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Jair Bolsonaro Wins Elections in Brazil: While Globalism is Rolled Back, What Does this Mean for Football and What Does it say About the State of Media and Education?

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On the night of 28 October 2018 Jair Bolsonaro won the Brazilian Presidential election, defeating Fernando Haddad with a vote of 55% to 45%. Interestingly, the mainstream press from the BBC to CNN characterized Mr. Bolsonaro as “far-right,” with The Economist–long regarded by this author as a rare example of objective opinion—even calling him “a threat to democracy”. Given this reporting, just what is Mr. Bolsonaro? Is he “far-right”, as the mainstream media seems to think? Or is he just not far-left—a position that, unfortunately—mainstream media in the United States (and indeed all over the world) seem to support, making all others “far” right?

 

It is important to note that the political spectrum is not a linear one, with far-left on one side and far-right on the other. Rather, it is a circular one; being far to either end of the spectrum—right or left—ends with similar anti-democratic and, indeed, fascistic pitfalls. The historical examples of Nazi Germany and Soviet Russia would seem to confirm this perspective. And indeed this is why Brazil is such an interesting case in this regard. As I learned in one of my classes just a few weeks ago, there are words written on the Brazilian flag. Those of us who are knowledgeable about the world—and indeed football—likely know that the Brazilian flag is green and yellow with a blue circle. What most of us may not know, however, is that there is a phrase written across that blue circle: Ordem e Progresso.  It is a quote from Auguste Comte, one of the founders of the modern discipline of sociology, which translates to “Order and Progress”. This quote was inspired by Comte’s motto for positivism, which aimed to create a secular basis for morality in the face of the declining significance of religion in the post-enlightenment period. At this time, so it seemed, means-end rationality would replace religion as the “order” of the day; people would not look for guidance from the theocratic, rather they would create their own morality rooted in rational action. For Comte, this positivist philosophy would allow for the development of a discipline called “social physics,” where human actions could be studied and, ultimately, predicted.

 

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Ordem E Progresso. Image Courtesy Of: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Flag_of_Brazil

 

Of course, the fascistic undertones of such an idea are not hard to miss, and indeed may be one of the reasons that many—including the late (and great) scholar Hannah Arendt—abhor the discipline of sociology. After all, who are humans to tell other humans what they must—and must not—do? In effect, it replaces blind faith in religion with blind faith in science. While many assume the two perspectives to be diametrically opposed, the reality is that they are both similar perspectives insofar as they seemingly leave no room for independent human thought and interpretation (indeed, the German Sociologist Jurgen Habermas and French Sociologist Michel Foucault have pointed this out before).

 

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Arendt had No Love For Sociologists. Image Courtesy Of: https://www.britannica.com/biography/Hannah-Arendt

 

In this context, the reaction to the election of Jair Bolsonaro is made even more interesting. The mainstream (Western) media is up in arms, characterizing Mr. Bolsonaro as “far-right”. Unfortunately, it seems as if much of this rhetoric is rooted in the same kind of social engineering that Auguste Comte may have—unwittingly—encouraged with his own emphasis on “Order and Progress” way back in the 19th Century. These days, it seems that “far-right” is anything that does not conform to dominant ideological trends which view globalization—and its ideological counterpart “globalism”—as an inherently positive development for the world. In fact, anyone who dares question the logic of globalism risks being called intolerant, a bigot, or much worse. The totalitarian undertones of this line of thought are not hard to miss, but it is important to note that this has been a long time in the making. Indeed, as an undergraduate studying International Relations in the United States my Comparative Politics class forced me to read a book on Lula, the former left-wing leader of Brazil who is currently in jail on corruption charges. Like other students of my generation who studied international relations, I was taught to not question the logic of globalization (Indeed, a friend who studied the same topic in Turkey also told me that during his time in the university there was no tolerance for any objection to globalization).

 

While resisting globalization is still a borderline taboo subject—indeed, the fact that traffic to this very blog has fallen since I began to actively question the logic of globalization and globalism is testament to this—there are still those who choose to resist this quasi-totalitarian logic. In fact, many famous Brazilian footballers including Kaka, Rivaldo, and Ronaldinho have openly voiced their support for Mr. Bolsonaro. Of course, their actions did not go un-noticed and inews reminds us that “Reports suggest FC Barcelona have distanced themselves from the two former stars [Rivaldo and Ronaldinho], both of whom had been playing in the ‘Barça Legends’ tour.” And here the question must be, what was their crime? Why did they have to be “distanced” from?

