On Wealth, Capitalism, and Aristocratic Thinking

There is much to react to what is happening in the world, but I was struck yesterday by the Washington Post’s account of some of the extravagances of the wealthy, asking that hotel staff would bring their kids a rare $50,000 frog, or for San Pellegrino sparkling water to be flown in from Italy so they could wash their hair (Perrier wouldn’t do). Not to mention those who would not directly address the common folk – delegating that sullied task to their bodyguards. I am also reminded of the extravaganza of another absurdly wealthy man, arguably one of the richest in the world – who invaded a neighboring country with his armies and now weaponizes the food destined for Africa. Or another, from the top of his golden throne in Arabia, that decides to make oil more expensive for the whole world. And in Britain, they substituted a wealthy man who would throw parties after forbidding everyone else from having them, for a woman who wanted to lower taxes for the rich, and now for one of the wealthiest men in England, said to be richer than the Crown itself – without elections.

It’s undeniable that inequality is rising over the globe. In the last few years, as I argued here, the wealthiest have become wealthier at a rate impossible to follow by anyone else. At the same time, as shown above, the middle class even in the richest countries is finding it difficult to make ends meet. Private debt is now an inescapable reality for most. And even though millions have been raised from abject poverty in recent years, many will be thrown back into it by climate change, drought, and famine.

Now, unlike what many have been saying, this is not, in my view, caused by capitalism itself. The kind of wealth and extravagances we are talking about have been here for a long time. We can recall the wild nature of Rome or the court of Louis XIV; the ridiculous pharaohs of Egypt or the capricious Emperors of China. In fact, I have argued and will argue again that the greatest problem we have to face today is again aristocracy. Or what I call Aristocratic Thinking – that disregard for the balance of society, or for the rules of the rest of us that are the basis of equality and true liberal thinking; that sense of elitism and of a superior role and value to the world, that comes from position, blood relations, power and wealth. Aristocratic Thinking leads to the idea that it is the Elites that should rule and save the world. Aristocratic Thinking is the sense that because of birth and favor of the gods, some are better and entitled to more than others. Aristocratic Thinking is the perception that the inferior should bow and the superior, command. Those who indulge in Aristocratic Thinking do not believe in their core that ‘all men are created equal’, and that ‘no man is above the law’ – they are unequal because they are better-born or raised by their superior abilities. Many actually think they apply themselves harder than single parents who work three jobs to make ends meet, or are cleverer than farmers and scientists.

We might say that the Liberal Agenda itself, and the Liberal revolutions around it, bloody as they were, emerged to fight that thinking from the start. As inequality and its effects are entrenching in the world today, we may fear that the powers of dissatisfaction and the feelings of injustice, will bring more and more extremist and violent views – be it to the Right or the Left, with Religious fervor or without it. Because we believed to have slain this particular dragon in the past and yet here we are, seeing it emerge from its cave, again and again, to burn us with its horrible breath.

Of course, I’m not against wealth. That doesn’t make any sense – if we are for private property and private initiative, as I believe we must, then some will be wealthier than others. However, some levels of wealth rise to absurdity. If we look around us, we can see that a man who has $1000 will have far worse living conditions than a man with $10,000. A man with $10,000 will have considerably worse well-being than one with $100,000. There is still a fair distance between a man with $100,000 and a man with $1,000,000. There are not many human beings worth $1,000,000. Only about 2% of Mankind is this wealthy. Less than 2 in 100 people. 98% of the population doesn’t get there.

A person worth $1,000,000 is already rich and obviously secure and comfortable. Now, we could argue that someone worth $10,000,000 might have a slightly better life, but can one argue that somebody worth $100,000,000 will live 10 times better? Maybe a little bit, but 10 times? Why? Would you eat better? Have a much better house? A better car? Health care? Justice? Better lawyers? Is there something that you cannot buy with $10,000,000 that would considerably change your life for the better? Maybe a 7-star hotel instead of a 5-star one? Maybe a 1000-horsepower car instead of a 300-horsepower one? There aren’t many roads in the world that can handle 300km/h let alone 400km/h, though. Nor caviar which is 10 times better than an excellent one. Do you really need a bigger boat? Or a bigger airplane?

So, maybe you can argue that $100,000,000 is much better than $10,000,000 and it is finally indeed being wealthy. But how can you argue that about $1,000,000,000? How is 1 billion dollars a socially reasonable and acceptable amount of wealth? Do you realize that this amount is enough to bring 1 million people from $1000 to $10,000 worth of well-being? And how can you justify $100 billion in wealth? About 1 billion people in the world live with less than $1 a day. $365 a year! I should probably have started my thought experiment with even lower living standards. Yet, there are fortunes worth $40 billion, $60 billion, $100 billion… it’s obscene.

Aristocratic Thinking is pervasive and common throughout the land. In 2010, for example, the Supreme Court of the United States ill-served America and the world by ruling in the infamous Citizens United case that investing in politicians is not an exercise in power but an exercise in opinion. The strength of our opinion apparently depends on the size of our purse, not the consistency of our reasoning. The opinion of the rich, it seems, is more valuable than the opinion of the poor. Something that seems the exact opposite of what the Constitution of the United States actually says. But what do I know – I’m not a legal scholar.

As you might know, I’m not against capitalism, quite the opposite, I believe it brought us much good, supporting the incredible evolution of Humanity in the last two centuries and maybe the whole of History. But I believe capitalism is like Nature, it’s like an ocean – it must be reined in to be useful; otherwise, it can destroy us. Wealth should be capped, somehow. Cap it at $500 million, if you need some leeway. It’s not an easy task, yet it’s morally correct.

But even if we don’t cap wealth, what kind of Human Being are you if, having the opportunity to raise 1 million people from abject poverty, or give insulin to every single diabetic in America, or a $2000 bonus to every one of your ill-paid employees, you decide to buy a $500 million yacht instead? And what kind of a society are we if we find this acceptable?

The Ukrainian Problem

My 11-year-old stepdaughter turned to me yesterday and asked me: ‘Did you know that there is only one country between North Korea and Norway?’ I had to think for a couple of seconds before answering: ‘Shit, you’re right. It’s Russia.’ She went on: ‘It helps when you have a surface larger than Pluto’s.’ ‘You’re kidding.’ I said. ‘Nope.’ She said.

It’s not only my stepdaughter that impresses me, these days. I learned that a sixth high-ranking officer in the Russian military was killed in Ukraine yesterday, and I also heard an old man fleeing from the battered city of Mariupol saying that he remembered when the Germans had invaded back in the day, and they hadn’t been as ruthless as the Russians were today.

It seems Putin has a Ukrainian Problem to solve, just as Hitler had a Jewish Problem. They both helped inflate their egos and excuse incomprehensible atrocities. Both ‘problems’ are pure lies.

Putin’s justifications for the invasion of Ukraine are completely bogus. First, Russia has already more than 1000-miles of borders with NATO. That hasn’t seemed to have hurt Russia in any way so far. Besides, Russia has borders with 14 countries – only 5 of which belong to NATO. It has also thousands of miles of border with the EU. Why would the integration of Ukraine be a red line?

