Postmodernism is a major threat to the West

Many Westerners remain unaware of the inculcations of Postmodernism and the threat it represents to the West.

This issue of PortVitoria is dedicated to Postmodernism, a late 20th-century movement characterized by broad scepticism, subjectivism, or relativism, a general suspicion of reason, and an acute sensitivity to the role of ideology in asserting and maintaining political and economic power. Postmodernism started in the field of literary criticism, where it promoted the idea that there are countless ways to interpret a text. Postmodernism became a threat to the West when it began to be applied to society. Inspired by Karl Marx (1818-1883) and the Marxist French philosopher and psychologist Michel Foucault (1926-1984), this is exactly what the sociologist Jacques Derrida (1930-2004) did when he modified Marx’s view of the power relation between capitalists and the proletariat to one between oppressors and the oppressed. According to the postmodern interpretation of society, all the values of the Enlightenment such as reason, science, technological progress, dialogue, individual liberty, etc., are all masks to hide the truth, which is the power relationships that exist between different groups in society. A major consequence of Postmodernism is identity politics, which is behind every existing social conflict within Western society such as male versus (vs) female, black vs white, gay vs straight, etc. Another consequence of Postmodernism is the inculcation that it is acceptable to put the past on trial and to judge it through the morality of the present. Some examples are the defacing of public monuments, the scrutiny of everyday speech, and the idea that pecuniary reparations are owed by the West to the descendants of those who were oppressed by slavery and colonialism. All of these things are enveloped by hate, which serves the objective of power of Postmodernism. The unwanted consequence of this hate is to remove the old wisdom of ‘let bygones be bygones’, which allows individuals to move on with their own lives.

To move on with one’s life is a necessary condition to enter the path of the ‘good life’  defined in Western philosophy as ‘a life of virtue that is the way to a happy existence’. Postmodernism is unconcerned with the ‘good life’ and dismisses traditional philosophy just as it dismisses the Enlightenment, labeling both as ‘grand narratives’ designed to give power. Undermining the values of the West is part of the postmodern strategy of social construction and deconstruction which is normally staged on the media by the social constructivists. One of their tricks to enhance a piece of news is to synchronize press releases in different communities. It is not surprising that many social constructivists are versed in the art of propaganda. Their narratives normally reveal a preference for short narratives and powerful imagery that emphasize the grim, the outrageous, and the eye-catching. There is the hallmark of Postmodernism in the rise of political tribalism and collective identity, the infestation of web bots, and the current proliferation of fake news.

This edition offers a neutral description of Postmodernism extracted from Encyclopaedia Britannica, as well as two critical opinions;  one by Norman Berdichevsky and the other by myself. Berdichevsky’s article  is entitled “How the Left wins arguments by narratives; Postmodernism, and the ‘greater moral significance’”, and it focuses on the postmodernist transgression of the traditional pattern of narrative. My article is entitled ‘What is Postmodernism about’, and it is an essay taken from my 2016 book O Homem Razoável (The Reazonable Man). 

Another offering in this edition is a chapter from Stephen R C Hicks’ book Explaining Postmodernism: Skepticism and Socialism from Rousseau to Foucault, which was published initially in 2004 by Scholarly Publishing, and in 2011 by Ockham’s Razor Publishing. The article was taken from the Portuguese translation of Hicks’ book. In it, Hicks explains that social media has given an edge to Postmodernism by luring people into group-thinking.

The awareness of Postmodernism allows a clarifying hindsight of past events that we were unable to comprehend fully when they occurred. An example is the 1992 United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED), also known as the Rio de Janeiro Earth Summit, or simply Rio 92. It was supposed to solve the conundrum of how to develop without destroying the natural environment, but instead, it turned out to be more of a great spectacle to grab media attention. Although the hindsight examination of UNCED clearly reveals Postmodernism in action, such as the construction of iconic personas, there are two eye-witnesses that confirm this. They are two Canadian journalists, Elaine Dewar, who recorded her findings in her 1995 book Cloak of Green, and James Cobett. The latter revisited the event with Dewar, in an interview conducted in February 2016. This interview complements the arguments presented against Postmodernism.

The two books reviewed in this edition dwell on the problems of Postmodernism. The first book is Provocations (2018) by Camille Paglia, a massive collection of essays on high and low culture, including Postmodernism and the damage it has caused to higher education. The second book is The Madness of Crowds. Gender, Race and Identity (2019) by Douglas Murray, an in-depth analysis of the upsurge in political identity groups of women and LGBT. In his book, Murray points out some of the problems of group political identity, especially the abuse of power on the part of their leaders. Assigning the label of racist to people they dislike, demanding the sack of an academic for merely expressing an opinion, and insufflating disturbances on campuses are some examples he cites.

Finally, a Postmodernism-free space, in the Poetry slot, which is dedicated to Noel Rosa (1910-1937), one of Brazil’s most creative composers and lyricists. Although Rosa died age 26, of tuberculosis –  he managed to compose over 300 songs during his short life, mostly ‘sambas’ and lively carnival songs called ‘marchinhas’ . Three of Rosa’s songs are shown, accompanied by their English translations, after his biography. I often speculate on how far Rosa would have gone if he had not died so young. He might have been a Brazilian alternative to Bob Dylan.

I hope this edition will provoke thought and even, a questioning of some modern-day misconceptions.

Joaquina Pires-O’Brien

Editor of PortVitoria

‘The buck stops here’. Expressions of administrative probity and corruption in English and Portuguese

By Jo Pires-O’Brien

In drafting this edition of PortVitoria [no 18, Jan-Jun 2019], which talks about corruption in Brazil and the recent destruction of Brazil’s National Museum, I experienced a long flow of thoughts that intercrossed all the areas of knowledge I am familiar with, including linguistics and history. I decided to take advantage of this experience by compiling my vocabulary of administrative probity and corruption and to wrap it into a didactic narrative that would be of use to the readers of  PortVitoria.

