Brazil, 1984

Danilo Gentili, one of Brazil’s most famous and popular comedians, was convicted and sentenced to seven months of prison time for defaming Maria do Rosário, a Brazilian federal congresswoman with a suggestion that she was a whore in a YouTube video. I wrote about Maria do Rosário before here.

Danilo has been literally on the Worker’s Party blacklist for many years because of his political remarks against it. His “crime” this time, according to the official sentence, was to offend a congressperson. The same kind of defamation against a “normal” citizen would not lead him to jail. Here is what happened: in his twitter account, Danilo criticized Maria do Rosário, saying that she was a hypocrite. The reason was because José de Abreu, a Brazilian actor famous for supporting the Worker’s Party, spit on the face of a woman in a restaurant after she criticized his political positions. Abreu did that shortly after Jean Wyllys, a former Brazil congressman, spit on Jair Bolsonaro. Maria do Rosário, who always presents herself as a feminist, defended José de Abreu. Danilo commented in the case in his twiter account saying that Maria do Rosário was a hypocrite. The congresswoman sent Danilo an official congress letter asking him to delete his twits. The comedian answered putting the letter inside his paints and then sending it back, an action he recorded on video and uploaded to YouTube.

In a similar case, not too long ago, Supreme Court judge Enrique Ricardo Lewandowski threatened with jail an airplane passenger who, turning to him, said he was ashamed of the Supreme Court. Lewandowski is often perceived as defending the Worker’s Party and its interests.

Why do I so frequently write in English about Brazil? In part because I want a broader audience who doesn’t know Portuguese to know what is going on there. As far as I know, for quite some time people outside Germany or the USSR thought that they were doing pretty well. Little did they know. Also because I want to offer a counterpoint to the (more often than not) leftist media that calls Bolsonaro a far-right racist, misogynist. Finally, because I hope that people from outside who read this might engage with the cause of freedom in Brazil. George Soros and others are engaging with the cause of slavery. They count on you not caring about it.

As I wrote before, Brazilian democracy is under threat. And it is not because of Jair Bolsonaro.

Bolsonaro, Carnaval, Golden Shower, Reason

Sao Paulo. Carnival. Two men climb on a newsstand, bus stop, or truck. The video is not so clear. What is clear is that they are half-naked. What they do next is pretty graphic, and I don’t feel comfortable describing it here. Bolsonaro, the president of Brazil, makes a tweet about what happened. Several websites, including Reason, criticize Bolsonaro.

The fact that several sites on the left criticize Bolsonaro does not surprise me, but I am disappointed with Reason. But let’s get some facts. Carnival is indeed a traditional party in Brazil, at least in some cities like Rio de Janeiro and Salvador. But for many people, Carnival is just a cultural imposition. Maybe the editors of Reason do not even know it, but Carnival is an official holiday. That is: even if you want to work, you are duly prohibited from doing so. Another thing that the editors of Reason forgot to report is that Carnival is largely sustained with public money. That is: like you or not, the party is partially sustained with your money raised through taxes. Another part of the money comes from organized crime. Yes. Carnival is partially supported by the state and partly by organized crime. Only a minimal part of the money is voluntarily given away by people interested in attending the party. That is: for a good anarcho-capitalist, Carnival is almost completely sustained by organized crime.

I grew up in a neighborhood in Rio de Janeiro where the carnival blocks start early and end late. Several streets are closed. My right to come and go is severely impaired. Even if I close all the windows (while it is 100º F outside), the noise of the music still prevents me from even thinking. I always think about people who are sick and need to rest. Or that they are elderly. Or families with small children. Carnival is the least libertarian party I can imagine: your participation is not voluntary. In fact, one of the most famous Carnival songs has very telling lyrics: “who does not like samba, good people are not. It’s bad in the head or sick on the foot.” To be clear: if you do not like samba you have a taste different from mine and we will respect ourselves? Not! You’re a bad person!