Second, NATO never promised not to accept Ukraine’s application. Actually, NATO’s Founding Treaty, in its article 10, makes it an open organization for any country to apply. Records show that no promise whatsoever was made to Russia that Ukraine would never be a part of NATO – this false claim was denied repeatedly over the years.

Third, Russia did agree in 1994’s Budapest Agreement not to invade Ukraine, promising to respect its borders and sovereignty. In return, Ukraine gave Russia its nuclear weapons. If Ukraine would have kept them, Putin would certainly not be invading right now.

Fourth, NATO is a defensive alliance and has not intervened to change other countries’ borders, attacked Russia in any way, nor even intervened with military force in other countries except with the backing of the UN, of which Russia is a part.

There is one reason why Putin is waging war on Ukraine right now: Putin has been attacking the West and he’s been losing. Incited by the likes of Aleksander Dugin and their mad theories about national-traditionalism and the condemnation of liberalism, modernity, and progress, Putin has been supporting far-right and neo-Nazi groups in Europe and in the US. He helped Nigel Farage procure the Brexit debacle and befriended rebel governments inside the EU. He also infiltrated the American National Rifle Association to manipulate the Republican party and elect his asset to the White House – as shown in many Federal indictments, Intelligence Agencies reports, the US Congress proceedings, and the Mueller Report.

But Putin has been losing his fight. No doubt Donald Trump indulged him as much as he could – he tried to get Russia back to the G7 and end sanctions, he defended Putin’s views over the CIA’s, he got out of Syria and negotiated with the Taliban the surrender of Afghanistan. But Putin’s American Operation stumbled on an obstacle that only surprised a few: the Will of the People. Trump was defeated in the polls and Putin’s wet dream was over.

On the other hand, Brexit did not destabilize the European Union, and the Liberal Agenda remains strong in the West and the world. It seems people still value Freedom of Speech, Freedom of Religion, Freedom of Association, Democracy, the Right to Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness.

Years ago, I listened to an inspired speech of Vice-President Joe Biden debunking Russia’s idea of ‘sphere of influence’ – this idea that a country does not rule solely over its borders but also over other countries that it can ‘influence’ either by an alliance, fear or economic dependence. It is also the idea that Putin and others argue as central to their Foreign Policy. Biden put it very simply: this idea is not only obsolete but also contrary to another important idea – the one of the self-determination of peoples. If a country with a democratically elected government, like Ukraine, wishes to embrace freedom and join organizations such as the EU or NATO, it should be able to do so without being intimidated by others.

And so, Putin’s problem is a problem of the Will of the People. Not only the Will of the European People, not only the Will of the American People but the Will of the Georgian People and the Moldovan People, which he tried to stifle but which chose to apply to the European Union anyway. And the Finnish and Swedish and Irish Peoples who are considering joining NATO. And of course, of the Ukrainian People, who chose to expel Putin’s puppet from government and inscribe their aspiration to join NATO in their Constitution as well.

But most of all, Putin’s problem is one of the Will of the Russian People, who seem more and more disenchanted with him. It seems only Vladimir Putin himself and a handful of cronies he’s been bribing for years actually believe in his lies.

I warned years ago that the political plight of our lives was one of the Liberal Agenda of progress against the National-Traditionalist Agenda of destruction and regression. Dugin wrote: «If we reject the laws of modernity such as progress, development, equality, justice, freedom, nationalism, and all of this legacy of the three centuries of philosophy and political history, then there is a choice.» This confrontation is culminating in the Ukrainian War.

Ukrainians happened to be harder to chew than Putin thought, but Ukraine is also our problem. It’s also our responsibility. Ukrainians have been dying for our values and our security as well. To the untrained eye, Democracies seem weak and slow, and vulnerable. Let’s prove we’re not.

On Motivation: From Laziness to Engagement

A few years ago, I thought I was lazy. I just didn’t feel like doing things. I procrastinated and wallowed and immersed myself in swamps of sighs. That affected pretty much all aspects of my life, including my work and my writing. Then my therapist just said to me: ‘Laziness? I don’t know what that is.’ And that was so enlightening. What is laziness? Not wanting to work? Not wanting to be bothered? Lack of energy? Well, work, as McGregor told us long ago, is as natural to adults as playing is to children. When we’re out of work we are frequently depressed, we feel low self-esteem, we feel useless and worthless. So what is laziness if not demotivation?

Some time back I worked as a business consultant and worked with a myriad of organizations. I stumbled naturally upon what I call the School of Motivation in these companies. What is the ‘School of Motivation’? It’s that way of thought that argues leaders should ‘motivate’ their employees. They should do it by being positive and encouraging, and promoting all kinds of ‘motivating’ events – ‘team building’ events, as many call them. The expectation is that people will feel happy and engaged and part of something great. I’ve seen companies paying millions of euros creating all kinds of these events, from parties for thousands of people to tree-climbing and paintball weekends. Supposedly, people will come to work on Monday feeling appreciated and… wait for it… motivated. I wouldn’t say all this is complete bullshit but it is way overrated. As far as I’m concerned, if a leader or an organization must ‘motivate’ their employees to work, or work better, then something is already very wrong.

As we worked with dozens of companies and groups, my colleague Carlos Pina and I slowly developed a theory on the subject. For us, Motivation to invest work and effort in any task depends on three basic things. We call it the Motivation Triangle.

First of all, Motivation depends on a sense of Meaning. If the task or goal has Meaning to us, if it feels important to us, if it fulfills us, if it makes us happy and proud, then we will feel motivated to work for it. This meaning can be something as pragmatic as having a paycheck or feeding our children, or something material. I worked with a restaurant chain who said some employees came to work to pay for the tires of their motorcycle and as soon as they’d done that, they’d simply disappear. But this may not be enough. The consultants I hired for my team always had a talk with me at the beginning of their contracts about what were their goals as they came to work for me. Some would say they wanted to learn, some wanted a step up in their careers, some wanted stability. Whatever it was I made sure I and the organization would help them in their goals before I asked them to help us in our goals. But there are also people who are looking for fulfillment – a sense of pride and joy in their work. Or to belong to a company that stands for something. Or work for the community.

You would be surprised by the number of people who work in organizations who will get depressed if you ask them where they see themselves in five years. They get depressed because they don’t like their lives and they suddenly understand these will not change for the better. They just go through the motions every day not knowing how to do something else. How would these people be motivated?

As far as writing is concerned, you can always ask yourself why are you writing this or that book, why are you writing this or that story – what does it mean to you? Or why are you writing at all?

A second pillar of the Motivation Triangle is Participation. This means you must feel your actions, your effort, your work will influence the outcome. You would be surprised how many people in organizations feel their work and their opinions and their investment counts for nothing. It could be nobody pays attention to them, or that the task they execute seems worthless, but it could also be a persistent sense of failure – as if whatever they do they will never succeed, they will never achieve their personal goal, that thing that gives Meaning to their effort. Maybe they even tried once, but people demeaned them, or they failed to have an impact. Or something needed much more effort than firstly estimated. So, they give up and become thoughtless machines, doing the bare minimum every day.

