About mankind

Lately I have been feeling more and more grim about life in general. I think this is a culmination of facts: things I learned, things that happened, things I noticed. It has reached a point where I have very little faith in mankind, and I think that if any stupid leader decides to detonate a nuclear bomb and kill us all, the universe will end up a better place.

This might have started with me learning more about global warming and our environmental footprint. We produce *a lot* of garbage, that needs to go somewhere. It typically ends up in the oceans or landfills around the world, contaminating animals, water, plants, and, eventually, us again (but we kind of caused it, so we deserve). Even with recycling, most of the world’s garbage still ends up in one of those places. And recycling is treating the symptom, not the cause. In practice, we can produce less than half of the garbage we produce if we are just conscious about it. It does not hurt to use our own bags for shopping, use both sides of paper sheets, get a glass water bottle instead of buying the plastic ones, close the tap when washing the teeth or the hands, use less disposable items… among other things.

Then I learned about animal cruelty, which involves killing animals for food, but also for fashion items (of quite questionable taste, really). Turns out that farming for animal production is also a big factor on global warming, and turns out we don’t really need all that meat. Nutritionally speaking, we would still be ok if we ate half of the meat we eat on average. With all these different options of food around, it wouldn’t hurt to go vegetarian three times a week. Concerning fashion items, I don’t see the appeal on leather and furs, so regarding such things as luxury items is complete nonsense as it is. Put on top animal killings, it is an easy “no, thank you”. Animals are also used for testing cosmetics, so reducing the amount of those is not only healthier (for the body *and* mind), but better for the animals.

The fashion industry alone has many other problems. Many brands have sweat shops in less developed countries, where they can get things done cheaper, and don’t need to respond about labor abuse. This practice takes advantage of people that desperately need a job, and are willing to work crazy hours for little pay. Companies need profit and this is achieved in two ways: decreasing the cost for producing clothes and increasing the consumption. On this second front, they bombard us with advertisement every week, creating “trends” to be followed, forcing people to recycle their wardrobe every season unnecessarily and to have a million pieces of clothes. We simply need to realize how manipulated we are being, and start to care less about how we look, and care more about what we do.

By the way, the thing with the profit, exploitation and fake trends is not an exclusivity of fashion, but of many other industries as well. We are manipulated every day by advertisements promising more productive, beautiful, modern, meaningful lives, only so that we will buy the latest release, generate more trash, more environmental impact, and more profit. And we are not happier.

As time passed I became more and more aware of life’s randomness, and how not realizing this can lead to social injustice. If we think that all our success is attributed to our hard work (the myth of meritocracy), then we are willing to bet that anyone could have done what we did. The thing is that, not everyone is at the same starting point. Life is unfair and people are born in all kinds of situations. This can be alleviated by some policies that give the less privileged some benefits.

All of these things alone are not really distressing for me. They are problems, and I like to solve problems. I enjoy thinking about each and every one of them, learning their effects and, mostly, their causes. Many times the underlying cause is rooted on greed, on the need to have profit, and on assigning importance to unimportant measures. Many of the effects have to do with increasing the social gap and manipulation. I think that, if we put our heads together, we could take steps in the direction of improving the situation.

The distressing part, the really really distressing part, is to see how little people seem to care. They care a lot about themselves, the “market”, the “economy”. As long as money is moving, as long as they have the best deal, as long as they can satisfy their immediate needs, who cares about something that happens thousands of kilometers¬† or years away? Out of sight, out of mind. And so we walk towards the abyss.


Some sources:

  1. https://theintercept.com/2018/08/03/climate-change-new-york-times- magazine/
  2. https://truecostmovie.com/
  3. http://www.nationearth.com/
  4. https://www.beforetheflood.com/
  5. https://www.imdb.com/title/tt8457074/?ref_=ttep_ep7
  6. https://www.imdb.com/title/tt8457106/?ref_=ttep_ep19

About the first women in logic workshop

About a month ago I attended the first Women in Logic workshop. I presented the partial results of a paper with Bruno Woltzenlogel Paleo on translations of resolution to sequent calculus proofs. The workshop was open to everyone, but every submission must have been co-authored and presented by a woman. In the end, the audience was composed of mostly women, with one man attending all talks (kudos Francesco!) and another showing up for one of the invited talks. As you may imagine, I’ve had long discussions with different people about this kind of event, before and after. I had my reservations as well. Is closing up in an almost-exclusive event the right thing to do for inclusiveness? What about other minorities? What exactly are we trying to accomplish? If there is a lack of women in logic, what is the root of the problem? I thought it would be worth attending anyway, not only because it was in Iceland, but to see for myself what it would be like. When the program was out, I must say I was a bit disappointed, as there was no space for the discussion of what I thought were the important questions, but only scientific talks. And those were quite diverse (you may imagine the broad range of topics when the only restrictions were logic and co-authored by a woman).