So, it is against this party that Jair Bolsonaro manifested himself. I’m proud of my president. One thing that Bolsonaro certainly did not do was try to be populist. If he wanted to be a populist, he would have done what all the presidents before him did: sponsor the bread and circus. By stating as he did, Bolsonaro proved that it is anything but populist. Reason has no idea what is going on in Brazil.

As a good libertarian I will say: if you like samba, you have a bad musical taste. Anyway, it’s your taste, not mine. But if you support Carnaval, you are attending a party that harms millions of people. You are not really thinking about your neighbor. And if you call yourself a libertarian and oppose Bolsonaro on this, something is very wrong. Maybe you just have no idea what is going on in Brazil.

Maybe you’re not that libertarian.

Why I turned right

I understand things are not the same everywhere in the World, but until just a few years ago, to call yourself “right-wing” in Brazil was virtually unthinkable. The reasons for that are not totally clear, but the fact is that “right-wing” was a name with a very bad connotation. Brazil went through a military dictatorship from 1964 to 1985. This dictatorship was set in place to prevent a perceived communist threat in the country, especially after the Cuba Revolution of 1959. Therefore, it was an anticommunist dictatorship.

My understanding is that, because of that, to be “right-wing” in Brazil was understood as “being in favor of dictatorship”, and left-wing to be “for democracy”. Of course, examining things with just a little more care, nothing could be further from the truth. Fidel Castro and Che Guevara were no democrats. Actually, the military dictatorship in Cuba lives on. Mao Zedong was a horrendous dictator. So were Stalin and Lenin. There is no reason to believe that Trotsky would have been any less authoritarian.

There is no reason to believe that the socialists/communists in Brazil would have been democratic once in power. But they didn’t come to power, and because of that people could fuel the romantic image of revolutionaries unjustly persecuted by the military. Although I disagree with Brazilian philosopher Olavo de Carvalho in many points, I believe he is totally right on this: the military in Brazil was great in fighting the communist guerrilla. Thanks to them, we don’t have something similar to FARC in Brazil today. But when it came to propaganda and cultural war they were just awful. Communists in Brazil (and in other places) were great in selling the image of Che Guevara as a romantic hero fighting against the evil North-American Imperialism.

And this is the paradigm I grew up with. Either you are a freedom fighter, opposing evil capitalists and imperialism, or you are subservient to foreign powers and injustice. Considering this background, of course, nobody would like to be called right-wing. However, things changed.

One of the things that made me turn right was studying the right-wing political ideologies. I discovered that classical liberals and conservatives were not against the poor, just the opposite. The best example I can think of is Adam Smith: his Wealth of Nations is actually a love letter for those who are oppressed by unjust economic exploitation. What Adam Smith was trying to find out is what makes the lives of the simple people better. His answer, in a nutshell, was the free market. Similarly, the Founding Fathers were trying to give the common folk a better living without oppression. And they did. Very different from all the leftist revolutions. In short, free markets and liberal democracy work.

The second thing that made me turn right was the hypocrisy of some leftists. I realized that they want you to have freedom of choice, but only if you choose what they want. If you feel you have homosexual inclinations, they want you to have the freedom to embrace homosexuality. And so do I! But God forbid (or Marx forbid) you decide (for whatever reason) to fight homosexuality and become (or remain) straight.  They want women to have the freedom to get jobs. But they don’t want them to have the freedom to stay home to raise the kids. The examples are many, but the summary is this: I realized that many leftists are not ready to defend your right to be different.

I’m really sorry that things come down to what two consenting adults do in a closed room. I really am. But it seems to me that much of the leftist agenda is to have the freedom to choose only if you choose what they want. And this is what made me turn right: to accept other peoples choices as much as I want them to accept mine. Liking it or not.