This also happens in writing. People in general underestimate the time and effort needed to put in writing the wonderful things they imagined in their heads. They underestimate the difficulties of communication and how to render to the readers the feeling they have. So they give up. Or they wallow and procrastinate endlessly.

Connected to these two concepts in the Motivation Triangle comes the third pillar: Confidence/Trust. In Portuguese, the word ‘Confiança’ entails both these concepts – we have the same word for Confidence and for Trust. Confidence is part of what allows for Participation: the feeling that you matter, that you can do what must be done, that you will be able to succeed. But many times, that only happens when you trust the ones around you, and/or your organization. For you to be motivated you must feel that the system around you is not boycotting you. That the people you need are trustworthy and will in fact help you. That you are not constantly fighting obstacles that don’t need to be there. That others will do what they have to do for everything to work for everyone.

Years ago, I read a book by Howard Gardner on the development of genius. He analyzed the lives of the likes of Einstein, Freud, Picasso, et.al. He concluded these geniuses wouldn’t have been able to change the world if not for the people around them. Through the difficult years when they developed their wonderful skills, they wouldn’t have succeeded if not for the emotional support they got. And we all need this emotional support, but also, many times, logistical support to handle our children or our elderly parents, financial support to handle our obligations, political support to promote our ideas in an organization – whatever. We are not islands, and we definitely need others if we are to achieve all our potential. And for that we need to trust as well as to have confidence.

These are the three pillars of the Motivation Triangle: Meaning, Participation and Confidence/Trust. They work in organizations and in other areas of our lives, as in writing. There’s no point in artificially ‘motivating’ others. Each of us must motivate ourselves as we discover what moves us and what makes us tic. We can help each other, we can understand one another, and support one another, but we cannot ‘motivate’ others. The kind of motivation that comes with grand speeches and ‘let’s go get them’ rants is very short-lived and shallow.

Bruno_Martins_Soares_K (1)Each of the novels I wrote became more consistent and easier to write once I found their Meaning. THE ALEX 9 SAGA, for instance, is about finding a family when it seems impossible. So it’s about Family. And THE DARK SEA WAR CHRONICLES is about Sacrifice and Endurance – about how ‘getting going’ is sometimes the only thing you can do. Understanding your theme and your message is central to good writing, in my view.

And I also always tried to get better and improve my writing. Sometimes I read what I write, and I have to remind myself that what I don’t like I can actually change. I am the damn writer, after all. It’s what I do that makes a difference. And I can always do better.

Finally, I need to feel I’m any good. And for that, I engage with others. I listen to others’ opinions. I ask for help and depend on people I trust. That allows me to go on and build my resilience.

And that’s my two cents for now. See you around the next campfire, my friends.

On Doubt and Tolerance: The Dangers of Fleeing-Forward

Recently, I’ve been reading a little bit about QAnon and the impact it is having in people, elections and communities all around the world. It’s a little bit scary that a conspiracy theory that is so wild can resonate with so many people in so many places. QAnon, if you don’t know, is a massive cult-like community that believes the US and the world are dominated by a cabal of pedophiles run by American Democrats and liberals, supported by ‘deep state’ corrupt officials, and from which only the cryptic ‘Q’ and Donald Trump himself can save our children from. This conspiracy theory is completely bonkers and has been disavowed by most reasonable and/or responsible people (except the President of the United States). I’ve noticed that many other strange, crazy and absurd conspiracy theories have proliferated out of late. It used to be just those outliers defending that the Lunar Landing had never happened. Now we have people that defend the Earth is flat (more pathetic and less successful than the 15th Century Inquisition that argued the same), or others that say Covid-19 is an artificial pandemic (which again, waves-off the facts), or that Climate Change is a hoax.

On another level entirely but still on the same spectrum, we have a lot of people who are offended by the smallest political incorrect slight – judging everything as racist, sexist, unscientific or abusive, immediately taking action on any offence, many times missing much of the facts or the concrete situational context, and making it very difficult to go on and run our lives without feeling we are actually being abusive or negligent towards our fellow Human Beings. Snowflaking, for lack of a better word, is basic intolerance. Curiously enough, I think both these phenomena are two faces of the same coin.

Anxiety is a quite common dysfunction affecting millions of people around the world. The WHO estimates that almost 5% of the world’s population has severe anxiety disorders. Anxiety is a feeling of inadequacy or fear as we face the challenges in our future. It is actually a normal response and stems from the same mechanisms animals use to go into fight-flight mode as they face a threat. The thing is, we Humans have a complex symbolic system and we can generate all kinds of links and ideas that connect basic threats to what may seem innocent ideas. Birds or horses or tight places or bridges may spring anxiety or panic attacks, just because in some deep place in our minds they mean something else entirely.

There’s a particular response to anxiety which the French call ‘fuite en avant’ or, in Portuguese, ‘fuga para a frente’. It means that you make a rushed decision not because it’s the best decision you can make but because it helps you escape from anxiety. For instance, a bride who is marrying someone she doesn’t love just because it allows her to exit her parent’s house. Or when we preventively break-up an engagement just because we suspect our partner is about to end it. In many cases it’s really like jumping from the frying pan into the fire. It will relieve us for a moment, but lead us to a worse-off situation. And anxiety problems seem to be increasing all over the world. It seems our resistance to its effects is diminishing all around. In many cases, we prefer to jump into conclusions or flee-forward, ‘fuir en avant’, instead of waiting until we have the right information to make the best decision.

That translates, in many cases, into a sudden need to never doubt or never to be without an opinion. Just saying ‘I don’t know’ or ‘I’m not sure’ is interpreted as an offence or a sign of ignorance. It can actually be a sign of intelligence and maturity. Especially in a world where we are constantly bombarded with information, and even more uncorrelated data, I would argue it is prudent and clever to wait until we have enough information and enough time to process it before we jump into a conclusion. We should also be wary of unsubstantiated or vague information. What we sometimes mistake as ‘following our principles’ is actually in many cases a sign of rigidity of mind and fleeing-forward into a ‘safe’ social position of being ‘for’ or ‘against’. Doing this we not only narrow our options, but we also foreclose our sense of tolerance and compassion. We need to be open to others – others’ feelings and positions – if we want to be tolerant. Karl Popper’s principle of ‘intolerance towards the intolerant’ can sometimes be self-defeating if we become overall intolerant to all – not allowing for mistakes, misinterpretations or even humour.  Please don’t be mistaken: I’m not saying that people who suffer of anxiety are intolerant; but I do believe all intolerance comes from fear and anxiety.

Thousands of years ago, Buddah went into the world and discovered a few things. He formulated the ‘Four Noble Truths’ after finding out that suffering was everywhere and that our primary goal should be overcoming this suffering in the world. Whatever religion you follow, it should be interesting to think about these concepts. Compassion, as Tibetan monks would argue, is our understanding that everything we do originates from one of two reasons: to reach for happiness or avoid pain – in other words, to overcome suffering. I would argue that Freud’s Eros and Tanatos follow the same reasoning. If we understand that everything people do is an attempt to achieve happiness or avoid pain we might feel more tolerant and compassionate, however mistaken we might think those people are. What we should not do is rush into judgement, force our opinions or jump into conclusions. Because we can be the ones who are mistaken. And we should also be compassionate and tolerant to ourselves – allow ourselves to doubt, to not have an opinion, to delay our decisions as much as we feel necessary.

