Num prestigiado colégio dos EUA, um professor decidiu perguntar o que é que associavam à palavra “Passividade”. Uns responderam-lhe que a palavra transmitia um certo aborrecimento; outros viam-na como a culpada por muitos dos flagelos da humanidade, um porto de abrigo para os mais negligentes e negligenciáveis que a sociedade tem para oferecer. Apesar da variedade nas respostas, e excetuando as piadas de mau gosto de teor sexual, a característica comum era a conotação negativa. O professor, ao observar as diversas respostas com um sorriso perverso, pediu de seguida aos seus alunos que, numa escala de 0 a 10 – onde zero queria dizer que a odiavam, e 10 queria dizer que a adoravam – avaliassem a palavra. Combinou ainda com os alunos que diria, por ordem ascendente, todos os números, sendo que os alunos levantariam a mão se o número correspondesse à sua preferência. “Zero… Um… Dois…” Sucessivamente, os alunos iam levantando a mão. A partir do número 5, mais ninguém levantou a mão. Mais ninguém, exceção feita a uma pessoa: o professor. Ao chegar ao número 9, e sem que nada o previsse, o professor fez questão que todos vissem um dos seus membros superiores tensamente esticado em direção ao teto. Ao observar as caras confusas dos seus alunos, o professor riu-se e disse “creio que concordam comigo quando vos digo que não existem palavras perfeitas. Caso contrário, dar-lhe-ia um 10.” Naquele momento, o caos emergiu. Como é que o docente podia gostar tanto de uma palavra que, achavam os discentes, era a culpada de tantos problemas do mundo?

“Quando eu era um jovem universitário e me foi pedido que escrevesse um ensaio sobre um ativo de uma área geográfica, acabei por escolher Portugal. E se vos parecer uma escolha exótica, lembrem-se que era o sítio que eu conhecia melhor.” Se o objetivo era clarificar, esta introdução só tornou tudo mais confuso. Eles nem sequer sabiam onde é que era Portugal. “Para além de ser um pequeno país Europeu, Portugal tem inúmeras características positivas, como a Passividade. No que à política diz respeito, os Portugueses são altamente passivos. Durante quase 800 anos, o país foi governado por dinastias que raramente viam o seu poder contestado. E anos mais tarde, o mesmo se sucedeu com uma ditadura. Por fim, Portugal é hoje uma democracia moderadamente saudável. Não obstante, a abstenção batia níveis recorde quando decidi escrever o meu ensaio. Adicionalmente, e apesar de existirem inúmeros partidos políticos, a escolha habitual do eleitorado recaía sempre nos 5/6 partidos do costume, que possuíam escândalos recorrentes, de corrupção a tráfico de influências, passando ainda por levar o país à bancarrota ou a serem muito íntimos de pessoas e organizações poderosas.” A atenção dos alunos era total. Ninguém percebia onde é que o professor queria chegar.

“Bem, mas então vós perguntais – legitimamente – onde estão os benefícios desta passividade? Deixem-me começar por vos falar da ditadura. Existia um sistema sólido de freios e contrapesos? Não. Existiu crueldade? De certeza. Mas será que esta ditadura foi sequer comparável com as de Pinochet, Hitler ou Estaline? De todo. E a razão é clara: tanto os opressores, como os oprimidos, eram portugueses logo, bastante passivos. Existia censura, mas contorná-la era fácil. E se é verdade que existiam prisioneiros políticos, eram em inferior número ao de outros regimes, e a sua estadia no cárcere era ligeira. Finalmente, e de forma poética, este regime viu o seu fim chegar através de um golpe militar sem sangue derramado. Um paradigma da forma de estar dos portugueses.

Os alunos ainda não estavam convencidos. Se era indiscutível que uma certa passividade podia conferir estabilidade, não deixavam de ser evidentes os seus malefícios. Além disso, os exemplos eram históricos e sem adesão à realidade contemporânea. “Em resposta a essa alegada falta de adesão contemporânea” respondeu o professor “permitam-me que fale deste milénio. Em 2012, Portugal foi forçado, devido à atuação negligente do seu governo, a pedir ajuda financeira a credores internacionais. Os ditos obrigaram Portugal a cumprir um penoso programa de ajustamento da sua economia, caracterizado, de forma genérica, por medidas que diminuíram a riqueza real das do país. A verdade é que, para o Português médio, a vigência deste programa nada mais significou do que um penoso processo de empobrecimento, com um aparentemente óbvio culpado: o (novo) governo. Vós perguntais e bem, que tipo de eventos radicais é que culminaram no término do mandato deste governo? Após inúmeros protestos e manifestações, saídas irrevogáveis do governo, ameaças do Presidente da República, e vitórias de Pirro, não aconteceu absolutamente nada de especial. As forças ‘diabólicas’ que apoiavam o governo até acabaram por ganhar as eleições subsequentes.”

