The More-Guns-Less-Books Policy
If for our Government weapons are more important than schools, perhaps choosing a gun over a book isn’t a matter of choice, but of survival.
A Brazilian philosopher wrote “one of the foundational texts of the critical pedagogy movement” (On Paulo Freire) and, yet, we are completely unable to put theory into practice. It’s not just (lack of) schools that contribute to the persistence of oppression, the way we speak about knowledge in general is oppressive. We separate intellectual people from manual labourers into castes, which is probably our most blatant colonial legacy. This legacy is masked by the myth of meritocracy, which contaminates everyone with the idea that neoliberalism means equal opportunity, and that ‘therefore there is no racism.’ Since there is ‘no racism,’ even left-wing progressives internalize the thought that homeless black children steal because they want to, or because they are incapable of succeeding in school. Right-wingers just choose to take this to the next level by claiming these kids deserve to die at the hands of an armed civilian elite.
In São Paulo, an estimated 1 million people showed up to protest against cuts in the Education sector. A movement this big is diverse, but the one constant was an aversion to the President’s politics. While we oppose the Government’s spending priorities, he calls us idiots. Our education problem won’t be solved with more funding for public schools, although it’s a start. If we look at the core of our education system, we can see the rotten roots of colonialism and its neoliberal outgrowth, where there is nearly no space for critical thought. The students who are offered some kind of critical and enriching instruction are the ones with the least interest in changing the system. They are the wealthiest, and end up using this advantage to further their own reign.
Being excluded from an enriching education doesn’t only lead to poverty, it leads to extreme low self-esteem, drug abuse and crime. All of which justifies murder by police, militia, wealthy civilians, and indirect forms of suicide. It becomes lawful and just to marginalize and kill. In other words, our education system is directly related to genocidal policies. The President’s catch phrase is “a good thief is a dead thief." A family car with a child in it was shot 80 times, the shooters said it was ‘by mistake,’ and our Minister of Justice and Public Safety said it’s “something that can happen…” The ‘Blue Lives Matter’ sentiment, which defends murderous cops by ‘validating’ their fear of a demographic (black people) through ‘crime statistics,’ was imported and bloated by our own pre-existing conditions.
These pre-existing conditions are a unique colonial history involving the slave trade, ‘racial cleansing,’ extraction of natural resources, and the process of industrialization. And industrializing inevitably means weaponizing. The weapon manufacturer that supplies the Brazilian police forces, Taurus, arose in 1939 by buying its machinery from Nazi Germany. Soon after, when the war began, they had to start producing their own. Today, they are the only company allowed to sell guns in Brazil.
More recently, Taurus handguns became notorious for malfunctioning, with a variety of Youtube videos starring angry men demonstrating the mishaps. Even though their share price peaked during Bolsonaro’s elections last year, he criticizes the national company and advocates for opening the Brazilian market to foreign suppliers. By foreign supply we can place a safe bet on the USA’s ‘superior product’ being the one and only. Taurus’ only branch abroad is in Miami, and the awards they boast about winning were granted by the United States. We have been been following someone else’s lead, and it’s a matter of time until school shootings significantly increase here too. Students are already dying outside schools, and proposed public policies only aggravate the issue Brazilians call ‘extermination politics.’
Last time Taurus’ price peaked as high as it did the week before Bolsonaro’s victory (October 2018) was 10 years prior, from 2007 to 2008. During this time, significant changes were being made to the Disarmament Statute of 2003. This was one of the most interesting changes: Public security agents “shall have the right to carry firearms privately owned or provided by the respective corporation or institution" (NEXO). Meaning, cops and soldiers earned the right to carry their own firearms while off duty. Other changes were also made to allow more public servants to privately own firearms.
Some years after this spike in price, in 2014, there was a 12% drop in one day. Brazil’s most important billionaire private investor, Luiz Barsi, saw this as an opportunity to buy even more Taurus shares. A few months later, in January of 2015, the price increased by 1000% in one week. These fluctuations, easily influenced by elections and policies, are in the interest of anonymous investors who most likely don’t have the humble beginnings of ‘self-made’ men like Barsi. Do they care who has access to guns or schools, or who gets killed or who graduates? Probably not, as long as it doesn’t interfere with their profits, and as long as the victims don’t look like their children.
Where does that leave us, the students, the parents and the least profitable members of society? At their mercy. If for our Government weapons are more important than schools, perhaps choosing a gun over a book isn’t a matter of choice, but of survival. If we have the opportunity to access both, we’d better use this force to defend the knowledge and those struggling to survive. Because if it’s the other way around, if it’s wealth and knowledge being used to defend oppressive force, it’s not about self defense, it’s about the ‘knowledge’ Taurus brought from Germany in 1939.
Writer, editor, political theorist, and teacher.