If you follow this blog or read any of my previous posts, you probably have this idea that I have a very cohesive set of principles and assurances. I think I do. I still have a lot of doubts about a lot of things and there are many things I don’t have an opinion on – of course, I probably won’t be writing about those soon. But I believe people should be free, that we should be able to worship freely and express ourselves and love one another and be honest with our feelings as much as we can. When we embark in wild conspiracy theories we are looking for assurances – whatever they may be. We are ‘fleeing-forward’, leaving the facts and reality behind. But in this crazy world there aren’t many ‘safe havens’. Things are changing fast and faster still. And we should have better ways to deal with this discomfort we feel.

In a way, conspiracy theories are the opposite of snowflaking: people embark in conspiracy theories to avoid admitting the confusion and discomfort they experience when other people assure them their feelings and beliefs are wrong. A conspiracy will legitimize the fears behind this anxiety and dissolve the previous confusion by creating an overwhelming feeling of certainty. If we fail to address these fears and this confusion we are doomed to fail in our path to righteousness.

On the other hand, continuously criticizing and correcting other people is another way to flee-forward, to make sure that we are guaranteeing what is right, what is proper and what is just, but ignoring the inevitability of all the grey areas, the mists, the imprecisions, indecisions and flaws that make us Human. Even the humour that turns the spotlight on these flaws will feel intolerable to those who absolutely need to be right.

We should be tolerant of our doubts. We should be compassionate to others. We should reserve our judgments a little bit more. Maybe then we can see what unites us instead of being fixed on what divides us. And that, in the long run, seems to be a better path and lead to a better place.

At least that’s what I think. Hope it makes sense. See you around the next campfire, my friends.

To Wear a Mask or Not to Wear a Mask?


Here we are I don’t know how many months later and we are still trapped in a worldwide pandemic (actually, ‘pandemic’ means it’s worldwide).  I wasn’t here for the last sizable pandemic, which happened in 1918, but several things are impressing me in the course of this one. It has really changed the way people think, act, and go about their business. We are more careful, overall, with the way we socialize and work. Many of us have to wear masks and disinfect our hands constantly, for instance, to be able to do what once was a free and safe job. Children are kept at home and things as simple as eating out are now an adventure in themselves.

Another thing that impresses me, though, is the amount of disinformation and myths that have proliferated all over the world. I wrote in my last post about the difficulty of keeping track of the numbers and how statistics do not show us as much as we think. Still, numbers are important and there are things we can learn. I wrote sometime back, here, about the value of scientific data and knowledge. Science is not set in stone and scientific knowledge is not ‘the truth’, but it follows an ethical standard, it is basically the best and most scrutinized data and information that we have available and it most likely is the closest to the truth we can manage at any single time. It released us from a time when warts could lead a woman to be burned to death or you’d judge somebody’s guilt or innocence by their ability to float in water. So, it baffles me when I look around and find how much disinformation and crazy talk and fantasy dreaming has been going on, including by many elected officials. It’s simply absurd what many, sometimes well educated, people have been systematically saying. In particular, there’s a lot of controversy about one simple thing that should be very clear: should we or should we not wear a mask? Let me write a little bit about that.

First of all, let me dismiss negativists. There are many who are saying that perhaps Covid-19 is not such a dangerous disease nor that contagious. As far as we know, Covid-19 is more contagious than Ebola and less contagious than AIDS. Still, Ebola is more dangerous because it leads to a higher rate of death very quickly and AIDS less dangerous because of a reduced rate of death and killing only after a long time. There’s another danger to Covid-19: you could be asymptomatic or have mild symptoms and still infect other people. But there are more impressive signs it is a dangerous disease: more than 700,000 deaths worldwide so far. I had never seen mass graves in Europe or the USA ever outside of war zones, had you? I had never seen doctors and nurses systematically describing chaos and apocalyptic environments in hospitals outside of war zones, had you? And the devastation is not just measured in deaths. Of the hundreds of thousands who were hospitalized, many will have heart and lung problems for the rest of their lives. Many others suffered weeks and months of depletion, weakness, and sick leave. Covid-19 is dangerous. There is no doubt about it and it baffles me that people doubt it.

More than this, the World Health Organisation had to put out a ‘Mythbusters’ web page assuring the public of the most amazing things. For instance: pepper in your food does not prevent you from getting the virus; you should not ingest or inject bleach, ethanol, alcohol and taking a bath does not prevent you from getting the virus; cleaning your shoes is unlikely to help either, and Hydroxychloroquine is definitely not a legitimate treatment.

The disease spread so rapidly and had such an impact that most or all Governments made mistakes in addressing the pandemic. Some were better: like South Korea and Singapore. Some were disastrous: as the US or Brazil. But almost all came to a very simple conclusion: wearing a mask helps fight the spread. Not all the masks are the same. As far as I know, surgical masks are the best, but not necessarly widely available and should be given to health professionals like doctors and nurses. Then there are N95’s.


As far as I know, they will protect you from 95% of particles, but they need some knowledge on how to use them and, if they have respirators to help you breathe better, they will protect you but not others from you. It seems the single best use of masks is by the widespread use of those made of cloth. These will not really protect you, but they will trap your droplets from when you speak, cough, sneeze, or shout, protecting others from you. As most people who are infected actually do not realize they are infected, wearing a mask will protect the people around them. So, wearing a mask is actually a sign of respect and care for the ones around you. It’s a way of saying: ‘You are safe from me.’

Are the masks uncomfortable? Yes, they are. But here is what they are not: They are not harmful to you. You should be careful when you are exercising or making huge efforts because it can make your breathing more difficult, but it will not harm you even when used for a long time, as doctors and nurses can tell you. Also, they are not unconstitutional or an unacceptable infringement of your freedom – even when mandated by the authorities. In reality, there are a lot of limits to our freedom as a price to live in a civilized society. Like these: murder is not allowed; some roads have speed limits; you cannot close someone in a room against their will; you cannot urinate in the middle of the street. These limits are imposed to help us live better with each other and overall, in a safer way. There are perhaps no limits to freedom in the middle of the jungle, but you wouldn’t want to live there, would you?


Some countries, like Portugal, Germany, Israel, Luxembourg, France, Spain, South Korea, and others, have in place a State-mandated obligation to wear masks in public. It’s a simple enough measure – no mass inoculation, no drawing blood, no mass confinement. And it works. Some people even say it works almost as well as compulsory confinement. I have to wear a mask for work, for meetings with colleagues and clients. I don’t particularly like it, especially when there’s hot weather. But it’s my duty as a citizen and as a Human Being. So, I do it. And so should you. Keep up the fight, fellow warriors.

Lies, Damn Lies and Pandemic Statistics


Sebastian Piñera, President of Chile, has just told the media the country is counting the Covid-19 patients that die as ‘recovered’, because they cannot infect anyone any longer. He also said that this was an indication of international experts. Well, I have been closely monitoring the daily numbers from the World Health Organization and I suspect that these ‘phenomena’ of falsifying the numbers is widespread and scary. I believe, let me tell you, that this Coronavirus pandemic is probably much worse than it’s been reported. I’m not saying this happens always in bad-faith. Sometimes it is mostly, probably, a question of counting different things as if they are identical. But let me talk to you a little bit about that.

