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Leituras comentadas, fevereiro de 2017

Fevereiro foi um mês de leituras variadas. O principal tema foi empatia e seus limites.

1 (9). Nineteen eighty four, de George Orwell, 1949, inglês.
2 (10). Strangers drowning: impossible idealism, drastic choices, and the urge to help, de Larissa MacFarquhar, 2015, inglês.
3 (11). Opening Skinner’s box: great psychology experiments of the Twentieth Century, de Lauren Slater, 2004, inglês.
4 (12). Against empathy: the case for rational compassion, de Paul Bloom, 2016, inglês.
5 (13). The marshmallow test: understanding self-control and how to master it, de Walter Mischel, 2014, inglês.
6 (14). Gravity and grace, de Simone Weil, 1942, França. [Trad: Emma Craufurd, 1952.]
7 (15). Inside of a dog: what dogs see, smell, and know, de Alexandra Horowitz, 2010, inglês.

* * *

1 (9). Nineteen eighty four, de George Orwell, 1949, inglês.


Uma leitura que eu estava adiando há anos, em homenagem aos novos tempos distópicos que estamos vivendo.

(Embora, claro, nosso presente parece mais com a distopia de Bravo Novo Mundo, que é o próximo da lista.)

Estou adorando — não terminei ainda, vou lendo gostosamente devagar.

Minha edição é essa da Penguin, com a graça de ter o título rasurado.

* * *
2 (10). Strangers drowning: impossible idealism, drastic choices, and the urge to help, de Larissa MacFarquhar, 2015, inglês.

strangers drowning

Todo mundo, dentro dos limites do razoável, ajuda as outras pessoas.

Esse livro é sobre as pessoas que ajudam as outras além do limite do razoável. Que realmente valorizam tanto pessoas estranhas quanto as pessoas de suas famílias. Que realmente largaram tudo mesmo.

Quando se está em guerra, é aceitável que a moralidade do dia-a-dia não seja mais válida, que façamos sacríficios inauditos, extremados.

Esse livro é sobre as pessoas que, para todos os fins e efeitos, vivem em estado de guerra. Que não descansam porque sabem que, agora, nesse momento, tem alguém precisando de sua ajuda.

Um livro fortíssimo. Para a gente entender o Altruísmo com A maiúsculo. Para a gente entender nossos próprios limites.

Abaixo, um trecho que é um desafio:

In 1906, the philosopher William James gave a speech titled “The Moral Equivalent of War.” James had come to realize, he said, that pacifists like himself had been so caught up in deploring the gore and violence and waste of war that they failed to see that these arguments never even touched their opponents. “The military party denies neither the bestiality nor the horror, nor the expense,” he said. “It only says that war is worth them; that, taking human nature as a whole, its wars are its best protection against its weaker and more cowardly self.” What pacifists didn’t understand was that it was not just the base desires for mastery and plunder that drove nations to battle. The soldier lived in extremis, a hard, strenuous, courageous life, and was prepared to sacrifice everything. To such a person, peacetime could seem like a lazy, soft, degenerate existence, with no purpose higher than the pursuit of pleasure, and in which nothing more was required of a man than to leave his neighbor alone. “Where is the sharpness and precipitousness, the contempt for life, whether one’s own or another’s?” James imagined this soldier asking. “Where is the savage ‘yes’ and ‘no,’ the unconditional duty?” There was, James felt, something deeply right about this military contempt. If war was ever to end, there must be something as honorable, and as difficult, to take its place. Such a thing was not unthinkable: why should it be only in wartime that people felt bound to risk their lives for something larger than themselves? James proposed a peacetime conscription to hard labor—“to coal and iron mines, to freight trains, to fishing fleets in December, to dishwashing, clotheswashing, and windowwashing, to road-building and tunnel-making, to foundries and stoke-holes”—that would both toughen up a country’s youth and go some way toward righting the unfairness by which some people lived a life of ease while others were humiliated by poverty. Why shouldn’t people be spurred to action as much by the existing shame of their country’s injustices as they are by the threatened shame of conquest? he wondered. Why shouldn’t the commitment and fellowship and urgency of war be grafted onto the morality of ordinary times? …

