63 who were exposed to a battery of tests – 37 neuropsychological tasks and 22 personality surveys – over the course of two weeks.
The tasks were engineered to be neutral, not emotional or political – they involved, for instance, memorising visual shapes. The researchers then used computational modelling to extract information from that data about the participant’s perception and learning, and their ability to engage in complex and strategic mental processing.
A key finding was that people with extremist attitudes tended to think about the world in black and white terms, and struggled with complex tasks that required intricate mental steps, said lead author Dr Leor Zmigrod at Cambridge’s department of psychology.
“Individuals or brains that struggle to process and plan complex action sequences may be more drawn to extreme ideologies, or authoritarian ideologies that simplify the world,” she said.
She said another feature of people with tendencies towards extremism appeared to be that they were not good at regulating their emotions, meaning they were impulsive and tended to seek out emotionally evocative experiences. “And so that kind of helps us understand what kind of individual might be willing to go in and commit violence against innocent others.”
Participants who are prone to dogmatism – stuck in their ways and relatively resistant to credible evidence – actually have a problem with processing evidence even at a perceptual level, the authors found.
“For example, when they’re asked to determine whether dots [as part of a neuropsychological task] are moving to the left or to the right, they just took longer to process that information and come to a decision,” Zmigrod said.
In some cognitive tasks, participants were asked to respond as quickly and as accurately as possible. People who leant towards the politically conservative tended to go for the slow and steady strategy, while political liberals took a slightly more fast and furious, less precise approach.
“It’s fascinating, because conservatism is almost a synonym for caution,” she said. “We’re seeing that – at the very basic neuropsychological level – individuals who are politically conservative … simply treat every stimuli that they encounter with caution.”
The “psychological signature” for extremism across the board was a blend of conservative and dogmatic psychologies, the researchers said.
The study, which looked at 16 different ideological orientations, could have profound implications for identifying and supporting people most vulnerable to radicalisation across the political and religious spectrum.
“What we found is that demographics don’t explain a whole lot; they only explain roughly 8% of the variance,” said Zmigrod. “Whereas, actually, when we incorporate these cognitive and personality assessments as well, suddenly, our capacity to explain the variance of these ideological world-views jumps to 30% or 40%.”
Clifford Krauss, Manny Fernandez, Ivan Penn, Rick Rojas – Feb 21, 2021
Texas has refused to join interstate electrical grids and railed against energy regulation. Now it’s having to answer to millions of residents who were left without power in last week’s snowstorm.
HOUSTON — Across the plains of West Texas, the pump jacks that resemble giant bobbing hammers define not just the landscape but the state itself: Texas has been built on the oil-and-gas business for the last 120 years, ever since the discovery of oil on Spindletop Hill near Beaumont in 1901.
Texas, the nation’s leading energy-producing state, seemed like the last place on Earth that could run out of energy.
Then last week, it did.
The crisis could be traced to that other defining Texas trait: independence, both from big government and from the rest of the country. The dominance of the energy industry and the “Republic of Texas” ethos became a devastating liability when energy stopped flowing to millions of Texans who shivered and struggled through a snowstorm that paralyzed much of the state.
Part of the responsibility for the near-collapse of the state’s electrical grid can be traced to the decision in 1999 to embark on the nation’s most extensive experiment in electrical deregulation, handing control of the state’s entire electricity delivery system to a market-based patchwork of private generators, transmission companies and energy retailers.
The energy industry wanted it. The people wanted it. Both parties supported it. “Competition in the electric industry will benefit Texans by reducing monthly rates and offering consumers more choices about the power they use,” George W. Bush, then the governor, said as he signed the top-to-bottom deregulation legislation.
Mr. Bush’s prediction of lower-cost power generally came true, and the dream of a free-market electrical grid worked reasonably well most of the time, in large part because Texas had so much cheap natural gas as well as abundant wind to power renewable energy. But the newly deregulated system came with few safeguards and even fewer enforced rules.
With so many cost-conscious utilities competing for budget-shopping consumers, there was little financial incentive to invest in weather protection and maintenance. Wind turbines are not equipped with the de-icing equipment routinely installed in the colder climes of the Dakotas and power lines have little insulation. The possibility of more frequent cold-weather events was never built into infrastructure plans in a state where climate change remains an exotic, disputed concept.
“Deregulation was something akin to abolishing the speed limit on an interstate highway,” said Ed Hirs, an energy fellow at the University of Houston. “That opens up shortcuts that cause disasters.”
The state’s entire energy infrastructure was walloped with glacial temperatures that even under the strongest of regulations might have frozen gas wells and downed power lines.
But what went wrong was far broader: Deregulation meant that critical rules of the road for power were set not by law, but rather by a dizzying array of energy competitors.
Utility regulation is intended to compensate for the natural monopolies that occur when a single electrical provider serves an area; it keeps prices down while protecting public safety and guaranteeing fair treatment to customers. Yet many states have flirted with deregulation as a way of giving consumers more choices and encouraging new providers, especially alternative energy producers.
California, one of the early deregulators in the 1990s, scaled back its initial foray after market manipulation led to skyrocketing prices and rolling blackouts.
States like Maryland allow customers to pick from a menu of producers. In some states, competing private companies offer varied packages like discounts for cheaper power at night. But no state has gone as far as Texas, which has not only turned over the keys to the free market but has also isolated itself from the national grid, limiting the state’s ability to import power when its own generators are foundering.
Consumers themselves got a direct shock last week when customers who had chosen variable-rate electricity contracts found themselves with power bills of $5,000 or more. While they were expecting extra-low monthly rates, many may now face huge bills as a result of the upswing in wholesale electricity prices during the cold wave. Gov. Greg Abbott on Sunday said the state’s Public Utility Commission has issued a moratorium on customer disconnections for non-payment and will temporarily restrict providers from issuing invoices.
There is regulation in the Texas system, but it is hardly robust. One nonprofit agency, the Electric Reliability Council of Texas, or ERCOT, was formed to manage the wholesale market. It is supervised by the Public Utility Commission, which also oversees the transmission companies that offer customers an exhaustive array of contract choices laced with more fine print than a credit card agreement.
But both agencies are nearly unaccountable and toothless compared to regulators in other regions, where many utilities have stronger consumer protections and submit an annual planning report to ensure adequate electricity supply. Texas energy companies are given wide latitude in their planning for catastrophic events.
Into a snowstorm with no reserves
One example of how Texas has gone it alone is its refusal to enforce a “reserve margin” of extra power available above expected demand, unlike all other power systems around North America. With no mandate, there is little incentive to invest in precautions for events, such as a Southern snowstorm, that are rare. Any company that took such precautions would put itself at a competitive disadvantage.
A surplus supply of natural gas, the dominant power fuel in Texas, near power plants might have helped avoid the cascade of failures in which power went off, forcing natural gas production and transmission offline, which in turn led to further power shortages.
In the aftermath of the dayslong outages, ERCOT has been criticized by both Democratic and Republican residents, lawmakers and business executives, a rare display of unity in a fiercely partisan and Republican-dominated state. Mr. Abbott said he supported calls for the agency’s leadership to resign and made ERCOT reform a priority for the Legislature. The reckoning has been swift — this week, lawmakers will hold hearings in Austin to investigate the agency’s handling of the storm and the rolling outages.
For ERCOT operators, the storm’s arrival was swift and fierce, but they had anticipated it and knew it would strain their system. They asked power customers across the state to conserve, warning that outages were likely.
But late on Sunday, Feb. 14, it rapidly became clear that the storm was far worse than they had expected: Sleet and snow fell, and temperatures plunged. In the council’s command center outside Austin, a room dominated by screens flashing with maps, graphics and data tracking the flow of electricity to 26 million people in Texas, workers quickly found themselves fending off a crisis. As weather worsened into Monday morning, residents cranked up their heaters and demand surged.
Power plants began falling offline in rapid succession as they were overcome by the frigid weather or ran out of fuel to burn. Within hours, 40 percent of the power supply had been lost.
The entire grid — carrying 90 percent of the electric load in Texas — was barreling toward a collapse.
In the electricity business, supply and demand need to be in balance. Imbalances lead to catastrophic blackouts. Recovering from a total blackout would be an agonizing and tedious process, known as a “black start,” that could take weeks, or possibly months.
And in the early-morning hours last Monday, the Texas grid was “seconds and minutes” away from such a collapse, said Bill Magness, the president and chief executive of the Electric Reliability Council.
“If we had allowed a catastrophic blackout to happen, we wouldn’t be talking today about hopefully getting most customers their power back,” Mr. Magness said. “We’d be talking about how many months it might be before you get your power back.”
Earlier warnings of trouble
The outages and the cold weather touched off an avalanche of failures, but there had been warnings long before last week’s storm.
After a heavy snowstorm in February 2011 caused statewide rolling blackouts and left millions of Texans in the dark, federal authorities warned the state that its power infrastructure had inadequate “winterization” protection. But 10 years later, pipelines remained inadequately insulated and heaters that might have kept instruments from freezing were never installed.
During heat waves, when demand has soared during several recent summers, the system in Texas has also strained to keep up, raising questions about lack of reserve capacity on the unregulated grid.
And aside from the weather, there have been periodic signs that the system can run into trouble delivering sufficient energy, in some cases because of equipment failures, in others because of what critics called an attempt to drive up prices, according to Mr. Hirs of the University of Houston, as well as several energy consultants.
Another potential safeguard might have been far stronger connections to the two interstate power-sharing networks, East and West, that allow states to link their electrical grids and obtain power from thousands of miles away when needed to hold down costs and offset their own shortfalls.
But Texas, reluctant to submit to the federal regulation that is part of the regional power grids, made decisions as far back as the early 20th century to become the only state in the continental United States to operate its own grid — a plan that leaves it able to borrow only from a few close neighbors.
The border city of El Paso survived the freeze much better than Dallas or Houston because it was not part of the Texas grid but connected to the much larger grid covering many Western states.
But the problems that began with last Monday’s storm went beyond an isolated electrical grid. The entire ecosystem of how Texas generates, transmits and uses power stalled, as millions of Texans shivered in darkened, unheated homes.
Texans love to brag about natural gas, which state officials often call the cleanest-burning fossil fuel. No state produces more, and gas-fired power plants produce nearly half the state’s electricity.
“We are struggling to come to grips with the reality that gas came up short and let us down when we needed it most,” said Michael E. Webber, a professor of mechanical engineering at the University of Texas at Austin.
The cold was so severe that the enormous oil and natural gas fields of West Texas froze up, or could not get sufficient power to operate. Though a few plants had stored gas reserves, there was insufficient electricity to pump it.
The leaders of ERCOT defended the organization, its lack of mandated reserves and the state’s isolation from larger regional grids, and said the blame for the power crisis lies with the weather, not the overall deregulated system in Texas.
“The historic, just about unprecedented, storm was the heart of the problem,” Mr. Magness, the council’s chief executive, said, adding: “We’ve found that this market structure works. It demands reliability. I don’t think there’s a silver-bullet market structure that could have managed the extreme lows and generation outages that we were facing Sunday night.”
In Texas, energy regulation is as much a matter of philosophy as policy. Its independent power grid is a point of pride that has been an applause line in Texas political speeches for decades.
Deregulation is a hot topic among Texas energy experts, and there has been no shortage of predictions that the grid could fail under stress. But there has not been widespread public dissatisfaction with the system, although many are now wondering if they are being well served.
“I believe there is great value in Texas being on its own grid and I believe we can do so safely and securely and confidently going forward,” said State Representative Jeff Leach, a Republican from Plano who has called for an investigation into what went wrong. “But it’s going to take new investment and some new strategic decisions to make sure we’re protected from this ever happening again.”
Steven D. Wolens, a former Democratic lawmaker from Dallas and a principal architect of the 1999 deregulation legislation, said deregulation was meant to spur more generation, including from renewable energy sources, and to encourage the mothballing of older plants that were spewing pollution. “We were successful,” said Mr. Wolens, who left the Legislature in 2005.
But the 1999 legislation was intended as a first iteration that would evolve along with the needs of the state, he said. “They can focus on it now and they can fix it now,” he said. “The buck stops with the Texas Legislature and they are in a perfect position to determine the basis of the failure, to correct it and make sure it never happens again.”
Clifford Krauss reported from Houston, Manny Fernandez and Ivan Penn from Los Angeles, and Rick Rojas from Nashville. David Montgomery contributed reporting from Austin, Texas.
Christopher Flavelle, Brad Plumer, Hiroko Tabuchi – Feb 20, 2021
Continent-spanning storms triggered blackouts in Oklahoma and Mississippi, halted one-third of U.S. oil production and disrupted vaccinations in 20 states.
Even as Texas struggled to restore electricity and water over the past week, signs of the risks posed by increasingly extreme weather to America’s aging infrastructure were cropping up across the country.
The week’s continent-spanning winter storms triggered blackouts in Texas, Oklahoma, Mississippi and several other states. One-third of oil production in the nation was halted. Drinking-water systems in Ohio were knocked offline. Road networks nationwide were paralyzed and vaccination efforts in 20 states were disrupted.
The crisis carries a profound warning. As climate change brings more frequent and intense storms, floods, heat waves, wildfires and other extreme events, it is placing growing stress on the foundations of the country’s economy: Its network of roads and railways, drinking-water systems, power plants, electrical grids, industrial waste sites and even homes. Failures in just one sector can set off a domino effect of breakdowns in hard-to-predict ways.
Much of this infrastructure was built decades ago, under the expectation that the environment around it would remain stable, or at least fluctuate within predictable bounds. Now climate change is upending that assumption.
“We are colliding with a future of extremes,” said Alice Hill, who oversaw planning for climate risks on the National Security Council during the Obama administration. “We base all our choices about risk management on what’s occurred in the past, and that is no longer a safe guide.”
Sewer systems are overflowing more often as powerful rainstorms exceed their design capacity. Coastal homes and highways are collapsing as intensified runoff erodes cliffs. Coal ash, the toxic residue produced by coal-burning plants, is spilling into rivers as floods overwhelm barriers meant to hold it back. Homes once beyond the reach of wildfires are burning in blazes they were never designed to withstand.
Problems like these often reflect an inclination of governments to spend as little money as possible, said Shalini Vajjhala, a former Obama administration official who now advises cities on meeting climate threats. She said it’s hard to persuade taxpayers to spend extra money to guard against disasters that seem unlikely.
But climate change flips that logic, making inaction far costlier. “The argument I would make is, we can’t afford not to, because we’re absorbing the costs” later, Ms. Vajjhala said, after disasters strike. “We’re spending poorly.”
The Biden administration has talked extensively about climate change, particularly the need to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and create jobs in renewable energy. But it has spent less time discussing how to manage the growing effects of climate change, facing criticism from experts for not appointing more people who focus on climate resilience.
“I am extremely concerned by the lack of emergency-management expertise reflected in Biden’s climate team,” said Samantha Montano, an assistant professor at the Massachusetts Maritime Academy who focuses on disaster policy. “There’s an urgency here that still is not being reflected.”
A White House spokesman, Vedant Patel, said in a statement, “Building resilient and sustainable infrastructure that can withstand extreme weather and a changing climate will play an integral role in creating millions of good paying, union jobs” while cutting greenhouse gas emissions.
And while President Biden has called for a major push to refurbish and upgrade the nation’s infrastructure, getting a closely divided Congress to spend hundreds of billions, if not trillions of dollars, will be a major challenge.
Heightening the cost to society, disruptions can disproportionately affect lower-income households and other vulnerable groups, including older people or those with limited English.
“All these issues are converging,” said Robert D. Bullard, a professor at Texas Southern University who studies wealth and racial disparities related to the environment. “And there’s simply no place in this country that’s not going to have to deal with climate change.”
Many forms of water crisis
In September, when a sudden storm dumped a record of more than two inches of water on Washington in less than 75 minutes, the result wasn’t just widespread flooding, but also raw sewage rushing into hundreds of homes.
Washington, like many other cities in the Northeast and Midwest, relies on what’s called a combined sewer overflow system: If a downpour overwhelms storm drains along the street, they are built to overflow into the pipes that carry raw sewage. But if there’s too much pressure, sewage can be pushed backward, into people’s homes — where the forces can send it erupting from toilets and shower drains.
This is what happened in Washington. The city’s system was built in the late 1800s. Now, climate change is straining an already outdated design.
DC Water, the local utility, is spending billions of dollars so that the system can hold more sewage. “We’re sort of in uncharted territory,” said Vincent Morris, a utility spokesman.
The challenge of managing and taming the nation’s water supplies — whether in streets and homes, or in vast rivers and watersheds — is growing increasingly complex as storms intensify. Last May, rain-swollen flooding breached two dams in Central Michigan, forcing thousands of residents to flee their homes and threatening a chemical complex and toxic waste cleanup site. Experts warned it was unlikely to be the last such failure.
Many of the country’s 90,000 dams were built decades ago and were already in dire need of repairs. Now climate change poses an additional threat, bringing heavier downpours to parts of the country and raising the odds that some dams could be overwhelmed by more water than they were designed to handle. One recent study found that most of California’s biggest dams were at increased risk of failure as global warming advances.
In recent years, dam-safety officials have begun grappling with the dangers. Colorado, for instance, now requires dam builders to take into account the risk of increased atmospheric moisture driven by climate change as they plan for worst-case flooding scenarios.
But nationwide, there remains a backlog of thousands of older dams that still need to be rehabilitated or upgraded. The price tag could ultimately stretch to more than $70 billion.
“Whenever we study dam failures, we often find there was a lot of complacency beforehand,” said Bill McCormick, president of the Association of State Dam Safety Officials. But given that failures can have catastrophic consequences, “we really can’t afford to be complacent.”
Built for a different future
If the Texas blackouts exposed one state’s poor planning, they also provide a warning for the nation: Climate change threatens virtually every aspect of electricity grids that aren’t always designed to handle increasingly severe weather. The vulnerabilities show up in power lines, natural-gas plants, nuclear reactors and myriad other systems.
Higher storm surges can knock out coastal power infrastructure. Deeper droughts can reduce water supplies for hydroelectric dams. Severe heat waves can reduce the efficiency of fossil-fuel generators, transmission lines and even solar panels at precisely the moment that demand soars because everyone cranks up their air-conditioners.
Climate hazards can also combine in new and unforeseen ways.
In California recently, Pacific Gas & Electric has had to shut off electricity to thousands of people during exceptionally dangerous fire seasons. The reason: Downed power lines can spark huge wildfires in dry vegetation. Then, during a record-hot August last year, several of the state’s natural gas plants malfunctioned in the heat, just as demand was spiking, contributing to blackouts.
“We have to get better at understanding these compound impacts,” said Michael Craig, an expert in energy systems at the University of Michigan who recently led a study looking at how rising summer temperatures in Texas could strain the grid in unexpected ways. “It’s an incredibly complex problem to plan for.”
Some utilities are taking notice. After Superstorm Sandy in 2012 knocked out power for 8.7 million customers, utilities in New York and New Jersey invested billions in flood walls, submersible equipment and other technology to reduce the risk of failures. Last month, New York’s Con Edison said it would incorporate climate projections into its planning.
As freezing temperatures struck Texas, a glitch at one of two reactors at a South Texas nuclear plant, which serves 2 million homes, triggered a shutdown. The cause: Sensing lines connected to the plant’s water pumps had frozen, said Victor Dricks, a spokesman for the federal Nuclear Regulatory Agency.
It’s also common for extreme heat to disrupt nuclear power. The issue is that the water used to cool reactors can become too warm to use, forcing shutdowns.
Flooding is another risk.
After a tsunami led to several meltdowns at Japan’s Fukushima Daiichi power plant in 2011, the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission told the 60 or so working nuclear plants in the United States, many decades old, to evaluate their flood risk to account for climate change. Ninety percent showed at least one type of flood risk that exceeded what the plant was designed to handle.
The greatest risk came from heavy rain and snowfall exceeding the design parameters at 53 plants.
Scott Burnell, an Nuclear Regulatory Commission spokesman, said in a statement, “The NRC continues to conclude, based on the staff’s review of detailed analyses, that all U.S. nuclear power plants can appropriately deal with potential flooding events, including the effects of climate change, and remain safe.”
Several climate-related risks appeared to have converged to heighten the danger. Rising seas and higher storm surges have intensified coastal erosion, while more extreme bouts of precipitation have increased the landslide risk.
Add to that the effects of devastating wildfires, which can damage the vegetation holding hillside soil in place, and “things that wouldn’t have slid without the wildfires, start sliding,” said Jennifer M. Jacobs, a professor of civil and environmental engineering at the University of New Hampshire. “I think we’re going to see more of that.”
The United States depends on highways, railroads and bridges as economic arteries for commerce, travel and simply getting to work. But many of the country’s most important links face mounting climate threats. More than 60,000 miles of roads and bridges in coastal floodplains are already vulnerable to extreme storms and hurricanes, government estimates show. And inland flooding could also threaten at least 2,500 bridges across the country by 2050, a federal climate report warned in 2018.
Sometimes even small changes can trigger catastrophic failures. Engineers modeling the collapse of bridges over Escambia Bay in Florida during Hurricane Ivan in 2004 found that the extra three inches of sea-level rise since the bridge was built in 1968 very likely contributed to the collapse, because of the added height of the storm surge and force of the waves.
“A lot of our infrastructure systems have a tipping point. And when you hit the tipping point, that’s when a failure occurs,” Dr. Jacobs said. “And the tipping point could be an inch.”
