A Giant Bumptious Litter: Donna Haraway on Truth, Technology, and Resisting Extinction (Logic)

Issue 9 / Nature December 07, 2019

Donna Haraway at her desk, smiling.
Donna Haraway in her home in Santa Cruz. A still from Donna Haraway: Story Telling for Earthly Survival, a film by Fabrizio Terranova.

The history of philosophy is also a story about real estate.

Driving into Santa Cruz to visit Donna Haraway, we can’t help feeling that we were born too late. The metal sculpture of a donkey standing on Haraway’s front porch, the dogs that scramble to her front door barking when we ring the bell, and the big black rooster strutting in the coop out back — the entire setting evokes an era of freedom and creativity that postwar wealth made possible in Northern California.

Here was a counterculture whose language and sensibility the tech industry sometimes adopts, but whose practitioners it has mostly priced out. Haraway, who came to the University of Santa Cruz in 1980 to take up the first tenured professorship in feminist theory in the US, still conveys the sense of a wide‑open world.

Haraway was part of an influential cohort of feminist scholars who trained as scientists before turning to the philosophy of science in order to investigate how beliefs about gender shaped the production of knowledge about nature. Her most famous text remains “A Cyborg Manifesto,” published in 1985. It began with an assignment on feminist strategy for the Socialist Review after the election of Ronald Reagan and grew into an oracular meditation on how cybernetics and digitization had changed what it meant to be male or female — or, really, any kind of person. It gained such a cult following that Hari Kunzru, profiling her for Wired years later, wrote: “To boho twentysomethings, her name has the kind of cachet usually reserved for techno acts or new phenethylamines.”

The cyborg vision of gender as changing and changeable was radically new. Her map of how information technology linked people around the world into new chains of affiliation, exploitation, and solidarity feels prescient at a time when an Instagram influencer in Berlin can line the pockets of Silicon Valley executives by using a phone assembled in China that contains cobalt mined in Congo to access a platform moderated by Filipinas.

Haraway’s other most influential text may be an essay that appeared a few years later, on what she called “situated knowledges.” The idea, developed in conversation with feminist philosophers and activists such as Nancy Hartsock, concerns how truth is made. Concrete practices of particular people make truth, Haraway argued. The scientists in a laboratory don’t simply observe or conduct experiments on a cell, for instance, but co-create what a cell is by seeing, measuring, naming, and manipulating it. Ideas like these have a long history in American pragmatism. But they became politically explosive during the so-called Science Wars of the 1990s — a series of public debates among “scientific realists” and “postmodernists” with echoes in controversies about bias and objectivity in academia today.

Haraway’s more recent work has turned to human-animal relations and the climate crisis. She is a capacious yes, and thinker, the kind of leftist feminist who believes that the best thinking is done collectively. She is constantly citing other people, including graduate students, and giving credit to them. A recent documentary about her life and work by the Italian filmmaker Fabrizio Terranova, Story Telling for Earthly Survival, captures this sense of commitment, as well as her extraordinary intellectual agility and inventiveness.

At her home in Santa Cruz, we talked about her memories of the Science Wars and how they speak to our current “post-truth” moment, her views on contemporary climate activism and the Green New Deal, and why play is essential for politics.

Let’s begin at the beginning. Can you tell us a little bit about your childhood? 

I grew up in Denver, in the kind of white, middle-class neighborhood where people had gotten mortgages to build housing after the war. My father was a sportswriter. When I was eleven or twelve years old, I probably saw seventy baseball games a year. I learned to score as I learned to read.

My father never really wanted to do the editorials or the critical pieces exposing the industry’s financial corruption or what have you. He wanted to write game stories and he had a wonderful way with language. He was in no way a scholar — in fact he was in no way an intellectual — but he loved to tell stories and write them. I think I was interested in that as well — in words and the sensuality of words.

The other giant area of childhood storytelling was Catholicism. I was way too pious a little girl, completely inside of the colors and the rituals and the stories of saints and the rest of it. I ate and drank a sensual Catholicism that I think was rare in my generation. Very not Protestant. It was quirky then; it’s quirky now. And it shaped me. 

How so? 

One of the ways that it shaped me was through my love of biology as a materialist, sensual, fleshly being in the world as well as a knowledge-seeking apparatus. It shaped me in my sense that I saw biology simultaneously as a discourse and profoundly of the world. The Word and the flesh. 

Many of my colleagues in the History of Consciousness department, which comes much later in the story, were deeply engaged with Roland Barthes and with that kind of semiotics. I was very unconvinced and alienated from those thinkers because they were so profoundly Protestant in their secularized versions. They were so profoundly committed to the disjunction between the signifier and signified — so committed to a doctrine of the sign that is anti-Catholic, not just non-Catholic. The secularized sacramentalism that just drips from my work is against the doctrine of the sign that I felt was the orthodoxy in History of Consciousness. So Catholicism offered an alternative structure of affect. It was both profoundly theoretical and really intimate.

Did you start studying biology as an undergraduate? 

I got a scholarship that allowed me to go to Colorado College. It was a really good liberal arts school. I was there from 1962 to 1966 and I triple majored in philosophy and literature and zoology, which I regarded as branches of the same subject. They never cleanly separated. Then I got a Fulbright to go to Paris. Then I went to Yale to study cell, molecular, and developmental biology.

Did you get into politics at Yale? Or were you already political when you arrived? 

The politics came before that — probably from my Colorado College days, which were influenced by the civil rights movement. But it was at Yale that several things converged. I arrived in the fall of 1967, and a lot was happening.

New Haven in those years was full of very active politics. There was the antiwar movement. There was anti-chemical and anti-biological warfare activism among both the faculty and the graduate students in the science departments. There was Science for the People [a left-wing science organization] and the arrival of that wave of the women’s movement. My lover, Jaye Miller, who became my first husband, was gay, and gay liberation was just then emerging. There were ongoing anti-racist struggles: the Black Panther Party was very active in New Haven. 

Jaye and I were part of a commune where one of the members and her lover were Black Panthers. Gayle was a welfare rights activist and the mother of a young child, and her lover was named Sylvester. We had gotten the house for the commune from the university at a very low rent because we were officially an “experiment in Christian living.” It was a very interesting group of people! There was a five-year-old kid who lived in the commune, and he idolized Sylvester. He would clomp up the back stairs wearing these little combat boots yelling, “Power to the people! Power! Power!” It made our white downstairs neighbors nervous. They didn’t much like us anyway. It was very funny. 

Did this political climate influence your doctoral research at Yale?

I ended up writing on the ways that metaphors shape experimental practice in the laboratory. I was writing about the experience of the coming-into-being of organisms in the situated interactions of the laboratory. In a profound sense, such organisms are made but not made up. It’s not a relativist position at all; it’s a materialist position. It’s about what I later learned to call “situated knowledges.” It was in the doing of biology that this became more and more evident. 

How did these ideas go over with your labmates and colleagues?

It was never a friendly way of talking for my biology colleagues, who always felt that this verged way too far in the direction of relativism. 

It’s not that the words I was using were hard. It’s that the ideas were received with great suspicion. And I think that goes back to our discussion a few minutes ago about semiotics: I was trying to insist that the gapping of the signifier and the signified does not really determine what’s going on. 

But let’s face it: I was never very good in the lab! My lab work was appalling. Everything I ever touched died or got infected. I did not have good hands, and I didn’t have good passion. I was always more interested in the discourse, if you will. 

But you found a supervisor who was open to that? 

Yes, Evelyn Hutchinson. He was an ecologist and a man of letters and a man who had had a long history of making space for heterodox women. And I was only a tiny bit heterodox. Other women he had given space to were way more out there than me. Evelyn was also the one who got us our house for our “experiment in Christian living.” 

God bless. What happened after Yale?

Jaye got a job at the University of Hawaii teaching world history and I went as this funny thing called a “faculty wife.” I had an odd ontological status. I got a job there in the general science department. Jaye and I were also faculty advisers for something called New College, which was an experimental liberal-arts part of the university that lasted for several years. 

It was a good experience. Jaye and I got a divorce in that period but never really quite separated because we couldn’t figure out who got the camera and who got the sewing machine. That was the full extent of our property in those days. We were both part of a commune in Honolulu. 

Then one night, Jaye’s boss in the history department insisted that we go out drinking with him, at which point he attacked us both sexually and personally in a drunken, homophobic, and misogynist rant. And very shortly after that, Jaye was denied tenure. Both of us felt stunned and hurt. So I applied for a job in the History of Science department at Johns Hopkins, and Jaye applied for a job at the University of Texas in Houston. 

Baltimore and the Thickness of Worlding

How was Hopkins? 

History of Science was not a field I knew anything about, and the people who hired me knew that perfectly well. Therefore they assigned me to teach the incoming graduate seminar: Introduction to the History of Science. It was a good way to learn it! 

Hopkins was also where I met my current partner, Rusten. He was a graduate student in the History of Science department, where I was a baby assistant professor. (Today I would be fired and sued for sexual harassment — but that’s a whole other conversation.) 

Who were some of the other people who became important to you at Hopkins?

[The feminist philosopher] Nancy Hartsock and I shaped each other quite a bit in those years. We were part of the Marxist feminist scene in Baltimore. We played squash a lot — squash was a really intense part of our friendship. Her lover was a Marxist lover of Lenin; he gave lectures in town. 

In the mid-to-late 1970s, Nancy and I started the women’s studies program at Hopkins together. At the time, she was doing her article that became her book on feminist materialism, [Money, Sex, and Power: Toward a Feminist Historical Materialism]. It was very formative for me.

Those were also the years that Nancy and Sandra Harding and Patricia Hill Collins and Dorothy Smith were inventing feminist standpoint theory. I think all of us were already reaching toward those ideas, which we then consolidated as theoretical proposals to a larger community. The process was both individual and collective. We were putting these ideas together out of our struggles with our own work. You write in a closed room while tearing your hair out of your head — it was individual in that sense. But then it clicks, and the words come, and you consolidate theoretical proposals that you bring to your community. In that sense, it was a profoundly collective way of thinking with each other, and within the intensities of the social movements of the late 1960s and early 1970s. 

The ideas that you and other feminist philosophers were developing challenged many dominant assumptions about what truth is, where it comes from, and how it functions. More recently, in the era of Trump, we are often told we are living in a time of “post-truth” — and some critics have blamed philosophers like yourselves for creating the environment of “relativism” in which “post-truth” flourishes. How do you respond to that?

Our view was never that truth is just a question of which perspective you see it from. “Truth is perspectival” was never our position. We were against that. Feminist standpoint theory was always anti-perspectival. So was the Cyborg Manifesto, situated knowledges, [the philosopher] Bruno Latour’s notions of actor-network theory, and so on.

“Post-truth” gives up on materialism. It gives up on what I’ve called semiotic materialism: the idea that materialism is always situated meaning-making and never simply representation. These are not questions of perspective. They are questions of worlding and all of the thickness of that. Discourse is not just ideas and language. Discourse is bodily. It’s not embodied, as if it were stuck in a body. It’s bodily and it’s bodying, it’s worlding. This is the opposite of post-truth. This is about getting a grip on how strong knowledge claims are not just possible but necessary — worth living and dying for. 

When you, Latour, and others were criticized for “relativism,” particularly during the so-called Science Wars of the 1990s, was that how you responded? And could your critics understand your response?

Bruno and I were at a conference together in Brazil once. Which reminds me: If people want to criticize us, it ought to be for the amount of jet fuel involved in making and spreading these ideas! Not for leading the way to post-truth. We’re guilty on the carbon footprint issue, and Skyping doesn’t help, because I know what the carbon footprint of the cloud is. 

Anyhow. We were at this conference in Brazil. It was a bunch of primate field biologists, plus me and Bruno. And Stephen Glickman, a really cool biologist, a man we both love, who taught at UC Berkeley for years and studied hyenas, took us aside privately. He said, “Now, I don’t want to embarrass you. But do you believe in reality?” 

We were both kind of shocked by the question. First, we were shocked that it was a question of belief, which is a Protestant question. A confessional question. The idea that reality is a question of belief is a barely secularized legacy of the religious wars. In fact, reality is a matter of worlding and inhabiting. It is a matter of testing the holding-ness of things. Do things hold or not? 

Take evolution. The notion that you would or would not “believe” in evolution already gives away the game. If you say, “Of course I believe in evolution,” you have lost, because you have entered the semiotics of representationalism — and post-truth, frankly. You have entered an arena where these are all just matters of internal conviction and have nothing to do with the world. You have left the domain of worlding. 

The Science Warriors who attacked us during the Science Wars were determined to paint us as social constructionists — that all truth is purely socially constructed. And I think we walked into that. We invited those misreadings in a range of ways. We could have been more careful about listening and engaging more slowly. It was all too easy to read us in the way the Science Warriors did. Then the right wing took the Science Wars and ran with it, which eventually helped nourish the whole fake-news discourse.

Your opponents in the Science Wars championed “objectivity” over what they considered your “relativism.” Were you trying to stake out a position between those two terms? Or did you reject the idea that either of those terms even had a stable meaning?

Both terms inhabit the same ontological and epistemological frame — a frame that my colleagues and I have tried to make hard to inhabit. Sandra Harding insisted on “strong objectivity,” and my idiom was “situated knowledges.” We have tried to deauthorize the kind of possessive individualism that sees the world as units plus relations. You take the units, you mix them up with relations, you come up with results. Units plus relations equal the world. 

People like me say, “No thank you: it’s relationality all the way down.” You don’t have units plus relations. You just have relations. You have worlding. The whole story is about gerunds — worlding, bodying, everything-ing. The layers are inherited from other layers, temporalities, scales of time and space, which don’t nest neatly but have oddly configured geometries. Nothing starts from scratch. But the play — I think the concept of play is incredibly important in all of this — proposes something new, whether it’s the play of a couple of dogs or the play of scientists in the field. 

This is not about the opposition between objectivity and relativism. It’s about the thickness of worlding. It’s also about being of and for some worlds and not others; it’s about materialist commitment in many senses.

To this day I know only one or two scientists who like talking this way. And there are good reasons why scientists remain very wary of this kind of language. I belong to the Defend Science movement and in most public circumstances I will speak softly about my own ontological and epistemological commitments. I will use representational language. I will defend less-than-strong objectivity because I think we have to, situationally. 

Is that bad faith? Not exactly. It’s related to [what the postcolonial theorist Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak has called] “strategic essentialism.” There is a strategic use to speaking the same idiom as the people that you are sharing the room with. You craft a good-enough idiom so you can work on something together. I won’t always insist on what I think might be a stronger apparatus. I go with what we can make happen in the room together. And then we go further tomorrow.

In the struggles around climate change, for example, you have to join with your allies to block the cynical, well-funded, exterminationist machine that is rampant on the earth. I think my colleagues and I are doing that. We have not shut up, or given up on the apparatus that we developed. But one can foreground and background what is most salient depending on the historical conjuncture.

Santa Cruz and Cyborgs

To return to your own biography, tell us a bit about how and why you left Hopkins for Santa Cruz. 

Nancy Hartsock and I applied for a feminist theory job in the History of Consciousness department at UC Santa Cruz together. We wanted to share it. Everybody assumed we were lovers, which we weren’t, ever. We were told by the search committee that they couldn’t consider a joint application because they had just gotten this job okayed and it was the first tenured position in feminist theory in the country. They didn’t want to do anything further to jeopardize it. Nancy ended up deciding that she wanted to stay in Baltimore anyway, so I applied solo and got the job. And I was fired from Hopkins and hired by Santa Cruz in the same week — and for exactly the same papers.

What were the papers?

The long one was called “Signs of Dominance.” It was from a Marxist feminist perspective, and it was regarded as too political. Even though it appeared in a major journal, the person in charge of my personnel case at Hopkins told me to white it out from my CV. 

The other one was a short piece on [the poet and novelist] Marge Piercy and [feminist theorist] Shulamith Firestone in Women: a Journal of Liberation. And I was told to white that out, too. Those two papers embarrassed my colleagues and they were quite explicit about it, which was kind of amazing. Fortunately, the people at History of Consciousness loved those same papers, and the set of commitments that went with them. 

You arrived in Santa Cruz in 1980, and it was there that you wrote the Cyborg Manifesto. Tell us a bit about its origins.

It had a very particular birth. There was a journal called the Socialist Review, which had formerly been called Socialist Revolution. Jeff Escoffier, one of the editors, asked five of us to write no more than five pages each on Marxist feminism, and what future we anticipated for it. 

This was just after the election of Ronald Reagan. The future we anticipated was a hard right turn. It was the definitive end of the 1960s. Around the same time, Jeff asked me if I would represent Socialist Review at a conference of New and Old Lefts in Cavtat in Yugoslavia [now Croatia]. I said yes, and I wrote a little paper on reproductive biotechnology. A bunch of us descended on Cavtat, and there were relatively few women. So we rather quickly found one another and formed alliances with the women staff who were doing all of the reproductive labor, taking care of us. We ended up setting aside our papers and pronouncing on various feminist topics. It was really fun and quite exciting. 

Out of that experience, I came back to Santa Cruz and wrote the Cyborg Manifesto. It turned out not to be five pages, but a whole coming to terms with what had happened to me in those years from 1980 to the time it came out in 1985.

The manifesto ended up focusing a lot on cybernetics and networking technologies. Did this reflect the influence of nearby Silicon Valley? Were you close with people working in those fields?

It’s part of the air you breathe here. But the real tech alliances in my life come from my partner Rusten and his friends and colleagues, because he worked as a freelance software designer. He did contract work for Hewlett Packard for years. He had a long history in that world: when he was only fourteen, he got a job programming on punch cards for companies in Seattle. 

The Cyborg Manifesto was the first paper I ever wrote on a computer screen. We had an old HP-86. And I printed it on one of those daisy-wheel printers. One I could never get rid of, and nobody ever wanted. It ended up in some dump, God help us all.

The Cyborg Manifesto had such a tremendous impact, and continues to. What did you make of its reception?

People read it as they do. Sometimes I find it interesting. But sometimes I just want to jump into a foxhole and pull the cover over me. 

In the manifesto, you distinguish yourself from two other socialist feminist positions. The first is the techno-optimist position that embraces aggressive technological interventions in order to modify human biology. This is often associated with Shulamith Firestone’s book The Dialectic of Sex (1970), and in particular her proposal for “artificial wombs” that could reproduce humans outside of a woman’s body.

Yes, although Firestone gets slotted into a quite narrow, blissed-out techno-bunny role, as if all her work was about reproduction without wombs. She is remembered for one technological proposal, but her critique of the historical materialist conditions of mothering and reproduction was very deep and broad.

You also make some criticisms of the ideas associated with Italian autonomist feminists and the Wages for Housework campaign. You suggest that they overextend the category of “labor.”

Wages for Housework was very important. And I’m always in favor of working by addition not subtraction. I’m always in favor of enlarging the litter. Let’s watch the attachments and detachments, the compositions and decompositions, as the litter proliferates. Labor is an important category with a strong history, and Wages for Housework enlarged it.

But in thinkers with Marxist roots, there’s also a tendency to make the category of labor do too much work. A great deal of what goes on needs to be thickly described with categories other than labor — or in interesting kinds of entanglement with labor. 

What other categories would you want to add?

Play is one. Labor is so tied to functionality, whereas play is a category of non-functionality. 

Play captures a lot of what goes on in the world. There is a kind of raw opportunism in biology and chemistry, where things work stochastically to form emergent systematicities. It’s not a matter of direct functionality. We need to develop practices for thinking about those forms of activity that are not caught by functionality, those which propose the possible-but-not-yet, or that which is not-yet but still open. 

It seems to me that our politics these days require us to give each other the heart to do just that. To figure out how, with each other, we can open up possibilities for what can still be. And we can’t do that in in a negative mood. We can’t do that if we do nothing but critique. We need critique; we absolutely need it. But it’s not going to open up the sense of what might yet be. It’s not going to open up the sense of that which is not yet possible but profoundly needed.

The established disorder of our present era is not necessary. It exists. But it’s not necessary. 

Playing Against Double Death

What might some of those practices for opening up new possibilities look like?

Through playful engagement with each other, we get a hint about what can still be and learn how to make it stronger. We see that in all occupations. Historically, the Greenham Common women were fabulous at this. [Eds.: The Greenham Common Women’s Peace Camp was a series of protests against nuclear weapons at a Royal Air Force base in England, beginning in 1981.] More recently, you saw it with the Dakota Access Pipeline occupation. 

The degree to which people in these occupations play is a crucial part of how they generate a new political imagination, which in turn points to the kind of work that needs to be done. They open up the imagination of something that is not what [the ethnographer] Deborah Bird Rose calls “double death” — extermination, extraction, genocide. 

Now, we are facing a world with all three of those things. We are facing the production of systemic homelessness. The way that flowers aren’t blooming at the right time, and so insects can’t feed their babies and can’t travel because the timing is all screwed up, is a kind of forced homelessness. It’s a kind of forced migration, in time and space. 

This is also happening in the human world in spades. In regions like the Middle East and Central America, we are seeing forced displacement, some of which is climate migration. The drought in the Northern Triangle countries of Central America — Honduras, Guatemala, El Salvador — is driving people off their land. 

So it’s not a humanist question. It’s a multi-kind and multi-species question.

In the Cyborg Manifesto, you use the ideas of “the homework economy” and the “integrated circuit” to explore the various ways that information technology was restructuring labor in the early 1980s to be more precarious, more global, and more feminized. Do climate change and the ecological catastrophes you’re describing change how you think about those forces? 

Yes and no. The theories that I developed in that period emerged from a particular historical conjuncture. If I were mapping the integrated circuit today, it would have different parameters than the map that I made in the early 1980s. And surely the questions of immigration, exterminism, and extractivism would have to be deeply engaged. The problem of rebuilding place-based lives would have to get more attention.

The Cyborg Manifesto was written within the context of the hard-right turn of the 1980s. But the hard-right turn was one thing; the hard-fascist turn of the late 2010s is another. It’s not the same as Reagan. The presidents of Colombia, Hungary, Brazil, Egypt, India, the United States — we are looking at a new fascist capitalism, which requires reworking the ideas of the early 1980s for them to make sense.

So there are continuities between now and the map I made then, a lot of continuities. But there are also some pretty serious inflection points, particularly when it comes to developments in digital technologies that are playing into the new fascism.

Could you say more about those developments?

If the public-private dichotomy was old-fashioned in 1980, by 2019 I don’t even know what to call it. We have to try to rebuild some sense of a public. But how can you rebuild a public in the face of nearly total surveillance? And this surveillance doesn’t even have a single center. There is no eye in the sky.

Then we have the ongoing enclosure of the commons. Capitalism produces new forms of value and then encloses those forms of value — the digital is an especially good example of that. This involves the monetization of practically everything we do. And it’s not like we are ignorant of this dynamic. We know what’s going on. We just don’t have a clue how to get a grip on it. 

One attempt to update the ideas of the Cyborg Manifesto has come from the “xenofeminists” of the international collective Laboria Cuboniks. I believe some of them have described themselves as your “disobedient daughters.”

Overstating things, that’s not my feminism.

Why not?

I’m not very interested in those discussions, frankly. It’s not what I’m doing. It’s not what makes me vital now. In a moment of ecological urgency, I’m more engaged in questions of multispecies environmental and reproductive justice. Those questions certainly involve issues of digital and robotic and machine cultures, but they aren’t at the center of my attention.

What is at the center of my attention are land and water sovereignty struggles, such as those over the Dakota Access Pipeline, over coal mining on the Black Mesa plateau, over extractionism everywhere. My attention is centered on the extermination and extinction crises happening at a worldwide level, on human and nonhuman displacement and homelessness. That’s where my energies are. My feminism is in these other places and corridors.

Do you still think the cyborg is still a useful figure?

I think so. The cyborg has turned out to be rather deathless. Cyborgs keep reappearing in my life as well as other people’s lives. 

The cyborg remains a wily trickster figure. And, you know, they’re also kind of old-fashioned. They’re hardly up-to-the‑minute. They’re rather klutzy, a bit like R2-D2 or a pacemaker. Maybe the embodied digitality of us now is not especially well captured by the cyborg. So I’m not sure. But, yeah, I think cyborgs are still in the litter. I just think we need a giant bumptious litter whelped by a whole lot of really badass bitches — some of whom are men!

Mourning Without Despair

You mentioned that your current work is more focused on environmental issues. How are you thinking about the role of technology in mitigating or adapting to climate change — or fighting extractivism and extermination?

There is no homogeneous socialist position on this question. I’m very pro-technology, but I belong to a crowd that is quite skeptical of the projects of what we might call the “techno-fix,” in part because of their profound immersion in technocapitalism and their disengagement from communities of practice. 

Those communities may need other kinds of technologies than those promised by the techno-fix: different kinds of mortgage instruments, say, or re-engineered water systems. I’m against the kind of techno-fixes that are abstracted from place and tied up with huge amounts of technocapital. This seems to include most geoengineering projects and imaginations. 

So when I see massive solar fields and wind farms I feel conflicted, because on the one hand they may be better than fracking in Monterey County — but only maybe. Because I also know where the rare earth minerals required for renewable energy technologies come from and under what conditions. We still aren’t doing the whole supply-chain analysis of our technologies. So I think we have a long way to go in socialist understanding of these matters. 

One tendency within socialist thought believes that socialists can simply seize capitalist technology and put it to different purposes — that you take the forces of production, build new relations around them, and you’re done. This approach is also associated with a Promethean, even utopian approach to technology. Socialist techno-utopianism has been around forever, but it has its own adherents today, such as those who advocate for “Fully Automated Luxury Communism.” I wonder how you see that particular lineage of socialist thinking about technology.

I think very few people are that simplistic, actually. In various moments we might make proclamations that come down that way. But for most people, our socialisms, and the approaches with which socialists can ally, are richer and more varied. 

When you talk to the Indigenous activists of the Black Mesa Water Coalition, for example, they have a complex sense around solar arrays and coal plants and water engineering and art practices and community movements. They have very rich articulated alliances and separations around all of this. 

Socialists aren’t the only ones who have been techno-utopian, of course. A far more prominent and more influential strand of techno-utopianism has come from the figures around the Bay Area counterculture associated with the Whole Earth Catalog, in particular Stewart Brand, who went on to play important intellectual and cultural roles in Silicon Valley.

They are not friends. They are not allies. I’m avoiding calling them enemies because I’m leaving open the possibility of their being able to learn or change, though I’m not optimistic. I think they occupy the position of the “god trick.” [Eds.: The “god trick” is an idea introduced by Haraway that refers to the traditional view of objectivity as a transcendent “gaze from nowhere.”] I think they are blissed out by their own privileged positions and have no idea what their own positionality in the world really is. And I think they cause a lot of harm, both ideologically and technically. 

How so?

They get a lot of publicity. They take up a lot of the air in the room. 

It’s not that I think they’re horrible people. There should be space for people pushing new technologies. But I don’t see nearly enough attention given to what kinds of technological innovation are really needed to produce viable local and regional energy systems that don’t depend on species-destroying solar farms and wind farms that require giant land grabs in the desert.

The kinds of conversations around technology that I think we need are those among folks who know how to write law and policy, folks who know how to do material science, folks who are interested in architecture and park design, and folks who are involved in land struggles and solidarity movements. I want to see us do much savvier scientific, technological, and political thinking with each other, and I want to see it get press. The Stewart Brand types are never going there. 

Do you see clear limitations in their worldviews and their politics?

They remain remarkably humanist in their orientation, in their cognitive apparatus, and in their vision of the world. They also have an almost Peter Pan quality. They never quite grew up. They say, “If it’s broken, fix it.” 

This comes from an incapacity to mourn and an incapacity to be finite. I mean that psychoanalytically: an incapacity to understand that there is no status quo ante, to understand that death and loss are real. Only within that understanding is it possible to open up to a kind of vitality that isn’t double death, that isn’t extermination, and which doesn’t yearn for transcendence, yearn for the fix.

There’s not much mourning with the Stewart Brand types. There’s not much felt loss of the already disappeared, the already dead — the disappeared of Argentina, the disappeared of the caravans, the disappeared of the species that will not come back. You can try to do as much resurrection biology as you want to. But any of the biologists who are actually involved in the work are very clear that there is no resurrection. 