Let’s start with the obvious. Chile, as of today, has a count of 7,528 infected. It counted only 82 deaths and 2367 recovered. How many dead have been counted as recovered?  We actually don’t know. How many countries are doing the same? We don’t know. Next, Sweden is notoriously not actively testing its citizens. Only the ones coming to the hospital and actually tested and diagnosed are counted in the statistics – all that die at home or die before being tested are not counted. How many are really dying from the disease in Sweden? We don’t know.

Germany has a particularly low death rate for the level of infections it shows – it is just not coherent with the data from other countries. Many people are advancing ideas online for why this is so. Maybe it has been testing randomly more than others, maybe it has better health care conditions or fewer people with underlying conditions. Or, actually, it’s counting deaths in a different way. People don’t just die from the Coronavirus. They die of pneumonia, of heart disease, of respiratory difficulties. If you don’t count deaths of any infected as a Coronavirus death but as a death from pneumonia, you will be having a lot less Covid-19 deaths. Is this what Germany is doing? We don’t know.

In Italy, doctors and hospital managers have confessed that the deaths are coming in so fast they have stopped counting. This is a dire crisis and we may never know how many actually perished in that country, but I suspect that situation is being duplicated in Spain and maybe even in France.


China has for a long time been unreliable in the data it releases. See the famous case of the Banqiao Dam failure in August 1975. After a strong typhoon 62 river dams collapsed and the waters ran over millions of houses. It was hidden by the authorities for years and when it finally came out, the Chinese Government capped the death toll at 86,000. There are reasons to believe, nowadays, that it was closer to 240,000. It was one of the worse if not the worst natural disasters in history. There are also questions about the numbers of the SARS epidemic in 2002. And it is common knowledge that China’s GDP numbers are mostly bogus. There are three kinds of lies, said Mark Twain once: Lies, Damn Lies and Statistics. Today, China’s official death toll for the Covid-19 pandemic is 3,345. In a 1.4 billion people country. When they didn’t even know this was coming. Even if their response was flawless (and that’s doubtful) the numbers are suspicious. And there’s a lockdown – journalists, especially foreign journalists, appear still not to be allowed to travel the country. And they are still reporting around 100 new cases a day, which they attribute to foreigners coming in infected. They have announced that the Russian border is now a particularly dangerous source. They have found 60 infected people coming from Russia in one airplane alone. And Chinese nationals who have gone to Vladivostok are also reportedly coming back infected.

Russia is another suspicious case. Their reporting is also unreliable at best, outright preposterous at worst. The official death toll for the Chernobyl disaster in the 1980’s is still 31 people – when we know that probably hundreds of thousands died as the result of the accident. In the case of Covid-19, they were very slow in getting data released.  It seemed they had been spared when everyone around them was suffering. Today, they announce 21,102 people infected and 170 deaths. Somehow, I doubt it.


The most troubling case, though, is the United States of America. Today, the official numbers are 582,594 infected cases with 23,649 deaths. But the disparity of numbers and practices that have been showing all over the country make me think the real scenario is far worse. In New York, the center of the American pandemic, there are reports that the number of dead people who Emergency Services find in their homes has increased ten-fold. Are they Coronavirus victims? We don’t know. But we can assume many will be – what other reason for this increase could there be? So, probably, the death toll from the disease in New York has been underreported. There are also accounts that in Florida, patients that come into the hospitals and are not tested or confirmed before they die are not being counted as Covid-19. And then there are reports of the dire situation on the Retirement Homes all over the rural areas, where people are falling ill and dying profusely – mostly without reliable reports.

CK5F4ZPUHZDBRJO2MTTV5FHQ2AAs Anthony Fauci, the US director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, has said, the predictive models of the death tolls and infections are only as good as the data that go into it. And the data collected around the world and in the US is simply a mess. There are clear limits on what can be done: you can only count if you have the testing capacity to do that, and this capacity is irregular across the globe. Many countries are in clear trouble when trying to test, facing shortages of everything from laboratories to reagents to mere swabs. Some economists have been saying that in the US alone you would need systematic testing in the order of millions people a day. Health officials counter that is logistically impossible. Still, most or all of political decisions and appreciations at this point are based on a lot of statistics that seem inaccurate at best. People are just infecting too fast, falling to fast, dying too fast. If you systematically underreport and underestimate the numbers, it’s normal that the models will become more and more optimistic on the final tolls, and politicians start making unreasonable predictions and claims. It’s possible that most of our economies will start opening too soon. It’s possible that lousy responses and management of this crisis will be lauded as brilliant. But worse of all, it’s possible we’ll go down this path again and again and the death toll will be much, much worse. The Spanish Flu record of 50 million dead won’t be reached – but then again, who knows?

Of course, there is a way to overcome this mess – and that is to standardize as much as we can the way we count, and the way we analyze all the data. But that requires political will. And I suspect that will not be present. Manipulation of the information is at best an irresistible temptation. See you around the next campfire, fellow warriors.

Fighting a Pandemic: Liberty, Rebellion and Civil Disobedience

COVID-19-site-1080450Well, a Pandemic. It’s one of those things that people were saying for a long time that it would come again and that you always thought they were exaggerating or it would skip a couple of centuries, or your lifetime. Just like a meteorite hitting the Earth or a Yellowstone super-volcano explosion. Still, this is not one of the worst. The Spanish Flu killed around 50 million people. The Black Plague killed 200 million. We are much better now at responding to this kind of threat – even if our traveling abilities mean the infection spreads much faster – and so this one will certainly not come close to these numbers. Still, yesterday Donald Trump said he would claim victory if less than 100,000-200,000 lives were lost to the Coronavirus – those figures actually dwarf the numbers from any other country right now.  But we have respirators (when available) and health care systems and the Internet – better than a century ago. We also have Freedom. I’ve talked a lot about Liberty and Freedom in this blog, as you might know. For many different reasons, the main one being that I find the ability to choose to be the main component of a happy life. But there’s an obvious limit to freedom: Reality itself. I’ve talked about this in the past, of course, but let me come back to it – because I’ve been witnessing behavior that really blows my mind in anger. People are putting other people in danger by being irresponsible.

When a baby (let’s say it’s a girl) comes out of her mother’s womb into the World, she has her first shock with Reality. It’s strange and frightful, but also full of stimuli and it hints at Liberty. The baby will, in some sense, feel it is the center of the world, as everyone will rush to fulfill her needs. And she will feel more and more expertise and freedom, as she starts to speak, to crawl, to walk. I guess babies will feel that toddlers have more Freedom than they do. And toddlers will feel that of teenagers. And teenagers feel the same about adults. It’s like being an adult is the summit of Freedom – adults can do whatever they want, no-one bugging them or ordering them around. Curiously enough, that’s not what we adults feel. As we watch the young running around and laughing and playing, there’s a sense of loss, a sense that we can no longer feel as free as when we were children. Now, as adults, we have responsibilities and we have to deal with “Reality”.  In fact, Reality was always here, we always dealt with it, but we always held to a childish belief that doing what we wanted was more important. And it is more important – we only have one life (that we know of) and it is obvious we have to make it count. But what an adult must take into account is that doing ‘what we want’ also means ‘wanting the consequences’ of our behavior. We have to think about our options in a broader and more coherent way.

