Thursday, September 22, 2011

Another Lousy Day for Heroes, Part II (Oppressions Birth Heroes, Corporations Breed Gods)

Read Part One here: Another Lousy Day for Heroes (Counter-Reifications)

     Yesterday, the media marked the 39th anniversary of Ferdinand Marcos' declaration of such a rule in the Philippines on September 21, 1972, a hardy rule that would officially remain until 1981. Clearly, media was trying to serve us a historical lesson towards stating a renewed "never again" slogan. And under the government of Noynoy Aquino, this commemoration had more than just an "official" context. Just a month ago, the government and media remembered the August 21, 1983 assassination and death of Benigno Aquino Jr., with tributes and quasi-tributes, while weeks previous to that, the birth of Corazon Aquino was celebrated, all this under the happy watch of the Noynoy Aquino government. Now, notice that in the time of Gloria Arroyo's corruption-tainted and subtly oppressive government, media outlets commemmorated the martial law declaration and Ninoy Aquino tribute events with a clear warning (to both government and ourselves) that seemed to be embedded in the message of the remembrances. A "never again" warning context. This time around, media is playing along, entertaining the Aquino overkill that seems to jive with its previous "never again" cause.
     (Though somewhere else this week, not covered by television, certain parties were also commemorating the assassination and death of the leftist leader Leandro Alejandro on September 19, 1987, a date only over a year into the transition centrist/coalition government of Corazon Aquino.)
     But on the 21st of September, 2011, a Marcos supporter was stating a certainty on TV, viz., that Marcos' martial law was a necessary part of history, as if to push an apology for future conditions wherein a "never again" slogan might have no weight, perhaps might even be an insult to a real hero that saved us all from communism. And perhaps he's right on a point. For, after all, like all devices available to governments, martial rule is a valid option for governance. Gloria Arroyo's February 4, 2006 Proclamation 1017 declaring a state of emergency was a quite recent though short-lived quasi-use of this option. But now-a-senator Ferdinand Marcos Jr., also interviewed for his take, said his father's recourse to the state of martial law for the Philippines is all in the past now, is all history, and the nation needs to move on. No claims on his pop being a hero there.
     Now, to a citizenry, or a group opposed to its own government, martial law goes beyond being a mere encyclopedic dot on the calendar of history. It is likewise a state of collective emotional agitation replete with dynamic action, with individual as well as communal stories attached to the tensive atmosphere such a declaration brought into the indefinite timeline of its revolution. And so, the "never again" slogan continues to carry with it the viscerality of a felt funerary song.
     But now comes the question. What if all these people who've experienced Marcos' martial law are to all grow old and consequently die soon? What happens to history? Will Proclamation № 1081 be but an encyclopedic dot to Bongbong Marcos' version of necessary history?
     How will the social causes managing their anti-Marcos and anti-martial rule positions manage their hero-symbols? Will those symbols stand the test of time?

     Despite the emotional portrayals of martial rule, and despite present time being under the reign of Noynoy Aquino's supposedly social liberal government, Martial Law is but now a phrase that looks so distant to Mega Manila's Generation Y and Generation Z (the latter sometimes informally referred to as the Business Process Outsourcing generation), almost a mere segment or part in a two-hour semi-fictional entertainment movie.
     Still, because that movie segment was part of history, there will be people who would see the necessity of portraying hero characters for that segment period. Hero characters they would be qua individuals rising above the rest in the pursuit of liberty from Ferdinand Marcos' governance of impunity.
     Thus we continue to celebrate today the names of Benigno Aquino Jr., Lorenzo Tañada, Jose Diokno, Jovito Salonga, Gerardo Roxas, among many others, and later-part anti-Marcos elements of the resistance continuum, including Edgar Jopson and Corazon Aquino.
     So much has been written about these people who have supposedly sacrificed a lot. Paeans, tributes, and---finally for the already deceased---eulogies. Public markets have been named after them. And notice that those who were with them but fell from grace under Corazon Aquino's government have been downgraded to mere mentions. Until, of course, they could come out of the wreckage, such as People Power Revolution hero Juan Ponce Enrile, seeming to regret their prodigality from Father or Mother Society. All this is understandable.
     All this is understandable because heroes, after all, are measured not just by their contributions and their forgivable flaws, but just as importantly by their symbolic significance to the times, their continuing affiliation in the eyes of those who need to appreciate that symbolic affiliation. . . .
     Always in relation to the times.

     Like all nations in the world, we champion our heroes qua symbols of our resistance and courage within our physical or philosophical territories.
     Heroes are a vital part of the maintenance of nationhood (and countryhood). They are also a vital part of governments and governance. They would even be of use to the advancement of a certain image for products circulated in consumerist society and the business sphere.
     And so it is natural for nations---and the spin doctors of ruling groups---to elevate heroes of the day or of a period of reign to hero worship status.
     And since heroes are a vital part of governance as well as governments' marketing slogans, press releases, press conferences, and ceremonies, governments allocate budgets for heroes who have to be accorded necessary spotlights, billboards, TV documentaries, books and newspaper columnist odes as well as holidays in the calendar.
     Social liberal governments have their heroes, political conservatives likewise celebrate their own. All of these heroes, dead and living, complete with awards and prizes and honorary degrees and tribute books, are placed in our social altars of ideological struggles. Communist countries, too, have their big Che Guevaras and lesser heroes (e.g. the comrade who gave more than the state's fair share of the harvest during a state of food crisis).
     We, in our day, continue to have our own sports heroes (individuals and teams). Economic heroes (whoever started the "OFWs as modern-day heroes" concept had a political philosophy in his head). Champions in the broadcasting world. A religion would have its saints that advance its own avowed virtues and achievement foci. And as comfort to the inaccesibility of certain dreams, or as tools for the catharsis of anger, or as inspiration for certain dreams that need to be elevated to the status of demigod dreams, society is advertently or inadvertently provided its superheroes and quasi-superheroes by dreamer graphic novelists and cinematic aesthetes.
     Quasi-superheroes? They're the ordinary products of a pseudo-realism portraying ordinary people who could nevertheless survive bullets of enemies with the help of agimats and simple prayers.