 

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Former Barcelona Star Rivaldo Voices His Support on Social Media. Image Courtesy Of: https://inews.co.uk/sport/football/brazil-footballers-jair-bolsonaro-ronaldinho-rivaldo-kaka-lucas-moura/

 

While Mr. Bolsonaro is not the most politically correct of individuals—indeed he has made comments critical of homosexuals—and has been compared to Donald Trump (perhaps the biggest political insult in this day and age), the fact remains that globalism under Lula did not work for Brazil. Like other globalist leaders, Lula privatized many of Brazil’s state owned businesses (like Petrobras, the previously state-owned oil company) in order to gain favor with international business at the expense of his own country’s independence. Ironically, he vowed from prison to undo the sales of state assets if re-eelected. Indeed, the very fact that he is now in prison on corruption charges goes to show just how broken—and corrupt—the system of globalization and globalism really is.

 

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Comparisons with Donald Trump Defined the Latest Election in Brazil. Image Courtesy Of: https://www.theguardian.com/world/2018/oct/29/bolsonarianos-take-to-the-streets-in-awe-of-new-law-and-order

 

Closer to the topic of this blog—football—Lula’s track record isn’t much better. Indeed, he was the one who cleaned out Brazil’s shanty-towns (favelas) ahead of the World Cup and Olympics, displacing many of his country’s poorest citizens by using military force. Indeed, the corruption endemic in Lula’s administration was closely tied to sport, and it is even claimed  that one of the stadiums built for the 2014 World Cup was actually a “gift” for himself. Lula even had a good relationship with the former President of the United States—and fellow globalist—Barack Obama, whom he gifted a jersey (!) from the Brazilian national team.

 

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If This is How the “Left” Deals With Social Problems, Perhaps a Change is in Order? Image Courtesy Of: https://www.bbc.com/news/world-latin-america-26809732

 

Given this history of corruption and cruelty towards the poorest of Brazil’s citizens, it is not surprising that Lula is now in jail. But what is surprising is that the mainstream media still persists in ignoring these facts while actively trying to de-legitimize his successor Mr. Bolsonaro. While, as I have said, Mr. Bolsonaro is not perfect by any means, the disastrous track record of the Brazilian left—which has sold the country out in the name of a type of imperialism couched in the rhetoric of globalism—should be enough to suggest that a change in leadership was well in order. (Indeed, many Brazilians were quite pleased with the result). Hopefully, Brazilians—like others around the world—can soon begin to take back their country and finally reject the disastrous ideology of corrupt and exploitative globalism for good.

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Football Elites Again Attempt to Sell Us What We Do Not Need in the Name of Globalism: The Idea of a North American Football League

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On 10 October 2018, ESPN and Reuters announced that there is now talk of a combined North American Football League between Canada, the United States, and Mexico. According to Enrique Bonilla, the head of the Mexican first division, such a league is a possibility following the 2026 World Cup which will be hosted by the three countries. As to be expected, Mr. Bonilla framed the globalist project with a vague veneer of social justice:

 

If we can make a World Cup then we can make a North American league or a North American Cup. The main idea is that we have to grow together to compete. If not, there is only going to be the rich guys in Europe and the rest of the world.

 

According to this interpretation, the proposed combined league would raise the quality of football in North America while also allowing the continent to compete with “the rich guys” on the other side of the Atlantic. As tends to be the case with such transnational ventures, the rhetoric is dominated by positive catchwords which only serve to distort the reality that the proposed venture would likely be harmful to North American football in the long term.

 

One reason that the positive perspective is highlighted by mainstream news outlets like ESPN is that such a mega-league would likely be very profitable—both for media and sporting elites in Canada, Mexico, and the United States. The downside, of course, is that—as is usually the case regarding globalist policies—the average Canadian, Mexican, and American footballer would suffer.

 

This is because by centralizing football in the three countries, competition for spaces in the hypothetical league would increase. Given that most top-flight football leagues in the world have between 16 to 20 teams, one would have to assume that this proposed league would be similar. Given that MLS is aiming for 28 teams in the next to years—and given that Mexico’s Liga MX has 18 teams—there are a total of 46 potential teams. To make such a league feasible, this number would have to be cut down. This, in turn, would mean greater competition for players due to the internationalization of the labor market. Currently, Mexican players are mainly competing with other Mexican players for spots on Liga MX teams; American and Canadian players are mainly competing with other American and Mexican players for spots on MLS teams. By erasing the national boundaries of these leagues, however, would mean a greater pool of players and, as such, less chances of gaining employment. Instead of seeking employment in two different entities, essentially, players would be forced to seek employment in one entity; this centralization—and monopolization—would be devastating in terms of players’ choices.

 

Having just taught my students about wealth inequality in the United States, I am keenly aware of just how dangerous the centralization of wealth—and, relatedly, power—can be. Indeed, the American Sociologist C. Wright Mills pointed out more than fifty years ago that the centralization of power—and wealth—in the United States would have devastating consequences. Now, this is not to ignore that inequality is not a defining feature of capitalism; indeed it is a defining feature of humanity; our outcomes—based on our choices—can never be truly equal. The problem is that this inequality has been exaggerated by globalism and globalization. Markets have increased in number, which has resulted in an equal increase in profits. Yet because these markets—and sources of profit—do not correspond to existing national boundaries (indeed, they are often outside of them), the wealthiest citizens no longer have any stake in the well-being of their fellow citizens. After all, it doesn’t matter too much to—say—Apple if Americans can buy iPhones; if they can sell those same iPhones in China or Germany or Madagascar than the American citizen no longer matters to them. Essentially, corporate responsibility no longer matters. And the same would happen in football; the well-being of the Mexican, Canadian, or American footballer would no longer matter.

