Sassy Rage Snippets

How was it possible that

Jover Laurio

A very minor blogger

in the Philippines

was featured by the BBC

in order to defend herself against

people who outed her identity

but not people like me whose

social media

reach is way way  higher and whose

facebook

reach is way way higher

Advertisements
Sassy Rage Snippets

Romanticizing the Political Figure: On the Triptych Scene in Abel Gance’s Napoleon (1927)

The Jacobin Moses

Gance’s Napoleon concludes with the young general’s departure for the Italian campaign. What makes this climactic part interesting is not the novel panoramic triptych that allows us to view the sight in panorama even before panoramic cameras were used in film making before, but in the way the panorama determines both the past and the future as an organic whole. What Gance does with the triptych is to portray Napoleon’s Italian campaign as the beginning of his storied career. The film builds up to this scene by establishing Napoleon’s prodigy: as a child, he was astute and intelligent, hampered only by his Corsican descent. As a young officer in the army, he had to endure the oscillations in the revolution as well as the incompetence of the generals in the new revolutionary army. Hence, after suppressing a Royalist counterrevolution, Napoleon, given command of the Army of Italy (by then one of the Armies protecting France from Austrian incursions from the South). Before departing for Italy, he enters into an empty convention hall, the young general reflects on his plans not just for the campaign, but for the future of the revolution itself. Staring at an empty hall, the ghosts of the former members of the Convention appeared. In the midst of the different ghostly figures, the main icons of the revolution appeared. The ghosts of Danton, Robespierre, Marat, Saint-Just, and Couthon appeared before him, depicted as larger than life figures, occupying the screen in a double exposure sequence. The ghostly figure of Danton asks him about his plans, demanding from him the continuation of the revolution and its expansion beyond the borders of the country. The figure of Robespierre demanded that a strong authoritarian system of government had to be constructed to protect the revolution from its internal and external enemies. Amidst this ghostly figures, Bonaparte promises a unified Europe under a single Republic, the liberation of all men from crowned heads, and a centralized system of government. All the ingredient of a benevolent dictatorship. What Gance develops in this scene is to contrast the Italian campaign as part of Bonaparte’s own exodus and descent into the unknown.

ghosts of the revolution
The Ghosts of the revolution appears over Bonaparte

The appearance of the figures of Danton and Robespierre shows how Gance understood the legacies of Danton and Robespierre as two complementary ideals. Danton was the figure of the Republic and its roots in the popular sentiments of the masses. Robespierre, on the other hand, was the stern dictator and a cold pragmatist, seeing the need for strong authority to hold the revolution together as a cohesive system of government that can protect the interests of all citizens and not just the interests of the middle class. Gance’s portrayal of these two figures divides the two tendencies and abolishes the antagonism between the two. The growth and expansion of Republican ideals and the need for a centralized system of authority are two inherently antagonistic ideas that address the external and internal contradictions within the revolution. However, Gance performs a vulgar dialectic. Bonaparte is the figure where the expansion of the revolution and its stability are possible.

Gance depicts the figures of the revolution as the sole authority of the revolution; they are the authors who generated new ideas to create the revolution, inspire the people, and hold them together. The revolution as a cataclysmic event owes itself to the ideas of individuals and their approaches to the republican aspiration. What the Thermidorean reaction brought was stagnation, depicted as a chaotic storm of people. The appearance of the “gods of the revolution” before Bonaparte legitimizes him as the authentic continuation of the struggles of the revolution.

tryptich
Napleon, the Jacobin Moses

The speech he makes before the Army of Italy echoes the exodus narrative that Gance builds beforehand. The triptych scene depicts Bonaparte in the middle screen in a worm’s eye view, side by side with a shot of the army from a birds eye view. Both figures are framed as two parallel gazes of each other, creating a common fetish. Napoleon becomes the object of the gaze of the soldiers and the people are becomes the object of the gaze of the individual. Despite this relation’s inherent non-rapport, the rapport between the people and the the figure of the leader is mediated by the signifier by which the figure of the leader introduces to the dualism. In the case of Bonaparte, he makes a promise to the people: to lead them to the fertile plains of Piedmont and subjugate towns under their rule. This portrays that Bonaparte’s exodus into the the Italian campaign is their pilgrimage to the promised land and Bonaparte is their Jacobin Moses. The Grand Army is the Israel of the Egalitarian cause.