You have also been critical of the Anthropocene, as a proposed new geological epoch defined by human influence on the earth. Do you see the idea of the Anthropocene as having similar limitations?

I think the Anthropocene framework has been a fertile container for quite a lot, actually. The Anthropocene has turned out to be a rather capacious territory for incorporating people in struggle. There are a lot of interesting collaborations with artists and scientists and activists going on.

The main thing that’s too bad about the term is that it perpetuates the misunderstanding that what has happened is a human species act, as if human beings as a species necessarily exterminate every planet we dare to live on. As if we can’t stop our productive and reproductive excesses. 

Extractivism and exterminationism are not human species acts. They come from a situated historical conjuncture of about five hundred years in duration that begins with the invention of the plantation and the subsequent modeling of industrial capitalism. It is a situated historical conjuncture that has had devastating effects even while it has created astonishing wealth. 

To define this as a human species act affects the way a lot of scientists think about the Anthropocene. My scientist colleagues and friends really do continue to think of it as something human beings can’t stop doing, even while they understand my historical critique and agree with a lot of it. 

It’s a little bit like the relativism versus objectivity problem. The old languages have a deep grip. The situated historical way of thinking is not instinctual for Western science, whose offspring are numerous. 

Are there alternatives that you think could work better than the Anthropocene?

There are plenty of other ways of thinking. Take climate change. Now, climate change is a necessary and essential category. But if you go to the circumpolar North as a Southern scientist wanting to collaborate with Indigenous people on climate change — on questions of changes in the sea ice, for example, or changes in the hunting and subsistence base — the limitations of that category will be profound. That’s because it fails to engage with the Indigenous categories that are actually active on the ground. 

There is an Inuktitut word, “sila.” In an Anglophone lexicon, “sila” will be translated as “weather.” But in fact, it’s much more complicated. In the circumpolar North, climate change is a concept that collects a lot of stuff that the Southern scientist won’t understand. So the Southern scientist who wants to collaborate on climate change finds it almost impossible to build a contact zone. 

Anyway, there are plenty of other ways of thinking about shared contemporary problems. But they require building contact zones between cognitive apparatuses, out of which neither will leave the same as they were before. These are the kinds of encounters that need to be happening more.

A final question. Have you been following the revival of socialism, and socialist feminism, over the past few years? 


What do you make of it? I mean, socialist feminism is becoming so mainstream that even Harper’s Bazaar is running essays on “emotional labor.”

I’m really pleased! The old lady is happy. I like the resurgence of socialism. For all the horror of Trump, it has released us. A whole lot of things are now being seriously considered, including mass nonviolent social resistance. So I am not in a state of cynicism or despair.

An excerpted version of this interview originally appeared in The Guardian.


Corporate “Sorcerers” Reveal the Magical Power of Capitalism (Sapiens)

Human Nature

A company’s appropriation of an Indigenous ritual highlights the power of businesses to destroy traditions, community ties, and ecosystems.

Sophie Chao / 22 Jan 2020

The destruction of forests contributes to widespread drought through atmospheric processes that can seem like sorcery.
The destruction of forests contributes to widespread drought through atmospheric processes that can seem like sorcery. Pixabay/Pexels

Sophie Chao is a postdoctoral research associate at the University of Sydney in Australia.

To Indigenous Marind communities living in West Papua, Indonesia, the year 2015 was abu-abu—“gray” and “uncertain.” Forests set ablaze to clear land for oil palm and pulpwood concessions filled the sky with a suffocating haze. Vegetation was bulldozed and waterways were diverted to irrigate the plantations, leaving the landscape brown and desiccated. Hundreds of dead fish floated on stagnant ponds while other riverine critters choked on pesticides, chemicals, and sludge.

The widespread destruction was exacerbated by an extreme El Niño, contributing to the longest drought in two decades. In the villages of the Merauke district, where I conducted 18 months of ethnographic fieldwork between 2013 and 2018, Marind people gathered every morning at dawn to recite incantations in the hope of summoning rain. None came.

In December 2015, representatives from an Indonesian oil palm company visited the village and offered to hold a rainmaking ritual. Most villagers assumed the proposal was a ruse. This corporation had repeatedly urged the villagers to cede their lands for an oil palm project, and the businesspeople were becoming increasingly desperate to start development or risk losing their permit.

Many community members said the ceremony would be co-opted and fake, and therefore doomed to fail. These businesspeople from Java were ignorant of Marind customs, myth, and ritual codes, so they would be incapable of manipulating the elements, organisms, and spirits whose collaboration is necessary for rituals to succeed.

Nevertheless, the company insisted on holding the ceremony—and, in doing so, may have permanently destroyed the community’s relationship with their rain-making tradition.

Only a handful of villagers attended the ritual, largely out of fear of reprisals from the company and the government if they did not comply. Those who did attend were struck by how closely it followed secret Marind traditions.

Corporate and state interests drive deforestation and monocrop oil palm development in Merauke, Indonesia—to the detriment of local Marind people’s well-being.
Corporate and state interests drive deforestation and monocrop oil palm development in Merauke, Indonesia—to the detriment of local Marind people’s well-being. Sophie Chao

The corporate hosts wore elaborate bird-of-paradise headdresses, handwoven sago-frond skirts, and ornaments fashioned from the feathers and bones of cassowaries and boars. They brought the necessary food offerings—betel nut, sugarcane stalks, sago, and bananas. Although their pronunciation was flawed, the officiants read handwritten Marind spells with great solemnity. The dances, chants, and sacrifice of a fattened male pig took place just as Marind etiquette required.

As the ceremony unfolded, Pius,* an elder renowned for his extensive knowledge of Marind myth and ritual, suddenly grabbed my shoulder. He pointed with astonishment at the horizon, where thick clusters of dark clouds were gathering. Thunder reverberated between the ritual drumbeats and the dancers’ chanting and stamping. At the apogee of the final rain dance, the clouds burst above the village, releasing a heavy downfall that lasted more than two weeks.

In the aftermath, the villagers offered several explanations for this unexpected outcome. Some suggested the company had checked the forecast and timed the event to coincide with predicted rainfall. Others suspected fellow villagers of divulging traditional spells to the company in exchange for money and alcohol. Some said it was coincidence or luck.

For the vast majority of my interlocutors, however, the success of the ritual confirmed widespread rumors that foreign corporations are actually powerful and lethal sorcerers. And given corporations’ abilities to transform natural environments and human societies across the world, it’s a perspective worth considering.

For Marind people—some of whom are seen here after performing a welcoming ceremony—rituals have historically played a central role in sustaining relations to their spirits and to the natural environment.
For Marind people—some of whom are seen here after performing a welcoming ceremony for newcomers to their village—rituals have historically played a central role in sustaining relations to their spirits and to the natural environment. Sophie Chao

According to Marind, sorcerers are people (mostly men) who collude with evil forces lurking in the forests in order to further their personal interests and material gains. Sorcerers tend to be highly individualistic power-seekers who use their supernatural abilities in clandestine ways to inflict suffering upon vulnerable people. These characterizations of sorcerers echo the beliefs of people across Melanesia.

As Viktor, a village elder, explained, foreign oil palm corporations wield this kind of diabolical power to wreak havoc on Indigenous peoples and their lands. They obliterate the forest, undermine Marind people’s ancestral relations to kindred forest organisms, and pursue a seemingly insatiable hunger for resources, profit, and power.

Marcelina, a Marind mother of three, said companies are always greedy for more land, just like sorcerers are said to be perpetually hungry for the flesh and blood of their victims. Geronimo, a young Marind man, spoke of corporations draining the flesh and fluids of Marind and their plant and animal kin by transforming diverse forests into homogeneous plantations and diverting waterways for irrigation.

Like sorcerers who lure their victims by appearing as normal humans, corporations are also profoundly deceptive, according to many Marind community members with whom I have worked over the last seven years. They entice villagers with promises of jobs, money, and better futures that rarely materialize. They cause clans previously bound by shared pasts and kinship to fight over compensation and land rights.

Corporate sorcerers, Elder Petrarchus explained, are also magical in the way they replicate themselves and exist in several places at once. Their plantations proliferate across space under dozens of different names and logos. Their powers are spread over the many levels and individuals who make up corporate entities.

Just as sorcerers operate in mysterious ways and cannot be easily identified, corporations govern their concessions from a distance—Jayapura, Jakarta, Singapore. Their authority is everywhere, even as their agents remain elusive.

There is something magical about the power of multinational corporations and their tentacle-like supply chains.

Since corporate sorcery originates from foreign places, its techniques, instruments, and remedies are unknown to Marind. As Serafina, a mother of four from Merauke, put it: “Sorcery is like oil palm. We do not know where it comes from or how to stop it from spreading. In both cases, we cannot escape the destruction and suffering.”

From the perspective of Marind community members, corporate sorcerers’ supernatural powers are heightened by their association with other threats. Corporate interests are protected by the Indonesian military, whose deadly operations are often described as sorcery by Papuan peoples. These businesses also attract a growing influx of non-Papuan migrants, who are said by Marind to harness new and foreign spells, rituals, concoctions, and objects in order to appropriate land, obtain jobs, and enrich themselves at the expense of local Papuan communities.

Modern capitalism’s utilitarian focus on profit may seem far removed from sorcery. Capitalism, as sociologist Max Weber argued, is driven by an extractive ethos that strips the world of its supernatural dimensions.

Yet there is something uncannily magical about the power of multinational corporations and their tentacle-like supply chains. Some mega-companies are so widespread they seem to have achieved omnipresence. Their success stories are infused with mythology and spirituality. Like a powerful, destructive sorcerer, capitalism is arguably the primary force behind ecological degradation and climate change.

Thus, Marind villagers’ characterization of corporations as sorcerers invites people to take seriously the idea that modern capitalism is a kind of magic. It is a powerful force that can sow conflict between communities, profoundly alter landscapes, and even conjure rain, hurricanes, and drought through global warming.

Many commentators see the fingerprint of modern capitalism in extreme weather events—such as these three typhoons circling over the Western Pacific Ocean—which are advanced by anthropogenic climate change.
Climate change experts and Marind villagers alike see the fingerprint of modern capitalism in extreme weather events—such as these three typhoons circling over the Western Pacific Ocean—which are advanced by anthropogenic climate change. NASA/Jeff Schmaltz/Flickr

Of greatest concern to many of my companions is the fact that corporations’ “supernatural powers” seem far greater than those of Marind sorcerers. When the corporate rain-making ceremony appeared to succeed, it sent a message to the villagers that their own failed rituals were impotent. Moreover, it emphasized the community’s powerlessness in the face of broader issues—their loss of land, resources, and autonomy.

The Indonesian government denies West Papuans their right to political and cultural self-determination. Politicians promote agribusiness projects that are routinely implemented without the free, prior, and informed consent of Indigenous landowners, in violation of several international human rights laws that Indonesia has either signed or ratified. And these ventures contribute to the growing marginalization of Indigenous Papuans in some regions of the province where settlers now represent more than 60 percent of the population.

Several weeks after the co-opted ritual, the Khalaoyam community decided they would no longer perform or participate in rainmaking ceremonies. “Rather than let the companies manipulate our Indigenous rituals, it’s better that we stop practicing them altogether,” explained Pius.

The costs of abandoning the rainmaking ritual have been high. Social relations across clans that were once sustained through this collective ceremony have weakened. Many Marind told me that elders were no longer teaching rainmaking—or other ritual spells and dances—to the youth. This knowledge is therefore likely to be lost within the next generation.

Most worryingly, the success of the corporate ritual did play a part in convincing some community members to surrender their lands. When I last visited in June 2019, I found widespread disagreement among villagers over whether they should abolish other Marind rituals that corporations might manipulate.

The co-optation was not an isolated incident. In several Papuan villages, corporations have held co-opted pig sacrifice ceremonies and ritual healings, expecting villagers to reciprocate by ceding their lands.

Many Marind community members, including these two elders, believe it is better to abandon rituals than to let them be manipulated by corporations.
Many Marind community members, including these two elders, believe it is better to abandon rituals than to let them be manipulated by corporations. Sophie Chao

Rituals, as anthropologists have demonstrated, can play a critical role in affirming and sustaining the social order and in providing psychosocial relief to their participants. But rituals that succeed in the “wrong hands” can be deeply problematic.

Corporations’ exploitative use of spiritual traditions represents the rise of a new order ever more deeply shaped by greed and opportunism. This order is far from just economic in its form and impact. Rather, the destructive effects of capitalist “sorcery” ripple across multiple realms—the human, the elemental, the natural, and perhaps even the supernatural.

* All names except the author’s have been changed to protect people’s privacy.

Chuva auxilia no combate ao fogo na Austrália (Isto É) – Fundação Cacique Cobra Coral

A Semana

Antonio Carlos Prado e Guilherme Sette

24/01/20 – 09h30

Brook Mitchell/Getty Images

A Fundação Cacique Cobra Coral foi contratada por um grupo de empresários australianos para auxiliar, por meio de intercessão espiritual e científica, no combate aos resistentes incêndios que estão afetando o país desde a virada do ano – sobretudo nas regiões de florestas e rurais, já tendo causado a morte de aproximadamente um bilhão de animais. O porta-voz da Fundação Cacique Cobra Coral, Osmar Santos, afirma que a instituição tem o poder de atuar, a partir de conhecimentos esotéricos e da ciência, na atração ou afastamento das chuvas. Essa não é a primeira relação entre a entidade e a Austrália, visto que desde 2011 ela faz previsões alertando sobre o potencial catastrófico dos incêndios. Na segunda-feira 20, fortes chuvas caíram na Austrália, abrandando sensivelmente as áreas mais prejudicadas.

Human impact on nature 'dates back millions of years' (BBC)

Early human ancestors could have stolen food from other animals. Mauricio Antón

By Helen Briggs BBC News

20 January 2020

The impact of humans on nature has been far greater and longer-lasting than we could ever imagine, according to scientists.

Early human ancestors living millions of years ago may have triggered extinctions, even before our species evolved, a study suggests.

A decline in large mammals seen in Eastern Africa may have been due to early humans, researchers propose.

Extinction rates started to increase from around four million years ago.

This coincides with the period when ancient human populations were living in the area, as judged by fossil evidence.

“We are now negatively impacting the world and the species that live in it more than ever before. But this does not mean that we used to live in true harmony with nature in the past,” said study researcher, Dr Søren Faurby of the University of Gothenburg.

“We are extremely successful in monopolising resources today, and our results show that this may have also been the case with our ancestors.”

Getty Images. A lion feasts on the carcass of a rhinoceros in Kenya

The researchers looked at extinction rates of large and small carnivores and how this correlated with environmental changes such as rainfall and temperature.

They also looked at changes in the brain size of human ancestors such as Australopithecus and Ardipithecus.

They found that extinction rates in large carnivores correlated with increased brain size of human ancestors and with vegetation changes, but not with precipitation or temperature changes.

They found the best explanation for carnivore extinction in East Africa was that these animals were in direct competition for food with our ancestors.

They think human ancestors may have stolen freshly-killed prey from the likes of sabre-toothed cats, depriving them of food.

“Our results suggest that substantial anthropogenic influence on biodiversity started millions of years earlier than currently assumed,” the researchers reported in the journal Ecology Letters.

Co-researcher Alexandre Antonelli of the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, said the view that our ancestors had little impact on the animals around them is incorrect, as “the impact of our lineage on nature has been far greater and longer-lasting than we ever could ever imagine”.

A landmark report last year warned that as many as one million species of animals and plants are threatened with extinction in the coming decades.

A more recent study found that the growth of cities, the clearing of forests for farming and the soaring demand for fish had significantly altered nearly three-quarters of the land and more than two-thirds of the oceans.

An ancient aquatic system older than the pyramids has been revealed by the Australian bushfires (CNN)

By Eric Cheung, CNN

Updated 0638 GMT (1438 HKT) January 21, 2020 The Budj Bim aquatic system, located in southeastern Australia, was built over 6,000 years ago - older than Egypt's pyramids.The Budj Bim aquatic system, located in southeastern Australia, was built over 6,000 years ago – older than Egypt’s pyramids.

(CNN)Extensive water channels built by indigenous Australians thousands of years ago to trap and harvest eels for food have been revealed after wildfires burned away thick vegetation in the state of Victoria.

The Budj Bim Cultural Landscape, consisting of channels, weirs and dams built from volcanic rocks, is one of the world’s most extensive and oldest aquaculture systems, according to UNESCO. Constructed by the Gunditjmara people more than 6,600 years ago, it is older than Egypt’s pyramids.

While the aquatic system was known to archaeologists — it was added to UNESCO’s World Heritage List last July — additional sections were revealed by the fires that have ripped through the state in December.

Gunditjmara representative Denis Rose, project manager at non-profit group Gunditj Mirring Traditional Owners Aboriginal Corporation, told CNN that the system was significantly bigger than what was previously recorded.

“When we returned to the area, we found a channel hidden in the grass and other vegetation. It was about 25 meters (82 feet) in length, which was a fairly substantial size,” Rose said.

He said other new structures resembling channels and ponds were now visible in the burnt landscape. “It was a surprise continually finding new ones that the fires revealed,” he added.

According to the Aboriginal Corporation’s website, the aquaculture system — which is part of the Budj Bim National Park — it was built by the indigenous population using the abundant volcanic rocks from a now-dormant volcano in the area.

UNESCO said Gunditjmara people used the system to redirect and modify waterways to maximize aquaculture yield.”

The Budj Bim Cultural Landscape bears an exceptional testimony to the cultural traditions, knowledge, practices and ingenuity of the Gunditjmara,” it said.

The fire near the national park was caused by a lightning strike in late December, which eventually spread to some 790 hectares (3 square miles) in size, said Mark Mellington, district manager for Forest Fire Management Victoria.

In order to protect the world heritage, firefighters worked with local groups to identify culturally important sites, and used “low impact techniques” to replace heavy machinery when putting out the fires, he said.”

These actions prevented the fire spreading beyond containment lines even on an extreme fire day and protected the cultural sites from damage,” he added.

The Gunditjmara was one of several groups of indigenous people that used to reside in the southern parts of the present-day Victoria state before the European settlement, according to the Victorian government. Its population was believed to be in the thousands before the 1800s, but dwindled significantly after the Europeans arrived.

Rose said that he was relieved that the fires did not cause too much damage to the region compared to other parts of Australia, and hoped it would provide a good opportunity to further explore the ancient aquaculture system.”

Over the next few weeks, we are hoping to conduct a comprehensive cultural heritage survey to check areas that were not previously recorded,” he said. “It’s important because it provided a rich, sustainable life for the traditional people, and has continued to be an important part of our cultural life.”

Savages, savages, barely even human (Idiot Joy Showland Blog)

Original article

by Sam Kriss

It is worth noting that tribal peoples tend to feel that it is they who depict and we who symbolise.
Thomas McEvilley, Doctor, Lawyer, Indian Chief


What does capitalism actually look like?

There’s a standard leftist answer to this question, from the great repertoire of standard leftist answers: we can’t know. Capitalism has us by the throat and wraps itself around our brain stem; we were interpellated as capitalist subjects before we were born, and from within the structure there’s no way to perceive it as a totality. The only way to proceed is dialectically and immanently, working through the internal contradictions until we end up somewhere else. But not everyone has always lived under capitalism; not everyone lives under capitalism today. History is full of these moments of encounter, when industrial modernity collided with something else. And they still take place. In 2007, Channel 4 engineered one of these encounters: in a TV show called Meet the Natives, a group of Melanasian villagers from the island of Tanna in Vanatu were brought to the UK, to see what they made of this haphazard world we’ve built. (It’s almost impossible to imagine anyone trying the same stunt now, just twelve years on. The whole thing is just somehow inappropriate: not racist or colonial, exactly, but potentially condescending, othering, problematic.) Reactions were mixed.

They liked ready meals, real ale, and the witchy animistic landscapes of the Hebrides. They were upset by street homelessness, confused by drag queens in Manchester’s Gay Quarter, and wryly amused by attempts at equal division in household labour. They understood that they were in a society of exchange-values and economic relations, rather than use-values and sociality. ‘There is something back-to-front in English culture. English people care a lot about their pets, but they don’t care about people’s lives.’ But there was only one thing about our society that actually appalled them, that felt viscerally wrong. On a Norfolk pig farm, they watched sows being artificially inseminated with a plastic syringe. This shocked them. They told their hosts to stop doing it, that it would have profound negative consequences. ‘I am not happy to see the artificial insemination. Animals and human beings are the same thing. This activity should be done in private.’

I was reminded of this episode quite recently, when reading, in an ‘indigenous critique of the Green New Deal‘ published in the Pacific Standard, that ‘colonists were warned by word and weapon that a system of individual land ownership would lead to ecological apocalypse, and here we are. What more could you ask from a system of truth and analysis than to alert you to a phenomenon like climate change before it occurs, with enough time to prevent it? That is significantly more than colonial science has offered.’

It’s not that the substance of this claim is entirely untrue (although it should be noted that many indigenous nations did have systems of private land ownership; land wasn’t denatured, fungible, and commodified, as it is in today’s capitalism, but then the same holds for European aristocracies, or the Nazis for that matter). Non-capitalist societies have persistently recognised that there’s an incredible potential for disaster in industrial modernity. Deleuze and Guattari develop an interesting idea here: capitalism isn’t really foreign to primitive society; it’s the nightmare they have of the world, the possibility of decoding and deterritorialisation that lurks somewhere in the dark thickets around the village. ‘Capitalism has haunted all forms of society, it is the dread they feel of a flow that would elude their codes.’ Accordingly, the development of capitalism in early modern Europe wasn’t an achievement, but a failure to put up effective defences against this kind of social collapse. You can see something similar in the response of the Tanna islanders to artificial insemination. What’s so horrifying about it? Plausibly, it’s that it denies social and bodily relations between animals, and social and bodily relations between animals and people. The animal is no longer a living thing among living things (even if it’s one that, as the islanders tell a rabbit hunter, was ‘made to be killed’), but an abstract and deployable quantity. It’s the recasting of the mysteries of fecund nature as a procedure. It’s the introduction of what Szerszynski calls the ‘vertical axis,’ the transcendence from reality in which the world itself ‘comes to be seen as profane.’ It’s the breakdown of the fragile ties that hold back the instrumental potential of the world. When people are living like this, how could it result in anything other than disaster?

This seems to be the general shape of impressions of peoples living under capitalism by those who do not. These strangers are immensely powerful; they are gods or culture heroes, outside of the world. (The people of Tanna revere Prince Philip as a divinity.) At the same time, they’re often weak, palsied, wretched, and helpless; they are outside of the world, and lost. In 1641, a French missionary recorded the response of an Algonquian chief to incoming modernity. One the one hand, he describes Europeans as prisoners, trapped in immobile houses that they don’t even own themselves, fixed in place by rent and labour. ‘We can always say, more truly than thou, that we are at home everywhere, because we set up our wigwams with ease wheresoever we go, and without asking permission of anybody […] We believe that you are incomparably poorer than we, and that you are only simple journeymen, valets, servants, and slaves.’ At the same time, the French are untethered, deracinated, endlessly mobile. The Algonquians territorialise; everywhere they go becomes a home. The Europeans are not even at home in their static houses. They have fallen off the world. ‘Why abandon wives, children, relatives, and friends? Why risk thy life and thy property every year, and why venture thyself with such risk, in any season whatsoever, to the storms and tempests of the sea?’ And this constant circulation is a profound danger. ‘Before the arrival of the French in these parts, did not the Gaspesians live much longer than now?’

There’s something genuinely fascinating in these encounters. Whenever members of non-capitalist societies encounter modernity, they see something essential in what’s facing them. (For instance, Michael Taussig has explored how folk beliefs about the Devil in Colombia encode sophisticated understandings of the value-form.) But it seems to me to be deeply condescending to claim that this constitutes an explicit warning about climate change, that the methods of ‘indigenous knowledge systems’ are the same as the physical sciences, and to complain that ‘Western science has a lot of nerve showing up just as we’re on the precipice of a biospheric death spiral to brandish some graphs.’ The argument that the transcendent vertical axis estranges human beings from the cycles of biological life, with potentially dangerous results, is simply not the same as the argument that increased quantities of atmospheric carbon dioxide will give rise to a greenhouse effect. It’s not that there’s nothing to learn from indigenous histories, quite the opposite. (I’ve written elsewhere on how the Aztecs – definitely not the romanticised vision of an indigenous society, but indigenous nonetheless – prefigured our contemporary notion of the Anthropocene.) But the claims in this essay set a predictive standard which ‘indigenous knowledge systems’ will inevitably fail; it refuses to acknowledge their actual insight and utility, and instead deploys them in a grudge match against contemporary political enemies.

Most fundamentally, the essay doesn’t consider this encounter as an encounter between modes of production, but an encounter between races. In the red corner, white people: brutally colonising the earth, wiping out all biological life, talking over BIPOC in seminars, etc, etc. In the blue corner, indigenous folk, who live in balance with the cycles of life, who feel the suffering of the earth because they are part of it, who intuitively understand climate atmospheric sciences because they’re plugged in to the Na’vi terrestrial hivemind, who are on the side of blind nature, rather than culture. This is not a new characterisation. The Algonquian chief complains that the French believe he and his people are ‘like the beasts in our woods and our forests;’ the Pacific Standard seems to agree.

This shouldn’t need to be said, but indigenous peoples are human, and their societies are as artificial and potentially destructive as any other. Being human means – Marx saw this very clearly – an essential disjuncture with essence and a natural discontinuity with nature. Ancient Amerindian beekeeping techniques are as foundationally artificial as McDonald’s or nuclear weapons. When humans first settled the Americas, they wiped out nearly a hundred genera of megafauna; the essay is entirely correct that ‘indigenous peoples have witnessed continual ecosystem and species collapse.’ Indigenous beliefs about the interconnectedness of life and social relations between humans and nonhumans are the mode of expression of their social forms in agrarian or nomadic communities. (Although some American societies were highly urbanised, with monumental earthworks, stratified class societies, and systemic religious practices. All of this is, of course, flattened under the steamroller of pacific indigeneity.) They are not transcendently true. They can not simply be transplanted onto industrial capitalism to mitigate its devastations.

The ‘indigenous critique’ suggests that, rather than some form of class-based mass programme to restructure our own mode of production, the solution to climate catastrophe is to ‘start giving back the land.’ (Here it’s following a fairly widespread form of reactionary identitarian discourse on indigineity.) Give it back to whom? To the present-day indigenous peoples of North America, who for the most part have cars and jobs and Social Security numbers, who have academic posts and social media, who do not confront capitalism from beyond a foundational ontological divide, but are as helplessly within it as any of the rest of us? (And meanwhile, what about Europe or China? Where are our magic noble savages?) Is ancestry or identity an expertise? Is living in a non-capitalist society now a hereditary condition?

Some indigenous beliefs about the interconnectedness of life and so on persist, long after the modes of production that gave rise to them have vanished. As we all know, the tradition of all dead generations weighs like a nightmare on the brains of the living. But they’re also an artefact of modernity, which ceaselessly produces notions of wholesome authentic mystical nature in tandem with its production of consumer goods, ecological collapse, and death. Unless this relation is established, beliefs are all we get. ‘Real solutions require a rethinking of our global relationship to the land, water, and to each other.’ Think differently, see things differently, make all the right saintly gestures, defer to the most marginalised, and change nothing.

This racialisation is particularly obscene when you consider who else has made dire warnings about the environmental effects of private ownership in land. The encounter between capitalist and non-capitalist society didn’t only take place spatially, in the colonial world, but temporally, during the transition from feudalism. And the same critiques made by the Ni-Vanatu, and the Algonquians, and many more besides, were also expressed by insurrectionaries within Europe. Take just one instance: The Crying Sin of England, of not Caring for the Poor, the preacher John Moore’s 1653 polemic against primitive accumulation and the enclosure of common land: this would, he promised, lead to catastrophe, the impoverishment of the earth, the fury of God, the dissolution of the social ties that keep us human, the loss of sense and reason, the decoding of all codes. The ruling classes, ‘by their inclosure, would have no poore to live with them, nor by them, but delight to converse with Beasts; and to this purpose turn Corne in Grasse, and men into Beasts.’ He, too, saw things as they were. And he was right. Here we are, in a world in which the ruling classes have disarticulated themselves from society in general, in which cornfields are swallowed up by the desert, in which people pretend to be like animals in order to be taken seriously. The solution is obvious. Find the descendants of John Moore, and give back Norfolk.

