Monday, March 03, 2008

Our (Post)modern Revolution and the Tyranny of the Apolitical

How bizarre. Its as if the last century was a dream, and here were are still giving birth to a nation. Stationed here in the land down under, "nationalism" is a bad thing. It manifests in flag-waving and a consolidation of identities - of who and what is Australian, of what belongs to Australia. It manifests in xenophobia and intolerance of difference. I suppose the same can be said for all societies who have fought and won their nationhood. Their 21st century is postmodern. It is concerned with multiplicities - of identities, sexualities and of religions. The postmodern preaches the relativity of truth.

And here we are, Filipinos, still fighting for an identity, of the place for religion, of one version of truth. Have we managed to prescribe the magic formula of what it means to be Filipino? Of what belongs to the Philippines? Where is the nation? Has it a locality? Has it borders? I have read somewhere that statehood is born out of ethnic cleansing internally and nationalist wars externally. More cruel than that is the extinguishing of difference within - the creation of one language to transmit one culture.

By all measures and standards of history, the Philippines is not a nation or a state. Our borders, identities and cultures are fluid. Thus our sense of belonging, of obeisance and of loyalties are just as fluid. Of the material, the way our political unit creates and disburses wealth is placeless in the context of the capitalist world system. The anchors of modern politics elsewhere, of national capital, national labour and national state, are absent. Our politics is disperse, scattered in the four winds, rootless.

This is why I empathise with my friend Luis, who went to the Makati rally last Friday and was reminded of why he is apolitical. I pondered on this matter, and saw that it was a completely rational reaction. In the middle of the action so to speak, it is difficult to glean what is substantive from the spectacle. Our modern revolution is postmodern in this sense. Our modern revolution is being waged in multiplicities - of actors and witnesses, of versions of truths. Our national consciousness in the last twenty years ebbs and wanes in mediated spaces, through texts, old and new media, the web.

So here we are waging a modern revolution framed through postmodern means. It is just as "tainted" with postmodern ethos. Why does it matter that we arrive at the truth when we know that there is none? To be apolitical is to surrender to the inevitable, to be steamrollered by events - by things that happen randomly. What we become are contented/discontented witnesses. There is no sense, no meaning, just time ticking until we belly-up and die. To be apolitical is to give up that our actions matter, because nothing matters. To be apolitical is to surrender to the tyranny of disbelief. Disbelief is totalitarian in that we cannot break of the conceptual cages we create. There is no alternative so why bother? Why expend our energies? Why indeed? We create rationalisations to buttress our version of truth that nothing changes. To be apolitical is to vacate the driver's seat and let the inertia of the moving vehicle take us where it may. It is nihilism at its best.

It is tempting, very tempting to take this stance. But from whence we float on the ocean of relativities and rootlessness, we are brought back to the solidity of the modern. Greed and power are modern. There is none of that here in Australia. It is present on the television screen, but it always takes place elsewhere - in East Timor, in the Gaza Strip, in Kenya. When we are saturated in the politicking of greed and power, it becomes normal, a way of life, part of culture. It solidifies our belief systems that there can be nothing else. From a self-confessed apolitical creature such as Luis, I do not expect much. But hearing the same rationalisations from a Filipina journalist I met here in my uni, I am convinced that the tyranny of disbelief is absolute.

So how do we convince ourselves that politics matters? Well, if politics is arriving at the decision of who gets what, when and how, then it becomes real. Man does not live by imaginary bread alone. We need material things, modern objects, to live. This becomes more urgent in a society that has not yet eliminated hunger. We need to eat, and for that we need to work. For many of us, we need to work hard, to expend our energies to put food on the table. All of this would be fine and dandy if we lived on that deserted island where there is none between us and the sky, lazing the day away catching fish, or toiling for a few minutes in our little patch of green behind our nipa hut. But this would mean finding that uncharted deserted island in the middle of Pacific. Or migrating to the moon.

Unless our country sinks to the bottom of the ocean, or all of us mass-migrate in a postmodern clime elsewhere - where we meet the cold harsh reality of racism and labour inequality and the modern meaning/discipline of passports and citizenships, or we just collectively blow ourselves up, there is no escaping politics. The sooner we realise this, the sooner we can get back on the driver's seat and steer this slow-moving bapor Tabo to a destination where we can afford to be postmodern and apolitical.


Jon Limjap said...

But how do we do that, precisely?

The streets have been particularly ineffective. We have seen it work and fail twice already. The streets were able to remove specific people, yes, but they were never successful in changing broad systems of tyranny that are still in place somehow.

What is there to do? How are we to do it?

mschumey07 said...

Nicely said. Being apolitical is just an excuse to keep the status quo and fooling one's self that everything will work itself out. Change will not be forthcoming if everyone would sit idly by and wait for the heavens to fall on us. It saddens me to see people let others fight for them.

sparks said...


I think it is a symptom of powerlessness really. The whole idea of transforming a whole country is so daunting we are tempted to bury our heads under the sand and take comfort in the routine of daily living. Because I have the luxury of doing nothing but thinking since I got here, I am in no position to call on others, saying they are making excuses or whatever. Like I said I empathise with people's sentiments that things will not change.


Like I said in my twit, I have no answers. If I did, I'd be god. I think the whole point is that we're asking questions, and that we're collectively, in our own little ways, trying to find answers.

Jon Limjap said...

Well, at least that's how you think. There are hooligans in MLQ3's blog who sport the "if you aren't with us you're against us" slogan, automatically categorizing everyone who thinks that it is better to wait for 2010 (like me) is automatically pro-Gloria, and openly blame us for the failure of their actions.

These people certainly aren't apolitical, but they're much, much worse IMHO.

nightdreamer said...

I think being aware of the going-ons of our politics does not mean we are indulging in our flag-waving, same way as being apolitical frees us from racial biases. I also think there is a way of being simultaneously self-aware and actively taking stance in politics, but it seems nobody want to be both. Witness the pic from Luis's blog post. Protesters are crying "change change change"; meanwhile their litters inundate the roads and clog the sewers. Hypocrisy much?

I was once beside a driver who was complaining about how undisciplined pinoy drivers are. He beat the red light while saying that without any hint of irony.

One big failing of our country is we are so good in demanding from others but are lenient on ourselves.

Personally, I'm all for GMA stepping down, but I also think it's time for people to do some serious reflection.

Patrick said...

you know something's dead wrong when that bapor Tabo analogy's still glaringly relevant to Philippine society more than a century after the fili was penned.

sparks said...


I wrote this to explain what apolitical meant. I'm sure most people use the word and assume it applies to them when it doesn't. You have opinions, you're clearly not apolitical. Its the same as washing your hands off a problem and proclaiming you had nothing to do with it and couldn't be bothered.

"Discipline" in public spaces is sorely lacking because we don't respect public life. What does that mean? Its every man for himself because our public institutions don't enforce rules and mete 'justice.'

Your bus driver anecdote is precisely what's wrong with our society. We're good, talented people in our private lives. You transplant us elsewhere and we obey the rules. But in public, its a constant state of conflict between you and the person next to you. We have a word for it - "gulangan." Now why is that? If the bus driver knew he would be punished for beating the red light and not get away with it with a bribe, if knew this system of discipline applied to EVERYONE regardless of social status etc. etc., then you'll have discipline. Then you'll have respect for public spaces - which equates to respect for other people regardless. Then you'll have justice.


Just happy to see you're back online blogging :)