Romanticizing the Body of the Leader

Gance’s depiction of Napoleon relies on a fundamental Lacanian insight “desire is the desire of the Other”. The scene from the empty convention hall to the triptych portray Bonaparte as he sees his destiny in relation to the revolution’s expansion. The soldiers see Napoleon as the savior, the person that can deliver them to some form of dignified existence.

The important element in Gance’s depiction of Bonaparte is that he shows us not the desire itself, but the framing of desire as a formal system of relations. Bonaparte’s story is not a historical flick qua history as a narration. Its politics is not depicted through a set piece where lines in the books are spoken by actors. What Gance portrayed is not a Bonaparte that is simply a product of the politics of the revolution, but to portray a myth. Hence, we do not see a chronological retelling of important events in Bonaparte’s life, but of scenes that generate the myth.

Romanticizing the body of the leader entails that the story of an individual is a convergence of genius and the destiny set upon him by the high gods of the revolution. Life becomes an irony between determinism and the sheer force of the will. Destiny retroactively determines the contingent occurrences in an individual’s life and sees them as part of a singular narrative that leads solely to the destined point. Hence, the myth of the genius is generated: the precocious boy becomes suited for military campaign. The leader is a man with destiny inasmuch as he is a product of his own time and context.

The romanticization of the leader’s body is far from the idealist enforcement of the leader’s authority, but of a vulgar materialism that served as the obverse of a scholastic and theological realism, grounded on the divine. Its materialist expression is the central role of nature and of the human being as the foundation of values and systems of knowing. Hence, any populism is not built around the concept of an idea, but of an attempt to address concrete reality as part of a greater reality. The populist always seeks justification through a continuation of an ideal (the “spirit” of democracy or the revolution) set against a determined moment of stagnation. As a populist figure, Gance’s Bonaparte frames the general as the savior of the revolution, its genuine inheritor.

 

 

Romanticizing the Political Figure: On the Triptych Scene in Abel Gance’s Napoleon (1927)

Žižekian Political Pragmatism: On “The Courage of Hopelessness”

The Pressure of the Political

I just finished Slavoj Žižek’s recent work, The Courage of Hopelessness: Chronicles of a Year of Acting Dangerously (2017);  the subtitle of this book reflects his short book on politics published in 2012 as The Year of Dreaming Dangerously, but deviates from the fundamental spirit that informed his 2012 book. While in the 2012 book he dealt on the wave of protests that erupted in response to the financial crisis and the Arab spring protests that deposed well-entrenched Middle-East dictators, his recent  book on politics reflects the cynicism he always had with explosions of collective outbursts. Even in his The Year of Dreaming Dangerously, he expressed his dismay in the disintegration of the Bolivarian revolution to a caudillo administration, contradicting its grassroots base, and the explosion of new fundamentalisms that followed the Arab spring revolts (ISIS in Syria, the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, the sectarian division in Libya). In The Courage of Hopelessness, Žižek puts this same cynicism for calls for action against the interesting rise of right-wing populists from Donald Trump to Marine Le Pen.

In combating the “Big Bad Wolf” of politics, the liberal-left is entrenched in making compromises with the establishment just to counteract its perceived enemy. This is embodied in the “Clinton compromise”; where Hillary Clinton’s candidacy is perceived as the only option to combat the vile character of Trump and the values he set against the liberal politically correct politics. Žižek saw this dynamic in the public space as the very deadlock of liberal-leftism that allowed for a figure of Trump to emerged. To put this in perspective, the candidacy of Trump is marked by his opportunism of middle-class woes, taking their problems and presenting them an enemy to blame, while at the same time presenting an economic policy that is moderate by Republican standards (nothing of that anarcho-capitalist pipe dream) from lower taxes to decreased government spending. In contrast, the Clinton compromise took the multi-culturalist and identity politics route and presented it side by side with the interests of Wall Street. Both candidates actually do not propose anything new to the political climate, but it was Trump’s clear pandering of common people’s problems that allowed the fundamental antagonisms in American politics to arise.