IT IS good to have heroes. But it is better to be aware of why they are there.
     Records of heroes in ancient struggles, as well as status quos, can be seen today in the tracts of ancient tribes and city-state civilizations.
     The Greeks advanced their own religious demigods of the Greek hero cult. Laying aside the Rastafarian Jah, present-day equivalents would be what we celebrate today as the more realistic saints. They are individuals in our faiths with human but extraordinary records supposedly unattainable to most of us who might be placed in similar extraordinary circumstances. Well, at least this is what we are told repeatedly, as if it is impossible to witness the heroism of an entire army corps placed in an extraordinary situation of fulfilling a war mission. You can't make demigods out of 40,000 men landing on a beach defended by enemy machine guns, can you? A figure or figures must stand for the collective as a sort of synecdoche for focus. A thousand posthumous medals would have to do. A dozen would be better. One would be best.
     Attached to the cult hero is the notion of self-sacrifice. And so, like the Son of Man who died for our sins, Jose Rizal and Ninoy Aquino purportedly "died for the Filipino people", with emphasis on this slogan being made to mean that their deaths were half self-planned. We will be constantly told that Rizal had no "selfish" motives in everything he did, no "childish" emulation of big brother Paciano's "heroics", no love for the "cool rebel" tag or no anger at what the Spaniards did to his mother and the Rizals' properties, no literary and other ambitions for accolade, no, none of those theories. Or, even assuming the factuality/veracity of some of those, there's hardly need to mention them. Everything he did was for the Filipino people, even his being sent away to Madrid in 1882 by the "political rebel" Paciano---to spare Jose, perhaps, from the crackdown on males during a time of a burgeoning nationalism after the Cavite Mutiny in which young Paciano was being suspected of having played some part---was not for the family but to prepare Jose for a future wherein he will serve country and people. This is the grand narrative being sent our way that, for me, bawdlerizes Rizal, the nationalist movement, and the extent of the oppressions that Rizal already felt when he was asked to drop Mercado from his family name upon enrolling at the Ateneo Municipal de Manila.
     Another highlighted mark in cult heroism is courage. Again with Rizal, the doctor's volunteering to be exiled in Cuba instead of in quiet Dapitan is not deemed worthy of much mention. On his way back to the Philippines after the order for his arrest was served by the coup of Archbishop Bernardino Nozaleda, he may have refused opportunities to escape, truly a mark of courage, but how this may have a connection to his signing a manifesto disavowing the Katipunan while in jail at Fort Santiago is also not discussed much, for certainly the courage element must not be contaminated with impurities. It is as though soldiers who march to war have nothing but anger in their hearts, with nary a gram of fear.
     All this is understandable, of course, for the cult of personality is the modern alternative to ancient as well as modern-religious apotheosis. Definitions of cult of personality agree that it arises when an individual---or his top manager---utilizes mass media, propaganda, or other methods, to project an idealized heroic public image through unquestioning flattery and praise. Notice also that almost all book definitions of the phrase associate it with dictatorial personalities. The definition of personality cult itself among Western books seems to contravert democratic media's power to create personality cults within the bounds of marketing subtlety, whether advertent or sub-advertent. The preferred Western terms would be Max Weber's more neutral "charismatic authority" or otherwise the more pop-culture-friendly "celebrity". It is as if celebrities are not managed by people, and as though charismatic authority is not itself manage-able to form a cult following from it.

"HERO" COMES from the Greek word heros, meaning "protector".
     Before Joseph Campbell presented his monomyth system, there was FitzRoy Somerset, 4th Baron Raglan. In his The Hero, he systemized hero myths and proposed the unusual requisites for a hero's conception---culling from the Biblical Moses story (which in itself has parallels in Mesopotamian and Babylonian literatures), Raglan drew that firstly, in the shaping of a heroic myth, there's an attempt made by a powerful male at the hero's birth to kill him; then he is spirited away; then he is reared by foster-parents in a far country. Later, after a series of achievements of value to society, he meets some mysterious death, often at the top of a hill, and his body is not buried, and he leaves no successors, and finally he has one or more holy sepulchres.
     Rizal owned the sword of Damocles early in life. Threatened by his Mercado family name, he was told the story of the moth who gained the luxury of knowledge but was in the process burned. Rizal was soon spirited away to Madrid and "reared" by his brother Paciano and friends in Europe, the Philippines, and inside the Philippine government and the Church. Later he met his "mysterious" arrest, and equally "mysterious" death sentencing under Nozaleda's instructions (commencing in his execution at the edge of the Bagumbayan field [now Rizal Park] facing the sea). Rizal's son died in Dapitan. Rizal's mother looked for Rizal's body after his execution. He has a number of statues in so many municipal plazas, his sepulchres.
     Ninoy Aquino's story does not fit very well into this design, but there had been many attempts to kill his ambition; he was spirited away to prison, and much later to the US, with Marcos himself as his jailer and foster parent. With foster-parent and fraternity-mate Marcos intermittently ill from a lupus disease, Aquino was mysteriously assassinated (on top of a plane stairway, dropping to a runway tarmac). His dead body's bloodied face was not washed and was displayed in a church for everyone to see. Salvador Laurel was not deemed a perfect successor. Aquino's display in church led to the public beatification of a folk Joan of Arc in the person of his wife Cory Aquino, his living sepulchre, which would birth a thousand more sepulchers.
     FitzRoy Somerset's systemization is almost an endorsement of the individual hero.
     But then came Hegel. Inspired by Johann Gottfried Herder, he proposed that a hero is a product of volksgeist, or the unique collective "spirit" all peoples and nations possess. This place-spirit is married to the zeitgeist, the spirit of the times, the time-spirit. Émile Durkheim would have another phrase for this, describing a similar concept he called the "collective consciousness".
     In late 19th century, in reaction to such hero personifications as those presented by Thomas Carlyle's portraits of "heroes, hero worship and the heroic" in history, Karl Marx proposed that history was actually determined by social forces operating in "class struggles", certainly not by individuals. Even Herbert Spencer, who was a proto-champion of libertarianism and the classical-liberal individual, in his criticism of the state's patriots wrote that "You must admit that the genesis of the great man depends on the long series of complex influences which has produced the race in which he appears, and the social state into which that race has slowly grown. . . . Before he can remake his society, his society must make him."
     In late 20th century, Michel Foucault's philosophy on history described history as the science (or art) of the "sovereign" class or niche, a science (or art) which has to be reversed by popular discourse.
     There were others who would contend with the hyperbole accorded to individuals' roles as subjects in history---Lucien Febvre, Marck Bloch, Fernand Braudel, among them. In his take, Braudel gave proof that geography, economics and demography played a more decisive role in history than the feats of individual historical subjects. Foucault and Louis Althusser would provide more heterogeneous layers of factors determinant of history.
     In an essay by William R. Thompson titled "The Lead Economy Sequence in World Politics (From Sung China to the United States): Selected Counterfactuals", Journal of Globalization Studies, Vol. 1 (2010), num. 1, pp. 6–28, the author suggests that in developing counterfactual history, with its attempts to examine hypothetic scenarios of historical development, the hero attracts attention because of those scenarios' asking about what would have happened had the historical individual under scrutiny did not exist. This thus renders faith in a hero's heroism . . . how should I put it, via negativa.