The empire where the sun never sets

The British Empire and its designation of ‘the empire where the sun never sets’ exists only in history, but for all its rights and wrongs, it left as its main legacy the English language. English is the third most spoken language in the world after the Mandarin and Spanish, and the most important language in international relations. According to Guillaume Thierry, a professor of cognitive neuroscience at Bangor University, English is the first most widely spoken language in the world, when people who speak it as second or third languages are included[1]. Regardless of the ranking of English language, the Anglophone world includes 54 sovereign states and 27 non-sovereign states, all sharing the same historical and cultural roots. The most important Anglophone countries are the United States, Great Britain, Australia, Canada and New Zealand.

TheUnited Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, or United Kingdom, has considerable experience in administration, which included governing domains, colonies, protectorates, warrants and territories. The largest territorial extension of its history occurred after World War I, when on June 28, 1919, the newly created League of Nations, through the Treaty of Versailles, created the British Mandate for Palestine, covering a vast in the Middle East, which included Transjordan, which was confirmed by the Council of the League of Nations on July 24, 1922, and entered into force on September 29, 1923. The incumbency did not come in good time for the UK, because its economy was in ruins due to the war and it had already lost its old position of greatest industrial and military power of the world. And as was to be expected, the British empire declined and ended with India’s independence in 1947. Its last protectorate was Hong Kong, which was returned on June 30, 1997, as stipulated in the leasing agreement of 99 years, with China, signed in 1898.

Language and cultural values

Language is much more than a collection of communication signals, for words and expressions carry cultural values ​​and perceptions. Language and culture are closely linked, and one influences the other. For example, the high number of English idioms of nautical origin has to do with the fact that the British navy dominated the world for almost three centuries. Britain’s long imperial experience taught it not only to deal with the most diverse cultures, but also to develop a sophisticated system of administration, from which came many idiomatic expressions of pride in administrative probity such as  ‘not in my watch’ and ‘the buck stops here’, which are explained below. Thus, whenever someone interacts with another language, it ends up interacting with the culture that speaks the language.

In the ranking of countries by the level of corruption of Transparency International, the predominance of the Anglophone countries is remarkable. Among the 10 least corrupt countries are New Zealand, Canada and Great Britain, while Australia and the United States rank among the 20 least corrupt.

Not on my watch

The expression ‘not on my watch’, whose literal translation into Portuguese is ‘não na minha vigia’, is of nautical origin, as it comes from the phrase ‘officer of the watch’, the officer responsible for everything that happens on a vessel during a certain shift. The expression connotes administrative probity and responsibility. However, the word ‘watch’ alone means sentinel, shift, or administration. According to the Oxford English Dictionary (OED) the sense of observation of the word ‘watch’ evolved from the periods in which the night was divided. The Israelites divided the night into three periods, the Greeks into four or five, and the Romans into four. From that sense of observing the passage of time, the word ‘watch’ gained the sense of ‘clock’.

A similar phrase in Portuguese that comes closest to the English phrase ‘not on my watch’ is ‘Eu jamais aceitaria esse tipo de coisa na minha gestão’ (I would never accept this kind of thing in my administration).

Table 1. English expressions using the word ‘watch’ in the sense of ‘to oversee’ or ‘overlooker’.

English Translation into Portuguese
not on my watch não no meu turno; não na minha administração; de maneira alguma;
it happened on his watch aconteceu no turno dele
keep watch mantenha-se de sobreaviso
be on the watch ficar de sobreaviso
watch one’s mouth tomar cuidado com o que diz
watch the pennies tomar cuidado com o gasto
watch this space fique de olho nesse espaço
watch the time fique atento para o tempo
watch your step olhe onde pisa
watch your back proteja-se
watch the President’s back proteja o Presidente
watch the world go by ver o mundo passar

 The buck stops here

The phrase ‘the buck stops here’ translates literally as ‘the responsibility stops here’, or in a more natural translation, ‘the ultimate responsibility is mine’. This expression became well known after President Harry Truman of the United States placed a small wooden plaque engraved with it.

Figure 1. Replica of the plaque that President Harry Truman had on his desk.

The word ‘buck’ has Germanic origin, and in Old English, it means ‘deer’, or any male cervid. The most common meaning of ‘buck’ in modern English is ‘dollar’. The earliest reference to the use of ‘buck’ in the sense of dollar is 1748, about 44 years before the manufacture of the first dollar coin. It is clear from this reference that in trade between the American settlers and the Indians, the exchange rate of a box of whiskey was ‘5 bucks’, a reference to 5 deer skins. There is another reference dating from 1848, when a fellow named Conrad Weiser, during a trip through the present state of Ohio, noted in his journal that someone had been ‘stolen for 300 bucks[2].

However, the word ‘buck’ has several other meanings, besides deer and dollar, such as price, responsibility, guilt, black man, deviation, bucket, etc. as shown in Table 2.

Table 2. English expressions using the word ‘buck’ (responsibility, money, etc.).

English expressions Natural translation into Portuguese
passing the buck culpar outras pessoas
pass the buck jogue a batata quente para outro
bucks the system ir contra as regras que os outros seguem
bucked the trend fazer algo diferente dos outros
big bucks dinheiro à beça
buck up your ideas organize suas ideias
making more than a quick buck ganhar uma boa quantia de dinheiro
bang your buck obter algo de qualiade por um preço baixo
buck up (v.) ganhar coragem; passar a responsabilidade para um superior;
Buck’s Fizz coquetel feito com vinho espumante ou champagne e suco de laranja.
bang for the buck valor para o dinheiro

Several expressions denoting administrative probity use the word ‘accountable’, which means having an obligation to account for something. See examples in Table 3.