The defeat of Bernie Sanders indicates the lack of political imagination within the established Democratic Party, cementing its incapability to organize itself at the grassroots level, opting to make moral platitudes about unity in diversity, instead of embracing the fundamental antagonisms that split American society as a whole. The situation Žižek describes is the difficult situation of being pressured by the political. Sanders and Trump claimed to speak for the common people; while Trump utilized the woes of the common people to catapult his political victory and push for the Republican agenda, Sanders’ campaign synthesized multiculturalism and human rights activism and the basic Leftist stance of economic justice. The appeal of the Sanders campaign is precisely that it vocalized what cannot be said in American politics (if Sanders made such statements in the heyday of McCarthyism, he would’ve been called by the congress and made to admit of his association to the Communist Party and accused as a Soviet spy) i.e. the rift between ordinary Americans and the Wall Street elite that caused the economic collapse in 2008. The Clinton consensus took the multicultural struggle and human rights activism and threw the fundamental antagonism that informed it in Sanders’ campaign; the result was a highly PC discourse aimed at demonizing Trump and his supporters, while at the same time conniving with Wall Street elites and Middle Eastern financiers in a horrible rainbow coalition.

The Clinton compromise was an attempt to reduce the political to a set of struggles opposing the vulgarities of the Trump administration while at the same time retain the same economic structure that rendered more power to the financial elite. Its PC discourse attempts to throw the unhealthy baby of the Trump administration as well as the dirty water of political struggles for economic justice, hoping that pristine democracy can be achieved. However, as the 2016 elections showed, the liberal counterattack failed. Žižek does not mince words when he vehemently criticized the liberal establishment for its incapability to draw from the mass base by embodying its woes and placing it within the struggle for economic justice. Instead, the response from the Democratic party is to hope that everything will renormalize and that Trump is part of a democratic cycle that would eventually allow for more tolerant political climate later on. It is precisely this hope for a renormalization that placed the liberal-left in the quagmire incapable of organizing around a popular base.

Confronted with the emergence of right-wing populists using every opportunistic measure to pander on the common man’s woes, Žižek tries to avoid a lot of the political tendencies that abound both in the enclaves of the liberal and the radical left. While the liberal left hoped to find opportunities in the administration to swing the electorate back to the Democratic party, the radical left (or whatever stands for it in the American left-wing movements) is divided among sectarian lines on how to struggle against the enemy. Explosions of counteroffensive violence, clashing against right-wing nationalists and organizing “Love Trumps Hate” demonstrations do not suffice for an effective approach against the Trump administration. Furthermore, leftist positions oscillate between its cynicism with state mechanisms and its interstitial relationship to it when it comes to moral obligations to accept refugees. Mixed with PC discourse and guilt, the liberal left is causing its own demise, putting itself in the cross-hairs of right-wing propaganda. Given this situation, Žižek’s proposal is highly pragmatic, but surely enough to madden PC sensibilities.

Žižekian Pragmatism: Back to Bureaucratic Socialism

Žižek proposed that a sensible solution to the refugee crisis is to construct an effective bureaucracy to screen and accept refugees, rejecting all forms of humanist blackmail. By removing the status of the refugee as the Levinasian face of the other, he breaks down the only fantasy that sustains the liberal-left’s approach to the refugee crisis. While to PC sentiment a strict immigration and acceptance policy reeks of right-wing demagoguery, the proposal is, at best, the most democratic. The liberal-leftist call for “opening of the borders” is an extra-democratic demand that violates the very principle that bind the nation-state as a concept i.e. the right to defend its borders and internal security. Allowing hapless and victimized refugees inside without screening, one should not be surprised to find among them latent jihadists posing as refugees. While not all refugees are closet jihadists, the possibility of one of them being one is dangerous for the refugees as a whole, submitting them to the unbridled anger of ultra-nationalist gangs. The measure of allowing the refugees to pass through a strict screening process allows for security measures to be done early on.

This proposal is modest and pragmatic. It clearly places the duty of processing in the capacity of the EU and the nations where such centers are to be placed. The immediate criticism that such a position will elicit from liberal leftists (and some in the radical left) is its lack of sharing solidarity with the refugees, submitting them to suspicion through strict screening processes. However, I agree with Žižek here; as someone who experienced lining up to get a US visa and staying for half an hour in the immigration lines just because my name is common to both Latinos and Filipinos, screening is a normal process by which someone proves his innocence to a legal body. Allowing an open border policy to refugees is similar to visa free travel with a huge possibility of wrecking havoc on the host country. At its most basic, Žižek demystifies the refugee, while they are victims of the war, they not innocent victims with pure personalities and attitudes.