TODAY, IN the face of eulogies concerning dead heroes, some of us may ask or may already be asking: What drives an institution, say the Church, to call someone a saint? What drives a hero's, say Corazon Aquino's, emotions to do the heroic? Why do we need saints and heroes? Why do they have to be from the upper class, at least in our literatures?
     I have no quarrel with the idea of Cory Aquino or Ninoy Aquino being acknowledged as leaders of a people's struggle. I have questions about their followers' obsession with the concept of sainthood and heroism, almost synonymously taken. It's similar to the obsession with slogans and symbols overwhelming all concern for the details. I could write a book enumerating the many ramifications of this shallowness. A eulogy to a hero may be commendable for being not without content, since many eulogies are, but for the present days---or for all days---we should trouble ourselves with more takes on the ingredients of every gram of content, and less with the packaging of heroes. Were some essays not eulogies or eulogy-looking, for all their good intentions they'd actually function as essays around a hero-person's packaging.
     Now, critics of heroes, on the other hand, may be critical of certain of these heroes' inaction on certain causes or issues or dates. But critical from what angle of a mission? Are their issues the mother issues? Is the Hacienda Luisita issue, for instance, really just about the Aquinos concerning Hacienda Luisita or about Hacienda Luisita itself as a national symbol? And aside from the Hacienda Luisita acquisition history and its accordant politics, the mother subjects are still blanket land reform, agrarian reform, progressivist takes on these issues, social liberal takes on these issues different from the progressivist approach, liberal economics' takes, post-reform scenarios, and so on, and these involve characters and polities more numerous than the Aquinos or Tarlac and other element-targets of a certain party out to merely destroy a set of heroes. The Aquinos as heroes and the anti-Aquino counter-hero's role in these issues ought to be judged according to our treatment of the several hypotheses concerning the issues. Sure, we can report on the details of a struggle, any struggle, as it progresses; that'd be exciting to read about. But what about the objectives of the struggle itself? What about the merits and demerits to the post-win scenarios themselves, post-win scenarios that would define the victorious heroes' staying power within significance and memory?
     Sure, a hero's critic may have demonstrated the hero's virtue or non-virtue from his critique's end, citing missionary projects of value or no value to the hero's civilization. And that'd be good (or bad) for the hero and us. But, again, what would be the objective of the critique? Is one's objective merely to take down notes, say, for Noynoy Aquino's "our hero" or "our champion" standing in the eyes of a public answering polls as per the demand of, say, a contending Nacionalista Party? Or is it to truly promote the cause of, say, human rights, out to fight any government's shortchanging the progress of the cause, whether that government is a social and political liberal or political conservative or progressivist or socialist or libertarian one? Journalism is good, but there's also such a thing as selective journalism, black propaganda journalism, latent advocacy journalism, not to mention bad journalism, that in the process of their practice could actually only be validating a process of hero-packaging by virtue of their opposition to pouring more attention to details, details of the issues and causes surrounding these heroes and anti-heroes who---in the first place---are only players in the quest for the triumph or defeat of causes and societies larger than themselves. Understand that heroes can either be a party's, a niche's, or a cause's.
     Consider the Nacionalista Party of Manny Villar that gathered progressivists as well as hauled in Bongbong Marcos to a coalition lineup of senatorial candidates. Definitely worth talking about, that one, for instance. And you'd wonder why no one among the critics of the Aquinos' heroism who were likewise sympathetic to the Nacionalistas did. And, sure, Pres. Cory Aquino may indeed have "self-limited her greatness. She ended her service to the Filipino people where the interest of her clan, friends and supporters began," as a Facebook view states it. That may actually be true. But should that be true, it should be nothing more than a manifestation of what could happen when emotional critics become leaders. Such leaders may have to look for an economic ideology on the job, sometimes finally finding one on their last week in office. That's one reason why we ought to rather read criticism that tackles details instead of those that paint abstracts we already know, or abstracts by way of selected specifics, likewise excluding oneself from the count. For the hero or non-hero (villain) ought not to be the issue, it's the issue that ought to qualify someone's heroism or non-heroism (villainy) within it. Otherwise, what will be offered society will be a battle of superheroes deriving from various parties' metanarratives that all avoid a higher view upon all the forces and prejudices and ambitions at play.
     For the hero on whichever side is never alone. The writer-critic is part of his heroism, if not the definer of that heroism. And, therefore, the critic must derive all his judgments from a confession of his causes as well as a confession of the sort of heroes he prefers to fight with him for his causes.

