Brazilian Lessons on Absurdity and Selfishness

Brazilian students protest in capital Brasília As surprising as it may seem, the U.S. does not hold a monopoly on morons. Recent events in Brazil offered two good examples of this. First, in Brasília, students gathered and protested outside of Congress, as new members were sworn in, splashing police with water from the reflecting pool in front of the building and leading to six arrests.

What were they protesting, one could wonder? Perhaps they were angry over last year’s congressional vote to raise their own incomes to 24,000 reais (US$ 11,370) a month even though many of those congresspeople no longer are employed there? Or perhaps there was some university funding being cut by Congress?

Nope. They were simply protesting because Congress was there. This is so patently absurd on so many levels. First, as one who studies student movements, I have a fair amount of disdain for the "Protest without a purpose."

There are so many injustices out there – you could at least try to pick one to be the reason for your gathering. Secondly, perhaps these students need a little history lesson. In part, they should be THANKFUL that POPULAR ELECTED congresspeople were sworn in.

After all, from 1964 to 1985, there was this little thing in Brazil called "military dictatorship," led by a government that stuffed the Congress with its supporters and even reserved (and exercised) the right to close Congress between 1968 and 1979.

If the existence of Congress is so upsetting to these students and since they had no other motivation, it’s unclear what other reason they were there, then perhaps they’d like a return to those halcyon days.

Then, just to make things even better in the country, here in Rio a court ruled in favor of the citizens in a class action suit. These citizens had sued the company of the Metro here in Rio, which had increased the price of subway tickets, claiming it was operating on a deficit.

These citizens had sued, claiming in a remarkably self-centered argument that the hike was unfair. The Metro allows the elderly to ride for free, as do non-college students on days/times when they are going to/from school.

The citizens in the lawsuit claimed, in true nihilism and narcissism, that the increase should be removed, and the elderly and the unemployed students should have to pay their way. The court agreed.

What was this egregious pay raise that had rustled the feathers of so many? 10 BRAZILIAN CENTS. That’s right – on January 2, the subway went from 2.30 reais (US$ 1.09) to 2.40 reais (US$ 1,14), and these citizens demanded a return to the 2.30 price, and they got it.

What for? So that the elderly and the unemployed students now face the prospect of paying for their own tickets. And what is the likelihood that these people in the lawsuit one day turn old? But of course, they don’t consider that.

This is so horribly offensive because it does nothing to save money, but plenty to nail those who are less advantaged. Not only that, but it is indefensible. My girlfriend, strictly playing devil’s advocate, had pointed out that 10 cents per one-way ticket was a total savings of one real a week, and 4 reais a month, which is enough to buy some essential foodstuffs like rice or veggies.

This would be a fine argument, except that if the people REALLY want to save, they would ride the public buses, which are safe and which operate at 20-40 cents cheaper than the subway.

Thus, I highly doubt savings are their real concern – if it were, they could ride the bus and save 16 reais a month, instead of four. Rather, they are driven by the "injustice" of paying an extra ten cents a trip, and thus are willing to totally screw over their fellow comrades in society. Unbe-fricking-lievable.

That Didn’t Take Long…

My girlfriend says somebody is ALWAYS striking in Brazil, an adage I can attest to. The last time I was here, all the museum workers were on strike, thus preventing me from seeing the creepy Getúlio Vargas museum, a former dictator AND popularly elected president (in that order) of Brazil where you can not only see the room where he killed himself, but also the smoking jacket he was wearing when he put a bullet in his heart…).

This time, it took all of 4 days for a strike to occur. However, it’s one that may be a little harder to approve of in the hierarchy-of-just-causes. As of yesterday, many bankers though not all, and I can’t figure out the rhyme or reason, went on strike.

I’m all for worker’s rights, and like the notion that lesser-paid bankers are sticking it to corporate bank owners. Who knows how long this strike will last (some strikes are over in a few days here – others, such as the museum workers strike of 2005, last months). All I know is, to quote Eric Idle…

"It sure will make chartered accountancy more interesting."

Mister Trend, the author, has his own blog at http://alterdestiny.blogspot.com. Comments can be sent to  mistertrend@hotmail.com.

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