Cordial man

The other day, Jason Kottke in his long-standing (specifically, for about 15 years now) blog asked people to share what they’ve been up to during the pandemic and how their families and communities are coping. He decided to share the overwhelming responses he received from all over the world within one page — which also reminded me that I should submit of how I, as a small representative sample of Malaysians, am doing. A number of responses seem universal — failing healthcare systems, a mixture of both repressed and relaxed lockdown, the disapproval over how people still manage to jog outside, and how the coronavirus manages to bring out the best and the worst in all of us. One response from Brazil caught my attention, as he talked about one anthropological term:

Cordial man is a concept by anthropologist Sergio Buarque de Holanda who suggests that Brazilians do not distinguish between public and private, that everything can be interpreted from the perspective of cordis, from the heart. His concept goes deeper to explain the relations of colonial Brazil and our greater family structure. […] Anyway, what we have in the last few days are people who disobey the recommendations to stay at home, either because they are followers of the president, or because they are uninformed or because they either need to go or return to their jobs. On the other hand, people who think it is absurd for a group to still be on the streets, even if only for a few moments, or keep the distance suggested, because it is fatally endangering the lives of other people. That is, is this not the paradox of the cordial man? Whoever is still on the streets only sees the prism from its individual perspective. But those who are at home complaining about who is on the street are concerned that the first one will steal their hospital bed or endanger the life of a loved one. At no time there is a collective understanding, but always from cordial perspectives, from cordis.

A very quick online search revealed, as the poster wrote, that the concept of the ‘cordial man’ has always been a fundamental Brazilian identity which described how Brazilians can get very, for the lack of a better word, quick-tempered depending on the situation. This Quora answer explains it well — in his example, Brazilian drivers can be very polite and warm, but if one was to cut one off disrespectfully, can erupt into a raging mood. This represents the disconnection between the warm Brazilian identity and its tendency to be far too emotionally driven — from the cordis, the heart. The poster concluded that in order for Brazilians to really grow as a nation, they need to have the balance of a rational and an emotional way of thinking — an IQ and EQ balance of sort. Two kinds of intelligence?

With my vague understanding of the concept, I feel like the disconnect of these two spectra of thinking and feeling can be applied to almost every culture. Like Brazilians, Malaysians are almost always described as kind, polite, and warm — but on the other hand, screw us up, and receive the consequences. However, I do believe there is more to this concept, and as a good English summary was hard to find, Jason shares this link.

Reading in my tabs:

  • Question to think of: Will the surveillance measures enacted during the pandemic be dismantled when they’re no longer needed? Well, “if the ability to track social contacts exists to stop a contagion, I can guarantee you it will be used to track the spread of dissent.”
  • “.. unlike the flow of capital, this virus seeks proliferation, not profit, and has, therefore, inadvertently, to some extent, reversed the direction of the flow. It has mocked immigration controls, biometrics, digital surveillance and every other kind of data analytics, and struck hardest — thus far — in the richest, most powerful nations of the world, bringing the engine of capitalism to a juddering halt.” Arundhati Roy on how the virus affects India, the whole world, and what we should do next.
  • The digital burnout was coming. The pandemic is expediting it.
  • “All around us we see camp and bunker switching places. Is the fence keeping you in or out? The barrier that keeps the perceived danger contained (camp) versus the one that keeps it out (bunker) may look like identical architectural forms.” 18 lessons of quarantine urbanism.
  • “As we isolate ourselves physically, we congregate digitally at a new scale, with Zoom gatherings and chat threads. The memes of this moment function as a digital danse macabre, a space for us to process the ongoing threat and its effects on seemingly everyone in the world, from the most powerful to the most humble.” An Xiao Mina on digital danse macabrethe dance of death that emerged during the ongoing threat of the bubonic plague in the Middle Ages — during the coronavirus pandemic.
  • Wow what? We may have spotted a parallel universe going backwards in time.
  • “We have reached a crossroads, we have emerged from what we assumed was normality, things have suddenly overturned. One of our main tasks now – especially those of us who are not sick, are not frontline workers, and are not dealing with other economic or housing difficulties – is to understand this moment, what it might require of us, and what it might make possible.”
  • Can we pretend / the pain is gone / and go our merry way?”


  • Reading: Gabriel Garcia-Marquez’s Strange Pilgrims.
  • Viewing: 13 levels of beatboxing complexity.
  • Listening: The songs that came up in my Spotify’s Discover Weekly this week.
  • Food & Drink: I was thinking of bihun sup (noodle soup) after my friend Alia sent me a picture of the one she made at home, so I made my own too.

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