Finally the day came, and as the hours went by and presentations were given, something interesting happened. These women were comfortable. Most of the time, I could not see the usual stiffness, result of nervousness and stage fright, so commonly witnessed during presentations by both men and women in big conferences. The speakers were calm, talking in a usual speed and stopping to explain things on the board or on the slides. They looked confident. The feeling was not that of an aggressive audience, but of a supportive one. So, what changed?

In my view, it was not the fact that there were mostly women in the room. More than that, it was the mindset of the speakers themselves. Somehow they go in front of this audience thinking it will be ok, and then it is ok. Why do they think it will be ok? Maybe because these are other fellow women that get as nervous as they get when presenting to an audience of old white men. Maybe because they can finally relate to the audience. Maybe because they think that women will be less critical and nicer with the questions. Whatever reason you choose, regardless if it is true or not, if it makes you feel more at ease, it works. In the end, it is impossible to predict if the audience will be “nice”, or if you will get mean questions or harsh criticisms (ok, it might become a bit easier to predict once you get to know the people ūüėČ ). All you can do is think of an “it will be ok” reason to calm you nerves. Here are some suggestions that work with most audiences:

It will be ok…

  1. … it is not my PhD defense.
  2. … half of the people will not pay attention anyway.
  3. … more than half of the people are not experts in this area and I probably know more than them.
  4. … it is only 30 minutes of my life.
  5. … I can always reply honestly that I don’t know.

The usefulness of a workshop such as the women in logic one, in my opinion, is to show women that they can do this. They can go there and present and take the questions and criticisms. It is a bit more scary than presenting to the walls of your bedroom, and a little less scary than presenting at a big conference. The crucial thing is to take the next step, and get out of the women-only shell. The last thing we want is to create a clique inside this already small community of logicians in computer science.

As an after-note, lack of security is hardly a women exclusive issue. This makes me think that a larger part of the academic community could benefit from this kind of friendly low-profile workshop.

As an after-after-note, the lack of security and self-confidence is, in my opinion, the main reason why women sometimes do not pursue the careers they want. I have heard more women than men saying “I don’t think I am good enough for this”, and I say it myself sometimes. This is hard to overcome. It is good to remember that there will be people believing in you even when you don’t. Also, don’t try to do everything alone. Hardly everybody does. Ask for help. Ask for people to proof read your first papers, to listen to and give advice on practice talks, to discuss ideas for your projects… you will see how much people are willing to help, and how much you can learn from it.

About the world

When I was finishing my masters and deciding where to go for a PhD, I did what every student in my position would do: ask around for advice. I talked to some of my professors that did do a PhD to find out about their experiences, where they went and so on. Being a theory oriented person, I could see more attractive opportunities in Europe other than the US, and the programs looked very different (from the duration, style, tuition, etc.). When confronted with these options, I got almost unanimously the same argument:

The quality of education in the US will be better, it is a longer phd but you will leave with more opportunities and more knowledge. It will be expensive, there will be sleepless nights, you’ll have no vacations for a long time and will kill yourself to work, but it is worth it. In Europe things are much more relaxed and you will do a lot of tourism. Sure you’ll end with a PhD, but much less worthy.

I found that somehow strange… This was not too great of a case for the US, nevertheless they wanted me to go and sacrifice some years of my life for a title. Suffice to say that I did not apply for any positions in the US… In the end, I got a position in Vienna, Austria, and that’s where I went to.

Looking back, having finished a PhD in Europe and understanding better how the American programs work, I sort of see their point. I am sure you see it as well, so I will not go over that. My intention here is to say what they have not told me (maybe because most or all of them had got a PhD from an American university). Given the choice, I would *never* exchange the years I spent in Vienna and Paris for a PhD from an ivy-league school in the US. Here’s why.