Mas o professor queria dar um exemplo que transcendesse a política. “Numa dado jantar, estava a falar animadamente com uns amigos: um Americano, um Alemão, um Chinês e um Brasileiro.” A introdução para uma passagem que se antevia racista, mas que não passava de uma sátira, estava feita. “O Americano era um verdadeiro ‘Ordinary Joe’, um fã do casino capitalista”. Já o Alemão e o Chinês eram trabalhadores natos e dedicados. Não obstante, e como o Alemão gostava de frisar recorrentemente, ele trabalhava menos horas. “Porventura” costumava dizer o germânico, “porque nós temos uma maneira de ‘olhar’ para as coisas diferente.” Toda a mesa se riu. Afinal, intolerância e fanatismo não eram palavras que entravam no vocabulário destes senhores. Por fim, o Brasileiro era, bem…, Brasileiro… “Se decidisses trabalhar tantas vezes como decides beber, o Brasil era neste momento riquíssimo” disse o Chinês numa rara demonstração de humor. E se a felicidade só verdadeira quando partilhada, o racismo só é aceitável quando toda a mesa é gozada. O ponto aqui era que, apesar de todas as abordagens serem interessantes, acabavam por ser pouco equilibradas e muitas vezes nocivas. Todas menos uma: a portuguesa. A abordagem Americana era claramente a do amor ao risco, o que pode ser bom a nível individual, mas pernicioso quando todos os indivíduos agem dessa maneira, já que torna toda a Economia mais volátil. Já a abordagem sino-germânica carecia de uma componente criativa. Por fim, a abordagem Brasileira conferia qualidade de vida no curto prazo, mas fazia pouco pelo desenvolvimento. No meio termo residia a abordagem portuguesa, o atalho. Trabalhar o mínimo possível, mas fingir que se trabalha bastante, e ao mesmo tempo levar uma vida boémia. “O típico trabalhador português trabalha não porque quer, mas porque precisa. A criar maneiras e engenhos que o permitam fazer o menos possível. Se muitos acabam por ser pessoas com sucesso, a maioria acaba por se contentar com um nível de vida razoável. E se por um lado não maximiza o crescimento económico, por outro também não toma comportamentos arriscados, suavizando os ciclos.

“Professor, não me leve a mal, mas esta última parte parece-me uma anedota. Queremos exemplos reais. Relacione tudo isto com desporto. Certamente que ser passivo nesse universo não é positivo.” E não é que o aluno estava errado? “Como sabem, o futebol europeu é uma atividade altamente primitiva. No entanto a indústria que se gerou à sua volta é tudo menos isso. É um mundo complexo, sujo e corrupto. Com um panorama nacional dominado por 3 equipas, a rivalidade é tão intensa que os insultos e acusações mútuas via comunicação social são frequentes. No entanto, as ações hostis nunca passam disso mesmo: insultos online. O mesmo não podia ser dito noutros países onde o futebol é sagrado.” Era agora clara a transcendência da palavra.

O professor decidiu voltar a pedir aos alunos para avaliarem a palavra passividade de zero a dez. Desta feita, a pontuação mais baixa era um 5. Novamente com sorriso macabro, o professor agradeceu a atenção dos alunos e dispensou-os, dando a aula por terminada. Ao sair da aula, um dos alunos virou-se para outro e disse “Ainda não percebo o que é que isto tem a ver com filosofia.” O outro, acenando em conformidade, respondeu-lhe “Sem dúvida. E qual é que era o tema da aula? Não era Sofismo? Continuo sem saber o que é que essa palavra quer dizer.”

Existe uma probabilidade de esta aula nunca ter acontecido. Não nos esqueçamos que, nos anos 2030s, pouca ou nenhum tempo é dedicada a aulas tradicionais, especialmente a aulas de filosofia. Mas se pensarmos nunca conversa entre dois interlocutores, um escritor e um leitor, a situação torna-se ligeiramente mais real. Já agora, podia fazer-me a delicadeza que avaliar a palavra passividade de 0 a 10?

Rodrigo Camacho

Coordenador do Gabinete de Economia da JSD Distrital de Lisboa

—– Texto originalmente escrito em inglês —–

Passivity: A distinctive intangible asset of the Portuguese economy

On one of America’s uppermost colleges – which I will not unveil due to confidentiality issues – a professor decided to ask a class what their thoughts on the term “passivity” were. Some beheld at it as the path to perfect boredom; others declared the noun to be dismal, a beacon for society’s worst individuals. The opinions would vary, but – homosexual, poor taste puns aside – there was one thing in common between all of them: the word had a negative connotation.

