Transposing emblem by Sebastião Sem

Life in Portugal isn’t fraught with incerteza. I’m sure that many of my conterrâneos, my fellow countrymen and women, would vehemently disagree. We’re a people of pessimists by nature, and, not unlike other people, we tend towards being very critical of our own country, our terra. Despite this, I often feel like I am an optimist, which might help to explain my opening statement, but I also feel that I arrive at that optimism by a sort of essentially pessimistic way of thinking, by going over the top, as it were – «if it’s all pointless, why not try to give it a good go, right?»

Viano Do Castelo, Portugal – Cell-walking

Getting back to my original point, people in Portugal aren’t subject to any more uncertainty than people anywhere else in the developed world. The national public healthcare system – the Serviço Nacional de Saúde, or SNS as we usually call it – for all its issues, is fairly good, despite being chronically underfunded (but then again, what public healthcare system isn’t?). The fear of crime and violence is also almost non-existent, and those two things seem mostly limited to certain urban pockets, well-known and thus easily avoidable for most.

Lisbon, Portugal – On the street

The big uncertainty in most people’s lives is, undoubtedly, the economy. We’re fresh out of the biggest economic depression in our lives, hopefully. The greatest manifestation of this economic anxiety in Portugal was, and continues to be, the emigration of literally hundreds of thousands of young people. Economic anxiety, although apt, is maybe not the best descriptor: what I’m talking about is really uncertainty in regard to opportunity. In the aftermath of 2008, there was a widespread feeling that opportunities in Portugal were lacking in several ways. They were, for one, literally lacking, that is, there was a huge shortage of employment. But an important factor was also the quality of the opportunities that did exist. My generation is, without a shadow of a doubt, the most highly-educated in Portuguese history, but qualified workers who remained in Portugal often had to take jobs outside of their field of expertise. And if they did find work in their chosen field, they were forced to accept very poor working conditions and an almost complete lack of job security.

Lisbon, Portugal – Cutting railway

These days there’s a huge cloud looming over all of us. I am, of course, talking about inteligência artificial, AI. Obviously, this isn’t an issue restricted solely to Portugal. But, perhaps because we didn’t really have our own Luddites, some of us have yet to learn that fundamental lesson: there is just no stopping progress. Although I am by no means a neo-Luddite, I think it’s fairly easy to empathize with those who happen to be. Besides the obvious and understandable fear for one’s livelihood, which could certainly be put at risk if we don’t change our economic systems to safeguard against the “rise of the machines” (pardon the cliché), each and every one of us is a product of how we were raised and educated. And if you’re raised and educated to work for a living, the idea of AI, even if we do manage to make the utopian turn, is somewhat frightening. I think most people, and I include myself in this group, don’t really know what they’d do with themselves if all our efforts were absolutely pointless. I feel a wave of ennui washing over me just thinking about it.

Funchal, Portugal – Questions

Portugal has a long history of great utopian thinkers who might be of service to help us envision and cope with the idea of a workless society. There is a line of thinking in Portuguese intellectual history which started with Padre António Vieira. António Vieira is the originator of the myth of the so-called Quinto Império, the Fifth Empire. This spiritual empire would be the culmination of progress, and it would be led by the Portuguese. The idea was later taken up by Fernando Pessoa, one of our greatest poetas (and by “our” here I mean humanity’s). Its most recent proponent of note was Professor Agostinho da Silva, a figure who, despite being an absolute rock star in his time (as we would say in ours), isn’t as well known today as he maybe should be.

Portugal – Fernando Pessoa

In a way, it gives me some comfort knowing that what I’m about to discuss was originally said in the early 90s. It proves that people have been giving thought to what a post-scarcity society might look like for a long time. As I was saying, in the early 90s Professor Agostinho da Silva talked about how people would soon be born into retirement. He envisioned a society of so-called vagrant poets (the expression he originally used in Portuguese, poetas vadios, isn’t completely captured by my translation, which seems almost cliché, whereas the Portuguese is rather more layered, not to mention beautiful). My hope is that those born to be vagrant poets, the generations who will be in retirement from the moment they appear in this world will be able to live without feeling that they need to work in order to justify living, which I feel is the case for most of us. Professor Agostinho da Silva also said that all men are poems and, hopefully, that’s what AI will do: let our descendants live their lives as poems.

