The Irrationality Factor – Ariel Abonizio, Brazil

Brazilian politics are among the most tricky in the world right now. Apart from the fact that Dilma Rousseff faces a very real threat of impeachment, one third of the politicians on the National Congress are under investigation for corruption in an operation dubbed “Car Wash”. The increasing complexity of this multi-character stage makes it hard to express every view in a single article. Regardless of one’s political leaning, it is agreed that the public opinion in Brazil seems to be divided between those who defend the impeachment and those who are against it. The political division is more than just symbolic, with a 2 metre tall crowd control separating audiences in front of the National Congress, watching the impeachment process voting on April 17th – it has penetrated the private life of every Brazilian.

The 2m (7′) tall metal wall

The physical separation of the National Congress audience by this metal wall is very significant. It shows that the safety of those who manifest their political opinions publically is no longer a given. It is evidence of a country in which “politics, soccer, and religion are things not to be discussed.” This rather odd popular saying has never seemed truer than today. Politics have acquired as many fanatics as soccer has, making the comparison between these passions of this soccer country awkwardly accurate.
Soccer and religion are drawn together by faith. You support your team no matter how many times they lose. Religion, too, goes beyond reason. It involves love and passion. Political fanaticism seems to have acquired these same characteristics. Corruption scandals are the perfect example of what may be called the irrationality factor of politics. It seems more important to prove your opponent wrong than to actually understand the situation.
Brazilian media is a central factor in political polarization. Both left and right leaning media companies have made a spectacle out of the political crisis. Data manipulation is rife, with different sources varying on the number of people at political demonstrations by hundreds of thousands. News coverage has been simultaneously a cause and consequence of the anxiety that has permeated the impeachment process in Brazil. For every leak of new information on a corruption scandal there are people ready to either exaggerate or loudly denounce it.
While criticism can be valuable, fanaticism has a very clear drawback: violence. Brazil has seen countless cases of violence associated with the clashes of soccer gangs – but it is not exclusively about soccer. During the pro- and anti-impeachment protests there were multiple charges of aggression. The color red, associated with communism and with the Workers Party, should not be worn near pro-impeachment protests. Two months ago, there was an allegation of aggression towards a dog wearing a red leash – which may have been spread to further political divides but is troubling either way. Similarly, around anti-impeachment protests, the yellow Brazilian soccer shirt might well be misinterpreted.


At times, the show business of corruption has also taken the form of sexism. Major newspapers around Brazil have taken part in this irrational behavior. Less than a week apart, the images above show Janaína Paschoal and the President Dilma Rousseff. Janaína Paschoal (right) supports the impeachment in the photo. Newspapers described her as “possessed” and “insane.” Dilma Rousseff (left) was the cover of one IstoÉ magazine edition subtitled “the nervous explosions of the president”. The portrayal of politically active women in this way is a clear attempt to disempower their opinion by citing their supposed lack of emotional stability. Certainly the Brazilian political scandals did not create sexism, racism, or any other form of prejudice. But the particular targeting of women as irrational, when the irrationality factor is visible everywhere, is curious.
From animals to sexism, irrationality seems to be a central part of the current political scenario. As the corruption scandal unveils and the impeachment process progresses, time will show how Brazil will react to this moment of political crisis. In what could be a piece of modern art, the half-mile-long wall shows fragmentation, division, and dispute. Some, perhaps misleadingly, compared it to the Berlin Wall. The image in reality leaves no optimism regarding a reasonable solution, but it certainly makes the irrationality as blatant as it can be.

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