I moved to Vienna alone. It was the first time I was living outside my parents’ house and I started big: other side of the world in a country whose language I did not speak. I not only had to learn how to manage my own life, but how to manage my life in a society completely different from the one I was used to. And do a PhD on my spare time. In trying to adapt, I started looking at life differently. Suddenly answers like “that’s the way things are” or “it’s just how it works” stopped making sense because here I was at a place where things were not like that and, guess what? Everything still works! (Even better sometimes…) The opportunity to travel a lot (Europe is really very small… and a bunch of different countries are just a 3-hour flight away) has contributed to that feeling. Everywhere there was something curious, something different, a new unsaid rule that everyone followed. And as we try to fit in, we test different behaviors on ourselves, and realize that many “defaults” we have can be changed to something that works better, or to something that is more “you”. It is interesting the moment you feel more at home at a place that is completely different from the one where you were born, simply because that is more in line with your values. I feel like those years were a deconstruction and reconstruction of myself, and I feel much more comfortable in my skin today than I did 6 years ago. Hopefully this will only get better with time ūüôā

Sure I did learn a lot scientifically as well, and I did get a PhD, and a job. My professors might think that I got lucky. (I think so too). But even if I hadn’t got a position, and was unemployed in Vienna today, still I would not change a thing. I am a resourceful person and I could get a job eventually, even outside academia. What I have learned and how much I have grown during this experience is beyond any career-oriented measurement of success.

You might argue that the same would happen if I had moved to the US, but I don’t think so. We know too much about them. We get their music, movies, series, news, culture… From what I know, life would not be so much different from the life I had before. Also, I have lived in the US long ago. Back then, I did not realize all the nuances and particularities I noticed last semester, when I was living there for a few months again. Since we know so much, it is a hard place to feel like an outsider. Maybe it will be more comfortable, but less eye-opening.

What I want to show now, specially now, is that going to the US does not have to be the ultimate dream or the best/only choice. The world is a big place, and great opportunities are available everywhere. We just need to remember that opportunities should encompass employment *and* life as well.

About obesity

I am taking the opportunity of being at CMU for a semester and attending a course on behavioral economics and public policy. Behavioral economics is a topic that caught my attention a while ago and it’s been interesting to see it under the lens of public policy. The course is quite American-centered, and being a non-American (or “alien”, as the government likes to call me) makes it only more interesting. I am trying to understand what is the mindset, what is the “normal” around here, and I am still in awe every now and then. It’s a good state to be in. But anyway…

Today in class the subject of obesity was briefly mentioned. It is seen as a public health problem, and we were studying ways (read, public policies) to motivate people to loose weight. But that’s treating the symptom, not the cause. I like to treat causes, seems more effective. So, for the reasons why obesity is a problem, it was mentioned: decrease in food prices (specially unhealthy food), lack of time (arguably not true, we just suck at time management), sedentary lives, working parents and larger portions (why America? why??). We might add dining out and drinking soda like crazy to that list, as discussed here. Fair enough. These all look like reasonable reasons for a less healthy diet and consequent increase on obesity. Then I had an epiphany: those reasons are not America-exclusive. People are more stressed everywhere, both parents are working everywhere, sedentary lives are everywhere, cheap fast food and soda is available everywhere. So what creates this enormous demand for big portions of deep fried chicken in America specifically? [1]

Unfortunately I do not have an answer for that. What I know is that the unhealthy eating seems to be an acceptable thing. I never saw so many ads for food as I see it on TV here. Really. If you are ever in the US and have a chance to watch some TV, do it. Even for half an hour. It is an interesting experience (not only because of the food ads). I have the feeling that one in every three ads is about food. And not healthy food: fried chicken, giant burgers, 2 feet (~60 cms) pizza, a burrito stuffed with three types of different melted cheese, pancakes made with buttery croissant dough, chocolate cookies filled with more chocolate and marshmallows… you name it. Ironically, another third fraction of the commercials are dedicated to medicaments. As if it is not enough to bombard people with ads for greasy and processed food, they go to the next level and actually *scorn* healthy eating. Just take a look at this or that. Americans, do you have any idea how absurd it is to have an ad like that? This should have never ever been approved!! I would boycott Domino’s if I ever ate there.

I am not sure if these ads can be counted as a cause or effect of obesity, it is a chicken-and-egg problem. What I know is that regulating such things properly will do no harm, but only good [2]. It’s a no-brainer. On top of motivating people to loose weight, how about cutting on the temptation for eating in the first place?

[1] As a side note, Brazil is also not the healthiest country around. And I lived there, and even so I cannot explain what happens… Seems to be a cultural thing (that needs to change!).

[2] Regulation is needed when people lack the common sense and allow such horrendous ads. Unfortunately, those that make regulations are also people.

About questions

I used to think that people, in general, had problems when it comes to asking questions. What was my surprise when I recently realized that, in fact, we also have problems in *getting* questions! Given the important status questions have for the exchange and construction of ideas [1], it is really a shame that we both don’t like to ask questions or receive them.

You might be very familiar with the feeling of holding back a question because you might sound [insert here whatever adjective works best for you]. But being asked? Yes. It turns out that instead of listening a question as it should be, i.e. just a question, we add our own interpretation to it and reply (or not) to that. We see questions as criticism, as challenges, as disagreement… but have you ever thought that it might be, in reality, *just* a question? (In spite of what your biased self might “notice” about language, tone, etc.)