The English words ‘accountable’ and ‘responsible’

‘Accountable’ is usually translated as ‘responsible’, but this translation recalls that ‘responsible’ has a cognate in English: ‘responsible’. The English words ‘responsibility’ and ‘accountability’ have distinct meanings but with overlap. In the New Oxford Dictionary (NOD), the ‘accountable’ entry shows two meanings. The first sense is that of person, organization, or institution required or expected to justify actions or decisions. The second sense appears as ‘explicable’ and ‘understandable’. In the first sense, but not in the second, ‘accountable’ is synonymous with ‘responsible. Yet in NOD, the entry ‘responsible’ shows a single sense: having an obligation to do something, have control over someone, or have a duty to care for someone. In legal language, ‘accountable’ means ‘liable’ or ‘responsible for liabilities.’ A ‘liability’ is an obligation, or a debt, of a legal person governed by public or private law.  The Portuguese translation for ‘liability’ is ‘passivo’, although the word is normally used in the plural (passivos). Therefore, the translation of the words ‘responsible’ and ‘accountable’ into Portuguese depends on the context. One tip is to examine the original English idiom: ‘accountable for’, ‘be accountable’, ‘accountable to’, ‘responsible for’, ‘be responsible’, ‘responsible to’, ‘responsible party’, ‘solely responsible’, etc.

Table 3. English expressions with the word ‘accountable’ or similar.

English phrase Translation into Portuguese
Parents cannot be held accountable for their children’s actions Os pais não podem ser responsabilizados pelas ações de seus filhos
The directors are held accountable by the shareholders. Os diretores são obrigados a prestar contas pelos acionistas.
Senior managers are directly accountable to the Board of Directors. Os administradores sénior respondem diretamente ao Conselho Administrativo.
Local authorities should be publicly accountable to the communities they serve. As autoridades locais devem prestar contas publicamente às comunidades que servem.
Ministers are accountable to Parliament. Os ministros prestam contas ao Parlamento.
Accountability is a cornerstone of the human rights framework. A responsabilização é um dos pilares da estrutura de direitos humanos.

The English word ‘right’

As NOD shows, the word ‘right’ has several connotations in the English language, not only as a noun, adjective, adverb and verb, but also as a component of several idiomatic phrases. The Collins Portuguese Dictionary & Grammar provides the following translations for ‘right’:

Adjectives: certo, correto, justo;

Adverbs: bem; corretamente;

Nouns: direito; direita (o que não é esquerda);

Verbs: corrigir, endireitar.

The word ‘right’ in many English idiomatic phrases connotes probity, as shown in Table 4.

Table 4. English idiomatic phrases with the word  ‘right’.

English phrase Translation into Portuguese
to do the right thing fazer a coisa certa
to hire the right person for the job contratar a pessoa certa para o emprego
be in the right estar certo
do right by tratar com justiça; fazer justiça
in one’s right mind em sã consciência
not right in the head não está bem da cabeça
on the right track Na rota certa
put something to rights corrigir algo
right-minded de princípios corretos
right enough certamente
too right é claro; é isso mesmo
right on isso

The vocabulary of corruption

Corruption is a plague that exists everywhere, and tables 5 and 6 list words or expressions of corruption in English and Portuguese.

Table 5. Words or expressions of corruption in English and Portuguese.

English – Natural translation into Portuguese
Backhand. Propina
Birds of a feather. Farinha do mesmo saco
Blacklist. Lista negra; colocar na lista negra
Bribe; bribery. Suborno; subornar
Blackmail. Chantagem; extorsão
Cheat. Prevaricar
Cook the book. Adulterar o livro caixa
Coterie. Círculo social próximo;
Covert. Secreto; encoberto
Cozy up. Engraciar-se
Cyber crime. Crime cibernético
Deflect. Defletir; desviar (a atenção)
Embezzle. Defraudar
Embezzlement. Desfalque; fraude financeira
Extort. Extorquir
False accounting. Fraude de contabilidade
Fickle spirit. Espírito volúvel
Figurehead. 1. Uma pessoa com um título ou cargo mas sem muita
responsibilidade; 2. Figura na proa de embarcação
Forge; forgery. Falsificar; falsificação
Hush money. Dinheiro pelo silêncio
Innapropriate. Inapropriado
Jobbery. Agiotagem; especulação; velhacaria
Kickback. 1. um pagamento a alguém que facilitou uma transação ou
nomeação, em geral ilícito; 2. recuo forte e súbito
Maladminisration. Má administração
Malfeasance. Má administração (tem a ver com a falta de motivação
para fazer o que precisa ser feito, ou adiar o que precisa ser feito; não é necessário haver ações ilícitas)
Misappropriate. Apropriar indevidamente
Misinvoicing. Fatura errada; fatura fraudulenta
Money laundering. Lavagem de dinheiro; branqueamento de capital
Nepotism. Nepotismo
Pay off. Saldar algo como suborno (por algo)
Perjury. Perjúria; perjurar
Pilfer. Furtar; abafar
Pot shot. Provocação; provocar
Prevaricate. Evadir-se, esquivar-se, ou furtar-se de compromissos 
Skimming. 1. forma de evasão fiscal envolvendo não declarar dinheiro recebido; 2. tirar a nata
Slush fund. Caixa dois (p. ex., para campanhas eleitorais)
Suborn. Subornar
Tax evasion. Evasão fiscal
To shop. Denunciar
Turpitude. Torpeza; maldade; baixeza;
Venality. Venalidade. 1. condição ou qualidade do que pode ser
vendido; 2. natureza ou qualidade do funcionário público que exige ou aceita vantagens pecuniárias indevidas no exercício do seu cargo.
(D. E. Houaiss).
Whitewash. 1. caiação; 2. fazer com que o caso acabe em pizza
Wrongdoing. Transgressão

Table 6. Portuguese words and phrases describing corruption.