This more intelligent way of thinking about Reality allowed for progress in civilization, and for societal systems to emerge. Systems come into place with a functional order, I believe – they come to solve problems. The health care systems are here because people do suffer illnesses or traumas or other important physiological phenomena. And most people probably don’t know what they will suffer and probably underestimate its impact in their lives. Just like the Pandemics do on a global scale.

BRITAIN-RIOTSSo, in theory, we should all be collaborating with the system and actively working so it functions properly. However, that’s not what happens. We have a homomorphic primal fear to disappear into a group or a system – meaning that we fear that our ‘wants’, our Freedom, will be squashed by the group. It seems our Inner Child is always on the verge of being pulverized and washed away by the systems we live in. And so we rebel. We fight back. We refuse the System. The Man. The Father. We assert our Oneness. Our whole. The evidence that we are free and unique. But that is a faint illusion. When we rebel we are actually losing our place, we are doing what many have done before: we are falling into the trappings of the System itself, so well adapted to squash rebellion.

Rebelling for rebellion’s sake is a childish endeavor.  It’s the basis of Punk Mentality I talked about here.  The System is not our enemy, it’s not there to destroy us. It’s there to help us function. Sometimes it is clumsy, thick, incompetent, unjust, cruel and blind. But it is not our enemy. To be able to overcome all these shortcomings we must first shed our rebel streak. We must understand it for the illusory childish attitude it is. Only then are we ready for the next step: to regain our Freedom. If we shed the blind obedience to the System and then the superficial opposition to it we can then do something else: make decisions because we believe in them; because they are the right thing to do; because we thought about them.

image_content_2767563_20200211144558Many important evolutions of the 20th century happened thanks to Civil Disobedience. Ghandi in India; Martin Luther King in the US; Nelson Mandela in South Africa. All of them decided full-heartedly to change the System and did it by Civil Disobedience. And they succeeded. They didn’t just rebel – they set a path for themselves and others and they walked it with their heads up high. They disobeyed for a purpose and they showed great courage and honor and ethical judgment in doing so. And with this, they asserted their Freedom and our Freedom.

So what to say of all these people we see today ignoring the authorities’ orders to stay at home? What do we say of those who go to parties and organize cattle fairs and calmly go on vacation with their families in the middle of a quarantine process? They are actively putting themselves and others in danger, not to mention defeating the sacrifice most of us are paying to curb this Pandemic. They may think they are exercising their Freedom, their hard-earned Freedom gained by others, but they are simply behaving like punks. They are engaging in the childish behavior of thinking what is more fun, pleasurable, interesting and comfortable for them. Civil Disobedience, when done justly, when done in an adult fashion, can be a powerful weapon for the righteous. What we are seeing though, is people indulging themselves. They are not to be admired or tolerated.

13032020---apos-testar-negativo-para-o-coronavirus-o-presidente-jair-bolsonaro-conversa-com-apoiadores-em-frente-ao-palacio-do-planalto-1584131366904_v2_450x450The same goes for rulers who ignore, downplay, shrug their shoulders in face of this tragedy. Their egotistical attitudes are childish at best. Most of these rose to power in a punk destructive attitude – trying to destroy the System some think abuses us – and now we are dealing with the consequences they intently decided to ignore. They sucked us all into their fantastic illusions – and now Reality is getting back at them… and us.

So this post intends to send a very basic message: don’t be a punk; stay at home; isolate; believe in the adults, the scientists, the doctors – those who know what they are talking about – and behave like a decent human being. See you around the next campfire, fellow warriors.

The Responsibility of the Followers: Some Particular Leadership Traits


Let me tell you a few things about leadership in general. Leadership is a group phenomenon. Any group will look for a leader, either formal or informal, either temporary or permanent – in every situation, a group or a team or a people will look for someone to follow. Leadership is not a character trait, nor a learned skill, nor a method or a set of behaviors. Leadership is a kind of relationship that is always sought out by groups and leaders alike. There is no one type of leader. Not even a small set of types of leaders. There are probably thousands of types of leaders. Leadership is too complex and depends on so many details – just as any complex relationship, especially a group relationship – that it becomes very restrictive and naïve to believe we can categorize them in a shortlist of types. But we can look into some concepts of psychology and analyze a few traits in different leaders – or a few traits in the relationships of leadership between leaders and followers. Of course, all of what I have said is pretty much controversial and expresses my beliefs and studies over the years – but bear with me.


So, there’s this kind of leader that we can call a ‘Leader-that-is-supposed-to-know’ (LSTK). This is actually the first kind of leader we encounter in our lives. As we come out of our warm and forgiving mother’s womb to face the dark disappointing frustrations of reality, we are vulnerable and ignorant. We look to our parents for guidance. They are the ones who will tell us what to do, what are the dangers, and the protocols, our rights and our responsibilities. They are the ones ‘supposed-to-know’. They are our first leaders and our first LSTK’s. We obey them implicitly and they are the examples we follow and the sculptors of our early behaviors. When we grow up we are sometimes tempted to look for these kinds of leaders again. Individuals who will fill the voids of our vulnerabilities at any time and who will be able to tell us here and there what we should do and how we should behave. Some leaders will, in fact, believe this should be their main role: know what each follower should do and demand it of them – sometimes reprimanding them for not knowing in advance what should be done. Treating their followers like children, they still get frustrated when these don’t act as adults themselves. This replication of a parent-child relationship in a workplace or other adult environment is considerably misguided. It is generally a tragic mistake from both leaders and followers, and for both leaders and followers.

There is another kind of leader we can call the ‘Good-enough Leader’ (GEL). Contrary to our superficial infantile assessment, a good mother or father is not simply an adult ‘supposed-to-know’, is not simply someone who knows what we are supposed to do and demands it of us. A ‘Good-enough’ parent has a much more comprehensive role – he/she is able to contain the anguish and anxiety, to support the efforts of the baby to fend for his/herself, and, most importantly of all, be able to convey to the baby a positive self-image – in summary, one of Love. A ‘Good-enough Leader’, as a ‘Good-enough Mother’, does not assume knowing everything a follower should do or not do. A GEL will help the followers to develop their own roles and support them in their efforts to grow and assume responsibilities themselves. Doing this, the GEL assumes a daunting risk: he/she will have to face unrealistic expectations from the followers who may want determination, orders, no pain or responsibility, magic solutions to all problems, success in all situations.