Try that for a while. Get rid of your prejudices and take the questions as they come. You will see life becomes much much lighter. Answer sincerely (even if it means saying “I do not know the answer”) and ask sincerely (even if you think it’s a [same adjective as before] question). You will notice how communication improves, how it is possible to have an argument without it getting to your head and how everyone feels less intimidated. It’s good all around!

And if it just so happens that someone does have an ill-intended question, you can see the disappointment in their eyes with your honest answer ūüėČ


[1] I must leave here a special thanks to my classmates from grad041, who taught me the importance of argumentation, and that friendship is independent of agreement. There are very few circles where questions are so well received as with these people ūüėÄ

About stupidity

Recently I came across this quote:

“When you are dead, you don’t know that you are dead.It is difficult only for the others… It is the same when you are stupid.” [1]

Isn’t this the best quote ever?

At times when people are voting for Donald Trump, enormous corruption scandals are being unveiled, terrorist attacks are becoming the norm as well as bombarding others’ countries, we all have something to say about stupid people. As unbelievably stupid as others may seem, we need to keep in mind a couple of things:

1. We might appear equally stupid for others as well, and;
2. In the end, we are all just people.

For the sake of not appearing stupid and for reducing the general level of stupidity in the world, let’s try to understand how this happens. Fortunately I am not the first one to ask this question, and much more competent people have studied this before. We should learn from them. In 1999, David Dunning and Justing Kruger ran a series of experiments to test how people assess their own competence at a task. This was inspired by a very interesting fact:

“The study was inspired by the case of McArthur Wheeler, a man who robbed two banks after covering his face with lemon juice in the mistaken belief that, because lemon juice is usable as invisible ink, it would prevent his face from being recorded on surveillance cameras.”

I know… I know… How in the world can a person think that lemon juice would make their face invisible on cameras? And if they thought so, why haven’t they tested it *before* robbing a bank? It turns out that the lack of competence is so big, but so big, that they are unable to doubt their reasoning and think for a second that they might be wrong.

Now, this is an extreme case, of course, but the study has shown that incompetent people were often over confident, and guessed a much higher score than they actualy got. This is known as the Dunning-Kruger effect.

At this point you might be thinking: “Sure, but I am not a stupid person.”
Aren’t you? Think again. If a stupid person is not able to assess their own stupidity, how do you know you are not one of them? [2] How do I know *I* am not one of them? No one wants to be seen as stupid by other people, so we should really find out.

The Dunning-Kruger effect is observed when unskilled persons have what is called “illusory superiority”. The name is self-explanatory. It is also known as the above average effect (e.g. in a survey, 87% of MBA students at Stanford University rated their performance above the median — something which is mathematically impossible). How can we avoid the self-inflated judgement of ourselves? This being a cognitive bias, it is virtually impossible to get rid of 100% in practice. Nevertheless, I believe there are some things we can do to alleviate it:

Doubt yourself

Whenever you think you know about something, google it. But don’t just take the first link, google also makes mistakes and the results of searches are biased. Make sure the sources you are checking are reliable, and be aware how far your knowledge goes. Inform yourself, check the facts and make sure you are not over simplifying (or maybe complicating!) things. (That is healthy doubting. We do not want the kind of unhealthy doubting that makes us crawl underneath the covers and feel bad about ourselves!)

Challenge your beliefs

It can be very healthy to talk to people that disagree with you, if they are equaly engaged and willing to explain their point (and not ofended by your questions [3]). It is good to understand the other side’s reasoning that led them to a different conclusion than yours, and it is good to explain your reasoning to others. Explaining is a very nice way to sanity-check your reasoning.

Learn from experience

If you are in a situation that others have been before, take a look at the past experiences. How are they similar to what you are going through? How are they different? What actions were taken? What was the outcome? Has someone conducted scientific studies on this before? Learn something from them.

Don’t let emotions get in the way

When someone says we are wrong, our first reaction is to listen to the “you are wrong” part and ignore completely why they think we are wrong. We are humans and we don’t like being wrong, but the moment we start being defensive is the moment emotion takes over reasoning. And emotions tend to make us even more biased. So if you feel your heart beating harder when you listen to something, take a step back, breath, and think coldly what exactly it was that made you startle. You might even learn a thing or two about yourself.

Give information instead of opinions

When you think someone is being stupid about something, give them some information they can reflect on. If they even think you implied they are wrong, they will stop listening to you. If you have ever changed your mind, you know that this is not a straightforward procedure. It takes time and it has to come from within. The best you can do is provide more information so the person can think for themselves.