Portuguese words and phrases English translation
acabar em pizza. Resultado danão apuração de uma acusação de corrupção. to end as pizza (to end as something easily digestible)
caixa dois. Prática financeira ilegal, envolvendo um caixa paralelo onde determinadas entradas ou saídas não são registradas, e, com algum objetivo ilícito. cashier two; slush fund
clientelismo. Maneira de agir envolvendo uma troca de favores ou benefícios; p. ex., quando um político ou partido político emprega processos demagógicos e favoritistas para ganhar votos. clientelism
corrupção ativa. É o crime cometido por particular que dá propina a funcionário público em troca de vantagem indevida. active corruption
corrupção passiva. É o crime cometido por funcionário público que, em razão de sua função, ainda que fora dela ou antes de assumi-la, solicita ou recebe, para si ou para outrem, vantagem indevida, ou aceita promessa de tal vantagem. passive corruption
delação premiada. Sistema empregado pelo Ministério Público para obter a colaboração de réus, oferecendo uma diminuição da pena em troca da delação. rewarded accusation
laranja. Indivíduo cujo nome é utilizado por um terceiro para a prática de ocultação de bens de origem incerta e outras formas de fraude front. A ‘laranja’ usually hides a white-collar criminal by helping him to commit crimes such as money laundering, misuse of public money, cartel between concurrents, tax evasion, etc.
peculato. Crime de apropriação, desvio ou roubo de bens públicos por um funcionário público. pecuniary misappropriation
pixuleco. Sinônimo de propina, dinheiro sujo ou dinheiro roubado bribe; dirty money or stolen money
propina. Antigamente propina era um sinônimo de gorjeta, mas hoje em dia refere-se aos ‘agrados’ oferecidos por cidadãos para funcionários públicos, em troca de favores indevidos. bribe; bribery.
testa de ferro. Indivíduo que aparece como responsável por um determinado negócio ou firma, enquanto o verdadeiro líder se mantém no anonimato, controlando a empresa. figurehead


Language is much more than a collection of communication signals, for it also expresses values. The wealth of English in expressions of administrative probity suggests that administrative probity is a value recognized by English-speaking peoples. The Transparency International’s perception of corruption in the organization’s 2017 corroborates this, showing that among the 10 and 20 most respected countries, New Zealand, Canada and the United Kingdom are in the first group, while Australia and the United States in the second.

Among the Portuguese speaking countries, Brazil was in position 96, among the more corrupt half, but Portugal was in position 29, among the less corrupt. This shows that although there are moral values ​​correlated to language, language alone does not determine the moral values ​​of a society. Administrative misconduct and corruption exist all over the world, but all societies can evolve and improve.

Post Scriptum

After I finished this article, a new stream of thoughts came to me, about the new mentality of judging history on the basis of contemporary ethics, such as those manifested in Cape Town, Charlottesville, and Oxford. Therefore, I want to clarify that the purpose of this paper is simply to offer an English lesson on the vocabularies of administration and corruption. I also point out that the short historical narrative was included only for didactic purposes. In compiling this article, it was not my intention to support the British Empire or to rejoice with the power it exercised over the most diverse peoples. The fact that this work deals with the English language in no way means that I do not recognize the difficult situation of the native languages ​​of the colonized peoples. The relationship between colonizer and colonized has always been fraught with conflicts of interest, which I believe can continue to be solved peacefully by the exchange of ideas and common sense.

1. Guillaume Thierry, Professor of Cognitive Neuroscience, Bangor University. The trouble with speaking English as a second language.

2. Fonte:

Jo Pires-O’Brien (BA, MSc, PhD) has been an English teacher, translator and botanist. In 2010, she created PortVitoria, a biannual magazine about the Ibero-American culture.


I thank Jackie Meikle (UK) for revising the terminology in corruption in English and Portuguese, and Carlos Pires (Br) for revising the overall text.

[1] Guillaume Thierry, Professor of Cognitive Neuroscience, Bangor University. The trouble with speaking English as a second language.;

[2] Fonte:;

A journey to freedom. The life of Ayaan Hirsi Ali

Joaquina Pires-O’Brien

Like millions of other people, I was startled by with the 9/11 terrorist attacks, to which I responded by trying to read about Islam in particular and religion in general. In my quests for answers I tried to read what the experts had to say on both subjects, and to listen to their debates in YouTube.  I was already a convert to atheism or anti-theism in 2006, the year when Richard Dawkins published The God Delusion and Daniel Dennett published Breaking the Spell: Religion as a Natural Phenomenon. In addition to these, I read other books, and listened to many debates on the subjects of religion and Islam on YouTube. I was particular fond of listening to Christopher Hitchens (13 April 1949 – 15 December 2011), the award-winning British social critic and notorious atheist who died prematurely to esophageal cancer. He praised a unique book published in criticizing the misogyny and the cruelties committed under the sanction of the Koran, the ‘holy book’ of Islam, published in 2006, by  a young black woman called Ayaan Hirsi Ali. Although I read more than most people I am by no means a book worm. When in January 2019 I ran across a brilliant lecture by the British historian Niall Ferguson (1964 -) in YouTube, I immediately decide to buy his book The Square and the Tower: Networks and Power, from the Freemasons to Facebook, published by Penguin in2018. Because I learned in one of his YouTube interviews that he was married Ayaan Hirsi Ali, I decided to buy her book Infidel, published by Free Press, a division of Simon & Schuster, Inc., New York, in 2007. I bought both The Square and the Tower and Infidel in digital edition, and I read them both during a holiday to Seattle in January 2019.

