Thursday, March 13, 2008

Brazil, Race & Capitalism

Brazil, Race & Capitalism

Race is always an important factor in the politics and history of a nation. The importance European culture, philosophy and religion have historically assigned to perceived racial distinctions have created a dire social crisis worldwide. Nowhere is that more evident than in Brazil, the country that pretends there is no race problem, but only a class problem.

“In Brazil there is a huge social class difference. There are lots of very poor people, and a small amount of amazingly rich people, and there is no way one can go from being poor to being rich, and this creates a lot of social tension and makes the situation unmanageable. And that’s not only true of Brazil, but I think Brazil is the worst case.” - José Padhilla, Brazilian filmaker

First, a quick history: current archaeological evidence has the indigenous peoples of Brazil active from about 30,000 years ago. 507 years ago our documented history begins, and we find an influx Europeans, primarily Portuguese, who conquer and dominate the land. Genocide is committed against the native peoples. An estimated population of 4 million in 1500 has been reduced to 0.7 million today. This is about 0.4% of the population, but this figure only includes full-blooded indigenous people. Reservations have been set aside, and more are being planned to hold all of the last tribes. Many will have to move from their homelands because of capitalist interests. The land will be needed for its mineral and energy wealth so the people living on it will be moved, the forest will be cut, the rivers dammed, roads built, cities populated with new people from around Brazil, and from around the world.

Brazil is already home to a range of diversity in humanity unknown elsewhere except in our United States. Just like the United States, Brazil attempts to portray itself in its national identity as a diverse, yet homogeneous, entity. Brazil puts on a rainbow-hued happy face that shows all the shades of humanity. They are proud of their diversity, and proud they are all one nation.
Or are they?

Mestizos are people of both indigenous and foreign heritage. Brazil's government and non-governmental organizations do not count, or see, mestizos. Brazil prefers to divide their people into White (meaning European) (55%), Black (6%) and Other (39%). The official number for Mestizo Brazilians is 38% of the population, but since the stigma of aboriginal blood is to be avoided, the real number is higher – perhaps even the reverse of the current numbers for Whites and Mestizos.

Now for something completely different: we already know that the Amazon rain forest is the world's greatest natural treasure. The diversity of life found within its borders is astounding and wonderful. This region is often called the lungs of the world because it breathes so much oxygen into the atmosphere, and takes out so much carbon dioxide. It replenishes the world's air for us, and it does this job through the abundance and diversity of life delicately balanced within its unique climate and geology. In the same way it is thought that the diversity of species, of plant, animal and microbe, serves to replenish life itself around the world through time and evolution. If the ecology of the Amazon were to change, the entire world ecology would also change, and so would the evolution of species.

Consider this: humans are part of the world ecology just like everything else in Nature. Humans are not distinct and separate from the animals, plants and microbes. Humans also need to be replenished, and they also have the Amazon as their wellspring. Today, after hundreds of years of slaughter, slavery and assimilation there are still 234 different indigenous tribes with their own language and culture living throughout Brazil. 80% of them are hostile to outsiders, and shun contact. Perhaps the reason is that before the white man came there were five times the number of distinct tribes, and twenty times the people.

When we add to this indigenous linguistic mix the languages representing other ethnic groups that arrived in the last 500 years, Portuguese, Japanese, Italian, German, Spanish, English, Arabic &etc, and we truly see in Brazil the world of humanity in microcosm.

Today, in the natural world, there is a crisis of species extinction spreading across the Amazon in the animal, plant and microbe worlds. This crisis is caused in part by the introduction of an invasive species: civilized humans. Humans are part of the animal kingdom, and like the other animals in the Amazon, the diverse humans of the rainforest are being killed by invasion of a homogeneous species, the Brazilians. Where there were once many hundreds of different tribes and languages, there are now only about 250, and the vast majority of them are spoken by an extreme minority. Some languages are all but dead, having as few as 20-2000 people left alive who are defined by that language. These 234 indigenous languages represent the 234 different groups of humans at the focal point of natural evolution. These people, just like the other animals, plants and microbes of the Amazon, are the natural pool of genetic material that provides the impetus for diverse future evolutionary paths. These 234 groups total about 2 million people. In contrast, the 7 invasive peoples with their seven languages account for XxX million people. Diversity being replaced by homogenity. The Amazon is the largest and most important of the world's incubators of evolution, and evolutionary progress depends on diversity. Lack of diversity is an evolutionary dead end.

What does that mean for Brazil, and for the world? Again, in Brazil we see the world in microcosm. The United States dominates the cultures of the world, and in every far-flung place is competing with, changing and replacing local culture. The U.S. domination of the world's local cultures is multi-faceted, having economic, social, political, religious and militaristic weapons in its repertoire. The same thing happens in Brazil where the indigenous people are overwhelmed by the onslaught of modernization, civilization, capitalism and consumerism.

We can't forget capitalism, because here again we see the world effects of capitalism in microcosm in Brazil. The world economy is in a monopolization era where huge mega-corporations know no national allegiance, and are in fact and deed more powerful than many true nations. The history of Brazil is a road map into the world's future if capitalism becomes a monopolistic elitism. Brazil's history of elitist economies and politics has polarized the rich and poor, and has built a land where the few rich people own everything and the many poor people own nothing. The lawlessness, violence and suffering, the hunger, despair and anger, and the helplessness, hopelessness and meaninglessness overwhelming the lives of the poor is a direct result of elitist capitalism. Some would like to portray the turmoil of the poor as “anarchy” . . . but it is simply the waste product of capitalism, there is no anarchy here.

The poor people of Brazil are everywhere and have nothing. Homeless children are legion, and a national crisis. Those same homeless children grow up into gun-toting, uneducated, unloved, angry young men. No home, no education, no health care, no food, no clean water, no nurturing, no future, all pain – children that survive this are justifiably angry. Some are enraged. Their powerlessness compounds the problem, and they resort to random and gang violence – which on the world stage equates to the disaffected who become suicide bombers and terrorists. How stark it is in Brazil is a warning to the world of what elitist capitalism, masquerading as “free market capitalism”, costs in human suffering. Racism in modern civilized society is married to capitalism. Elitist capitalism on the national scale is the same as monopolistic capitalism on the world scale. Some would call the plight of the poor in Brazil, classism. They would claim that there is no racism because people can move between classes through capitalist opportunities. The reality is that the poor have no opportunities, and thus cannot improve their lot. Success in capitalism depends on having an excess of money. Success in racism depends on having the right skin colour. Classism or racism, the result is the same for the have-nots.

Philosophically and politically regarding Brazil, and the world, it is useful to contemplate the difference between these four maps of Brazil (political, physical, official language, all languages) and the relationship between what looks simple but is complicated, and what looks complicated but is simple


No comments: