Opinion, by Michael Royster

RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – Liar, liar, pants on fire! Last week the Curmudgeon tilted at several windmills whirling busily around the work stoppages by police and firemen. And Lo! And Behold! The stoppages stopped, the workers worked. Carnival was salvaged in Salvador and rescued in Rio! Post hoc ergo propter hoc?

The Curmudgeon, also known as Michael Royster.
The Curmudgeon, also known as Michael Royster.

So, you ask, if we can’t trust the governors or the judges or the congressmen, just whom can we trust?

The first estate, i.e. clergy? Perhaps some, but quite a lot of them (think Bispo Macedo, think lots of Popes) seem to be in it mostly for the money. Quite a lot of them believe women have no rights over their own bodies, and quite a lot think that buggery is not a fit subject for the police to investigate.

The second estate, i.e. nobility? Perhaps sadly, the nobility, who used to be the governing class, haven’t had that privilege for ages, and the list of illicitudes committed by today’s nondescript nobles is long and varied.

The third estate, i.e. commoners? Now there’s a thought, workers of the world unite, you have nothing to lose but your jobs! Oh, wait! You don’t really want to work at all, do you? Your jobs are guaranteed, you can stop work anytime you want, and still be paid.
The fourth estate, i.e. journalists? The purveyors of all the news that’s NOT fit to print but brings in readers by the churlish carload (think Rupert Murdoch, think Roberto Marinho)? Oh, please!

The fifth estate, i.e. “civil society?” This term broadly includes associations of lawyers (OAB) and engineers (CREA), not to mention environmentalists and other NGO’s, even the blogosphere. In other words, people who have no actual responsibility for anything, but feel compelled to issue opinions that many of their members disagree with. Curmudgeons?

Back to trust. The Anglo-Saxon juridical system created something called a “trust.” Under a trust you, the “cestui que trust” [we didn’t make this phraseology up] deliver ownership of your property to a “trustee,” so that you are no longer the titular (official) owner, you are “only” the beneficial owner. U.S. banks are great fans of trusts, most call themselves the “Something National Bank and Trust Co.”

Brazil, unsurprisingly, does not have the legal concept of a trust, despite determined efforts by international bankers to impose it. The reason is quite straightforward—Brazilians simply do not trust anybody at all, not their family and (most certainly) not their bankers, to hold their property in benefit for them. What Brazil and other civil law jurisdictions have is the mirror image of a trust, called “usufruct.” The owner retains title, and doesn’t have to trust anybody. This is largely because in Brazil the rule of law is only occasionally honored. The key phrase here is: “for my friends, everything, for my enemies, the law!”

So, if you want to know whom you can trust, the only really good answer is: yourself. Listen to all five estates: clergy, nobility, commoners, journalists and civil society NGO’s, but make up your own mind, remembering always Dooley’s Law: “Trust everybody… But cut the cards!”

Michael Royster, aka THE CURMUDGEON first saw Rio forty-plus years ago, moved here thirty-plus years ago, still loves it, notwithstanding being a charter member of the most persecuted minority in (North) America today, the WASPs (google it!)(get over it!)


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