Below is a short biography of Ayaan Hirsi Ali (born Ayaan Hirsi Magan) that I found at the end of Infidel, in which she describes herlife in Africa, Saudi Arabia and the Netherlands.

“Ayaan Hirsi Ali was born in Somalia, was raised as a Muslim, and spent her childhood in Africa and Saudi Arabia. In 1992, Hirsi Ali came to the Netherlands as a refugee, escaping a forced marriage to a distant cousin she had never met. She learned Dutch and worked as an interpreter in abortion clinics and shelters for battered women. After earning her college degree in political science, she worked for the [Dutch] Labour Party. She denounced Islam after the September 11 terrorist attacks and now fights for the rights of Muslim women in Europe, the enlightenment of Islam, and security in the West.”

Hirsi Ali’s biography is instructing and captivating. Narrated in an honest, straight forward style, it provides a window to cultures that most of us know very little about and at the same time reveals the development of the writer herself, leaded by her inquisitive mind. Alongside her life’s timeline, the reader can perceive the development of her understanding of her culture and the Islamic religion. It is remarkable how she evolves from being a devout and uncritical Muslim to a critic of the Koranic fanaticism that holds back the Muslim world.

At a very young age, she begins to question the domination of males over females in Islamic societies. As she comes of age, she starts to question other things such as the way it sanctions atrocities and violations of human rights such as forced marriages and marriages of underage girls, honour crimes, and many other hard held prejudices such as the notion of purity and the practice of excising parts of the feminine genitalia, in the West known as female genital mutilation (FGM). Two things in this book that cannot be overemphasized are Hirsi Ali’s first hand account of Islamic culture and the remarkable way in which the author adapted to the West. Although she could have opted for a quiet personal life, she chose to put her own life at danger in order to campaign for the mental emancipation of all Western Muslins.

In addition to Infidel Hirsi Ali has published  Atheïstic Manifest (in Dutch; 1995), The Caged Virgin: A Muslim’s Woman’s Cry for Reason (2004), Heretic: Why Islam needs a reformation now (2008), Nomad: A Personal Journey through the Clash of Civilizations (2010), and Heretic (2015). Hirsi Ali’s books have been translated to various European Languages, which is congruous with her objective of helping the Muslims of the West to free themselves from the many shackles associated with the Koranic fanaticism that holds back the Muslim world.

PS. Hirsi Ali’s campaign against female genital mutilation (FGM) has been successful. In 1st February 2019, a 37-year-old woman from Uganda who allowed her 3 year old daughter to be subjected to female genital mutilation (FGM) was convicted for this crime. The mutilation took place on 28 August 2017. The mother dialed 999 stated that the girl was bleeding, and the victim had to undergo emergence surgery. Police were alerted the following day, after the surgeon  found evidence of deliberate excisions with the use of a scalpel. The girl later stated that she was held down and cut.

Why populism is die-hard

Joaquina Pires-O’Brien

People who can influence others can also turn this ability into power. Like so many things in society, the exercise of influencing others can be carried out in an honest or dishonest way. The honest way to influence others is by telling the truth and allowing our interlocutor to make their own conclusions. The dishonest way is by not telling the truth and by appealing to feelings under the skin rather than to reason. Populist politicians are characterized by their dishonest tactics of reinforcing people’s bias. We can think of populism as a two-sided coin, with the head of a demagogue in one side and the wreath of direct democracy on the other. Direct democracy is potentially totalitarian and repressive for it lacks the system of checks and balances that is necessary for a fair system of governance.

Populist politicians have been around as long as the polity itself. In ancient Greece they were called demagogues (δημαγωγός or dimagogós). The demagogues of history are today’s populist leaders, and populism is a new name for demagoguery. The existence of a large vocabulary to describe populists is an evidence that they have been around for a long time. Here are some synonyms of populist: demagogue, rabble-rouser (agitador de ralé), agitator, troublemaker, instigator, firebrand, revolutionary, insurgent, etc. There is also a rich vocabulary to describe the unfortunate who fall under the spell of populists: commoners, crowd, mob, gang, herd, masses, pack, pack, riffraff, rabble, etc.

One would be wrong to presume that it is easy to combat populism. Both populism and the quick and emotional thinking that makes people vulnerable to it are intrinsic to human nature. When Aristotle stated that ‘man’ was the ‘thought bearer animal’ (ζῶον λόγον ἔχον, animal rationale), in Nicomachean Ethics I.13, he did not mean that human beings were rational all the time, but simply that man had rationality while the other species of animals didn’t. Aristotle actually described man as the ‘social animal’ (ζῶον πολιτικόν), where he emphasized society-building as a central trait of human nature.

The great biologist and taxonomist Carl Linnaeus (1707-1778) named the human species Homo sapiens based on man’s capacity to think rationally. However, man’s ability to reason is often unused. In everyday situations, people’s action comes from emotional reflexes rather than by the use of reason. Trusting one’s instinct more than one’s rationality is one of the idiosyncrasies of human nature. It is also the reason why people are seduced by the sweet talk of populist politicians. This realization suggests that ignorance about human nature is a big hurdle in the fight against populism.