NOW, I for my part have no quarrel with the nationalism and patriotism of upper class elements. I say our beef ought to be with the very fact that the masses can easily be exploited, duped, conscripted. Some people's nationalism and patriotism are not going to be enough panacea for our masses' struggles, unless a niche wants to perpetuate a tradition of martyrdom for its niche-image and myth-making. I am talking about empowerment, wherein the educated upper middle class and upper class doesn't have to be the ones to always lead everyone, I'm talking about leadership that can derive from anywhere via collective heroism.
     Now, Marx and Foucault aside, is everything in life about class struggle? Well, in relation to what I wish to say and whether I'm talking about a class struggle issue or not, I'm going to say no and yes. For by empowerment I do not mean empowerment for acquiring leaderships. I mean the empowerment of followers via their access to an awareness and a knowledge of the issues around which their heroes and own heroism have operated and/or continue to operate. This is the reason why we ought to keep on harping on details, details, details. Without tackling the devil in the details, heroes---be they upper class liberators or rags-to-riches new liberals---will forever be tagged as heroes in a shallow way, with the effect of hiding the operative grand narratives and reifications on their persons. Without these details, heroes can---as indeed they often do---become emblems for power and cultural manipulations.
     Let me give you a final example. Manny Pacquiao is a Filipino sports hero. He has become a symbol of possibilities for the Filipino race. And yet, an examination of that simplistic grand narrative would birth questions. For instance, is he really representative of Filipino industry? Could it be that while he was struggling in the gym to be able to prove to everyone that he can rise in the sport, his gym-mates were laughing at him? If that was the reality of his history, then our symbolism should crumble. He has failed to become the symbol of average Filipino ambitions in the gym. And yet, should Pacquiao qua emblem be deemed usable, we will continue to be fed some corporate-driven lie that we can all make it in the boxing industry or any industry if we just work hard (sipag), if we have persistence (tiyaga), never mind the other details that we can just leave to luck and the employment and wage-slavery systems in our mainstream economics.
     So, to explain further my point on followers' awareness (or lack of it) of the issues and themes around a subject-hero or heroes and how this can be deemed a class issue by itself concerning hero-metanarratives (not necessarily upper-class vs. middle class), may I invite you to examine your own role among the social forces that were operating in "class struggles" (whether you belong to the working class or the small business entrepreneur class or the factory-owning class). What could have been if the likes of you had not existed or were in short supply? What could have been if your hero was not there? Or, what could have been if it was you placed in his/her position of privilege, the privilege to become a hero? Or are you a hero now?
     Conversely, what could have avoided your hero's martyrdom? What was your part among the social forces operating in "class struggle" that made that martyrdom or death or assassination possible? Despite that, are you a hero now still?
     Finally, are you a hero-worshipper or are you a part of a collective of heroisms?
     Whatever was/is your role, it will have played a part in an unfolding history leading to a future declaration of martial law. [END]

Photo of newspaper cover borrowed from

Monday, September 19, 2011

Miss Universes and "Universals"

1. No such thing as a stupid question, only a stupid situation

FIRST things first. There's no such thing as a stupid question.
     Even Lea Salonga's supposedly inane question to Miss Angola Leila Lopes (who'd go on to win the Miss Universe crown this year), dubbed by feminist columnist Jessica Ravitz as "the dumbest question in the universe," isn't actually all that dumb if you put everything in context. "If you could change one of your physical characteristics," Salonga asked Lopes, "which one would it be and why?" According to Ravitz, ". . . it's absurd to be dismayed that a question like this would be posed at a beauty pageant. In my worldview, the mere fact that pageants exist is absurd. And I'm not alone."
     Well, I don't think she gets it. Context is everything, and, in this case, Salonga's question---actually all the questions were pre-written by the pageant committee and assigned each judge, says Salonga---was "a standard beauty contest query" that should only nudge us in our turn to ask about the motive behind the asking. Salonga hit the nail on the head when she wrote to CNN, "At the end of the day, it wasn't so much the question asked but the manner in which it was answered." After all, weren't all those questions asked during those Miss Universe pageants in the past designed to primarily test how a candidate might respond to future "stupid" questions that are going to be hurled her way in yacht parties she'll be attending as Miss Universe? Look at it this way, if you are to apply today for an account executive position at an ad agency, a position servicing that agency's stupid clients, and you wax philosophical during your interview about the world today as though you were Bell Hooks, I'm perfectly certain you wouldn't get the job.
     My Facebook friend JCA said, "But I guess the shallowness of the questions is telling of how the organizers view their contestants." That's almost a given, similar perhaps to how designers and fashion show organizers view their adolescent models. But, again, that truth would still have to be put in context. After all, what use is the Miss Universe contest and winners to, say, Mr. Donald Trump, in the first place? The most creative and most introspective mind potentially useful to a long life of struggles in the business world never does win the "apprentice of the year" prize in Trump's The Apprentice (U.S.), does s/he, the same way that the best singer does not necessarily have to win the American Idol of the year plum. At the Miss Universe, it's not really the questions and the answers to any question that matter, it's the delivery, as Salonga rightly observed. Otherwise, the Miss Universe Q&A portion would be traditionally done in an interrogation room with cameras and would invariably last the length of a David Letterman Show interview, complete with a band to break the boredom. That is, a faux pas of an answer here could always be clarified or retracted there. Nobel laureates, after all, don't give quick answers, do they? We do not measure their intelligence by the swiftness of their replies nor by an absence of an "uhhhm, well". And as for defensiveness, Hillary Clinton's has no place in the Miss Universe contest, yet she's universally counted as one hell of a charm.
     To recap, the Miss Universe position is an account executive or account manager position. It's a low, starter's position in high society. There's no way Filipino ad industry stalwart Emily Abrera could now win a Miss Universe spot, is there? I'm not saying, of course, that pretty-faced account executives can't possibly know anything about, say, Edward Said's postcolonial theories. I'm just saying they'd seldom be allowed to use that knowledge in their financial district jobs.
     But, still, there's definitely room for improvement regarding JCA's concern, reiterated by her friend Lea: "If the Ms. U. organizers are the ones preparing the questions, aren't they also underestimating the intelligence of their judges?" Well, Lea, Donald Trump underestimates the intelligence of everyone in the whole universe. But, then again, you and JCA are actually right. So that presently it might be useful to suggest to the Miss Universe owners that perhaps, next time, Miss Universe contestants can come onstage in office attire for the Q&A portion. Or, if still in their gowns and in a pose, maybe while holding a wineglass, so for these candidates to be able to feel a sort of corridor meeting or yacht party situation in their heads, within which role-playing they could be led to display their real brains beyond those by merely smiling, nervous candidates onstage who have to pass a stupid test while a klieg light burns. This role-playing segment might have an effect likewise on the question-writing staff. . . . Now, even if we are to adapt this role-playing sort of Q&A segment to an in-their-swimsuits situation, supposedly a more frightening experience, the candidates can still be rendered wet and in the process of drying themselves with towels while being asked their questions, if only so that our ideal resultant could be achieved. I can assure you, such role-playing---whether with gowns or swimsuits---would break the ice. Because any candidate necessarily placed in a situation of utter nervousness when confronted with a question needing a quick answer cannot predict how her posing in front of a lot of people in an uncomfortable gown or Speedo can affect her alertness. Even a female Einstein would be trembling in that situation, and would likely feel as though she were in a Guantanamo prison being played on by a bunch of US Marines. When the most intelligent candidate fails to come through that nervous field, she gets demerits and ultimately fails to grab the crown. The merely charming and merely most diplomatic wins.

