The battle for decency and dignity in the Philippines
We are seeing in the Philippines a trend that is universal, the movement of large groups of people toward extremism. This appears to be akin to what we see on on social media where easy, uninformed opinions are spouted as if they were clarion calls of virtue and defended to the point of insult or verbal violence.
This trend toward extremism has been fulfilled in the Philippines by millions who picked a leader who shares the ease with which we cast profane or offensive insults. It is a complete rejection of civility as we came to understand it during the recent “enlightened” era when polite was a virtue and rude was shunned.
“But we need shock to change, Joe.”
Okay. Let’s come back to that later. For now, let’s just consider how we got here.
Our thinking during the enlightened era, as technology brought us closer together, drove us to embrace non-discrimination and equal treatment under laws. Courts were assigned to give justice, not the lynch mob or posse or individuals with a gun and an inclination to use it. We tried mightily to overcome our basest, most violent animal tendencies. That led us to the ideals of ‘human rights’ as being the best that we could be. We sought new values that would help us live together in peace and harmony.
But now we see that the violence rages within us. Or within our neighbors, for sure. And from the rage emerged President Duterte.
How did we lose our civility so completely, so quickly? We had worked so hard to understand and get it right, and now we seem willing to pitch our human progress into the Pacific where it can float on the piles of plastic jetsam all the way to Hawaii, and wash up on some deserted beach there, lost and lonely.
Well, we are each three people these days, I think.
There is the real, honest person who speaks mainly to our individual selves. Here we harbor secret lusts and angry thoughts but keep them to ourselves. Envies, jealousies, and bitterness exist here. And light, too. Hope and happiness. We also find desires here, addictions or habits, or even kinkiness. It may be dark, it may be innocent, it may be exploratory or educational. We do our prayers and confessions or our contemplations and meditations to calm this emotional beast that prowls on the edge of our subconscious. We work every day to bring it back within our overt control so it cannot do harm to others or us. It is the private us. No one, neither friend nor spouse, knows the entirely of us.
Then there is the social us, the civil us, the one who shows himself openly to others, learns etiquette for meals, grants honor to the elderly, and follows the legal and social rules because we understand that respect and order are important if we are to be harmonious as a community, or nation. This is a somewhat artificial world because we learn to adjust our feelings and behaviors to benefit others. We follow moral rules taught by our parents, schools, and churches. Sometimes there is a breakdown, a riot, a loud party, a theft, a murder. But, most of the time, we behave as sentient animals, bound together in the discipline of civility, kindness and the desire for fairness and self-fulfillment – for the good of all of us.
Now there is the new us, the social-media us, or texting us, or gossiping us. This us is found wherever a click or ‘send’ or few words can register our opinion or emotional view, and it feels good. We are empowered; we move our private self into the social world with ease, and back again. We can set free the emotions and needs of the private us, often the beast within, to feel the love, feel the power, feel the satisfaction of slapping someone down, feel the feelings we have been trained to hold within . . . for civility and order.
Well, enough of that and it becomes simple to let this expressive and hurtful version of us prowl about entirely free, outside the artificial bounds of civility. We can opine or troll or insult those who, by our reckoning, are idiots.
We can also use the button on the voting machine as another way to express the dark, power-hungry, emotional private us. And it feels good.
Unfortunately, in the Philippines, this kind of applied emotionalism seems to have cast decency and dignity to the four winds. Many are aghast that our civility is so often and so easily set aside. This decency was developed over centuries, representing our agreed path to survival, well-being and happiness.
We left that path.
We have decided to walk the path of our collective private selves, often needy, often dark, sometimes ruthless . . . and the norms of civility have completely broken down. These are Philippine values today:
“It is okay for journalists to be assassinated if they offend someone.”
This is not much different than that horror of man’s darkest rationalization:
“A woman who is raped is asking for it.”
Enough of this kind of dark and disturbing “out of the box” thinking, and we are inclined to ask ourselves, is this really us? Are we really only the dark, private, needy, feeling, punishing self? Have we enabled this, participated in this horror of horrors by being uncontrolled, undisciplined on social media, or with friends?
Is it too late, or can we still summon up enough discipline to SUPPRESS OURSELVES . . . discipline ourselves . . . according to the rules of decency and dignity that will give us a harmonious society?
And how is the world are we going to get OTHERS to want to return to the civilized fold?
The trolls are loose. Those who lie to and manipulate the national press are loose and doing their work. The thugs are loose, the autocrats . . . and the murderers if we are to believe the bodies now turning up and tagged as a gift to President Elect Duterte.
If we agree to suppress ourselves . . . discipline ourselves . . . how do we get this nasty genie we have unloosed back in the jug?
Others resist civility. They enjoy the power, the joy of disruption, of the pleasure that comes with making someone angry. Or hurting them.
Vengeance is loose, and a lot of people are exercising it.
Even Roxas supporters.
How do we discipline ourselves, others, and a President who, from all evidence, appears to represent the uncivil us? Mayor Duterte thrives because of his undisciplined expression . . . hostile, divisive, crude, rude, obscene. He thrives by scorning all those artificial standards of civility we have, until now, relied upon to keep us healthy, together, and rational.
He will soon be our leader.
His supporters say his outspoken way is necessary, because the old ways, the traditional ways, the enlightened ways, do not work. The Philippines has riches, but they are for the favored, and the poor endure the suffering.
“But we need shock to change, Joe.”
I agree that Mr. Duterte has earned the right to lead. And, indeed, there are needs, and plenty of needy.
But the way things are going, we are nothing better better than Road Warriors on a barren landscape where civility used to reside. The man in the iron mask, with the iron fist, is determined to rule his way. No one else counts. The sycophants and power-mad flock to him to get their piece of the action, to feel the power. To chair a committee. To line up behind their master to do his bidding.
I can’t help but think they are the weak, living for the high of power, no better than the druggies President Duterte vows to kill.
Justice in this new world is not set by civil rules, by moral rules, by accepted behavior. It is exercised at will.
And our right to civility, to expression, to live free, to participate in a vibrant, open democracy . . . is diminished. Our right to feel pride in who we are, as Filipinos and fans of Filipinos, is diminished.
In my opinion, we need to return to civility, President Duterte needs to lead us to a return to decency and dignity.
If we need shock to change things, pass the laws that will do that. FOI, Land Use, Anti-Dynasty, revise the Revised Penal Code, Federalism, stricter punishments, even the death penalty if the electorate’s representatives vote for it. Deploying the shock and awe of incivility will do very little for the nation, in the end.
The nation still has heroes, I suspect, and they will not stand for the degradation of Philippine civility. Because it divides. It offends.
A huge number of Filipinos do understand decency, and they do understand dignity. In fact, they can’t live happily without it.
We can help support Mr. Duterte as he leads the nation to change . . . and hopefully to civility, as well. We can be civil ourselves and we can demand it from those we know and come into contact with.
- Conviction resulting in murder without judiciary judgment is not right. Period.
- Threatening people is not right. It is extortion.
- Labeling people is not right. It seeks to find power by humiliating others.
- Words and deeds that demean women are not right.
- Words that demean people of faith, or color, or age, or handicap are not right.
Helping people is right. Free speech is right. Real unity, based on respect rather than demands, is right. Polite is right. Giving of oneself to help others along is right.
Change is right, within the bounds of laws and human decency.
That is the kind of change that grants us dignity, that makes us whole. That makes working earnestly for the family and the community and the nation worth it.