Good luck and stay wise!

[1] Possibly attributed to Philippe Geluck, but I could not check with absolute certainty.
[2] I am not saying you will put lemon juice on your face and rob a bank. Please don’t be angry. I am not calling anyone stupid.
[3] This happens more often than not, unfortunately.

Sobre corrupção

J√° que corrup√ß√£o √© o assunto do momento, eu acho que a gente devia come√ßar a esclarecer umas coisas. Eu andei lendo sobre o esquema da Petrobr√°s (a Folha tem um infogr√°fico explicativo muito did√°tico) e perguntando pra algumas pessoas que trabalham em empreiteiras pra saber direitinho como o esquema funciona. A gente tem que se informar, n√©? Tamb√©m li alguns estudos sobre corrup√ß√£o de acad√™micos da √°rea de gerenciamento e psicologia social [1]. Aqui v√£o minhas conclus√Ķes preliminares sobre o assunto.

Quando esses esc√Ęndalos de corrup√ß√£o ocorrem, a rea√ß√£o imediata das pessoas que est√£o “do lado de fora” √© de querer apontar os culpados, e puni-los por isso. A id√©ia por tr√°s disso √© que existe uma meia d√ļzia de pessoas mal intencionadas, gananciosas e mesquinhas que est√£o burlando o sistema para benef√≠cio pr√≥prio. Se livrar dessas pessoas, portanto, iria garantir que n√£o haver√° mais corrup√ß√£o. Muito pr√°tico, n√©? S√≥ que as coisas n√£o s√£o bem assim. Acho que a gente j√° est√° crescidinho o suficiente pra entender que n√£o tem dessa de pessoas boas e pessoas m√°s, vil√Ķes e mocinhos.

Atos corruptos n√£o s√£o cometidos por pessoas imorais ou com algum desvio de comportamento, mas por pessoas como eu e voc√™ (assumindo que voc√™ n√£o tem um desvio de comportamento…). Pessoas que v√£o colocar o filho de castigo se ele pegar alguma coisa do coleguinha da escola sem pedir, que v√£o achar um absurdo o prefeito daquela cidadezinha que desviou dinheiro pra comprar uma fazenda e que n√£o v√£o sair de um restaurante sem pagar. Ent√£o o que leva uma pessoa que tem bons valores morais a cometer atos de corrup√ß√£o? Pra mim, esse √© o cerne da quest√£o. Se entendermos direitinho como as pessoas s√£o levadas a cometer atos il√≠citos, temos uma chance de resolver o problema antes dele come√ßar, de prevenir ao inv√©s de remediar. N√≥s sabemos algumas coisinhas sobre isso j√°, felizmente.

A primeira coisa que devemos ter em mente √© o contexto. As pessoas tomam decis√Ķes em um determinado momento, com uma quantidade finita de informa√ß√£o e muitas vezes sob press√£o para atingir um objetivo imediato. As decis√Ķes s√£o tomadas sem muita reflex√£o, sem tempo para analisar a situa√ß√£o como um todo, o que torna tudo muito mais dif√≠cil. Naquele momento crucial de decidir se pagamos a propina ou n√£o, se contamos com uma venda ainda n√£o consolidada ou n√£o, se falamos pro cliente que aquela a√ß√£o vai absolutamente subir ou n√£o, pensamos numa escala pequena. Se n√£o quebrarmos “um pouquinho” a regra, talvez ficaremos sem emprego, talvez muitas pessoas ficar√£o sem emprego, talvez a empresa n√£o vai cumprir a meta… nesse momento, dadas as consequ√™ncias, quebrar “um pouquinho” a regra √© um mal necess√°rio. Mesmo que, no fundo, no fundo, voc√™ saiba que est√° fazendo algo ilegal. A gente tem uma coisa que chama auto-preserva√ß√£o psicol√≥gica, que protege o nosso ego e que nem sempre √© muito boa. Ela √© respon√°vel pela racionaliza√ß√£o de atos il√≠citos, aquele pensamento de que “foi a coisa certa a se fazer no momento”.