2. No such thing as an easy question, only easy situations

NOW let's go visit the question for Shamcey Supsup, who would become this 2011 contest's third runner-up: "Would you change your religious beliefs to marry the person that you love? Why or why not?"
     Some were saying this was a tad more difficult than the one given to Miss Angola. But, if my backyard statistics is right, most said this was way too easy, the too-obvious answer being a quick no.
     A Philippine Star write-up titled "How they would have answered that question" interviewed five former Filipina beauty queens. Interestingly, or not surprisingly, depending on where you're coming from, all gave that "obvious answer" in varying modes of articulateness.
     But was it really an easy question deserving of an easy answer? I believe an easier compound question would have been something like: "would you change your political beliefs to marry the person that you love? Why or why not?" But even then, putting aside the submission element in it, any answer is actually correct. "No," if one's beliefs are deep and passionate and utterly personal, "yes" if one's politics is shallow or if one has the heart of a spy. Now, having written that, I wonder if we could apply the same formula to the question for Supsup. "No," if one's religious beliefs are deep and passionate and utterly personal, "yes" if one's religious beliefs are shallow (cafeteria or cultural) or if one has the worldly heart of a multi-cultural syncretist. As for the submission part, there are a lot of reasons why one would do that. A certain tribe might require a would-be spouse's religious conversion for him/her to gain access to a conjugal wealth which might include a chain of hotels or oil derricks. Uhm, Mr. X, would you change your religion in order to marry Paris Hilton? Not that easy a question now, is it?