What do-gooders lack is not happiness but innocence. They lack that happy blindness that allows most people, most of the time, to shut their minds to what is unbearable. Do-gooders have forced themselves to know, and keep on knowing, that everything they do affects other people, and that sometimes (though not always) their joy is purchased with other people’s joy. And, remembering that, they open themselves to a sense of unlimited, crushing responsibility. …

[Our] partial blindness is chosen and forced and never quite convincing. It takes a strong stomach to see the world’s misery, feel a sense of duty to do something about it, and then say to yourself, I have done enough, now I’m going to shut my eyes and close my ears and turn my back. Do-gooders who last have strong stomachs. …

What would the world be like if everyone thought like a do-gooder? What would it be like if that happy, useful blindness fell away and suddenly everyone became aware, not just intellectually but vividly, of all the world’s affliction? What if everyone felt obliged to put aside the work he had chosen and do something about that affliction instead? What if everyone decided that spontaneity or self-expression or certain kinds of beauty or certain kinds of freedom were less vital, or less urgent, than relieving other people’s pain? What if everyone stopped believing it was his duty to protect and comfort and give to his family as much as he could, no matter what, and started thinking that his family was no more important or valuable than anyone else’s?

* * *

3 (11). Opening Skinner’s box: great psychology experiments of the Twentieth Century, de Lauren Slater, 2004, inglês.

opening skinners box

Em diversos textos das Prisões, eu cito alguns desses clássicos experimentos da psicologia. O bom desse livro foi a seleção dos mais significativos do século XX. Mas confesso que detestei o estilo da autora.

Essa série de posts, Experimentos de Psicologia, em um blog brasileiro, que li de graça, valeu muito mais a pena do que esse livro — que, aliás, só li porque foi recomendado pelo Rodolfo, autor dos textos.

* * *

4 (12). Against empathy: the case for rational compassion, de Paul Bloom, 2016, inglês.

against empathy

A Prisão Empatia já estava quase escrita quando saiu esse livro, em dezembro de 2016. É a primeira vez que são reunidos, em um livro só, uma década de argumentos e reflexões antiempatia sendo articuladas por aqui e por ali. De maneira geral, concordo com o autor em quase tudo.

Basicamente, como tantos livros de não-ficção hoje em dia, ele é a versão expandida de um artigo, “Baby in the well“, que saiu na New Yorker em 2013. Todas as ideias e conclusões do autor já estão no artigo: o livro acrescenta somente a bibliografia relevante. (O que pra mim já valeu a pena a leitura.)


The problems we face as a society and as individuals are rarely due to lack of empathy. Actually, they are often due to too much of it. … I want to make a case for the value of conscious, deliberative reasoning in everyday life, arguing that we should strive to use our heads rather than our hearts.We can override, deflect, and overrule our passions, and we often should do so. It’s not hard to see this for feelings like anger and hate—it’s clear that these can lead us astray, that we do better when they don’t rule us and when we are capable of circumventing them. But it would really nail down the case in favor of rationality to show that it’s true as well for something as seemingly positive as empathy. That is one of the reasons I have written this book. …

Empathy is a spotlight focusing on certain people in the here and now. This makes us care more about them, but it leaves us insensitive to the long-term consequences of our acts and blind as well to the suffering of those we do not or cannot empathize with. Empathy is biased, pushing us in the direction of parochialism and racism. It is shortsighted, motivating actions that might make things better in the short term but lead to tragic results in the future. It is innumerate, favoring the one over the many. It can spark violence; our empathy for those close to us is a powerful force for war and atrocity toward others. It is corrosive in personal relationships; it exhausts the spirit and can diminish the force of kindness and love. …

I will argue that our empathy causes us to overrate present costs and underrate future costs. This skews our decisions so that if, say, we are faced with a choice where one specific child will die now or twenty children whose names we don’t know will die a year from now, empathy might guide us to choose to save the one. To me, this is a problem with empathy. …

