Base Camp is where visitors go to relax, unwind, and get familiar with an anthology of earlier material.

Rio de Janeiro’s Mayor: His Vision For Cities

Eduardo Paes, mayor of Rio de Janeiro, gave a TEDTalk about cities. Using Rio as an example, he listed and expanded on four “commandments” that govern the creation and sustainability of cities of the future in general.

The talk is informative and to the point, but it has also stirred controversy…

A few brief notes on the controversy. There has been a lot of negative commentary surrounding this talk, which you can view in the comments sections on TED. It presumably comes from people who are familiar with (or disaffected by) local politics, and who have something to say about how Rio was presented and represented by Mr. Paes.

I view their reaction with mixed feelings. On the one hand, I see no particular politics in this presentation and do not consider it political propaganda. A puff piece, at worst. There are a lot of informative and inspirational points one can take from it.

On the other hand, where there’s smoke there is fire. For some individuals to react so strongly, it means that things aren’t as simple as we would like them to be.

This is not necessarily a bad thing. It steers the debate where it ultimately matters. What that point is, I’m not sure.

But I can wager a guess. Brazil is a country rich in resources, an emerging market with an increasingly big role to play in global economics. It’s also a nation rocked by a murky past, political oppression, and violence. Social tension, disintegration and injustice have been plaguing it for decades, if not longer. People are disgruntled by politicians and power brokers whom they deem contentious and controversial by nature. Intense criticism is a natural byproduct of Brazilian reality. Hence the reaction to Mr. Paes’ talk.

To be honest, this presentation does come across as self-indulgent at points, too cleaned up and preppy. Perhaps this comes down to Mr. Paes’ personality, perhaps not. Perhaps there’s an agenda behind the presentation, leading up to the Olympics, part of a PR campaign, if you will. Perhaps there’s an attempt on his part to impress a savvy audience in a celebrated venue, an effort to appear professional and up to speed with the rest of the TED world.

What’s more, culture plays a role in presentations and how they’re received. Language affects how points come across. Notice, for example, the term ‘Commandments.’ It’s a little authoritarian for the times, very old school, at best. ‘Principles’ would have been more apt, in English anyway.

The same goes for the term ‘govern,’ which Mr. Paes uses more than once to describe his administration of the city. ‘Administer’ would have been a better choice.

Brazil and its politics may be a little more authoritarian-based than we’re comfortable with

Does this mean that Mr. Paes was lost in translation, or that he’s a closet authoritarian? Or is there something else in play?

Let’s see. Political correctness aside, the merit of which is a whole other topic, the meaning of Mr. Paess words may be more innocent than their direct English equivalents make them sound. Could be they’re just words, nothing deep or conspiratorial about them.

On the other hand, they may be reflections of the Brazilian mindset, indicative of Brazilian culture in general, the overall zeitgeist. Bearing in mind the situation on the ground, its past, its circumstances, its raw reality, one may take these terms and their meaning at face value. Brazil and its politics may be a little more authoritarian-based than we’re comfortable with. Cities could very well be ‘governed’ there, and guiding principles may be regarded and referred to as ‘commandments’ (from above) that need to be obeyed.

Thus, the issue at hand transcends the person of Mr. Paes (it’s possible), revealing a greater dynamic in play, a Brazilian situation, culturally and socio-politically, with its nuances and complications – linguistic, psychological, spiritual, and relational – in plain sight.