The professor, witnessing the answers with a grinning face, shaped then a scale from 1 to 10, so that the class could quantify their fondness for passivity. 0 meant a huge dislike for the word, while 10 meant the student liked the word a lot. And so, the professor started to query students to raise their hands if the number spoken out loud corresponded to their predilection. “Zero… One… Two…” he would say. And students would, correspondingly, raise their hands. By the time he had reached number six, no more hands rose. No more hands, with the notable exception of a single one: the professor’s. By the time he had reached number 9, he decided to make his arm seen. And upon the frowning of his students, he smirked and said: “there are no perfect words, in my opinion. Otherwise, I would have given it a 10”. From that point onwards, chaos emerged in the classroom. How could the lecturer like so much a word which, in the students’ opinion, was to blame for so many of world’s snags? An answer was due, and so the students demanded one.

“It all started when I was a young man in my 20s and I had to write an essay which highlighted a distinctive asset of a certain geographical area.” Those words would stick to those students’ minds for ages to come. “I decided to do one about the country where I was born, Portugal. Now, the choice might seem exotic, but you must remember it was the place I knew the best.” If clarification was desired, the beginning only made things worse. How would those students know where was Portugal anyway? After all, they were in America. “Besides being a small, meaningless country in an extreme tip of Europe, Portugal has lots of positive, unique aspects. Passivity is certainly one of them.” 

“In Politics” he would say, “the Portuguese are fairly passive. For 700 years, the country was ruled by monarchs which rarely saw their power contested. Later on, and after a turbulent period, a dictatorship seized power for roughly 50 years. And almost no effort to end it was made until the very end. Finally, and as of today, Portugal is a healthy democracy. Nevertheless, abstention has been on the rise, reaching record levels when I was writing said essay. Moreover, and although the choice of political parties is vast, people habitually voted for the same 5 or 6, preferring the old, well-known, corrupt parties, to the new, rather unknown ones.” The students were mesmerized. Where was he going with this? 

“Now, you may be wondering what is so good about all of this. It seems pretty obvious to me: let me start off by mentioning what the dictatorship was like. Were there checks and balances? Not at all. Was it Unfair? A lot. Cruel? Certainly. But was it comparable to other ones, such as Pinochet’s, Mao’s, Stalin’s or Mussolini’s (not to mention Hitler’s)? Not at all. The reason is strikingly clear. Both the oppressors and the oppressed were Portuguese and, as such, quite passive. There was censorship, but lots of coded and often openly hostile [to the regime] messages would slip through the cracks. There were political prisoners, but they were not that numerous, and seldom did they perish. And finally, the poetic part of it was that it ended in a bloodless coup d’état by left-wing military personnel. A revolution which I see as paradigmatic in explaining the Portuguese way of doing things.”

The students were still not swayed. If historically it was undoubtedly true that a certain passivity would convey the country peace and stability, it was also true that it probably froze the country’s development for decades. Furthermore, there was no evidence that said inactiveness was particularly positive as of today, in politics. “Although I do not have a perfect current example, if we go back once again to my 20s, which was only 10 years ago, I can think of a situation or two where said passivity brought positive results to us Portuguese. You see, back in 2012, Portugal was forced to request emergency financial assistance to The European Central Bank, the International Monetary Fund, and the European Commission. And although they are all extinct, I am certain you already spoke about these institutions in your history lessons. Now, this aid did not come without impositions. Whether due to the need to convince Portugal’s creditors that fiscal consolidation was there to stay for good, or as a punishment for the country’s mismanagement over the past years, or even due to ideology, these institutions demanded that Portugal had to implement structural reforms in order to receive the coinage. And although some reforms were consensual, others were simply emergency, budget-saving measures, which aimed to cut disposable income on all segments of the population. The generality of the population saw their wealth decrease by more than two percentual digits”. Now, he actually had no idea whether this was true or not, but he needed to create momentum, as students were losing interest, which was subsequently regained. “As a result, Portugal did receive the money – avoiding a default on its payments – but lots of demonstrations took place, creating mounting anxiety on Portugal’s creditors that the country would do a U-turn on its financial and fiscal commitments. What did happen, you may ask? Not much. The government got through with it any way, and the population ceased to demonstrate as much. The then-current cabinet even ended up winning the next elections.”