Portimao, Portugal – Watching the river

Besides pessimism, there’s one other thing that usually characterizes the Portuguese. It’s a skill which, during the age of sailing, meant that every ship tried to enlist a Portuguese sailor (this may or may not be apocryphal). It’s our ability to desenrascar – a tough word to translate. Essentially, it means “to macgyver” (an actual English verb), that is, to get out of impossible situations with very few resources. It is easy to imagine how that would come in handy on a wooden ship traveling to unknown lands, but I mention this because, even if things aren’t as peachy as one would like after the arrival of AI in full force, I have faith in humanity’s ability to desenrascar, to macgyver our way around it. And if a Fifth Empire is in the cards, it’ll certainly be an Império do Desenrascanço. Perhaps that’s what Padre António Vieira, Fernando Pessoa and Agostinho da Silva were talking about all along.

Sebastião Sem


Photo 1:  Lisbon, Portugal – Reliefs – NVPhoto

Photo 2: Viano Do Castelo, Portugal – Cell-walking – Mimohe

Photo 3: Lisbon, Portugal – On the street – Franz

Photo 4: Lisbon, Portugal – Cutting railway – Ruben Ramos

Photo 5: Funchal, Portugal – Questions – Luis Pina Photography

Photo 6: Portugal – Fernando Pessoa – Vitoriano Braga

Photo 7: Portimao, Portugal – Watching the river – Mauro Rodrigues




Cinemblem: Perypatetik youtube channel

The Codex of Uncertainty Transposed

Awdejuk, Pawel. Niepewność – The Road to Freedom – Poland. July 2018.

Bell, Sarah. The Bushfire Drive – Australia. July 2018.

Bondarenko, Evgeny. Twenty Plus Years. August 2018.

Cajoto, Christina. The Trajectory of Life – España. August 2018.

Castañeda, Martha Corzo. Worried Workers – Peru. February 2018.

Cooleridge, Tweeney. Uncertainty in the Abstract – Slovakia. March 2018.

Cordido, Veronica. The Crib of Uncertainty – Venezuela. January 2018.

Dastan, S.A. Uncertain Waters – Turkey. March 2019.

Electra P. Aβεβαιότητα: The Enemy of Romantic Relationships – Greece. February 2018

Escandell, Andrea da Silva. Compromise – Uruguay. March 2018

Goumiri, Abdennour. Uncertainty Is All There Is – France. February 2018.

Guerrero, Marilin. Crossing the Uncertain Path of Life – Cuba. February 2018.

Guillot, Iuliana. Preparing for Change – Romania. June 2018.

Huihao, Mu. Going the Uncertain Way. July 2017.

Julber, Lillian. What Will Tomorrow Bring? – Chile. July 2018.

Kanunova, Nigina. Metamporphoses in Modern Life. June 2018.

Konbaz, Rahaf. So You Say You Want A Revolution – Syria. March 2018.

Korneeva, Kate. One We – Russia. April 2018.

Krnceska, Sofija. No Name Country – Macedonia. May 2018.

Lassa, Verónica. The Old Eastern Books of Uncertainty – Argentina. May 2018.

Lozano, Gabriela. El cuchillo de la incertidumbre : Piercing Uncertainty – México. January 2018.

Phelps, Jade. Healing Journey Pulls Us Apart – America. June 2018.

Protić, Aleksandar. Environmental Uncertainty. August 2018.

Romano, Mavi. An Uncertain Democracy – Spain. April 2018

Ranaldo, Mary. Incerto or Flexible: Italia and UK. March 2018.

Çakır, Peren. Building a Future in Times of Uncertainty – Argentina and Turkey. May 2018.

Sanmartín, Virginia. Qué Será, Será – Spain. June 2018.

Samir, Ahmed. Uncertainty in Personal Life. January 2018.

Sekulić, Jelena. Nesigurnost of the Past, Present and Future – Serbia. June 2018.

Sepi, Andreea. Uncertainties Galore – Germany. April 2018.

Sitorus, Rina. When Uncertainty Reaches the Land of Certainty – Indonesia and the Netherlands. May 2018.

Quintero, Jonay. The Fear of Not Knowing – España. January 2018.

Vuka. Lacking Uncertainty in Political Culture – Serbia. April 2018.

Zakharova, Anastasiya. LGBQT – Russia. August 2018.


Translators and writers from Uruguay, Germany, Britain, Poland, China, Argentina, Lebanon, India and other parts of the world…

Source: The Codex of Uncertainty Transposed

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