Crucial rail networks are at risk, too. In 2017, Amtrak consultants found that along parts of the Northeast corridor, which runs from Boston to Washington and carries 12 million people a year, flooding and storm surge could erode the track bed, disable the signals and eventually put the tracks underwater.
And there is no easy fix. Elevating the tracks would require also raising bridges, electrical wires and lots of other infrastructure, and moving them would mean buying new land in a densely packed part of the country. So the report recommended flood barriers, costing $24 million per mile, that must be moved into place whenever floods threaten.
The blasts at the plant came after flooding knocked out the site’s electrical supply, shutting down refrigeration systems that kept volatile chemicals stable. Almost two dozen people, many of them emergency workers, were treated for exposure to the toxic fumes, and some 200 nearby residents were evacuated from their homes.
More than 2,500 facilities that handle toxic chemicals lie in federal flood-prone areas across the country, about 1,400 of them in areas at the highest risk of flooding, a New York Times analysis showed in 2018.
Leaks from toxic cleanup sites, left behind by past industry, pose another threat.
Almost two-thirds of some 1,500 superfund cleanup sites across the country are in areas with an elevated risk of flooding, storm surge, wildfires or sea level rise, a government audit warned in 2019. Coal ash, a toxic substance produced by coal power plants that is often stored as sludge in special ponds, have been particularly exposed. After Hurricane Florence in 2018, for example, a dam breach at the site of a power plant in Wilmington, N.C., released the hazardous ash into a nearby river.
“We should be evaluating whether these facilities or sites actually have to be moved or re-secured,” said Lisa Evans, senior counsel at Earthjustice, an environmental law organization. Places that “may have been OK in 1990,” she said, “may be a disaster waiting to happen in 2021.”
As many in Texas wake up still without power on Thursday morning, millions are now also having to contend with water shutdowns, boil advisories, and empty grocery shelves as cities struggle with keeping infrastructure powered and supply chains are interrupted.
Even as some residents are getting their power restored, the problems are only continuing to layer as the only grocery stores left open were quickly selling out of food and supplies. As many without power watched their refrigerated food spoil, lines to get into stores wrapped around blocks and buildings and store shelves sat completely empty with no indication of when new shipments would be coming in. Food banks have had to cancel deliveries and schools to halt meal distribution to students, the Texas Tribune reports.
People experiencing homelessness, including a disproportionate number of Black residents, have especially suffered in the record cold temperatures across the state. There have been somereports of people being found dead in the streets because of a lack of shelter.
“Businesses are shut down. Streets are empty, other than a few guys sliding around in 4x4s and fire trucks rushing to rescue people who turn their ovens on to keep warm and poison themselves with carbon monoxide,” wrote Austin resident Jeff Goodell in Rolling Stone. “Yesterday, the line at our neighborhood grocery store was three blocks long. People wandering around with handguns on their hip adds to a sense of lawlessness (Texas is an open-carry state).”
The Texas agricultural commissioner has said that farmers and ranchers are having to throw away millions of dollars worth of goods because of a lack of power. “We’re looking at a food supply chain problem like we’ve never seen before, even with COVID-19,” he told one local news affiliate.
An energy analyst likened the power crisis to the fallout of Hurricane Katrina as it’s becoming increasingly clear that the situation in Texas is a statewide disaster.
As natural gas output declined dramatically in the state, Paul Sankey, who leads energy analyst firm Sankey Research, said on Bloomberg, “This situation to me is very reminiscent of Hurricane Katrina…. We have never seen a loss [of energy supply] at this scale” in mid-winter. This is “the biggest outage in the history [of] U.S. oil and gas,” Sankey said.
Experts say that the power outages have partially been caused by the deregulation of the state’s electric grid. The government, some say, favored deregulatory actions like not requiring electrical equipment upgrades or proper weatherization, instead relying on free market mechanisms that ultimately contributed to the current disaster.
Former Gov. Rick Perry faced criticism on Wednesday when he said that Texans would rather face the current disaster than have to be regulated by the federal government. And he’s not the only Republican currently catching heat — many have begun calling for the resignation of Gov. Greg Abbott for a failure of leadership. On Wednesday, as millions suffered without power and under boil-water advisories, the governor went on Fox to attack clean energy, which experts say was not a major contributor to the current crisis, and the Green New Deal.
After declaring a state of emergency in the state over the weekend, the Joe Biden administration announced on Wednesday that it would be sending generators and other supplies to the state.
Sem medo de ser naïf, feminista negra norte-americana debate sentimento crucial na experiência humana. Propõe libertá-lo das ilusões românticas, praticando-o em desafio às relações alienadas e em busca de intimidade cúmplice e libertadora
Publicado 17/02/2021 às 20:16 – Atualizado 17/02/2021 às 20:52
Por Silvane Silva | Imagen: Egon Schiele
MAIS: Este texto é o prefácio de: TUDO SOBRE O AMOR, de bell hooks Publicado pela Editora Elefante, parceira editorial de Outras Palavras
Escrever este prefácio em meio à pandemia de covid-19, vivendo em isolamento social meses, foi um exercício ao mesmo tempo doloroso e libertador. Em certa altura de Tudo sobre o amor, bell hooks diz que, se não pudéssemos fazer mais nada, se por algum motivo a leitura fosse a única atividade possível, isso seria suficiente para fazer a vida valer a pena, porque os livros podem ter uma função terapêutica e transformadora. Particularmente, não tenho dúvidas a respeito disso, pois a leitura sempre teve esse importante papel em minha vida. Alguns textos nos fazem reviver memórias impressas em nosso corpo e espírito e, dessa maneira, têm o poder de nos transformar e curar.
Em uma sociedade que considera falar de amor algo naïf, a proposta apresentada por bell hooks ao escrever sobre o tema é corajosa e desafiadora. E o desafio é colocarmos o amor na centralidade da vida. Ao afirmar que começou a pensar e a escrever sobre o amor quando encontrou “cinismo em lugar de esperança nas vozes de jovens e velhos”, e que o cinismo é a maior barreira que pode existir diante do amor, porque ele intensifica nossas dúvidas e nos paralisa, bell hooks faz a defesa da prática transformadora do amor, que manda embora o medo e liberta nossa alma. Ela nos convoca a regressar ao amor. Se o desamor é a ordem do dia no mundo contemporâneo, falar de amor pode ser revolucionário. Para compreendermos a proposta da autora e a profundidade de suas reflexões, o primeiro passo deve ser abandonar a ideia de que o amor é apenas um sentimento e passar a entendê-lo como ética de vida. É sabido que bell hooks evidencia em toda a sua obra que o pessoal é político. Este também será o caminho trilhado por ela neste livro, pontuando o quanto nossas ações pessoais relacionadas ao amor implicam uma postura perante o mundo e uma forma de inserção na sociedade. Ou seja: o amor não tem nada a ver com fraqueza ou irracionalidade, como se costuma pensar. Ao contrário, significa potência: anuncia a possibilidade de rompermos o ciclo de perpetuação de dores e violências para caminharmos rumo a uma “sociedade amorosa”.
Tudo sobre o amor: novas perspectivas, publicado nos Estados Unidos no ano 2000, é o primeiro livro da chamada Trilogia do Amor, seguido de Salvação: pessoas negras e amor, de 2001, e Comunhão: a busca feminina pelo amor, de 2002. bell hooks é o tipo de pensadora que, quando atraída por um assunto, tende a esmiuçá-lo, observá-lo por todos os ângulos e explorá-lo por completo. Se ao longo de toda a sua obra o tema do amor aparece, em diversos momentos, como algo que tem um lugar significativo para nossa vida e cultura, é na Trilogia do Amor que a autora nos apresenta suas teses sobre o tema e, mais do que isso, nos oferece lições práticas de como agir.
Ao descrever as maneiras pelas quais homens e mulheres em geral, e pessoas negras em particular, desenvolvem sua capacidade de amar dentro de uma cultura patriarcal, racista e niilista, bell hooks relaciona sua teoria do amor com os principais problemas da sociedade. Apesar de falar a partir da sociedade estadunidense, suas reflexões servem para nós brasileiros, já que também sofremos dos males que a autora tanto procura ver superados: racismo, sexismo, homofobia, imperialismo e exploração.
Seguindo os passos de pessoas que ofereceram o amor como arma poderosa de luta e de transformação da sociedade, como Martin Luther King Jr., por exemplo, bell hooks reposiciona o amor como uma força capaz de transformar todas as esferas da vida: a política, a religião, o local de trabalho, o ambiente doméstico e as relações íntimas. Aprofundando as ideias trazidas por Cornel West referentes às “políticas de conversão” para tratar o niilismo presente na sociedade, hooks coloca a ética do amor no centro dessas políticas. E, nessa perspectiva, compreende que o pessoal sobrevive por meio da ligação com o coletivo: é o poder de se autoagenciar (self-agency) em meio ao caos e determinar o autoagenciamento coletivo.
Tudo sobre o amor: novas perspectivas procura mostrar como somos ensinados desde a infância a ter suposições equivocadas e falsas em relação ao amor e ressalta o quanto nossa sociedade não considera a importância e a necessidade de aprendermos a amar. Tendemos a acreditar que já nascemos com esse conhecimento, mas bell hooks demonstra que o amor não está dado: ele é construção cotidiana, que só assumirá sentido na ação — o que significa dizer que precisamos encontrar a definição de amor e aprender a praticá-lo.
Em “Clareza: pôr o amor em palavras”, primeiro capítulo deste livro, bell hooks afirma que em nossa sociedade o amor costuma servir para nomear tudo, pulverizando seu significado. Nessa confusão em relação ao que queremos dizer quando usamos a palavra “amor” está a origem da nossa dificuldade de amar. Por isso, saber nomear o que é o amor é a condição para que ele exista. Se os dicionários tendem a enfatizar a definição dada ao amor romântico, bell hooks nos mostra que o amor é muito mais que uma “afeição profunda por uma pessoa”. A melhor definição de amor é aquela que nos faz pensar o amor como ação — conforme diz o psiquiatra M. Scoot Peck, trata-se da “vontade de se empenhar ao máximo para promover o próprio crescimento espiritual ou o de outra pessoa”. Nota-se que o espiritual aqui não está vinculado à religião, mas a uma força vital presente em cada indivíduo. Nesse sentido, a afeição seria apenas um dos componentes do amor. Para amar verdadeiramente devemos aprender a misturar vários ingredientes: carinho, afeição, reconhecimento, respeito, compromisso e confiança, assim como honestidade e comunicação aberta. Uma das contribuições fundamentais trazidas por bell hooks é nos fazer pensar que são as ações que constroem os sentimentos. Dessa maneira, ao pensar o amor como ação, nos vemos obrigados a assumir a responsabilidade e o comprometimento com esse aprendizado.
O segundo capítulo, “Justiça: lições de amor na infância”, demonstra que o impacto do patriarcado e a forma da dominação masculina sobre mulheres e crianças são barreiras para o amor, algo pouco presente na bibliografia sobre o tema. Nós aprendemos sobre o amor na infância, e quer nossa família seja chamada funcional ou disfuncional, sejam nossos lares felizes ou não, são eles as nossas primeiras escolas de amor. Neste capítulo, bell hooks levanta a importante discussão sobre a necessidade de valorizar, respeitar e assegurar os direitos civis básicos das crianças. Caso contrário, a maioria delas não conhecerá o amor, tendo em vista que não existe amor sem justiça. Nesse ponto, a autora demonstra o quanto o lar da família nuclear é uma esfera institucionalizada de poder que pode ser facilmente autocrática e fascista. Dessa maneira, continua ela, se queremos uma sociedade eticamente amorosa, precisamos desmascarar o mito de que abuso e negligência podem coexistir com amor. Onde há abuso, a prática amorosa fracassou. Não se pode concordar que a punição severa seja uma forma aceitável de se relacionar com as crianças. “O amor é o que o amor faz”, e é nossa responsabilidade dar amor às crianças, reconhecendo que elas não são propriedades e têm direitos que nós precisamos garantir.
No terceiro capítulo, “Honestidade: seja verdadeira com o amor”, bell hooks afirma que a verdade é o coração da justiça. Somos ensinados desde a infância que não devemos mentir, que devemos jogar limpo. Entretanto, na prática, quem diz a verdade normalmente é punido, reforçando a ideia de que mentir é melhor. Homens mentem para agradar às mães e depois às mulheres. Mentir e se dar bem é um traço da masculinidade patriarcal. Meninos e homens são encorajados a todo momento a fazer o que for preciso para manter sua posição de controle. Por sua vez, as mulheres também mentem para os homens como forma de agradar e manipular. Vivemos em uma sociedade em que a cultura do consumo também encoraja a mentira. A publicidade é um dos maiores exemplos disso. As mentiras impulsionam o mundo da publicidade predatória e o desamor é bênção para o consumismo. Além disso, manter as pessoas em um estado constante de escassez fortalece a economia de mercado. Dessa maneira, hooks enfatiza que a tarefa de sermos amorosos e construirmos uma sociedade amorosa implica reafirmar o valor de dizer a verdade e, portanto, estarmos dispostos a ouvir as verdades uns dos outros. A confiança é o fundamento da intimidade.
Partindo do pressuposto de que não é fácil amar a si mesmo, no quarto capítulo, “Compromisso: que o amor seja amor-próprio”, bell hooks nos ensina que, quando somos positivos, não só aceitamos e afirmamos quem somos mas também somos capazes de afirmar e aceitar os outros. E o movimento feminista ajudou as mulheres a compreender o poder pessoal que se adquire com uma autoafirmação positiva. Quando temos de fazer um trabalho que odiamos, por exemplo, isso ataca a nossa autoestima e autoconfiança. O trabalho, quando percebido como um fardo, por se realizar em empregos ruins em vez de aprimorar a autoestima, deprime o espírito. Como lidar com essa questão se a maioria de nós não pode fazer o trabalho que ama? Um dos modos de experimentar satisfação seria nos comprometermos totalmente com o trabalho a ser realizado, seja ele qual for. Trazer o amor para o ambiente laboral pode criar a transformação necessária para tornar qualquer trabalho que façamos um meio de expressarmos o nosso melhor. Quando trabalhamos com amor, renovamos nosso espírito, e essa renovação é um ato de amor-próprio que alimenta nosso crescimento. E não devemos confundir amor-próprio com egoísmo ou egocentrismo. O amor-próprio é a base de nossa prática amorosa, pois, ao dar amor a nós mesmos, concedemos ao nosso ser interior a oportunidade de ter amor incondicional. É o amor-próprio que garante que nossos esforços amorosos com as outras pessoas não falhem.
No quinto capítulo, “Espiritualidade: o amor divino”, hooks chama a atenção para o fato de que a crise na vida estadunidense não poderia ser causada por falta de interesse na espiritualidade, tendo em vista que a imensa maioria das pessoas diz seguir alguma religião. Isso indicaria que a vida espiritual é algo importante nessa sociedade. No entanto, esse interesse é cooptado pelas forças do materialismo e do consumismo hedonista, traduzido na lógica do “compro, logo sou”. A religião “organizada” falhou em satisfazer a “fome espiritual”, e as pessoas procuram preencher esse vazio com o consumismo. A autora questiona: “Imagine como nossa vida seria diferente se todos os indivíduos que se dizem cristãos, ou que alegam serem religiosos, servissem de exemplo para todos, sendo amorosos”. A atualidade desse questionamento para o Brasil de hoje é desconcertante, tendo em vista os milhões de ditos “cristãos” que, ao invés de amar o próximo como a si mesmos, destilam ódio e preconceito.
“Valores: viver segundo uma ética amorosa” é o título do capítulo 6, no qual bell hooks reforça que o despertar para o amor só pode acontecer se nos desapegarmos da obsessão por poder e domínio. Para nos tornarmos pessoas mais alegres e mais realizadas, precisamos adotar uma ética amorosa, pois nossa alma sente quando agimos de maneira antiética, rebaixando o nosso espírito e desumanizando os outros. Viver dentro de uma ética amorosa é uma escolha de se conectar com o outro. Isso significa, por exemplo, se solidarizar com pessoas que vivem sob o jugo de governos fascistas, mesmo estando em um país democrático. Neste ponto, hooks retoma a afirmação de Cornel West de que uma “política de conversão” restaura a sensação de esperança. E reafirma que abraçar a ética amorosa significa inserir todas as dimensões do amor — “cuidado, compromisso, confiança, responsabilidade, respeito e conhecimento” — em nossa vida cotidiana.
“Ganância: simplesmente ame”, o sétimo capítulo do livro, demonstra que o isolamento e a solidão são as causas centrais da depressão e do desespero. O materialismo cria um mundo de narcisismo no qual consumir é a coisa mais importante. Nessa reflexão, a autora analisa como a participação ativa dos Estados Unidos em guerras globais colocou em questão o compromisso desse país com a democracia, sacrificando a visão de liberdade, amor e justiça em nome do materialismo e do dinheiro. Ela aborda também o desespero que tomou conta das pessoas quando líderes que lutavam pela paz e pela justiça foram assassinados, no final da década de 1960. Nesse momento, as pessoas perderam a conexão com a comunidade, e a atenção voltou-se para a ideia de ganhar dinheiro, o máximo possível. Os líderes passaram a ser os ricos e os famosos, as estrelas do cinema e da música. As igrejas e os templos, que antes eram espaços de reunião da comunidade, com o advento da teologia da prosperidade, tornaram-se lugares onde a ética materialista é respaldada e racionalizada. O que vale a partir de então é a cultura do consumo desenfreado. Pessoas também são tratadas como objetos e são esses os valores que passam a orientar as atitudes em relação ao amor. Isso se reflete também nas políticas públicas, como no fato de os Estados Unidos serem um dos países mais ricos do mundo e não possuírem um sistema universal de saúde que possa oferecer serviços aos menos favorecidos. Dessa maneira, bell hooks convida as pessoas à escolha de viver com simplicidade. Isso necessariamente intensifica a nossa capacidade de amar, nos ensina a praticar a compaixão e afirma nossa conexão com a comunidade.
O oitavo capítulo, “Comunidade: uma comunhão amorosa”, afirma, conforme as palavras de M. Scott Peck, que “nas comunidades e por meio delas reside a salvação do mundo”. Para desenvolver suas reflexões sobre essa questão, bell hooks lembra que o capitalismo e o patriarcado, juntos, como estrutura de dominação, produziram o afastamento das famílias nucleares de suas respectivas famílias estendidas. Por essa razão, aumentaram os abusos de poder no ambiente familiar, pois a família estendida é um lugar onde podemos aprender o poder da comunidade. Outra possibilidade importante dessa experiência de comunidade é a amizade, que para muitos é o primeiro contato com uma “comunidade carinhosa”. hooks reforça que amar em amizades nos fortalece de tal maneira que nos permite levar esse amor para as interações familiares e românticas. E, embora seja comum afrouxarmos os laços de amizade quando criamos laços românticos, quanto mais verdadeiros forem nossos amores românticos, menos teremos de nos afastar das nossas amizades, pois “a confiança é a pulsação do verdadeiro amor”. Ao nos engajarmos em uma prática amorosa, podemos estabelecer as bases para a construção de uma comunidade com desconhecidos. Esse amor que criamos em comunidade permanece conosco aonde quer que vamos, diz hooks.
“Reciprocidade: o coração do amor”, o nono capítulo, se inicia com os dizeres: “O amor nos permite adentrar o paraíso”. Para falar da construção amorosa entre casais, a autora parte dos equívocos ocorridos nos seus dois relacionamentos afetivos mais intensos, de um lado devido à falta de definição do que seria o amor e, de outro, pela confusão de esperar receber do companheiro o amor que não recebeu da família. Aponta que, mesmo em relacionamentos não heterossexuais, a tendência é o casal assumir uma lógica de que um dos parceiros deve sustentar o amor e o outro, apenas o seguir. Acrescenta ainda o fato de que as mulheres são encorajadas pelo pensamento patriarcal a acreditar que deveriam ser sempre amorosas, porém, isso não significa dizer que estão mais capacitadas do que os homens para fazer isso. Por essa razão, é comum que mulheres procurem livros de autoajuda para aprender a amar e manter o relacionamento. No entanto, grande parte desses livros normalizam o machismo e ensinam a manipular, a jogar um jogo de poder que nada tem a ver com o amor.
No décimo capítulo, “Romance: o doce amor”, bell hooks afirma categoricamente que poucas pessoas entram num relacionamento romântico possuindo a capacidade de realmente receber amor. Isso porque criamos envolvimentos amorosos que estão condenados a repetir os nossos dramas familiares. Comentando sobre o romance O olho mais azul, de Toni Morrison, ela diz que “a ideia de amor romântico é uma das ideias mais destrutivas na história do pensamento humano”. Esse amor que se dá num “estalo”, num “clique”, que não necessita de construção e depende apenas de “química” atrapalha o nosso caminho para o amor. O amor é tanto uma intenção como uma ação. Nossa cultura valoriza demais o amor como fantasia ou mito, mas não faz o mesmo em relação à arte de amar. Ao não atingirem esse mito, as pessoas se decepcionam. No entanto, é preciso entender que essa decepção é pelo amor romântico não alcançado. O amor verdadeiro, quando buscado, nem sempre nos levará ao “felizes para sempre” e, mesmo se o fizer, é preciso que saibamos: amar dá trabalho, não é essa história perfeita e pronta dos contos de fadas.