It’s not that empathy itself automatically leads to kindness. Rather, empathy has to connect to kindness that already exists. Empathy makes good people better, then, because kind people don’t like suffering, and empathy makes this suffering salient. …

[D]oing actual good, instead of doing what feels good, requires dealing with complex issues and being mindful of exploitation from competing, sometimes malicious and greedy, interests. To do so, you need to step back and not fall into empathy traps. The conclusion is not that one shouldn’t give, but rather that one should give intelligently, with an eye toward consequences.

* * *

5 (13). The marshmallow test: understanding self-control and how to master it, de Walter Mischel, 2014, inglês.

Marshmallow Test

Um famoso experimento: coloque crianças em uma sala com um doce. Diga a elas que podem comer o doce mas, se quando você voltar, não tiverem comido, ganham dois doces. E saia da sala.

Em média, as crianças que conseguiram se segurar tiveram mais sucesso na vida em todos os aspectos mensuráveis. (Naturalmente, os aspectos mensuráveis são sempre os menos importantes, mas vá lá.)

Para mim, uma das conclusões mais interessantes do livro foi a seguinte: considerando que todas as crianças são agentes racionais, por que algumas têm tão mais autocontrole do que outras?

Em larga medida, as crianças com menos autocontrole vinham de lares cagados, com pais e mães problemáticas, violentas, mentirosas.

Faz sentido: se você já aprendeu a não confiar em pessoas adultas, melhor comer logo o doce do que se sacrificar por uma promessa que provavelmente não será cumprida.

Para quem estiver interessada, o livro saiu aqui no Brasil ano passado.



Autocontrole é uma habilidade, como qualquer outra, que podemos usar em algumas situações e não usar em outras:

President Clinton had the self-control and delay ability to win a Rhodes scholarship, attain a Yale law degree, and be elected to the U.S. presidency, apparently combined with little desire — perhaps no ability, and certainly no willingness — to exert self-control for particular temptations like junk food and attractive White House interns. …

To be able to delay gratification and exert self-control is an ability, a set of cognitive skills, that, like any ability, can be used or not used depending primarily on the motivation to use it. …

Can I predict how my colleague — who is known as “the loose cannon” at department meetings — behaves at home with his children? To my own surprise, study after rigorous study failed to support the core trait assumption: people high in a trait in one kind of situation often were low in that trait in another type of situation. …

When asked “Who is the real Bill Clinton?” my long answer was that he is highly conscientious and self-controlled in some contexts, but not in others; both sides of him are real. If you want to add up all his conscientious behaviors regardless of the context, he will, on average, be highly conscientious — although how high depends on whom you compare him with. And how you decide to evaluate his overall behavior, as well as whether or not you like or respect his If-Then patterns, depends on you.

* * *

Talvez mais importante, dá para comprovar que utilizar autocontrole demais em uma coisa GASTA o nosso “estoque” de autocontrole para outras coisas:

Evidence for this idea surfaced in a classic experiment that has become the prototype for studying ego depletion. College students taking introductory psychology at Case Western Reserve University in Ohio were required to participate in psychology experiments as part of their course, and those who went to Professor Baumeister’s laboratory for their course requirement were put into the Radish Experiment.2 The students arrived hungry because they had been told to fast before coming. Once in the lab, they were asked to force themselves to forgo the tempting chocolate chip cookies and candy and eat some radishes instead. Right after that they were asked to work on geometry problems that were actually impossible to solve. The study showed that they quit much sooner than the students who had been allowed to eat the cookies and candy.

* * *

Resumo do livro:

When I am asked to summarize the fundamental message from research on self-control, I recall Descartes’s famous dictum cogito, ergo sum — “I think, therefore I am.” What has been discovered about mind, brain, and self-control lets us move from his proposition to “I think, therefore I can change what I am.” Because by changing how we think, we can change what we feel, do, and become. If that leads to the question “But can I really change?,” I reply with what George Kelly said to his therapy clients when they kept asking him if they could get control of their lives. He looked straight into their eyes and said, “Would you like to?”