The Aztecs foresaw the end of the world (The Outline)

Original article

But then it didn’t happen.

Sam Kriss May—08—2017 03:12PM EST

The world was supposed to have ended in 2012, as foretold by a Mayan prophecy that, in the end, only prophesied that the Mayans would need to buy a new calendar. As the prediction went, our solar system would align with the black hole at the center of the galaxy. The magnetic poles would sweep and switch and falter, leaving the atmosphere to be stripped away by a devastating solar wind; the enigmatic shadow planet Nibiru would collide into ours and turn solid ground into a spray of magma drifting through space.

It didn’t happen. But the prophecies will come back, before long. Isn’t every generation convinced it’ll be the last? People seem to enjoy imagining that they’ll live to see the curtains close on history, but it’s more than just enjoyment; a sense of finality seems to be built into our experience of the whole strange, senseless show that surrounds us. Either you die in the world, another speck to be mourned and then forgotten, or the world dies around you. Unknown planets or rising sea levels, whatever helps you imagine an ending.

Before the Mayan apocalypse, it was the year 2000 that was supposed to kill us all. Aside from the Y2K computer bug that failed to destroy all our soaring dial-up technology, mass-media preachers like Ed Dobson, Jerry Falwell, and Left Behind authors Tim LaHaye and Jerry B. Jenkins confidently expected the final judgement of God to arrive in time for the new year’s celebrations. In turn they were drawing on a legacy of bimillennial fascination that includes medieval Catholic theologians, Marian apparitions, invented Nostradamuses, the Kabbalistic calculations of Isaac Newton, and cultists scattered across the centuries.

Jehovah’s Witnesses have separately predicted that the world would end in 1914, 1915, 1918, 1920, 1925, 1941, 1975, 1994, and 1997. Various preachers in Britain and America spent most of the 19th century convincing their small bands of followers that the world was shortly to cease existence, extrapolating their figures from the dimensions of Noah’s Ark or the tent of the Tabernacle, watching the skies for comets, waiting for the ocean to boil, reading the newspapers to see when the Antichrist would reveal himself. And it never happened, not even once.

Quetzalcoatl, the feathered serpent and the god of wind and learning.

Quetzalcoatl, the feathered serpent and the god of wind and learning. Werner Forman / Universal Images Group / Getty Images

But aren’t the oceans boiling? As the air fills with carbon dioxide, the seas are turning to acid mire, a soup of plastic particles and dead coral, where the fish are all dying and only the tentacled things survive. Revelation, chapter eight: “A great mountain burning with fire was cast into the sea: and the third part of the sea became blood; and the third part of the creatures which were in the sea, and had life, died.” Doesn’t Donald Trump, a leering Antichrist in bronzer and self-regard, glower from the front page of every paper? And as warships surround a North Korea bristling with missiles, could the sky not soon be full of dazzling, falling stars, and then empty forever? Isn’t the end of the world really, actually, genuinely nigh? Aren’t we watching it happen, broadcast from our TV screens, right now?

For its critics, this sense of a looming end is an expression of the same spirit that made all those bloated celebrity prophets predict the Second Coming around the year 2000. Panicked jeremiads about climate change are just another form of religious nonsense — so, for some, is Marxism, with its deterministic charts of universal history. The philosopher Tom Whyman, for instance, wrote earlier this year that “we’ve successfully secularized the End Times.” It’s all a kind of wishful thinking, he argues; everyone wants to think that the end of the world is imminent, because it means that all the messy contingencies of life will finally become settled, and this desire is given form and propulsion by a still-dominant Judeo-Christian-Islamic conception of linear time. Once we expected to hear trumpets and angels; now it’s just the wandering honk of a puffed-up president announcing to the world that he’s pushing the button. But it’s the same thing.

Isn’t the end of the world really, actually, genuinely nigh? Whyman considers the end of everything to be a kind of universal blankness, an abstract negation, a “Great Nothing” that blankets all existence without distinction. I disagree. When people imagine that the world is about to end, it’s their particular world that’s doomed, and the nature of that end will always in some way reflect what’s being destroyed. People who live in the desert would not live in fear of a global flood. And the End Times aren’t a unique product of Christianity; some kind of eschatology is present nearly everywhere. Nearly. The pre-Islamic Turkic peoples of Central Asia, for instance, don’t seem to have had any myths about the destruction of the world, and why would they? They lived on an open steppe far from the ocean, where everything is flat and endless. Why would it ever end? Societies that believe in the Apocalypse tend to be those in which the seeds of the apocalypse that’s really happening are already planted. Cultures that have big cities, forms of writing, a discourse of history, and centralized power. Cultures like the old eastern Mediterranean that gave us the Biblical prophets and the Book of Revelation. Or cultures like the Aztecs.

Chalchiuhtlicue symbolized the purity and preciousness of spring, river, and lake water that was used to irrigate the fields.

Chalchiuhtlicue symbolized the purity and preciousness of spring, river, and lake water that was used to irrigate the fields. The Metropolitan Museum of Art

The Aztec apocalypse is nothing like the Christian one. It comes out of an unimaginably different history and society to the world of Greece and Rome. But it’s a lot like ours. The collision with Nibiru or devastating magnetic pole shift might have a distinctly monotheistic tang, but it’s possible that the Aztecs might see in our worries over anthropogenic climate change, economic collapse, and senseless nuclear war something strangely familiar. Instead of considering apocalypses through their literary and conceptual lineages, we could think about them instead in terms of what kind of society gave birth to them. How much do modern Westerners really have in common with prophets of the Old and New Testaments like Ezekiel or John of Patmos? Might we be more like Itzcoatl or Huitzilihuitl, even if we’re less likely to know who they are?Our capitalist modernity isn’t a Mediterranean modernity, but a Mesoamerican one. The Aztecs, those strange and heartless people with their stepped pyramids and their vast urban civilization that never came out of the Stone Age or invented the wheel, are our contemporaries.

Original Aztec sources are patchy — most of their beautiful codices were destroyed during the Spanish conquests in the early 16th century — and tend to contradict each other, but what makes the Aztec apocalypse so different to that of any other mythology, and so similar to the one we face now, is that they believed it had already happened.

This world is not the first. There were four that came before it and were destroyed in turn, all in the usual fashion — usual, that is, for end-of-the-world stories. Each was made by and contested over by the two gods, Tezcatlipoca and Quetzalcoatl, as a series of staging-grounds for their constant battles, two cosmic children bickering over a toy. In the first, Tezcatlipoca turned himself into the sun, and a jealous Quetzalcoatl knocked him out of the sky with his club; in revenge, Tezcatlipoca set jaguars loose to wipe out all its people. Together the gods built a new race of humans, but they stopped worshipping their creators, so Tezcatlipoca turned them all into monkeys, and Quetzalcoatl, who had loved them for all their sins, destroyed them in a fit of spite with a hurricane. Tezcatlipoca connived the gods Tlaloc and Chalchiuhtlicue into destroying the next two with fire and with floods. The fifth one, ours, will be destroyed by earthquakes. But in every other respect it’s entirely different from the ones that came before.

Urn depicting Tlaloc, the rain god.

Urn depicting Tlaloc, the rain god. DEA / G. Dagli Orti / Getty Images

After the creation and destruction of four worlds, the universe had exhausted itself. We live in the shadow of those real words; their echo, their chalk outline. In each of the four previous worlds, humanity was newly created by the gods. Present-day humans were not: we are the living dead. After the destruction of the fourth world, it lay in darkness for fifty years, until Quetzalcoatl journeyed into Mictlan, the Aztec hell, and reanimated the bones of the dead. In the four previous worlds, the sun was a living god. In ours, it’s a dead one. To build a new sun for this worn-out earth required a blood sacrifice: The gods gathered in the eternal darkness and built a fire, and their weakest deity, Nanahuatzin, a crippled god covered in sores, leapt into the center of the flames, and the sun was born.

But it was a weak sun, and it wouldn’t move. All the other gods, one after another, immolated themselves in the fire to bring the dawn, but it’s still not enough. The sun needs more sacrifices; it needs ours. This is why the Aztec priests slaughtered people by the hundreds, cutting out their hearts and throwing their corpses down the temple steps. This blood and murder was the only thing that kept the sun rising each morning; if they stopped even for a day, it would go black and wither to nothing in the sky, and without its light the earth would harden and crack and fall apart. And some day, this will happen: it’s earthquakes that will destroy us all, and when it crumbles there will be nothing left.

The fourth world was the last; we’re living in something else. A half-world, a mockery, a reality sustained only through death and suffering. The first four worlds were created by the gods and destroyed according to their wills or because of their squabbles, just like the four Yugas of Hinduism, or the creation of the Abrahamic God, whose Judgement Day will come whenever He sees fit. Our world is being kept alive only through human activity; it’s a world into which we have been abandoned. The Aztecs were stone-age existentialists, trembling before their misbegotten freedom. This is a theology for the anthropocene — our present era, in which biological and geological processes are subordinated to human activity, in which the earth that preceded us for four billion years is finally, devastatingly in our hands, to choke with toxic emissions or sear with nuclear bombs. But modern society isn’t treading new ground here: the Aztecs came first, five hundred years ago. And their response was to kill.

Most everyone knows about the Aztec sun-sacrifices, the mass daily executions carried out by the priests, but ritual human slaughter was everywhere in their society. Sometimes children were drowned, sometimes women were killed as they danced, sometimes people were burned alive, or shot with arrows, or flayed, or eaten. Hundreds of thousands of people died every year. At the same time, these were the same people whose emperors were all poets, whose young people went out dancing every night, and whose cities were vast gardens filled with flowers, butterflies, and hummingbirds. This might be the reason Aztec human sacrifice is still so horrifying — we’re much more likely to forgive mass killings if we can say for certain why they happened. The Romans killed thousands in their circuses, and in the 21st century we still watch death — real or feigned — for entertainment; it’s extreme but not so different. When the Spanish came to Mexico, they were horrified by the skulls piled up by the temples — but then they killed everyone, and we understand wars of profit and extermination too. But like any mirror, the Aztecs seem to show us everything backwards.

The Aztecs were stone-age existentialists, trembling before their misbegotten freedom.

Still, you can feel traces today. In the neoliberal economic doctrine that’s still dominant across most of the world, something strangely similar is happening. All the welfare institutions that ameliorate capitalism’s tendencies to extreme wealth and extreme poverty have to be destroyed, for the good of the economy. People die from this — in Britain, up to 30,000 people may have died in one year as a result of cuts to health and social care, and that’s in a prosperous Western country. In the United States, a faltering band-aid mechanism like Obamacare has to be wrenched off, with the excuse that it’s being replaced with market pricings, which are natural and proper and, in their own way, fair. But it’s all for nothing. The economics behind neoliberalism are nonsense, but the prophets — these days, drab old thinkers like Friedrich Hayek or Milton Friedman — have warned us that unless they’re followed, we’ll open up the road to serfdom. Ask a liberal economist why millions have to suffer, forced to live in drudgery under late capitalism’s dimming sun, and something horrifying will happen. A weak, indulgent, condescending smile will leak across their face, and they’ll say: that’s just how the market works. An echo of the Aztec priest, dagger held high, kindly telling his victim that his heart has to be pulled out from his chest, because that’s just how the sun works.

But neoliberalism really does work, it just doesn’t do what it’s supposed to. It might not be any good for the population at large, but it has facilitated a massive upward redistribution of wealth; the poor are scrubbed clean of everything, and the rich drink it up. Class power creates both the excess of cruelty and the mythic ideology to justify it. Marxist writers like Eric Wolf have tried to find something similar operating among the Aztecs: Human sacrifice cemented the rule of the aristocratic elites — they were believed to literally gain their powers through eating the sacrificial victims — while keeping the underclasses in line and the conquered peoples in terror. But all contemporaneous societies were class-based and repressive; it doesn’t begin to explain the prescient nihilism of their theology. Something else might.

The Aztecs built an extraordinarily sophisticated state. Their capital, Tenochtitlan, whose ruins still poke haphazardly through Mexico City, might have been the largest city outside China when Europeans first made contact; it was bigger than Paris and Naples combined, and five times bigger than London. Stretching across the Mexican highlands, their empire had, in 150 years, conquered or achieved political dominance over very nearly their entire known world, bounded by impassable mountains to the west and stifling jungle to the east. Without any major enemies left to fight, they found new ways of securing captives for sacrifice: the “flower wars” were a permanent, ritual war against neighboring city-states, in which the armies would meet at an agreed place and fight to capture as many enemy soldiers as possible.

The Roman Empire could never defeat their eternal enemy in Persia, and the dynastic Egyptians were periodically overwhelmed by Semitic tribes to the north, but until the day the Spanish arrived the Aztec monarchs were presumptive kings of absolutely everything under the sun. The only really comparable situation is the one we live under now — the unlimited empire of liberal capitalism, a scurrying hive of private interests held together under an American military power without horizon. We have our own flower wars. The United States and Russia are fighting each other in Syria — never directly, but through their proxies, so that only Syrians suffer, just as they did in Afghanistan, and Latin America, and Vietnam, and Korea. Wars, like Reagan’s attack on Granada or Trump’s on a Syrian airbase, are fought for public consumption. There is a pathology of the end of the world: dominance, ritualization, reification, and massacre.

Tezcatlipoca, the supreme god, and the enemy of Quetzalcoatl.

Tezcatlipoca, the supreme god, and the enemy of Quetzalcoatl. Werner Forman / Universal Images Group / Getty Images

The Aztecs were not capitalists, but their economy has some spooky correspondences with ours. While they had a centralized state, there was also an emerging free market in sacrifices, and a significant degree of social mobility: every Aztec subject was trained for war, and you could rise through society by bringing in captives for slaughter. The Oxford historian Alan Knight describes it as “a gigantic ‘potlatch state,’ a state predicated on the collection, redistribution and conspicuous consumption of a vast quantity of diverse goods. Sacrifice represented a hypertrophied form of potlatch, with humans playing the part elsewhere reserved for pigs.” The potlatch is a custom practiced by indigenous peoples further up in the Pacific Northwest, in which indigenous Americans ceremonially exchange and then spectacularly destroyed vast quantities of goods — blankets, canoes, skins, but most of all food — in a show of wealth and plenitude. In the sophisticated class society of the Aztecs, the grand triumphant waste was in human lives.

We are, after all, assembled from the bones of four dead universes. We were dead to begin with. Perched on the end of history, the Aztecs beheld a dead reality in which life becomes lifeless, to be circulated and exchanged. Four-and-a-half centuries later, Marx saw the same processes in capitalism. He describes it in Wage Labor and Capital: “The putting of labour-power into action — i.e., work — is the active expression of the labourer’s own life. And this life activity he sells to another person […] He does not count the labour itself as a part of his life; it is rather a sacrifice of his life.” (Emphasis mine.) Workers are cut off from their own labour and from themselves by a production process in which they are not ends but means, part of a giant machinery that exists to satisfy the demands not of human life but of “dead labor,” capital. From his 1844 Manuscripts: “It estranges from man his own body, as well as external nature and his spiritual aspect, his human aspect.” His labour-power becomes a commodity; something to be bought and sold in quantifiable amounts, something inert. The worker under capitalism, like the captive walking up the temple steps, is consecrated to death.

We are, after all, assembled from the bones of four dead universes.

The Aztec world ended. When the Spanish came they found an empire of 25 million people; by the time they left only one million remained. Its people were killed with swords, guns, fire, famine, disease, and work. The beautiful garden-city of Tenochtitlan was torn down, a European fort built in its place. Sacrifices were no longer offered to the sun, and somehow it still kept rising every day. You can laugh at their credulity — they really thought the sun would stop rising, and look, everything’s still here! But the end of the Aztec world was dispersed throughout time, until it became isomorphic with the world itself.

Their disaster was not waiting for us in the future, a monumental bookend to history, like the Judgement Day of the people who destroyed them — they lived within it, in the ruins of a real world that died with the gods. This is the cosmology of the great German philosopher Walter Benjamin: to apprehend reality we should make “no reflections on the future of bourgeois society;” rather than a series of events leading towards an uncertain end, his Angel of History stands to face the past and sees only “one single catastrophe, which unceasingly piles rubble on top of rubble and hurls it before his feet.”

We exist in that rubble. The Aztec Empire conquered its world, strip-mined its future, and turned human populations into fungible objects. Contemporary society too has nowhere else to go: capital has saturated the earth, and outer space is a void. Our world, with the monstrous totality of its stability and order, is relentlessly producing its own destruction. In fantasies of black holes and the wrath of God; in the actuality of an atmosphere flooded with carbon dioxide and a biosphere denuded of all life. We missed the apocalypse while we were waiting for it to take place. Baudrillard writes: “Everything has already become nuclear, faraway, vaporized. The explosion has already occurred.” Capitalism built a corpse-world. Its sun keeps rising every morning, whatever we do, but it’s growing hotter in the sky; poisoning the seas, frizzling farmlands to desert, carrying out Tezcatlipoca’s last act of revenge.

Análise: Frustrante, COP termina sem acordo sobre mercado nem ambição contra aquecimento (Estadão)

Artigo original

Giovana Girardi, 15 de dezembro de 2019 | 17h55

7-9 minutes

MADRI – A expectativa sobre a Conferência do Clima da ONU deste ano (COP-25) não era lá muito grande. Mas o clamor que veio das ruas ao longo de 2019 –  impulsionado por dois novos relatórios científicos do Painel Intergovernamental sobre Mudanças Climáticas (IPCC) que reforçaram a necessidade urgente de ações para conter o aquecimento global em até 1,5ºC até o final do século – dava uma esperança de que algo melhor poderia ser alcançado.

A COP de Madri, porém, foi um fracasso praticamente sob qualquer aspecto que se olhe. E bateu uma sensação de apatia e de desânimo de que talvez não haja mais vontade política para conter o desastre.

Pôsteres no centro de convenções de Madri onde ocorreu a COP pedem ação imediata contra as mudanças climáticas. Crédito: Giovana Girardi / Estadão

O clima – na falta de palavra melhor – nos corredores da Feria de Madrid ao longo dos últimos 14 dias era completamente oposto ao que se viu há quatro anos em Paris, quando 195 países se mobilizaram de modo inédito para fechar o Acordo de Paris.

Na época, os maiores poluidores do planeta, Estados Unidos e China, estavam na mesma página. O Brasil atuava como um facilitador para minimizar conflitos históricos entre países desenvolvidos e em desenvolvimento. União Europeia tinha cacife para pedir mais ambição.

Em Paris todos toparam se esforçar para conter o aquecimento a planeta a bem menos do que 2ºC até 2100, e se possível deixá-lo em 1,5ºC – limite da tragédia principalmente para os países mais vulneráveis às mudanças sofridas pelo planeta.

Todo mundo ali sabia, no entanto, que as metas que cada nação estava voluntariamente oferecendo (as chamadas NDCs – contribuições nacionalmente determinadas) para ajudar o esforço global não seriam suficientes para isso. Elas ainda colocavam o mundo no rumo de aquecer 3ºC, o que pode ser trágico até mesmo para os países ricos e mais bem estruturados. Era preciso evoluir rapidamente. O Acordo de Paris, então, trouxe uma cláusula: de que em 2020 seria feita uma nova rodada para atualizar e melhorar as metas.

De lá pra cá, as condições pioraram. As emissões mundiais não estão caindo – chegaram a subir nos últimos dois anos –, e as concentrações de gases de efeito estufa na atmosfera estão cada vez maiores. De acordo com cálculos do Programa da ONU para o Meio Ambiente (Pnuma), as emissões precisariam cair 7,6% ao ano para colocar o planeta nos trilhos do 1,5ºC. Queimadas em tudo quanto é canto, ondas de calor e tufões são alguns dos eventos críticos que ocorreram neste ano  atribuídos ao aquecimento global que mostram que este é um problema atual, não para o futuro.

O apelo, desse modo, era pra ter sinalizações mais concretas desse aumento de ambição já em 2019, na COP que era para ser na América Latina. Que era do Brasil, foi pro Chile após desistência do presidente Jair Bolsonaro, e foi pra Espanha após as convulsões sociais entre os chilenos. Faltaram rédeas curtas para a presidência chilena, mas, acima de tudo, faltou o espírito de Paris nesta COP. Ela terminou com um mera reafirmação do Acordo de Paris, sem acrescentar quase nada.

Nações mais pobres ou menores, que pouco contribuíram para a quantidade de gases de efeito estufa que sufocam hoje a Terra, foram as mais ativas. Se comprometeram a aumentar suas metas de redução de emissões, mas, juntas, elas não respondem nem por 10% das emissões do planeta. A União Europeia também se comprometeu com neutralidade de carbono até 2050, mas pode ser tarde demais.

Os Estados Unidos, que chegaram a Madri após apresentarem oficialmente sua “carta de demissão” do Acordo de Paris, abandonaram qualquer bom senso, assim como a Austrália, apesar de o país ter literalmente pegado fogo neste ano, e, para surpresa dos demais negociadores, o Brasil. O País, com forte tradição ambiental e diplomática, que em geral atuava destravando as negociações, adotou uma postura bem pouco construtiva.

O ministro do Meio Ambiente, Ricardo Salles, que chefiou a delegação brasileira, esteve na conferência do primeiro ao último dia, e passou boa parte do tempo cobrando seus pares a pagarem o Brasil por feitos do passado. Por emissões que o País reduziu quando cortou o desmatamento, nos governos Lula e Dilma, e por créditos emitidos no regime anterior, o Protocolo de Kyoto, que nunca foram pagos. Não se manifestou sobre as condições ruins que carregava nas costas – a alta de 29,5% no desmatamento neste ano.

Outros países chegaram a relatar constrangimento com a postura e houve críticas de que o Brasil estava dificultando o estabelecimento de um acordo, especialmente sobre o artigo 6 do Acordo de Paris, que estabelece mecanismos de mercado. Esse era um dos objetivos da COP de Madri – definir as regras para esses mercados, mas mesmo depois de a COP se prorrogar até este domingo – deveria ter fechado na sexta, 13 – não foi possível chegar a um acordo.

Brasil ganha “fóssil do ano’ por aumento no desmatamento, mortes de indígenas e por não ajudar na COP do Clima em Madri. Crédito: Giovana Girardi / Estadão

Justiça seja feita, não foi só o Brasil. Cada país queria uma coisa para esses mecanismos. E Salles disse à imprensa brasileira, no seu único posicionamento coletivo aos jornalistas nacionais, que queria um acordo sobre mercado de qualquer jeito. Mas ele pedia regras consideradas bem pouco razoáveis, que poderiam resultar na chamada dupla contagem de redução de emissões para cumprimento de metas de dois países, comprometendo a integridade do Acordo de Paris.

O Brasil chegou a ser chamado de pária ambiental e, por isso, foi por três vezes “homenageado” por ONGs internacionais como um problema para as negociações. Pela primeira vez na história das COPs, recebeu o prêmio “fóssil do ano“.

Nada deu certo. A decisão sobre mercado de carbono e sobre ambição ficou para a COP seguinte, em Glasgow, na Escócia. Parece cada vez mais impossível ficar em 1,5ºC.

Para compensar nossas emissões na COP, um almoço veggie! pic.twitter.com/NUtLvYLn9m

— Ricardo Salles MMA (@rsallesmma) December 15, 2019

Salles optou por fazer troça ao final da COP. Depois de postar um vídeo no seu twitter dizendo que a “COP-25 não deu em nada”, apesar “de todos os esforços do Brasil”, algumas horas publicou em suas redes sociais uma foto de um prato enorme de carne dizendo: “Para compensar nossas emissões na COP, um almoço veggie!”. A pecuária e sua expansão sobre a Floresta Amazônica são o setor responsável pelo maior fatia das emissões de gases de efeito estufa do País.

* A repórter viajou a convite do Instituto Clima e Sociedade (iCS)

Conspiracy theories: how belief is rooted in evolution – not ignorance (The Conversation)

December 13, 2019 9.33am EST – original article

Mikael Klintman PhD, Professor, Lund University

Despite creative efforts to tackle it, belief in conspiracy theories, alternative facts and fake news show no sign of abating. This is clearly a huge problem, as seen when it comes to climate change, vaccines and expertise in general – with anti-scientific attitudes increasingly influencing politics.

So why can’t we stop such views from spreading? My opinion is that we have failed to understand their root causes, often assuming it is down to ignorance. But new research, published in my book, Knowledge Resistance: How We Avoid Insight from Others, shows that the capacity to ignore valid facts has most likely had adaptive value throughout human evolution. Therefore, this capacity is in our genes today. Ultimately, realising this is our best bet to tackle the problem.

So far, public intellectuals have roughly made two core arguments about our post-truth world. The physician Hans Rosling and the psychologist Steven Pinker argue it has come about due to deficits in facts and reasoned thinking – and can therefore be sufficiently tackled with education.

Meanwhile, Nobel Prize winner Richard Thaler and other behavioural economists have shown how the mere provision of more and better facts often lead already polarised groups to become even more polarised in their beliefs.

Tyler Merbler/Flickr, CC BY-SA

The conclusion of Thaler is that humans are deeply irrational, operating with harmful biases. The best way to tackle it is therefore nudging – tricking our irrational brains – for instance by changing measles vaccination from an opt-in to a less burdensome opt-out choice.

Such arguments have often resonated well with frustrated climate scientists, public health experts and agri-scientists (complaining about GMO-opposers). Still, their solutions clearly remain insufficient for dealing with a fact-resisting, polarised society.

Evolutionary pressures

In my comprehensive study, I interviewed numerous eminent academics at the University of Oxford, London School of Economics and King’s College London, about their views. They were experts on social, economic and evolutionary sciences. I analysed their comments in the context of the latest findings on topics raging from the origin of humanity, climate change and vaccination to religion and gender differences.

It became evident that much of knowledge resistance is better understood as a manifestation of social rationality. Essentially, humans are social animals; fitting into a group is what’s most important to us. Often, objective knowledge-seeking can help strengthen group bonding – such as when you prepare a well-researched action plan for your colleagues at work.

But when knowledge and group bonding don’t converge, we often prioritise fitting in over pursuing the most valid knowledge. In one large experiment, it turned out that both liberals and conservatives actively avoided having conversations with people of the other side on issues of drug policy, death penalty and gun ownership. This was the case even when they were offered a chance of winning money if they discussed with the other group. Avoiding the insights from opposing groups helped people dodge having to criticise the view of their own community.

Similarly, if your community strongly opposes what an overwhelming part of science concludes about vaccination or climate change, you often unconsciously prioritise avoiding getting into conflicts about it.

This is further backed up by research showing that the climate deniers who score the highest on scientific literacy tests are more confident than the average in that group that climate change isn’t happening – despite the evidence showing this is the case. And those among the climate concerned who score the highest on the same tests are more confident than the average in that group that climate change is happening.

This logic of prioritising the means that get us accepted and secured in a group we respect is deep. Those among the earliest humans who weren’t prepared to share the beliefs of their community ran the risk of being distrusted and even excluded.

And social exclusion was an enormous increased threat against survival – making them vulnerable to being killed by other groups, animals or by having no one to cooperate with. These early humans therefore had much lower chances of reproducing. It therefore seems fair to conclude that being prepared to resist knowledge and facts is an evolutionary, genetic adaptation of humans to the socially challenging life in hunter-gatherer societies.

Today, we are part of many groups and internet networks, to be sure, and can in some sense “shop around” for new alliances if our old groups don’t like us. Still, humanity today shares the same binary mindset and strong drive to avoid being socially excluded as our ancestors who only knew about a few groups. The groups we are part of also help shape our identity, which can make it hard to change groups. Individuals who change groups and opinions constantly may also be less trusted, even among their new peers.

In my research, I show how this matters when it comes to dealing with fact resistance. Ultimately, we need to take social aspects into account when communicating facts and arguments with various groups. This could be through using role models, new ways of framing problems, new rules and routines in our organisations and new types of scientific narratives that resonate with the intuitions and interests of more groups than our own.

