Stockholm Syndrome – a Filipino malaise
The Stockholm Syndrome is a term used to describe a psychological reaction of victims of a hostage-taking or captive situation where the victims eventually bonded with their tormentors.
Whilst psychologists have known this phenomenon for a long time, it took its name from an incident in 1974 in Stockholm, Sweden. A bank robber held 4 employees hostage in the vault for 131 hours before they were finally rescued by police. The victims had bonded emotionally with the robber and they in fact thought the police were the bad guys. The victims later pooled their resources to fund the robber’s legal battle, and one woman victim got engaged to the robber.
One famous case happened a year later. In 1974, Patty Hearst, an heiress of a publishing empire, was kidnapped by left-wing terrorist group known as the Symbionese Liberation Army. She ended up sympathetic to their cause and joined them in all sorts of violent activities, including bank robberies. She was caught, served a very long term prison sentence, and was eventually pardoned by Bill Clinton.
The Philippine electoral conundrum
Why is it that election after election plunderers, cheaters, do-nothingers, plagiarist, womanizers, even some under suspicion of murders, goons and other scumbags, get the peoples’ votes? Commenter Irineo has presented great historical perspectives to try to explain this conundrum pointing out tribalism as its basal cause. Whilst persuasive, it does not explain the fact that all other civilizations have been tribal evolutions too and most do not share this Filipino ‘disease’.
Commenter Bill of Oz and myself made reference to the term Stockholm Syndrome in our comments in some back issues. It dawned on me that this term perhaps offer some explanation for the Filipinos’ twisted logic in selecting the political leadership the way they do.
Control and abuse
Although the term Stockholm Syndrome was coined in the specific case of hostage taking, the captive-captor emotional bonding psychology is also seen in many other abusive situations. In hostage taking, the victims are subject to a crisis situation of terrifying proportion for a short period of time. In other situations, the victims are subject to prolonged abuse. Cases abound such as :
– battered wives
– abused children
– members of cult groups
– prisoners of war
– economic dependents (Muslim wives)
– girlfriends of gangsters
– minions of warlords
– servile employees
– etc, etc
The governed and those that govern
The Philippines is a country lorded over by monopolistic political dynasties for decades. The political leadership is a deeply entrenched rent-collecting class and the relationship with the populace is one of control, not in the physical sense of a masochistic abuser, but in subtle insidious ways like laws and legal processes skewed in favour of those with connections, denials to freedom of choices by acute poverty, guns and goons, private armies, etc. Power lies with those having political and financial clout, and the populace have been subject to the abuse of this power ever since they can remember.
Stockholm Syndrome is not a disease, it is a survival instinct, make no mistake of it. The victim adapts to his situation subconsciously. It is a tactic of placating the abuser, at least initially. And so the victim tells himself it’s OK, the abuser is not such a bad guy, his actions are understandable, what he is saying is reasonable. The victim needs to justify himself as he internalises his rationale. Over time, the lies become ingrained truth. See how supporters process these mis-steps:
- Duterte womanizes — It’s OK, that’s a man’s thing. Besides, he is divorced (But it also happened when he was married NO?)
- Duterte curses the pope — He was actually cursing the traffic. It’s OK the pope forgives him and prays for him.
- Duterte utters obscenities, vulgarities and profanities – That’s who he is, it’s the real Mccoy. It’s just street talk.
- Duterte dis-respects women — No, he supports women’s rights.
- Binay plunders — Everybody in the government is corrupt.
- Bongbong represents a dictatorial past — The sins of the father should not be passed on to the son.
- Sotto plagiarizes — what’s the big deal, who is Caroline Kennedy anyway?
Conditions that trigger Stockholm Syndrome
- A threat exists (perceived or real) and the abuser can carry out the threat.
- Escape is not possible, whether real or perceived
- Victim is isolated with the abuser
- Abuser occasionally offers small gestures of kindness to victims
Super-impose it over the election scene and it looks like this :
- Threat: It could be a real fear of physical harm in view of private armies or guns and goons. It could be a perception of how their lives will be impacted. Thus we see this constant switching of loyalties and allegiances when people see a possible winner.
- Escape: The electorate feels there is nothing they can do. It has been like this for decades. How often do we hear people saying in resignation “This is the Philippines.” They see the hopelessness of their situation.
- Isolated: The electorate’s lack of education and access to information make them susceptible to mis-information and they accept the perspectives of the candidates.
- Kindness: This is a critical condition. Victims may be terribly mis-treated, but abuser extends small acts of kindness, like a cigarette to a POW. Notice the power of Binay’s cakes? It’s not the value aspect of the gift, it’s not that Makati residents can be bought for the price of a cake. It’s the perceived act of kindness.
Symptom of Stockholm Syndrome
- The victims have positive feeling towards the abuser
- They believe the abusers’ actions and explanation of things
- They are negative towards those trying to help them – the police, counselors, family and friends.