Podemos fazer um exerc√≠cio pra ver como isso tudo funciona. Vamos usar o esquema da Petrobr√°s que todo mundo j√° sabe direitinho como funciona a essa altura. Vamos nos colocar no lugar de cada uma das pessoas e ver como elas podem ter racionalizado suas a√ß√Ķes [2]:

– Jos√©, diretor da Petrobr√°s. Jos√© foi indicado pelo partido X para ser o novo diretor da Petrobr√°s. No momento da indica√ß√£o, ele ficou muito feliz e orgulhoso do bom trabalho que fez durante sua carreira para merecer uma diretoria t√£o importante. Ele comemorou com um churrasco com sua fam√≠lia e amigos do partido X. Ele foi alertado que ter√° que seguir “sugest√Ķes” do partido X de vez em quando, mas ele confia que seus amigos s√£o profissionais competentes e v√£o indicar boas empresas. Al√©m do mais, √© uma maneira de conseguir verba pro pr√≥prio partido que o ajudou a conseguir essa posi√ß√£o importante. Se n√£o for assim, a empresa nunca vai doar tanto dinheiro pra um partido, porque elas s√£o gananciosas e m√°s. E partidos precisam de dinheiro para campanhas. Jos√© pensa estar ajudando a todos.

РCarlos, amigo de José do partido X. Carlos apoiou a indicação de José pra diretoria da Petrobrás porque José é uma pessoa de confiança e competente. Carlos se preocupa em conseguir verba pro seu partido para eleger mais pessoas e aprovar projetos que ele concorda que serão bons pra sociedade. Como as empresas não vão doar tanto dinheiro pra campanhas políticas, Carlos pode usar a influência de José na contratação para obras na Petrobrás e forçar um pouquinho esse pagamento. Tudo pro bem da sociedade. O dinheiro não fará falta pras empresas.

– Eduardo, dono da empresa Y. Eduardo abriu sua empresa ainda jovem, e est√° orgulhoso de como ela cresceu. Decide entrar finalmente na concorr√™ncia pra uma obra importante com a Petrobr√°s. Durante uma reuni√£o, uma propina √© sutilmente sugerida e Eduardo acha um absurdo, a princ√≠pio. Depois de algumas licita√ß√Ķes perdidas, ele percebe que se n√£o pagar a propina como todas as outras empresas t√™m feito, nunca conseguir√° obras importantes. Um contrato com a Petrobr√°s √© realmente algo grande pra se ter no portif√≥lio da sua empresa. Eduardo faz as contas e v√™ que valer√° a pena pagar a propina nesse momento e que esse contrato pode abrir portas pra sua empresa. Eduardo entra no esquema.

Olhando assim, de pertinho, não parece que eles estão fazendo algo de muito errado. Olhando de longe, como estamos vendo nas notícias, tudo é um grande absurdo, uma roubalheira, imoral, e todos esses adjetivos. A lição que tiramos disso é que atos errados não parecem tão errados num nível micro. Se cada uma dessas pessoas tivesse uma noção do tamanho do esquema pro qual estão contribuindo, como estamos vendo hoje nas notícias, talvez tomariam uma decisão diferente. Mas elas não tem. Nem eu e nem você, se estivéssemos no lugar

Claro que meus personagens fict√≠cios s√£o s√≥ os personagens principais. Mas um esquema desse tamanho n√£o se faz com uma pessoa em uma empresa ou institui√ß√£o. √Č necess√°rio haver o apoio, ou pelo menos consentimento, de muitos e muitos outros. O que leva √† segunda coisa que sabemos sobre comportamento humano: comportamento de grupo e obedi√™ncia. Se voc√™ √© uma pessoa dentro de uma institui√ß√£o, e percebe que algo de errado est√° sendo feito, voc√™ tem duas op√ß√Ķes: aponta o erro e arrisca perder seu emprego ou fica calado e v√™ se algu√©m vai falar alguma coisa. Como a maioria das pessoas escolhe a segunda op√ß√£o, o sil√™ncio coletivo te faz pensar que talvez a coisa n√£o seja t√£o errada assim. E tudo passa a ser ok e voc√™ pensa “bom, ent√£o √© assim que as coisas funcionam por aqui, tudo bem”. E se tudo que voc√™ tem que fazer √© assinar um papel ou jogar uns n√ļmeros numa planilha ou fazer uma transfer√™ncia banc√°ria, a sua sensa√ß√£o de responsabilidade em um esquema de corrup√ß√£o √© perto de zero. Afinal de contas, voc√™ est√° apenas seguindo ordens. Na verdade, eu acho que a maioria de pessoas num esquema de corrup√ß√£o, sen√£o todas, n√£o pensam conscientemente que est√£o sendo corruptas ou fazendo algo errado (o que n√£o impede que elas paguem pelos seus atos, claro).

E a√≠? Como fazer pra prevenir essa situa√ß√£o? Ficou dif√≠cil agora n√©? Pois √©…
Com certeza existem pessoas trabalhando em coisas que podem ser aplicadas a essas situa√ß√Ķes. A gente tem que prestar aten√ß√£o, se informar, e juntar os dois mundos da teoria e da pr√°tica pra uma solu√ß√£o de verdade.