There are no quick fixes, of course. But if climate change were reframed from the liberal/leftist moral perspective of the need for global fairness to conservative perspectives of respect for the authority of the father land, the sacredness of God’s creation and the individual’s right not to have their life project jeopardised by climate change, this might resonate better with conservatives.

If we take social factors into account, this would help us create new and more powerful ways to fight belief in conspiracy theories and fake news. I hope my approach will stimulate joint efforts of moving beyond disputes disguised as controversies over facts and into conversations about what often matters more deeply to us as social beings.

A deriva medieval da Internet (Outras Palavras/New York Magazine)

Senhores a quem entregamos a riqueza de nossos dados. Programas e objetos “encantados” que comandam nossas vidas. O conhecimento comum controlado, como na Inquisição. “Novas” tecnologias ameaçam conjurar vasto retrocesso

OutrasPalavras Tecnologia em Disputa

por Max Read

Publicado 09/12/2019 às 19:29 – Atualizado 09/12/2019 às 19:57

Por Max Read, na New York Magazine | Tradução: Antonio Martins | Imagem: Camponeses pagando tributos a seus senhores, xilogravura do século XV

No final de agosto, um barco de velas pretas apareceu no porto, carregando uma visionária de 16 anos, uma garota que navegara do norte distante através de um grande oceano. Uma multidão de moradores e viajantes, encantados por suas profecias, reuniu-se para lhe dar boas vindas. Ela viera para falar às nações da Terra, para advertir-nos de nossas vaidades e da catástrofe que se aproxima. “Havia quatro gerações saudando-a e dizendo, em cânticos, que a amavam”, observou o escritor Dean Kissick. “Quando ela pisou em terra, pareceu algo messiânico”.

Não posso ter sido a única pessoa a sentir que estava vivendo, estranhamente, nas páginas de um épico fantástico, no momento em que Greta Thunberg desceu em Nova York. Durante a maior parte de minha vida, o paradigma para imaginar o futuro foi a ficção científica distópica. Em cada foto de uma cidade reluzente de neon, em cada história de ciberguerra sem regras e limites, refletiam-se as visões ultramodernas e hipercapitalistas de escritores cyberpunk como Wiliam Gibson, cujo trabalho foi tão influente que moldou a forma como os primeiros arquitetos da internet compreenderam sua criação. Mas onde se encaixaria, no futuro noir e high-tech que me ensinaram a esperar, uma menina profetisa navegando do norte gelado para confrontar os reis e rainhas do planeta? Que conto de ciber intriga corporativa incluiria uma visionária liderando um exército de crianças em marchas pelo globo?

Refletindo depois, percebi que a história lembra menos o futuro cyberpunk de Gibson que o passado fantástico de J.R.R. Tolkien; menos tecnologia e cibernética que mágica e apocalipse. A internet não parece estar nos transformando em sofisticados ciborgues, e sim em camponeses medievais rudes, extasiados por um sempre presente reino de espíritos e cativos de senhores autocráticos e distantes. E se não estivermos sendo impulsionados rumo a um futuro cyberpunk, e sim atirados em algum passado pré-moderno fantástico?

Em minha própria vida quotidiana, eu já me relaciono constantemente com forças mágicas ao mesmo tempo sinistras e benevolentes. Observo de longe, através do cristal, os movimentos de meus inimigos. (Ou seja, eu odeio-e-sigo pessoas no Instagram ou Facebook). Leio histórias sobre símbolos amaldiçoados tão poderosos que tornam incomunicativo qualquer um que os contemple (Ou seja, glifos Unicode que paralisam seu iPhone). Recuso-me a escrever os nomes de inimigos míticos por temer trazê-los a minha presença, assim como os membros de tribos proto-germânicas usavam o termo eufemístico marrom, em vem de urso, para não invocar um deles. (Ou seja, intencionalmente altero palavras como Gamergate quando as escrevo)1. Realizo rituais supersticiosos para obter a aprovação dos demônios (Ou seja, daemons, os programas autônomos de retaguarda sobre os quais a computação moderna se desenvolve).

Esta estranha dança de rituais e superstições irá se tornar ainda mais intensa na próxima década. Graças a smartphones ubíquos e ao cellular data, a internet tornou-se uma espécie de camada sobrenatural instalada no topo de vida quotidiana, um reino facilmente acessível de poder temível, visões febris e batalhas espirituais apocalípticas. O medievalista Richard Wunderli descreveu o mundo dos camponeses do século XV como algo “encantado” – “limitado apenas por uma barreira translúcida e porosa, que levava ao reino mais poderoso dos espíritos, demônios, anjos e santos”. Não soa tão diferente de um mundo em que barreiras literalmente translúcidas separam-nos dos trolls, demônios e ícones pop-star a cujas menções no Twitter, e comentários no Instagram, eu deveria fazer uma peregrinação quase religiosa.

A estrutura da internet aponta para um arranjo que Bruce Schneider, um especialista em cibersegurança, chama de “feudalismo digital”. Por meio dele, os grandes proprietários – plataformas como o Google e o Facebook – estão se tornando nossos senhores feudais, e estamos nos reduzindo a seus vassalos. “Nós vamos abastecê-los com o dados que emanam de nossa navegação, em troca de vaga proteção contra saqueadores que buscam brechas de segurança”. O senso de impotência que podemos sentir diante da justiça algorítmica opaca das megaplataformas – e o senso de mistério que tais mecanismos deveriam engendrar – não teriam parecido estranhos para um camponês medieval. (Uma vez que você tenha explicado, é claro, o que significa um algoritmo).

E à medida em que a internet enfeitice cada vez mais objetos – “smart” TVs, “smart” fornos, “smart” alto-falantes, “smart” vibradores – sua lógica feudal abarcará também o mundo material. Você não possui mais o programa de seu telefone, assim como um camponês não possuía seu lote de terra. E quando seu carro ou fechadura de casa forem igualmente encantados, um senhor distante poderá expulsá-lo fácil e arbitrariamente. Os robôs de assistência ao consumidor aos quais você entregou seu caso serão tão impiedosos e incapazes de perdão como um xerife medieval. Izabella Kaminska sugere, no Financial Times, que no âmbito do controle quase feudal do capitalismo de compartilhamento por seus contratantes, há “potencial para o retorno da estrutura de guildas”. Motoristas de aplicativos, por exemplo, podem, em algum momento, criar um corpo independente credenciador, para garantir a portabilidade dos dados e da reputação entre as “fronteiras” dos “senhores” (ou seja, Uber, 99 ou Lyft), assim como os artesãos usavam o pertencimento a uma guilda como credenciais, no início do milênio passado.

Para onde esta camada de mágica, carregada espiritualmente e organizada à moda feudal, levaria nossa política e cultura? Poderíamos olhar para governantes como Donald Trump, que manejam o poder como um rei absolutista ou um papa caviloso e que fala, como diversos observadores notaram, como um herói grego ou um senhor de guerra anglo-saxão. Ou seja, no estilo fanfarrão e altamente repetitivo da poesia época, característica das culturas orais.

Paradoxalmente, o caráter efêmero e a densidade rala dos textos nas mídias sociais estão recriando as circunstâncias de uma sociedade pré-letrada: um mundo em que a informação é rapidamente esquecida e nada pode ser facilmente consultado. (Como os monges medievais copiando Aristótoles, o Google e o Facebook coletarão e ordenarão o conhecimento do mundo; como a igreja católica medieval, controlarão rigorosamente sua apresentação e acessibilidade). Sob tais condições, a memorabilidade e a concisão – as mesmas qualidades que podem fazer alguém hábil no Twitter – serão mais valorizadas que a força do argumento; e líderes políticos bem-sucedidos, para os quais a verdade factual é menos importante que a perpétua repetição de um mito duradouro, focarão no auto-engrandecimento repetitivo,

Tudo isso, é claro, ocorrerá diante de um pano de fundo de desastre: um mundo natural volátil, em ruínas, estranho e imprevisível em sua força e violência. Está ficando cada vez mais difícil prever o tempo, e os efeitos da mudança climática atiraram no território das dúvidas o vasto conhecimento que tornava o mundo familiar e governável. A natureza aparece para nós como tempestades aniquiladoras, incêndios furiosos, enchentes épicas, uma manifestação literal de nossos pecados terrestres. Presos numa cena pré-letramento, governados por ilusionistas e nepotistas, cativos de senhores feudais, circundados por ritual e magia – é de surpreender que nos voltemos a uma garota visionária, para nos salvar do apocalipse que se aproxima?

1Alusão intraduzível: refere-se a polêmica antifeminista ocorrida nos EUA – ver Wikipedia (Nota de Outras Palavras)

Neopentecostais armados atormentam minorias religiosas brasileiras (Folha)


Terrence McCoy – 12 dez 2019

Ele ouviu batidas fortes na porta. Estranho, pensou o sacerdote –ele não estava esperando ninguém.

Marcos Figueiredo foi até a entrada do terreiro e abriu a porta.

Armas. Três delas. Todas apontadas para ele.

O “Bonde de Jesus” havia chegado. Eram três membros de uma quadrilha de cristãos evangélicos extremistas que assumiu o controle do bairro pobre de Parque Paulista, em Duque de Caxias.

Primeiro a quadrilha montou barreiras nas ruas para impedir a entrada da polícia e criar um refúgio seguro para o tráfico a uma hora de carro do Rio de Janeiro. Agora, estava atacando qualquer pessoa cuja religião não se alinhasse com a sua. Isso incluía impor o fechamento de templos de religiões de matriz africana, como o terreiro de candomblé de Marcos Figueiredo.

“Ninguém aqui quer saber de macumba”, disse um dos agressores a Figueiredo, segundo o depoimento que ele deu às autoridades. “Você tem uma semana para acabar com isso daqui tudo.”

Eles foram embora dando tiros no ar e deixando Figueiredo com uma escolha impossível: sua fé ou sua vida.

É uma decisão que mais brasileiros estão sendo forçados a tomar. À medida que o cristianismo evangélico reconfigura o mapa espiritual do maior país da América Latina, atraindo dezenas de milhões de fiéis, conquistando poder político e ameaçando a hegemonia histórica da Igreja Católica, seus fiéis mais radicais, em muitos casos filiados a gangues criminosas, vêm atacando com frequência crescente membros de minorias religiosas não cristãs no Brasil.

Sacerdotes foram mortos. Crianças foram apedrejadas. Uma idosa foi gravemente ferida. Provocações e ameaças de morte são comuns. As quadrilhas hasteiam a bandeira de Israel, país visto por alguns evangélicos como necessário para assegurar o retorno de Cristo à terra.

Como a santeria e o vodu, o candomblé tem suas raízes nas crenças trazidas para a América Latina por escravos vindos da África ocidental. E está desaparecendo de comunidades inteiras.

“Alguns deles se dizem ‘traficantes de Jesus’, criando uma identidade singular”, disse Gilbert Stivanello, comandante da unidade de crimes de intolerância da polícia do Rio de Janeiro. “Eles portam armas e vendem drogas, mas se sentem no direito de proibir as religiões de matriz africana, dizendo que estão ligadas ao demônio.”

A violência crescente deixa os evangélicos tradicionais chocados. “Quando vejo esses terreiros, rezo contra eles, porque há uma influência demoníaca em ação ali”, comentou o missionário americano David Bledsoe, que vive no Brasil há duas décadas. “Mas eu condenaria esses atos.”

O Rio de Janeiro, que durante muito tempo abrigou um conjunto diverso de religiões afro-brasileiras, hoje também é o centro do neopentecostalismo brasileiro, uma vertente acirrada do movimento evangélico que é mais frequentemente vinculada à intolerância.

Frequentemente defendidas pelos pastores pentecostalistas brasileiros, ideias como essas agora ecoam nas favelas cariocas. 

As denúncias de ataques contra adeptos das religiões afro-brasileiras aumentaram de 14 em 2016 para 123 nos dez primeiros meses deste ano no estado do Rio de Janeiro. As autoridades estaduais dizem que essas cifras são inferiores ao número real; muitas vítimas teriam medo de abrir a boca.

Mais de 200 terreiros foram fechados neste ano em função de ameaças, segundo a Comissão de Combate à Intolerância Religiosa (CCIR), sediada no Rio. É o dobro do número do ano passado. Milhares de pessoas foram privadas de seus locais de culto.

Marcos Figueiredo não tinha dinheiro para se mudar para outro lugar. Não podia fundar uma congregação nova. Tinha que fazer uma opção.

Resistir? Ou fechar seu terreiro?

Ele tinha uma semana para decidir.


Em uma geração o Brasil passou por uma transformação espiritual como a de poucos outros lugares no planeta. Ainda em 1980, cerca de nove em cada dez brasileiros se identificavam como católicos. Mas essa parcela caiu vertiginosamente, para 50%, e em pouco tempo será superada pela dos evangélicos, que hoje formam um terço da população.

O televangelismo corre solto na TV. A indústria de música evangélica movimenta cerca de US$1 bilhão. Políticos evangélicos puxaram o país para a direita nas questões sociais. E o sistema carcerário, há anos o maior centro de recrutamento das quadrilhas criminosas, virou o campo de uma conversão.

Pesquisas revelam que 81 das cem organizações religiosas que trabalham com questões sociais dentro dos presídios são evangélicas. A IURD diz que despachou um exército de 14 mil fiéis voluntários para converter os detentos.

A professora de sociologia Cristina Vital da Cunha, da Universidade Federal Fluminense, estuda há décadas o evangelismo nas favelas cariocas. Ela disse: “Alguns pastores e denominações fizeram uma aposta estratégica na conversão dos traficantes nos locais privilegiados na hierarquia do crime”.

Jorge Duarte, 63, era sacerdote do terreiro de candomblé mais antigo do Parque Paulista. Ele se recorda de quando o Terceiro Comando Puro tomou o poder, por volta de 2012.

O Terceiro Comando Puro controlava a programação dos terreiros, decretando um toque de recolher, permitindo as celebrações religiosas apenas em dias determinados e limitando o número de fiéis que podiam ir aos terreiros. Carros desconhecidos que entrassem na comunidade eram barrados por homens armados. O uso de roupas brancas, tradicionais no candomblé, foi proibido em público.

Começaram a chegar a Parque Paulista histórias de perseguição religiosa em outras partes da cidade: disseram a uma menina de 11 anos que ela ia arder no inferno e depois lhe deram uma pedrada na cabeça. Uma mulher de 65 anos foi apedrejada. Imagens de seu rosto ferido se espalharam pela televisão em toda a cidade.

Uma sacerdotisa de candomblé foi forçada sob a mira de armas a destruir todos os artefatos em seu terreiro, enquanto bandidos a atormentavam.

“Todo o mal precisa ser desfeito em nome de Jesus!”, disse um homem em um vídeo da agressão. “Sou a favor da honra e glória de Jesus!”, acrescentou outro. “Quebre tudo, porque você é o diabo!”, outro comandou.

Faz dois anos que Carmen Flores foi forçada a destruir seus artefatos –seus vasos de cerâmica e estatuetas de orixás. Mas ela ainda ouve as provocações em sua cabeça.

“Tenho medo de alguém vir para cá e nos massacrar”, disse Flores, 68. “Tenho medo de sair para a rua. Tenho medo de pegar o ônibus. E não sou só eu.”


Pouco depois da visita que fizeram a Marcos Figueiredo, os homens do Bonde de Jesus foram ao terreiro mais antigo do Parque Paulista. Quatro membros da quadrilha bateram à porta, apontaram uma arma para a sacerdotisa de 86 anos e mandaram que ela destruísse todos os objetos religiosos da casa e ateasse fogo a ela.

“É tortura psicológica”, disse sua neta, Vivian Lessa. “Você tem uma coisa como sagrada e é forçada a quebrar essa coisa, enquanto eles ficam dizendo ‘ninguém vem te salvar’.”

Isso mostrou a Figueiredo tudo o que ele precisava saber. Se a quadrilha estava disposta a fazer isso com uma senhora de 86 anos, o que não faria com ele? 

Ele não resistiria. Fecharia o terreiro.

Em agosto, a polícia anunciou a prisão do Bonde de Jesus, formado por oito membros do Terceiro Comando Puro. Segundo as autoridades, no prazo de algumas semanas seus integrantes haviam  destruído ou forçado o fechamento de um terreiro depois de outro. Um dos homens era o líder do Terceiro Comando no Parque Paulista. Além de suas responsabilidades na quadrilha, trabalhava como pastor evangélico.

Figueiredo viu os relatos da imprensa mas não viu os rostos de seus agressores entre os detidos. Eles ainda estavam lá fora e retornariam. E quando o fizessem, como ele poderia confiar que outros moradores o ajudassem, sendo que não haviam ajudado antes? Como poderia confiar que o governo ajudaria, quando tantos políticos são evangélicos?

Seria mais seguro fechar o terreiro. Em pouco tempo, todos os terreiros que ele conhecia no Parque Paulista tinham desaparecido.

“Este daqui fechou”, disse Figueiredo, percorrendo o bairro de carro e apontando para uma casa abandonada.

“Fechado, também”, falou, vendo outra. “Lá na frente havia outro terreiro, mas fechou as portas.”

Olhando para o bairro, onde sua religião foi proibida, Figueiredo enxergou o futuro.

“A teocracia”, disse.

Com reportagem de Heloísa Traiano

Tradução de Clara Allain 

‘Could Somebody Please Debunk This?’: Writing About Science When Even the Scientists Are Nervous (New York Times)

Milk has become a symbol for white supremacists who repurpose genetic research, because of a genetic trait known to be more common in white adults than others: the ability to digest lactose.
Milk has become a symbol for white supremacists who repurpose genetic research, because of a genetic trait known to be more common in white adults than others: the ability to digest lactose.Credit: Colum O’dwyer/EyeEm

By Amy Harmon

Oct. 18, 2018

Times Insider delivers behind-the-scenes insights into how news, features and opinion come together at The New York Times.

N. is a black high school student in Winston-Salem, N.C., who does not appear in my article on Thursday’s front page about how human geneticists have been slow to respond to the invocation of their research by white supremacists. (Note: N.’s full name has been removed to minimize online harassment.)

But the story of how he struggled last spring to find sources to refute the claims of white classmates that people of European descent had evolved to be intellectually superior to Africans is the reason I persevered in the assignment, even when I felt as if my head were going to explode.

N. had vowed to take up the subject for a persuasive speech assignment in his Rhetoric class. Googling for information that would help him, however, yielded a slew of blogs and videos arguing the other side. “There’s only one scientific response for every hundred videos or so,” he told me when we spoke on the phone.

“Could somebody please debunk this blog post, if it can be debunked?” he finally posted on the Reddit forum r/badscience. “It’s convincing me of things I really don’t want to be convinced of.”

I was introduced to N. by Kevin Bird, a white graduate student at Michigan State University who had answered N.’s Reddit query, and others that had been flooding that forum about claims of racial differences that invoke the jargon and scientific papers of modern genetic research.

I had misgivings about simply reporting on the rise of a kind of repackaged scientific racism, which I had been tracking as a national correspondent who writes about science. Under the coded term “race realism,” it implied, falsely, that science had found a genetic basis for racial differences in traits like intelligence and behavior. Why draw attention to it?

But a series of Twitter posts from Mr. Bird late last year crystallized a question that had been on my mind. Unlike in the case of climate change, vaccines or other areas of science where scientists routinely seek to correct public misconceptions, those who study how the world’s major population groups vary genetically were largely absent from these forums. Nor was there an obvious place for someone like N. to turn for basic, up-to-date facts on human genetic diversity.

“Right now the propaganda being generated from misrepresented population genetic studies is far outpacing the modest attempts of scientists to publicly engage with the topic,” Mr. Bird had tweeted. “Why,” he asked in another tweet, “are scientists dropping the ball?”

In the course of investigating that question, I spent many hours digesting scientific papers on genetics and interviewing their authors. Some of them, I learned, subscribed to a common ethos among scientists that their job is to provide data and let society decide what to do with it. Others felt it was not productive to engage with what they regarded as a radical fringe.

It was more than a radical fringe at stake, I would tell them. Lots of nonscientists were just confused. It wasn’t just N. Mr. Bird had fielded queries from a graduate student in applied physics at Harvard and an information technology consultant in Michigan whose Twitter profile reads “anti-fascist, anti-bigot.’’ I talked to an Army veteran attending community college in Florida and a professional video gamer who felt ill-equipped to refute science-themed racist propaganda that they encountered online. It had come up in a source’s book group in Boston. They wanted to invite a guest scientist to tutor them but couldn’t figure out who.

But another reason some scientists avoid engaging on this topic, I came to understand, was that they do not have definitive answers about whether there are average differences in biological traits across populations. And they have increasingly powerful tools to try to detect how natural selection may have acted differently on the genes that contribute to assorted traits in various populations.

What’s more, some believe substantial differences will be found. Others think it may not be feasible to ever entirely disentangle an immutable genetic contribution to a behavior from its specific cultural and environmental influences. Yet all of them agree that there is no evidence that any differences which may be found will line up with the prejudices of white supremacists.

As I struggled to write my article, I began, sort of, to feel their pain. With each sentence, I was striving not to give credence to racist ideas, not to misrepresent the science that exists and not to overrepresent how much science actually does exist — while trying also to write in a way that a nonscientist, like N., could understand.

It was hard. It did almost make my head explode. I tested the patience of a very patient editor. The end result, I knew, would not be perfect. But every time I was ready to give up, I thought about N. Here was a kid making a good-faith effort to learn, and the existing resources were failing him. If I could help, however incompletely — even if just to try to explain the absence of information — I felt that was a responsibility I had to meet.

A few weeks ago, as I was getting the story ready to go, I asked N. for an update. “I’ve read a lot more papers since then,” he wrote. (He aced his presentation.) “Many of my arguments are stronger, some have been discarded. I’ve also become much more aware of this stuff around me. In some ways, it’s regrettable, but in other ways, it’s satisfying knowing so much.”

Can Biology Class Reduce Racism? (New York Times)

By Amy Harmon

Dec. 7, 2019Updated 11:43 a.m. ET

COLORADO SPRINGS — Biology textbooks used in American high schools do not go near the sensitive question of whether genetics can explain why African-Americans are overrepresented as football players and why a disproportionate number of American scientists are white or Asian.

But in a study starting this month, a group of biology teachers from across the country will address it head-on. They are testing the idea that thescience classroom may be the best place to provide a buffer against the unfounded genetic rationales for human difference that often become the basis for racial intolerance.

At a recent training in Colorado, the dozen teachers who had volunteered to participate in the experiment acknowledged the challenges of inserting the combustible topic of race and ancestry into straightforward lessons on the 19th-century pea-breeding experiments of Gregor Mendel and the basic function of the strands of DNA coiled in every cell.

The new approach represents a major deviation from the usual school genetics fare, which devotes little time to the extent of genetic differences across human populations, or how traits in every species are shaped by a complex mix of genes and environment.

It also challenges a prevailing belief among science educators that questions about race are best left to their counterparts in social studies.

The history of today’s racial categories arose long before the field of genetics and have been used to justify all manner of discriminatory policies. Race, a social concept bound up in culture and family, is not a topic of study in modern human population genetics, which typically uses concepts like “ancestry” or “population” to describe geographic genetic groupings.

But that has not stopped many Americans from believing that genes cause racial groups to have distinct skills, traits and abilities. And among some biology teachers, there has been a growing sense that avoiding any direct mention of race in their genetics curriculum may be backfiring.

“I know it’s threatening,” said Brian Donovan, a science education researcher at the nonprofit BSCS Science Learning who is leading the study. “The thing to remember is that kids are already making sense of race and biology, but with no guidance.”

Human population geneticists have long emphasized that racial disparities found in society do not in themselves indicate corresponding genetic differences. A recent paper by leading researchers in the field invokes statistical models to argue that health disparities between black and white Americans are more readily explained by environmental effects such as racism than the DNA they inherited from ancestors.

Yet there is a rising concern that genetic misconceptions are playing into divisive American attitudes about race.

In a 2018 survey of 721 students from affluent, majority-white high schools, Dr. Donovan found that one in five agreed with statements like “Members of one racial group are more ambitious than members of another racial group because of genetics.”

A similar percentage of white American adults attribute the black-white income gap to genetic differences, according to an estimate by a team of sociologists published this fall. Though rarely acknowledged in debates over affirmative action or polling responses, “belief in genetic causes of racial inequality remains widespread in the United States,” wrote Ann Morning, of New York University, and her colleagues.

For his part, Dr. Donovan has argued that grade-school biology classes may offer the only opportunity to dispel unfounded genetic explanations for racial inequality on a mass scale. Middle schools and high schools are the first, and perhaps the only, place that most Americans are taught about genetics.

The new curriculum acknowledges there are minor genetic differences between geographic populations loosely correlated to today’s racial categories. But the unit also conveys what geneticists have reiterated: People inherit their environment and culture with their genes, and it is a daunting task to disentangle them. A key part of the curriculum, Dr. Donovan said, is teaching students to “understand the limits of our knowledge.’’

In the pilot study that helped Dr. Donovan secure a research grant from the National Science Foundation, students in eight classrooms exposed to a rudimentary version of the curriculum were less likely than others to endorse statements suggesting that racial groups have defining qualities that are determined by genes. The new study will measure the curriculum’s effect on such attitudes by asking students to fill out surveys before and after the unit.

The training exercise, which a reporter attended on the condition that names would be withheld to avoid jeopardizing the study, showed what it might take to offer students, as one Colorado teacher put it, “something better than ‘don’t worry about it, we’re 99.9 percent the same.’”

For the trainees, from five states and seven school districts, much of the opening morning was devoted to brainstorming how to check in with students, especially black students, who seem defensive or scared, sullen or silent, and how to recognize the unit’s fraught nature.

“Something like ‘These ideas are dangerous, and ‘How do we have a safe conversation about unsafe ideas?’” one teacher said. “But I would have to practice it so I don’t choke up like I am now.’’

Before breaking for lunch, Dr. Donovan, a former middle school science teacher who studied under the Stanford population geneticist Noah Rosenberg while pursuing a science education Ph.D., had a message for them: “If you back out at the end of this,” he said, “I’ll understand.”

The lessons are structured around two fictional teenagers, Robin and Taylor, who both understand that the differences between the DNA in any two people make up about one-tenth of 1 percent of their genome. But they disagree about how those differences intersect with race.

Taylor thinks that there are genetic differences between people but that those differences are not associated with race.  

Robin thinks that the genetic differences within a racial group are small and that most genetic differences exist between people of different races.

The truth is that neither has a completely accurate view.

As human populations spread around the globe, with people living in relative isolation for millenniums, some differences emerged. But the genetic variation between groups in, say, Africa and Europe are much smaller than the differences within each group.

Taylor, who had downplayed the significance of race, eventually had to admit there were some proportionally small differences between population groups. And Robin had to acknowledge having vastly overemphasized the amount of DNA differences between races.

But the two fictional teenagers still clashed over the opening question. Robin believed that there are genes for athletic or intellectual abilities, and that they are the best explanation for racial disparities in the National Football League and in the worlds of math and science. Taylor said genes had nothing to do with it.

Again, neither was completely right.

In their typical classes, the teachers said, they highlight traits driven by single genes — the texture of peas, or a disease like cystic fibrosis. It is an effective way to convey both how traits are transmitted from one generation to another, and how alterations in DNA can produce striking consequences.

But such traits are relatively rare. In Dr. Donovan’s curriculum, students are taught that thousands of variations in DNA influence a more common trait like height or IQ. Only a small fraction of the trait differences between individuals in the same ancestry group has been linked to particular genes. Unknown factors and the social and physical environment — including health, nutrition, opportunity and deliberate practice — also influence trait development. And students are given data about how racism has produced profoundly different environments for black and white Americans.

For Robin, the lessons said, grasping the complexity of it all made it impossible to argue that there was a gene, or even a few genes, specifically for athletics or intelligence, or that the cumulative effect of many genes could make a definitive difference.

And yet, on whiteboards, teachers listed comments and questions they anticipated from real students, including one that recurred in various forms.

