Editorial. On the ambivalences of character and judgement
Human character is ambivalent by nature and by nurture, and this ambivalence is reflected in almost everything that man does. Nietzsche identified this ambivalence in art, through the concepts of Appolonian and Dyonisian art, the first appealing to logic, prudence and purity, and the second to emotions and instincts. Psychologists recognize that people often fall in one of the two clusters of values. One very common representation of human ambivalence is the different judgements of historical persons, while the capacity to judge oneself is another. This edition of PortVitoria has essays on three historical individuals who were judged incorrectly by public opinion: Sigmund Freud (1856-1939), Louis Agassiz (1807-1873) and the Marquis of Pombal (1699-1782). As Wilfried McClay suggests in his article on Freud, he was vilified for about forty years, but that a fresh look into his legacy revealed him as an endowed and original social philosopher. In my essay on the Marquis of Pombal, I try to show that for over a century he was reputed as a power craze tyrant, until a fresh look on his life revealed his great intelligence and statesmanship in guiding Portugal in the aftermath of the Lisbon earthquake of 1755. Michelle Raji’s article on Agassiz, a Swiss biologist and geologist who in 1832 became a university professor first at Neuchâtel, Switzerland, and in 1847 of Harvard, when he gained notoriety for his method of observing and analysing fishes, deals specifically with an expedition he made to Brazil from 1865 to 1868. As Raji points out, Agassiz was a ‘sensational figure in his day’, loved by many of his colleagues, although one of the students who accompanied him to Brazil spotted his biases and was disgusted by them. The student in question was no other than William James (1842-1910), the future founder of pragmatism. A fourth character in this edition is the Mexican poet, thinker and a polymath Octavio Paz (1914-1998), a man I consider the most brilliant mind that came of Latin America, but who is sadly underappreciated among the speakers of Spanish and Portuguese.
It is easy to make mistakes in judging the character of other people; it is easy to ignore the deserving and to put the undeserving on pedestals. However, the problems that arise from our mistakes in judging others are now much greater, since the advent of the digital age and the availability of social media make everyone a potential judge of character, deeds and reputations. As early as 2013 Bruce Schneider, a technologist in safety, raised the alarm regarding the recrudescence of the court of public opinion since the advent of social media, in an article published in Wired, here republished in Portuguese. To Schneider, the court of public opinion is about reputational justice, when the arguments of each party are measured in relation to reputation, and the end result is not justice but the loss of reputation. Reputation is also an important theme in the essay by Fernando Genovés, which is an excerpt from his latest book Dinero S.L De la sociedad de proprietaries a la comunidad de gestores, or Money Inc. (From the society of owners to the community of managers, Kindle edition. 2020). In this book, Genovés shows that in the existing conflict between the left and the right, the left wins not because it is the better alternative but because it has a kind of glamour that attracts people to it. As he points out, people don’t go for substance but for images, which is why it makes no difference that the glamour they fall for is false. Reading Genovés book reminded me how universities have become cohortative to the cult of image and false glamour. It inspired me to write an essay on the history of teaching and the universities, which I hope will serve as food for thought on the future of middle and higher education, especially in my native Brazil.
On a final note, when I created PortVitoria as the magazine of the Iberian culture, back in 2010, what I had in mind was well-informed scholarly articles that could incentivize reflection and discussion. This is obviously a disadvantage in a world that highly addicted to soundbites and images. The reader of PortVitoria is an individual who is well-educated but never takes his education for granted, habitually reflects about things that matter, and enjoys face to face conversation with others. If this is you, and you would like PortVitoria to continue, you can help by putting a link to it in your site, or by simply spreading the word of mouth about it.