The perverse dimension of Brazilian “cordiality”


On 10/31/2014 I published an article in JB online on the meaning of calling the Brazilian a “cordial man”. I am publishing it again, modified, due to its burning timeliness. In the last two years, we have seen an unprecedented wave of hate and discrimination, particularly during the Presidential electoral campaign. There have been insults, slanders, millions of instances of “fake news” and all kinds of filthy language. This displayed the perverse side of the so-called “cordial” nature of the Brazilian people.

Calling a Brazilian a “cordial man” comes from the writer Ribeiro Couto. Sergio Buarque de Holanda popularized the expression, in his well known 1936 book: “Roots of Brasil”, where he devoted the entire Chapter V to it. But he clarifies, contrary to Cassiano Ricardo, who understood “cordiality” as goodness and affable treatment, that deep down, “our ordinary form of social coexistence is just the opposite of affable treatment” (from the 1989 21ª edition, p.107).

Sergio Buarque understands cordiality in the strict etymological sense: the term derives from “heart” (corazon). Brazilians act more from the heart than from reason. Both hate and love come from the heart. The author says it well: “enmity can easily be as cordial as friendship, because both are born from the heart” (p.107). I would say that the Brazilian is more sentimental than cordial, which seems to me more appropriate.

I write this in an attempt to understand the “cordial” feelings that had erupted in the 2018 Presidential campaign. On one side there have been declarations, enthusiastic to the point of fanaticism, and on the other, declarations of fascism, profound hatred and vulgar expressions. It confirmed what Buarque de Holanda wrote: the lack of loving treatment in our social coexistence.

Anyone who has followed the social media must have noticed the very low levels of education, the lack of mutual respect and even the absence of the democratic sense of coexistence with differences. This lack of respect was also seen in the TV programs of the political parties.

To better understand our “cordiality” we must mention the two inheritances that weigh on our citizenry: colonization and slavery. Colonization left us with a feeling of submission, having been forced to adopt the political forms, language, religion and habits of the Portuguese colonizer. La Casa Grande and La Senzala were created as a result. As Gilberto Freyre well demonstrated, it is not just about exterior social institutions: They were internalized in a form of a perverse dualism: On one side was the lord who owns everything and on the other, the servant or server who has little and submits. A social hierarchical structure was also created that is seen in the division between rich and poor. That this structure subsists in the brains of important oligarchs and has been turned into a code for understanding reality, clearly appears in the way people treat each other in the social networks.

Another very perverse tradition was slavery, which was well described by Jesse Souza in his book: “The backwards elite: from slavery to the Lava-Jato” (2018). It is worth remembering that in the years 1817 and 1818, more than half of the population of Brazil consisted of slaves (50.6%). Today nearly 60% has some blood of Afro-descendant slaves in its veins. They are discriminated against, and pushed to the peripheries, humiliated to the point of losing their own self esteem.

Slavery was internalized in the form of discrimination and prejudice against the Blacks, who always had to serve, because previously, the slaves did everything for free, and it is believed that things should continue that way. This is how domestic workers or the haciendas laborers are often treated. A high class madame once said: “the poor already have the family necessities, yet they believe that they have even more rights”. That is the mentality of La Casa Grande.

These two traditions subsist in the Brazilian collective unconsciousness, not so much in terms of class conflict (that also exists) but in terms of conflict regarding social status. It is said that Blacks are lazy, even though we know that they built almost everything in our historical cities. Is also said that Northerners are ignorant, when in truth they are a very creative people, sharp and hard workers. From the Northeast come great writers, poets, and actors; but prejudice pushes them into inferiority.

All these contradictions of our “cordiality” appeared in the tweets, facebook pages and other social media. We are excessively contradictory beings.

I add an argument from an anthropological-philosophical order, in order to understand the emergence of loving and hating in this Presidential electoral campaign. It speaks to the ambiguity of the human condition. Each of us has both the light and shadow dimension, the sim-bolical (that unites) and dia-bolical (that divides). The moderns say that we are simultaneously demented and sapient (Morin), that is, people of rationality and goodness and at the same time of irrationality and evil.

This is not a defect of creation, but a characteristic of the condition humaine. Each of us must know how to balance these two forces, and give primacy to the dimension of light over dark, and to the sapient dimension over the demented.

We must neither laugh nor cry, but try to understand, as Spinoza would say. But understanding is not enough. It is urgent that we practice civilized forms of “cordiality” where the will to cooperate, looking towards the common good, predominates; where minorities are respected and differing political options are welcomed. Brazil needs to unify so that together we can face the grave internal problems, in a project undertaken by all. Only that way will the Brazil that was called “The Land of Good Hope” (Ignacy Sachs) be reborn.

The President elect will not bring national reconciliation, because he, by his style, is a divider, and creator of a social atmosphere of violence and discrimination.

Leonardo Boff Eco-Theologian-Philosopher,Earthcharter Commission

Free translation from the Spanish sent by
Melina Alfaro,


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