by Lou Mancinelli
The 1960s were a time in Portugal when the landowning ruling classes oppressed the laboring classes. There existed a strange dichotomy where Portugal owned a colonial empire in Africa much larger than itself, yet was still a nation dependent on trade with Britain. A weakness the ruling classes deflected on the poor.
Civil Rights was an unknown term among city youths in Lisbon, the nation’s capital. There was effective, all-encompassing censorship of more than books. It was illegal for people to organize.
“I think that has played an important role in my being a social analyst,” said 71-year-old Drexel University sociology professor Diamantino (“Tino”) Machado, Ph.D., a long-time Chestnut Hill resident.
His social analysis led him to the belief that the competitiveness of capitalism poses a threat to the human species and that capitalism does not so much satisfy human needs as it does the need for profits.
Machado was raised in a poor neighborhood by his mother after his father left the two when Machado was three and died when the boy was nine. His illiterate mother worked as a fishmonger, and at 11, Machado started to work 10-hour days to pay for the school he attended at night.
This kind of rigorous schedule was not unusual for Machado’s peers, many of whom dreamed of emigrating to Brazil, other Latin American countries or the U.S., where they imagined they could leave behind squalid conditions, find work and lead a comfortable life.
Machado also wanted to improve his material conditions, but as a teenager he started thinking more about questions like ‘Why is life the way I see it?’ as opposed to emigrating. Why was his nation ruled by such a small group of people? He discovered the work of French philosopher and writer Michel Foucault, who became Machado’s intellectual mentor.
At 19, Machado joined the Portuguese Air Force, where he did a three-year stint, and afterwards went to work in a publishing company. At times, secret police entered the publishing quarters without announcement and seized boxes full of “forbidden” books. But employees often shoved a few copies aside for their own reading, like “Tropic of Cancer.”
Perhaps it was the literature that emboldened Machado’s vision of what life was or could be. At 23 he became fed up with the political and economic systems governing his life. It was 1965, and American kids were feeling the same way. It’s the year Bob Dylan said “I ain’t gonna work on Maggie’s farm no more.” But in Portugal, amidst the dictatorship of Oliver Salazar, thousands of disenfranchised kids left seeking greater liberty in other countries.
Machado himself planned to go to Stockholm, where he might be granted political asylum. But in Paris he met Virginia Knox, an Irish-American girl from Philadelphia. The two decided to marry. They went to Lisbon, where Machado introduced the girl to his family, and the couple married in a 500-year-old Irish-Dominican Catholic church.
After four months in Lisbon Machado realized his inability to provide his wife with a quality standard of living. They arrived in the U.S. on Dec. 22, 1965, and lived at Knox’s parents’ home in Chestnut Hill, where after living for several years at East Oak Lane they now live again.
Machado, who learned English from reading subtitles in movies, started to work in the banking industry where he was exposed to the mechanisms of political economy and the theories of profit.
In 1967 his daughter was born, and a son was born in 1969. In addition to his day job, Machado worked at night for a credit department calling people about their unpaid bills when he realized people he worked with had been in the same desperate financial position for many years.
He knew he had to make a change, so he decided to go to school. In 1971 Machado left banking and went to work for the Philadelphia Redevelopment Authority. It enabled him to attend night school, earning his bachelor’s degree (cum laude) in sociology from La Salle University in 1977 and his master’s degree in sociology in 1980 from Temple University.
Machado spent the 1980s as a gypsy intellectual moving between teaching classes at different area universities. In between working and raising a family, Machado worked on his dissertation for a number of years, earning his Ph.D. in sociology from Temple in 1989. His dissertation, “The Structure of Portuguese Society; the Failure of Fascism,” was published in book form by Praeger Press. He has also published several articles on political theory and sociology and has participated in several professional conferences.
Since 1999 he has taught at Drexel, where he first taught in 1983. Machado has dedicated his intellectual and academic activities to studying social structures and the arrangement of power and economics.
His critical thinking has led to his profound ethical, moral and philosophical problems with an unregulated capitalistic system, and he questions the basic principles on which the system is based, as enunciated by such thinkers as Adam Smith, David Ricardo and Thomas Hobbes. For Smith, capitalism was the most rational economic system because it encouraged people to act according to their own self-interest and rewarded them for doing so.
“I have a profound problem with telling youths we are self-maximizers,” said Machado about the capitalist claim that the desire for profits is simply a matter of human nature. Rather, he maintains that humans can be motivated by self-interest but also by altruism, depending on the values by which the individual has been molded. “Is to be self-maximizing in agreement with Christianity?” asked Machado rhetorically. “Change is not possible not because of human nature, but because change is against the interest of those in power.”
Machado, who became a U.S. citizen in 1969, thinks the U.S. has moved away from the type of state that provides for its workers towards a totalitarian economic system. He cited the Scandinavian countries as examples of alternative models.
“I’m not interested in radicalism,” he said. “I’m not interested in communism or socialism … We need critical thinkers. As long as we face a discrepancy between what we think and what we do, we need people to remind us of our hypocrisy, and we need to respect young minds.”