“Isn’t this just a liberal agenda?”

Dr. Donovan told teachers that the curriculum also counters the viewpoint represented by Taylor — that ability is affected only by “how you’re raised, the opportunities you have, the choices you make and the effort you put in.” Recent studies, they are told, show that genetic variants play some role in shaping differences between individuals of the same population group.

Teachers participating in the training said that student beliefs about racial genetic differences at their schools surface in offhand pronouncements about who can dance and who is smart. They also lurk, some suggested, behind the expressions of intolerance that have recently marked many American schools. And what students learn about human genetic variation, teachers said, can lead to misguided conclusions: “They know DNA causes differences in skin color,” said a teacher from Washington State, “and they make the logical jump that DNA causes ‘race.’”

Class time in which to dispel confusion is limited. “It’s always like ‘O.K., but now we’re going to start the lesson on peas,’” said a Kansas teacher. Pent-up curiosity, said one from Indiana, routinely arises in year-end surveys: “I’m wondering if you know any resources where I could learn more about the genetics behind race,” one of her juniors wrote last spring.

Science teachers have had no shortage of reasons in recent decades to cede conversations on race to the humanities.

There was, for one thing, the need to repudiate the first half of the 20th century, during which science textbooks were replete with racial stereotypes and uncritical references to eugenics.

And 21st-century geneticists looking for clues to human evolution and medicine in the DNA of people from around the world took pains to note that they were not studying “race.”

“We basically decided, no, race is still a social construction, it’s not a biological thing,” Ken Miller, an author of the widely used Prentice Hall biology textbook, told the science magazine Undark of the decision to omit mention of race.

And not everyone is eager to reinsert it. Several school districts have rejected Dr. Donovan’s application to participate in the study, even when teachers have expressed interest.VideoCreditCredit…David McLeod

“I am denying the research request based on the sensitive nature of the research,” the research supervisor for one Colorado district wrote in an email.

But Jaclyn Reeves-Pepin, executive director of the National Association of Biology Teachers, said efforts to avoid lending scientific credibility to unfounded perceptions of genetic difference may themselves be sowing confusion.

“If I was a student asking about race and my teacher said, ‘Race is a social construct, we’re not going to talk about it in science class,’ well — that’s not an explanation of what students are observing in their world,” Ms. Reeves-Pepin said. In advance of the group’s annual meeting this fall, a session featuring Dr. Donovan’s curriculum received the highest score from a review panel of biology teachers of all 200 submissions, she said.

As in any experiment, the subjects will need to be informed of the risks and benefits before they consent to participate.

The benefits, a group of Midwestern 12th graders who will begin the unit this month were told, include “a research-based curriculum designed to teach complex genetics.” For the risks, the students were warned that they may feel some discomfort in science class.

With little training, machine-learning algorithms can uncover hidden scientific knowledge (Science Daily)

Date: July 3, 2019 Source: DOE/Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory

Summary: Researchers have shown that an algorithm with no training in materials science can scan the text of millions of papers and uncover new scientific knowledge. They collected 3.3 million abstracts of published materials science papers and fed them into an algorithm called Word2vec. By analyzing relationships between words the algorithm was able to predict discoveries of new thermoelectric materials years in advance and suggest as-yet unknown materials as candidates for thermoelectric materials.

Sure, computers can be used to play grandmaster-level chess (chess_computer), but can they make scientific discoveries? Researchers at the U.S. Department of Energy’s Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (Berkeley Lab) have shown that an algorithm with no training in materials science can scan the text of millions of papers and uncover new scientific knowledge.

A team led by Anubhav Jain, a scientist in Berkeley Lab’s Energy Storage & Distributed Resources Division, collected 3.3 million abstracts of published materials science papers and fed them into an algorithm called Word2vec. By analyzing relationships between words the algorithm was able to predict discoveries of new thermoelectric materials years in advance and suggest as-yet unknown materials as candidates for thermoelectric materials.

“Without telling it anything about materials science, it learned concepts like the periodic table and the crystal structure of metals,” said Jain. “That hinted at the potential of the technique. But probably the most interesting thing we figured out is, you can use this algorithm to address gaps in materials research, things that people should study but haven’t studied so far.”

The findings were published July 3 in the journal Nature. The lead author of the study, “Unsupervised Word Embeddings Capture Latent Knowledge from Materials Science Literature,” is Vahe Tshitoyan, a Berkeley Lab postdoctoral fellow now working at Google. Along with Jain, Berkeley Lab scientists Kristin Persson and Gerbrand Ceder helped lead the study.

“The paper establishes that text mining of scientific literature can uncover hidden knowledge, and that pure text-based extraction can establish basic scientific knowledge,” said Ceder, who also has an appointment at UC Berkeley’s Department of Materials Science and Engineering.

Tshitoyan said the project was motivated by the difficulty making sense of the overwhelming amount of published studies. “In every research field there’s 100 years of past research literature, and every week dozens more studies come out,” he said. “A researcher can access only fraction of that. We thought, can machine learning do something to make use of all this collective knowledge in an unsupervised manner — without needing guidance from human researchers?”

‘King — queen + man = ?’

The team collected the 3.3 million abstracts from papers published in more than 1,000 journals between 1922 and 2018. Word2vec took each of the approximately 500,000 distinct words in those abstracts and turned each into a 200-dimensional vector, or an array of 200 numbers.

“What’s important is not each number, but using the numbers to see how words are related to one another,” said Jain, who leads a group working on discovery and design of new materials for energy applications using a mix of theory, computation, and data mining. “For example you can subtract vectors using standard vector math. Other researchers have shown that if you train the algorithm on nonscientific text sources and take the vector that results from ‘king minus queen,’ you get the same result as ‘man minus woman.’ It figures out the relationship without you telling it anything.”

Similarly, when trained on materials science text, the algorithm was able to learn the meaning of scientific terms and concepts such as the crystal structure of metals based simply on the positions of the words in the abstracts and their co-occurrence with other words. For example, just as it could solve the equation “king — queen + man,” it could figure out that for the equation “ferromagnetic — NiFe + IrMn” the answer would be “antiferromagnetic.”

Word2vec was even able to learn the relationships between elements on the periodic table when the vector for each chemical element was projected onto two dimensions.

Predicting discoveries years in advance

So if Word2vec is so smart, could it predict novel thermoelectric materials? A good thermoelectric material can efficiently convert heat to electricity and is made of materials that are safe, abundant and easy to produce.

The Berkeley Lab team took the top thermoelectric candidates suggested by the algorithm, which ranked each compound by the similarity of its word vector to that of the word “thermoelectric.” Then they ran calculations to verify the algorithm’s predictions.

Of the top 10 predictions, they found all had computed power factors slightly higher than the average of known thermoelectrics; the top three candidates had power factors at above the 95th percentile of known thermoelectrics.

Next they tested if the algorithm could perform experiments “in the past” by giving it abstracts only up to, say, the year 2000. Again, of the top predictions, a significant number turned up in later studies — four times more than if materials had just been chosen at random. For example, three of the top five predictions trained using data up to the year 2008 have since been discovered and the remaining two contain rare or toxic elements.

The results were surprising. “I honestly didn’t expect the algorithm to be so predictive of future results,” Jain said. “I had thought maybe the algorithm could be descriptive of what people had done before but not come up with these different connections. I was pretty surprised when I saw not only the predictions but also the reasoning behind the predictions, things like the half-Heusler structure, which is a really hot crystal structure for thermoelectrics these days.”

He added: “This study shows that if this algorithm were in place earlier, some materials could have conceivably been discovered years in advance.” Along with the study the researchers are releasing the top 50 thermoelectric materials predicted by the algorithm. They’ll also be releasing the word embeddings needed for people to make their own applications if they want to search on, say, a better topological insulator material.

Up next, Jain said the team is working on a smarter, more powerful search engine, allowing researchers to search abstracts in a more useful way.

The study was funded by Toyota Research Institute. Other study co-authors are Berkeley Lab researchers John Dagdelen, Leigh Weston, Alexander Dunn, and Ziqin Rong, and UC Berkeley researcher Olga Kononova.

Story Source:

Materials provided by DOE/Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory. Note: Content may be edited for style and length.

Journal Reference:

  1. Vahe Tshitoyan, John Dagdelen, Leigh Weston, Alexander Dunn, Ziqin Rong, Olga Kononova, Kristin A. Persson, Gerbrand Ceder, Anubhav Jain. Unsupervised word embeddings capture latent knowledge from materials science literature. Nature, 2019; 571 (7763): 95 DOI: 10.1038/s41586-019-1335-8

Projeto Rios Voadores


Fenômeno dos rios voadores

Os rios voadores são “cursos de água atmosféricos”,  formados por massas de ar carregadas de vapor de água, muitas vezes acompanhados por nuvens, e são propelidos pelos ventos. Essas correntes de ar invisíveis passam em cima das nossas cabeças carregando umidade da Bacia Amazônica para o Centro-Oeste, Sudeste e Sul do Brasil.

Essa umidade, nas condições meteorológicas propícias como uma frente fria vinda do sul, por exemplo, se transforma em chuva. É essa ação de transporte de enormes quantidades de vapor de água pelas correntes aéreas que recebe o nome de rios voadores – um termo que descreve perfeitamente, mas em termos poéticos, um fenômeno real que tem um impacto significante em nossas vidas.

A floresta amazônica funciona como uma bomba d’água. Ela puxa para dentro do continente a umidade evaporada pelo oceano Atlântico e carregada pelos ventos alíseos. Ao seguir terra adentro, a umidade cai como chuva sobre a floresta. Pela ação da evapotranspiração da árvores sob o sol tropical, a floresta devolve a água da chuva para a atmosfera na forma de vapor de água. Dessa forma, o ar é sempre recarregado com mais umidade, que continua sendo transportada rumo ao oeste para cair novamente como chuva mais adiante.

Propelidos em direção ao oeste, os rios voadores (massas de ar) recarregados de umidade – boa parte dela proveniente da evapotranspiração da floresta – encontram a barreira natural formada pela Cordilheira dos Andes. Eles se precipitam parcialmente nas encostas leste da cadeia de montanhas, formando as cabeceiras dos rios amazônicos. Porém, barrados pelo paredão de 4.000 metros de altura, os rios voadores, ainda transportando vapor de água, fazem a curva e partem em direção ao sul, rumo às regiões do Centro-Oeste, Sudeste e Sul do Brasil e aos países vizinhos.

É assim que o regime de chuva e o clima do Brasil se deve muito a um acidente geográfico localizado fora do país! A chuva, claro, é de suma importância para nossa vida, nosso bem-estar e para a economia do país. Ela irriga as lavouras, enche os rios terrestres e as represas que fornecem nossa energia.


O caminho dos rios voadores. Fonte: Projeto Rios Voadores

O diagrama ao lado mostra os caminhos dos rios voadores. Clique na imagem para abrir em tamanho maior, para melhor visualização.

Na página dos Vídeos e das Animações Didáticas, há outros recursos que explicam os processos de formação dos rios voadores.

Por incrível que pareça, a quantidade de vapor de água evaporada pelas árvores da floresta amazônica pode ter a mesma ordem de grandeza, ou mais, que a vazão do rio Amazonas (200.000 m3/s), tudo isso graças aos serviços prestados da floresta.

Estudos promovidos pelo INPA já mostraram que uma árvore com copa de 10 metros de diâmetro é capaz de bombear para a atmosfera mais de 300 litros de água, em forma de vapor, em um único dia – ou seja, mais que o dobro da água que um brasileiro usa diariamente! Uma árvore maior, com copa de 20 metros de diâmetro, por exemplo, pode evapotranspirar bem mais de 1.000 litros por dia. Estima-se que haja 600 bilhões de árvores na Amazônia: imagine então quanta água a floresta toda está bombeando a cada 24 horas!

Todas as previsões indicam alterações importantes no clima da América do Sul em decorrência da substituição de florestas por agricultura ou pastos. Ao avançar cada vez mais por dentro da floresta, o agronegócio pode dar um tiro no próprio pé com a eventual perda de chuva imprescindível para as plantações.

O Brasil tem uma posição privilegiada no que diz respeito aos recursos hídricos. Porém, com o aquecimento global e as mudanças climáticas que ameaçam alterar regimes de chuva em escala mundial, é hora de analisarmos melhor os serviços ambientais prestados pela floresta amazônica antes que seja tarde demais.

Obs. O termo “rios voadores” foi popularizada pelo prof. José Marengo do CPTEC.

Links de sites relacionados ao tema.
CPTEC – Centro de Previsão de Tempo e Estudos Climáticos: www.cptec.inpe.br
INPE – Instituto Nacional de Pesquisas Espaciais: www.inpe.br
INPA – Instituto Nacional de Pesquisas da Amazônia: www.inpa.gov.br
LBA – Programa de Grande Escala da Biosfera-Atmosfera na Amazônia : lba.inpa.gov.br/lba/
IMAZON – Instituto do Homem e Meio Ambiente da Amazônia: www.imazon.org.br

Reservas legais preservam o poder da floresta de fazer chover (O Globo)

Ana Lucia Azevedo

02/05/2019 – 04:30

Projeto de lei que revoga unidades de conservação pode provocar impactos em setores como agricultura, geração de energia e turismo

Para especialistas, projeto de lei que revoga obrigatoriedade de reservas legais em propriedades rurais coloca em risco equilíbrio e a proteção da floresta Foto: CARL DE SOUZA/AFP/22-9-2017
Para especialistas, projeto de lei que revoga obrigatoriedade de reservas legais em propriedades rurais coloca em risco equilíbrio e a proteção da floresta Foto: CARL DE SOUZA/AFP/22-9-2017

RIO — Um dos ditados populares da Amazônia diz que “a floresta faz chover”. E faz, não só na Região Norte, mas muito distante, no Sul do Brasil e até em partes da Argentina e do Uruguai, com impacto sobre a agricultura, a geração de energia e o turismo.

A discussão sobre as consequências do projeto de lei 2.362/2019, dos senadores Flávio Bolsonaro (PSL-RJ) e Márcio Bittar (MDB-AC), que revoga a obrigatoriedade de se manter a chamada reserva legal nas propriedades rurais, acabou por destacar a relevância da Floresta Amazônica para o clima do Brasil. É na Amazônia que nascem os rios voadores que distribuem chuvas no país.

A expressão rios voadores foi criada há quase duas décadas pelo meteorologista José Marengo, coordenador geral de Pesquisa e Desenvolvimento do Centro Nacional de Monitoramento e Alertas de Desastres Naturais (Cemaden). Ela se refere aos jatos de ar carregados de umidade que se originam sobre a floresta e atravessam o Brasil, a cerca de 3 mil metros de altitude.

Um de seus efeitos bem estabelecidos é permitir a existência das florestas do oeste do Paraná, como as das cataratas do Parque Nacional do Iguaçu e as que protegem a Usina de Itaipu.

O climatologista Carlos Nobre, um dos mais respeitados especialistas do mundo em mudanças climáticas, explica que está comprovado que, quando uma seca castiga a Amazônia, chove menos em toda a vasta região que vai do oeste do Paraná, onde estão as florestas de Iguaçu, Santa Catarina, Rio Grande do Sul, e chega até o centro-leste da Argentina, Uruguai e Paraguai.

Impacto na agricultura

Só existe floresta no Paraná porque chove no inverno por lá, e chove porque os rios voadores levam a umidade da Amazônia.

— Se não fosse a umidade da Amazônia, toda essa região seria uma savana — afirma Nobre.

Chove menos em Foz do Iguaçu, por exemplo, do que em Brasília. Enquanto nesta caem de 1.600 a 1700 milímetros de chuva por ano, em Foz a média é de 1.300 mm. Porém, Brasília tem uma estiagem de meio ano e vegetação de Cerrado. Já em Foz e em toda a área coberta pelos rios voadores, a chuva é distribuída ao longo do ano, graças a eles.

Os rios voadores são canais de umidade que transportam vapor d’água e fazem com que chova durante todo o ano, inclusive no inverno, normalmente seco no Centro-sul. Sem chuva ao longo de todo o ano, não há condições para existir uma floresta, observa Nobre.

As reservas legais protegem 80% das florestas de uma propriedade rural e são essenciais para deter o desmatamento e, assim, preservar a Amazônia e os rios voadores que ela gera. Mas, para Nobre, a maior importância das reservas legais está na proteção da própria Amazônia.

As florestas prestam serviços, como redução da temperatura — são até 3 graus Celsius menos quentes que plantações e pastagens —, produção de água, prevenção de erosão e polinização de culturas comerciais.

— O maior impacto do desmatamento das reservas legais será para a agricultura da região, que já enfrenta um clima hostil e um solo pobre — salienta.

Professor titular do Instituto de Física da USP e reconhecido como o maior especialista do mundo em química da atmosfera da Amazônia, Paulo Artaxo vê ameaça concreta de perdas para os investidores nos setores agrícola e de energia, que dependem da disponibilidade de água e da regularidade climática.

— O desmatamento afeta o fluxo de umidade na atmosfera e traz desequilíbrio. A destruição de reservas legais trará incerteza para o Brasil. Para quem investe, é um fator de risco.



O que mudou na política indigenista no último meio século


Em 1967, o ministro do Interior, general Afonso Augusto de Albuquerque Lima, ordenou a realização de uma comissão de inquérito administrativo para apurar os delitos praticados pelo Serviço de Proteção aos Índios (spi). Queria punir funcionários e moralizar o órgão. Nomeou para presidir a comissão o procurador federal Jáder de Figueiredo Correia. A iniciativa havia tardado quatro anos e derivava das graves denúncias de desmandos administrativos e financeiros no relatório de uma Comissão Parlamentar de Inquérito (cpi), de 1963. Jader de Figueiredo Correia fez valer que a cpi havia apenas examinado os anos de 1962 e 1963 e ainda assim só três inspetorias do spi, uma no Amazonas e duas no Mato Grosso. O ministro foi levado a estender o âmbito do inquérito a todo o Brasil.

A Comissão Figueiredo percorreu uns cem postos indígenas dos cerca de 130 existentes, em cinco inspetorias regionais do spi e apresentou um relatório de quase 7mil páginas datilografadas. Incluía uma síntese em que descrevia muito mais do que problemas administrativos e os corriqueiros desvios financeiros. Denunciava com indignação crimes e violações de direitos humanos contra os indígenas. Dava nomes, detalhes e provas. Havia conluio de funcionários do spi com fazendeiros, políticos locais, arrendatários, mineradoras; havia corrupção e desvio de dinheiro, apropriação de recursos, usurpação do trabalho dos índios; dilapidação do patrimônio dos índios, com venda de gado, de madeira, de castanha e outros produtos extrativistas, exploração de minérios, doação criminosa de terras; havia trabalho obrigatório ou escravo, venda de crianças, maus-tratos, espancamentos, prostituição, cárcere privado, seviciamento, torturas, suplício no tronco que esmagava os tornozelos, mortes por deixar faltar remédios, assassinatos, em suma um vasto rol de “crimes contra a pessoa e o patrimônio do índio”. Em termos estatísticos, os crimes por ganância eram os mais comuns, mas os crimes contra a pessoa mais hediondos.

Jáder Figueiredo salientou também a omissão na assistência devida pelo spi aos índios, “a mais eficiente maneira de praticar o assassinato”. E por fim explicitamente mencionou a omissão institucional do spi diante de massacres de extermínio. Citou o massacre por fazendeiros no Maranhão de toda uma “nação” indígena sem que o spi se interessasse. Mencionou denúncias, nunca apuradas pelo spi, de inoculação de vírus da varíola que provocou a “extinção da tribo localizada em Itabuna na Bahia, para que se pudesse distribuir suas terras entre figurões do governo”. Falou do que passou a ser chamado de “Massacre do Paralelo 11”, quando os cintas-largas em Mato Grosso, atacados por dinamite jogada de avião, foram envenenados por açúcar com estricnina, abatidos por metralhadora e pendurados e cortados ao meio, de cima a baixo com um facão, sem que se ninguém incomodasse os perpetradores do crime.

 Esse relatório foi divulgado oficialmente em 1968. O próprio ministro Albuquerque Lima, diga-se em sua honra, deu uma entrevista coletiva para a imprensa em 20 de março e consta que o Diário Oficial publicou o relatório conclusivo em setembro de 1968.[1] O ministro do Interior continuou a divulgar massacres dos craôs, dos canelas, dos maxacalis, dos nhambiquaras, dos tapaiunas. Em dezembro de 1968, com o Ato Institucional nº 5, a situação mudou e aparentemente os documentos foram arquivados. O paradeiro do Relatório Figueiredo ficou ignorado durante mais de quatro décadas e só reapareceu em 2012, graças ao pesquisador Marcelo Zelic, que o identificou no Museu do Índio, no Rio de Janeiro. Tornou-se imediatamente uma fonte essencial para o capítulo sobre os povos indígenas na Comissão da Verdade que investigou crimes do Estado contra os índios de 1946 a 1988.

O Relatório Figueiredo levou à criação e funcionamento efêmero de uma nova cpi do Índio em 1968, encerrada por ocasião do ai-5, com a cassação de alguns de seus membros; e ensejou a extinção do spi e a criação da Funai (Fundação Nacional do Índio) para substituí-lo.

O spi havia sido fundado em 1910,em decorrência de outra acusação de chacinas de índios nos estados do Paraná e Santa Catarina para dar lugar nas terras aos imigrantes europeus. A denúncia foi feita no16º Congresso Internacional de Americanistas, em Viena, em 1908, e provocou no Brasil forte reação de cunho nacionalista. Acabou desaguando, com a participação de Cândido Mariano da Silva Rondon e do movimento positivista, na criação do Serviço de Proteção ao Índio e Localização de Trabalhadores Nacionais. No intuito de proteger negocialmente os índios, o Código Civil de 1916 passou a classificá-los como “incapazes relativamente a certos atos ou à maneira de os exercer”, o mesmo status que tinham as mulheres casadas (essa situação perdurou até 1962) e os jovens entre 16 e 21 anos. Assim enquadrados no Código Civil, os índios passaram a merecer a proteção de um tutor, papel que foi atribuído ao Estado e que este delegou ao spi e ao órgão que o substituiu em 1967, a Funai.

O Relatório Figueiredo causou grande indignação na opinião pública e repercutiu amplamente na imprensa do país e do exterior. Chegou a ser assunto da primeira página do New York Times no dia seguinte à sua divulgação. Assinado por Paul L. Montgomery e usando excertos do Relatório Figueiredo, mencionava um escândalo de assassinatos, estupros e roubos cometidos contra os índios no Brasil nos últimos vinte anos.

A palavra “genocídio” foi criada em 1944 para designar a política nazista de extermínio de judeus e ciganos. Uma Convenção para a Prevenção e a Repressão do Crime de Genocídio, organizada pela onu em 1948, caracterizou o crime e definiu as punições a ele. Desde então,“genocídio” foi o termo empregado para caracterizar o que os turcos praticaram contra os armênios, em 1915, ou os hutus aos tutsis, em Ruanda, em 1994.

A lei brasileira no 2889, de 1o de outubro de 1956, seguindo a formulação da onu, definiu como genocídio o crime praticado com a intenção de destruir, no todo ou em parte, um grupo nacional, étnico, racial ou religioso. São eles: “a) matar membros do grupo; b) causar lesão grave à integridade física ou mental de membros do grupo; c) submeter intencionalmente o grupo a condições de existência capazes de ocasionar-lhe a destruição física total ou parcial; d) adotar medidas destinadas a impedir os nascimentos no seio do grupo; e) efetuar a transferência forçada de crianças do grupo para outro grupo.”

Embora as denúncias da comissão de inquérito presidida por Figueiredo se encaixassem na definição acima, a palavra “genocídio” não constava no relatório final do procurador-geral. Diante do risco de o tema entrar na pauta da primeira Conferência Internacional sobre Direitos Humanos, em Teerã, e pressionado pelo Itamaraty, o Ministério do Interior tentou minimizar a situação declarando: “Os pretensos crimes de genocídio praticados contra índios brasileiros não passam de conflitos muito mais violentos na história de outros povos entre a cobiça da civilização sem humanismo e a propriedade do silvícola, desequipado mental e materialmente para defendê-la.” (Jornal do Brasil, 10 de abril de 1968)

A longa reportagem que a Piauí publica da página 38 à 50 insere-se nesse contexto. Foi escrita por um celebrado jornalista do século xx, o inglês Norman Lewis (1908-2003), que o diário The Sunday Times enviou ao Brasil em 1968, acompanhado de um importante fotógrafo de guerra, Don McCullin. Lewis era um escritor prolífico e muito respeitado – ficaria famoso por seus livros de viagem e suas reportagens internacionais, a respeito de povos tribais da Índia, de conflitos na Indonésia, da guerra francesa na Indochina e de um clássico do jornalismo sobre a Segunda Guerra Mundial, o livro Nápoles 1944. Sua matéria, que estampava em letras garrafais o título “Genocide”, foi publicada na Sunday Times Magazine, em 23 de fevereiro de 1969 – e seria posteriormente editada no livro A View of the World: Selected Journalism. A reportagem causou tal impacto na opinião pública britânica e europeia, que motivou a criação da ong inglesa Survival International, dedicada à defesa de povos indígenas no mundo inteiro, ativa até hoje.

O texto de Lewis é autoexplicativo e tenho poucos comentários a fazer sobre ele. O jornalista recua ao século xvi para mostrar que a dizimação dos povos indígenas das Américas não representava novidade na década de 60. Só os métodos haviam mudado. Em sua narrativa, dá muito realce à figura do fazendeiro, à sua cobiça pelas terras dos índios. Pode-se dizer que Lewis e McCullin viajam pelo Brasil numa época em que se encerra uma fase do indigenismo, caracterizada pela iniciativa, digamos, privada do fazendeiro e pela omissão institucional do spi e, portanto, do Estado. Enquanto isso, está entrando em cena a Funai, criada às vésperas do grande projeto dos anos 70 de “integração da Amazônia” para ser a ponta de lança de uma política ativa do próprio Estado, que irá deslocar e varrer os povos indígenas que estariam obstando os projetos de infraestrutura e de ocupação de terras por aliados do regime. Foi sobretudo nessa época que se insistiu na alegação de que os índios representariam um entrave ao desenvolvimento.

O que mudou meio século depois do Relatório Figueiredo? Na prática, pouca coisa. Os índios continuam sendo mortos a bala e resistindo como podem à espoliação de suas terras. Declarações do presidente Jair Bolsonaro estimularam, antes mesmo de sua posse, a violência contra os índios, as populações tradicionais, os funcionários da Funai e os do Instituto Chico Mendes de Conservação da Biodiversidade (icmbio). Os vários povos indígenas que, depois de uma primeira experiência desastrosa com a dita civilização, preferiram se isolar, estão agora reaparecendo, encurralados pelo “desenvolvimento”. São os mais vulneráveis e só terão alguma chance se for mantida a política de não estimular novos contatos.

À falta de mudanças nas velhas práticas, o que mudou, e muito, foi a teoria. A ideia de “integração” deixou de ser sinônimo de assimilação. A missão do Estado não é mais entendida como sendo a de descaracterizar sociedades indígenas para trazê-las ao regaço da civilização, até porque elas só têm a perder nesse regaço. Integrar não é mais tentar eliminar diferenças, e sim articular com justiça as diferenças que existem. Assim, a Constituição de 1988, no caput do artigo 231, declara algo, isso sim, muito novo: “São reconhecidos aos índios sua organização social, costumes, línguas, crenças e tradições…” E no parágrafo 1º do mesmo artigo, ao caracterizar o que são terras indígenas, são incluídas todas aquelas necessárias à reprodução física e cultural dos índios.

A diversidade biológica e social deixou de ser vista como um passivo: é um ativo, como enfatizou recentemente a Sociedade Brasileira para o Progresso da Ciência (sbpc). Foi-se o tempo em que derrubar a mata significava fazer uma benfeitoria, em que massacrar índios era “desinfestar os sertões”. Na era da biomimética e da busca por novos princípios ativos, a floresta em pé e seus melhores conhecedores, que são as populações tradicionais, tornam o Brasil um campo de imenso potencial para a inovação de ponta. E consta que se conhecem até agora apenas uns 10% dos supostos 2 milhões de espécies de fauna, flora e microorganismos da nossa biodiversidade.