Middle Eastern Musings: Why I Blog

The news from Syria seems to have dwindled to nothing in the last couple of months. The hawks have focused their continued, never ending ire on the peace process between Tehran and Washington that the Obama administration has courageously initiated. The lack of news is too bad, of course, since the (quite unintended) consequences of Western meddling in the region are now beginning to be felt by everyday Syrians. PRI (“you’re listening to The World”) reports on the misery Syrians are now forced to endure:

It’s been a trying week for Syria. The United States and Britain suspended providing even non-lethal aid to the country. A prominent Syrian opposition leader has gone missing. And now winter has brought snow and cold weather.

The cause of suspended aid? Why, the fact that the anti-Assad national socialists have lost out to the Islamists militarily, politically and economically, of course. Instead of letting the anti-Assad national socialists fight it out with the pro-Assad national socialists and the Islamists – which would have produced a quick winner and thus reduced the suffering of Syrians – the West remained content to heavily arm the least prominent faction involved in the fighting (the anti-Assad national socialists). The result, of course, has been the continued bleeding of Syrian society as a war that could have ended years ago continues to drag on.

In Iran, a mild brouhaha has emerged over the censorship of most of the World Cup draw in Brazil (Iran’s national soccer team made the World Cup, and the draw – a huge deal in most of the sporting world – was held in Brazil, which is hosting the event next year). According to PRI, the state-run media in Iran had to censor most of the draw’s coverage due to the lack of coverage on Brazilian supermodel Fernanda Lima’s big, beautiful breasts.

While the effects of the state-run media are fairly straightforward, I find the cultural implications of this episode to be most fascinating. PRI reports:

The Islamic Republic doesn’t allow women deemed to be dressed immodestly on television, so every time the camera focused on Lima, the picture was dropped on Iranian TV.

This made for terrible viewing for Iranian soccer fans waiting to find out who Iran was going to be playing at the World Cup.

So, who do Iranians blame for this debacle? Lima or FIFA? The many abusive messages left on Lima’s Facebook page seem to suggest they are blaming her.

Comments ranged from insults to suggestions she should have worn a hijab, so everybody around the globe could watch the draw.

The abuse got so bad Lima had to take down her Facebook page. But then, a lot of Iranians started to apologize for the abuse, saying Iranians are not really like this. This, in turn, triggered posts by Brazilians saying, not to worry, Iranians are still welcome in Brazil.

Nationalism is prevalent in Iranian society, but so is a yearning to open up to the world. In my anecdotal experiences, I have found this nationalism to be very common among all young men in the non-Arab Muslim world. I suspect this nationalism is also prevalent in places like the Balkans and Arab Mediterranean world as well. I have no reason for suspecting this, except for the fact that in each of these parts of the world, relatively young states exist but nations are still being defined.

In Western Europe and, to a lesser extent Japan and South Korea, states and nations have long ago melded together through wars, policy battles, trade and sophisticated diplomacy. Along the peripheries of these areas the narrative of nation and state has not occurred, and may never occur (this type of nationalism is altogether absent from the New World republics for a number of fascinating-but-digressing reasons). I think the factions that encourage this narrative, national socialists all of them, are just as bad for their respective societies as are the conservatives (Islamists in the Muslim world, monarchists in other parts, Confucianists-cum-communists in China, etc., etc.). Only liberalism can bring about peace and prosperity to these societies.

The people apologizing for the actions of their fellow Iranians are a natural fit for liberalism’s humble creed. Unfortunately, I think the national socialists and the conservatives know this, and therefore advocate for policies that will keep their societies insular (and apart from the world of ideas that only liberalism has produced).

This brings me to a final thought for the day: What can I do about this, if anything? The regimes that hawks wish to destroy are bad guys, to be sure, but I have yet to see a regime that has been destroyed by an outside power give way to a regime that is benevolent and just. In fact, often these new regimes are worse than those they have replaced. The battle for ideas can only be won with the pen, and wars will only ever be won by ideas.

This realization, I think, is why I continue to write and to blog. Thanks for reading and, more importantly, for adding your thoughts to my own in the ‘comments’ section.