Em “Perda: amar na vida e na morte”, o décimo primeiro capítulo, a autora trata do medo coletivo da morte, apresentando-o como uma doença do coração para a qual a única cura é o amor. Da mesma maneira, somos incapazes de falar sobre a nossa necessidade de amar e sermos amados. Por medo de que nos vejam como fracos, raramente compartilhamos nossos pensamentos sobre a mortalidade e a perda. É isso que bell hooks nos convida a fazer
O capítulo 12, “Cura: o amor redentor”, nos leva a refletir sobre nossas dores, pois, ainda que tenham nos ensinado o contrário, sofrimentos desnecessários nos ferem. A escolha que temos é não permitir que tais sofrimentos nos deixem cicatrizes por toda a vida. O que faremos dessas marcas está em nossas mãos. O poder curativo da mente e do coração está sempre presente, e nós temos a capacidade de renovar nosso espírito e nossa alma. No entanto, é bastante difícil conseguirmos nos curar em isolamento: a cura é um ato de comunhão. bell hooks diz que precisamos conhecer a compaixão e nos envolver num processo de perdão para nos livrarmos de toda bagagem que carregamos e que impede a nossa cura. O perdão intensifica nossa capacidade de apoiarmos uns aos outros. Fazer as pazes com nós mesmos e com os outros é o presente que a compaixão e o perdão nos oferecem. A autora nos ensina que ser positivo e viver em um estado permanente de esperança renova o espírito e que, quando reavivamos nossa fé na promessa do amor, a esperança se torna nossa cúmplice.
O capítulo 13, “Destino: quando os anjos falam de amor”, fecha o livro apresentando a relação de bell hooks com os anjos. Anjos são aqueles que trazem as notícias que darão alívio ao nosso coração. São os guardiães do bem-estar da alma. Revelam nosso desejo coletivo de regressar ao amor. A autora relata que as primeiras histórias de anjos lhe foram contadas ainda na infância, quando frequentava a igreja, onde aprendeu que os anjos eram consoladores sábios nos momentos de solidão. E, conforme foi crescendo, hooks passou a descobrir muitos anjos em seus autores preferidos, cujos livros permitem entender a vida com mais complexidade. Ela finaliza dizendo que, depois de tanto ficar sozinha, no escuro do quarto, agarrada à metafísica do amor, tentando entender seu mistério, pôde finalmente alcançar uma nova visão do amor. E a essa prática espiritual disciplinada ela chama de “prática de abrir o coração”. Foi isso que desde então a levou a seguir o caminho do amor e a “falar cara a cara com os anjos”.
Na teoria sobre o amor de bell hooks é possível perceber inspirações das igrejas cristãs negras do sul dos Estados Unidos e também da filosofia budista, especialmente com base no mestre zen vietnamita Thich Nhat Hanh, cuja atuação disseminou o conceito de “budismo engajado”, que diz respeito a somar a observação dos preceitos básicos do budismo com uma prática cotidiana socialmente comprometida. Ao lermos Tudo sobre o amor, podemos encontrar também diversos pontos de contato com as ideias trazidas pela filósofa burquinense Sobonfu Somé, em seu livro O espírito da intimidade: ensinamentos ancestrais africanos sobre maneiras de se relacionar, sobretudo no que se refere ao conceito de comunidade. Nesse sentido, ao propor que as transformações desejadas para a sociedade ocorram por meio da prática do amor, bell hooks nos afasta dos paradigmas eurocêntricos e coloniais que construíram a sociedade ocidental, baseada em exploração, injustiça, racismo e sexismo, e (re)direciona o nosso pensamento e a nossa prática rumo à ancestralidade.
A tradução deste livro, trazendo a ideia do amor como transformação política, chega num momento muito oportuno e necessário. Por aqui, essa semente já brotou. Existem pessoas pensando o amor para além do “amor romântico”, como o pastor Henrique Vieira, que destaca a força poderosa do amor para a destruição de preconceitos e a construção de uma sociedade mais justa em seu livro O amor como revolução, ou como o professor Renato Noguera, especialista em estudos africanos, que se dedica a produzir reflexões sobre o amor e é autor do livro Por que amamos: o que os mitos e a filosofia têm a dizer sobre o amor. Nesse caminho segue também a pensadora Carla Akotirene que, ancorada nos estudos do feminismo negro e na ancestralidade, discute o papel político das afetividades, inserindo no debate a urgência do combate à violência doméstica. Pesquisadores voltados para a filosofia africana têm (re)construído conhecimentos que dialogam diretamente com o pensamento de bell hooks em sua Trilogia do Amor. Exemplos disso são os trabalhos de Katiúscia Ribeiro e Wanderson Nascimento. Este último tem um artigo escrito em parceria com Vinícius da Silva, com o título “Políticas do amor e sociedades do amanhã”. Sendo assim, acredito que as lições de bell hooks sobre o amor, apresentadas em português pela Editora Elefante, servirão para difundir e fortalecer ainda mais essa construção. O futuro é ancestral.
Silvane Silva é doutora em história social pela Pontifícia Universidade Católica de São Paulo (puc-sp) com a tese O protagonismo das mulheres quilombolas na luta por direitos em comunidades do Estado de São Paulo (1988-2018). Em 2018, participou do Programa de Incentivo Acadêmico Abdias do Nascimento como pesquisadora visitante no Centro de Estudos Latino-Americanos da Universidade da Flórida, nos Estados Unidos. É co-organizadora do livro Narrativas quilombolas: dialogar, conhecer, comunicar (Imprensa Oficial do Estado de São Paulo, 2017). Atua como professora e pesquisadora nas temáticas história e cultura afro-brasileira, educação para relações étnico-raciais e educação escolar quilombola. É pesquisadora do Centro de Estudos Culturais Africanos e da Diáspora (Cecafro) da puc-sp e integrante do Grupo de Estudos em Educação da Faculdade de Educação da Universidade de São Paulo (usp).
WHEN IT RAINS, it pours, and when it snows, the lights turn off. Or so it goes in Texas. After a winter storm pummelled the Lone Star State with record snowfall and the lowest temperatures in more than 30 years, millions were left without electricity and heat. On February 16th 4.5m Texan households were cut off from power, as providers were overloaded with demand and tried to shuffle access to electricity so the whole grid did not go down.
Whole skylines, including Dallas’s, went dark to conserve power. Some Texans braved the snowy roads to check into the few hotels with remaining rooms, only for the hotels’ power to go off as they arrived. Others donned skiwear and remained inside, hoping the lights and heat would come back on. Across the state, what were supposed to be “rolling” blackouts lasted for days. It is still too soon to quantify the devastation. More than 20 people have died in motor accidents, from fires lit for warmth and from carbon-monoxide poisoning from using cars for heat. The storm has also halted deliveries of covid-19 vaccines and may prevent around 1m vaccinations from happening this week. Several retail electricity providers are likely to go bankrupt, after being hit with surging wholesale power prices.
Other states, including Tennessee, were also covered in snow, but Texas got the lion’s share and ground to a halt. Texans are rightly furious that residents of America’s energy capital cannot count on reliable power. Everyone is asking why.
The short answer is that the Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT), which operates the grid, did not properly forecast the demand for energy as a result of the storm. Some say that this was nearly impossible to predict, but there were warnings of the severity of the coming weather in the preceding week, and ERCOT’s projections were notably short. Brownouts last summer had already demonstrated the grid’s lack of excess capacity, says George O’Leary of Tudor, Pickering, Holt & CO (TPH), an energy investment bank.
Many Republican politicians were quick to blame renewable energy sources, such as wind power, for the blackouts, but that is not fair. Some wind turbines did indeed freeze, but natural gas, which accounts for around half of the state’s electricity generation, was the primary source of the shortfall. Plants broke down, as did the gas supply chain and pipelines. The cold also caused a reactor at one of the state’s two nuclear plants to go offline. Transmission lines may have also iced up, says Wade Schauer of Wood Mackenzie, an energy-research firm. In short, Texas experienced a perfect storm.
Some of the blame falls on the unique design of the electricity market in Texas. Of America’s 48 contiguous states, it is the only one with its own stand-alone electricity grid—the Texas Interconnection. This means that when power generators fail, the state cannot import electricity from outside its borders.
The state’s deregulated power market is also fiercely competitive. ERCOT oversees the grid, while power generators produce electricity for the wholesale market. Some 300 retail electricity providers buy that fuel and then compete for consumers. Because such cold weather is rare, energy companies do not invest in “winterising” their equipment, as this would raise their prices for consumers. Perhaps most important, the state does not have a “capacity market”, which would ensure that there was extra power available for surging demand. This acts as a sort of insurance policy so the lights will not go out, but it also means customers pay higher bills.
For years the benefits of Texas’s deregulated market structure were clear. At 8.6 cents per kilowatt hour, the state’s average retail price for electricity is around one-fifth lower than the national average and about half the cost of California’s. In 1999 the state set targets for renewables, and today it accounts for around 30% of America’s wind energy.
This disaster is prompting people to question whether Texas’s system is as resilient and well-designed as people previously believed. Greg Abbott, the governor, has called for an investigation into ERCOT. This storm “has exposed some serious weaknesses in our free-market approach in Texas”, says Luke Metzger of Environment Texas, a non-profit, who had been without power for 54 hours when The Economist went to press.
Wholly redesigning the power grid in Texas seems unlikely. After the snow melts, the state will need to tackle two more straightforward questions. The first is whether it needs to increase reserve capacity. “If we impose a capacity market here and a bunch of new cap-ex is required to winterise equipment, who bears that cost? Ultimately it’s the customer,” says Bobby Tudor, chairman of TPH. The second is how Texas can ensure the reliability of equipment in extreme weather conditions. After a polar vortex in 2014 hit the east coast, PJM, a regional transmission organisation, started making higher payments based on reliability of service, says Michael Weinstein of Credit Suisse, a bank. In Texas there is no penalty for systems going down, except for public complaints and politicians’ finger-pointing.
Texas is hardly the only state to struggle with blackouts. California, which has a more tightly regulated power market, is regularly plunged into darkness during periods of high heat, winds and wildfires. Unlike Texas, much of northern California is dependent on a single utility, PG&E. The company has been repeatedly sued for dismal, dangerous management. But, as in Texas, critics have blamed intermittent renewable power for blackouts. In truth, California’s blackouts share many of the same causes as those in Texas: extreme weather, power generators that failed unexpectedly, poor planning by state regulators and an inability (in California, temporary) to import power from elsewhere. In California’s blackouts last year, solar output naturally declined in the evening. But gas plants also went offline and weak rainfall lowered the output of hydroelectric dams.
In California, as in Texas, it would help to have additional power generation, energy storage to meet peak demand and more resilient infrastructure, such as buried power lines and more long-distance, high-voltage transmission. Weather events that once might have been dismissed as unusual are becoming more common. Without more investment in electricity grids, blackouts will be, too.
Systems are designed to handle spikes in demand, but the wild and unpredictable weather linked to global warming will very likely push grids beyond their limits.
Published Feb. 16, 2021Updated Feb. 17, 2021, 6:59 a.m. ET
Huge winter storms plunged large parts of the central and southern United States into an energy crisis this week, with frigid blasts of Arctic weather crippling electric grids and leaving millions of Americans without power amid dangerously cold temperatures.
The grid failures were most severe in Texas, where more than four million people woke up Tuesday morning to rolling blackouts. Separate regional grids in the Southwest and Midwest also faced serious strain. As of Tuesday afternoon, at least 23 people nationwide had died in the storm or its aftermath.
Analysts have begun to identify key factors behind the grid failures in Texas. Record-breaking cold weather spurred residents to crank up their electric heaters and pushed power demand beyond the worst-case scenarios that grid operators had planned for. At the same time, a large fraction of the state’s gas-fired power plants were knocked offline amid icy conditions, with some plants suffering fuel shortages as natural gas demand spiked. Many of Texas’ wind turbines also froze and stopped working.
The crisis sounded an alarm for power systems throughout the country. Electric grids can be engineered to handle a wide range of severe conditions — as long as grid operators can reliably predict the dangers ahead. But as climate change accelerates, many electric grids will face extreme weather events that go far beyond the historical conditions those systems were designed for, putting them at risk of catastrophic failure.
Measures that could help make electric grids more robust — such as fortifying power plants against extreme weather, or installing more backup power sources — could prove expensive. But as Texas shows, blackouts can be extremely costly, too. And, experts said, unless grid planners start planning for increasingly wild and unpredictable climate conditions, grid failures will happen again and again.
“It’s essentially a question of how much insurance you want to buy,” said Jesse Jenkins, an energy systems engineer at Princeton University. “What makes this problem even harder is that we’re now in a world where, especially with climate change, the past is no longer a good guide to the future. We have to get much better at preparing for the unexpected.”
A System Pushed to the Limit
Texas’ main electric grid, which largely operates independently from the rest of the country, has been built with the state’s most common weather extremes in mind: soaring summer temperatures that cause millions of Texans to turn up their air-conditioners all at once.
While freezing weather is rarer, grid operators in Texas have also long known that electricity demand can spike in the winter, particularly after damaging cold snaps in 2011 and 2018. But this week’s winter storms, which buried the state in snow and ice, and led to record-cold temperatures, surpassed all expectations — and pushed the grid to its breaking point.
Texas’ grid operators had anticipated that, in the worst case, the state would use 67 gigawatts of electricity during the winter peak. But by Sunday evening, power demand had surged past that level. As temperatures dropped, many homes were relying on older, inefficient electric heaters that consume more power.
The problems compounded from there, with frigid weather on Monday disabling power plants with capacity totaling more than 30 gigawatts. The vast majority of those failures occurred at thermal power plants, like natural gas generators, as plummeting temperatures paralyzed plant equipment and soaring demand for natural gas left some plants struggling to obtain sufficient fuel. A number of the state’s power plants were also offline for scheduled maintenance in preparation for the summer peak.
The state’s fleet of wind farms also lost up to 4.5 gigawatts of capacity at times, as many turbines stopped working in cold and icy conditions, though this was a smaller part of the problem.
In essence, experts said, an electric grid optimized to deliver huge quantities of power on the hottest days of the year was caught unprepared when temperatures plummeted.
While analysts are still working to untangle all of the reasons behind Texas’ grid failures, some have also wondered whether the unique way the state manages its largely deregulated electricity system may have played a role. In the mid-1990s, for instance, Texas decided against paying energy producers to hold a fixed number of backup power plants in reserve, instead letting market forces dictate what happens on the grid.
On Tuesday, Gov. Greg Abbott called for an emergency reform of the Electric Reliability Council of Texas, the nonprofit corporation that oversees the flow of power in the state, saying its performance had been “anything but reliable” over the previous 48 hours.
‘A Difficult Balancing Act’
In theory, experts said, there are technical solutions that can avert such problems.
Wind turbines can be equipped with heaters and other devices so that they can operate in icy conditions — as is often done in the upper Midwest, where cold weather is more common. Gas plants can be built to store oil on-site and switch over to burning the fuel if needed, as is often done in the Northeast, where natural gas shortages are common. Grid regulators can design markets that pay extra to keep a larger fleet of backup power plants in reserve in case of emergencies, as is done in the Mid-Atlantic.
But these solutions all cost money, and grid operators are often wary of forcing consumers to pay extra for safeguards.
“Building in resilience often comes at a cost, and there’s a risk of both underpaying but also of overpaying,” said Daniel Cohan, an associate professor of civil and environmental engineering at Rice University. “It’s a difficult balancing act.”
In the months ahead, as Texas grid operators and policymakers investigate this week’s blackouts, they will likely explore how the grid might be bolstered to handle extremely cold weather. Some possible ideas include: Building more connections between Texas and other states to balance electricity supplies, a move the state has long resisted; encouraging homeowners to install battery backup systems; or keeping additional power plants in reserve.
The search for answers will be complicated by climate change. Over all, the state is getting warmer as global temperatures rise, and cold-weather extremes are, on average, becoming less common over time.
But some climate scientists have also suggested that global warming could, paradoxically, bring more unusually fierce winter storms. Some research indicates that Arctic warming is weakening the jet stream, the high-level air current that circles the northern latitudes and usually holds back the frigid polar vortex. This can allow cold air to periodically escape to the South, resulting in episodes of bitter cold in places that rarely get nipped by frost.
But this remains an active area of debate among climate scientists, with some experts less certain that polar vortex disruptions are becoming more frequent, making it even trickier for electricity planners to anticipate the dangers ahead.
All over the country, utilities and grid operators are confronting similar questions, as climate change threatens to intensify heat waves, floods, water shortages and other calamities, all of which could create novel risks for the nation’s electricity systems. Adapting to those risks could carry a hefty price tag: One recent study found that the Southeast alone may need 35 percent more electric capacity by 2050 simply to deal with the known hazards of climate change.
And the task of building resilience is becoming increasingly urgent. Many policymakers are promoting electric cars and electric heating as a way of curbing greenhouse gas emissions. But as more of the nation’s economy depends on reliable flows of electricity, the cost of blackouts will become ever more dire.
“This is going to be a significant challenge,” said Emily Grubert, an infrastructure expert at Georgia Tech. “We need to decarbonize our power systems so that climate change doesn’t keep getting worse, but we also need to adapt to changing conditions at the same time. And the latter alone is going to be very costly. We can already see that the systems we have today aren’t handling this very well.”
John Schwartz, Dave Montgomery and Ivan Penn contributed reporting.
It’s the antidote to nativism, the enemy of hate—a vaccine of understanding, tolerance and compassion that can counter the rhetoric of demagogues
Wade Davis, February 1, 2021
In 2012, both Kiplinger and Forbes ranked anthropology as the least valuable undergraduate major, unleashing a small wave of indignation as many outside the field rushed to defend the study of culture as ideal preparation for any life or career in an interconnected and globalized world. The response from professional anthropologists, confronted by both an existential challenge and public humiliation, was earnest but largely ineffective, for the voice of the discipline had been muted by a generation of self-absorption, tempered by a disregard for popular engagement that borders on contempt.
Ruth Benedict, acolyte of the great Franz Boas and in 1947 president of the American Anthropological Association (AAA), reputedly said that the very purpose of anthropology was to make the world safe for human differences.
Today, such activism seems as passé as a pith helmet. In the immediate aftermath of 9/11, the AAA met in Washington, D.C. Four thousand anthropologists were in the nation’s capital in the wake of the biggest story of culture they or the country would ever encounter. The entire gathering earned but a mention in The Washington Post, a few lines in the gossip section essentially noting that the nutcases were back in town. It was hard to know who was more remiss, the government for failing to listen to the one profession that could have answered the question on everyone’s lips—Why do they hate us?—or the profession itself for failing to reach outside itself to bring its considerable insights to the attention of the nation.
Perhaps fittingly it took an outsider to remind anthropologists why anthropology matters. Charles King, professor of international affairs at Georgetown University, begins his remarkable book The Reinvention of Humanityby asking us to envision the world as it existed in the minds of our grandparents, perhaps your great-grandparents. Race, he notes, was accepted as a given, a biological fact, with lineages dividing white from Black reaching back through primordial time. Differences in customs and beliefs reflected differences in intelligence and destiny, with every culture finding its rung on an evolutionary ladder rising from the savage to the barbarian to the civilized of the Strand in London, with technological wizardry, the great achievement of the West, being the sole measure of progress and success.
Sexual and behavioral characteristics were presumed fixed. Whites were smart and industrious, Blacks physically strong but lazy, and some people were barely distinguishable from animals; as late as 1902 it was debated in parliament in Australia whether aborigines were human beings. Politics was the domain of men, charity work and the home the realm of women. Women’s suffrage only came in 1919. Immigrants were seen as a threat, even by those who had themselves only just managed to claw their way ashore. The poor were responsible for their own miseries, even as the British army reported that the height of officers recruited in 1914 was on average six inches taller than that of enlisted men, simply because of nutrition. As for the blind, deaf and dumb, the cripples, morons, Mongoloids, and the mad, they were best locked away, lobotomized and even killed to remove them from the gene pool.
The superiority of the white man was accepted with such assurance that the Oxford English Dictionary in 1911 had no entries for racism or colonialism. As recently as 1965, Carleton Coon completed a set of two books, The Origin of Races and The Living Races of Man, in which he advanced the theory that the political and technological dominance of Europeans was a natural consequence of their evolved genetic superiority. He even asserted that “racial intermixture can upset the genetic as well as the social equilibrium of a group.” Coon at the time of his retirement in 1963 was a respected professor and curator at the University of Pennsylvania. Interracial marriage remained illegal across much of the United States until 1967.
Today, not two generations on, it goes without saying that no educated person would share any of these bankrupt certitudes. By the same token, what we take for granted would be unimaginable to those who fiercely defended convictions that appear to the modern eye both transparently wrong and morally reprehensible. All of which raises a question. What was it that allowed our culture to go from zero to 60 in a generation, as women moved from the kitchen to the boardroom, people of color from the woodshed to the White House, gay men and women from the closet to the altar?
Political movements are built upon the possibility of change, possibilities brought into being by new ways of thinking. Before any of these struggles could flourish, something fundamental, some flash of insight, had to challenge and, in time, shatter the intellectual foundations that supported archaic beliefs as irrelevant to our lives today as the notions of 19th-century clergymen, certain that the earth was but 6,000 years old.
The catalyst, as Charles King reminds us, was the wisdom and scientific genius of Franz Boas and a small band of courageous scholars—Margaret Mead, Alfred Kroeber, Elsie Clews Parsons, Melville Herskovits, Edward Sapir, Robert Lowie, Ruth Benedict, Zora Neale Hurston and many others— contrarians all, who came into his orbit, destined to change the world. We live today in the social landscape of their dreams. If you find it normal, for example, that an Irish boy would have an Asian girlfriend, or that a Jewish friend might find solace in the Buddhist dharma, or that a person born into a male body could self-identify as a woman, then you are a child of anthropology.