3. No such thing as one Universe, only universals

STILL on Supsup, my Facebook friend J- called his friends' attention to an ABS-CBN report which seemed to have been oddly written. The report zoomed in on Supsup's admission that her boyfriend had actually changed his religion for her. She is a "Christian", she's supposed to have said, and her boyfriend was formerly "Catholic".
     J- wrote: "Since when were Catholics not Christians? Don't get me wrong, I'm not a big Catholic but we were the first Christian church!"
     I had to correct J-, of course, with my modest knowledge of Christian history, thusly: "Actually the first Christians were the Jewish Christians before there were even Gentile Christians. The Jewish Christians included the Corinthians, the Ebionites, the Elcesaites, the Essenes, and the Nazarene/Nazoraean sect. Then, the first post-Jesus Jerusalem church was established by James the Just (some say with Paul), the leader of the Jewish Christian Church (Catholics insist with Peter as the "Rock" and "Chief Shepherd"). Then, even before Peter and Paul could arrive in Rome, Eastern Christianity was already being established in Asia Minor in what would later branch out to become the Church of the East, the churches of Oriental Orthodoxy, the Assyrian Church of the East, the Eastern Catholic Churches, and the Saint Thomas Christians. Even the Early Church in the Roman Empire, the prototype of the Latin Church of Constantine I (that was itself proto-Catholic), cannot be said to have already been the Roman Catholic Church as we know it today. The Roman Catholic Church, as we know it today, actually started when it was established by the emperors Theodosius I, Gratian and Valentinian II in 380 AD, when Latin Church Christianity (instead of the other Christianities, like that one by a group that would later be called Gnostic Christianity) was declared as the empire's state religion. This was at the same time that Damasus I was the Pope (who reigned till 384), when the Roman aristocracy started to take over the Church at the start of the decline of the Roman Empire. Damasus commissioned the Vulgate translation of the Bible, the early Roman Catholic Bible, and called for the Council of Rome during tensions with Bishop Nectarius of Constantinople."
     Notice that I always modified "Catholic" with the adjective "Roman". J- Facebook-liked my comment and thanked me.
     J-'s friend A- joined me, saying: "Of course not. You're not the first Christian church."
     Notice A-'s use of "church". She didn't write "yours is not the first . . ." but "you're not the . . ." Bear that in mind, because Christian authorities would repeatedly teach that the church is neither that building by the marketplace nor that institution with a flag but the people, the following of Jesus. That following can exist without a church building or a flag, and thus A-'s use of the word in her clause "you're not the first church" makes complete sense.
     J-'s friend JC chimed in, refuting my and A-'s offers, saying: "The first Christian church was the Catholic Church. Other Christian churches were just offshoots and splinter groups. Isn't this true, Kuya J-?"
     Another of J-'s friends, JBC, also joined us: "Regardless, all Christians believe in one Judeo-Christian God. Why do we have to argue about who came first when, at the end of the day, we all believe in the same divine entity?"
     JC had to add this: "Sure, dissension happened. But the original is the original."
     "Go ahead," I wrote. "If you think the Roman Catholic Church was established in 12 or 30 AD or thereabouts instead of in 380 AD by Theodosius, suit yourself, JC, I wouldn't be surprised. Nonetheless, JBC is right."
     J- Facebook-liked this, but so did JC, adding: "Thank you!"
     JC also Facebook-liked another comment from another of J-'s friends, Father V-, when the latter entered the conversation. Father V- wrote: "That's quite a splintered understanding of what the church is," referring to my splintered understanding. "When one associates the Church with a mere political faction, because Paul did this or Constantine did that, one cannot get the full picture of what the Catholic church is all about. This is seeing the church as a mere institution. But the Church is more than just a human society, and it's more than just a title. The Church, Catholic and apostolic, began when Christ brought it into the world, founding it upon his apostles, especially upon Peter. This is the Christian Church, which is only One, and which subsists in union with Peter and the successors of the apostles, who have kept the faith whole and entire despite the passage of time, despite the errors of the centuries."
     This is true, too, at least for 2nd-century claims to universalism and for claims to continuity from the church of Jesus' Apostles, for even when Protestants use the word "catholic" (with a lower-case letter c), they also use it not to refer to the Catholic Church alone but broadly to the Christian Church (regardless of denominational affiliation) and all believers in Jesus Christ all over the world, across all ages. Therefore, put aside Father V-'s Roman Catholic "especially upon Peter" emphasis and Father V-'s institutional claim that the Christian Church as One subsists in union with Peter. Put aside all the Romanism, and you'll be able to imagine the idea of inclusivism in catholicism (even via Catholicism), wherein one can embrace even those who believe Mary Magdalen was Jesus' right hand instead of Peter (Gnostic Christians, for instance).
     Now, JC loved what Father V- wrote, writing: "Yes, Father. Got it! We are the original."
     Well, if universalism (or "catholicism") also means being inclusive and Father V- would nod his head in agreement, then obviously JC couldn't have gotten it.
     I wrote, "@Father V-: Would that it were so," and I meant that the Catholic Church was not also---or was not firstly---a political entity with a divisive history and policy, "then the world would have been a much better place."
     "JC and A-," wrote J-, now seeming to have changed his mind about his post, "being 'first' is beside the point, is it not? The decorous bearing of the matter is, we are a Christian church, too. Right? :)"
     JC Facebook-liked this.
     "Ok," he wrote, "the Catholic Church is a Christian church. Christians are followers of Christ. Catholics follow Christ and his teachings . . ." and so on. I thought that was that with JC.
     Father V- came back: "By the term Catholic, meaning universal, we mean that Christians follow and believe all of the doctrines taught by Christ handed down to His Apostles by way of Scripture and tradition, teachings necessary for one to fully heed the call of Our Lord to holiness. In this sense, to be truly a follower of Christ, one needs to be catholic, universal."
     JC and another A- (A2, let's call him) Facebook-liked this. Actually, there's almost nothing worth protesting against in this statement if only the Father wasn't confusing "Catholic" with "catholic" in his explanation, almost as if to hide a logical fallacy (the 'God is love, love is blind, therefore God is blind' kind of logical fallacy) to service a metanarrative.
     I had to call A-'s reaction to this: "@A: By your comment above, I gather you're Protestant? If you are, then by Father V- you do not follow and believe all of the doctrines taught by Christ blah blah blah, you can't fully heed the call of our Lord. You are not a true follower of Christ. The only way by which you can be that is by becoming C/catholic, by becoming 'universal'."
     Father V- promptly answered my satire with a confirmation: "Well, basically that's what being a disciple is, right? It basically means following everything that the Master did and said and taught. Otherwise, what kind of disciples are we? By the word 'Catholic' (Father V-'s capitalization, not mine) I'm referring to a reality, not a denomination. We don't call ourselves catholics (Father V-'s lower case, not mine) for nothing. The name Catholic stemmed from the fact that in the Reform worked by Luther his followers broke away from Christian teaching and praxis, selecting those that were in accord with their personal beliefs and ideals and rejecting those with which they were not in accord."
     JC Facebook-liked this. Well, put aside the Father's confusing catholic with Catholic, as if catholicism or universalism is exclusive to Catholics. Lay aside the fact that Martin Luther was mainly questioning the papacy's corrupted adherence to the bright ideas concerning Purgatory and the selling of indulgences. Put aside the fact that Luther was only seeking reforms (thus Reformed) from within instead of from without, but kicked out instead by the corrupt Catholic hierarchy of his time. Put aside the fact that to imply in our time that Pope Leo X's indulgences salesmen were following Christian teaching and praxis could be tantamount to qualifying and reiterating Pope Leo X's virtue on these same indulgences-selling during his time, and thus for our time. Put aside the fact that to call Pope Leo X's corruption as "within Christian praxis" could reintroduce a scandal. Put all those aside, . . . if only because Father V- was not yet finished with the Luther question.
     He continued: ". . . this is far from the logic of discipleship; the disciple is bound to his master insofar as his master is concerned. Either he accepts his master totally, and all of his teaching and the practices that he has taught him, or he is no follower of his. This is perfectly logical, and this is more so true of Christianity. When the Lord came among us as man he showed us the Father; by His teaching and actions he instituted the norm by which his followers would be known . . . this was entrusted to his Apostles, who---because of their ministry in the Church of Christ---continue the presence of Christ on earth."
     I see. From a self-contradictory explanation of catholicism as exclusive to Catholics (contradictory because while claiming he was not speaking of Catholicism as a denomination Father V- was at the same time equating catholicism with loyalty to Catholicism, in which case JC was right in Facebook-liking Father V-, for it would seem that Father V- does not include inclusivism as part of his "catholic" context), Father V- now moves to a second stage, that of equating Luther's hatred for Pope Leo X with a hatred for Jesus, as if Pope Leo X's sins and Jesus' virtue are one.
     Father V- was not done.
     He continued: "There is no need to be polemical here, by the way, Jojo Soria . . . what I'm trying to express is, that being a Christian necessarily means that you have to accept all of the teachings and commandments of the Lord, whether they are in accord with one's taste or not. This in Greek and in English amounts to being---what it means to be---"katholikos" or catholic. . . ."
     "@Father V-:" I wrote, "If there's no need to be polemical, then why have you and I become polemical? Was it perhaps because there was a need for it? Where did that need come from? Could it be that the polemics just grew from nowhere? If it did, then do you mean that when I write I'm being needlessly polemical, but when you write you're not being polemical but yet need to be for my enlightenment? If that is your approach, I'd fully understand the consistency."
     "Hahaha," my Facebook friend J2 butted in at this point. "Polemics," she wrote, "all but polemics."
     I wasn't exactly sure whether J2 was referencing Father V-'s polemics, my polemics, both our polemics, or the entire humanity's polemics, so I just Facebook-liked what she wrote, since it looked polemical in itself. :)
     "No," Father V- instantly wrote, "I'm just explaining things from my end. Honestly, I had no intention of being polemical. In fact, aside from the fact that I just wanted to share my view, I got interested in the topic, since expressing it here also enlightened things up for me. As a student of history I'm beginning to see that there's more than meets the eye with the term 'catholic', that its being fundamentally synonymous with 'Christian' was penned even long before the Reform; it goes way back to sources of the Christian faith."
     I Facebook-liked this.
     "Anyway," Father V- continued, "if it seems to you that we're being polemical to each other, then this won't serve us any good . . . aside from the fact that I was just trying to give reason to anyone who calls me, to give an account for the hope that is in me (cfr. 1Peter 3:15), I was beginning to see it as a stimulating conversation, both based on reason and on faith, which always need to go hand in hand in the search for the Truth that liberates. Anyway, frankly I got something from this. . . . Peace :-)"
     I Facebook-liked this.
     "Pacem in terris," I wrote, "as Pope John XXIII would have it. :)"
     Father V- Facebook-liked this. JC didn't.
     Well, not everyone among Roman Catholics ever liked what John XXIII and his Second Vatican Council tried to introduce ("to restore unity among all Christians, including seeking pardon for Catholic contributions to separation"; "to start a dialogue with the contemporary world"). Not everyone in the Church likes the idea of reconciling or breaking bread with Protestants and the Orthodox churches, much less with other religions which Pope Benedict XVI controversially is trying to realize today in spite of his conservatism. Pope Paul VI, who would continue John XXIII's mission, was another Vatican liberal, but not everyone heeded his apology for Pope Gregory's having turned Mary Magdalen into a prostitute via a simple sermon, if Catholics today are even aware that that apology and a series of revisions concerning Mary Magdalen ever happened. Not everyone in the Church liked John Paul I too, who didn't last long in the papacy. And John Paul II, who voted against a lot of tracts in John XXIII's Second Vatican Council, is probably the most loved Pope in the Roman church today, partly perhaps for his having continued facets of John XXIII's efforts, as in the area of trying to reconcile with the Jews and other Christian sects. Pope Benedict XVI, a close confidant of John Paul II, seems to want to continue John Paul II's efforts to extend just facets of the Second Vatican Council tracts---specifically that one seeking a dialogue with other religions. . . .
     But if Popes could marry, if Pope Gregory VII hadn't required clerical celibacy, then John XXIII would probably have been the sort of Pope who wouldn't mind marrying a Protestant. And I don't think that would be because his religious beliefs were shallow or that he was a syncretist. He was, rather, the one most open to differences, the one with an open ear.
     In short, he was the first to respect the various catholicisms (universalisms), in effect fulfilling the embrace of the catholic doctrine of inclusivism. He was the Vatican's Stephen Hawking, who might have theorized that there is no one universe, but universes which finally are all the same, wherein hypertravel through cosmic wormholes can be done. He was the Vatican's company merger guru.