The ongoing crisis in Venezuela is a textbook example of what can happen when we chose a leader by instinct rather than by a careful analysis of character. It all started in 1998 when Venezuelans elected Hugo Chávez (1954-2013), a charismatic military leftist, and a master populist. It is true that Venezuela’s economy prospered during his first years in office, but that was due to a period of global economic boom, and not due to Chávez’s good governance.  What really happened was that Chavez’ socialist policies, all funded by high oil prices and unchecked borrowing, weakened the resiliency of Venezuela’s economy. After the global recession of 2009, the economy of Venezuela began to falter. In March 2013, when Chávez died of cancer before the end of his fourth term, he was succeeded by Nicolas Maduro (1962 -), who Chávez himself had handpicked as a successor. Venezuela’s economy was already in dire straights when Maduro took office, but Maduro’s decision to carry on Chávez’s policies gave it its final blow.

As Bertrand Russell once said, “The trouble with the world is that the stupid are cocksure and the intelligent are full of doubt”. Chávez and his successor Maduro were under educated and overconfident. Neither of them had the minimum qualifications to administer a state. Chávez revealed how little he knew about the history of his own country when he changed Venezuela’s name to ‘Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela’. He was the worse kind of ignorant, the kind who is ignorant of his own ignorance. The historical research on Simon Bolivar (1783-1830) reveals that he was a dubious character and that his military brilliance was highly exaggerated. Chávez gave another display of his ignorance during an interview with a foreign journalist, when he said that he didn’t think the United States landed on the moon and didn’t believe in the existence of Osama bin Laden. As for Maduro, his subservience to Chávez is the greatest evidence of his limited intellect. Another evidence of Maduro’s ignorance was his lack of judgment during his first presidential campaign, when he told the Venezuelans that the spirit of his ‘father’ Chávez had visited him in the form of a bird and invoked ancient tribal curses on his political enemies.

Everybody knows that populists are charmers. What only a few people know, is that below the seductive pull of a charmer is a narcissist skilled in reflecting people’s beliefs to create a deep rapport and an intense connection. A populist’s goal is to further his power by enhancing his presence and influence. The recipe for achieving this objective hasn’t changed in millennia. First the populist leader picks the largest segment of a population – invariable the downtrodden and least educated. The populist addresses people in their own dialect, a tactic to pass as one of them, and while doing that, he promises a lot and exaggerate his prowess. But the populist’s discourse is not a piece of his mind. He simply regurgitates to people what people already believe, generating an emotional thrill that will lure the support of people.

The ‘Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela’ is a recent example of what happens when a country falls under the spell of a populist leader. History has countless other examples. The Spanish-born American philosopher George Santayana once said that “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” Such is the recalcitrance of populism that the knowledge of history is not enough to stop people from falling under the spell of populists. The intelligent way to fight populism is by transforming individuals through education, so that they will be less likely to fall prey of populists. Education is a journey of discovery about the world and about ourselves. History has valuable lessons about the world, but to gain knowledge about ourselves we should study human nature.  There are traits in human nature that are present in every human society, which is why they are called ‘universals’. One such universal is cognitive bias. As stated earlier, reinforcing people’s bias is part of the strategy of populists to entice followers. Our cognitive bias weakens our ability to think rationally. Once we recognize this, we will be able to take the necessary precautions not to be drawn by the amazing magnetism of populists.

Please check my next posting: Why it is important to understand our cognitive bias.


If you read Portuguese, click here to read my posting on the history of Latin American independence, where I discuss Simon Bolivar and the other liberators.

Jo Pires-O`Brien is the editor of PortVitoria, a magazine for the Iberian culture.

Jordan Peterson and the two camps of articulators (left and right). Why it is important to take a stand against Postmodernism

Jo Pires-O’Brien

According to Jordan Peterson, a Canadian clinical psychologist, professor and author of 12 Rules for Life: An Antidote for Chaos, if we want more security and less tyranny in our society we should ask ourselves the question of what is our moral duty to secure that. Unless otherwise stated, all the ideas of this posting belong to Professor Peterson, being taken from one of his YouTube lectures.

As shown by Peterson, human society has its own set of values, but each of which are valid in determined circumstances. Human society also has opposing camps of articulators arguing for predetermined subsets of values, and because of this, it is necessary that there is a dialogue between them. Society’s target is always moving because time does not stand still. This means that the target is always moving. In other words, the problems keep changing, which is also another reason why the dialogue between the opposing camps of articulators, is essential.

The two camps of articulators that exist today are usually labeled the left and the right. To Peterson, the problem that stands on the way of communication between opposing camps of articulators – or the left and the right – is that people perceive things differently due to proclivity and home and education circumstances. The left believes that in the idea that you have a moral imperative to be a radical activist. The right believes in the idea of a moral imperative to be useful.  They are two different things.

If you are a drop out, you are probably a looser. The probability is that you are useless, lazy, arrogant and resentful. There are losers who think they are saints and saints who think they are losers. If you are a looser who think you are a saint, then you will cause an awful lot of trouble to society. Many people from the 60s generation like to imagine themselves as the admirable rebel. However, lurking under the revolutionary façade is an inability to face responsibility. Baseline predictions and actuarial tables show this. The fact is that the admirable rebels of the 60s generation have been a pernicious influence on the university, especially the humanities, whose influence have been deteriorating since then.

A functional society has more security and less tyranny. Human societies have dominance hierarchies and many types of animals also have dominance hierarchies, which are behaviors selected for adding survival. Dominance hierarchies in human societies have been under attack accused of being tyrannies. However, there is a difference between the dominance hierarchies in human and other animals in the fact that the dominance hierarchies in humans are based on competence. Dominance hierarchies based on competence are not the same as hierarchies based on arbitrary power, such as the kind of power based purely on economic terms, which is actually a tyranny.  The more functional the society, the more its power hierarchy is based on competence in relation to what society deems as actually valuable. It is difficult to meet those criteria perfectly but it needs to be a process in that direction. The number one predictor of success in a society is intelligence. Shouldn’t it be right that smart people occupy more positions of complexity in a society?  Good hierarchies provide security but a degenerated hierarchy is a tyranny.  If we want more security and less tyranny, the question we all should ask is what is our moral duty?

