Soyez Realistes (Be Realistic)

There are more commonalities than meets the eye in the events in the past weeks in UP Mindanao, and the successive farmers’ barricades in different parts of Mindanao.

We all know of the Kidapawan barricade that ended in a bloody dispersal, as well as the peasant gatherings in Panacan, Davao City and in Socksargen – these have made the national news.  

Perhaps a little less known are the University struggles against the General Education Program revisions and the reactivation of ROTC in the campus, via a Memorandum of Agreement with the Philippine Army.  Students immediately confronted both through campus demonstrations and in social media.  Despite “losing” both battles (the GE revisions were approved, and the MOA with the Army was railroaded without consulting the students and rank-and-file faculty), their teachers and the higher administration couldn’t but take notice of their vigorous leading of these campaigns.

An important commonality in both issues is the reaction with which the participants to the protests were met:  how can they possibly know what they are talking about, they don’t understand processes and procedures, they have been rabble-roused, they have been manipulated.

For the lumads and peasants, the Left was predictably blamed as the provocateurs and therefore ultimately responsible for the deaths that occurred that day.  The students, on the other hand, are well, just being students, or brash and energetic young folk, but they should better sooner submit to the authority of their elders.

This is unenlightened thinking to the highest degree.

First of all, it is based upon an unmistakably discriminatory view of certain groups in society.  The premise for both is the same:  farmers and students naturally have properties that automatically limit their ability to think – the farmers because of limited formal schooling, and the students because they are young.  As such, they couldn’t possibly have anything sensible to say.

It is interesting that such accusations are lobbed only at protest actions that are led by the uneducated and the unwashed.  Do you hear similar opinions regarding 1986 EDSA or EDSA Dos?  It is interesting how quickly we forget the pivotal role of the youth in changing the course of history.  Would you call Martial Law student activists as simply “cute” or “impulsive”?

Our history presents us with plenty of opportunities to correct these perspectives.  This dependence upon tired and erroneous stereotypes therefore manifests laziness of thought.  Those who condescendingly prod protesters to “think thrice”, or “isip isiprin pag may time” may do well to take their own advice.

Another offshoot of this “manipulated” thinking is the idea that protesters do not know what they are protesting about.  In the mainstream media the edited sound byte of a rallyist unable to answer properly is common – this is used as proof that the rest of the protesters must therefore know nothing as well and are thus merely “hakot” crowds.

But of course not everyone will have the same depth of understanding of any issue.  Any biologist should know this.  There will always be variation within any given population.  Any teacher should know this.  For example, not everyone in class would earn a perfect grade.  You will have excellent students, average students, and those who need a little catching up.  So you simply cannot just randomly pick one individual and base your whole picture on what he or she says about an issue.

There are dozens of other reasons why a certain person may have, or may appear to be limited to, the level of understanding that he or she has.  Not everyone is equally articulate.  Some may have shorter-term perspectives (we need to eat), while others may have a deeper appreciation of social dynamics (linking hunger to corruption, to elite governance, etc.).  But this does not mean that gullibility is the order of the day.

In other words, complete uniformity is an impossibility.  It is then ironic that people who hold individuality as inviolable and vehemently reject socialism as the harbinger of drab homogeneity suddenly, for the sake of reinforcing their argument, lose this righteous stance when they are talking about issues they disagree with, or people they do not consider their equals.  Meaning, you can be considered free and thinking individuals, but not, or only up to, when you decide to join a collective struggle – after which you are just an automaton.

Finally, I think that the outlook that people can be easily manipulated speaks more about the people who assert this than the farmers and students they are talking about.  To paraphrase Rizal, “For one to believe that such a thing is possible, one must believe one’s self to be capable of such a thing”, or, believe that it can happen to one’s self, too. 

This view then speaks resoundingly about our prevailing times dominated by false consciousness and capital’s savvy manipulation of our daily lives.  We buy things we do not need, we emulate people with questionable or nonexistent achievements, we blindly follow trends simply because, well, they are trendy. 

The logic of manipulation is all around us;  no wonder it has permeated deeper analysis, almost easing out all reason.  The belief that other people can be manipulated betrays our own cynical distrust of human capacity, including our own.  That is why it has easily served as a stand-in explanation for things that many do not wish to recognize or acknowledge, such as the movements and the people who themselves seek to break apart all forms of manipulation.

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