These unrealistic expectations are a major trap we followers must be aware of as we choose our leaders. It is easy to be fooled or pushed into relationships characterized by LSTK leadership – after all, it may be convenient at an earlier time to receive clear-cut orders on what to do, and be able to always know who to follow. But it is a fools’ errand. In the end, a GEL will be a much more effective and complete leader, even though his/her style may be more uncomfortable and sophisticated at times – avoiding the temptations of simple but self-defeating or basically wrong top-down decisions. An LSTK will tell you what to do, while a GEL will want you to be involved, make decisions, vote, share the responsibility – all these uncomfortable things.

mid_MH_011040A particular type of ‘Leader-that-is-supposed-to-know’ is what we can call the ‘Savior/Victim’ Leader.  ‘S/VL’s identify themselves with a group allegedly victimized, claiming they are victims themselves, so they can, in turn, assume the role of Saviors, the ‘Chosen ones’ able to confront all enemies and save the victims from all injustices – the ones who know the path to glory. Some ‘Savior/Victim’ leaders are ‘Martyrs’ – they sacrifice themselves so that their followers can receive their own power and save themselves. We can see that in Jesus Christ or the Spartacus in Kubrick’s movie I spoke about here.  But most ‘Savior/Victim’ Leaders work in their own interest and suck the power from their followers becoming immensely powerful on the shoulders of the powerless themselves. Examples are leaders like Adolf Hitler, Mao Ze-dong or Donald Trump. Of course, they are not victims and really do not belong to the group they are claiming, nor are they able to save it. They are mostly illusionists and con-artists, convincing a vulnerable mass they will stop the hurt and the hopelessness. Instead, they work to increase this hurt and hopelessness that serve them so well.


The main responsibility, though, is with the followers. First of all, accepting an LSTK, looking for a savior, believing in magical solutions, is a certain path to tragedy and catastrophe. There are no magical solutions – understanding that is a crucial part of growing up and a crucial pillar of a mature mind. Every solution, every decision, every obstacle overcome, has a cost. If we really want a ‘Good-enough’ leader we must stop looking for someone who is promising the sky and heaven on Earth. We must stop imposing impossible demands on our leaders, or be discouraged by the minor negative detail, and we must start working for the future, believing in the future ourselves. Perfection is an illusion. Life is not perfect. If we want someone real, and effective, working to solve real problems and searching for real solutions, we must stop deluding ourselves in the first place. Virtue is very often in the center. The more radical we become the more deluded we will be. Democracy is about compromise and about collaboration and about being able to bring people together. The more radical we are, the more we are rejecting this dynamic.

So, “first of all, we’ll be judged by our courage”. But not just the courage to destroy and ravish and break – also the courage to stop, to see and to think. And to ban populist and childish illusions. See you around the next campfire, fellow warriors. Stay in the fight.

5 Memorable ‘Game of Thrones’ Scenes

I don’t know why but lately I’ve been remembering HBO’s GAME OF THRONES here and there. What a wonderful series it really was and what an event to have followed from start to finish, especially after having read the SONG OF ICE AND FIRE books. The show had great production value, but what made it incredible was the story, the characters, the dialogues, the actors, the directing, the strength of it all. I know many people, including yours truly, were disappointed with the last season. I spoke about it here. But when you look back I’m sure you will be able to identify many incredible moments that made you a fan and locked you to the screen every time the show was on. So today I’m going to talk to you about 5 memorable scenes that stuck to my mind and make me wish the show had never ended. Of course, there are many more brilliant scenes and maybe there were even better ones – but these are a few that I immediately recall and which I’d like to remind you of. There is no particular order, as you may perceive from my usual lists.  Oh, and SPOILER ALERT – If you haven’t watched GOT yet, don’t ruin it by reading this article.


1. MHYSA – At the end of the third season, Daenerys has freed the Unsullied in a spectacular fashion and has become known as the freer of slaves. She and her forces arrive at Yunkai and demand for the slaves to be freed. They don’t know what will be the reaction of these slaves as they are given to the Mother of Dragons. Will they bite the hand that’s feeding them? The mass of slaves exit the city and face Daenerys – hesitant. And she speaks to them. She tells them they are free now. Suddenly, slowly they start calling her ‘Mhysa! Mhysa! Mhysa!’ The word is translated. It is means ‘Mother’. Daenerys is being hailed. She smiles and says – ‘These people are not going to hurt me.’ She climbs downs from behind her soldiers and she goes into the crowd. Every slave is trying to reach her, to touch her, enthralled. They pick her up and the beautiful music of Ramin Djawadi starts playing. The camera climbs to the heavens and on the ground, we see the lovely pattern of the concentric circles of slaves trying to touch Daenerys as she is raised by them. What a brilliant ending! First-class!


2. RED WEDDING – There are innumerous shocking scenes in GOT, but few have had more impact than the bloody Red Wedding. The Scene is well laid out. Robb Stark – the King in the North, his mother, and his bride are attending a truce wedding at the Castle of the Frey’s. It’s a way to appease the Lord because of the failed marriage of Robb with one of his daughters. As the celebrations carry on, Caitlyn Stark is looking at Robb and his lover wooing when she notices a man going to close the doors to the room. Something is wrong. The scene moves to the exterior, where the Hound and Arya are arriving, but they cannot pass the gate, for the guard tells them the party is over – yet, we see armed soldiers going in. At the wedding room, the musicians start playing The Rains of Castamere. Caitlyn is suspicious something is wrong. When she finally finds out that the men of the house have mails beneath their clothes she understands the danger and shouts. But it’s too late. The killing of the Starks begins, starting with Robb’s wife and the unborn child but continuing with Robb, his mother, and any other present. The scene sent shock waves across the globe and I remember watching videos of outraged reactions from many countries and understanding the absolute terror people were feeling. Absolutely brilliant!


3. HODOR – Oh, this is no doubt one of my favorite scenes of the series, maybe even my absolute favorite. It happens halfway into the sixth season. Hodor is the big guy who has been taking care of the handicapped Bran. Whenever he needs strength, Bran gets inside the retarded companion’s mind, and this happens again when Bran and Meera are escaping a zombie-infested cave beyond the Wall. As Hodor holds the door allowing for his friends to escape, Bran is able to see back into the past, to when Hodor was a boy – and the presence of ethereal Bran seems to set Hodor into an epileptic spasm. He starts shouting ‘Hold the door! Hold the door! Hold the door!’ until he can’t, until he is only capable of shouting ‘Hodor! Hodor! Hodor!’, the one-sentence he has been saying all along. We gather, then, that his whole life was resumed to that single moment – the moment he would hold the door to save Bran. This, I guess, is the mark of George R.R. Martin. It’s a moment that it’s not in any of the books but which could only have come from his mind (what other reason could there be for Hodor to be called Hodor?). It’s a nugget of brilliance that we can trace back to the mind of a genius.


4. ARYA KILLS – Arya was always one of my favorite characters in the saga, along with Tyrion and Dany. Her storyline always seemed to be distant from the others but we knew it would amount to something great. Among the clumsy episodes of the last season, especially the strangely unsatisfactory Battle of Winterfell, one of the greatest moments was, of course, the moment Arya manages to kill the Night King. The Battle is already lost when the powerful Night King approaches Bran and we know he intends to kill him. Jon, which we might think would be the King’s match, is pinned down facing the Ice Dragon, and Theon, Bran’s last guardian, is dead. So now what? At the last moment, Arya jumps in as a light breeze, ready to stab the King in the back with her special Valerian dagger. But as Bran senses her coming, so does the Night King, who turns around just in time to catch her by the neck. And that’s when the Princess of Winterfell made use of one of her tricks, letting her dagger fall into her free hand, and stabbed the King of Evil. As with many other twists, feel free to search the Internet for the numerous foreshadowing instances of this moment. It still made me jump in my seat.