Hoje, o Brasil se orgulha internacionalmente de sua megadiversidade socioambiental. No Censo do ibge de 2010, contaram-se 305 etnias e 274 línguas diferentes, inclusive de troncos linguísticos completamente distintos. E pela sua diversidade biológica, o Brasil figura com grande destaque no seleto grupo de dezessete países.

Os conhecimentos e práticas dos povos indígenas têm sido reconhecidos em foros internacionais, como ficou patente no Painel Intergovernamental sobre Mudanças Climáticas (ipcc, na sigla em inglês), criado em 1988, e na Plataforma Intergovernamental sobre Biodiversidade e Serviços Ecossistêmicos (ipbes, na sigla em inglês), de 2012. A arqueologia brasileira tem posto em evidência que o enriquecimento da cobertura e dos solos da floresta – as fertilíssimas “terras pretas” – é fruto das práticas de populações indígenas desde a era pré-colombiana até hoje. E sabe-se agora que na Amazônia foram domesticadas dezenas de plantas, entre as quais a batata-doce, a mandioca, o cará, a abóbora, o amendoim e o cacau. Um artigo publicado recentemente mostra que até mesmo o milho, originário do México, passou por uma segunda domesticação na Amazônia.

Os povos indígenas e comunidades tradicionais são também provedores da diversidade das plantas agrícolas, a chamada agrobiodiversidade, fundamental para a segurança alimentar. A Revolução Verde do pós-guerra, que investiu nas variedades mais produtivas de cada espécie agrícola, teve grande sucesso no volume das colheitas, mas produziu danos colaterais. Um deles foi a perda maciça de variedades agrícolas, como as de arroz na Índia e de milho no México.

Foi a falta de diversidade das variedades cultivadas de batata que levou à Grande Fome da Irlanda, entre 1845 e 1849. Domesticada nos Andes, onde existem até hoje mais de quatro mil variedades com diferentes propriedades e resistência a doenças, a batata se tornou no século xviii a base da alimentação de boa parte da Europa, onde só poucas variedades, entretanto, foram selecionadas. Quando um fungo destruiu por completo e por vários anos seguidos as batatas plantadas na Irlanda, a fome causou a morte de um milhão de pessoas e a emigração de outras tantas.

A consciência do risco criado pela perda da diversidade levou o próprio pai da Revolução Verde, Norman Borlaug, a propor a criação dos chamados bancos de germoplasma pelo mundo afora, para a conservação das variedades de plantas. Mas não basta: as plantas e seus inimigos, como os fungos, encontram-se em uma perpétua escalada armamentista. A cada novo ataque, as plantas desenvolvem novas defesas, num processo de coevolução, que também ocorre devido a mudanças de outra natureza, como as climáticas.

Essa coevolução não se dá em bancos de germoplasma, onde as variedades estão depositadas para se conservarem sem mudanças. Por isso é essencial que elas continuem a ser cultivadas. Órgãos científicos cuidam disso mediante pesados investimentos. Mas povos indígenas e comunidades tradicionais também mantêm por conta própria, por gosto e tradição, as variedades em cultivo e observam as novidades. É por isso que no Alto Rio Negro há mais de 100 variedades de mandioca; nos caiapós, 56 variedades de batata-doce; nos canelas, 52 de favas; nos kawaiwetes, 27 de amendoim; nos wajãpis, 17 de algodão; nos baniuas, 78 de pimenta – sem falar na diversidade de espécies em cada roçado e quintal. Para os caiapós, bonito é um roçado com muita diversidade, pois os povos indígenas são mais do que selecionadores de variedades de uma mesma espécie. Eles são, de fato, colecionadores.

A tragédia irlandesa das batatas se tornou uma história exemplar. Mostrou que se deve dosar a produtividade e a diversidade. É coisa que o mercado financeiro tanto quanto a ecologia ensinam: a homogeneidade é perigo sério. A quem pergunta o que produzem os povos indígenas, pode-se responder que eles são e produzem justamente a diversidade. De graça.

O chamado “interesse nacional” é um coringa muito utilizado, mas pouco analisado. Onde exatamente reside o interesse nacional no caso dos indígenas? Um exemplo interessante é o da mineração em suas terras. A partir da década de 70, o projeto Radam (Radar da Amazônia) começou a fazer o mapeamento aéreo da região e criou grande expectativa para as companhias de mineração. Rapidamente, o mapa da Amazônia ficou coberto de pedidos de pesquisa e de lavra.

Na Constituinte de 1988, as mineradoras, em sua maioria de capital estrangeiro, combateram com afinco as restrições à lavra em terras indígenas. Tinham o apoio do economista Roberto Campos, então senador. Foi a Coordenação Nacional dos Geólogos, a Conage, que defendeu essas restrições. Lembrou que, na exploração mineral, não existe segunda safra, e que era de interesse nacional manter reservas minerais em terras indígenas. Nesse embate, o interesse nacional foi defendido pela Conage contra as mineradoras. O que mudou agora?

O mapa das terras indígenas do Brasil é eloquente: as maiores estão em áreas que até há pouco tempo não interessavam a ninguém, e são extensas justamente por isso. Povos indígenas, como os macuxis, foram levados ou atraídos pelo próprio Estado no século xviii para as fronteiras mais sensíveis do país com o objetivo de lá constituir uma fronteira viva, “uma muralha do sertão”. Hoje, são os ashaninkas do Acre que, por conta própria, rechaçam invasores madeireiros do Peru. Seja como for, foi sábia a Carta de 1988, ao ter mantido a tradição constitucional brasileira de definir as terras indígenas como propriedade da União, embora de posse exclusiva permanente dos índios. O Estado pode e deve estar presente nas fronteiras. Inclusive para defender os índios e para ser defendido por eles quando necessário.

Se continuarmos a olhar o mapa das terras indígenas, veremos que, não por acaso, nas áreas de colonização antiga, as terras indígenas são diminutas. E nas que foram ocupadas por fazendas nos anos 40, durante a “marcha para o oeste” (sul de Mato Grosso e oeste do Paraná), o conflito é permanente. Esses conflitos incessantes são, aliás, um bom motivo para manter a Funai na alçada do Ministério da Justiça, que teria maior agilidade, já que coordena a Polícia Federal, para intervir quando necessário.

Quais são os mais eficientes blocos políticos com que o Brasil poderia se alinhar na defesado interesse nacional? O Ministério do Meio Ambiente publicou que o valor da biodiversidade brasileira é incalculável e que os serviços ambientais que oferece, “enquanto base da indústria de biotecnologia e de atividades agrícolas, pecuárias, pesqueiras e florestais”, são estimados em trilhões de dólares anuais. Dada a importante atuação do Brasil no bloco dos países megadiversos, é favorável ao interesse nacional abandonar esse grupo?

Perguntaram-me há alguns dias o que eu esperava da política do novo governo. Minha resposta é esta: espero que cumpra a Constituição de 1988.

[1] Baseio-me aqui na primorosa pesquisa de mestrado em memória social de Elena Guimarães, defendido em 2015 na Universidade Federal do Estado do Rio de Janeiro (uni-Rio) com orientação de José R. Bessa Freire, intitulada “Relatório Figueiredo: entre tempos, narrativas e memórias”.

“Eu não sou pró-Bolsonaro, eu sou é anti-PT. Jurei pra mim mesmo que nunca mais votaria no PT”: sobre o votar com o estômago, e não com o cérebro

Renzo Taddei

8 de outubro de 2018

Nessa eleição, a maioria das pessoas está votando com o estômago, e não com o cérebro. Hoje chegou até mim uma convocatória de passeata anti-PT (sem qualquer menção ao Bolsonaro) com os dizeres: “não iremos virar uma Venezuela”. Eu tentei encontrar qualquer semelhança entre o histórico político do Haddad e a Venezuela, e não fui capaz de encontrar nada (apenas as declarações de solidariedade por parte do PT frente a ameaças veladas, e talvez imaginárias, de invasão norteamericana do país vizinho). Redução de velocidade do trânsito, aumento de fiscalização, expansão das ciclofaixas, cotas para negros e pessoas de baixa renda, bolsa família: nada disso vem da Venezuela. Vem dos Estados Unidos, da Inglaterra e da Alemanha. O que há na Venezuela é a herança de um militar populista com baixo apreço à ordem democrática que foi eleito e depois tomou o poder, instaurou uma ditadura e mandou o país pro buraco. A revista The Economist, bíblia de gente como o Amoedo e dos economistas liberais que certamente estarão na equipe econômica do Bolsonaro (e do Haddad também, dado que o PT tem sido muito mais liberal do que a esquerda real do Brasil aprova), publicou no dia 20 de setembro um artigo intitulado “Jair Bolsonaro, a mais recente ameaça na América Latina – ele seria um presidente desastroso”. Há na Europa hoje dois presidentes que tem exatamente o mesmo perfil do Bolsonaro, o da Hungria e o da Polônia. No dia 12 de setembro, o NY Times publicou um artigo reportando que o Parlamento Europeu considera que a democracia na Hungria está em perigo. O portal Business Insider, outra fonte de notícias para os liberais de direita, publicou no dia 21 de dezembro do ano passado a notícia que o Parlamento Europeu puniu a Polônia por ações que põe a democracia em risco. Tá tudo publicado e bem documentado. A União Européia considera Polônia e Hungria muito mais perigosas à estabilidade do bloco econômico do que a saída da Inglaterra. O perigo em nosso país é que não temos uma instância política superior que coloque tiranos na linha, nem instituições tão robustas que possas suportar uma gestão catastrófica.

Quando digo que os antipetistas “votam com o estômago” quis dizer votar “contra”, com base em raiva e ódio, e não com apoio em ideias ligadas ao que constitui uma boa sociedade e uma boa vida pública, e o que deve ser feito pra materializar isso. O Bolsonaro tem uma quantidade imensa de eleitores tomados por um antipetismo que os impede de ver que ele prega coisas que seriam inaceitáveis em outro contexto. Como bem disse o Ciro Gomes, o Bolsonaro é um monstro criado pelo Lula. Mas não faz muito sentido sacrificar a estabilidade democrática e avanços sociais apenas pra “punir o Lula”. É tão inteligente quanto perder o amigo pra não perder a piada, querer acabar com o câncer matando o paciente. Colocar arma na mão de criança de 5 anos e defender o armamento sem critério da população, defender a tortura, dizer que a polícia só funciona se sair na rua pra matar, dizer a uma mulher que ela não “merece” ser estuprada porque é “feia”, defender abertamente que mulheres são inferiores e portanto não há problema em que tenham salário menor, ser assumidamente racista (contra negros e nordestinos – de resto, como grande parte da população do sul e sudeste), homofóbico, xenófobo – são essas as coisas que o Bolsonaro tem feito e dito repetidamente em público, em frente às câmeras, e é impressionante como o antipetismo faz parecer que isso tudo são detalhes menores, sem importância, frente ao que é a “roubalheira” dos petralhas. É tão difícil assim perceber que se um bairro inteiro estiver armado e pensando em fazer justiça com as próprias mãos, sem submeter os suspeitos a julgamento imparcial, o Brasil vai virar um faroeste e a sensação de segurança coletiva vai ser muitíssimo pior do que é agora? Nossos filhos podem ser mortos por engano por tentar pegar a bola que caiu no vizinho? Eu votaria com alegria no Antonio Carlos Magalhães, no Maluf ou no Delfim Neto pra não ter o Bolsonaro com o poder de presidente da república. Só não votaria no Enéas, porque este tinha ideias tão perigosas e militarizadas quanto as do Bolsonaro.

“Ah, mas a The Economist, o New York Times, a Folha, o Estadão e a Globo são todos de esquerda”. Achar que a The Economist é de esquerda é um delírio, e que o New York Times também o é é dizer que o Clinton, a Hillary e o Obama devem ser parte da grande conspiração pornô-marxista-bolivariana representada pelo PT – o mesmo PT que colocou um ex-presidente do Bank of Boston como ministro da fazenda, vejam só. Pra quem está tonto com as alucinações do antipetismo, gostaria de argumentar que, da esquerda, nessas eleições, compareceu apenas o Boulos. Alguém colocou no Facebook que a diferença entre o Ciro e o Haddad era não mais que o lugar que a Katia Abreu iria ocupar: vice-presidente ou ministra da agricultura. Dá pra ser de esquerda com a Katia Abreu no governo? Isso é ridículo. O Haddad é de centro-esquerda, não tem agenda bolivariana alguma, come da mão dos bancos e das grandes empresas como todos os demais (o ministro da fazendo do Bolsonaro é sócio do banco Pactual). O Bolsonaro, no entanto, tem um discurso anti-institucional perigosíssimo: seu discurso a favor das armas deslegitima o judiciário. Nossa sociedade vai melhorar se houver uma reforma no judiciário para que ele funcione melhor, e não fazendo com que ele seja substituído pela justiça de faroeste do olho-por-olho. O Bolsonaro tem um discurso misógino que inferioriza as mulheres – eu não quero que minha filha cresça em um país em que ela não esteja protegida pelo estado. Se tivermos um machista violento encabeçando o estado, o que se pode esperar?

Enfim, o que entristece a boa esquerda brasileira é a total ausência de uma direita minimamente sofisticada e capaz de um debate mais profundo. Quando se vota com o sistema digestivo, sabemos o que sai no final.

El día en que me transformé en indio. La identificación ontológica con el otro como metamorfosis descolonizadora (RUAE)

Revista Uruguaya de Antropología y Etnografía, vol.3 no.1 Montevideo June 2018 http://dx.doi.org/10.29112/ruae.v3.n1.6

Versión corregida y con notas



Renzo Taddei

Profesor de Antropología en el Instituto del Mar y en el Programa de Pos-graduación en Ciencias Sociales de la Universidad Federal de San Pablo, Brasil  renzo.taddei@unifesp.br.

Versión traducida en español por Andrea Quadrelli


Este texto reúne reflexiones sobre las dificultades presentes en mi etnografía en la Fundación Cacique Cobra Coral, especialmente con respecto a las transformaciones en la forma como la alteridad fue vivida a lo largo del proceso etnográfico, junto a críticas de antropólogos indígenas a la propia antropología y a sus prácticas, de forma tal que elementos de la investigación etnográfica iluminen, en la medida de lo posible, dimensiones poco comprendidas de las referidas críticas. Por lo tanto, el texto pretende ofrecer algunas reflexiones sobre los impactos del surgimiento de todo un contingente de antropólogos declaradamente “animistas”, dentro de un contexto donde la antropología tácitamente reproduce, en algunas de sus prácticas, el naturalismo materialista de las ciencias llamadas “duras”.

Palabras clave: Animismo; espiritualismo; umbanda; antropología indígena; descolonización de la antropología



This text combines reflections on the challenges encountered by me in my ethnographic work with the Cacique Cobra Coral Foundation, in special in what concerns the transformation in the way alterity was experienced throughout the ethnographic process, with criticisms made by indigenous anthropologists to anthropology and its practices, with the goal of making elements of the ethnographic research illuminate, as much as possible, uncomprehended dimensions of the mentioned criticisms. The text then offers some reflections on the impacts of the appearance of the whole contingent of self-declared “animist” anthropologists, in a context in which anthropology tacitly reproduces, in some of its practices, the materialistic naturalism of the so called “hard” sciences.

Keywords: Animismspiritualism; umbanda; indigenous anthropology; decolonization of anthropology


Parte 1

El argumento central de este texto se construye sobre la base de tres elementos. El primero se relaciona con el hecho de que la existencia de la antropología, como disciplina académica multinacional, se fundamenta en la aceptación tácita de los presupuestos ontológicos en boga desde el contexto sociocultural de su creación; a saber, el naturalismo materialista novecentista imperante en el medio académico en países como Inglaterra, Francia, Alemania y Estados Unidos.A pesar del notable desarrollo teórico de la disciplina a lo largo del siglo XX, tales presupuestos ontológicos se mantuvieron intactos. Sin embargo, en las últimas décadas del siglo, el desarrollo de la antropología en países que fueron colonias europeas, junto con el aumento de las oportunidades educativas para las poblaciones autóctonas produjeron, en los Estados Unidos, Canadá, India, Australia, Nueva Zelanda, México, Brasil y en otros países, académicos entrenados en antropología, pero que no coinciden con el naturalismo materialista antes mencionado. Particularmente, en Brasil crece el número de antropólogos indígenas; crece, también, el volumen de acusaciones con respecto a prácticas colonialistas que, según estos últimos, caracterizan a la disciplina.

El segundo elemento se relaciona con el éxito de la teoría del perspectivismo amerindio que dio visibilidad inédita a los temas indígenas, más allá de los dominios de la etnología; su asociación con las filosofías de Bruno Latour, Isabelle Stengers y Patrice Maniglier, además de las alianzas con la antropología melanesia de Marilyn Strathern y Roy Wagner, reposicionó el pensamiento indígena mostrando su centralidad en el contexto de las discusiones de los problemas contemporáneos, dentro y fuera de la academia. Como dice Viveiros de Castro en el prefacio de la edición brasileña del libro A queda do céu (Kopenawa y Albert, 2015), “temos a obrigação de levar absolutamentea sério o que dizem os índios” (Viveiros de Castro, 2015). Lo cual incluye, naturalmente, lo que dicen los antropólogos indígenas sobre las prácticas establecidas en la disciplina.

Y, finalmente, el tercer elemento se refiere a cómo el extrañamiento por parte de los antropólogos indígenas, de la actitud académica que ahueca las prácticas de los pueblos con los cuales trabajan, con la utilización de rótulos como “cultura” y semejantes, abre las puertas para la articulación discursiva de los otros , que se sienten igualmente alienados. Una de las cuestiones centrales – pero no la única – en el conflicto entre antropólogos indígenas y el mainstream académico, se relaciona con las entidades que existen fuera del radar de las ciencias “duras”; ciencias que se atribuyen la autoridad exclusiva en la definición de lo que (no) existe. Un ejemplo evidente son los espíritus xapiri, personajes fundamentales en la existencia del pueblo Yanomami. Sin embargo, sucede que el “animismo”1 (Descola, 2013) yanomami, y del resto de los pueblos indígenas sur-americanos es, en cierto sentido, ontológico, compatible – tal vez sea más preciso alianzable – con otros animismos, como los que encontramos en los candomblés, umbandas, juremas, tambores de minas, en las religiones ayahuasqueras, en las distintas tradiciones de pajelança, kardecismos, sintoísmos, budismos, hinduismos, y en otras varias tradiciones espiritualistas presentes en el país.

El objetivo de este texto es explorar los alcances de las críticas de los antropólogos indígenas a la antropología, e indagar sobre la posibilidad de que tales críticas, justamente por su potencial de capitanear alianzas con otras tradiciones espiritualistas, puedan – si son tomadas en serio – desestabilizar la disciplina. La presentación de las actividades de mi investigación etnográfica con la Fundación Cacique Cobra Coral y los desafíos e impases encontrados serán utilizados como material sobre el cual se construirá el argumento. El género que utilizaré es el autobioetnográfico; el texto tiene una orientación más sintética que analítica.

Parte 2

El trabajo etnográfico de mi doctorado se centró en los conflictos entre poblaciones sertanejas, científicos, políticos y periodistas con relación a las formas de entender y de vivir el clima de Ceará. La etnografía se desarrolló en la agencia meteorológica estatal y también junto a algunos líderes comunitarios sertanejos llamados “profetas de la lluvia”, dada su capacidad de transformar observaciones del ecosistema en previsiones de lluvia.

En mayo de 2007, fui a la Universidad de Miami para al estreno del documental One water, del director de cine Sanjeev Chatterjee, con quien había colaborado. Allí ocurrió algo que considero el momento inaugural de esta investigación. En el coctel que precedió a la proyección de la película, participé en una conversación donde había un hombre vestido como lama tibetano. Se trataba de un asesor personal del Dalai Lama; este último participa en el documental, pero no había podido asistir a su estreno, y por eso envió a su asesor como representante. En determinado momento de la conversación, una funcionaria de la universidad afirmó que, siempre que un huracán se aproximaba a Miami, escribía al lama para pedirle que orase, de modo de alterar su trayectoria. Todos rieron – con excepción de la mujer y del lama, lo que creó un clima incómodo, y las risas pronto terminaron. El lama dijo entonces, con aire benevolente, que no creía tener ese poder; sin embargo, cuando era un aprendiz – afirmó – vio a su maestro subir a una montaña y detener una tempestad.

En ese momento, algo nuevo e interesante se presentó. Desde hacía varios años estudiaba la actividad de prever las condiciones atmosféricas, ya sea de forma científica o a través de los llamados conocimientos tradicionales, pero hasta entonces no me había enfrentado a la cuestión de una alteración intencional de esas condiciones.

Años más tarde, a través de los medios, en Río de Janeiro, conocí la Fundación Cacique Cobra Coral. Se trata de una institución religiosa, vinculada con la tradición umbanda, que trabaja para socios públicos y privados alterando las condiciones atmosféricas. El espíritu del Cacique Cobra Coral es quien realiza las alteraciones atmosféricas; su comunicación con los vivos se realiza a través del médium Adelaide Scritori; y la comunicación de ambos, espíritu y médium, con el mundo se realiza a través del relacionista público de la fundación, Osmar Santos. La sede de la fundación se encuentra en la ciudad de Guarulhos, en San Pablo; si bien, históricamente, la mayoría de los trabajos realizados han sido en Río de Janeiro. Una vez más, me encontraba con una referencia a la alteración intencional de las condiciones atmosféricas. Esta vez, decidí adoptar el asunto como tema de investigación.

Parte 3

Esa investigación todavía está en curso; la cuestión de interés, aquí, es el hecho de que dicha investigación, desde un primer momento, me enfrentó a desafíos existenciales y metodológicos para los cuales no estaba preparado. El relato que sigue describe tales desafíos.

En un texto anterior (Taddei, 2017) presenté el trabajo de la Fundación Cobra Coral con mayores detalles; retomo algunos de los elementos más relevantes para el argumento que aquí se presenta. En los últimos 30 años, la fundación tuvo contratos de prestación de servicios, publicados en el diario oficial, firmados con las intendencias de Río de Janeiro y San Pablo, los gobiernos estatales de Río de Janeiro, Santa Catarina y Río Grande del Sur, y el gobierno del Distrito Federal, y con empresas como Artplan, organizadora del Rock in Río (Neves, 2006). Los contratos comprenden la producción de lluvias y de tiempo seco. Previsiblemente, las actividades de la fundación son motivo de controversias y ataques de todo tipo.

Uno de los colegas meteorólogos con quien trabajé en mi anterior investigación publicó en internet, en cierta ocasión, la acusación de que la fundación era un fraude, porque “todos sabem que há meteorologistas trabalhando para eles”. A través de internet y de otros colegas meteorólogos, descubrí que, efectivamente, la fundación contrata meteorólogos de alto nivel para actuar como consultores en sus operaciones. Más adelante, Osmar Santos confirmó no solamente la relación con los científicos, sino que además me facilitó sus contactos.

Al momento actual, hay dos científicos que colaboran de forma más sistemática con la fundación: un profesor jubilado del Instituto de Astronomía, Geofísica y Ciencias Atmosféricas de la Universidad de San Pablo (IAG/USP); un segundo investigador, más joven, del Centro de Previsión del Tiempo y de Estudios Climáticos del Instituto Nacional de Investigaciones Espaciales (CPTEC/Inpe). Son, nada menos, las dos instituciones meteorológicas más prestigiosas del país. Es innecesario decir que el cuerpo directivo de ambas instituciones no aprueba tales actividades, y por esta razón los meteorólogos solicitan que sus nombres no sean mencionados.

En varias ocasiones entrevisté a ambos meteorólogos. Un aspecto sorprendente de la investigación, más allá de la relación de una institución de la naturaleza de la fundación con personas públicas y jurídicas de gran visibilidad, es la relación con dichos científicos – y en este punto la investigación se relaciona con mis trabajos anteriores. Por este motivo, resolví profundizar en el análisis de esta dimensión del trabajo de la entidad.

Frente al cuestionamiento de por qué la fundación precisa meteorólogos, el relato de Osmar Santos fue idéntico al que obtuve de los científicos. El Cacique Cobra Coral es una entidad espiritual capaz de realizar transformaciones en las condiciones atmosféricas. A través de la médium Adelaide Scritori, el Cacique pone ese poder a disposición de quien lo necesite. El resultado no está nunca garantizado, dice Osmar, porque el bien común está por encima de los intereses personales2, y el reconocimiento del pedido depende de la cuestión del mérito merecido. Sin embargo, personas como el ex intendente de Río de Janeiro, Cesar Maia, por ejemplo, afirman que la eficacia del Cacique está garantizada (Boulting, 2017).

El Cacique solicita a los meteorólogos informes sobre las condiciones atmosféricas sobre la región, en el momento en que el trabajo debe realizarse, y también explicaciones sobre el funcionamiento de los sistemas atmosféricos, incluyendo instrucciones sobre cómo proceder para lograr determinado objetivo. En el primer contacto de Osmar Santos con el profesor de la USP, en los años 1980, el primero preguntó por teléfono al segundo – que en ese entonces también trabajaba como meteorólogo en el periódico O Estado de S. Paulo – qué debería hacerse para evitar que un frente frío proveniente de Argentina ingresara al territorio brasileño. Luego de convencerse de que no se trataba de una broma, el meteorólogo sugirió que, si la presión atmosférica de la región aumentara, tendría el efecto de desarmar la nebulosidad, disolviendo el frente frío. Según el profesor, el hecho de que la presión atmosférica efectivamente aumentara en la región, en los días posteriores, lo motivó para decidirse a continuar el contacto con la fundación, movido por la curiosidad. Más tarde, el científico se transformaría en el director técnico de la institución. A seguir, reproduzco otro ejemplo, más reciente, citado en un texto anterior:

“Eu já vi isso acontecer… eles seguram a frente fria na porta de entrada do Rio de Janeiro. É como no Rock in Rio, foi uma coisa incrível – uma baita frente fria encostando lá, e eles seguraram ela. Eles me perguntaram: como eu faço pra não deixar essa frente fria entrar? Em primeiro lugar eu digo: é preciso reforçar o vento nordeste, contra o deslocamento da frente, pra segurá-la; tem que mudar também o cavado de altitude de oeste, retardando a sua propagação… a meteorologia trabalha em distintas altitudes…” (Taddei, 2016, p. 202).

En la misma entrevista, pregunto cómo, exactamente, el cacique altera las condiciones atmosféricas. “A Adelaide me disse que o mundo espiritual é muito organizado”, afirmó el profesor; “há equipes imensas que cuidam da umidade do ar, outras que cuidam da temperatura, outras que cuidam da pressão, e assim sucessivamente”. En ese momento, sucedió algo inesperado: comenzó a revisar una carpeta con diversas informaciones acerca de la fundación, que había traído para mostrarme, buscando alguna cosa. Luego de algunos minutos, encontró lo que buscaba; me dio algunas hojas de papel, con el sello de la fundación, donde estaban fotocopiadas algunas páginas de El libro de los espíritus, de Allan Kardec. Se trata de uno de los libros considerados fundacionales del espiritismo kardecista, publicado en 1857, en Francia, con preguntas que Kardec formula, a través de médiums, a espíritus. El texto fotocopiado reproducía la sección “Acción de los espíritus en los fenómenos de la naturaleza”. A continuación, reproduzco algunos de los segmentos más significativos:

536. – sabendo que os Espíritos exercem ação sobre a matéria e que são os agentes da vontade de Deus, perguntamos se alguns dentre eles não exercerão certa influência sobre os elementos na Natureza para os agitar, acalmar ou dirigir?

“Mas, evidentemente. Nem poderia ser de outro modo. Deus não exerce ação direta sobre a matéria. Ele encontra agentes dedicados em todos os graus da escala dos mundos. ” […]

539. A produção de certos fenômenos, das tempestades, por exemplo, é obra de um só Espírito, ou muitos se reúnem, formando grandes massas, para produzi-los?

“Reúnem-se em massas inumeráveis. ”

540. Os Espíritos que exercem ação nos fenômenos da Natureza operam com conhecimento de causa, usando do livre-arbítrio, ou por efeito de instintivo ou irrefletido impulso?