Whether this is good or bad depends on the way the individual is. If you self-discipline yourself, aim high and achieve the high standards, then it is likely that you will feel comfortable with such high standards. If you have something that stand on the way of your progress, you will perceive a tyrannical element in high standards, and see them as unfair. People who think that way tend to have the ‘adversarial personality’.

The existence of two or more camps of articulators is not the biggest problem of society. The biggest problem of society is the radical elements that exist in them. An example is the ideologues of egalitarianism and equity on the left and the right, who are incapable of realizing that there are differences in rank between people and that this is not such a terrible thing.

Non ideologues also have a problem, when they stay away from the debates that take place in the public sphere, especially when things go well for them and there is no discomfort in their professional lives. The discomfort of Jordan Peterson started in 2017 when he took a stand against Bill C-16 in Canada, which, if passed (and it has passed) will put people under the threat of legal punishment if they refuse to use certain words, namely new pronouns created to accommodate LGBTs. Because of that, Peterson became the scourge of the radical left for two things. Peterson himself stated that he was not against using a gender-neutral pronoun if he believes that a request to do so has merit, but that he was against a law compelling people to do so, for it would trample the more important right of fee speech.

Although Peterson became the scourge of the radical left by his opposition to  Bill C-16 in Canada, he also became endeared by the students of moderate political views in Canada, United States and all the English-speaking countries. He began to be invited to give talks at various universities in Canada and elsewhere.

In many occasions, Jordan presence on campus attracted protests from students who chanted abused at him. On Friday 16 March 2018 Jordan went to McMaster University, in Hamilton, Ontario (Canada), invited buy a group of students, where he was going to participate in a debate of free speech and political correctness alongside with three professors from the same university. However, the three participants backed out of the arrangement due to the students’ opposition. Peterson attended  to the hall anyway and started to talk, but no one could hear him because of the noise the protesters were making, chanting, clanging cowbells and blowing air horns. Eventually, Peterson retreated outside the hall, where he continued speaking while standing on a bench, and the event gained space in the national and international media.

According to Jordan, in 2017 his own job at the University of Toronto was threatened, causing great anxiety to him and his family. Last July, he announced his plans to launch a website that would help students and parents identify and avoid ‘corrupt’ courses with ‘postmodern content’. Within five years, he hoped, this would starve ‘postmodern neo-Marxist cult classes’ into oblivion. Jordan’s lectures and debates with other people are produced without special lighting and makeup. It is estimated that over 40 million people have listened to these.

All the hatred towards Jordan have caused a growth in the respect for his intellectual prowess.  The hate and the love for him have helped to put his 2018 book 12 Rules for Life in the bestseller list.  The economist Tyler Cowen, of George Mason University, who placed Jordan among the top five public intellectuals of the Western world (Tyler Cowen January 23, 2018 at 12:45 am in Current Affairs Education Philosophy). His opinion was echoed by David Brooks, of The New York Times, who referred to Peterson as  “the most influential public intellectual in the Western world right now.” The American essayist and critic Camille Paglia anointed him “the most important and influential Canadian thinker since Marshall McLuhan”. The British journalist Melanie Phillips wrote that Jordan is “a kind of secular prophet … in an era of lobotomized conformism”.

As Peterson has articulated many times in his lectures, Postmodernism has a pernicious influence in society. In my view, Postmodernism has been allowed to encroach the universities of the West because the academics who enjoy the comfort of secure academic posts do not feel compelled to take a stand against it. I also believe that things are even worse in the fringes of the West, such as in my native Brazil. In my book of essays called O homem razoável (The Reasonable Man; 2016) one of the essays deals specifically with Postmodernism. This book is available on paper on (USA) and in Kindle edition in other Amazon sites.  On my next post I will publish a transcription I made of Peterson’s talk on Postmodernism

Jo Pires-O`Brien is the editor of PortVitoria, a magazine for the Iberian culture.

What is humanism?

Joaquina (Jo) Pires-O’Brien

“A rationalistic system of thought attaching prime importance to human rather than divine or supernatural matters.” (Oxford English Dictionary)
“The rejection of religion in favour of the advancement of humanity by its own efforts.” (Collins Concise Dictionary)
“…a non-religious philosophy, based on liberal human values.” (Little Oxford Dictionary)
“…seeking, without religion, the best in, and for human beings.” (Chambers Pocket Dictionary)
“…an appeal to reason in contrast to revelation or religious authority as a means of finding out about the natural world and destiny of man, and also giving a grounding for morality… Humanist ethics is also distinguished by placing the end of moral action in the welfare of humanity rather than in fulfilling the will of God.” (Oxford Companion to Philosophy)