If you recognize that marriage need not exclusively imply a man and a woman, that single mothers can be good mothers, and that two men or two women can raise good families as long as there is love in the home, it’s because you’ve embraced values and intuitions inconceivable to your great-grandparents. And if you believe that wisdom may be found in all spiritual traditions, that people in all places are always dancing with new possibilities for life, that one preserves jam but not culture, then you share a vision of compassion and inclusion that represents perhaps the most sublime revelation of our species, the scientific realization that all of humanity is one interconnected and undivided whole.
Widely acknowledged as the father of American cultural anthropology, Franz Boas was the first scholar to explore in a truly open and neutral manner how human social perceptions are formed, and how members of distinct societies become conditioned to see and interpret the world. What, he asked, was the nature of knowing? Who decided what was to be known? How do seemingly random beliefs and convictions converge into this thing called culture, a term that he was the first to promote as an organizing principle, a useful point of intellectual departure.
Far ahead of his time, Boas recognized that every distinct social community, every cluster of people distinguished by language or adaptive inclination, was a unique facet of the human legacy and its promise. Each was a product of its own history. None existed in an absolute sense; every culture was but a model of reality. We create our social realms, Boas would say, determine what we then define as being common sense, universal truths, the appropriate rules and codes of behavior. Beauty really does lie in the eye of the beholder. Manners don’t make the man; men and women invent the manners. Race and gender are cultural constructs, derived not from biology but born in the realm of ideas.
Critically, none of this implied an extreme relativism, as if every human behavior must be accepted simply because it exists. Boas never called for the elimination of judgment, only its suspension so that the very judgments we are ethically and morally obliged to make as human beings may be informed ones. Even as he graced the cover of Time magazine in 1936, a German Jew in exile from a homeland already dripping in blood, Boas railed against the cruel conceits and stupidity of scientific racism. Inspired by his time among the Inuit on Baffin Island, and later the Kwakwaka’wakw in the salmon forests of the Pacific Northwest, he informed all who would listen that the other peoples of the world were not failed attempts to be them, failed attempts to be modern. Every culture was a unique expression of the human imagination and heart. Each was a unique answer to a fundamental question: What does it mean to be human and alive? When asked that question, humanity responds in 7,000 different languages, voices that collectively comprise our repertoire for dealing with all the challenges that will confront us as a species.
Boas would not live to see his insights and intuitions confirmed by hard science, let alone define the zeitgeist of a new global culture. But, 80 years on, studies of the human genome have indeed revealed the genetic endowment of humanity to be a single continuum. Race truly is a fiction. We are all cut from the same genetic cloth, all descendants of common ancestors, including those who walked out of Africa some 65,000 years ago, embarking on a journey that over 40,000 years, a mere 2500 generations, carried the human spirit to every corner of the habitable world.
But here is the important idea. If we are all cut from the same fabric of life, then by definition we all share the same mental acuity, the same raw genius. Whether this intellectual potential is exercised through technological innovation, as has been the great achievement of the West, or through the untangling of complex threads of memory inherent in a myth, a priority of many other peoples in the world, is simply a matter of choice and orientation, adaptive insights and cultural emphasis. There is no hierarchy of progress in the history of culture, no evolutionary ladder to success. Boas and his students were right. The brilliance of scientific research, the revelations of modern genetics, has affirmed in an astonishing way both the unity of humanity and the essential wisdom of cultural relativism. Every culture really does have something to say; each deserves to be heard, just as none has a monopoly on the route to the divine.
As a scholar, Boas ranks with Einstein, Darwin and Freud as one of the four intellectual pillars of modernity. His core idea, distilled in the notion of cultural relativism, was a radical departure, as unique in its way as was Einstein’s theory of relativity in the discipline of physics. Everything Boas proposed ran against orthodoxy. It was a shattering of the European mind, the sociological equivalent of the splitting of the atom. And though his research took him to esoteric realms of myth and shamanism, symbolism and the spirit, he remained grounded in the politics of racial and economic justice, the promise and potential of social change. A tireless campaigner for human rights, Boas maintained always that anthropology as a science only made sense if it was practiced in the service of a higher tolerance. “It is possible,” wrote Thomas Gossett in his 1963 book Race: The History of an Idea in America, that “Boas did more to combat race prejudice than any other person in history.”
Though remembered today as the giants of the discipline, Boas and his students in their time were dismissed from jobs because of their activism; denied promotion because of their beliefs; harassed by the FBI as the subversives they truly were; and attacked in the press simply for being different. And yet they stood their ground, and because they did, as Charles King writes, “anthropology came into its own on the front lines of the great moral battle of our time… [as it] anticipated and in good measure built the intellectual foundations for the seismic social changes of the last hundred years from women’s suffrage and civil rights to sexual revolution and marriage equality.”
Were Boas to be with us today, his voice would surely resound in the public square, the media, in all the halls of power. He would never sit back in silence as fully half the languages of the world hover on the brink of extinction, implying the loss within a single generation of half of humanity’s intellectual, ecological and spiritual legacy. To those who suggest that indigenous cultures are destined to fade away, he would reply that change and technology pose no threat to culture, but power does. Cultures under threat are neither fragile nor vestigial; in every instance, they are living dynamic peoples being driven out of existence by identifiable forces. If human beings are the agents of cultural loss, he would note, we can surely be facilitators of cultural survival.
Anthropology matters because it allows us to look beneath the surface of things. The very existence of other ways of being, other ways of thinking, other visions of life itself, puts the lie to those in our own culture who say that we cannot change, as we know we must, the fundamental way in which we inhabit this planet. Anthropology is the antidote to nativism, the enemy of hate, a vaccine of understanding, tolerance and compassion that silences the rhetoric of demagogues, inoculating the world from the likes of the Proud Boys and Donald Trump. As the events of the last months have shown, the struggle long ago championed by Franz Boas is ongoing. Never has the voice of anthropology been more important.
But it must be spoken to be heard. With a million Uighurs in Chinese prison camps, the forests of the Penan in Sarawak laid waste, and the very homeland of the Inuit melting from beneath their lives, contemporary anthropologists must surely do better than indulging doctrinal grievance studies, seminars on intersectionality, the use of pronouns and other multiple expressions of woke orthodoxy if the discipline is to avoid the indictment of actually being the most worthless of undergraduate degrees.
Wade Davis is a professor of anthropology and holds the B.C. Leadership Chair in Cultures and Ecosystems at Risk at the University of British Columbia. His latest book is Magdalena: River of Dreams (Knopf 2020).
A review of millions of blood tests has shown a whole host of human hormones that fall into clear seasonal patterns, although these changes are small in magnitude.
Hormones from the pituitary gland, which help control reproduction, metabolism, stress and lactation, were mostly found to peak in late summer.
Peripheral organs under the control of the pituitary, like those that produce our sex hormones or the thyroid hormone, also showed seasonality. Instead of peaking in summer, however, these hormones hit their stride in winter.
Testosterone, estradiol, and progesterone, for instance, reached their pinnacle in late winter or spring.
The findings provide the strongest evidence to date that humans possess an internal seasonal clock, which somehow impacts our hormones in a way that lines up with the seasons.
“Together with a long history of studies on a winter−spring peak in human function and growth, the hormone seasonality indicates that, like other animals, humans may have a physiological peak season for basic biological functions,” the authors write.
The underlying mechanism that drives this circannual clock is still unknown, but the authors suggest there is a natural, year-long feedback circuit at play between the pituitary gland and peripheral glands in the body.
The pituitary hormones, which are uniquely tuned to sunlight, could be feeding these other organs over the course of a year, allowing them to grow in functional mass in a way that aligns with the seasons.
“Thus, humans may show coordinated seasonal set-points with a winter−spring peak in the growth, stress, metabolism, and reproduction axes,” the authors write.
As the paper mentions, it’s not too different from what we find in other mammals, where fluctuations in certain hormones lead to seasonal changes in an animal’s reproduction, activity, growth, pigmentation, or migration.
Mammals like arctic reindeer, for instance, show a decrease in a hormone called leptin when winter days become shortest, and this helps lower their energy consumption, decreasing their body temperature and inhibiting their ability to reproduce.
Whether or not human hormones also fluctuate with the seasons remains unclear.
Most datasets that have been analysed so far are not very large and do not cover all human hormones, which makes drawing conclusions very challenging. Studies have either examined only human sex hormones, or they have focused on stress and metabolic hormones. Results have also been quite varied and inconsistent.
While some studies on human sex hormones suggest seasonal changes should be considered, other studies conclude seasons are an unimportant source of variability.
Meanwhile, research on salivary cortisol levels – aka the stress hormone – finds there is some seasonal variability, and a big data study on the thyroid-stimulating hormone found higher levels of this hormone in summer and winter.
The new research is the largest of the lot and includes a massive dataset of Israeli health records covering 46 million person-years. It also analyses all human hormones.
Controlling for changes throughout a single day, the authors found humans do show seasonal patterns in their hormone levels, although not as strongly as other mammals.
The physiological effects of these hormonal shifts are still not clear, but some of the changes to the thyroid hormone, T3, and the stress hormone, cortisol, do align with previous findings.
For example, the thyroid hormone, which was found to peak in winter, has been tied to thermogeneration. The seasonal timing of cortisol, which was found to peak in February, also agrees with past studies spanning the northern and southern hemispheres.
The seasonal changes are small in magnitude, but as the authors point out, from a clinical perspective, “even a small systematic effect can cause misdiagnosis if the normal ranges are not adapted to the seasons, with associated costs of extra tests and treatment.”
More studies on a similarly large scale and in various parts of the world will need to be done to verify the results further. But the findings suggest we are not so different from other mammals after all.
If our hormones really do ebb and flow with the seasons, even just a little bit, it could be important for our health that we know.
Damian Carrington, Wed 3 Feb 2021 14.30 GMT Last modified on Thu 4 Feb 2021 05.08 GMT
The global food system is the biggest driver of destruction of the natural world, and a shift to predominantly plant-based diets is crucial in halting the damage, according to a report.
Agriculture is the main threat to 86% of the 28,000 species known to be at risk of extinction, the report by the Chatham House thinktank said. Without change, the loss of biodiversity will continue to accelerate and threaten the world’s ability to sustain humanity, it said.
The root cause is a vicious circle of cheap food, the report said, where low costs drive bigger demand for food and more waste, with more competition then driving costs even lower through more clearing of natural land and use of polluting fertilisers and pesticides.
More than 80% of global farmland is used to raise animals, which provide only 18% of calories eaten. Reversing the rising trend of meat consumption removes the pressure to clear new land and further damage wildlife. It also frees up existing land for the second solution, restoring native ecosystems to increase biodiversity.
The availability of land also underpins the third solution, the report said, which is farming in a less intensive and damaging way but accepting lower yields. Organic yields are on average about 75% of those of conventional intensive farming, it said.
Fixing the global food system would also tackle the climate crisis, the report said. The food system causes about 30% of all greenhouse gas emissions, with more than half coming from animals. Changes to food production could also tackle the ill health suffered by 3 billion people, who either have too little to eat or are overweight or obese, and which costs trillions of dollars a year in healthcare.
“Politicians are still saying ‘my job is to make food cheaper for you’, no matter how toxic it is from a planetary or human health perspective,” said Prof Tim Benton, at Chatham House. “We must stop arguing that we have to subsidise the food system in the name of the poor and instead deal with the poor by bringing them out of poverty.”
Benton said the impact of the food system on climate and health was becoming widely accepted but that biodiversity was too often seen as a “nice to have”.
Susan Gardner, director of Unep’s ecosystems division, said the current food system was a “double-edged sword” providing cheap food but failing to take into account the hidden costs to our health and to the natural world. “Reforming the way we produce and consume food is an urgent priority,” she said.
Jane Goodall, the renowned conservationist, said the intensive farming of billions of animals seriously damaged the environment and inhumane crowded conditions risked new pandemic diseases crossing into people: “It should be phased out as soon as possible.”
The Chatham House report said the world had lost half its natural ecosystems and that the average population size of wild animals had fallen by 68% since 1970. In contrast, farmed animals, mainly cows and pigs, now account for 60% of all mammals by weight, with humans making up 36% and animals just 4%.
In reforming the global food system, “the convergence of global food consumption around predominantly plant-based diets is the most crucial element”, the report said. For example, it said, a switch from beef to beans by the US population would free up fields equivalent to 42% of US cropland for other uses such as rewilding or more nature-friendly farming.
In another example, the report said if the permanent pasture around the world that was once forest was returned to its native state, it would store 72bn tonnes of carbon – roughly equivalent to seven years of global emissions from fossil fuels. Benton said the report was not advocating that all people should become vegan, but should follow healthy diets that are as a result much lower in meat.
The year ahead offers a potentially unique opportunity to redesign the global food system, the Benton said, with major UN summits on biodiversity and climate, as well as the world’s first UN Food Systems Summit and an international Nutrition for Growth summit. The large sums being spent by governments as nations recover from the Covid-19 pandemic also provide opportunities for “policymaking that affords equal priority to public and planetary health”, the report said.
Philip Lymbery, at Compassion in World Farming, said: “The future of farming must be nature-friendly and regenerative, and our diets must become more plant-based, healthy and sustainable. Without ending factory farming, we are in danger of having no future at all.”
De acordo com a pesquisa, as emissões globais de gases do efeito estufa no último século favoreceram o crescimento de um habitat para morcegos, tornando o sul da China uma região propícia para o surgimento e a propagação do vírus Sars-CoV-2.
A análise foi feita com base em um mapa da vegetação do mundo no século 20, utilizando dados relacionados a temperatura, precipitação e cobertura de nuvens. Os pesquisadores analisaram a distribuição de morcegos no início dos anos 1900 e, comparando com a distribuição atual, concluíram que diferentes espécies mudaram de região por causa das mudanças no clima do planeta.
“Entender como a distribuição das espécies de morcego pelo mundo mudou em função das mudanças climáticas pode ser um passo importante para reconstruir a origem do surto de Covid-19”, afirmou, em nota, Robert Beyer, pesquisador do Departamento de Zoologia da Universidade de Cambridge, no Reino Unido, e autor principal do estudo.
Foram observadas grandes alterações na vegetação da província chinesa de Yunnan, de Mianmar e do Laos. Os aumentos na temperatura, na incidência da luz solar e nas concentrações de dióxido de carbono presente na atmosfera fizeram com que o habitat, que antes era composto por arbustos tropicais, se transformasse em savana tropical e florestas temperadas.
As novas características criaram um ambiente favorável para que 40 espécies de morcegos migrassem para a província de Yunnan no último século, reunindo assim mais de 100 tipos de coronavírus na área em que os dados apontam como a origem do surto do Sars-CoV-2. Essa região também é habitat dos pangolins, que são considerados prováveis agentes intermediários na pandemia.
“Conforme as mudanças climáticas alteraram os habitats, espécies deixaram algumas áreas e foram para outras — levando os vírus com elas. Isso não apenas alterou as regiões onde os vírus estão presentes, mas provavelmente permitiu novas interações entre animais e vírus, fazendo com que vírus mais perigosos fossem transmitidos ou desenvolvidos”, explicou Beyer.
O estudo ainda identificou que as mudanças climáticas resultaram no aumento do número de espécies de morcegos em outras regiões, como na África Central, na América do Sul e na América Central. “A pandemia de Covid-19 causou grande prejuízo social e econômico. Os governos devem aproveitar a oportunidade para reduzir os riscos que doenças infecciosas apresentam à saúde e agir para mitigar as mudanças climáticas”, alertou o professor Andrea Manica, do Departamento de Zoologia da Universidade de Cambridge.
Os pesquisadores também ressaltam que é preciso limitar a expansão de áreas urbanas, fazendas e áreas de caça em habitats naturais para que seja reduzido o contato entre humanos e animais transmissores doenças.
Esta matéria faz parte da iniciativa #UmSóPlaneta, união de 19 marcas da Editora Globo, Edições Globo Condé Nast e CBN. Saiba mais em umsoplaneta.globo.com
Em entrevista exclusiva, o cientista pioneiro na aplicação da Teoria de Gaia fala sobre a importância da cosmovisão indígena e oferece uma solução simples para salvar o planeta das mudanças climáticas: replantar as trilhões de árvores que derrubamos.
Antonio Nobre é um cientista que fala das ciências da terra com amor. Pode parecer estranho ler essas palavras em uma mesma frase, mas, após ouvi-lo, em poucos minutos entendemos que seu ponto de partida é múltiplo e que muito do que a ciência não calcula também entra na equação de Nobre.
Um dos principais precursores da Teoria de Gaia aplicada, Nobre traduziu os rios voadores para a população brasileira e faz da divulgação científica misturada com saberes tradicionais um ato de amor pela natureza.
Em entrevista exclusiva e inédita realizada em outubro de 2020, o agrônomo, mestre em biologia, doutor em ciências da terra, ex-pesquisador do Instituto Nacional de Pesquisas da Amazônia e pesquisador sênior do Instituto Nacional de Pesquisas Espaciais conversa por videoconferência sobre como salvar o planeta.
Há seis anos, Nobre publicou o relatório O Futuro Climático da Amazônia, onde discorreu sobre alguns “segredos da floresta” – como os rios voadores e a bomba biótica, um teoria que ele afirma ter captado os mecanismos que provam que a Terra é um grande organismo vivo. Hoje, junto do grupo Biotic Pump Greening Group, formado por uma equipe multidisciplinar de cientistas e ativistas, defende que, para curar as doenças que afligem o organismo Terra, devemos ‘rejardinar’ o planeta, plantando novamente as trilhões de árvores que derrubamos ao longo dos séculos.
Tudo está relacionado, e Antonio Nobre avisou há tempos.
Paulina Chamorro, National Geographic: No seu mais recente livro, A vida não é útil, o filósofo, escritor e líder indígena Ailton Krenak fala da Teoria de Gaia e que você é um “continuador dessas especulações sobre diferentes linguagens que o organismo Terra utiliza para se comunicar conosco”. Como as ciências da Terra e a cosmovisão indígena se aproximam para você?
Antonio Nobre: Uma vez eu estava tendo uma conversa com os indígenas, em Manaus, em um evento organizado pelo Instituto Socioambiental (ISA) e outras organizações e a gente estava começando esse diálogo. Eles queriam que a gente falasse sobre a floresta, fotossíntese, carbono porque estava começando essa coisa de vender carbono e de que floresta vale pela massa dela. Quando terminei a apresentação, os indígenas começaram a se manifestar. Tinha alguns bem jovens e um deles pegou o microfone e disse: ‘Cientista acha que sabe muito, cientista não sabe nada. Cientista acha que vê a Terra com satélite lá de fora, mas ele não entende nada do que ele vê. Cientista sabe muito menos do que o sábio indígena’.
Quando ele terminou, eu peguei o microfone e falei: ‘Eu queria dizer o seguinte, 1/16 do sangue que corre na minha veia é de indígena e tem um outro tanto que é de quilombola. Tem uma maior parte que é de branco europeu, como a maior parte dos brasileiros chamados brancos. É uma mistura aqui. Então, eu não gostei de vocês falarem que a gente não sabe nada, porque eu me sinto parente de vocês. Eu estudei ciência, não estudei a ciência indígena, estudei a ciência do branco e eu estou aqui com a disposição da gente conversar, trocar ideias’. E a gente começou a conversar a partir daí, houve um diálogo.
Anos mais tarde, o ISA publicou um livro chamado Manejo do mundo, e eu fiz um capítulo desse livro, contando um pouco dessa história que eu acabei de contar. Nesse capítulo, eu fui estudar um pouquinho do que outro sábio, o Davi Kopenawa Yanomami, tinha falado e, registrado por Bruce Albert, publicado no livro A queda do céu, que é um livro clássico, importante, da sabedoria yanomami, sobre vários assuntos. E eu peguei o que era atinente ao que eu fazia, que era a parte de clima, floresta e fui fazendo uma comparação. Ele falava uma coisa e eu ia buscar o rebatimento daquela coisa fazendo a tradução na ciência. E o que eu vi? Que tudo o que o livro falava era extremamente fundamentada na melhor ciência, sem conhecer nada da ciência do branco. Ele conhecia a ciência que ele chama do saber dos espíritos da floresta. E isso daí foi um exercício que me abriu um campo de progressão. Inclusive, algo que mudou minha carreira de cientista, que era puramente cientista duro, das ciências da natureza, mas que está acostumado a fazer de acordo com a liturgia da ciência.
Eu percebi que a ciência, com todos os seus valores – eu não estou desmerecendo em absoluto a ciência – também tem suas coisas não explicáveis, aquilo que não é alcançado. Tem defeitos também, inclusive em relação à vaidade, ao ego. Tem uma espécie de preconceito contra o saber da natureza, como se o saber tivesse que ser arrancado da natureza usando esmeril, martelo, talhadeira. Então, na minha perspectiva, não era uma postura de recepção, de contemplação ou uma postura filosófica. É uma postura de ir lá, colocar instrumento, medir, olhar imagem de satélite e arrancar da natureza um conhecimento e apresentar para o mundo: ‘Olha o que eu descobri’.