NOW, what has all this got to do with Shamcey Supsup and her formerly-Catholic boyfriend?
     Well, picture that scene again when Hollywood actress and contest-appointed judge Vivica A. Fox asked Supsup her question. Then, picture that moment when she answered the question. Now, put her boyfriend in her place, in a sort of scene from a Mr. Universe pageant, with him being asked the same question. His answer, of course, would be something like "I already did."
     If Supsup can embrace her boyfriend's secular heroism or sacrifice at the same time that she would preach an adherence to religious loyalism among females, we could surmise that Supsup is either sexist and another religious bigot who considers other religions as crap (Roman Catholicism perhaps as anti-Christian instead of Christian for putting Church laws above Christ's laws, according to some denominations), or . . . she believes there is no one Universe but a bundle of valid universes that could access one another in mental hypertravels via physical wormholes of acceptance. Matter turns into anti-matter and becomes matter again in some other universe, then vice versa, all perfectly acceptable. Nothing is illusion anymore, everything is embraceable. So that by answering her question at the pageant with what she had or what she could come up with, she was also recognizing that stupid questions are really only stupid situations, that easy questions are really only easy situations, and that the Miss Universe is really just a construction of various beauty queen claims to various valid universals. Remember, the first requisite of beauty pageants is congeniality, not basketball-like adversity. Its objective heaven includes yacht parties. So, therefore, you just tell people what they'd want to hear and save them the trouble of religious faux-universalist noise.
     That quick choice I can understand. Even Facebook-like. [END]

Photo of Shamcey Supsup borrowed from REUTERS/Nacho Doce as used at

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Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Why Are We Writers Shallow?: A Voltairean Exploration

My friends' Facebook walls have been calling everybody's attention to F. Sionil Jose's quoting of a well-loved former senator in his latest column essay on titled "Why we are shallow". Okay, the essay has my attention, and now---having nothing better to do---I'd like to offer my own conjectures regarding what's behind all this rampant shallowness Jose is talking about.
     But first things first. The idea of Filipino shallowness that visited the novelist-columnist came from a friend of his from another Asian country, an idea which initially floored him. Then, recently while watching a presentation of Asian dances with former Senator Leticia Ramos-Shahani, Jose observed that there was but grudging applause from the audience for the stylized movements of a stately Japanese dance while a near-standing ovation was accorded to the energetic jumping in the Filipino-cum-Vietnamese tinikling. Jose said anyone can learn the tinikling in 10 minutes, and Senator Shahani was supposed to have asked, "Why are we so shallow?"

Well, let me see, we have been shallow for centuries.
     It was probably one of the things the Japanese hated us for, the reason perhaps why they treated us and our women like the Chinese during World War II, because we couldn't understand their dances which they didn't have the time to elucidate on for our modest collective comprehension. Meanwhile, our long-standing enthusiasm for the tinikling only demonstrated this alleged shallowness, because---as Senator Shahani would know---we as audiences often approach the dance with merely the eye of tourists, laughing and clapping only at the dancers' meager feat of avoiding the bamboos. Senator Shahani, being a Sorbonne University Doctor in Philosophy in Comparative Literature, would know that there is more to the dance than what my favorite cooking television personality could drunkenly and metaphysically say about it in the Vietnam episode of Anthony Bourdain: No Reservations Season One. There is definitely something about the rich presence of thick bamboos in this feasting dance, as well as about the allusion to the tikling bird of the rallidae species and the tikling farm traps made of bamboo, the erotic and taxing accelerando rhythm in the fourth quarter of the dance, its relation to Philippine martial arts and tribal war dances, its possible role in Leyte among Bankaw's people prior to the Bankaw Revolt. However, we are not all trained to be dance historians, much less as semioticians, to ever get---or want---anything more than the fun we're already getting from the tinikling at face value. In fact, we didn't all have that privilege of getting to know anything about our own dances, much less the Odori, and so we remain shallow.
     As Jose's foreign friend would say, this shallowness is manifest even in our major papers. I'd read the Philippine Star, for instance, and what would I get? Apart from F. Sionil Jose's column, there's practically nothing to read in there except the comic strips, the classifieds for preferably female applicants, and the boring crosswords and sudokus. It's a total waste of recycled paper. Another Star columnist, the poet and novelist Alfred Yuson, was probably wryly acknowledging this shallowness in his newspaper after he was indirectly asked for his opinion about Jose's column and assumptions: "Shallow shallow me. Shallow me wherever you may be... tra-la-la...," he said.

