I only know that I know nothing | Opinion

The more I read, the less certain I am, but the more secure I feel in the world because the knowledge that is acquired, and that sometimes we think we have forgotten, is always somewhere on the threshold of consciousness and ready to emerge when circumstances require it. Or at least that’s what we want to believe, although for that to happen you have to read (books) like Virginia Woolf did: “with a pen and a notebook”; or “read as if she were writing it [o livro]”. In short, it takes work, but it is work that gives pleasure. If you don’t do it, it’s useless, because more than showing knowledge or having assertive opinions, the search for knowledge in itself, the curiosity to understand the world and our fellow people, both through literature and through philosophy or scientific popularization, should be enough.

How do I move from here to a comment on the subject of the Government’s housing policy? Because a reading with a notebook and pencil coincided with the viewing of a video where Cotrim Figueiredo adapted, perhaps unconsciously, the famous words of Martin Niemoller“First came the communists […] then they came to the Jews…” – updating it to: “Today it’s houses, tomorrow it’s cars, then it’s electrical appliances and, if someone has a little outfit that they don’t wear every day, they’ll also have to borrow it”.

In the opinion of Cotrim Figueiredo, the Minister of Housing is following a path of “erosion of individual rights” wanting now to end the right to private property. According to the former leader of IL “the right to property is not to continue to be the owner, it is to do what you want, within the law of course, with the property that is ours.”

It so happened that at the same time I was reading A Different History of the Worldby Fernando Trías de Bes, where I pointed out this paragraph:

Private property is not just an invention, it is a natural consequence of four human characteristics: neglect in the conservation of common goods; corruption and personal exploitation of things with unassigned ownership; the insatiability of the human being; and the need for incentives that justify individual effort or work.”

However, Trías de Bes also points out that the creation of private property was in the interest of the States, which in this way could collect more taxes, stating that “The irrefutable proof that private property was favored in the interests of the powers of States or kingdoms is that most countries today include in their Constitutions the possibility of revoking private property.”, as is clear in point 2 of Article 62 of the Portuguese Constitution:

  1. Everyone is guaranteed the right to private property and its transmission in life or death, under the terms of the Constitution.
  2. Requisition and expropriation for public purposes can only be carried out based on the law and upon payment of fair compensation.

In the case of the current law and the new proposal by the Government in the Mais Habitação plan, the first of the characteristics that Trías de Bes indicates that led to the creation of private property can be reversed against it, taking into account that in the case of vacant houses the “neglect in conservation” is not common goods, but a private good that contributes to a common problem.

However, the Government’s proposal for coercive leasing, according to the minister herself, “is not a requisition, it is an administrative possession”, and the pragmatic contours of its application, although they already allow for assertive manifestations of both support and rejection, are still far from being defined. For this reason, I limit my powers of political and administrative analysis here to considering all the elements, but I never cease to be amazed at the ability (or is it a condition) sine qua non?) of those who present themselves in the public sphere to have unshakable convictions.

And if there were no people with unshakable convictions, there would be no politics, no governments. As the recent Cesop study for PÚBLICO-RTP-Antena 1 demonstrates, 53% of Portuguese think the Government is “bad” or “very bad”, but 70% consider that it should govern until the end of its mandate. Does this mean that, regardless of the certainties expressed on social networks, when you look at practice, the situation changes? Or just, as defended by Manuel Carvalho in his February 23 editorial, this reflects a crisis in the opposition and the Portuguese “want to be left alone. And that someone governs, preferably”?

To end with another connection that is made between what is read, seen and heard, at this same time of reading Trías de Bes, I watched an episode of the series 1923 in which Harrison Ford’s character teaches his nephew a lesson after leaving some enemies with ropes around their necks on top of their own horses. According to the character, their survival would depend on the loyalty of the horses and luck, but she hoped that one would live to tell the story so that his enemies would know what can happen to them when they mess with him.

Clearly, Ford’s character has not read (even if it were fictionally possible and not anachronistic) Fernando Trías de Bes, as soon as he began his Different History of the World he claims:

Envy brought violence; violence brought revenge; revenge brought fear of reprisal; the fear of retaliation brought about the exchange; and exchange brought freedom. These are the foundations, the instincts that began to determine and condition the future of humanity.”

I haven’t seen any more episodes yet, but I’m sure the cowboy survivor of that punishment will waste no time in retaliating. If it weren’t like that, we wouldn’t have movies and television series.

Sometimes, given the assertiveness of most of those around me, I worry that I don’t have convictions, but questions. Could being in a permanent state of Socratic ignorance be a path to tolerance? Or is it a path to detachment and relativism? I’m not sure.

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