* * *
6 (14). Gravity and grace, de Simone Weil, 1942, França. [Trad: Emma Craufurd, 1952.]

gravity grace 2

Uma das pessoas que mais amo na humanidade inteira, no passado e no presente.

Como Simone Weil é linda, forte, sensível. Como ela se entrega em cada frase. Como seu raciocínio é límpido, implacável.

Tenho vontade de abraçá-la, de apoiá-la, de aprender com ela, de salvar sua vida.

Uma das pensadoras mais radicalmente originais de todos os tempos. O cerne de todas as contradições filosóficas do século XIX, explodindo em pleno XX.

Todo mundo deveria ler, conhecer, amar Simone Weil.

Existem duas Simones: a primeira, pensadora política, de esquerda, que colocou seu corpo na reta, foi trabalhar numa fábrica; a segunda, depois da conversão, pensadora religiosa, autoimolada em solidariedade às vítimas da guerra. As duas, na verdade, são a mesma pessoa, em uma mudança belíssima de acompanhar.

A única edição brasileira de Simone Weil é essa, uma coletânea simplesmente maravilhosa, cujo único defeito (que não é realmente um defeito) é privilegiar demais a Simone política-esquerdista e quase não mostrar a pensadora religiosa.

Por outro lado, quase todas edições anglófonas de Weil priorizam fortemente seus textos religiosos em detrimento dos políticos, como é o caso dessa que eu li em fevereiro, Gravity and Grace.

Cada um escolhe sua Simone Weil preferida.

Eu me apaixonei pelos seus textos políticos e hoje, cada vez mais religioso, amo também a Simone teológica.

* * *

Simone não publicou quase nada em vida. Gravity and Grace é a transcrição de um caderno que ela deixou para trás em uma casa por onde passou. (O quão foda tem que ser uma pessoa para seus pensamentos desconjuntados e rascunhados em um caderno serem incríveis?)

Abaixo, alguns trechos.

Ao ler, tenham em mente

1) que são anotações esparsas rascunhadas em um caderno (por exemplo, quando usa um imperativo, Weil está provavelmente falando consigo mesmo, apontando um dedo para suas próprias falhas);

2) que tinha apenas 32 anos; e,

3) que era, com certeza, completamente, brilhantemente, divinamente  louca.

* * *

The Self:

We possess nothing in the world – a mere chance can strip us of everything – except the power to say “I”. That is what we have to give to God – in other words, to destroy. There is absolutely no other free act which it is given us to accomplish – only the destruction of the “I”. …

Humility consists in knowing that in what we call “I” there is no source of energy by which we can rise. Everything without exception which is of value in me comes from somewhere other than myself, not as a gift but as a loan which must be ceaselessly renewed. Everything without exception which is in me is absolutely valueless; and, among the gifts which have come to me from elsewhere, everything which I appropriate becomes valueless immediately I do so.

* * *

The mysticism of work:

Monotony is the most beautiful or the most atrocious thing. The most beautiful if it is a reflection of eternity – the most atrocious if it is the sign of an unvarying perpetuity. It is time surpassed or time sterilized. The circle is the symbol of monotony which is beautiful, the swinging of a pendulum of monotony which is atrocious. …

Only the cycle contains the truth. A squirrel turning in its cage and the rotation of the celestial sphere – extreme misery and extreme grandeur. It is when man sees himself as a squirrel turning round and round in a circular cage that, if he does not lie to himself, he is close to salvation. …

The great hardship in manual work is that we are compelled to expend our efforts for such long hours simply in order to exist. The slave is he to whom no good is proposed as the object of his labour except mere existence.