Eu percebi isso. Fiz também uma autocrítica e comecei a ver aquela sabedoria indígena. Uma sabedoria sintética, que é transmitida por fábula, que encanta através da sua poesia porque não é só um saber frio, um saber calculista, é um saber eivado das energias da natureza, eivado da espiritualidade que existe na natureza que eles veem e reverenciam. É uma relação também de filho para mãe, a mãe terra, a mãe natureza. E uma relação de reverência inerente. Ela já é assim, sempre foi. Claro que existem desvios, tem povos indígenas que já não se ligam mais, que foram muito influenciados por essa cultura europeia que veio para cá e que se desenvolveu de forma parcial.
A partir desse momento de reconhecimento da beleza e do poder da simplicidade do conhecimento indígena, eu comecei a reavaliar o meu conhecimento científico pelo viés reducionista, aquele viés cartesiano, racionalista, e perceber também que a sabedoria não é restrita ao intelecto. A sabedoria é uma propriedade do universo. E quando nós – como intelectos ou como seres cognitivos ou conscientes, ou pelo menos que buscam a consciência – começamos a olhar para sabedoria do universo sem colocar o ego na frente, ou seja, como seres contempladores ou contemplativos, a gente percebe a grandiosidade desse saber que já existe na natureza e que, quando nós estudamos e nos inteiramos e absorvemos esse saber, a gente está, na realidade, fazendo um empréstimo. Nós estamos tomando algo pré-existente, já configurado por uma inteligência superior e nos apropriando, nos embebendo daquele saber, daquele conhecimento.
N.G.: Estamos vivendo uma última chance do equilibrio de Gaia?
A.N.: As pessoas não se dão conta de estarem existindo em um mundo de complexidade absurda que está enfermo. E como a gente percebe que ele está enfermo? Febre, calor, frio em alguns lugares. Em 2019, teve dois fenômenos: a Besta do Leste (Beast from the East), uma massa de ar polar do polo Norte deslocada para cima da Rússia que depois chegou na Europa e congelou tudo, até nas pirâmides nevou. E lá no polo norte, que chegou não sei quantos graus Celsius acima do normal. Está ficando tudo confuso, como fica nosso corpo quando está enfermo. A gente tem febre, a gente começa a ter mal-estar, a digestão não funciona direito, dá dor de cabeça. O planeta Terra é vivo, não há mais nenhuma dúvida em relação a isso e nenhuma controvérsia no mundo científico. Finalmente, a teoria de Gaia hoje é uma das teorias mais importantes da história, que descobriu o funcionamento do planeta. O planeta é vivo e hoje nós temos os mecanismos que mostram a fisiologia do planeta, a relação dos ecossistemas – a vida na Terra é responsável pela regulação planetária. Como a vida na Terra está sob ataque intenso e destrutivo, é normal esperar isso. Se você pegar um ser humano e começar a atacar os fígados, os rins, o coração, chega uma hora que o corpo vai, inicialmente, cair enfermo e, depois, morto.
Então, a possibilidade de matarmos Gaia existe, está em curso. Na realidade, nós estamos matando Gaia porque no momento em que todos os ecossistemas da Terra mostram sinais de falência, aumentam as atividades, não só de governos, mas de empresas e indivíduos com motosserra, trator.
Mas, às vezes, o consumo é fabricado também. Eu queria só fazer uma menção ao fato de que o covid-19 é o primeiro freio de arrumação que Gaia está apresentando para essa humanidade, que ficou perdida na sua própria ilusão de grandeza. A covid-19 bloqueou o planeta. E aí, o que nós vamos fazer com isso? A primeira coisa que a covid fez foi mostrar que era mentira que a gente não pode frear o ‘desenvolvimento’ ou a economia. Mentira. A gente freou este ano . Morreram pessoas? Muitas morreram, muitas ficaram enfermas, muitas perderam emprego e, não obstante, não acabou a humanidade, nem acabou a civilização. Agora, temos a oportunidade de aprender a lição com a covid sobre o que os povos indígenas, há 500 anos, e os cientistas, há 30 anos, vem berrando e dizendo: ‘Está errado, esta forma de existir na Terra é enferma e ela vai matar a todos, não só os humanos, todos os seres’. Uma grande extinção já está em curso.
Concluindo, a situação do planeta Terra é de um ser enfermo. Não por acaso veio uma enfermidade para, de certa forma, produzir uma certa imunidade para a Terra. Então, a covid é como se fosse um anticorpo contra o agente infeccioso. Quem é o agente infeccioso? A mentalidade humana, não o ser humano. Nós somos surgidos da natureza, mas a nossa mentalidade é que nos colocou nessa posição de antagonismo com a vida que nos dá suporte e é, de certa forma, ou, de forma total, suicida. Se você destrói o que te mantém vivo, você morre. É suicídio se você faz isso por deliberação, que é o que a humanidade tem feito. Por deliberação, está indo lá destruir a floresta Amazônica, destruir o Pantanal. Agora, eu fiquei sabendo, em volta da Ilha de Galápagos, uma frota de barcos chineses arrasta tudo que tem de vida marítima lá.
N.G.: Queria que contasse sobre a regulação biótica do ambiente, que é como a Teoria de Gaia passou a ser reconhecida. Que caminhos são esses? E como chegamos aos rios voadores da Amazônia?
A.N.: Victor Gorshkov e Anastassia Makarieva já tinham publicado – e foi assim que eu os conheci – um livro chamado Regulação Biótica do Ambiente em um período em que [a teoria de] Gaia estava sendo controversa no meio científico, principalmente pelo rechaço que os neodarwinistas faziam a Gaia desde o começo. Fizeram oposição cerrada, ridicularizaram Gaia. E o James Lovelock e a Lynn Margulis – quando lançaram a teoria de Gaia, hipótese de Gaia na época, nos anos 1970 – lançaram como uma ideia, como o Copérnico lançou a ideia de que a Terra girava em volta do Sol e não o Sol em volta da Terra. Mas eles não mostraram muitos mecanismos. Mais tarde, o James Lovelock começou a mostrar alguns mecanismos de como a vida regularia o clima da Terra. Mas, ainda assim, ficou a noção do Copérnico, que eles constataram que a Terra era um sistema autorregulado. James Lovelock trabalhou com a Nasa nas primeiras tentativas de mandar sondas para outros planetas, Marte e Vênus. Ele entendeu que a Terra é um lugar muito especial, que os nossos dois vizinhos são lugares especiais ao seu modo, mas Vênus é superquente e Marte é superfrio. Não tem condição nenhuma de vida nesses lugares e a Terra é este lugar extraordinário. Então, eles perceberam, a Terra é viva, é essa a explicação. A Terra é viva. Mas sem mostrar os mecanismos. Lá nos anos 1990, Victor Gorshkov e outros autores construíram a teoria da regulação biótica do ambiente, que eu chamo de Gaia 2.0. Por quê? Você sabe, os russos não vão ao banheiro sem escrever uma equação, eles são muito quantitativos. No caso, eram dois físicos de partícula teóricos. Tudo é equação. É como se fosse Newton ou Einstein: eles tinham essa visão quantitativa e teórica da ciência, entraram nesse campo do sistema terrestre, ou ciência de Gaia, e lançaram esse livro. Saiu em 2000, eu comprei o livro, li e falei: ‘Mataram a charada!’ Essas pessoas vieram e mostraram o que James Lovelock e Margulis não tinham mostrado: os mecanismos com as equações em baixo. Eles demonstraram Gaia – sem falar o nome Gaia porque eles não usam essa expressão, mas regulação biótica do ambiente.
Naquela época, não podia falar Gaia. ‘Ah esse cara deve ser religioso, muita perseguição mesmo.’ ‘Herege, está do lado de uma teoria que não tem nenhum fundamento.’ Muitos biólogos fizeram esse papel, por incrível que possa parecer, porque biólogo é quem estuda a vida. Como é que pode quem estuda a vida ter sido o pior inimigo da teoria que dizia que a Terra é viva? Foram eles que a descarrilaram por, praticamente, 40 anos. Recentemente, um deles começou a voltar, porque agora já tantos estão informando que Gaia é real. Eles começaram a voltar e falar: ‘Não, não, eu acho que Gaia pode mesmo, pode ser darwinizada e não sei o que’. Mas tardiamente. Bom, melhor tarde do que nunca.
Eu entrei em contato com [Victor Gorshkov e Anastassia Makarieva] e depois a gente começou a trabalhar juntos.
Essa interação com os russos progrediu quando eu estava trabalhando no Programa de Grande Escala da Biosfera-Atmosfera na Amazônia (LBA), um projeto que juntou gente de três continentes. América Latina – principalmente os brasileiros, mas não só –, América do Norte – com o pessoal via Nasa – e Europa, muitas instituições, universidades, centenas. Na realidade, acho que chegou, em algum momento, a mais de mil cientistas. Eu estava trabalhando na Amazônia, estudando tudo aquilo e, nessa época, montei a primeira torre de fluxo na Amazônia, em 1995. Depois, montei a primeira torre de longo prazo, que está funcionando até hoje, perto de Manaus, em 1998. E depois ajudei a construir esse projeto. A gente estava observando o que a floresta estava fazendo e eu comecei a fazer essas indagações, os mistérios da Amazônia que eu conto lá no meu relatório de 2014. As indagações eram: Como a floresta subsiste? Essa foi uma ponderação que eu fiz. Como a floresta subsiste aos cataclismos planetários, aos cataclismos que atingem Gaia e continua existindo? Ela tem que ter uma capacidade extraordinária. E eu propus isto, que ela teria a capacidade de puxar a umidade do oceano para dentro do continente.
Nessa época eu tinha lido a Regulação biótica do ambiente, do Gorshkov e da Makarieva, e eu entrei em contato com eles e começamos a colaborar. Isso foi em 2004. Aí, eles pegaram as ideias e a gente interagiu muito em cima do que eles já estavam fazendo. Eles já estavam trabalhando com essa noção de que a floresta controla a atmosfera, e eu trouxe a vivência e os dados da Amazônia e essa hipótese. Dois anos depois, eles apresentaram a teoria da bomba biótica. Basicamente, eles botaram as equações e mostraram de que forma as florestas são capazes de gerar sua própria chuva. Isso era o contrário da crença dos meteorologistas da época – eles achavam que tinha floresta na banda equatorial porque chovia na banda equatorial. A teoria da bomba biótica demonstrou que chovia na banda equatorial por conta das florestas. Se você tirar a floresta, acaba a chuva.
Já tem 16 anos que a gente trabalha em colaboração. Publicamos muitos trabalhos mostrando os mecanismos da bomba biótica de umidade até o ponto de perceber que a forma mais efetiva de lidar com as mudanças climáticas é parar de emitir gases poluentes – CO2, metano, óxido nitroso, todos os gases que ajudam a aquecer o planeta. É uma condição básica, mas a gente descobriu isso na nossa pesquisa.
A forma necessária, indispensável, para regular o planeta é restaurar os ecossistemas da Terra, porque foram os ecossistemas da Terra que mantiveram e que geraram este ambiente confortável, este clima amigável que tem o planeta. Não existe nenhum outro corpo celeste conhecido com condições semelhantes e a única explicação que nós temos aqui é a vida. Então, o que tem que se fazer? Restaurar a vida na Terra, restaurar. Tem um outro nome para isso, em inglês se chama rewilding, wild de selvagem, re de reconstruir o selvagem, reconstruir a natureza. Nos últimos 200 anos, a humanidade desmatou e matou três trilhões de árvores grandes. Três trilhões, ou seja, metade do que a Terra tinha. Então, você imagina um pinguço cortando metade do fígado fora, o fígado que processa o álcool. Foi o que a gente fez. A gente cortou metade das florestas do mundo e é por isso que o aquecimento global está acelerando. Também por conta da poluição, mas não é só a poluição, o principal é a destruição dos órgãos que mantém o planeta funcional e amigável.
Concluindo: esse processo na ciência é muito lento. Veja o caso de Gaia. Em 1974 saiu o livro do Lovelock e da Lynn Margulis e depois foi controversa, controversa, controversa e só começou a virar uma unanimidade agora em 2017, em 2018 – 40 anos a gente perdeu no processo. E a gente não tem mais esse tempo. Claro que a teoria da bomba biótica também foi controversa, mas não tanto quanto a hipótese de Gaia. Já tem muita gente aceitando, mas tem uma banda de meteorologistas que odeiam a teoria, acha que está errada porque a gente mostrou algumas inconsistências na ciência deles. Está atrasando, não está chegando. Então o que a gente resolveu fazer? O mesmo que a gente fez com os rios voadores. Os rios voadores eram uma coisa meio borderline, meio lateral, que existia desde 1992. Dois americanos, acho que são irmãos, descreveram um aeroriver para explicar um fenômeno de uma inundação na Califórnia, mas depois ficou meio pegando poeira nos escaninhos da ciência. Em 2004, o José Marengo testou os jatos de baixos níveis, as monções da América do Sul, que explicavam mais ou menos o transporte de umidade da Amazônia para cá [São Paulo]. Antes disso, em 1979, o professor Dr. Enéas Salati já tinha sugerido uma ligação entre a floresta Amazônica e o Sul, Sudeste do Brasil, mas ficou nisso.
Aí eu encontrei o Gérard Moss, que é aviador, e a Margi Moss, esposa dele. Eles eram empreendedores, tinham feito o projeto Brasil das Águas com um hidroavião – eles pousaram com um hidroavião em todos os rios e lagos do Brasil pegando amostra e mandando para limnólogos. Eu dei a ideia para o Gérard: ‘Por que você não segue os rios de vapor na Amazônia?’. Ele pegou a ideia e depois convidamos cientistas – o Carlos Nobre, o José Marengo, o professor Salate. Fizemos um grupo e montamos o projeto Rios Voadores. Esse projeto trabalhou muito a comunicação. Em 2008, saiu uma reportagem no Fantástico. Em 2009, na BBC, um documentário belíssimo. Em 2010, eu dei uma palestra no TED e aí a coisa se tornou extremamente sexy, atraente, capturou a imaginação das pessoas antes de ser uma unanimidade científica. Mas a ciência veio atrás, ocorreu uma retro-fertilização. De 2012 para frente, vários artigos saíram na Science, na Nature sobre os rios aéreos da Amazônia. Hoje já é um termo consolidado.
N.G.: Sobre o grupo da bomba biótica, como é esse projeto e quanto tempo temos?
A.N.: Esse grupo, o Biotic Pump Greening Group, a gente formou, principalmente, com cientistas, mas não só. É um grupo internacional e a nossa proposta é estudar sistemas de Gaia e entender como é que funciona. E um dos lugares que nós mais nos aprofundamos nesse entendimento é a Amazônia. Como a América do Sul foi aquinhoada com esse berço esplêndido? Por que a Amazônia é o que é, como é? Por que ela tem uma capacidade de lidar por mais de 50 milhões de anos com os cataclismos planetários? Nesse período de 50 milhões de anos, a Terra passou por meteoros, passou por aquecimento e resfriamento, teve as glaciações, os oceanos mudaram as correntezas, as correntezas atmosféricas, e a Amazônia aguentou firme. Estudando isso, nós chegamos a desenvolver – eu fui um dos que ajudou os dois colegas russos a desenvolver – a teoria da bomba biótica.
Demorou 70 anos para ser demonstrada a teoria da migração dos continentes e hoje é matéria básica para qualquer geólogo, não tem um geólogo que não sabe que tem deriva de continente, mas demorou 70 anos. Gaia, 40 anos. Bomba biótica nós não temos nem mais um ano, já está acabando o planeta. Nós estamos em condição terminal de enfermidade para a Gaia, por isso as mudanças climáticas. A reação que nós temos que ter é uma reação exponencial, uma reação de multiplicação, além da geométrica, e a humanidade tem capacidade, eu tenho certeza que sim. Sabe por quê? Porque em agosto do ano passado, isso só para dar um exemplo, o povo de um país na África Oriental chamado Etiópia plantou 353 milhões de árvores em 12 horas. É um país que tem 109 milhões de habitantes, ou seja, seria equivalente a cada habitante plantar três mudas de árvore. E a China, nos últimos 25 anos, plantou uma área de floresta equivalente ao que o Brasil destruiu nos últimos 40, 800 mil km².
Claro, tem problemas, não vingou tudo, a mesma coisa da Etiópia, várias vão morrer. Mas o fato de que a gente, como humanidade, consegue. Se a gente se colocar, são sete bilhões de seres com capacidade cognitiva e capacidade de mudar o mundo a ponto de gerar uma nova era geológica, chamada antropoceno. O ser humano, essa cultura que tomou o planeta, essa tal de civilização tecnológica, tem, hoje, a mesma competência que as eras geológicas de milhões de anos do passado tinham para mudar o planeta, só que no sentido destrutivo. Nós estamos propondo com esse grupo que nós somos capazes de replantar Gaia, usando uma expressão cunhada por uma amiga e ativista, a Suprabha Seshan, da Índia. Ela é do Gurukula Botanical Sanctuary, que fica em Kerala, na parte ocidental da Índia e faz o resgate de floresta. E ela chama assim: ‘Nós temos que rejardinar a biosfera’. Esse conceito transmite tudo que é: uma horticultura ecológica.
Nós precisamos fazer um trabalho, e nos é facultado fazer esse trabalho por conta de uma tecnologia absolutamente fantástica da natureza chamada semente. As pessoas falam ‘ah semente’, claro, você come no seu cereal todo dia. Mas a semente é um milagre tecnológico – se você olhar por qualquer ângulo, se você pegar uma semente e estudá-la, entender o que tem dentro de uma semente, como ela funciona. Pegaram um sarcófago do Egito, acharam com 3 mil anos de idade, tinha sementes dentro, plantaram e germinou. Imagina um carro parado 3 mil anos, você chegar lá e tentar dar partida no carro. Nada. Na verdade, não vai ser um carro, vai ser uma ruína. Uma estrutura que tem alguma coisa viva dentro dela, tem um embrião vivo, durar 3 mil anos e você botar na terra com água, sol e germinar. Eles germinaram uma palmeira que está extinta na natureza, que estava nas sementes lá dentro do sarcófago. Essa tecnologia nós não temos, é a tecnologia de Gaia. Gaia já passou por muitos cataclismos e não existe um ser vivo que não tenha um propágulo de reprodução. Os fungos têm os esporos, as bactérias têm os cistos, os animais têm ovos e desenvolvimento como nós, que somos fetos, as árvores. E isso está tudo na nossa mão. Por que a Etiópia foi lá e plantou 353 milhões de árvores?
Eu fiz uma conta usando a mesma taxa de plantio que a Etiópia fez. Se a humanidade inteira fizer – claro que tem gente que não vai poder plantar, que vive em lugares gelados –, mas fazendo as coisas de maneira generosa, em dois meses nós plantamos um trilhão de árvores no planeta inteiro. Dois meses. Então, por que não está ao alcance? Está ao alcance dessa humanidade. E a gente ainda [pode] usar a tecnologia para acelerar, para plantar em lugares que hoje não são apropriados para o plantio de árvores, como os desertos, por exemplo. Com a teoria da bomba biótica, a gente está mostrando que é possível porque a natureza fez isso ao longo de milhões de anos. Nós podemos acelerar o processo, a gente sabe como, porque a gente aprendeu nos ecossistemas que hoje funcionam, ou que funcionavam, e estão sendo destruídos agora.
Em sumário, esse grupo Biotic Pump Greening Group é a nossa resposta e a nossa proposta para a união. Nós não queremos fazer uma coisa que só nós sabemos. A gente quer compartilhar, a gente quer juntar, a gente quer unir, puxar todas as capacidades e competências, que não são poucas, que tem na Terra, inclusive, e especialmente, as dos indígenas. Porque eles têm uma capacidade de síntese que nos remete a matemática, que é elegância. A demonstração de um teorema em poucas linhas é visto pelos matemáticos como uma demonstração elegante. E não é elegante da moda, nem elegante da frivolidade, é elegância genuína do poder da simplicidade, como E=mc² do Einstein. Uma equação simples e que dá conta de processos grandiosos. Isso eu vejo na sabedoria indígena. Toda essa complexidade que eu estou falando aqui, intelectivamente, dos sistemas vivos, dos mecanismos, das maquinarias, os indígenas têm uma competência em sintetizar em uma frase, em uma sabedoria que é potente, é autoexplicativa e que muitas vezes usa conceitos da fábula e, portanto, captura a imaginação das pessoas, o cérebro direito, a narrativa, a contação de história. Ali, embutido naquela semente de sabedoria, tem toda essa complexidade que eu, aqui do meu lado da ciência reducionista, estou cavando na terra que nem um tatu, como disse Davi Kopenawa. Todo esse conhecimento detalhista, minucioso, com microscópio, é empacotado em uma frase, com sabedoria, com poesia. Não que seja inútil, ao contrário. A gente pode com ela esmiuçar, cavar como um tatu, essa potência da simplicidade e da elegância que os indígenas têm ao descrever como funciona Gaia, ao descrever como funciona a vida, não só Gaia. Como funciona também a cultura, uma cultura que não é divorciada da mãe Terra, da mãe corpo, ela é integrada, ela tem uma relação de amizade, não de oponência, de guerra, de luta, mas, ao contrário, de amizade, de embrace, de abraçar. E essa conexão é urgente e indispensável porque, se eu pegar toda a nossa sabedoria teórica ou prática ou tecnológica ou de engenharia e tentar resolver o problema da Terra, como muitos estão propondo – geoengenharia, de jogar poeira lá na estratosfera para esfriar o planeta, botar um espelho no espaço, jogar ferro no oceano para fertilizar as algas –, tudo isso é loucura, é distopia pura. Vai levar a gente a destruir mais rápido o resto que ainda sobra da parte viva de Gaia por estar entrando em conflagração com a complexidade de funcionamento, de estrutura.