Unlike religionists, humanists have no faith. Having “faith” means having a strong belief in something without proof. Humanists are essentially sceptics. Where religious people might offer supernatural answers to some of the fundamental questions about life, the universe, and everything, we prefer to leave a question mark. Humanists are atheist (meaning “without god”), or agnostic (a term coined by the 19th century biologist, Thomas Henry Huxley, to mean “without knowledge”, since Huxley said one cannot prove or disprove the existence of God).
Humanists reject the notion of an afterlife; we think that this life is the only one we have, and we must make the most of it.
Humanists don’t have the equivalent of the Bible or the Qu’ran, or a book of rules to guide us through life, though we may refer to great works of history, philosophy and literature. You don’t actually need to have read the history of Humanist ideas to be a Humanist, but most, being inquisitive, thoughtful people, will investigate the ideas that interest us.
We can trace Humanist influences over 2,500 years to the Chinese sage Confucius and to the philosophers, scientists and poets of antiquity. One was the Greek philosopher Epicurus, who, starting from Aristotle’s principle that human happiness depends on good conduct, defined the good life as one of pleasure and friendship, absence of pain and peace of mind. His disciples included women and slaves, which was almost unheard of at that time. Epicurus said, “Of all the means by which wisdom ensures happiness throughout life, by far the most important is the possession of friendship.”
For centuries, it was unsafe to openly express unorthodox views about religion, but with the dawn of the Age of Reason and the Enlightenment in the 17th and 18th centuries, it gradually became possible to do so, with caution. Some described themselves as “rationalists”, “secularists” or “freethinkers”, terms that are still used by Humanists today.
Charles Darwin, whose theory of evolution made a huge impact on our understanding of where we come from, has been a strong influence on Humanism. The scientist Marie Curie, the 18th century feminist Mary Wollstonecraft, the authors Thomas Hardy and George Eliot, the first Prime Minister of Independent India, Jawaharlal Nehru, and the American creator of the Star Trek TV series, Gene Roddenberry, are just a few of the influential people who’ve lived by Humanist principles.
Professor Richard Dawkins, a tireless advocate of secularism, said, “I arrived at my beliefs, as everybody should, by examining evidence.” Many Humanists have worked out their own beliefs and are delighted to find that others have reached similar conclusions. Because we are independent thinkers, Humanists differ about many things, but most of us agree about some basic principles. We believe that we should accept responsibility for our own behaviour and how it affects other people and the world we live in. Because we think that this is the only life we have, we believe it’s important to try to live full and happy lives, and to help others to do the same.
Humanists were involved with the establishment of the United Nations; we value human rights, freedom of communication, freedom from fear, want and suffering, and education free from bias and the influence of powerful religious or political organisations.
In his book Humanism, an introduction, Jim Herrick wrote, “Humanism is the most human philosophy of life. Its emphasis is on the human, the here-and-now, the humane. It is not a religion and has no formal creed, though humanists have beliefs. Humanists are atheists or agnostics and do not expect an afterlife. It is essential to humanism that it brings values and meaning into life.”
In 1996, the International Humanist & Ethical Union General Assembly adopted the following resolution. Any organisation wishing to become a member of IHEU is now obliged to signify its acceptance of this statement:
Humanism is a democratic and ethical life stance, which affirms that human beings have the right and responsibility to give meaning and shape to their own lives. It stands for the building of a more humane society through an ethic based on human and other natural values in the spirit of reason and free inquiry through human capabilities. It is not theistic, and it does not accept supernatural views of reality

Note: Taken from:, 27.09.2017

Catalonia and the battle of ideas in the 21st century

Joaquina (Jo) Pires-O’Brien

As a magazine about the Iberian culture PortVitoria could not ignore the recent referendum for independence held in Catalonia on Sunday, 1st October 2017, in which only 42% of the eligible voters participated, but resulted in a 90 per cent ‘yes’ vote. The national administration in Madrid has declared it unconstitutional and Spain’s Constitutional Court outlawed the referendum. Our editor and contributor Norman Berdichevsky, a cultural geographer with extensive knowledge and expertise on Iberian history, discusses various angles of the problem in his paper ‘The Catalonian referendum and what lay behind it’.

Could Catalonia’s referendum rekindle similar movements elsewhere which in turn could trigger a war? Lets examine the two opposing arguments. The ‘no’ argument states that most people are against violence and would prefer the stability of a normal life, even if backwards and faulty, to the instability of a war. The ‘yes’ argument states that Catalonia’s secessionist movement could rekindle similar movements around the world; fuelled by nationalism and ethnic claims, the same type that caused the wars of the 20th century.

In the 21st century, many State-nations face the problems of secessionism as well as subcultural affirmation. These two are connected by a crave for identity, which is the ‘dish of the day’ in the battle of ideas of the 21st century. One thinker who has contributed greatly to enlighten the battle of ideas of the 21st century is Thomas Sowell, an American economist and a Senior Fellow of The Hoover Institution at Stanford University, California. Among his many books, Sowell wrote on subcultural affirmation in his book Intellectuals and Society (2009), where he calls attention for the dishonesty of self-serving intellectuals behind the single issue activism of the 21st century. He writes: “When you want to help people, you tell them the truth, When you want to help yourself, you tell them what they want to hear.” We are pleased to offer the review of Sorwell’s book by David Gordon, a senior researcher at the Ludwig von Mises Institute.
The compounding effects of the internet and the world’s super-population have brought the world’s ambiguities too close for comfort, making the battle of ideas in the 21st century much more volatile than of previous times. We in the 21st century should reflect upon the 20th century if we are to prevent the current battle of ideas from turning into war. No one depicted better the war of ideas of the 20th century and the mass movements it created than the Spanish philosopher José Ortega y Gasset (1883-1955). Ortega had a lifetime interest in capturing reality, and his books are still very relevant in the 21st century. His 1914 book Meditations on Quixote depicts the spirit of Spain itself in the character Sancho Panza. His 1929 book The Revolt of the Masses depicts changes as they were occurring all over Europe, describing the barbarism of looting, the coerciveness of the mass movements and the homogenization of ideas. Ortega showed that the right to freedom comes with the responsibility to think for ourselves and that there is a relation between thinking and surviving: “We do not live to think, but, on the contrary, we think in order that we may succeed in surviving”. The two essays by Fernando Genovés presented in the current edition of PortVitoria cover the themes of Ortega the thinker and the battle of ideas. They were taken from Genovés 2016 book La riqueza de la libertad, and are offered in their English translation.
December 2017