[1] A prop√≥sito, muito pouca coisa dispon√≠vel online… N√£o sei se √© por causa de direitos autorais ou se realmente existem poucos estudos sobre o assunto.

[2] A situação descrita é altamente hipotética e serve simplesmente como um exemplo exagerado para fins didáticos.

About corruption

Since corruption seems to be the hip topic, I thought it would be good to clarify a few things. I have been reading about the Petrobras scandal (Folha, a Brazilian newspaper, has a nice info-graphic about it, in Portuguese, sorry…) and asking a few people I know who work in companies to find out exactly how these schemes come about. We must inform ourselves, right? I also read a few papers about corruption from management and psychology academics [1]. Here’s my two cents on the subject.

When corruptions scandals erupt, “outside” people’s immediate reaction is to point the guilty ones, and punish them for that. The underlying idea is that there exists half a dozen of “bad apples”, who are greedy and evil and who cheat the system for their own benefit. Getting rid of these people would guarantee the end of corruption. Practical, right? But wrong. We are all grown ups, and we know very well that there is no such thing as the good guy and the bad guy.

Corrupt actions are not committed by immoral or unethical people, but by people like me and you (assuming you have a sense of moral and ethics…). People who will ground their kids for taking materials from school, that will be outraged by politicians’ money laundering and who will always pay their bills. So how come otherwise moral people end up so corrupt? For me this is the ultimate question. If we understand how people are led to commit illegal acts, we have a chance of solving the problem before it starts, preventing instead of treating. Fortunately, we know already a thing or two about that.

The first thing we should keep in mind is that it is all about context. At the point of the decision making, people have limited information and are usually under pressure to solve an immediate problem. Decisions are made without a lot of reflection, with no time to analyse the situation as a whole, which makes the matter that much harder. At that moment when we need to decide whether to bribe or not, to count with that sales or not, to sell a bad product to a client or not, we think small. If we don’t bend the rules just a little bit, maybe we’ll be without a job, maybe many people will be without jobs, maybe the company will not reach its goal… at that moment, given the consequences, bending the rules is a necessary evil. Even if, deep deep down, you know this is something illegal. We have a thing called psychological self-preservation that does wonders for that and protects our egos. It is responsible for our rationalization, at the time of the decision making and afterwards, that we made the right choice given the conditions.

We can try an exercise to see how this works. Let’s use the Petrobras scheme since it is in vogue. Let’s put ourselves in the shoes of each player and think how they could have rationalized their actions [2]:

– Jose, Petrobras director. Jose was nominated by party X to be the new director of Petrobras. He was very happy and proud of himself and all his hard work that led him to be trusted with such an important position. He celebrated in a barbecue with his family and friends from party X. His friends warned him that he should follow some “suggestions” every now and then, but Jose trusts his friends and he knows they will suggest good companies for the job. On top of that, it’s a way for Jose to pay back to the party who nominated him, helping them get money for campaigns. If it weren’t like this, the companies would never give so much for electoral campaigns because they are greedy and evil. And political parties need the money. Jose is only helping.

– Carlos, friend of Jose and member of party X. Carlos supported the nomination of Jose for Petrobras’ board of directors because the former trusts the latter. Carlos is worried about getting funding for campaigns so that his party has more representatives in the government and can approve more laws which he deems are good for the people. Since companies do not donate a lot for electoral campaigns, he can use the influence of Jose when hiring them for Petrobras’ jobs to give it a little push. All for the good of society. The companies can surely afford it.

– Eduardo, owner of company Y. Eduardo opened his own company as a young entrepreneur and is very proud of how it has been growing. He decides to enter the competition to win a contract with Petrobras. During a meeting, there is a subtle mention of a bribe to get the contract and Eduardo is outraged at first. After losing all the contracts in a few years, he realises that the only way of getting in is accepting the bribe. A Petrobras contract is really something to have on your company’s portfolio. Eduardo does the math and see it will be worth it. Eduardo is in.

Looking so closely, it does not seem they are doing anything wrong. Looking from far, as we see today on the news, it is outrageous, unethical, immoral, and all the proper adjectives. What we learn from this is that wrong-doings might not look so wrong from up-close. If any of these people had an idea of the size of the scheme, as we are seeing it today, maybe they would make a different choice. But they didn’t. And neither would have me or you, if we were in their shoes.