“Uns sim, outros não. Estabeleçamos uma comparação. Considera essas miríades de animais que, pouco a pouco, fazem emergir do mar ilhas e arquipélagos. Julgas que não há aí um fim providencial e que essa transformação da superfície do globo não seja necessária à harmonia geral? Entretanto, são animais de ínfima ordem que executam essas obras, provendo às suas necessidades e sem suspeitarem de que são instrumentos de Deus. Pois bem, do mesmo modo, os Espíritos mais atrasados oferecem utilidade ao conjunto. Enquanto se ensaiam para a vida, antes que tenham plena consciência de seus atos e estejam no gozo pleno do livre-arbítrio, atuam em certos fenômenos, de que inconscientemente se constituem os agentes. Primeiramente, executam. Mais tarde, quando suas inteligências já houverem alcançado um certo desenvolvimento, ordenarão e dirigirão as coisas do mundo material. Depois, poderão dirigir as do mundo moral. É assim que tudo serve, que tudo se encadeia na Natureza, desde o átomo primitivo até o arcanjo, que também começou por ser átomo. Admirável lei de harmonia, que o vosso acanhado espírito ainda não pode apreender em seu conjunto!” (Kardec, 2013, p. 262-264).

Se plantean muchas cuestiones interesantes en estos pocos párrafos3, pero no es mi objetivo discutir aquí su contenido, y sí los efectos pragmáticos de la interposición de los textos citados en el flujo de la investigación.

Lo que ocurrió en aquel momento fue un corto-circuito existencial-profesional, una crisis que generó una situación de parálisis metodológica. En aquel momento, yo, investido en la condición y realizando una performance de hombre, blanco, académico, antropólogo – desinteresadamente cosmopolita, por lo tanto, sin marcas lingüísticas – llevando a cabo una investigación sobre una práctica “afro-brasileña” y, por encima de todo, interesantísima en su permanente insistencia en confrontar el orden instituido, con respecto a los papeles tradicionalmente atribuidos a la ciencia y al conocimiento llamado “religioso” cuando el asunto es gobierno y políticas públicas, me di cuenta de que no sería posible seguir esquivando el hecho de que mi universo familiar es todo animista – consanguíneos de primer grado se distribuyen entre kardecistas (grupo del cual hago parte) y sintoístas.

Al igual que en mi investigación anterior, me acerqué a la Fundación Cacique Cobra Coral interesado en las situaciones limítrofes, donde la equivocación es segura – su relación con la política y los medios de comunicación y, más tarde, con la ciencia. Lógicamente imaginé que, como parte de la etnografía, en algún momento presenciaría una actividad mediúnica, pero nunca pensé en hacer de la misma una dimensión importante de la investigación; en otras palabras: responder al mundo académico si el cacique existe y hace lo que la fundación dice que hace. Aquellas fotocopias de las páginas de El libro de los espíritus, sin embargo, desestabilizaron todo mi esquema metodológico – y, por lo tanto, epistemológico y ontológico – que, inconscientemente, había desarrollado en la investigación; y, en consecuencia, desorganizaron mi performance y la identidad profesional que ésta producía.

En ese momento, en el medio de la confusión de conceptos e identidades, sentí que experimentaba una inversión de papeles: me había transformado en indio. No me refiero aquí al concepto de indio en cualquier sentido étnico, obviamente; sino en un sentido estructural, según la fórmula tradicional de la disciplina antropólogo :: nativo. Entonces descubrí que, ontológicamente hablando, el mundo del nativo y el mío habían sido siempre el mismo, mientras que el de la “antropología”, ese sí, era un mundo diferente. Comencé a estudiar el mundo del Cacique Cobra Coral con la esperanza de que la etnografía permitiera algún entendimiento entre ambos, al mismo tiempo que la alteridad conservaría las tensiones necesarias para una creación conceptual teórica. La alteridad es, al mismo tiempo, estratégica y confortable; en el momento en que me reconocí hermanado con el cacique, la etnografía se evaporó y sucedió algo completamente inesperado: comencé a percibir el armazón teórico de la antropología como una amenaza. Metáfora, distinción, embodyment, biopoder, weapons of theweak, neurosis colectiva, disociación, histeria, y cuánta cosa más, pueden aniquilar al cacique4; en realidad, no aniquilan el espíritu, aniquilan el diálogo – la voz nativa es silenciada, y la antropología se convierte en opresora.

No estoy minimizando las muchas divergencias existentes entre umbanda y kardecismo (y otras tradiciones espiritualistas); sin embargo, existe una base ontológica común que fácilmente permite lo que Almeida (Almeida, 2014) definió como acuerdos pragmáticos, inclusive con respecto a las reacciones a la economía de las categorías clasificatorias, como las científicas. Descola (2013) por ejemplo, cuando propuso su famoso esquema cuadripartita de regímenes ontológicos, construyó una equivalencia del tipo “republicana” (Latour, 2009) entre las ontologías; Sahlins (2014, p. 281-290) sugiere, al gusto estructuralista, que el esquema de Descola puede ser reducido a la díada naturalismo-animismo. Umbanda y kardecismo afirman que ambos están equivocados: la ontología naturalista es un subconjunto de la ontología animista; la segunda es mayor que la primera y la contiene. Por esta razón, la colaboración entre científicos y el espíritu del Cacique no es (ontológicamente) problemática.

Parte 4

Mientras intentaba desarrollar alguna estrategia para resolver la situación en la que había derivado la investigación, encontré un texto de Gersem Baniwa (2016) publicado como libro, editado por la Asociación Brasileña de Antropología. En ese texto, Baniwa presenta críticas contundentes a la antropología. A seguir, cito un segmento del referido texto:

“desafios de indígenas antropólogos passam pelos dois sentidos: potencializar as valiosas contribuições da antropologia e dos antropólogos e superar suas imitações ou debilidades, notadamente no campo da tutela e de certo racismo epistêmico. Sobre este último, passo agora a tecer algumas considerações preliminares. Em meu entendimento, o problema da tutela está intrinsecamente relacionado ao etnocentrismo epistemológico dos agentes não indígenas. A visão absolutista da ciência antropológica conduz à prática de tutela cognitiva dos indígenas. Dito de outro modo: os antropólogos não indígenas são excelentes assessores, tutores e aliados políticos, mas mesmo diante de discursos de rupturas não conseguem romper as bases culturais da tutela, do colonialismo e do imperialismo da ciência moderna, na medida em que não são capazes de abrir mão de suas matrizes cosmopolíticas e epistemológicas eurocêntricas” (Ibid., p. 52).

La experiencia con la Fundación Cacique Cobra Coral me permitió cierta identificación con los elementos centrales del argumento de Baniwa. Más tarde, descubrí la existencia de un gran grupo de autores indígenas, en distintas partes del mundo, cuyos argumentos, alineados con los de Baniwa, son parte de un movimiento mayor de descolonización de la antropología. Uno de estos pioneros es Vine Deloria Jr. (1969) intelectual sioux que, en su obra, es todavía más duro con la disciplina. En la reunión anual de la Asociación Americana de Antropología del 2015, un grupo de antropólogos indígenas de distintos continentes organizó una mesa titulada “Emergent Praxis Against Anthropological Deliriums5; otras mesas y grupos de trabajo en la misma línea han sido parte de los eventos de la disciplina en años recientes.

Sin embargo, percibo que entre los grupos más progresistas de etnólogos en Brasil hay una inmensa molestia, como mínimo, frente al discurso de Baniwa y colegas. Esa molestia es resultado de una lectura meramente política, en sentido estricto, lo que hace que se pierda la dimensión ontológica de la cuestión. Es desconcertante el hecho de que esta crítica provenga de antropólogos indígenas y no de liderazgos indígenas más tradicionales – estos últimos aliados a los antropólogos en el campo político, actúan fuera del campo académico, y desde allí se construye la posibilidad de cooperación; los antropólogos indígenas, colegas de la academia, deconstruyen la disciplina a partir de sus propias entrañas, y son vistos por algunos como una amenaza.

Parte 5

Antes de seguir adelante, tal vez sea mejor una pausa: para el lector, la línea argumentativa del texto puede parecer surreal. Al fin de cuentas, es de común consenso que, en la historia de la humanidad, ningún sistema de ideas fue capaz de describir y prever los fenómenos de la naturaleza con el grado de precisión con que lo hace la ciencia; y la ciencia nunca fue capaz de documentar, de forma inequívoca, la existencia de espíritus. Por lo tanto, el hecho de considerar seriamente la existencia y la acción de los espíritus sobre la atmósfera, ¿no sería un acto obscurantista?

Esta pregunta es, obviamente, retórica; pero vale la pena elaborar una respuesta a la misma, a partir del pensamiento propio de las ciencias sociales y humanas de tradición euroamericana.

La idea de que el argumento de este texto es un contrasentido se fundamenta en algunas presuposiciones. La primera es la percepción de que, como los organismos humanos son todos iguales6, es imposible que los indígenas vean y sientan cosas que otros no son capaces de ver y sentir. Los individuos son obviamente diferentes, pero las populaciones no pueden serlo, en grandes escalas demográficas (donde se manifiestan las diferencias llamadas “culturales”); ahí lo que importa es el hecho de ser todos homo sapiens sapiens.

Esta presuposición es, obviamente, pueril; pero aun así se presenta de forma subyacente en gran parte de los argumentos que transforman los fenómenos llamados espirituales en metáforas de alguna otra cosa. En el libro Myth and meaning (Lévi-Strauss, 1979) Lévi-Strauss presenta el caso de indios que eran capaces de ver el planeta Venus durante el día, lo que para él resultaba imposible (no creíble); posteriormente, el antropólogo encontró registros de antiguos marineros europeos que poseían esa misma capacidad. Aquí se encuentran dos cuestiones interesantes: por un lado, la maleabilidad del cuerpo humano trasciende lo que supone el sentido común académico; por otro, es una gran necedad creer que los individuos de las civilizaciones urbanas occidentales sean el pináculo del desarrollo corporal y sensorial humano, en términos de sus capacidades.

Existe otra dimensión, más relevante todavía, descubierta tanto por los estudios sociales de la ciencia y de la tecnología como por la filosofía de la ciencia. De cierta forma, la idea de que la ciencia tiene la autoridad para decidir entre lo que existe y lo que no existe en el mundo, depende de una comprensión del método científico como una “revelación” de lo real. Sin embargo, en realidad, esta idea nunca sobrevivió al escrutinio de muchos de los principales filósofos de la ciencia occidental, comenzando por David Hume, que sugirió en el siglo XVIII que el método inductivo – pilar fundamental del método científico hasta los días actuales – no era capaz de revelar a la mente humana nada nuevo sobre el mundo, dado que su punto de partida es el presupuesto del que el mundo está compuesto por regularidades y necesita de categorías mentales preexistentes para dar sentido a lo que se aprehende (Hume, 1888).

Dos siglos más tarde, Ludwig Wittgenstein (2001) y Paul Feyerabend (1993) argumentaron, de formas distintas, contra la idea de que la trayectoria histórica de la ciencia – como estructura de conceptos y teorías producida – es sólo la materialización de un destino necesario, condicionado por la estructura de la naturaleza; al contrario, por cada decisión tomada por los científicos a lo largo de la historia (no todas de carácter lógico o racional, como demostró Wittgenstein [2005] con el concepto de elegancia en matemática, por ejemplo), innúmeras alternativas fueron abandonadas. La historia de la ciencia occidental es, por este motivo, una entre otras posibles, lo que equivale a decir que está formada por la contingencia más que por una necesidad estructural.

Más recientemente, autores ligados a las Teorías del Actor-Red demostraron que la actividad científica no necesita alcanzar una “verdad objetiva” para producir efectos eficaces en el mundo (Latour, 1994; Stengers, 2010) – la propia noción de verdad objetiva puede ser entendida como una situación donde los niveles de incertidumbre dejan de causar incomodidad cognitiva y funcionan pragmáticamente con respecto a las tareas a ser desarrolladas; entonces, las controversias se estabilizan en niveles administrables.

De todo esto se deriva la noción de que ciertas configuraciones socio-técnicas crean regímenes de percepción; y tales regímenes de percepción retroalimentan, a través de la acción concertada de los miembros de la colectividad – inclusive en la forma en que se evocan y se ponen a funcionar configuraciones maquínales -, los elementos que garantizan el funcionamiento de las mismas redes socio-técnicas. La autopsia de un mamífero, por ejemplo, jamás encontró un alma – no porque el mamífero no la tenga, sino porque la técnica de la autopsia es parte de una forma de organización y de una configuración de la realidad que parte del presupuesto de que el alma no existe. En este pequeño ejemplo reside el elemento fundamental de la cuestión: el hecho de que el mundo occidental moderno funcione bien con su esquema de ideas e instituciones, no dice nada con respecto a los mundos en los que otros pueblos viven, ni tampoco de los fenómenos que producen al vivir en tales mundos. Cuando la ciencia se pone a legislar sobre lo que puede o no puede existir en los mundos no occidentales, está usando autopsias para probar la inexistencia del alma; Stengers llamó a esto la “máquina de guerra de las ciencias” (Stengers, 2010).

Esta actitud de las ciencias occidentales no es mera mala voluntad. El materialismo que las caracteriza se desarrolló en un contexto histórico en el cual, el interés del capitalismo, nacido prácticamente en el mismo lugar y en el mismo momento, era vaciar espiritualmente a la naturaleza7, para poder transformarla en materia prima. El mundo moderno es fruto de configuraciones mutuas entre la ciencia naciente y el capitalismo en desarrollo; configuraciones que fueron constituyendo, lentamente, nuevos regímenes de percepción y nuevas ideas decurrentes de las mismas. Europa fue capaz de transformar su configuración religiosa para invertir en una divinidad deslocalizada que no interrumpe la producción y el comercio, y al mismo tiempo exterminó las tradiciones animistas, con sus entidades espirituales vinculadas a los ríos, los bosques, los animales y las montañas. Si, actualmente, en las tres Américas, movimientos de revitalización de tradiciones animistas son capaces de hacerlo con algún grado de continuidad histórica, no ocurrelo mismo, por ejemplo, en los movimientos Wicca y Druidry en Inglaterra.

El argumento central aquí es que los principales regímenes de percepción, presentes en los laboratorios científicos y auditorios universitarios, son herederos de esta particular combinación histórica, que en este artículo mencionamos rápidamente, entre el modo como los trabajos de los primeros científicos fueron amoldados en las sociedades europeas, con la asociación de la creciente matematización del mundo a las metáforas raíz (Ortner, 1973) de cada época (siendo la “máquina” una de las más importantes en el siglo XVIII); el interés de la producción capitalista por la transformación de los sentimientos con relación a los bosques, ríos y montañas, para poder transformarlos en recursos económicos; y la forma como la espiritualidad asume un bies de transcendencia platónica, de forma tal de mantener estratégicamente la divinidad, al mismo tiempo, moralmente presente y materialmente ausente.

Esta situación es la que define lo que los cuerpos de los científicos, asociados con sus máquinas, estrategias cognitivas, teorías e instituciones, son capaces de percibir y hacer; y también lo que son incapaces de percibir y hacer.


En el discurso antropológico, y en las ciencias humanas en forma general, existe un antídoto para los problemas aquí presentados: conexiones parciales, conocimiento localizado, ciborg, parroquialización de las ciencias, etc. Los antropólogos indígenas, obviamente, saben de todo esto. ¿Por qué, entonces, se siguen enunciando las acusaciones de colonialismo? Repito, aquí, un segmento del discurso de Gersem Baniwa: “mesmo diante de discursos de rupturas [os antropólogos] não conseguem romper as bases culturais da tutela, do colonialismo e do imperialismo da ciência moderna”. O sea, en la disciplina existe un discurso de ruptura, pero éste no se muestra eficaz con relación a la transformación de las prácticas de la disciplina.

Veamos, por ejemplo, la cuestión de los congresos, tal vez el ritual más importante en el proceso de reproducción de la institucionalización de la disciplina en Brasil y en otros países. De forma esquemática, a pesar de las tímidas tentativas de debate y transformación del modelo que estructura tales reuniones, el mismo se continúa basando en la secuencia interminable de presentaciones verbales, de 15 minutos cada una, con el objetivo de presentar resultados de investigación. ¿Cómo es posible discutir, de forma tan compacta y en una dinámica inspirada en las líneas de montaje industrial, toda la complejidad de las experiencias etnográficas vividas? ¿Cómo hacer justicia a la densidad de las relaciones con los demás participantes de la vivencia etnográfica? Aquí, el proceso de culturización, o de antropologización, de algo funciona como estrategia de reducción, compactación y traducción de la experiencia en performance para congresos o en contenido para artículos. Obviamente, aquí reside el peligro de la aniquilación ontológica y, por lo tanto, política, de parte de los mundos donde tuvo lugar la vivencia etnográfica.

De forma general, no se toma en cuenta el hecho de que las vivencias etnográficas tienen lugar en colectividades organizadas en prácticas y formas de vida cuya experiencia efectiva exige mucho más que aprender una lengua, permanecer por todo el ciclo del calendario local y gracias a la buena voluntad de sus líderes. Muchas veces, tales prácticas exigen, además de décadas de aprendizaje, el abandono de estrategias y prácticas habituales de auto-constitución (inclusive corporal y mental; Taddei y Gamboggi, 2016) cosa que los antropólogos, en general, no están dispuestos a realizar. Por esta razón, los trabajos etnográficos reflejan, frecuentemente, al investigador mucho más que al investigado – especialmente cuando el tema es trance, xamanismo y mediumnidad.

Podemos avanzar un poco más. Las colectividades pueden decir cosas y plantear cuestiones sobre sus propias realidades sobre las cuales la ciencia – incluida la antropología – no tiene nada que decir. En antropología es una práctica común el presupuesto de que los mundos socioculturales son accesibles por principio; pueden ser complejos, como el parentesco amazónico o como los intercambios económicos en Melanesia, pero se asume, como corolario, que tales cosas y todo el resto, en el ámbito sociocultural, son, por definición, accesibles a la investigación etnográfica. En la práctica, esto presupone la ontología naturalista que caracteriza a las ciencias occidentales llamadas “duras”. Cuando la antropología evita la cuestión ontológica, reproduce el naturalismo que comparte con las ciencias duras (y con el capitalismo).

Aún existe una versión más radical de esta cuestión, que se manifiesta cuando el antropólogo(a) realiza afirmaciones categóricas sin que sea capaz de justificar lo que dice, ni siquiera dentro del universo epistemológico en el cual supuestamente actúa. Esto ocurre, por ejemplo, cuando la narrativa etnográfica da a entender o afirma explícitamente que conoce la “naturaleza” de los espíritus, y que la misma reside en la incorporación – o sea, que se trata simplemente de una perfomance y que no existen espíritus si no se encuentran incorporados (Cardozo, 2014). Otra variedad del mismo fenómeno es la que iguala la posesión espiritual a las enfermedades mentales – otra declaración bastante explícita de que los espíritus, en realidad, no existen (Goldam, 2016).

La antropología compone para sí misma un juego de lenguaje muy particular, en el cual se exime de justificarse tanto para los colegas de la academia como para los interlocutores de sus etnografías. A través del ejercicio de una antropología reversible (no sólo reversa, sino una donde el etnógrafo efectivamente habita dos mundos), es posible mostrar que el concepto de “naturaleza” usado en expresiones como “por su propia naturaleza, los espíritus…”, no tiene equivalencia con otras formas de construir discursos de autoridad sobre la naturaleza en el mundo académico (a través del uso de criterios de cientificidad, por ejemplo), y mucho menos con el discurso de los interlocutores etnográficos – o sea, se trata de una antropología naturalista en su propia ontogénesis particular. En el caso de la idea de enfermedad mental, los autores, salvo rarísimas excepciones, se eximen de la conformación de una alianza consistente con (o en contra) de la psiquiatría y utilizan la idea de enfermedad de forma liviana, sin considerar los efectos pragmáticos de esta decisión. Por último, la afirmación categórica de que los espíritus no existen, frente a la imposibilidad de que esto sea siquiera verificable empíricamente dentro del régimen ontológico dominante en el mundo académico y en la antropología, revela que se trata de una profesión de fe, más de que cualquier otra cosa.

Sigamos adelante. También está la cuestión del lugar de enunciación. En un congreso reciente8, durante el debate que siguió a una mesa sobre antropología y cambios climáticos, luego de varias participaciones del público presente, un antropólogo indígena tomó el micrófono e inició su discurso diciendo: “eu falo na condição de antropólogo tukano”. Inmediatamente, me llamó la atención que nadie, antes de él, se había auto-presentado explicitando el lugar desde dónde hablaba. Pues este es un elemento constitutivo de los congresos y artículos: el “cosmopolitismo de fondo”, que funciona como mecanismo tácito de conmensurabilización de todo lo que allí existe y se presenta. Tal cosmopolitismo de fondo exime a todos de la necesidad de explicitar el lugar desde dónde se habla, y lo hace por el hecho de basarse en el mononaturalismo de las ciencias occidentales. En función de lo cual, la antropología cosmopolita, a pesar de su pretensión política progresista, no consigue ir más allá de la mera reproducción de la agenda humanista liberal y de lo que Stengers llamó la “maldición de la tolerancia” (Stengers, 2011).

De esta forma, se llega a la conclusión de que la antropología es parte de la “máquina de guerra de la ciencia” de la que nos habla Stengers, donde “conocimiento” y “cultura” son usados como armas neutralizadoras. Los 350 años de materialismo desencantado han producido cierta des-sensibilización colectiva en muchas dimensiones de la vida provocando que grandes contingentes académicos integren, sin darse cuenta, las burocracias perpetradoras de muchas “banalidades del mal”, ya sea en su variación ambiental (Haraway, 2014) o en su variedad “culturalizadora”.

La antropología producida por intelectuales indígenas tiene el mérito de desnaturalizar el hecho de “ser antropólogo” – especialmente, cuando el adjetivo “indígena”, marcador que inicialmente llama la atención, nos conduce a la siguiente etapa, más interesante, que es el desmantelamiento de la caja-negra “antropólogo”. Pero, ¿cuál es la cuestión con la actuación de estos antropólogos indígenas? Por lo menos dos: en primer lugar, la valorización de las actividades prácticas en oposición a las elaboraciones teóricas. Por esta razón, en el discurso de los antropólogos indígenas, es recurrente la valorización de la actividad pedagógica y el relativo desinterés por la actividad de “producción científica” (Benites, 2016). En segundo lugar, la importancia atribuida a las dimensiones de trayectoria y presencia en el mundo, en oposición a las abstracciones conceptuales descontextualizadas. La indexicalidad radical del quehacer antropológico indígena es, como muestran Gersem Baniwa y muchos otros, incompatible con el empleo retórico de un “nosotros” genérico, que subentiende una identidad y una ontología, como se observa en muchos textos reflexivos que tratan sobre la disciplina.

Con respecto a las implicaciones de lo anterior para la antropología, se pueden vislumbrar algunos elementos imprescindibles para el debate. Uno de ellos fue mencionado por Latour (2009) cuando afirmó que el desafío planteado por el perspectivismo amerindio no es un “viraje”, sino una explosión – efectivamente, lo que se busca con la crítica a la antropología colonialista no es la aniquilación de la antropología construida sobre bases ontológicas naturalistas, sino la reducción de la misma a una antropología entre muchas otras. Antropólogas y antropólogos no escogen sus matrices cosmopolíticas por una decisión racional; invertir las marcas de la relación colonial sólo reproduce el colonialismo. Esta, naturalmente, no es la intención de la mayoría de los activistas trabajando por la descolonización de la antropología.

En un texto reciente Márcio Goldman sugiere que, a partir de una perspectiva naturalista, la transformación de la antropología vendrá con la adopción de una postura que asuma como guía un “no saber” transcendental (Goldman, 2016, p. 34). Creo que esta postura es bastante más apropiada de la sugerida por Henare, Holbraad & Wastell (2007) y también por Holbraad & Pedersen (2017) que proponen el uso de un abordaje ontológico como forma de expandir el esquema conceptual de la antropología – lo que, de cierta forma, sugiere la ambición de construirla como disciplina hipercosmopolita. Lo que la descolonización de la antropología desea, al contrario, es abandonar definitivamente el citado cosmopolitismo de fondo, que marca las relaciones profesionales institucionalizadas; de disciplina, la antropología se transformará en una plataforma de relaciones cosmopolíticas.

De este modo, el primer paso en la descolonización de la disciplina es explotarla; el segundo, el incentivo para formar, a partir de los fragmentos dispersos, aglomerados territorializados, relacionados entre sí de un modo más rizomático y menos arbóreo, de forma tal que incluso los términos naturalismo y animismo, usados de forma tan extensa en este texto, dejen de tener sentido; el tercer paso consiste en trabajar en la construcción de acuerdos pragmáticos (equivocaciones deseables), que son siempre locales, efímeros (por ello requieren atención y trabajo) y objetivamente focalizados. La antropología precisa ser parroquial, tener marcas visibles de nacimiento y desarrollo, ser una actividad diplomática difícil.

En el momento en que dicha transformación se efectúe, cuando alguien presente algo en un congreso o escriba un artículo sin declararse, en términos del lugar de su discurso, en el interior de un tal rizoma, ese hecho será considerado un acto de violencia ontológica.

Referencias bibliográficas

Almeida, M. (2014) Caipora e outros conflitos ontológicos. Em: R@U: Revista de Antropologia Social dos Alunos do PPGAS-UFSCAR. São Carlos, São Paulo. 5(1) pp. 7-28.

Baniwa, G. (2016) Indígenas antropólogos: entre a ciência e as cosmopolíticas ameríndias. In: Rial, C. y Schwade, E. Diálogos antropológicos contemporâneos. Rio de Janeiro: Associação Brasileira de Antropologia.

Benites, T. (2016) Trajetória e atuação de um antropólogo indígena. En: Rial, C. y SCHWADE, E. Diálogos antropológicos contemporâneos. Rio de Janeiro: Associação Brasileira de Antropologia, pp. 59-67.

Boulting, G. et al. (2017) Série O infiltrado, episódio n. 9 – Magia. History Channel. Disponible en: Disponible en: <https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ESh54fsi8iU> . Acceso en: 27 dic. 2017.

Cardozo, V. (2014) Spirits and stories in the crossroads. En: Blanes, R. y Espírito Santo, D. The social life of spirits. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press.

Deloria, V. J. R. (1969) Custer died for your sins: an Indian manifesto. Norman, Oklahoma: University of Oklahoma Press.

Descola, P. (2013) Beyond nature and culture. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press.

Feyerabend, P. (1993) Against method. London: Verso.

Goldman, M.(2016) Cosmopolíticas, etno-ontologías y otras epistemologías. La antropología como teoría etnográfica. En: Cuadernos de Antropología Social 44 pp. 27-35.

Haraway, D. (2014) Anthropocene, Capitalocene, Chthulucene: staying with the trouble. Apresentação na conferência: Arts of Living on a Damaged Planet, Aarhus, Dinamarca, 9/5/2014. Disponible en: Disponible en: <https://vimeo.com/97663518> .

Henare, A. Holbraad, Holbraad y M., Wastell,S. (2007) Thinking through things: theorising artefacts in ethnographic perspective. London: Routledge.

Holbraad, M. y Pedersen, M. (2017) The ontological turn: an anthropological exposition. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Hume, D. (1888) Treatise of human nature. Oxford: Clarendon Press.

Kardec, A. (2013) O livro dos espíritos. Brasília: Federação Espírita Brasileira.

Kopenawa, D. y Albert, B. (2016) A queda do céu: palavras de um xamã yanomami. São Paulo: Companhia das Letras.

Latour, B. (1994) Jamais fomos modernos: ensaio de antropologia simétrica. Rio de Janeiro: Ed. 34.

Latour, B. (2009) Perspectivism: “Type” or “bomb”?. En: Anthropology Today 25(2) pp. 1-2. Disponible en: <http://www.bruno-latour.fr/sites/default/files/P-141-DESCOLAVIVEIROSpdf.pdf>.