5. BATTLE OF THE LOOT TRAIN – The first battle of  Daenerys Targaryen, Drogon and the Dothraki against the Lannisters is in my view the best battle in the entire series. Old Robert Baratheon once had said: ‘Only a fool would face the Dothraki in an open field.’ But as the forces of Jaime Lannister and Bronn were ambushed as they came in from the South with a train full of loot, they didn’t just face the Dothraki, they faced Daenerys herself mounted on the great Drogon. The scene is 9-minutes long and was shot over an 18-day period. It’s tremendous. I always speak about it when I refer to a great Pay-off to a good Build-up. The reaction you can find online by people all over the world to the appearance of Drogon is a writer’s dream! Completely cathartic.

And these are five beautiful moments of this fantastic series. I hope you agree and I hope mistakes of the last season don’t discourage you to revisit the series once again, as it was, in fact, a very special event that we were lucky to witness. See you around the next campfire, fellow warriors.

The Problems With Elitism

1739e4a67650303371ff92e94691cfc2A few things have been bothering me recently which I want to talk about. Things that got into my radar over the last few days. First, an article describing how the city of Chicago had given Amazon the opportunity to pocket taxes in the same amount as their employees were paying. The end result, as you may perceive is that in effect the workers were paying taxes… to their employers. In theory, it’s a strange arrangement that some would compare to feudalism itself. In reality, it’s a bad practice that has been spreading more and more: big companies pay little or no taxes. As my girlfriend said: «Does Jeff Bezos really need this money?» The employees’ money should have gone to pay for roads, fire stations, public utilities, and instead goes to pay their own salaries. These days we also learned that Isabel dos Santos, daughter of the former long-time President of Angola, deemed the richest woman in Africa, probably ripped off her country’s resources and companies for hundreds of millions of dollars. Angola, for those who don’t know it, is a country rich in diamonds, oil, and other natural resources, but which its 29 million people live with an average of $4,170 a year, according to BBC, including 30% who actually live with less than $1,9 a day. I forgive you to think, in the lightness of the moment, ‘so what? Isn’t that the way the world works?’. Yes, yes it is. Nepotism and abuse from the elites aren’t new or surprising. But that’s part of the whole tragedy. They are both wrong and they should not be condoned.


We live in a world that is rebelling against Elitism. There is certainly cause for this revolt. Capitalism, that engaging phenomenon that has brought tremendous wealth and crushed poverty all over the world, has been systematically corrupted and disfigured. Public and private powers are now promiscuous among each other, with companies feasting with public money and politicians enjoying the wealth of privateers. Curiously, though, this rebellion against the Elites is exploding in unexpected ways. While many scream against the abuse of the powerful, others are fooled by populists and other con-artists to believe that the educated and the sophisticated urban citizens are the Elites themselves and that it is them who are the bringers of doom.  Inequality levels have been rising considerably in the last decade and we are now at a point where the true middle class is being crushed and destroyed.

Let me put it this way: I may be elite myself. I have a college education, I have a car, and I can see the sea from the window of my room where I am right now writing this text in my laptop – a room where I have an internet connection and cable TV. All this puts me in the high levels of the wealthiest people in the world – I gather that I am in the 15%-20% of the richest in the world.  That doesn’t mean I’m rich. I don’t feel rich. I have no equity, I’m indebted, of course, as most of my fellow citizens and I don’t have the means to independently assure my retirement in a few years. A few weeks ago, I injured my knee. I had the option of waiting a few months for an almost free orthopedist from the Portuguese National Health System or pay almost €100 for a private one. I had to think about it because that money had to come out of other things I’d have to sacrifice. I ended up going to the private doctor who prescribed me some exams. I’m still figuring out how I’m going to pay for those. I don’t feel rich. But I’m still better off than people out there working several jobs to make ends meet, or who have lost their homes and their savings in the recession, or others in Third World countries trying to figure out what they are going to eat in the morning. So inequality is too big a problem to solve, probably, but what sickens me is that it has been increasing systematically in the last few years. See some graphs here. The recession, it seems, left the rich richer and the poor poorer. And the middle class poorer.


Still, inequality is not the only problem with Elites. Another thing is what I call Aristocratic Thinking which, in truth, is a sense of entitlement. I know because I used to have it. I remember saying to my colleagues in class in eighth grade, so I must have been 14, that ‘You are only poor if you want to.’ I had a very angry reaction from a friend of mine which impressed me. But it took me a few years to fully understand his anger. And now I’m ashamed of my speech. But Elites feel they are entitled to things, to attitudes, to a certain degree of what they would call respect, or service, or other euphemism. They/we feel superior and different. Of course, differences will always be there. There will always be someone taller, or thinner, or luckier, or more beautiful. But “all men are created equal”. That is the creed we believe in. So that sense of entitlement is wrong. Wrong and dangerous. Saint Agustin used to say that justice towards the inferior is called Discipline – that ability to restrain ourselves and respect other people’s rights and dignity. So even if we would feel superior, that sense of entitlement is unjust and wrong. It leads to nepotism – that idea that we can benefit our family without regard for rules or responsibility. And it leads to xenophobia. And it leads to other dangerous behaviors – as genetic selection, to name one.

Finally, there’s a third problem with Elites: abuse. A couple of years ago I read an article in a newspaper about a woman working in a cork factory in Portugal. She had been to court complaining about a wrongful termination by her employer and won the battle. The company was ordered to give her her job back and pay a fine. The company did that, but gave her a particular assignment: she had to carry the same 20-kilo bag of corks from one shelf to another all day, with timed bathroom breaks on a specific bathroom with no walls (she had to bring a dark cloth from home to hide herself). I have not confirmed this case and the article specified that the company denied these charges – but let’s say they are true: do they surprise you? How many abusive work-related stories do you know yourself? Or even have been through yourself? There is a massive culture of abuse that comes with the Elites, the ones that are strong, simply not caring, simply not looking at people as… people. Or at least people with the kind of rights and dignity we have fought the last 250 years for. We believe that a Human Being has certain rights just for being a Human Being. Don’t we? And still, we tolerate all kinds of abuse all the time. In the case of the cork worker, the law had worked – it had given her a chance, it had evened the odds – but still, she was abused and mistreated. There is something as doing the Right Thing and it does matter. Doing the Right Thing matters. It has to.


I’ve written many times before: this Elitist mindset, thriving in inequality, aristocratic thinking and entitlement, and abuse, is the banal behavior that leads to Evil. Ignoring what is Right for the sake of interest, greed, and egotism is what Hannah Arendt warned us would lead to totalitarianism and to repeating the tragedies of the Past. We saw this kind of mindset at work once more these past few days in the US Senate and in Trafalgar Square. Let’s hope we can avoid the tragedies that may follow. Fight on, fellow warriors. See you around the next campfire.