Saturday, August 20, 2016

Sanity Survival Strategies for the Next Six Years

In the broad spectrum of public opinion, on the one extreme, you will have people who entirely approve of the way things are going and on the other extreme, people who believe that we have entered the worst of times. I fall in the latter category. I am deeply disturbed by recent developments, by what I see as the deterioriation of our institutions, by the outright naked abuse of power, and by the systematic dismantling of the checks and balances that comprise a democratic state. In other words, the country is going to shit.

I pin my hopes by looking back at the swath of history. Other peoples at other times have suffered through more trying situations and have recovered. Dictators are not forever, because they also grow senile or mad, and die, and so too do their empires. I can only hope that things do not get much worse before they get better.

In the meantime, I have mapped out a survival strategy for my sanity over the next six years. I'm writing this primarily as notes for myself, as a reminder, but I'm sharing this with the hope that somebody somewhere, also similarly lost, will find this useful.

First, hunker down and go deep. More than anything, these times are marked by a failure of philosophy and critical thinking. Over the years, we've steadily dumbed down because of social media, abetted by mainstream media. Too long we have fed on snippets of news and memes, and by their nature these are visceral, ephemeral, and shallow. The enemy is a master of this medium, whatever semblance of independence has been coopted to its message. Redemption, therefore, won't come from Facebook or Twitter or ABS-CBN. So instead, I recommend a reading list of classical philosophers and histories.

Second, harbor a distrust of institutions and organizations, especially their leaders. If these institutions surrender fail speak up against what is plainly wrong out of fear or out of concessions for their own advocacies, then consider these insitutions compromised. See how already universities and people's organizations, and even the Church, previously at the forefront for human rights, have fallen silent.

Third, write. But don't write as you would for the consumption of social media, write instead to keep a record of these times. Write in long form, write reflections, write your frustrations, write with big words, write even if it appears you are rambling. Write with art. Because we will eventually emerge from this period of madness, hopefully to a season of sanity, and we will need to look back and remember, and if needed, to indict. Write because it will someday be history.

Finally, Hope. Because that is what the evil, with its tirades, with its murders, with its false accusations and false promises, wants to destroy. Without Hope, there is no joy and there is no fight, and all is lost. So, Hope.

Friday, July 15, 2016

The Kill List

The Philippine Daily Inquirer is keeping a tally board of the number of people killed as part of the present administration’s war on drugs. As of July 14, the record stands at 195 dead since June 30 and 242 since May 10. No pictures, thankfully, but some of the descriptions are grisly enough: “Found dead, hogtied, face wrapped with packaging tape and with eight sachets of suspected shabu strapped to the body” and “Found dead inside carton boxes that bore signs saying, ‘Wag ako tularan, mandurukot ako sa Edsa.’ They also bore strangulation marks.” Some have insult heaped upon them further: “Killed by unknown hitmen on a motorcycle, who left a note saying, ‘Tulak pa more,’ with an emoticon of a face sticking out its tongue.”

Emotionally I become too benumbed to react with horror at such reports. Violence is nothing new and acceptable for so long as they happen elsewhere and to a different class of people, right? But fortunately I can still function at an intellectual level and recognize the fundamental wrongness of it all.

By way of explanation, the Inquirer adds a note to some of the names: “most wanted drug suspect”, “noted drug dealer”, and “top drug personality.” But for so many others, it really just reads: “suspected drug pusher” and “suspected drug user.” Is that it? Mere suspicion becomes cause for a permanent solution, no hope for redress or redemption? And what of the 45 unidentified dead, including the 22 unknowns killed between July 1 and 10 in Southern Mindanao? Or the innocents caught in the crossfire?

“But they only kill criminals!” Post hoc ergo propter hoc: “Since they only kill criminals, those who have been killed must be criminals!” Consider how this system can be easily abused. Do you have a grudge against someone? Turn in a tip that he is involved in illegal drugs. Was he killed in an operation? Plant a sachet on his body How soon until this method is applied to political enemies?

But they’ve implicated police generals involved in the drug trade! Immediately comes to mind the two things wrong with the statement. One, right away there is a double standard — low-level operators are murdered straightaway, high-level officials are accused in media. And two, if the case is strong, why not slap them with charges? Soon mayors will also be likewise named. But not congressmen, of course, because congressmen are virtuous and blameless, especially because they have federalism on the agenda.

We’re on a slippery slope of madness. Once we resort to extrajudicial killings as a means of redress and “change”, where is the way out? Because it will prove to be so effective, then there will be no more need for courts or trials. And then we will be at the mercy of the whims of whoever calls the shots.

Speak out now before it’s too late.

Friday, July 01, 2016

On Being (Un)interesting

Is it still worthwhile writing a weekly essay in a local paper like the Dumaguete Metro Post?** I ask the question because I am experiencing a crisis of doubt -- not of the paper, which continues to be a fine record of the community, but of myself.

I don't anymore remember when exactly I started writing for Metro Post. It must have been around 2000, give or take a year, the time I moved to Cebu. I've been writing for a long time, though in between there have been a number of unannounced hiatuses. I am well and truly an oldie now.

The question comes to mind because the environment now is drastically different from way back when I started. Back then it was really just the paper and a smattering of blogs. There was an audience, not a very big one, but a real community nonetheless. Nowadays, social media and a crap-ton of essay writers, photographers, actors, hosts, and meme makers. Mine is just a small voice among many, and one with a diminishing share.

Mainly, I am no longer interesting. By that I mean a combination of different things. I don't think I was ever that interesting a person -- I am male, cisgendered, middle class, and middle-aged, about as boring as can be. It used to be that I had interesting things to say, but that was when the market was smaller, but now everyone has an opinion. My interests, though still important to me, don't have the wide appeal.

I could write for instance (as I'm sure I will at some point), about how I regained my health after I lost forty pounds, or about how I became semi-fluent in Spanish while learning Mandarin, or about my growing fascination with World War I. Even now as I list them out I am chuckling at how boring I have made them sound.

Unfortunately my banality is now terminal. I have left academe and am working for a software development company. No more meetings, no more conferences, no more students, just lines and lines of code. There's nothing you will want to hear about my work unless you work in the software industry.

But for so long as I get the space, I guess I'll go on writing. And because we're old friends, you might skim the page it's on, perhaps chuckle at a phrase or detail that catches your fancy. And I'll thank you because, despite my being now so uninteresting, you took the time to read.