Super-impose this over the election, what do you get? More than 50% of the electorate are suffering from Stockholm Syndrome. Between Binay and Duterte, they hold 50% of the polls. To these 50%, nothing negative, bad or vulgar that these 2 candidates say or do has any impact on their standing. Their supporters put them on a high pedestal in their unshakeable esteem of them. I did a google search for “abuses images” and out popped BBM’s face. Clicking on that picture opens up a page titled “Dictator’s son says Filipinos care less about Marcos abuses”. Get what I mean? See die-hard supporters of BBM and Duterte react to attempts to reason and explanation. The venom in their attacks on non-believers in social media is cause for concern. There is fair resemblance to the hate language of Hitler Youths in the early days of the Third Reich.
Reality is a bitter pill
For the individuals, treatment is mainly many sessions on the couch and regaining self-worth and confidence in the warmth, care and love of family and friends. A definite pre-requisite for a full recovery is to put space between the abused and his tormentor.
The electorate needs many 6-years free of the same entitled class of political players. Unfortunately, this is not going to happen any time soon. A “damaged culture ” with the Stockholm Syndrome is a double whammy making the electorate an Augean Stable impossible to clean. The Philippine electorate needs to wake up from this stupor to see the reality.
Angry Filipinos want change and they want a man whom they think can make grand changes in 3-6 months time-frame. The reality is that a change for the better can only come when the country hits the “break through” barrier or the “economic take-off point”. What it requires for the Philippines to take off :
- To arrive there takes time, perhaps within one generation if lucky.
- It takes lots of sacrifices as people need to adapt to many structural changes (such as K12, family planning)
- It requires people to accept delayed gratification (suffer now and enjoy the fruits later — such as more traffic jams as overhead roads are being constructed or reduce vehicle ownership by imposing higher duties)
- It requires non-corrupt and strong political leadership to get us there. And please, strength is not measured by the biceps or boasts of guts to kill, it’s the guts to make tough decisions in the interest of the nation, not succumbing to populist demands (such as rejecting the call for increased pension payouts when it is not fiscally possible).
- It requires a leadership with good economic visions and proper pain-staking complex plans (derided as paralysis-by-analysis by those who have no plans), not half-baked hotchpotch potpurri ideas flashed in one-liners.
- It requires calm and clear-thinking leadership to help the nation navigate through very troubled times in the world (not a fiery foul-mouthed demagogue who is quick to make threats against another country on a knee-jerk reaction to a personal slant).
Four succeeding presidents after the disaster of Marcos haven’t brought much change to the country other than the re-instatement of democracy. The 5th administration under Pnoy has brought much change for the better that the world applauds, but 70% of Filipinos say it’s hogwash. The reality is that whilst the country has improved, they personally have not benefited, yet. More importantly, the current admin has laid strong foundations for the nation going forward (in terms of  improvements in institutionalised processes in govt,  professionalised work ethics in govt bodies, and  some blue-prints for national development and infrastructure works) most of which stand at risk of being jettisoned by a wrong president-elect.
For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction
Current polls suggest a strong possibility of a Duterte/Bongbong eventuality. Well, the will of the electorate has to be accepted, that’s democracy. But people need to understand that there are consequences to their decisions.
Everytime a country goes through an election, it concerns not just the citizens, but foreign investors and governments as well. Foreign investors assess political and country risks in the light of a new administration and what they will, or will not do, impact the country. Every foreign embassy in Manila has dossiers on the coming political changes under various scenarios that they dutifully report back home. There is no doubt whatsoever that a Duterte/Bongbong win is the worse case outcome of the election for every foreign embassy except China. These reports form the basis of the foreign countries’ future relationships with the Philippines in various ways such as economic co-operation, aid or assistance, various partnership programmes, etc. The Philippine GDP and credit ratings will deteriorate but those suffering from Stockholm Syndrome predictably will take the view that these are irrelevant and just a yellow bogeyman.
What would the reverberations of a Duterte/Bonbgbong win be? There will be much re-alignment of the importance of the Philippines in the thinking of a lot of countries. It would not be far fetched to say jittery would best describe relationships. How else is one expected to relate to a man with Duterte’s alledged human rights background, temperament, or a dictator’s son? The esteem of the ordinary Filipino in a foreign land would be lowered a few notches as the Philippines change from the “Sick man of Asia” to the “Joker of Asia”.
The moral of the story
I’m wondering whether in the Philippines, when families sit down for diner, do the tatays and tatoys explain to their children the hot topic of the day of plunder and explain to them that it’s wrong? Or do teachers bring up for class discussion regarding some TV report on trivializing of rapes and explain to students why it’s so wrong? Or do church leaders implore the flock to obey Ceasar’s laws?
In the words of The Guardian, the Philippines is an event rich country. If the 3 pillars of the society do not take the opportunity of each morally questionable incident to discuss and impart moral values, then I’m sure God will eventually leave the Philippines, if He has not already done so. For was it not said “God helps those who help themselves”? Has the significance of EDSA 1 been properly explained to the younger generation? Apparently not as I see it has been hijacked by certain groups who say it was an American intervention to oust Marcos. Do students know what plagiarism means and why it’s wrong and why we have RA 8293 – Intellectual Property Code of the Philippines? Apparently not as we see Tito Sotto still riding high on the poll charts. These, and many more burning moral indiscretions by political leaders and those in office, need to be explained to the Filipino youths, the real assets of the Philippines.
Tis the season for comics, so here’s my vain attempt at political cartoons.
Stupidity is a talent for misconception
Poe…. Edgar Allan Poe