"All men lead lives of quiet desperation," said Thoreau, by which I take to mean that we're driven by small bite-sized concerns. We take the world in small chunks, befitting our limited capacity to influence people and events. By and large, this approach works. But sometimes nibbles alone aren't enough, and we need to recognize when an extra large helping of trouble becomes necessary.
Case in point: at the height of the "Desperate Housewives" brouhaha, the online petition for an apology had the highest number of signatories. By now you should already know what it was all about: one of the characters in the show uttered a derogatory comment about Philippine medical schools, then perceived, by extension, as a slur against Filipinos.
Contrast this with the relative apathy concerning the Cyber Education Project. Unfazed by the National Broadband Network scandal, the Arroyo administration announced this week that it was all systems go for the CEP, a project that would cost $460-M, significantly more than the $330-M price tag of the NBN. Was there a peep? Not a one.
(But just what is so wrong with the CEP? It's not just the price tag, you see, it's the basic premise. The CEP essentially proposes to replace teachers and textbooks with TV sets. For all the promised improvements in education, I have a sinking feeling that all it will really prepare the students for it to watch TV programs...like "Desperate Housewives." Neurosis country, here we come!)
Despite its hurtful implications, the "Desperate Housewives" comment was trivial as compared with the very real prospect of shouldering an onerous debt burden for the next 20+ years. So why do we make so much noise about a TV show (a foreign TV show, at that) vis-a-vis a very real ethical, moral, and financial problem in our own backyard?
Perhaps what underscores the difference between the two is the extent by which we perceive we can affect the outcomes. Deep down, we have confidence in the decency of an American TV network to recognize and apologize for its error -- which it did. On the other hand, we may have already given up on the most basic capacity for decency on the part of the Arroyo administration. This week, it acted true to form by "vaccinating" itself against possible impeachment.
Desperation isn't necessarily a bad thing. It implies that the situation is dire, certainly, but it also means that there's still the willingness to fight. Therein lies the glimmer of hope.
The question then is: are we still willing to fight for things that really matter, or are we simply content with miniscule battles of little importance simply because we think we can win them?