Dan-el Padilla Peralta thinks classicists should knock ancient Greece and Rome off their pedestal — even if that means destroying their discipline.
By Rachel Poser
Feb. 2, 2021
In the world of classics, the exchange between Dan-el Padilla Peralta and Mary Frances Williams has become known simply as “the incident.” Their back-and-forth took place at a Society of Classical Studies conference in January 2019 — the sort of academic gathering at which nothing tends to happen that would seem controversial or even interesting to those outside the discipline. But that year, the conference featured a panel on “The Future of Classics,” which, the participants agreed, was far from secure. On top of the problems facing the humanities as a whole — vanishing class sizes caused by disinvestment, declining prominence and student debt — classics was also experiencing a crisis of identity. Long revered as the foundation of “Western civilization,” the field was trying to shed its self-imposed reputation as an elitist subject overwhelmingly taught and studied by white men. Recently the effort had gained a new sense of urgency: Classics had been embraced by the far right, whose members held up the ancient Greeks and Romans as the originators of so-called white culture. Marchers in Charlottesville, Va., carried flags bearing a symbol of the Roman state; online reactionaries adopted classical pseudonyms; the white-supremacist website Stormfront displayed an image of the Parthenon alongside the tagline “Every month is white history month.”
Padilla, a leading historian of Rome who teaches at Princeton and was born in the Dominican Republic, was one of the panelists that day. For several years, he has been speaking openly about the harm caused by practitioners of classics in the two millenniums since antiquity: the classical justifications of slavery, race science, colonialism, Nazism and other 20th-century fascisms. Classics was a discipline around which the modern Western university grew, and Padilla believes that it has sown racism through the entirety of higher education. Last summer, after Princeton decided to remove Woodrow Wilson’s name from its School of Public and International Affairs, Padilla was a co-author of an open letter that pushed the university to do more. “We call upon the university to amplify its commitment to Black people,” it read, “and to become, for the first time in its history, an anti-racist institution.” Surveying the damage done by people who lay claim to the classical tradition, Padilla argues, one can only conclude that classics has been instrumental to the invention of “whiteness” and its continued domination.
In recent years, like-minded classicists have come together to dispel harmful myths about antiquity. On social media and in journal articles and blog posts, they have clarified that contrary to right-wing propaganda, the Greeks and Romans did not consider themselves “white,” and their marble sculptures, whose pale flesh has been fetishized since the 18th century, would often have been painted in antiquity. They have noted that in fifth-century-B.C. Athens, which has been celebrated as the birthplace of democracy, participation in politics was restricted to male citizens; thousands of enslaved people worked and died in silver mines south of the city, and custom dictated that upper-class women could not leave the house unless they were veiled and accompanied by a male relative. They have shown that the concept of Western civilization emerged as a euphemism for “white civilization” in the writing of men like Lothrop Stoddard, a Klansman and eugenicist. Some classicists have come around to the idea that their discipline forms part of the scaffold of white supremacy — a traumatic process one described to me as “reverse red-pilling” — but they are also starting to see an opportunity in their position. Because classics played a role in constructing whiteness, they believed, perhaps the field also had a role to play in its dismantling.
On the morning of the panel, Padilla stood out among his colleagues, as he always did. He sat in a crisp white shirt at the front of a large conference hall at a San Diego Marriott, where most of the attendees wore muted shades of gray. Over the course of 10 minutes, Padilla laid out an indictment of his field. “If one were intentionally to design a discipline whose institutional organs and gatekeeping protocols were explicitly aimed at disavowing the legitimate status of scholars of color,” he said, “one could not do better than what classics has done.” Padilla’s vision of classics’ complicity in systemic injustice is uncompromising, even by the standards of some of his allies. He has condemned the field as “equal parts vampire and cannibal” — a dangerous force that has been used to murder, enslave and subjugate. “He’s on record as saying that he’s not sure the discipline deserves a future,” Denis Feeney, a Latinist at Princeton, told me. Padilla believes that classics is so entangled with white supremacy as to be inseparable from it. “Far from being extrinsic to the study of Greco-Roman antiquity,” he has written, “the production of whiteness turns on closer examination to reside in the very marrows of classics.”
When Padilla ended his talk, the audience was invited to ask questions. Williams, an independent scholar from California, was one of the first to speak. She rose from her seat in the front row and adjusted a standing microphone that had been placed in the center of the room. “I’ll probably offend all of you,” she began. Rather than kowtowing to criticism, Williams said, “maybe we should start defending our discipline.” She protested that it was imperative to stand up for the classics as the political, literary and philosophical foundation of European and American culture: “It’s Western civilization. It matters because it’s the West.” Hadn’t classics given us the concepts of liberty, equality and democracy?
‘There are some in the field who say: “Yes, we agree with your critique. Now let us go back to doing exactly what we’ve been doing.” ’
One panelist tried to interject, but Williams pressed on, her voice becoming harsh and staccato as the tide in the room moved against her. “I believe in merit. I don’t look at the color of the author.” She pointed a finger in Padilla’s direction. “You may have got your job because you’re Black,” Williams said, “but I would prefer to think you got your job because of merit.”
Discordant sounds went up from the crowd. Several people stood up from their seats and hovered around Williams at the microphone, seemingly unsure of whether or how to intervene. Padilla was smiling; it was the grimace of someone who, as he told me later, had been expecting something like this all along. At last, Williams ceded the microphone, and Padilla was able to speak. “Here’s what I have to say about the vision of classics that you outlined,” he said. “I want nothing to do with it. I hope the field dies that you’ve outlined, and that it dies as swiftly as possible.”
When Padilla was a child, his parents proudly referred to Santo Domingo, the capital of the Dominican Republic, as the “Athens of the New World” — a center of culture and learning. That idea had been fostered by Rafael Trujillo, the dictator who ruled the country from 1930 until his assassination in 1961. Like other 20th-century fascists, Trujillo saw himself, and his people, as the inheritors of a grand European tradition that originated in Greece and Rome. In a 1932 speech, he praised ancient Greece as the “mistress of beauty, rendered eternal in the impeccable whiteness of its marbles.” Trujillo’s veneration of whiteness was central to his message. By invoking the classical legacy, he could portray the residents of neighboring Haiti as darker and inferior, a campaign that reached its murderous peak in 1937 with the Parsley Massacre, or El Corte (“the Cutting”) in Spanish, in which Dominican troops killed as many as 30,000 Haitians and Black Dominicans, according to some estimates.
Padilla’s family didn’t talk much about their lives under the dictatorship, but he knew that his mother’s father had been beaten after arguing with some drunken Trujillistas. That grandfather, along with the rest of his mother’s relatives, were fishermen and sailors in Puerto Plata, a city on the coast; they lived in what Padilla describes as “immiserating poverty” but benefited from a degree of privilege in Dominican society because of their lighter skin. His father’s people, on the other hand, often joked that they were “black as night.” They had lived for generations in Pimentel, a city near the mountainous northeast where enslaved Africans had set up Maroon communities in the 1600s and 1700s, counting on the difficult terrain to give them a measure of safety. Like their counterparts in the United States, slavers in the Dominican Republic sometimes bestowed classical names on their charges as a mark of their civilizing mission, so the legacy of slavery — and its entanglement with classics — remains legible in the names of many Dominicans today. “Why are there Dominicans named Temístocles?” Padilla used to wonder as a kid. “Why is Manny Ramirez’s middle name Aristides?” Trujillo’s own middle name was Leónidas, after the Spartan king who martyred himself with 300 of his soldiers at Thermopylae, and who has become an icon of the far right. But in his early life, Padilla was aware of none of this. He only knew that he was Black like his father.
When Padilla was 4, he and his parents flew to the United States so that his mother, María Elena, could receive care for pregnancy complications at a New York City hospital. But after his brother, Yando, was born, the family decided to stay; they moved into an apartment in the Bronx and quietly tried to normalize their immigration status, spending their savings in the process. Without papers, it was hard to find steady work. Some time later, Padilla’s father returned to the Dominican Republic; he had been an accountant in Santo Domingo, and he was weary of poverty in the United States, where he had been driving a cab and selling fruit in the summers. That left María Elena with the two boys in New York. Because Yando was a U.S. citizen, she received $120 in food stamps and $85 in cash each month, but it was barely enough to feed one child, let alone a family of three. Over the next few months, María Elena and her sons moved between apartments in Manhattan, the Bronx and Queens, packing up and finding a new place each time they couldn’t make rent. For about three weeks, the landlord of a building in Queens let them stay in the basement as a favor, but when a sewage pipe burst over them as they were sleeping, María Elena found her way to a homeless shelter in Chinatown.
At the shelter, “the food tasted nasty,” and “pools of urine” marred the bathroom floor, Padilla wrote in his 2015 memoir, “Undocumented.” His one place of respite was the tiny library on the shelter’s top floor. Since leaving the Dominican Republic, Padilla had grown curious about Dominican history, but he couldn’t find any books about the Caribbean on the library’s shelves. What he did find was a slim blue-and-white textbook titled “How People Lived in Ancient Greece and Rome.” “Western civilization was formed from the union of early Greek wisdom and the highly organized legal minds of early Rome,” the book began. “The Greek belief in a person’s ability to use his powers of reason, coupled with Roman faith in military strength, produced a result that has come to us as a legacy, or gift from the past.” Thirty years later, Padilla can still recite those opening lines. “How many times have I taken an ax to this over the last decade of my career?” he said to me. “But at the moment of the initial encounter, there was something energizing about it.” Padilla took the textbook back to the room he shared with his mother and brother and never returned it to the library.
One day in the summer of 1994, a photographer named Jeff Cowen, who was teaching art at a shelter in Bushwick, where María Elena and the boys had been transferred, noticed 9-year-old Padilla tucked away by himself, reading a biography of Napoleon Bonaparte. “The kids were running around like crazy on their after-lunch sugar high, and there was a boy sitting in the corner with this enormous tome,” Cowen told me. “He stood up and shook my hand like a little gentleman, speaking like he’s some kind of Ivy League professor.” Cowen was taken aback. “I was really struggling at the time. I was living in an illegal building without a toilet, so I wasn’t really looking to be a do-gooder,” he said. “But within five minutes, it was obvious that this kid deserved the best education he could get. It was a responsibility.”
Cowen became a mentor to Padilla, and then his godfather. He visited the shelter with books and brain teasers, took Padilla and Yando roller-skating in Central Park and eventually helped Padilla apply to Collegiate, one of New York City’s elite prep schools, where he was admitted with a full scholarship. María Elena, elated, photocopied his acceptance letter and passed it around to her friends at church. At Collegiate, Padilla began taking Latin and Greek and found himself overwhelmed by the emotive power of classical texts; he was captivated by the sting of Greek philosophy, the heat and action of epic. Padilla told none of his new friends that he was undocumented. “There were some conversations I simply wasn’t ready to have,” he has said in an interview. When his classmates joked about immigrants, Padilla sometimes thought of a poem he had read by the Greek lyricist Archilochus, about a soldier who throws his shield in a bush and flees the battlefield. “At least I got myself safely out,” the soldier says. “Why should I care for that shield? Let it go. Some other time I’ll find another no worse.” Don’t expose yourself, he thought. There would be other battles.
Years passed before Padilla started to question the way the textbook had presented the classical world to him. He was accepted on a full scholarship to Princeton, where he was often the only Black person in his Latin and Greek courses. “The hardest thing for me as I was making my way into the discipline as a college student was appreciating how lonely I might be,” Padilla told me. In his sophomore year, when it came time to select a major, the most forceful resistance to his choice came from his close friends, many of whom were also immigrants or the children of immigrants. They asked Padilla questions he felt unprepared to answer. What are you doing with this blanquito stuff? How is this going to help us? Padilla argued that he and others shouldn’t shun certain pursuits just because the world said they weren’t for Black and brown people. There was a special joy and vindication in upending their expectations, but he found he wasn’t completely satisfied by his own arguments. The question of classics’ utility was not a trivial one. How could he take his education in Latin and Greek and make it into something liberatory? “That became the most urgent question that guided me through my undergraduate years and beyond,” Padilla said.
After graduating as Princeton’s 2006 salutatorian, Padilla earned a master’s degree from Oxford and a doctorate from Stanford. By then, more scholars than ever were seeking to understand not only the elite men who had written the surviving works of Greek and Latin literature, but also the ancient people whose voices were mostly silent in the written record: women, the lower classes, enslaved people and immigrants. Courses on gender and race in antiquity were becoming common and proving popular with students, but it wasn’t yet clear whether their imprint on the discipline would last. “There are some in the field,” Ian Morris, an adviser of Padilla’s at Stanford, told me, “who say: ‘Yes, we agree with your critique. Now let us go back to doing exactly what we’ve been doing.’” Reformers had learned from the old debates around “Black Athena” — Martin Bernal’s trilogy positing African and Semitic influence on ancient Greek culture — just how resistant some of their colleagues were to acknowledging the field’s role in whitewashing antiquity. “Classicists generally identify as liberal,” Joel Christensen, a professor of Greek literature at Brandeis University, told me. “But we are able to do that because most of the time we’re not in spaces or with people who push us about our liberalism and what that means.”
Thinking of his family’s own history, Padilla became interested in Roman slavery. Decades of research had focused on the ability of enslaved people to transcend their status through manumission, celebrating the fact that the buying and granting of freedom was much more common in Rome than in other slaveholding societies. But there were many who stood no chance of being freed, particularly those who worked in the fields or the mines, far from centers of power. “We have so many testimonies for how profoundly degrading enslavement was,” Padilla told me. Enslaved people in ancient Rome could be tortured and crucified; forced into marriage; chained together in work gangs; made to fight gladiators or wild animals; and displayed naked in marketplaces with signs around their necks advertising their age, character and health to prospective buyers. Owners could tattoo their foreheads so they could be recognized and captured if they tried to flee. Temple excavations have uncovered clay dedications from escapees, praying for the gods to remove the disfiguring marks from their faces. Archaeologists have also found metal collars riveted around the necks of skeletons in burials of enslaved people, among them an iron ring with a bronze tag preserved in the Museo Nazionale in Rome that reads: “I have run away; hold me. When you have brought me back to my master Zoninus, you will receive a gold coin.”
By 2015, when Padilla arrived at the Columbia Society of Fellows as a postdoctoral researcher, classicists were no longer apologists for ancient slavery, but many doubted that the inner worlds of enslaved people were recoverable, because no firsthand account of slavery had survived the centuries. That answer did not satisfy Padilla. He had begun to study the trans-Atlantic slave trade, which had shaped his mother’s mystical brand of Catholicism. María Elena moved through a world that was haunted by spirits, numinous presences who could give comfort and advice or demand sacrifice and appeasement. For a while, when Padilla was in high school, his mother invited a santero and his family to live with them at their Section 8 apartment in Harlem, where the man would conjure spirits that seethed at Padilla for his bad behavior. Padilla realized that his mother’s conception of the dead reminded him of the Romans’, which gave him an idea. In 2017, he published a paper in the journal Classical Antiquity that compared evidence from antiquity and the Black Atlantic to draw a more coherent picture of the religious life of the Roman enslaved. “It will not do merely to adopt a pose of ‘righteous indignation’ at the distortions and gaps in the archive,” he wrote. “There are tools available for the effective recovery of the religious experiences of the enslaved, provided we work with these tools carefully and honestly.”
Padilla began to feel that he had lost something in devoting himself to the classical tradition. As James Baldwin observed 35 years before, there was a price to the ticket. His earlier work on the Roman senatorial classes, which earned him a reputation as one of the best Roman historians of his generation, no longer moved him in the same way. Padilla sensed that his pursuit of classics had displaced other parts of his identity, just as classics and “Western civilization” had displaced other cultures and forms of knowledge. Recovering them would be essential to dismantling the white-supremacist framework in which both he and classics had become trapped. “I had to actively engage in the decolonization of my mind,” he told me. He revisited books by Frantz Fanon, Orlando Patterson and others working in the traditions of Afro-pessimism and psychoanalysis, Caribbean and Black studies. He also gravitated toward contemporary scholars like José Esteban Muñoz, Lorgia García Peña and Saidiya Hartman, who speak of race not as a physical fact but as a ghostly system of power relations that produces certain gestures, moods, emotions and states of being. They helped him think in more sophisticated terms about the workings of power in the ancient world, and in his own life.
Around the time that Padilla began working on the paper, Donald Trump made his first comments on the presidential campaign trail about Mexican “criminals, drug dealers, rapists” coming into the country. Padilla, who spent the previous 20 years dealing with an uncertain immigration status, had just applied for a green card after celebrating his marriage to a social worker named Missy from Sparta, N.J. Now he watched as alt-right figures like Richard Spencer, who had fantasized about creating a “white ethno-state on the North American continent” that would be “a reconstitution of the Roman Empire,” rose to national prominence. In response to rising anti-immigrant sentiment in Europe and the United States, Mary Beard, perhaps the most famous classicist alive, wrote in The Wall Street Journal that the Romans “would have been puzzled by our modern problems with migration and asylum,” because the empire was founded on the “principles of incorporation and of the free movement of people.”
‘I’m not interested in demolition for demolition’s sake. I want to build something.’
Padilla found himself frustrated by the manner in which scholars were trying to combat Trumpian rhetoric. In November 2015, he wrote an essay for Eidolon, an online classics journal, clarifying that in Rome, as in the United States, paeans to multiculturalism coexisted with hatred of foreigners. Defending a client in court, Cicero argued that “denying foreigners access to our city is patently inhumane,” but ancient authors also recount the expulsions of whole “suspect” populations, including a roundup of Jews in 139 B.C., who were not considered “suitable enough to live alongside Romans.” Padilla argues that exposing untruths about antiquity, while important, is not enough: Explaining that an almighty, lily-white Roman Empire never existed will not stop white nationalists from pining for its return. The job of classicists is not to “point out the howlers,” he said on a 2017 panel. “To simply take the position of the teacher, the qualified classicist who knows things and can point to these mistakes, is not sufficient.” Dismantling structures of power that have been shored up by the classical tradition will require more than fact-checking; it will require writing an entirely new story about antiquity, and about who we are today.
To find that story, Padilla is advocating reforms that would “explode the canon” and “overhaul the discipline from nuts to bolts,” including doing away with the label “classics” altogether. Classics was happy to embrace him when he was changing the face of the discipline, but how would the field react when he asked it to change its very being? The way it breathed and moved? “Some students and some colleagues have told me this is either too depressing or it’s sort of menacing in a way,” he said. “My only rejoinder is that I’m not interested in demolition for demolition’s sake. I want to build something.”
One day last February, shortly before the pandemic ended in-person teaching, I visited Padilla at Princeton. Campus was quiet and morose, the silences quivering with early-term nerves. A storm had swept the leaves from the trees and the color from the sky, which was now the milky gray of laundry water, and the air was so heavy with mist that it seemed to be blurring the outlines of the buildings. That afternoon, Padilla was teaching a Roman-history course in one of the oldest lecture halls at the university, a grand, vaulted room with creaking floorboards and mullioned windows. The space was not designed for innovative pedagogy. Each wooden chair was bolted to the floor with a paddle-shaped extension that served as a desk but was barely big enough to hold a notebook, let alone a laptop. “This was definitely back in the day when the students didn’t even take notes,” one student said as she sat down. “Like, ‘My dad’s going to give me a job.’”
Since returning to campus as a professor in 2016, Padilla has been working to make Princeton’s classics department a more welcoming place for students like him — first-generation students and students of color. In 2018, the department secured funding for a predoctoral fellowship to help a student with less exposure to Latin and Greek enter the Ph.D. program. That initiative, and the draw of Padilla as a mentor, has contributed to making Princeton’s graduate cohort one of the most diverse in the country. Pria Jackson, a Black predoctoral fellow who is the daughter of a mortician from New Mexico, told me that before she came to Princeton, she doubted that she could square her interest in classics with her commitment to social justice. “I didn’t think that I could do classics and make a difference in the world the way that I wanted to,” she said. “My perception of what it could do has changed.”
Padilla’s Roman-history course was a standard introductory survey, something the university had been offering for decades, if not centuries, but he was not teaching it in the standard way. He was experimenting with role play in order to prompt his students to imagine what it was like to be subjects of an imperial system. The previous week, he asked them to recreate a debate that took place in the Roman Senate in A.D. 15 about a proposed waterworks project that communities in central Italy feared would change the flow of the Tiber River, destroying animal habitats and flooding old shrines. (Unlike the Senate, the Princeton undergraduates decided to let the project go ahead as planned.) Today’s situation was inspired by the crises of succession that threatened to tear the early empire apart. Out of the 80 students in the lecture, Padilla had assigned four to be young military commanders — claimants vying for the throne — and four to be wealthy Roman senators; the rest were split between the Praetorian Guard and marauding legionaries whose swords could be bought in exchange for money, land and honors. It was designed to help his students “think as capaciously as possible about the many lives, human and nonhuman, that are touched by the shift from republic to empire.”
Padilla stood calmly behind the lectern as students filed into the room, wearing rectangular-framed glasses low on his nose and a maroon sweater over a collared shirt. The stillness of his body only heightened the sense of his mind churning. “He carries a big stick without having to show it off,” Cowen, Padilla’s childhood mentor, told me. “He’s kind of soft on the outside but very hard on the inside.” Padilla speaks in the highly baroque language of the academy — a style that can seem so deliberate as to function as a kind of protective armor. It is the flinty, guarded manner of someone who has learned to code-switch, someone who has always been aware that it is not only what he says but also how he says it that carries meaning. Perhaps it is for that reason that Padilla seems most at ease while speaking to students, when his phrasing loses some of its formality and his voice takes on the incantatory cadence of poetry. “Silence,” he said once the room had quieted, “my favorite sound.”