But the professor was keen on showing that passivity’s merits transcended politics. Economics-wise, there were yet many aspects to be highlighted. “On one occasion, I was having dinner with four friends of mine: an American, a German, a Chinese, and an Angolan”. At this part, I would ask you not to regard this part as racist, but more as a satire. “You see, my American friend was an entrepreneur. Although rich, he had already bankrupted several of his enterprises, and saw the capitalist economy as a Casino.” It was the typical American: honest work deserves honest pay and, if needs be, some tax breaks so he could be a millionaire as soon as possible. As for the Chinese and German, they were quite similar. Both hard, dedicated works. “Although” – the German would say “we Germans work fewer hours than our Asian friends. It is probably because we have a better ‘look’ at things before we start working”. The whole table laughed. Bigotry was not an expression in these gentlemen’s lexicon. Finally, the Angolan was, well… Angolan. “If you decided to go to work as often as you go for a drink, Angola would be rich,” said the Chinese, in a rare demonstration of humor. And if happiness is only real when shared, racism is only ok when no one is spared. The point here is: All their approaches were unbalanced and health damaging. All but the Portuguese one. The American was clearly a risk-lover, which may suit someone at an individual level, but is dreadful for the economy, given that to much risk-taking will lead you to have a quite volatile GDP, employment, income, and debt. As for the Sino-German approach, both lacked the creative aspect which is key in any enterprise. Furthermore, both have the tendency to blindly obey their superiors, something which, if taken to the last instances, is thought-provoking. Finally, the Angolan one was simply a lazy bohemian who has a good quality of life but does not contribute to the development of his country. In the midst, lies the Portuguese way. The professor would work hard but would always take the road less traveled. The short-cut. It would never work extra hours (only if needs be) and would party like an animal. Moreover, it would put creativity at the core. “Many will see these aspects as symptoms of hard work, resilience or even proactivity. But no” said the professor “what we can witness with this behavior is pure passivity. The Portuguese worker works hard not because he wants to but because he needs to. And he creates short-cuts to avoid working as much as everybody else. Of course, some strive to be the best, but most end up settling with reasonable success, working intermittently, and using creativity and cunning to seem that they work a lot.” A laissez-faire way of life. Economics-wise, this behavior is not totally harmful. On the one hand, it does not take as many chances as the American, smoothing business cycles; one the other hand, it does not “kill” economic dynamism like the Angolan; and what’s more, even though it does not maximize effort like the German or the Chinese approach, it ends up minimizing its GDP loss (due to working less) by using all the aforementioned tools. And all of this while having a healthy quality of life.

“Professor do not get me wrong, but this last part seems made up a lot. We want real, palpable examples. Could I ask for an example connected to sports? Certainly” said the student “being passive in sports cannot be a positive attribute”. Oh, but it can. The professor was brilliant in his response. “As you know, soccer is the most prevalent sport in Portugal. Albeit a primitive phenom, the global industry revolving the sport is quite complex and, in most cases, corrupt and murky. Portugal is no exception: 3 squads dominate its national panorama, splitting among them the vast majority of supporters. The rivalry is so fierce that, in one instance, one supporter of Sporting (one of the dominant teams) accidentally died. Nevertheless, and even though there are lots of tasteless chants and exchanges of accusations on Facebook, it usually never escalates into something more violent, like in most European countries. Likewise, the anger and violence did not increase in the first 20 years of the 3rd millennium, when all 3 major clubs were accused of corrupting (or trying to corrupt) other team’s players, referees, judges, among others… Regardless of the tit for tat retaliations on social and traditional media, nothing spectacular happened.” It was now clear that, not only in politics and economics but also in Sports, being passive was something which favored the Portuguese people and helped it succeed.

The teacher went back to the class and asked once more for all the students to rate the word “passivity” from one to ten. Now the lowest of all scores was 5, instead of zero. “You see, this is the real proof of the power of being passive.” Said the professor. The students were jumbled. One of the most skeptic ones asked “Professor, is this one of those situations where the author of said situation continuously leads us to a certain conclusive point, just to do a 180 degrees twist at the very end? Was this just an immense, elaborate satire from beginning to end? Where we just played?” The professor leered and replied negatively, stating he did not understand why such a conclusion was reached. “Never mind,” said the student “I am probably just a little bit too confused.” It was now recess time, and so the professor terminated the lesson. “I still do not get what has this to do with philosophy” said one student during the break. “Yeah, totally. And was not Sophism the topic for today? I still have no idea what that word means”. Little did know, vast progress had already been made.

There is a high probability that this situation did not actually occur. At least not in the exact fashion which is described in this text. Let us not forget that this situation was in the 2030s, and little attention is paid to regular classes, let alone philosophy ones. But if you think about it as a conversation between two interlocutors, one who writing this essay, and another one who is correcting it, the situation becomes slightly more real.

By the way, what is your opinion on passivity? Could you rank on a scale from 0 to 10?

Rodrigo Camacho