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

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