At Lula’s inauguration, did Bolsonaro ‘eat the last cannibal’?


When Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, widely known as Lula, assumed the Brazilian presidency on New Year’s Day 2023, his predecessor had already created an element of something called eating the cannibal.

Slavoj Zizek, a philosophy professor at Birkbeck in London, recently described (paywall) eating the cannibal in terms of the degrading of a society’s cultural adherence to moral values and rule of law. In his Project Syndicate piece, the Professor tells the story of an explorer who encounters an aboriginal tribe for the first time. “Are there cannibals among you?” the explorer asks. “No,” reply members of the tribe, “We ate the last one yesterday.”

Professor Zizek says that eating the last cannibal is “a kind of original sin that must be erased from memory” of a society, but now, a dangerous new trend is emerging among right-wing leaders to “courageously’ dispense with this charade” and openly embrace practices that are either wrong, immoral or unsavoury. It is a form of supposed truthfulness, about which the Professor quotes another philosopher,  Alenka Zupancic.

In Zupancic’s new book, Let Them Rot, writes the Professor, she describes  leaders who take pride in their crimes “as if it amounted to some kind of fundamental moral difference or difference of character, namely, ‘having the courage,’ ‘the guts,’ to do it openly.”

So to Donald Trump’s brazen attempt to overturn an American election, to hoodwink the state and the people with falsehoods, dine with far-right racists, and to do so, openly.

And so too Lula’s precedecessor, the departing far-right president, Jair Bolsonaro, skipping an important symbolic part of the presidential inauguration ceremony. In fact, he was in Florida, demonstrably caring little for the symbolic significance of the role he should have played. For an outgoing Brazilian president to pass the green and yellow sash to his successor is considered an important symbol of the peaceful transition of power. That Mr Bolsonaro left Brazil 48 hours before the inauguration is a sign of how boldly some leaders now admit to not only eating the last cannibal but metaphorically even list the condiments they added to the meal.

As it turned out, Lula was sworn in with a mixed group of Brazilians in attendance, not least a Black woman, a disabled man, a 10-year-old boy, an Indigenous man and a factory worker, while a 33-year-old garbage collector put the sash on him.

It didn’t bring back the last cannibal, of course.