To strive from necessity and not for some good – driven not drawn – in order to maintain our existence just as it is – that is always slavery. In this sense the slavery of manual workers is irreducible. Effort without finality. It is terrible – or the most beautiful thing of all – if it is finality without an end. The beautiful alone enables us to be satisfied by that which is. Workers need poetry more than bread. They need that their life should be a poem. They need some light from eternity. Religion alone can be the source of such poetry. …

Slavery is work without any light from eternity, without poetry, without religion. … Work is like a death if it is without an incentive. …

Joys parallel to fatigue: tangible joys, eating, resting, the pleasures of Sunday… but not money. No poetry concerning the people is authentic if fatigue does not figure in it, and the hunger and thirst which come from fatigue.

* * *

Attention and will:

Extreme attention is what constitutes the creative faculty in man and the only extreme attention is religious. The amount of creative genius in any period is strictly in proportion to the amount of extreme attention and thus of authentic religion at that period. …

Attention alone – that attention which is so full that the “I” disappears – is required of me. I have to deprive all that I call “I” of the light of my attention and turn it on to that which cannot be conceived. The capacity to drive a thought away once and for all is the gateway to eternity. The infinite in an instant. …

The poet produces the beautiful by fixing his attention on something real. It is the same with the act of love. To know that this man who is hungry and thirsty really exists as much as I do – that is enough, the rest follows of itself. The authentic and pure values – truth, beauty and goodness – in the activity of a human being are the result of one and the same act, a certain application of the full attention to the object. Teaching should have no aim but to prepare, by training the attention, for the possibility of such an act. All the other advantages of instruction are without interest. …

Method for understanding images, symbols, etc. Not to try to interpret them, but to look at them till the light suddenly dawns. Generally speaking, a method for the exercise of the intelligence, which consists of looking. …

Solitude. Where does its value lie? For in solitude we are in the presence of mere matter (even the sky, the stars, the moon, trees in blossom), things of less value (perhaps) than a human spirit. Its value lies in the greater possibility of attention. If we could be attentive to the same degree in the presence of a human being.

* * *


The extinction of desire (Buddhism) – or detachment – or amor fati – or desire for the absolute good – these all amount to the same: to empty desire, finality of all content, to desire in the void, to desire without any wishes. …

Attachment is a manufacturer of illusions and whoever wants reality ought to be detached. As soon as we know that something is real we can no longer be attached to it. Attachment is no more nor less than an insufficiency in our sense of reality. We are attached to the possession of a thing because we think that if we cease to possess it, it will cease to exist. A great many people do not feel with their whole soul that there is all the difference in the world between the destruction of a town and their own irremediable exile from that town.

* * *


Among human beings, only the existence of those we love is fully recognized. Belief in the existence of other human beings as such is love. … That is why the only organ of contact with existence is acceptance, love. That is why beauty and reality are identical. That is why joy and the sense of reality are identical.

Every desire for enjoyment belongs to the future and the world of illusion, whereas if we desire only that a being should exist, he exists: what more is there to desire? The beloved being is then naked and real, not veiled by an imaginary future. …

[T]he love we devote to the dead is perfectly pure. For it is the desire for a life which is finished, which can no longer give anything new. We desire that the dead man should have existed, and he has existed.

To desire friendship is a great fault. Friendship should be a gratuitous joy like those afforded by art or life. We must refuse it so that we may be worthy to receive it. … It is one of those things which are added unto us. Every dream of friendship deserves to be shattered. It is not by chance that you have never been loved. … To wish to escape from solitude is cowardice. Friendship is not to be sought, not to be dreamed, not to be desired; it is to be exercised (it is a virtue). ….

Do not allow yourself to be imprisoned by any affection. Keep your solitude. …

[G]ratitude must not in any degree constitute an attachment, for that is the gratitude proper to dogs. Gratitude is first of all the business of him who helps, if the help is pure. It is only by virtue of reciprocity that it is due from him who is helped.

* * *


We want everything which has a value to be eternal. Now everything which has a value is the product of a meeting, lasts throughout this meeting and ceases when those things which met are separated. … It leads straight to God. …

The theories about progress and the ‘genius which always pierces through’, arise from the fact that it is intolerable to suppose that what is most precious in the world should be given over to chance. It is because it is intolerable that it ought to be contemplated. Creation is this very thing. The only good which is not subject to chance is that which is outside the world. The vulnerability of precious things is beautiful because vulnerability is a mark of existence.

