Cynicism is a function of alienation. When one no longer considers oneself part of a something, when one no longer has or no longer cares to have a stake in a system, then one can afford to be cynical. In the cold embrace of cynicism one is insulated from dashed hopes and impossible expectations. Cynicism is the complete and utter destruction of hope. Viewed this way, it is frightfully easy to see that idealism and cynicism are end points of the same trajectory.
The best idealists make the worst cynics. Pragmatists, those who see the world in shades of gray, probably have plenty more room to accommodate failure, inconsistencies and illogic. Pragmatists order the world by taking the good and the bad to incorporate into her worldview. Idealists aim for the normative – what should be. An exercise of idealism then is ordering the world based on what does not yet exist. It is placing faith in the cusp of what could be, in the glimmer of something in the horizon, in the intangibles. Idealism can often be a fruitless exercise, a constant anticipation, a breathless waiting for signs of what one desires to come in fruition.
I returned to the Philippines a year and a half ago full of hope, my mind filled with notions of right and justice. I had not been gone that long, but I was far away enough to have forgotten what it was like, the chaos and the madness. In my mind’s eye, home was a damsel in distress waiting to be rescued. And there I was, her gallant knight. Not all believe themselves to be heroic. It takes a certain kind of conceit and delusion to believe that what one does matters in the larger scheme of things.
Since my return I made a conscious decision to climb down from my ivory tower. Ensconced in the private spaces we inhabit, we can afford to tune out the undesirable public. What we all possess in our private spaces – our families and friends, work – we have in our immediate control. The public – that jungle of common rules, common values and common spaces - are owned by no one and everyone. Here it isn’t easily discernible who are responsible, where our interests lie, what we have at stake and what we can and cannot control. Because the rules that dictate the public are arbitrary and because enforcement itself is arbitrary, it is easy to feel helpless. In such a system it often seems it is each person for herself.
A year and a half ago, I climbed down my ivory tower, afraid of the ugliness that I would see. Called to duty, the knight errant wanted to come to the rescue anyway. And here I am, a year and a half later. I have not quite earned my battle spurs. All I have are a few scrapes. I have had but a glimpse of what teems underneath our public skin. I am at once amazed and disgusted. This is my country. This is my people. This is me.
With one eye to the horizon, I ask myself these days whether these exercises in fruitlessness truly matters. Or that they work in bringing the normative in fruition. I am but a gnat, cowed by the mountain. Perhaps it is me who needs rescuing.