Lévi-Strauss, C. (1979) Myth and meaning. New York: Schocken Books.

Mnduruku, D. (2017) Índio não existe. Global Editor. Disponible en: <http://www.globaleditora.com.br/blog/estante-global/daniel-munduruku-indio-nao-existe2>.

Neves, M. (2006) Vendedor de sonhos: a vida e a obra de Roberto Medina. São Paulo: Melhoramentos.

Ortner, S. (1973) On key symbols. En: American Anthropologist, 75 pp. 1338-1346.

Sahlins, M. (2014) On the ontological scheme of Beyond nature and culture. En: Hau. Journal of Ethnographic Theory. 4(1) pp. 281-290.

Stengers, I. (2010) Cosmopolitics Vol. 1. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.

Stengers, I. (2011) Cosmopolitics Vol. 2. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.

Taddei, R. ( 2017) Altergeoengenharia. En: Meteorologistas e profetas da chuva: conhecimentos, práticas e políticas da atmosfera. São Paulo: Terceiro Nome. pp. 189-205.

Taddei, R. y Gamboggi, A. (2016) Education, anthropology, ontologies. En: Educação e Pesquisa, Revista da Faculdade de Educação da USP, 42(1) pp. 27-38.

Tas, M. (2017) Cacique Cobra Coral: medahla de ouro na abertura da Olimpíada. Em: Blog do Tas. 28/12/2012. Disponible em: Disponible em: <http://blogdotas.com.br/2012/07/28/cacique-cobra-coral-medalha-deouro-na-abertura-da-olimpiada> .

Viveiros de Castro, E. (2015) O recado da mata. En: Kopenawa, D. y Albert, B. A queda do céu: palavras de um xamã yanomami. São Paulo: Companhia das Letras.

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[1] Animismo es un término de origen colonial que caracteriza la visión que el materialismo naturalista europeo posee de los demás pueblos del mundo. El trabajo de Philippe Descola (2013) es ejemplar en este sentido. De la misma forma como Daniel Munduruku (2017) afirmó que “não existem índios no Brasil”, no existen animistas a no ser en la mente de quien está inmerso en un contexto materialista. Sin embargo, el concepto de animismo será utilizado en este texto – a partir de aquí sin comillas – por dos razones: la deconstrucción del concepto no es el objetivo central de este trabajo, y, más importante, el argumento que aquí se presenta tiene como interlocutor el fundamento naturalista comúnmente encontrado en la antropología. La adopción del concepto es, así, una concesión en el sentido de facilitar el diálogo. DESCOLA, Philippe. Beyond nature and culture. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2013; MUNDURUKU, Daniel. Índio não existe. Global Editora, julho 2017. Disponible en: <http://www.globaleditora.com.br/blog/estante-global/daniel-munduruku-indio-nao-existe2&gt;. Acceso en: 27 dic. 2017.

[2] Según Osmar Santos, el Cacique sólo acepta realizar un trabajo cuando está convencido que sus impactos representan el interés de todos. En la apertura de los juegos olímpicos en el 2012 en Londres, por ejemplo, en España ocurrió una gran sequía, donde se trasladó la humedad que venía desde el Atlántico Norte que garantizó la operación. Ver: TAS, Marcelo. Cacique Cobra Coral: medalha de ouro na abertura da Olimpíada. Blog do Tas, 28/12/2012. Disponible en: <http://blogdotas.com.br/2012/07/28/cacique-cobra-coral-medalha-de-ouro-naabertura-da-olimpiada&gt;. Acceso en: 27 dic. 2017.

[3] A modo de ejemplo, para citar una cuestión más interesante: la racionalidad y el libre albedrío son presentados como parte de un continuo de transformación de los espíritus, por fuera de la clave dualista que separa mente racional y materia bruta. De este modo, existe una intencionalidad en todo, pero es necesario re-calificar qué se entiende por intencionalidad, en este caso; en la práctica, esto significa que gran parte de la participación espiritual en los fenómenos naturales ocurre de forma “mecánica” y, por lo tanto, sujeta a patrones observables en el mundo “natural”.

[4] No existe una incompatibilidad intrínseca entre esas teorías y la espiritualidad; sin embargo, ocurre que frecuentemente esas teorías son usadas exactamentepara anular la posibilidad del reconocimiento de la espiritualidad, como cuando la mediumnidad, sin mayores preocupaciones por comprender el fenómeno o escuchar a los nativos, es reducida a una manifestación psíquica resultado de situaciones de estrés u opresión, a modo de “válvula de escape”. Ver, por ejemplo, el clásico OBEYESEKERE, Gananath. Medusa’s hair– an essay on personal symbols and religious experience. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1981.

[5] Disponible en: <https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TQt7DNVCKRA&gt;. Acceso en: 27 dic. 2017.

[6] Una concepción que es fruto del éxito tanto de la acción antirracista de la antropología en la primera mitad del s. XX, como de la popularización de concepciones biológicas de la existencia del cuerpo, en la segunda mitad.

[7] Starhawk. Magia, Visão e Ação. Revista do Instituto de Estudos Brasileiros, Brasil, n. 69, p. 52-65, abr. 2018.

[8] VI Reunión de Antropología de la Ciencia y de la Tecnología, realizada en el Instituto de Estudios Brasileños de la Universidad de San Pablo, entre los días 16 y 19 de mayo de 2017.


When Whales and Humans Talk (Hakai Magazine)

Arctic people have been communicating with cetaceans for centuries—and scientists are finally taking note.

Tattooed Whale, 2016 by Tim Pitsiulak. Screen-print on Arches Cover Black. Reproduced with the permission of Dorset Fine ArtsApril 3rd, 2018

Harry Brower Sr. was lying in a hospital bed in Anchorage, Alaska, close to death, when he was visited by a baby whale.

Although Brower’s body remained in Anchorage, the young bowhead took him more than 1,000 kilometers north to Barrow (now Utqiaġvik), where Brower’s family lived. They traveled together through the town and past the indistinct edge where the tundra gives way to the Arctic Ocean. There, in the ice-blue underwater world, Brower saw Iñupiat hunters in a sealskin boat closing in on the calf’s mother.

Brower felt the shuddering harpoon enter the whale’s body. He looked at the faces of the men in the umiak, including those of his own sons. When he awoke in his hospital bed as if from a trance, he knew precisely which man had made the kill, how the whale had died, and whose ice cellar the meat was stored in. He turned out to be right on all three counts.

Brower lived six years after the episode, dying in 1992 at the age of 67. In his final years, he discussed what he had witnessed with Christian ministers and Utqiaġvik’s whaling captains. The conversations ultimately led him to hand down new rules to govern hunting female whales with offspring, meant to communicate respect to whales and signal that people were aware of their feelings and needs. “[The whale] talked to me,” Brower recalls in a collection of his stories, The Whales, They Give Themselves. “He told me all the stories about where they had all this trouble out there on the ice.”

Not long ago, non-Indigenous scientists might have dismissed Brower’s experience as a dream or the inchoate ramblings of a sick man. But he and other Iñupiat are part of a deep history of Arctic and subarctic peoples who believe humans and whales can talk and share a reciprocal relationship that goes far beyond that of predator and prey. Today, as Western scientists try to better understand Indigenous peoples’ relationships with animals—as well as animals’ own capacity for thoughts and feelings—such beliefs are gaining wider recognition, giving archaeologists a better understanding of ancient northern cultures.

“If you start looking at the relationship between humans and animals from the perspective that Indigenous people themselves may have had, it reveals a rich new universe,” says Matthew Betts, an archaeologist with the Canadian Museum of History who studies Paleo-Eskimo cultures in the Canadian Arctic. “What a beautiful way to view the world.”

It’s not clear exactly when people developed the technology that allowed them to begin hunting whales, but scholars generally believe Arctic whaling developed off the coast of Alaska sometime between 600 and 800 CE. For thousands of years before then, Arctic people survived by hunting seals, caribou, and walruses at the edge of the sea ice.

One such group, the Dorset—known in Inuit oral tradition as the Tunitwere rumored to have been so strong the men could outrun caribou and drag a 1,700-kilogram walrus across the ice. The women were said to have fermented raw seal meat against the warmth of their skin, leaving it in their pants for days at a time. But despite their legendary survival skills, the Tunit died out 1,000 years ago.An Inuit hunter sits on a whale that’s been hauled to shore for butchering in Point Hope, Alaska, in 1900. Photo by Hulton Deutsch/Getty Images

An Inuit hunter sits on a whale that’s been hauled to shore for butchering in Point Hope, Alaska, in 1900. Photo by Hulton Deutsch/Getty Images

One theory for their mysterious disappearance is that they were outcompeted by people who had begun to move east into the Canadian Arctic—migrants from Alaska who brought sealskin boats allowing them to push off from shore and hunt whales. Each spring, bowhead whales weighing up to 54,000 kilograms pass through the leads of water that open into the sea ice, and with skill and luck, the ancestors of today’s Inuit and Iñupiat people could spear a cetacean as it surfaced to breathe.

The advent of whaling changed the North. For the first time, hunters could bring in enough meat to feed an entire village. Permanent settlements began springing up in places like Utqiaġvik that were reliably visited by bowheads—places still inhabited today. Social organizations shifted as successful whale hunters amassed wealth, became captains, and positioned themselves at the top of a developing social hierarchy. Before long, the whale hunt became the center of cultural, spiritual, and day-to-day life, and whales the cornerstone of many Arctic and subarctic cosmologies.

When agricultural Europeans began visiting and writing about the North in the 10th century, they were mesmerized by Aboriginal peoples’ relationships with whales. Medieval literature depicted the Arctic as a land of malevolent “monstrous fishes” and people who could summon them to shore through magical powers and mumbled spells. Even as explorers and missionaries brought back straightforward accounts of how individual whaling cultures went about hunting, butchering, and sharing a whale, it was hard to shake the sense of mysticism. In 1938, American anthropologist Margaret Lantis analyzed these scattered ethnographic accounts and concluded that Iñupiat, Inuit, and other northern peoples belonged to a circumpolar “whale cult.”

Lantis found evidence of this in widespread taboos and rituals meant to cement the relationship between people and whales. In many places, a recently killed whale was given a drink of fresh water, a meal, and even traveling bags to ensure a safe journey back to its spiritual home. Individual whalers had their own songs to call the whales to them. Sometimes shamans performed religious ceremonies inside circles made of whale bones. Stashes of whaling amulets—an ambiguous word used to describe everything from carved, jewelry-like charms to feathers or skulls—were passed from father to son in whaling families.

To non-Indigenous observers, it was all so mysterious. So unknowable. And for archaeologists and biologists especially, it was at odds with Western scientific values, which prohibited anything that smacked of anthropomorphism.
A whaler waits for the bowhead whales from shore in Utqiaġvik, Alaska, during whaling season in the Chukchi Sea. Photo by Steven J. Kazlowski/Alamy Stock Photo

A whaler waits for the bowhead whales from shore in Utqiaġvik, Alaska, during whaling season in the Chukchi Sea. Photo by Steven J. Kazlowski/Alamy Stock Photo

In archaeology, such attitudes have limited our understanding of Arctic prehistory, says Erica Hill, a zooarchaeologist with the University of Alaska Southeast. Whaling amulets and bone circles were written off as ritualistic or supernatural with little exploration of what they actually meant to the people who created them. Instead, archaeologists who studied animal artifacts often focused on the tangible information they revealed about what ancient people ate, how many calories they consumed, and how they survived.

Hill is part of a burgeoning branch of archaeology that uses ethnographic accounts and oral histories to re-examine animal artifacts with fresh eyes—and interpret the past in new, non-Western ways. “I’m interested in this as part of our prehistory as humans,” Hill says, “but also in what it tells us about alternative ways of being.”

The idea that Indigenous people have spiritual relationships with animals is so well established in popular culture it’s cliché. Yet constricted by Western science and culture, few archaeologists have examined the record of human history with the perspective that animals feel emotions and can express those emotions to humans.

Hill’s interest in doing so was piqued in 2007, when she was excavating in Chukotka, Russia, just across the Bering Strait from Alaska. The site was estimated to be 1,000 to 2,000 years old, predating the dawn of whaling in the region, and was situated at the top of a large hill. As her team dug through the tundra, they uncovered six or seven intact walrus skulls deliberately arranged in a circle.

Like many archaeologists, Hill had been taught that ancient humans in harsh northern climates conserved calories and rarely expended energy doing things with no direct physical benefit. That people were hauling walrus skulls to a hilltop where there were plenty of similar-sized rocks for building seemed strange. “If you’ve ever picked up a walrus skull, they’re really, really heavy,” Hill says. So she started wondering: did the skulls serve a purpose that wasn’t strictly practical that justified the effort of carrying them uphill?

When Hill returned home, she began looking for other cases of “people doing funky stuff” with animal remains. There was no shortage of examples: shrines packed with sheep skulls, ceremonial burials of wolves and dogs, walrus-skull rings on both sides of the Bering Strait. To Hill, though, some of the most compelling artifacts came from whaling cultures.

Museum collections across North America, for instance, include a dazzling array of objects categorized as whaling amulets. From this grab bag, Hill identified 20 carved wooden objects. Many served as the seats of whaling boats. In the Iñupiaq language, they’re called either iktuġat or aqutim aksivautana, depending on dialect.

One in particular stands out. Hill was looking for Alaskan artifacts in a massive climate-controlled warehouse belonging to Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History in Washington, DC. The artifacts were housed in hundreds of floor-to-ceiling drawers, row after row of them, with little indication of what was inside. She pulled open one drawer and there it was—the perfect likeness of a bowhead whale staring back at her.

The object, likely from the late 19th century, probably functioned as a crosspiece. It was hewn from a hunk of driftwood into a crescent shape 21 centimeters long. Carved on one side was a bowhead, looking as it would look if you were gazing down on a whale from above, perhaps from a raven’s-eye perspective. A precious bead of obsidian was embedded in the blowhole. “It’s so elegant and simple but so completely whale,” Hill says. “It’s this perfect balance of minimalism and form.”

Sometime in the late 19th century, an Iñupiat carver fashioned this seat for an umiak out of driftwood, carving the likeness of a bowhead whale, its blowhole symbolized with a piece of obsidian. Photo by Department of Anthropology, Smithsonian Institute (Cat. A347918)Sometime in the late 19th century, an Iñupiaq carver fashioned this amulet for an umiak out of driftwood, carving the likeness of a bowhead whale, its blowhole symbolized with a piece of obsidian. As with other whaling amulets Erica Hill has examined, this object may have also functioned as part of the boat’s structure. Photo by Department of Anthropology, Smithsonian Institute (Cat. A347918)

Using Iñupiat oral histories and ethnographies recorded in the 19th and 20th centuries, Hill now knows that such amulets were meant to be placed in a boat with the likeness of the whale facing down, toward the ocean. The meticulously rendered art was thus meant not for humans, but for whales—to flatter them, Hill says, and call them to the hunters. “The idea is that the whale will be attracted to its own likeness, so obviously you want to depict the whale in the most positive way possible,” she explains.

Yupik stories from St. Lawrence Island tell of whales who might spend an hour swimming directly under an umiak, positioning themselves so they could check out the carvings and the men occupying the boat. If the umiak was clean, the carvings beautiful, and the men respectful, the whale might reposition itself to be harpooned. If the art portrayed the whale in an unflattering light or the boat was dirty, it indicated that the hunters were lazy and wouldn’t treat the whale’s body properly. Then the whale might swim away.

In “Sounding a Sea-Change: Acoustic Ecology and Arctic Ocean Governance” published in Thinking with Water, Shirley Roburn quotes Point Hope, Alaska, resident Kirk Oviok: “Like my aunt said, the whales have ears and are more like people,” he says. “The first batch of whales seen would show up to check which ones in the whaling crew would be more hospitable. … Then the whales would come back to their pack and tell them about the situation.”

The belief that whales have agency and can communicate their needs to people isn’t unique to the Arctic. Farther south, on Washington’s Olympic Peninsula and British Columbia’s Vancouver Island, Makah and Nuu-chah-nulth whalers observed eight months of rituals meant to communicate respect in the mysterious language of whales. They bathed in special pools, prayed, spoke quietly, and avoided startling movements that might offend whales. Right before the hunt, the whalers sang a song asking the whale to give itself.

In Makah and Nuu-chah-nulth belief, as in many Arctic cultures, whales weren’t just taken—they willingly gave themselves to human communities. A whale that offered its body wasn’t sentencing itself to death. It was choosing to be killed by hunters who had demonstrated, through good behavior and careful adherence to rituals, that they would treat its remains in a way that would allow it to be reborn. Yupik tradition, for example, holds that beluga whales once lived on land and long to return to terra firma. In exchange for offering itself to a Yupik community, a beluga expected to have its bones given the ritualistic treatment that would allow it to complete this transition and return to land, perhaps as one of the wolves that would gnaw on the whale’s bones.

According to Hill, many of the objects aiding this reciprocity—vessels used to offer whales a drink of fresh water, amulets that hunters used to negotiate relationships with animal spirits—weren’t just reserved for shamanistic ceremonies. They were part of everyday life; the physical manifestation of an ongoing, daily dialogue between the human and animal worlds.

While Westerners domesticated and eventually industrialized the animals we eat—and thus came to view them as dumb and inferior—Arctic cultures saw whale hunting as a match between equals. Bipedal humans with rudimentary technology faced off against animals as much as 1,000 times their size that were emotional, thoughtful, and influenced by the same social expectations that governed human communities. In fact, whales were thought to live in an underwater society paralleling that above the sea.

a bowhead whale swimming amid multi-layer sea ice

It’s difficult to assess populations of animals that swim under the ice, far from view, like bowhead whales. But experienced Iñupiat whalers are good at it. Photo by Steven Kazlowski/Minden Pictures

Throughout history, similar beliefs have guided other human-animal relationships, especially in hunter-gatherer cultures that shared their environment with big, potentially dangerous animals. Carvings left behind by the Tunit, for example, suggest a belief that polar bears possessed a kind of personhood allowing them to communicate with humans; while some Inuit believed walruses could listen to humans talking about them and react accordingly.

Whether or not those beliefs are demonstrably true, says Hill, they “make room for animal intelligence and feelings and agency in ways that our traditional scientific thinking has not.”

Today, as archaeologists like Hill and Matthew Betts shift their interpretation of the past to better reflect Indigenous worldviews, biologists too are shedding new light on whale behavior and biology that seems to confirm the traits Indigenous people have attributed to whales for more than 1,000 years. Among them is Hal Whitehead, a professor at Dalhousie University in Nova Scotia who argues that cetaceans have their own culture—a word typically reserved for human societies.

By this definition, culture is social learning that’s passed down from one generation to the next. Whitehead finds evidence for his theory in numerous recent studies, including one that shows bowhead whales in the North Pacific, off the Alaskan coast, and in the Atlantic Ocean near Greenland sing different songs, the way human groups might have different styles of music or linguistic dialects. Similarly, pods of resident killer whales living in the waters off south Vancouver Island greet each other with different behaviors than killer whales living off north Vancouver Island, despite the fact that the groups are genetically almost identical and have overlapping territories.

Plus, calves spend years with their mothers, developing the strong mother-offspring bonds that serve to transfer cultural information, and bowhead whales live long enough to accumulate the kind of environmental knowledge that would be beneficial to pass on to younger generations. We know this largely because of a harpoon tip that was found embedded in a bowhead in northern Alaska in 2007. This particular harpoon was only manufactured between 1879 and 1885 and wasn’t used for long after, meaning that the whale had sustained its injury at least 117 years before it finally died.

Other beliefs, too, are proving less farfetched than they once sounded. For years, scientists believed whales couldn’t smell, despite the fact that Iñupiat hunters claimed the smell of woodsmoke would drive a whale away from their camp. Eventually, a Dutch scientist dissecting whale skulls proved the animals did, indeed, have the capacity to smell. Even the Yupik belief that beluga whales were once land-dwelling creatures is rooted in reality: some 50 million years ago, the ancestor of modern-day whales walked on land. As if recalling this, whale fetuses briefly develop legs before losing them again.

An Inuit hunter sits on a whale that’s been hauled to shore for butchering in Point Hope, Alaska, in 1900. Photo by Hulton Deutsch/Getty ImagesInuit hunters in Utqiaġvik, Alaska, paddle an umiak after a bowhead whale. Photo by Galen Rowell/Getty Images

None of this suggests that whales freely give themselves to humans. But once you understand the biological and intellectual capabilities of whales—as whaling cultures surely did—it’s less of a leap to conclude that cetaceans live in their own underwater society, and can communicate their needs and wishes to humans willing to listen.

With the dawn of the 20th century and the encroachment of Euro-Americans into the North, Indigenous whaling changed drastically. Whaling in the Makah and Nuu-chah-nulth Nations essentially ended in the 1920s after commercial whalers hunted the gray whale to near extinction. In Chukotka, Russian authorities in the 1950s replaced community-based whaling with state-run whaling.

Even the whaling strongholds of Alaska’s Iñupiat villages weren’t immune. In the 1970s, the International Whaling Commission ordered a halt to subsistence bowhead whaling because US government scientists feared there were just 1,300 of the animals left. Harry Brower Sr. and other whaling captains who’d amassed lifetimes of knowledge knew that figure was wrong.

But unlike other whaling cultures, Iñupiat whalers had the means to fight back, thanks to taxes they had collected from a nearby oil boom. With the money, communities hired Western-trained scientists to corroborate traditional knowledge. The scientists developed a new methodology that used hydrophones to count bowhead whales beneath the ice, rather than extrapolating the population based on a count of the visible bowheads passing by a single, ice-free locale. Their findings proved bowheads were far more numerous than the government had previously thought, and subsistence whaling was allowed to continue.

Elsewhere, too, whaling traditions have slowly come back to life. In 1999, the Makah harvested their first whale in over 70 years. The Chukchi were allowed to hunt again in the 1990s.

Yet few modern men knew whales as intimately as Brower. Although he eschewed some traditions—he said he never wanted his own whaling song to call a harpooned whale to the umiak, for exampleBrower had other ways of communicating with whales. He believed that whales listened, and that if a whaler was selfish or disrespectful, whales would avoid him. He believed that the natural world was alive with animals’ spirits, and that the inexplicable connection he’d felt with whales could only be explained by the presence of such spirits.

And he believed that in 1986, a baby whale visited him in an Anchorage hospital to show him how future generations could maintain the centuries-long relationship between humans and whales. Before he died, he told his biographer Karen Brewster that although he believed in a Christian heaven, he personally thought he would go elsewhere. “I’m going to go join the whales,” he said. “That’s the best place, I think. … You could feed all the people for the last time.”

Perhaps Brower did become a whale and feed his people one last time. Or perhaps, through his deep understanding of whale biology and behavior, he passed down the knowledge that enabled his people to feed themselves for generations to come. Today, the spring whaling deadline he proposed based on his conversation with the baby whale is still largely observed, and bowhead whales continue to sustain Iñupiat communities, both physically and culturally.

Correction: This article has been updated to clarify the original purpose of the whaling amulet that caught Erica Hill’s attention in the Smithsonian warehouse.

Author bio Krista Lee Langlois is an independent journalist, essayist, and “aquaphile.” She lived in the Marshall Islands in 2006 and now writes about the intersection of people and nature from a landlocked cabin outside Durango, Colorado.

Why nutritional psychiatry is the future of mental health treatment (The Conversation)

A lack of essential nutrients is known to contribute to the onset of poor mental health in people suffering from anxiety and depression, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia and ADHD. Nutritional psychiatry is a growing discipline that focuses on the use of food and supplements to provide these essential nutrients as part of an integrated or alternative treatment for mental health disorders.

But nutritional approaches for these debilitating conditions are not widely accepted by mainstream medicine. Treatment options tend to be limited to official National Institute for Care Excellence (NICE) guidelines which recommend talking therapies and antidepressants.

Use of antidepressants

Antidepressant use has more than doubled in recent years. In England 64.7m prescriptions were issued for antidepressants in 2016 at a cost of £266.6m. This is an increase of 3.7m on the number of items prescribed in 2015 and more than double than the 31m issued in 2006.

A recent Oxford University study found that antidepressants were more effective in treating depression than placebo. The study was led by Dr Andrea Cipriani who claimed that depression is under treated. Cipriani maintains that antidepressants are effective and a further 1m prescriptions should be issued to people in the UK.

This approach suggests that poor mental health caused by social conditions is viewed as easily treated by simply dispensing drugs. But antidepressants are shunned by people whom they could help because of the social stigma associated with mental ill-health which leads to discrimination and exclusion.

Prescriptions for 64.7m items of antidepressants were dispensed in England in 2016, the highest level recorded by the NHS. Shutterstock

More worrying is the increase in the use of antidepressants by children and young people. In Scotland, 5,572 children under 18 were prescribed antidepressants for anxiety and depression in 2016. This figure has more than doubled since 2009/2010.

But according to British psychopharmacologist Professor David Healy, 29 clinical trials of antidepressant use in young people found no benefits at all. These trials revealed that instead of relieving symptoms of anxiety and depression, antidepressants caused children and young people to feel suicidal.

Healy also challenges their safety and effectiveness in adults. He believes that antidepressants are over-prescribed and that there is little evidence that they are safe for long-term use. Antidepressants are said to create dependency, have unpleasant side effects and cannot be relied upon to always relieve symptoms.

Nutrition and poor mental health

In developed countries such as the UK people eat a greater variety of foodstuffs than ever before – but it doesn’t follow that they are well nourished. In fact, many people do not eat enough nutrients that are essential for good brain health, opting for a diet of heavily processed food containing artificial additives and sugar.

The link between poor mental health and nutritional deficiencies has long been recognised by nutritionists working in the complementary health sector. However, psychiatrists are only now becoming increasingly aware of the benefits of using nutritional approaches to mental health, calling for their peers to support and research this new field of treatment.

It is now known that many mental health conditions are caused by inflammation in the brain which ultimately causes our brain cells to die. This inflammatory response starts in our gut and is associated with a lack of nutrients from our food such as magnesium, omega-3 fatty acids, probiotics, vitamins and minerals that are all essential for the optimum functioning of our bodies.

Recent research has shown that food supplements such as zinc, magnesium, omega 3, and vitamins B and D3 can help improve people’s mood, relieve anxiety and depression and improve the mental capacity of people with Alzheimer’s.

Magnesium is one of most important minerals for optimal health, yet many people are lacking in it. One studyfound that a daily magnesium citrate supplement led to a significant improvement in depression and anxiety, regardless of age, gender or severity of depression. Improvement did not continue when the supplement was stopped.

Omega-3 fatty acids are another nutrient that is critical for the development and function of the central nervous system – and a lack has been associated with low mood, cognitive decline and poor comprehension.

Research has shown that supplements like zinc, magnesium and vitamins B and D can improve the mental capacity of people with Alzheimer’s. Shutterstock

The role of probiotics – the beneficial live bacteria in your digestive system – in improving mental health has also been explored by psychiatrists and nutritionists, who found that taking them daily was associated with a significant reduction in depression and anxiety. Vitamin B complex and zinc are other supplements found to reduce the symptoms of anxiety and depression.

Hope for the future?

These over-the-counter” supplements are widely available in supermarkets, chemists and online health food stores, although the cost and quality may vary. For people who have not responded to prescription drugs or who cannot tolerate the side effects, nutritional intervention can offer hope for the future.

There is currently much debate over the effectiveness of antidepressants. The use of food supplements offer an alternative approach that has the potential to make a significant difference to the mental health of all age groups.

The emerging scientific evidence suggests that there should be a bigger role for nutritional psychiatry in mental health within conventional health services. If the burden of mental ill health is to be reduced, GPs and psychiatrists need to be aware of the connection between food, inflammation and mental illness.

Medical education has traditionally excluded nutritional knowledge and its association with disease. This has led to a situation where very few doctors in the UK have a proper understanding of the importance of nutrition. Nutritional interventions are thought to have little evidence to support their use to prevent or maintain well-being and so are left to dietitians, rather than doctors, to advise on.

But as the evidence mounts up, it is time for medical education to take nutrition seriously so that GPs and psychiatrists of the future know as much about its role in good health as they do about anatomy and physiology. The state of our mental health could depend on it.