Underdevelopment’s description parallels that of war: Boredom punctuated by moments of terror and disaster. Brazil’s ongoing drama is tedious and interspersed with tragic events, most man made. Rio’s recent gang rape, for example, brought many to the streets with social media talking about the country’s culture of rape, misogyny, machismo and failure. Many were quick to identify the ongoing weaknesses (lack of security, education, police and on and on). Some are trying to solve the problems through social organizations, marches and postings. Others are just pulling up stakes and, once again, leaving Brazil for supposedly more “advanced” civilizations.
In some ways, Brazil’s problems pale in comparison to the US with its culture of guns and mass murders. The Orlando massacre is only atypical in the number of deaths and wounded. Reportedly, there have been mass murders on a daily basis for over a year. To outsiders, the United States seems at least as dangerous as a stroll through the Morro do Alemao favela (slum) late at night.
Many Americans often deflect criticism by blaming individuals and not the culture. They say Trump’s inflammatory rhetoric or Obama and Hillary are to blame for engaging in wars and covert activities. It’s true that U.S. residents love their guns and it’s become easy and routine to buy lethal weapons such as the assault rifle used in Florida. Brazil has strict legislation seeking to control arms and severely limits the legal carry of guns. Still this does not stop drug traffickers from having their AK-47s and other restricted weapons of intimidation.
We can blame the law, the administrations, the government and whoever for failures and being wrong headed. But the problems, in the US and Brazil, have similar roots. We accept, live with and passively tolerate violence, murder, rape and mayhem and do not want to curtail our individual liberties or take responsibility for changing our cultures. It is complex. Religion, institutions, social and economic factors also shape culture. And the tension between the individual and his reference groups (family, religion, sport team, etc.) can often lead to individual and even collective pathologies. To live in modern times is to be faced with deep contradictions. Peace and harmony exist as an ideal. But this ideal breaks down as individuals seek greater liberty, freedom from control and self-expression. Religion and culture intertwine where group membership provides a sense of oneness and belonging. Individual autonomy also lead many to nihilistic actions covered with a veil of religious and collective justification. The shooter in Orlando apparently called at the last minute to vow allegiance to the ideology and actions of the so-called Islamic State, yet there is no evidence as of yet of his affiliation.
The rapists in Rio, in turn, appear to be gang members or friendly associates. They are young men seeking self-satisfaction and approval of the group. Their motivation ranges from lust, to being power hungry, to being powerless, and having the desperate need for acceptance and affirmation so common in the young. This is especially true for those who come from weak or broken family support structures so common among the poor. In addition, Brazil’s well-known attitudes of machismo, taking advantage and promiscuous male behavior justified in their minds that there was nothing particularly untoward in posting photos of themselves and the young victim.
Throughout history, atrocities are committed and then explained, interpreted and even justified in the name of moral and material ideal or lack thereof. Obama visited Hiroshima and while not apologizing for something that happened well before his birth, regretted that technology allowing us to combat disease and understand the cosmos “also can be turned into ever more efficient killing machines”. He went on to say that technological advance “without an equivalent progress in institutions can doom us.” Certainly, the technology available to the killer in Orlando doomed the victims and increased their number. The rape in Rio was low tech but the posting on the Internet reflected their alienation and need for affirmation.
Brazil has glaring institutional deficiencies as does the US. Those desperately uncomfortable with themselves, their lives and their futures, commit with the help of technology wanton and desperate acts of abuse, rape, death and destruction on great scale and with sickening regularity.
Astounding technological and material improvement has not overcome and may have instead helped a degraded culture of ignorance and destruction. Manifestations may take different forms. In Brazil, we have massive gang and individual levels of violence leading to a deluge of rapes, assaults and murders. In the US, we have an ongoing rampage of mass violence including rape and murder. In both countries, the result brings anguish and questioning.
Our recognition of these tragic events and our ability to mourn and question hopefully still indicate that our consciences have not been completely seared.
Maybe the best some of us can do is to act according the Hippocratic oath. Though we may not like or want to be together, we still need to believe in our hearts that if we cannot do good, we should at least avoid doing harm