 

This increasing centralization of wealth in fewer and fewer corporate hands—the big 5 of Amazon, Google, Microsoft, Apple, and Facebook, for example—is not good. Nor is the centralization of power in the hands of the federal government. And if these centralizations—which C. Wright Mills warned us about—aren’t good, then why would we assume that the centralization of sports would be good? The reality is that the creation of one North American football league would increase the centralization of power and money in football on the continent, and it will have devastating consequences for aspiring footballers in Canada, Mexico, and the United States alike, who would face the loss of playing opportunities. This is why we owe it to ourselves—regardless of which country we are citizens of—to stand up for our countries (and our football leagues) in the face of predatory globalism and predatory globalization.

 

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The United States Legalizes Sports Gambling: The View from Veblen

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On 14 May 2018 the United States Supreme Court, in what amounts to a revolutionary decision, ruled 6-3 against a 1992 federal law prohibiting sports betting in most U.S. states. Justice Samuel Alito explained the decision in terms of state’s rights: “The legalization of sports gambling requires an important policy choice, but the choice is not ours to make. Congress can regulate sports gambling directly, but if it elects not to do so, each state is free to act on its own.” While this is a strong blow against the centralizing tendencies of Washington which have become more prominent in the last eight years, it is also a strong blow against the orthodox view of gambling in the United States. Indeed, this was a long time coming.

The absurdity of prohibiting sports gambling in the United States has not been lost on those of us who travel. In the summer of 2016 I was watching the European football championships with a group of British travelers in Seville, Spain, who found it absurd that in the United States Americans, over eighteen, could buy a rifle yet could not wager even a few “quid” on a football match (or baseball game. Or NBA game. Or NFL game). Yet, it seems as if at least five states have recently passed legislation regarding sports betting so–in terms of state’s rights—sports gambling might become legal in a few states in the not-too-distant future.

 

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A State-by-State Breakdown on a Very Technocratic Map. Image Courtesy Of: http://www.espn.com/chalk/story/_/id/22516292/gambling-ranking-every-us-state-current-position-legalizing-sports-betting

 

But why has this change been so long in coming? Eminent Norwegian-American Sociologist and Economist Thorstein Veblen’s The Theory of the Leisure Class might give us some insight into this. Beyond the Black Sox scandal of 1919, Veblen shows that an aversion to gambling is part of modern industrial society. Veblen explains that “the chief factor in the gambling habit is the belief in luck” and this belief is “an archaic trait, inherited from a more or less remote past, more or less incompatible with the requirements of the modern industrial process, and more or less of a hindrance to the fullest efficiency of the collective economic life of the present” (Veblen 1953[1899]: 183). Indeed, this belief in luck is incompatible with industrial society because it threatens its mechanical—and ultimately rational—nature. Veblen explains:

 

The industrial organization assumes more and more of the character of a mechanism, in which it is man’s office to discriminate and select what natural forces shall work out their effects in his service. The workman’s part in industry changes from that of a prime mover to that of discrimination and valuation of quantitative sequences and mechanical facts. The faculty of a ready apprehension and unbiased appreciation of causes in his environment grows in relative economic importance and any element in the complex of his habits of thought which intrudes a bias at variance with this ready appreciation of matter-of-fact sequence gains proportionately in importance as a disturbing element acting to lower his industrial usefulness. Through its cumulative effect upon the habitual attitude of the population, even a slight or inconspicuous bias towards accounting for everyday facts by recourse to other ground than that of quantitative causation may work an appreciable lowering of the collective industrial efficiency of a community (Veblen 1953[1899]: 187-188).

 

In short, Veblen tells us that any belief in luck “counts as a blunder in the apprehension and valuation of facts” for science and technology (Veblen 1953[1899]: 190).

Given that science and technology are the bedrocks of the rational and technocratic society which defines the modern world, luck—like individual creativity and emotions—cannot be celebrated without threatening the basic foundational logic of modern industrial (and especially post-industrial, or digital) society. Perhaps this is one possible reason why the United States has waited almost 26 years to overturn a federal ban on sports betting, giving the decision back to individual states. While this is certainly a victory for states rights—and a blow to the centralization of the American state—it is also a victory for the rule of law. As ESPN journalist David Purdum notes, the black market for sports betting already makes 150 billion USD annually. If the government can tax such betting then it could offer some states an important form of income, even if it threatens the sensibilities of a rational and “modern” society.

 

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Mr. Veblen Himself. Image Courtesy Of: http://booksyouwillneverread.com/a-review-of-the-theory-of-the-leisure-class/