Padilla called the claimants up to the front of the room. At first, they stood uncertainly on the dais, like adolescents auditioning for a school play. Then, slowly, they moved into the rows of wooden desks. I watched as one of them, a young man wearing an Army-green football T-shirt that said “Support Our Troops,” propositioned a group of legionaries. “I’ll take land from non-Romans and give it to you, grant you citizenship,” he promised them. As more students left their seats and began negotiating, bids and counterbids reverberated against the stone walls. Not everyone was taking it seriously. At one point, another claimant approached a blue-eyed legionary in a lacrosse sweatshirt to ask what it would take to gain his support. “I just want to defend my right to party,” he responded. “Can I get a statue erected to my mother?” someone else asked. A stocky blond student kept charging to the front of the room and proposing that they simply “kill everybody.” But Padilla seemed energized by the chaos. He moved from group to group, sowing discord. “Why let someone else take over?” he asked one student. If you are a soldier or a peasant who is unhappy with imperial governance, he told another, how do you resist? “What kinds of alliances can you broker?”
Over the next 40 minutes, there were speeches, votes, broken promises and bloody conflicts. Several people were assassinated. Eventually it seemed as though two factions were coalescing, and a count was called. The young man in the football shirt won the empire by seven votes, and Padilla returned to the lectern. “What I want to be thinking about in the next few weeks,” he told them, “is how we can be telling the story of the early Roman Empire not just through a variety of sources but through a variety of persons.” He asked the students to consider the lives behind the identities he had assigned them, and the way those lives had been shaped by the machinery of empire, which, through military conquest, enslavement and trade, creates the conditions for the large-scale movement of human beings.
Once the students had left the room, accompanied by the swish of umbrellas and waterproof synthetics, I asked Padilla why he hadn’t assigned any slave roles. Tracing his fingers along the crown of his head, he told me he had thought about it. It troubled him that he might be “re-enacting a form of silencing” by avoiding enslaved characters, given the fact that slavery was “arguably the most ubiquitous feature of the Roman imperial system.” As a historian, he knew that the assets at the disposal of the four wealthy senators — the 100 million sesterces he had given them to back one claimant over another — would have been made up in large part of the enslaved who worked in their mines and plowed the fields of their country estates. Was it harmful to encourage students to imagine themselves in roles of such comfort, status and influence, when a vast majority of people in the Roman world would never have been in a position to be a senator? But ultimately, he decided that leaving enslaved characters out of the role play was an act of care. “I’m not yet ready to turn to a student and say, ‘You are going to be a slave.’”
Even before “the incident,” Padilla was a target of right-wing anger because of the blistering language he uses and, many would say, because of the body he inhabits. In the aftermath of his exchange with Williams, which was covered in the conservative media, Padilla received a series of racist emails. “Maybe African studies would suit you better if you can’t hope with the reality of how advanced Europeans were,” one read. “You could figure out why the wheel had never made it sub-Saharan African you meathead. Lucky for you, your black, because you have little else on offer.” Breitbart ran a story accusing Padilla of “killing” classics. “If there was one area of learning guaranteed never to be hijacked by the forces of ignorance, political correctness, identity politics, social justice and dumbing down, you might have thought it would be classics,” it read. “Welcome, barbarians! The gates of Rome are wide open!”
Privately, even some sympathetic classicists worry that Padilla’s approach will only hasten the field’s decline. “I’ve spoken to undergrad majors who say that they feel ashamed to tell their friends they’re studying classics,” Denis Feeney, Padilla’s colleague at Princeton, told me. “I think it’s sad.” He noted that the classical tradition has often been put to radical and disruptive uses. Civil rights movements and marginalized groups across the world have drawn inspiration from ancient texts in their fights for equality, from African-Americans to Irish Republicans to Haitian revolutionaries, who viewed their leader, Toussaint L’Ouverture, as a Black Spartacus. The heroines of Greek tragedy — untamed, righteous, destructive women like Euripides’ Medea — became symbols of patriarchal resistance for feminists like Simone de Beauvoir, and the descriptions of same-sex love in the poetry of Sappho and in the Platonic dialogues gave hope and solace to gay writers like Oscar Wilde.
“I very much admire Dan-el’s work, and like him, I deplore the lack of diversity in the classical profession,” Mary Beard told me via email. But “to ‘condemn’ classical culture would be as simplistic as to offer it unconditional admiration.” She went on: “My line has always been that the duty of the academic is to make things seem more complicated.” In a 2019 talk, Beard argued that “although classics may become politicized, it doesn’t actually have a politics,” meaning that, like the Bible, the classical tradition is a language of authority — a vocabulary that can be used for good or ill by would-be emancipators and oppressors alike. Over the centuries, classical civilization has acted as a model for people of many backgrounds, who turned it into a matrix through which they formed and debated ideas about beauty, ethics, power, nature, selfhood, citizenship and, of course, race. Anthony Grafton, the great Renaissance scholar, put it this way in his preface to “The Classical Tradition”: “An exhaustive exposition of the ways in which the world has defined itself with regard to Greco-Roman antiquity would be nothing less than a comprehensive history of the world.”
How these two old civilizations became central to American intellectual life is a story that begins not in antiquity, and not even in the Renaissance, but in the Enlightenment. Classics as we know it today is a creation of the 18th and 19th centuries. During that period, as European universities emancipated themselves from the control of the church, the study of Greece and Rome gave the Continent its new, secular origin story. Greek and Latin writings emerged as a competitor to the Bible’s moral authority, which lent them a liberatory power. Figures like Diderot and Hume derived some of their ideas on liberty from classical texts, where they found declarations of political and personal freedoms. One of the most influential was Pericles’ funeral oration over the graves of the Athenian war dead in 431 B.C., recorded by Thucydides, in which the statesman praises his “glorious” city for ensuring “equal justice to all.” “Our government does not copy our neighbors’,” he says, “but is an example to them. It is true that we are called a democracy, for the administration is in the hands of the many and not of the few.”
Admiration for the ancients took on a fantastical, unhinged quality, like a strange sort of mania. Men draped themselves in Roman togas to proclaim in public, signed their letters with the names of famous Romans and filled etiquette manuals, sermons and schoolbooks with lessons from the classical past. Johann Joachim Winckelmann, a German antiquarian of the 18th century, assured his countrymen that “the only way for us to become great, or even inimitable if possible, is to imitate the Greeks.” Winckelmann, who is sometimes called the “father of art history,” judged Greek marble sculpture to be the summit of human achievement — unsurpassed by any other society, ancient or modern. He wrote that the “noble simplicity and quiet grandeur” of Athenian art reflected the “freedom” of the culture that produced it, an entanglement of artistic and moral value that would influence Hegel’s “Aesthetics” and appear again in the poetry of the Romantics. “Beauty is truth, truth beauty,” Keats wrote in “Ode on a Grecian Urn,” “that is all/Ye know on earth, and all ye need to know.”
‘I think that the politics of the living are what constitute classics as a site for productive inquiry. When folks think of classics, I would want them to think about folks of color.’
Historians stress that such ideas cannot be separated from the discourses of nationalism, colorism and progress that were taking shape during the modern colonial period, as Europeans came into contact with other peoples and their traditions. “The whiter the body is, the more beautiful it is,” Winkelmann wrote. While Renaissance scholars were fascinated by the multiplicity of cultures in the ancient world, Enlightenment thinkers created a hierarchy with Greece and Rome, coded as white, on top, and everything else below. “That exclusion was at the heart of classics as a project,” Paul Kosmin, a professor of ancient history at Harvard, told me. Among those Enlightenment thinkers were many of America’s founding fathers. Aristotle’s belief that some people were “slaves by nature” was welcomed with special zeal in the American South before the Civil War, which sought to defend slavery in the face of abolitionist critique. In “Notes on the State of Virginia,” Thomas Jefferson wrote that despite their condition in life, Rome’s enslaved showed themselves to be the “rarest artists” who “excelled too at science, insomuch as to be usually employed as tutors to their master’s children.” The fact that Africans had not done the same, he argued, proved that the problem was their race.
Jefferson, along with most wealthy young men of his time, studied classics at college, where students often spent half their time reading and translating Greek and Roman texts. “Next to Christianity,” writes Caroline Winterer, a historian at Stanford, “the central intellectual project in America before the late 19th century was classicism.” Of the 2.5 million people living in America in 1776, perhaps only 3,000 had gone to college, but that number included many of the founders. They saw classical civilization as uniquely educative — a “lamp of experience,” in the words of Patrick Henry, that could light the path to a more perfect union. However true it was, subsequent generations would come to believe, as Hannah Arendt wrote in “On Revolution,” that “without the classical example … none of the men of the Revolution on either side of the Atlantic would have possessed the courage for what then turned out to be unprecedented action.”
While the founding fathers chose to emulate the Roman republic, fearful of the tyranny of the majority, later generations of Americans drew inspiration from Athenian democracy, particularly after the franchise was extended to nearly all white men regardless of property ownership in the early decades of the 1800s. Comparisons between the United States and the Roman Empire became popular as the country emerged as a global power. Even after Latin and Greek were struck from college-entrance exams, the proliferation of courses on “great books” and Western civilization, in which classical texts were read in translation, helped create a coherent national story after the shocks of industrialization and global warfare. The project of much 20th-century art and literature was to forge a more complicated relationship with Greece and Rome, but even as the classics were pulled apart, laughed at and transformed, they continued to form the raw material with which many artists shaped their visions of modernity.
Over the centuries, thinkers as disparate as John Adams and Simone Weil have likened classical antiquity to a mirror. Generations of intellectuals, among them feminist, queer and Black scholars, have seen something of themselves in classical texts, flashes of recognition that held a kind of liberatory promise. Daniel Mendelsohn, a gay classicist and critic, discovered his sexuality at 12 while reading historical fiction about the life of Alexander the Great. “Until that moment,” he wrote in The New Yorker in 2013, “I had never seen my secret feelings reflected anywhere.” But the idea of classics as a mirror may be as dangerous as it is seductive. The language that is used to describe the presence of classical antiquity in the world today — the classical tradition, legacy or heritage — contains within it the idea of a special, quasi-genetic relationship. In his lecture “There Is No Such Thing as Western Civilization,” Kwame Anthony Appiah (this magazine’s Ethicist columnist) mockingly describes the belief in such a kinship as the belief in a “golden nugget” of insight — a precious birthright and shimmering sign of greatness — that white Americans and Europeans imagine has been passed down to them from the ancients. That belief has been so deeply held that the philosopher John Stuart Mill could talk about the Battle of Marathon, in which the Greeks defeated the first Persian invasion in 490 B.C., as one of the most important events in “English history.”
To see classics the way Padilla sees it means breaking the mirror; it means condemning the classical legacy as one of the most harmful stories we’ve told ourselves. Padilla is wary of colleagues who cite the radical uses of classics as a way to forestall change; he believes that such examples have been outmatched by the field’s long alliance with the forces of dominance and oppression. Classics and whiteness are the bones and sinew of the same body; they grew strong together, and they may have to die together. Classics deserves to survive only if it can become “a site of contestation” for the communities who have been denigrated by it in the past. This past semester, he co-taught a course, with the Activist Graduate School, called “Rupturing Tradition,” which pairs ancient texts with critical race theory and strategies for organizing. “I think that the politics of the living are what constitute classics as a site for productive inquiry,” he told me. “When folks think of classics, I would want them to think about folks of color.” But if classics fails his test, Padilla and others are ready to give it up. “I would get rid of classics altogether,” Walter Scheidel, another of Padilla’s former advisers at Stanford, told me. “I don’t think it should exist as an academic field.”
One way to get rid of classics would be to dissolve its faculties and reassign their members to history, archaeology and language departments. But many classicists are advocating softer approaches to reforming the discipline, placing the emphasis on expanding its borders. Schools including Howard and Emory have integrated classics with Ancient Mediterranean studies, turning to look across the sea at Egypt, Anatolia, the Levant and North Africa. The change is a declaration of purpose: to leave behind the hierarchies of the Enlightenment and to move back toward the Renaissance model of the ancient world as a place of diversity and mixture. “There’s a more interesting story to be told about the history of what we call the West, the history of humanity, without valorizing particular cultures in it,” said Josephine Quinn, a professor of ancient history at Oxford. “It seems to me the really crucial mover in history is always the relationship between people, between cultures.” Ian Morris put it more bluntly. “Classics is a Euro-American foundation myth,” Morris said to me. “Do we really want that sort of thing?”
For many, inside the academy and out, the answer to that question is yes. Denis Feeney, Padilla’s colleague at Princeton, believes that society would “lose a great deal” if classics was abandoned. Feeney is 65, and after he retires this year, he says, his first desire is to sit down with Homer again. “In some moods, I feel that this is just a moment of despair, and people are trying to find significance even if it only comes from self-accusation,” he told me. “I’m not sure that there is a discipline that is exempt from the fact that it is part of the history of this country. How distinctly wicked is classics? I don’t know that it is.” Amy Richlin, a feminist scholar at the University of California, Los Angeles, who helped lead the turn toward the study of women in the Roman world, laughed when I mentioned the idea of breaking up classics departments in the Ivy League. “Good luck getting rid of them,” she said. “These departments have endowments, and they’re not going to voluntarily dissolve themselves.” But when I pressed her on whether it was desirable, if not achievable, she became contemplative. Some in the discipline, particularly graduate students and untenured faculty members, worry that administrators at small colleges and public universities will simply use the changes as an excuse to cut programs. “One of the dubious successes of my generation is that it did break the canon,” Richlin told me. “I don’t think we could believe at the time that we would be putting ourselves out of business, but we did.” She added: “If they blew up the classics departments, that would really be the end.”
‘I’m not sure that there is a discipline that is exempt from the fact that it is part of the history of this country. How distinctly wicked is classics? I don’t know that it is.’
Padilla has said that he “cringes” when he remembers his youthful desire to be transformed by the classical tradition. Today he describes his discovery of the textbook at the Chinatown shelter as a sinister encounter, as though the book had been lying in wait for him. He compares the experience to a scene in one of Frederick Douglass’s autobiographies, when Mr. Auld, Douglass’s owner in Baltimore, chastises his wife for helping Douglass learn to read: “ ‘Now,’ said he, ‘if you teach that nigger (speaking of myself) how to read, there would be no keeping him. It would forever unfit him to be a slave.’” In that moment, Douglass says he understood that literacy was what separated white men from Black — “a new and special revelation, explaining dark and mysterious things.” “I would at times feel that learning to read had been a curse rather than a blessing,” Douglass writes. “It had given me a view of my wretched condition, without the remedy.” Learning the secret only deepened his sense of exclusion.
Padilla, like Douglass, now sees the moment of absorption into the classical, literary tradition as simultaneous with his apprehension of racial difference; he can no longer find pride or comfort in having used it to bring himself out of poverty. He permits himself no such relief. “Claiming dignity within this system of structural oppression,” Padilla has said, “requires full buy-in into its logic of valuation.” He refuses to “praise the architects of that trauma as having done right by you at the end.”
Last June, as racial-justice protests unfolded across the nation, Padilla turned his attention to arenas beyond classics. He and his co-authors — the astrophysicist Jenny Greene, the literary theorist Andrew Cole and the poet Tracy K. Smith — began writing their open letter to Princeton with 48 proposals for reform. “Anti-Blackness is foundational to America,” the letter began. “Indifference to the effects of racism on this campus has allowed legitimate demands for institutional support and redress in the face of microaggression and outright racist incidents to go long unmet.” Signed by more than 300 members of the faculty, the letter was released publicly on the Fourth of July. In response, Joshua Katz, a prominent Princeton classicist, published an op-ed in the online magazine Quillette in which he referred to the Black Justice League, a student group, as a “terrorist organization” and warned that certain proposals in the faculty letter would “lead to civil war on campus.”
Few in the academy cared to defend Katz’s choice of words, but he was far from the only person who worried that some of the proposals were unwise, if not dangerous. Most controversial was the idea of establishing a committee that would “oversee the investigation and discipline of racist behaviors, incidents, research and publication” — a body that many viewed as a threat to free academic discourse. “I’m concerned about how you define what racist research is,” one professor told me. “That’s a line that’s constantly moving. Punishing people for doing research that other people think is racist just does not seem like the right response.” But Padilla believes that the uproar over free speech is misguided. “I don’t see things like free speech or the exchange of ideas as ends in themselves,” he told me. “I have to be honest about that. I see them as a means to the end of human flourishing.”
On Jan. 6, Padilla turned on the television minutes after the windows of the Capitol were broken. In the crowd, he saw a man in a Greek helmet with TRUMP 2020 painted in white. He saw a man in a T-shirt bearing a golden eagle on a fasces — symbols of Roman law and governance — below the logo 6MWE, which stands for “Six Million Wasn’t Enough,” a reference to the number of Jews murdered in the Holocaust. He saw flags embroidered with the phrase that Leonidas is said to have uttered when the Persian king ordered him to lay down his arms: Molon labe, classical Greek for “Come and take them,” which has become a slogan of American gun rights activists. A week after the riot, Representative Marjorie Taylor Greene, a newly elected Republican from Georgia who has liked posts on social media that call for killing Democrats, wore a mask stitched with the phrase when she voted against impeachment on the House floor.
“There is a certain kind of classicist who will look on what transpired and say, ‘Oh, that’s not us,’” Padilla said when we spoke recently. “What is of interest to me is why is it so imperative for classicists of a certain stripe to make this discursive move? ‘This is not us.’ Systemic racism is foundational to those institutions that incubate classics and classics as a field itself. Can you take stock, can you practice the recognition of the manifold ways in which racism is a part of what you do? What the demands of the current political moment mean?”
Padilla suspects that he will one day need to leave classics and the academy in order to push harder for the changes he wants to see in the world. He has even considered entering politics. “I would never have thought the position I hold now to be attainable to me as a kid,” he said. “But the fact that this is a minor miracle does not displace my deep sense that this is temporary too.” His influence on the field may be more permanent than his presence in it. “Dan-el has galvanized a lot of people,” Rebecca Futo Kennedy, a professor at Denison University, told me. Joel Christensen, the Brandeis professor, now feels that it is his “moral and ethical and intellectual responsibility” to teach classics in a way that exposes its racist history. “Otherwise we’re just participating in propaganda,” he said. Christensen, who is 42, was in graduate school before he had his “crisis of faith,” and he understands the fear that many classicists may experience at being asked to rewrite the narrative of their life’s work. But, he warned, “that future is coming, with or without Dan-el.”
Rachel Poser is the deputy editor of Harper’s Magazine. Her writing, which often focuses on the relationship between past and present, has appeared in Harper’s, The New York Times, Mother Jones and elsewhere. A version of this article appears in print on Feb. 7, 2021, Page 38 of the Sunday Magazine with the headline: The Iconoclast.
Study suggests environmental factors had a role in the evolution of human tolerance and friendliness
University of York
Environmental pressures may have led humans to become more tolerant and friendly towards each other as the need to share food and raw materials became mutually beneficial, a new study suggests.
This behaviour was not an inevitable natural progression, but subject to ecological pressures, the University of York study concludes.
Humans have a remarkable capacity to care about people well outside their own kin or local group. Whilst most other animals tend to be defensive towards those in other groups our natural tolerance allows us to collaborate today on a global scale, as seen with trade or international relief efforts to provide aid for natural disasters.
Using computer simulations of many thousands of individuals gathering resources for their group and interacting with individuals from other groups, the research team attempted to establish what key evolutionary pressures may have prompted human intergroup tolerance.
The study suggests this may have begun when humans began to leave Africa and during a period of increasingly harsh and variable environments.
The study was concerned with the period 300,000 to 30,000 years ago where archaeological evidence indicated greater mobility and more frequent interactions between different groups. In particular, this is a time in which there is a movement of raw materials over much longer distances and between groups.
The researchers found that populations which shared resources were more likely to be more successful and more likely to survive harsh environments, where extinctions occur, than those populations which do not share across borders.
However, in resource rich environments sharing was less advantageous and in extremely harsh environments populations are too low for sharing to be feasible.
Penny Spikins, Professor in the Archaeology of Human Origins at the University of York, said: “That our study demonstrates the importance of tolerance to human success is perhaps surprising, especially when we often think of prehistory as a time of competition, however we have seen that in situations where people with surplus share across borders with those in need everyone benefits in the long term.”
Dr Jennifer C. French, lecturer in Palaeolithic Archaeology at the University of Liverpool added: “Our study’s findings also have important implications for wider debates about the increases in examples of innovation and greater rates of cultural evolution that occurred during this period.
“They help to explain previously enigmatic changes in the archaeological record between 300,000 and 30,000 years ago.”
The study is published in the Journal of Archaeological Method and Theory.
Reductions in aerosol emissions had slight warming impact, study finds
Date: February 2, 2021
Source: National Center for Atmospheric Research/University Corporation for Atmospheric Research
Summary: The lockdowns and reduced societal activity related to the COVID-19 pandemic affected emissions of pollutants in ways that slightly warmed the planet for several months last year, according to new research. The counterintuitive finding highlights the influence of airborne particles, or aerosols, that block incoming sunlight.
The lockdowns and reduced societal activity related to the COVID-19 pandemic affected emissions of pollutants in ways that slightly warmed the planet for several months last year, according to new research led by the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR).