Our universities and colleges are all to blame for this epidemic of shallowness.
     Instead of putting much emphasis on the culture of Late Antiquity, they spend too much time teaching our preppies everything about the binary structures of HTTP cookies used to hack the CIA headquarters or eBay with, or the way Florence Nightingale would assist a doctor performing a burn debridement or escharotomy, which all totally mean nothing to either Heraclius or Phocas. Look at the Hindus, for instance, even while often high on bhang lassi their continuity with their past would be retained through the centuries, so that even today you can see sacred cows still plowing their own dung on the cobblestones of Jaisalmer Fort. And the Buddhists of Thailand---who up to today can perform sacrifices of not dirtying one's soul with the mud of modern economics, relying solely for their food on the age-old charity of a modern-day profiteer with a store. So why, oh why, don't our universities and colleges bring back all that Greek that up to now is being studied in Greece, or all that Latin that up to now is still being studied at Pontificio Seminario Vaticano, for God's sake?
     The classics teach us wisdom. The Web teaches us nothing but wiki-knowledges about protons and American Idol winners. Thus the arrogance of TV personalities who have been fed these wiki-knowledges by their scriptwriters, mistaking these bits for wisdom. The classics' wisdom lead us to Western culture and all its metanarratives of superiority over tribal wisdom, which we---if we could only immerse ourselves in these holy waters---could in fact use to build our own counter-reifications.
     This failure of ours to appropriate the wisdom of Western culture has in fact led us to a level of ignorant arrogance, a broadcaster's type of arrogance, that is unable to see the role each of us is playing in the system, be it the system of government or the system of citizenship. All we can do now, therefore, is lean on the luxury of slogans and abstractions and sweeping views that are averse to the devils in the details. Thus the vicious cycle of crab-criticalities that are, being crab-criticalities, by themselves averse to criticalities. We thus end up hurling invectives at each other, calling each other stupid and ignorant and shallow, while each is without a desire for the hard task of discoursing further on rococo details of qualifying truth (the way either Michelangelo or Michel Foucault would feel happy about) regarding the fisherman's son's inability to comprehend the basics of TESDA's electrician's course or his ability to call Mike Enriquez's confused conservative or progressivist politics crap.
     We have chosen to be Westernized and yet not Westernized enough. Our embrace of democracy fails Karl Popper's dictum of owning likewise the responsibility of accepting "obsolescence" when it comes in an open society. We hold on to our animist faith concerning the divinity of our persons assigned seats of authority, be it as government authorities or culture authorities, and own nothing but a confirmation bias in favor of our ability to call anyone and everyone shallow. Western culture, if only we studied it well, would have taught us the rigors of rationalism, so that instead of sweeping conclusions regarding ourselves we could slowly tackle each man's behavior the way Spinoza tackled God, as an individual expression in a dynamic equation. Because of this inability, we have been reduced to behave like writers pretending to be sociologists, with nothing but the rhetoric of fallacies that we mistake for social science. We are thus rendered shallow---unable to see who we are, those mere writers, and the limits to what we can do.
     And if only we had Romanized ourselves well, the way South Korea has Americanized itself well, we would have armed ourselves with the capacity to hurl crockery at the quackery of Restorationist and evangelical voices on TV. If we had been Romanized enough, we would see---beyond Latin-American liberation theology---the superiority of Vatican to these discards of Calvinism and the Great Awakening. Look at South Korea, its perfect Americanization has shaped the prosperity theology of the Yoido Full Gospel Church. Meanwhile, our Catholicism is not as strong as the death threats of an Opus Dei follower on the artist Mideo Cruz in our supposedly open-ended society.

Thus, we are rendered shallow.
     And so we fail to see the shallowness of media as product of the subconscious plan of the local Illuminati to keep the status quo, wherein education remains the privilege of the post-Gomburza children of former caciques and public education is the shame hurled on the laps of Jesus' working class.
     We are rendered shallow. We can't use our pens to expose the real identities of the jokers on morning radio who are on a secret mission to destroy the seeds of social liberalism in the service of network-owning bosses with holding companies with interests in the fuits of conservative elitism.
     We are now eternally shallow. We can only choose to ignore the fact that all that entertainment fodder is what goes on in the drawing boards of corporate profiteering and, in surrender, we proceed to ourselves write shallow exegeses about our own shallowness, contributing in effect to the perpetuation of such profit-motivated mass dumbing.
     We: you, with me, are forever shallow. So we can only spit on our neighbors who can't understand our essays in English. We are totally shallow. We can only complain about their Tagalog-based intellectual incapacities deriving from our missionary and patronizing teaching-in-English failures. We are shallow. We can only ignore the fact that we are not Belgium divided into a French-speaking territory and a Dutch-speaking territory but Belgium divided into several languages inside our every territory and spot. We are shallow. We can only close our ears to the fact that linguistic differences are often also class differences. We are shallow. We can only close our eyes to the reality that the lower class aspires to become the middle class and upper class, and the upper middle class and upper class aspire to become Americans and Europeans.
     We are, safe to say now, shallow, and so choose not to write about the cost of sending our kids to schools that teach how to read, about the price of books, the language of books, the stupid marketing and distribution of books, the inaccessibility of books, the technological variations on the concept book.
     We are shallow. We continue to debate on the virtue of books, hoping to find enlightenment for everyone, while the sidewalk downstairs aims for the depths of our garbage, deeply hoping to find bread. [END]

UPDATE:On September 26, 2011, Jose uploaded a new column piece titled "A reply to you out there who disagree with me": click here to read.