* * *

7 (15). Inside of a dog: what dogs see, smell, and know, de Alexandra Horowitz, 2010, inglês.


Um livro delicioso sobre cachorros, como percebem o mundo e como nos manipulam:

Look a dog in the eyes and you get the definite feeling that he is looking back. Dogs return our gaze. Their look is more than just setting eyes on us; they are looking at us in the same way that we look at them. The importance of the dog’s gaze, when it is directed at our faces, is that gaze implies a frame of mind. It implies attention. A gazer is both paying attention to you and, possibly, paying attention to your own attention.

(Aliás, o livro já foi publicado no Brasil.)

Para mim, a sacação mais interessante foi a seguinte. Cachorros são algumas vezes considerados menos inteligentes que lobos pois desistem facilmente de algumas tarefas, enquanto lobos insistem até conseguir. Mas os cães não realmente desistem: se houver algum humano por perto, eles vão até eles e fazem aquela cara de cachorro fofo.

Pois os cachorros têm uma arma secreta que os lobos não conhecem: eles conseguem fazer com que nós, humanos. façamos as coisas por eles!

Tested on their ability to, say, get a bit of food in a well-closed container, wolves keep trying and trying, and if the test is not rigged they eventually succeed through trial and error. Dogs, by contrast, tend to go at the container only until it appears that it won’t easily be opened. Then they look at any person in the room and begin a variety of attention-getting and solicitation behaviors until the person relents and helps them get into the box. …

By standard intelligence tests, the dogs have failed at the puzzle. I believe, by contrast, that they have succeeded magnificently. They have applied a novel tool to the task. We are that tool. Dogs have learned this—and they see us as fine general-purpose tools, too: useful for protection, acquiring food, providing companionship. We solve the puzzles of closed doors and empty water dishes. In the folk psychology of dogs, we humans are brilliant enough to extract hopelessly tangled leashes from around trees; we can magically transport them to higher or lower heights as needed; we can conjure up an endless bounty of foodstuffs and things to chew. How savvy we are in dogs’ eyes! It’s a clever strategy to turn to us after all. The question of the cognitive abilities of dogs is thereby transformed: dogs are terrific at using humans to solve problems, but not as good at solving problems when we’re not around.

* * *

Convenções da lista

Título, autor, data da escritura, idioma original. (organizador, tradutor, data da organização e/ou tradução) data da leitura.

Quando são dadas várias traduções de uma mesma obra, a primeira foi a principal e as demais usadas para cotejo.

Considero um livro “lido” e acrescento nessa lista quando li o suficiente sobre ele para sentir que posso escrever sobre ele sem estar blefando: o critério é subjetivo e varia de obra a obra.

* * *

A mesma ressalva de sempre

Fazer listas de livros reforça uma ideia que considero muito problemática:

Que “ler é bom”, que todas deveríamos “ler mais”, que ler é uma atividade intrinsecamente melhor do que a maioria das outras, etc.

Mas ler um livro não é mérito, não é vantagem alguma, não é algo para se gabar.

Mais importante, simplesmente ter lido um livro não significa que a pessoa leitora o entendeu, que tirou dele qualquer coisa de relevante, bela, prazeirosa ou útil.

Listar os livros que eu li faz tanto sentido quando listar os vagões de metrô que eu viajei. (Aliás, quase sempre, o 1022 e o 1026, que operam na linha um e são os últimos vagões de suas composições.)

E daí, não?

Apesar disso, incrivelmente, as pessoas pedem e perguntam.

Enfim, a verdade é que trabalho com livros. Para mim, pessoalmente, esse tipo de lista é relevante e me ajuda a sistematizar as leituras.

Então, apesar do efeito negativo de divulgar listas assim, esses foram alguns dos livros que li em fevereiro de 2017.

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