The counterintuitive finding highlights the influence of airborne particles, or aerosols, that block incoming sunlight. When emissions of aerosols dropped last spring, more of the Sun’s warmth reached the planet, especially in heavily industrialized nations, such as the United States and Russia, that normally pump high amounts of aerosols into the atmosphere.
“There was a big decline in emissions from the most polluting industries, and that had immediate, short-term effects on temperatures,” said NCAR scientist Andrew Gettelman, the study’s lead author. “Pollution cools the planet, so it makes sense that pollution reductions would warm the planet.”
Temperatures over parts of Earth’s land surface last spring were about 0.2-0.5 degrees Fahrenheit (0.1-0.3 degrees Celsius) warmer than would have been expected with prevailing weather conditions, the study found. The effect was most pronounced in regions that normally are associated with substantial emissions of aerosols, with the warming reaching about 0.7 degrees F (0.37 C) over much of the United States and Russia.
The new study highlights the complex and often conflicting influences of different types of emissions from power plants, motor vehicles, industrial facilities, and other sources. While aerosols tend to brighten clouds and reflect heat from the Sun back into space, carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases have the opposite effect, trapping heat near the planet’s surface and elevating temperatures.
Despite the short-term warming effects, Gettelman emphasized that the long-term impact of the pandemic may be to slightly slow climate change because of reduced emissions of carbon dioxide, which lingers in the atmosphere for decades and has a more gradual influence on climate. In contrast, aerosols — the focus of the new study — have a more immediate impact that fades away within a few years.
The study was published in Geophysical Research Letters. It was funded in part by the National Science Foundation, NCAR’s sponsor. In addition to NCAR scientists, the study was co-authored by scientists at Oxford University, Imperial College, and the University of Leeds.
Teasing out the impacts
Although scientists have long been able to quantify the warming impacts of carbon dioxide, the climatic influence of various types of aerosols — including sulfates, nitrates, black carbon, and dust — has been more difficult to pin down. One of the major challenges for projecting the extent of future climate change is estimating the extent to which society will continue to emit aerosols in the future and the influence of the different types of aerosols on clouds and temperature.
To conduct the research, Gettelman and his co-authors used two of the world’s leading climate models: the NCAR-based Community Earth System Model and a model known as ECHAM-HAMMOZ, which was developed by a consortium of European nations. They ran simulations on both models, adjusting emissions of aerosols and incorporating actual meteorological conditions in 2020, such as winds.
This approach enabled them to identify the impact of reduced emissions on temperature changes that were too small to tease out in actual observations, where they could be obscured by the variability in atmospheric conditions.
The results showed that the warming effect was strongest in the mid and upper latitudes of the Northern Hemisphere. The effect was mixed in the tropics and comparatively minor in much of the Southern Hemisphere, where aerosol emissions are not as pervasive.
Gettelman said the study will help scientists better understand the influence of various types of aerosols in different atmospheric conditions, helping to inform efforts to minimize climate change. Although the research illustrates how aerosols counter the warming influence of greenhouse gases, he emphasized that emitting more of them into the lower atmosphere is not a viable strategy for slowing climate change.
“Aerosol emissions have major health ramifications,” he said. “Saying we should pollute is not practical.”
As mágoas – as suas ou aquelas que outros lhe causam – mantêm você preso. A terapia do perdão pode ajudá-lo a mudar de perspectiva e seguir adiante com a sua vida
Nathaniel Wade – 14 de agosto de 2020
Quando eu tinha 26 anos, meu mundo desmoronou. Eu tinha acabado de começar a pós-graduação e viajava constante entre Richmond, Virgínia e Washington, DC, porque minha esposa estava terminando sua pós-graduação em uma cidade diferente de onde eu estudava. Em uma dessas viagens, eu estava lavando roupa e encontrei um bilhete amassado no fundo da secadora. Estava endereçado a minha esposa por um de seus colegas de classe: “Devemos sair em horários diferentes. Te encontro em minha casa mais tarde”.
Minha esposa estava tendo um caso, embora não tenha sido confirmado até meses depois. Para mim, foi um golpe de proporções monumentais. Eu me senti traído, enganado e até ridicularizado. A raiva explodiu em mim e, ao longo de dias e semanas, essa raiva se transformou em uma confusão fervilhante de amargura, confusão e descrença. Nós nos separamos sem um plano claro para o futuro.
Embora essa dor me apunhalasse com uma intensidade que eu nunca havia sentido, eu não era o único a passar por isso. Muitas pessoas experimentam dores semelhantes, e muito piores, em suas vidas. Estar em um relacionamento geralmente significa ser maltratado, magoado ou traído. Como pessoas, frequentemente sofremos injustiças e dificuldades de relacionamento. Uma das maneiras que os humanos desenvolveram para lidar com essa dor é por meio do perdão. Mas o que é perdão e como funciona?
Essas eram as questões nas quais eu estava trabalhando ao mesmo tempo em que passava por minha separação. Eu estava fazendo pós-graduação na Virginia Commonwealth University, e o psicólogo Everett Worthington era o meu orientador. Ev é um dos dois pioneiros na psicologia do perdão e, desde o primeiro dia, ele me fez explorar o perdão de uma perspectiva acadêmica (deixei seu escritório depois de nosso primeiro encontro com uma pilha de meio metro de artigos científicos para revisar). Desde então, tornei-me psicólogo e professor de aconselhamento psicológico na Iowa State University, com especialização em perdão como parte do processo de psicoterapia.
Os primeiros trabalhos produzidos por Worthington e por mim, e por outros pesquisadores, identificaram o que o perdão não era. Robert Enright, da Universidade de Wisconsin-Madison, outro pioneiro na psicologia do perdão, foi fundamental neste trabalho. Por exemplo, ele e seus colegas distinguiam entre perdoar e tolerar, desculpar ou ignorar uma ofensa. Para que o verdadeiro perdão ocorra, afirmaram, é necessário que haja uma verdadeira ofensa ou mágoa, com consequências reais. Uma boa ilustração pode ser a dos clientes que Enright e uma de suas alunas, Suzanne Freedman (agora professora da University of Northern Iowa), descreveram em um artigo: mulheres sobreviventes de incesto infantil. Para que o verdadeiro perdão ocorresse neste contexto, argumentavam, as mulheres precisavam primeiro reconhecer que uma mágoa real lhes fora infligida quando crianças. Negar sua própria dor ou ignorar a atrocidade não seria perdão. E, se viesse, o perdão só ocorreria depois de trabalhar a difícil realidade do que aconteceu. Ao longo de muitos meses e através de um trabalho pessoal desafiador, as mulheres do estudo resolveram grande parte do medo, amargura, raiva, confusão e mágoa, e alcançaram um nível notável de paz e resolução em relação aos abusos anteriores.
Outra questão principal que se tornou rapidamente aparente na pesquisa foi se a reconciliação precisava fazer parte do perdão ou não. Para acadêmicos e terapeutas como eu, interessados em ajudar as pessoas a obter o perdão por ofensas muitas vezes graves, como infidelidade conjugal ou violências do passado, o perdão é restrito a um processo interno. Assim, o perdão não inclui necessariamente a reconciliação, mas é o processo interno pelo qual alguém resolve a amargura e a mágoa e se move para algo mais positivo em relação à pessoa que o ofendeu, como empatia ou amor. Em contraste, a reconciliação é um processo pelo qual as pessoas restabelecem um relacionamento de confiança com alguém que as magoou. Essa distinção tornou-se fundamental em minha própria cura.
Embora esta distinção seja importante, não significa que a reconciliação não seja uma opção valiosa para aqueles de nós que vêem o perdão desta forma. Em vez disso, a reconciliação se torna um processo separado, independente do perdão, mas importante e valioso por si só. Isso foi um bálsamo considerável para mim nos meses que se seguiram à minha separação. Apesar da dor, raiva e confusão que ainda sentia meses depois, eu sabia que gostaria de buscar o perdão em algum momento no futuro. Eu não queria que minha amargura do passado contagiasse minha felicidade futura em relacionamentos amorosos. Eu não queria carregar esse fardo pelo resto da minha vida. Em vez disso, imaginei um momento em que gostaria de deixar isso de lado e seguir em frente. Meu verdadeiro medo, porém, era que, ao perdoar, eu necessariamente tivesse que me reconciliar com minha esposa ou, alternativamente, que se eu não quisesse me reconciliar, não me livraria da raiva. Ao ver o perdão como um processo separado da reconciliação, novas opções apareceram. Entendi então que poderia perdoar ou não, e poderia me reconciliar ou não.
Um processo semelhante ocorreu para muitos clientes com quem trabalhei. Por exemplo, lembro-me do alívio sensível que senti em um grupo de pessoas que estava tratando quando trouxe à tona a diferença entre perdão e reconciliação. Os membros desse grupo estavam lutando contra violências diversas, de serem financeiramente roubados por um ex a casos de traição e outras experiências negativas. Quando apresentei a possível distinção entre perdão e reconciliação e discutimos como isso poderia acontecer em suas próprias experiências, senti um suspiro coletivo. Houve um peso tirado dos ombros dos participantes simplesmente pelo entendimento de que perdoar não significa necessariamente reconciliar. Os membros do grupo sentiram-se mais livres e isso ajudou em seus processos de perdão de maneiras novas e ricas.
Por exemplo, Jo (nome fictício) estava sofrendo com um noivo que lhe roubou dez mil dólares e desapareceu. Obviamente, não havia maneira de Jo trabalhar na reconciliação, mesmo que ela quisesse, e ainda assim, com essa distinção, ela podia ver como ela ainda poderia seguir em frente com o perdão.
Por outro lado, Maria, que trabalhava para perdoar a filha adulta pelas coisas que a magoara, queria manter o relacionamento; ela estava muito interessada em reconciliação. Compreender a diferença ajudou-a a ver que ela poderia trabalhar tanto no perdão quanto na reconciliação de maneiras diferentes para ajudar a curar seu relacionamento com a filha.
Em suma, uma compreensão adequada parece ajudar as pessoas a aceitar o perdão e abre novas possibilidades de cura e crescimento. Mas como funciona e de que forma as pessoas podem usá-lo para seu próprio benefício?
Passei a maior parte da minha carreira acadêmica tentando responder a essa pergunta. Especificamente, estudei maneiras de ajudar as pessoas a perdoar os outros quando têm dificuldade para fazê-lo. A ciência sobre isso ainda é muito nova, mas parece haver um núcleo comum de intervenções que fornecem ajuda para que as pessoas caminhem em direção à resolução de suas feridas.
A primeira é uma estratégia testada e comprovada em quase todas as formas de psicoterapia: compartilhar a história pessoal em um ambiente seguro e sem julgamento. Quase todas as intervenções de perdão estabelecidas prescrevem um momento para compartilhar a mágoa ou ofensa. Isso é particularmente poderoso em um ambiente de grupo, no qual os participantes compartilham suas experiências diferentes uns com os outros, testemunham suas dores e se apoiam mutuamente. No entanto, contar a própria história de forma individual é também eficaz, em um contexto em que não se tenta dar conselhos, não se diminui a importância de sentimentos negativos e não se estimula a raiva (evitando reações como “sim, ele é a pior pessoa do mundo!”). Frequentemente, em nossos programas de perdão, os participantes nos dizem que uma das partes mais importantes e eficazes é a oportunidade de compartilhar com os outros o que lhes aconteceu. Afirmam que a parte mais útil costuma ser “saber que outros tiveram dificuldades semelhantes” e “ser capaz de desabafar, podendo dizer ali coisas que eu não poderiam ser ditas em outros lugares” e “sentir que foi ouvido, realmente compreendido e que poderia tirar isso do peito”.
Essa reação é compreensível, visto como pode ser difícil falarmos sobre momentos em que fomos magoados ou agredidos. Para alguns, é difícil compartilhar porque vítimas de violência em geral sentem vergonha e humilhação com a sua situação. Poucas pessoas querem compartilhar abertamente os momentos em que foram fracas ou maltratadas, traídas ou rejeitadas. São histórias de vulnerabilidade. Além da vergonha que as pessoas sentem, muitas vezes há o desejo de evitar a dor associada à mágoa: se eu compartilhar, terei que reviver a dor e talvez não seja capaz de lidar com isso. As intervenções que podem ajudar as pessoas a superar esses obstáculos, compartilhar sua dor e receber apoio podem ser de grande ajuda para ajudá-las a se recuperar.
Após uma recontagem completa da história, a maioria das intervenções oferece um tempo para as pessoas considerarem o ponto de vista do ofensor. O objetivo geralmente é ajudar as pessoas a desenvolver compreensão ou até empatia pela pessoa que as magoou. Existe um grande poder na empatia, ainda que existam também perigos envolvidos aí.
Três anos depois de encontrar aquele bilhete amassado, pedi o divórcio e segui em frente com um novo espírito de perdão
Quando bem feita, esta parte da intervenção ajuda as pessoas a expandirem sua perspectivas e ganharem nova consciência para as complexidades dos eventos que cercam suas feridas. Isso pode leva-las a uma visão mais ampla dos eventos, fazendo a ofensa parecer-se menos com uma maldade ou com sadismo e mais com uma situação complexa em que alguém tomou decisões prejudiciais ou ruins. Essa mudança de perspectiva e compreensão podem abrir as portas para o perdão. Um excelente exemplo disso é o trabalho de Frederic Luskin, diretor do Stanford Forgiveness Project, e do reverendo Byron Bland, capelão da Universidade de Palo Alto. Em 2000, eles reuniram protestantes e católicos da Irlanda do Norte que haviam perdido parentes devido à violência religiosa naquele país, e criaram um workshop de perdão de uma semana na Universidade de Stanford, na Califórnia. Grande parte dessa experiência foi ajudar cada grupo a ver o outro sob uma luz mais humana, a abandonar a amargura associada ao outro grupo e a alavancar a empatia para avançar em direção ao perdão. Como um participante que perdeu seu pai relatou: “Por anos eu tive ressentimento dos católicos, até vir para Stanford.”
É claro que, se feito de maneira inadequada ou sem precauções, tentar desenvolver empatia pode reduzir-se a culpar a vítima e encorajar aqueles que foram feridos a questionar ou minimizar seus sentimentos, permitindo que outros os magoem no futuro. A parte importante e difícil desse processo é ajudar as pessoas a manter a legitimidade de sua dor enquanto exploram outros pontos de vista. O objetivo é ajudar as pessoas a aceitarem seus sentimentos como compreensíveis e suas reações como justificadas, mesmo enquanto desenvolvem uma apreciação mais nuançada da perspectiva da pessoa ofensora. Isso leva tempo e muitas vezes não deve tentado até que um período considerável tenha decorrido desde a ofensa. A quantidade de tempo depende de muitos fatores, como a gravidade da mágoa e o relacionamento que se tem com a pessoa que o ofendeu.
Em minha própria jornada de perdão, foi de grande valia o compartilhamento da experiência e o desenvolvimento da empatia. Recebi ajuda considerável de vários parentes e amigos e de um terapeuta atencioso que ouviu minha história sem julgar o que eu deveria ou não fazer. Em vez disso, eles todos me ouviram, apoiaram-me em minha dor e permitiram que eu me expressasse livremente. Meu melhor amigo suportou o peso disso tudo. Tínhamos marcado uma viagem à praia no mesmo verão em que encontrei aquele bilhete para minha esposa. Eu a confrontei um pouco antes da viagem, e ela admitiu o caso pela primeira vez pouco antes de meu amigo e eu partirmos em nossa viagem. Passei dois dias na praia na Carolina do Norte vomitando minha raiva e confusão, compartilhando história após história de todos os pequenos enganos e equívocos que só agora eu estava juntando. Como ele tolerou tudo isso, eu não sei. Mas, para mim, foi um descarrego inicial que me ajudou a caminhar em direção ao perdão definitivo.
A parte importante seguinte na minha jornada de perdão foi construir empatia por minha ex-esposa. Isso não aconteceu imediatamente. Na verdade, tardou muitos anos até que eu fosse capaz de desenvolver uma nova perspectiva sobre a questão. Foi necessário esse tipo de distância até que eu me tornasse humilde o suficiente para ver como eu mesmo contribuí para o fim do relacionamento. Eu vi minha parte. Eu vi como ela pode ter se sentido aprisionada por mim, pela família e pelos amigos para entrar em um casamento que parecia invejável para estranhos, mas muito provavelmente nunca foi totalmente confortável para ela. Comecei a ver como essas forças podem tê-la influenciado a fazer as escolhas que fez. Agora posso sentir por ela e quão difícil e confuso tudo isso pode ter sido, e posso ver que ela provavelmente não tinha intenção ou desejo de me machucar. Ela se sentiu aprisionada e reagiu a essa experiência. Longe de tudo isso e distante daquela dor que senti, posso dizer que eu realmente queria o que era melhor para ela. Eu esperava que ela tivesse uma vida plena. Por fim, optei por perdoar minha esposa e optei por não me reconciliar. Três anos depois de encontrar aquele bilhete amassado na secadora, decidi pedir o divórcio e segui em frente com um novo espírito de perdão e paz.
Além de ajudar as pessoas a perdoar os outros, os pesquisadores também começaram a explorar maneiras de ajudar as pessoas a perdoar a si mesmas. Marilyn Cornish, psicóloga conselheira da Auburn University, no Alabama, e eu desenvolvemos uma dessas intervenções, com base em um modelo amplo de quatro etapas. As etapas incluem: responsabilidade, remorso, restauração e renovação. Concentramos essa intervenção em ajudar as pessoas que carregavam consigo uma grande culpa por ter ferido outras pessoas.
A abordagem geral de nossa intervenção é ajudar as pessoas a assumirem as devidas responsabilidades pela ofensa ou ferida que causaram, identificando as formas pelas quais elas são culpadas pela dor da outra pessoa. Fora dessa responsabilidade, elas são incentivadas a identificar e expressar o remorso que sentem. Acreditamos que é saudável abraçar nossa culpa e colocar esse sentimento em um contexto realista. A partir deste ponto, é possível avançar para a restauração. Nesta etapa, a pessoa é incentivada a fazer reparações, a restaurar os danos causados aos outros e a seus relacionamentos e a se comprometer novamente com valores ou padrões que possam ter violado ao magoar os outros. Finalmente, a pessoa é capaz de passar para a renovação, que entendemos ser uma substituição da culpa e da autocondenação por um renovado autorrespeito e autocompaixão. Essa renovação é apropriada somente após uma verdadeira contabilidade da ofensa. Uma vez que isso tenha sido feito, é benéfico para a pessoa mudar para um senso renovado de autoaceitação e perdão.
O perdão a si mesmo a ajudou a enfrentar os filhos com mais honestidade e a restaurar o relacionamento com eles.
Testamos essa intervenção em um estudo clínico. Para isso, convidamos pessoas que haviam magoado outras pessoas e queriam se perdoar a participarem de um programa de aconselhamento individual de oito semanas. Das 21 pessoas que completaram o estudo, 12 receberam o tratamento imediatamente e nove o receberam após estarem na lista de espera. Aqueles que receberam o tratamento imediatamente relataram autoperdão significativamente maior e significativamente menos autocondenação e sofrimento psicológico do que aqueles na lista de espera. Na verdade, depois de controlar sua autocondenação e autoperdão, a pessoa média que recebeu o tratamento foi mais indulgente do que aproximadamente 90% das pessoas na lista de espera. Além disso, uma vez que aqueles na lista de espera receberam o tratamento, sua mudança na autocondenação, no perdão a si mesmo e na angústia psicológica igualou o grupo de tratamento.
Vários meses após a conclusão do estudo, recebi um e-mail de uma das clientes. Vou chamá-la de Izzie. Ela escreveu para nos agradecer pelo aconselhamento; ela disse que mudou sua vida. Izzie entrou no estudo porque estava lutando com as implicações de ter tido um caso extraconjugal no passado. Além de se sentir sozinha e desconectada da família como resultado do divórcio que se seguiu, Izzie ainda lutava com a vergonha e a culpa de suas ações. Essa vergonha a levou a se afastar dos filhos e, então, a sentir mais culpa e vergonha por sua incapacidade de cuidá-los e ser a mãe que desejava ser. Em seu e-mail, ela detalhou como o processo de autoperdão a ajudou a assumir a responsabilidade pelos eventos de maneira apropriada e superar o remorso para renovar seus relacionamentos. Ela nos contou como conseguiu encarar os filhos com mais honestidade e ter um relacionamento restaurado com eles. Depois de ter investido tanto tempo em sua própria autocondenação, ela agora estava livre para se relacionar com eles de uma nova maneira e ser mais a mãe que ela queria, e eles precisavam que ela fosse.
O perdão, dos outros e de si mesmo, pode ser um processo poderoso de mudança de vida. Pode mudar a trajetória de um relacionamento ou até mesmo a vida de uma pessoa. Não é a única resposta que uma pessoa pode dar ao ser magoado ou magoar os outros, mas é uma forma eficaz de administrar os momentos inevitáveis de conflito, decepção e dor em nossas vidas. O perdão abrange tanto a realidade da ofensa quanto a empatia e compaixão necessárias para seguir em frente. O verdadeiro perdão não foge da responsabilidade, recompensa ou justiça. Por definição, ele reconhece que algo doloroso, até mesmo errado, foi feito. Simultaneamente, o perdão nos ajuda a abraçar algo além da reação imediata de raiva e dor e da amargura latente que pode resultar. O perdão incentiva uma compreensão mais profunda e compassiva de que todos nós temos falhas em nossas diferentes maneiras e que todos nós precisamos ser perdoados às vezes.