Of course that my fictional characters are just the protagonists of the whole story. A scheme such as that does not maintain itself with only a handful of people in an organization. Many others must support, or at least consent with, the whole thing. This leads to the second thing we know about human behaviour: group loyalty and obedience. If you are a person inside an institution and you realise there is something wrong going on, you have basically two choices: speak up and risk your job or stay quiet and hope someone else will say something. Since most people choose the second option, the collective silence makes you think that  maybe it was not so wrong to begin with. Everything becomes ok and you just think “well, that’s how things are done around here then, very well”. And if all you have to do is sign a paper, put some numbers on a spreadsheet or transfer some money, your sense of responsibility in a great corruption scheme is minimal. After all, you are only following orders. Actually, my guess is that most people in those schemes, if not all, are not conscious of the fact that they are corrupt or doing something wrong (which should not keep them from being punished, or course).

Well… how to prevent this? The problem is much harder now, right? Yeah…
I am sure there are people working on things which could be applied to this situation. We need to pay attention, inform ourselves, and bring the worlds of theory and practice together for a solution.

[1] By the way, not many things available online… I don’t know if it is because of copyright issues or if there are not many studies about corruption.

[2] The described situation is highly hypothetical and serves the purpose of being an exaggerated example for making a point.


Observar faz bem. Escutar, refletir, pensar. Artes perdidas nesse nosso tempo de conectividade e posts e compartilhamentos. Falar ficou muito fácil, dizer qualquer coisa que está na sua cabeça, mostrar fotos, anunciar onde está ou o que está fazendo. No meio desse caos, ninguém pára pra observar mais. Filosofia é uma arte perdida, até para os filósofos.

√Č uma pena. Um pouco mais de reflex√£o e discuss√Ķes (relevantes) cair√≠a bem no mundo. Quando observamos, percebemos coisas certas, coisas erradas e o qu√£o subjetiva √© a distin√ß√£o entre certo e errado. Entendemos outros pontos de vista e fica mais f√°cil encontrar um meio-termo. Mas para isso, √© preciso haver sil√™ncio. Sil√™ncio interior. E uma p√°gina em branco. Precisamos ser capazer de ver o mundo sem pr√©-concep√ß√Ķes. S√≥ assim as quest√Ķes relevantes s√£o perguntadas. E precisamos escutar as respostas, e refletir. Mas n√£o h√° mais tempo para perguntar, escutar, refletir. S√≥ h√° tempo para falar, gritar, compartilhar.

Uma discuss√£o na qual todas as partes est√£o escutando √© bastante frut√≠fera. N√£o concordamos sempre (nem ao in√≠cio, nem ao final), mas aprendemos bastante, e √© isso que importa. As pessoas n√£o devem discutir para convencer os outros da sua opini√£o, mas para aprender sobre as outras opini√Ķes. Tentar resolver problemas juntos, apesar das discord√Ęncias. Hoje todos parecem muito preocupados em se imp√īr. Voc√™ *precisa* ter uma opini√£o formada, voc√™ *precisa* rebater os outros argumentos contra, voc√™ *precisa* dizer aos outros em que lado voc√™ est√°. Isso virou sin√īnimo de intelig√™ncia.

Quando estamos t√£o anciosos para falar, n√£o estamos escutando. Se n√£o escutamos, n√£o aprendemos e n√£o evolu√≠mos. E estamos precisando tanto de uma evolu√ß√£o…

Escutar é inteligente, refletir é inteligente, perceber que não podemos ter uma opinião bem fundamentada sobre tudo é inteligente. Ou talvez eu deveria dizer sábio.

An observation

Observing is good. Listening, reflecting, thinking. Lost arts in our time of connectivity and posts and shares. It is too easy to speak, blurt out anything on your mind, upload pictures, announce your position or current activity. In the midst of the mess, no one takes their time to observe any more. Philosophy is a lost art, even for philosophers.

It is a shame. The world could use a little bit more reflections and (fruitful)
discussions. When observing we see right things, wrong things and the blurry line between right and wrong. We learn other points of view, it becomes easier to find a middle ground. But for that, there needs to be silence. Inner silence. And a blank page. We need to be able to see the world without preconceptions. Only then the relevant questions are asked. And we need to listen to the answers, and reflect on them. There is no time anymore. No time for asking, listening, reflecting. Only time for speaking, shouting, sharing.

A discussion where all parties involved are listening is very rewarding. We don’t always agree (neither on the beginning nor the end), but we learn a lot, and that is the important thing. People should not discuss to try to convince the others of your point of view, but to learn about the other side. To try and solve problems together, in spite of disagreeing opinions. Nowadays everyone is too worried about imposing themselves. You *need* to have an opinion, you *need* to refute quickly the other side, you *need* to let other people know your opinion. This is the new smart.

When people are so eager to talk, it means they are not listening. When we don’t listen, we don’t learn and don’t evolve. And we are so much in need of some evolution…

Listening is smart, reflecting is smart, realizing you cannot have a well-founded opinion for everything is smart. Or maybe I should say wise.