Žižek’s demystification of refugees and proposals to systematize the process of accepting refugees reflect the political pragmatism at work in his recent political commentary. One of the crucial sections of his recent book is “A Plea for Bureaucratic Socialism”, what he does is to dispel another leftist mythic alternative to global capitalism i.e. localized politics governed by federal councils instead of a centralized state system. Such position is founded on a fundamental anarchist fantasy: since global capitalism has made nation-states subservient to its cause, an efficient way to combat it would be to abolish the nation-state bureaucracy and give power to a local council to oversee the affairs of different regions. What such position try to do is to transpose the revolutionary role of the multitude to a governing body, hoping that it won’t disintegrate and form another elite body of administrators. Such position reflects its incapability to build from popular political movements to the morning after of political administration. Žižek perceived the left as incapable of dealing with administration, but, at the same time, the moment that it can administer presents a decisive blow to liberal cynicism.

Žižek, in his recent book, echoes a pragmatic approach to political administration. The left is divided within sectarian lines when it comes to the question of the party and the state. While Žižek is critical of vanguardism, one should situate his criticism on vanguardism being merely vanguardist i.e. to simply gather and organize without the goal of administering to those it tries to represent. Žižek challenges all leftists to take the question of administration as part and parcel of the struggle. For all leftists, being drunk on revolutionary fervor leads us to confront the hangover the morning after; the problem with recent left-wing attempts at government is that it thought it can have its cake of leftist administration and eat it with capitalism, only to find themselves being punished by the market. Confronted with the real of the market and its expansive logic of exploitation, the challenge is how should a leftist confront the capitalist real without risking the return towards the old ways within the new.

Ascribing the term “pragmatism” to Žižek’s politics will reek of political and parliamentary reformism, however, it should be clear that for him, the measure of a revolution’s success is not to simply organize the mass base, but to effectively administer to the mass base, changing the coordinates of everyday habits that people do after the revolutionary event has dissipated. The Bolsheviks were aware of this after their victory in the Civil War, knowing well that allowing the proletariat and the farmers to go back to their old ways before the revolution would destroy all the work done before and during the revolution. Lenin expressed this when he wrote in 1918 that the one of the immediate tasks of the Soviet government is to promote open debate in meetings as well as discipline among the ranks of the proletariat and the party. Trotsky reflected on post-revolutionary culture in his article on cinema, vodka, and the church, demanding that in a proletarian state, the cinema presents a higher level of educational culture to replace the cheap entertainment provided by religion and alcohol. Lenin’s pragmatism and Trotsky’s left-wing puritanism resonate the attempt to revolutionize society sponsored by the Soviet government by introducing disciplinary measures and government sponsored forms of amusement (like state-owned theaters). Small measures like this as well as the New Economic Policy (NEP) renewed the Soviet economy after World War I. To Lenin, the NEP was a slow, but necessary, step for the betterment of the Soviet Union.

The modest proposition that the left should be the embodiment of discipline and restraint in contrast to the vulgarity of right-wing nationalist is a strong one and would most likely be rejected by those who see the left as the political spectrum of unbridled freedoms. However, the liberal establishment has already coopted the idea of individual hedonism, with millionaires from Silvio Berlusconi and his orgies and the baller lifestyle of the founders of Uber, making headlines. In such a case, the idea that individual hedonism is set against fascist obsession for order totally misses the point. While the left should fight for individual rights (gender equality and economic justice), such struggles are part and parcel of the leftist administration of the state. Currently, the postmodern left is afraid of the state, content with interstitial distance, hoping the status quo can be coaxed to answer the needs of the majority. However, the Clinton compromise shows us that this is impossible and downright counterproductive.

The ideas of “democratic centralism” and discipline within the party needs to be resuscitated.  Such concepts are widely accepted by the national democratic front. Perhaps, the West has a lot to learn from the party discipline of the Communist Party of the Philippines.

Žižekian Political Pragmatism: On “The Courage of Hopelessness”

Filipino Nationalism(s) Under Dutertismo: An Urgent Warning

Those who read this blog know perfectly well that I have written and will continue to write essays on the concept of Dutertismo. Since the concept itself is problematic, defies strict definitions, and difficult to pin down on the left-right political spectrum, my position has been to assert that Dutertismo embodies the class tensions in Filipino society, ranging from cooperation among different elements of the classes, complete apathy sustained by postmodern capitalist ideals, and open class struggle goaded by the inherent contradictions generated by the late capitalist mode of production (from outsourced production to extraction of intellectual work through the digital service sector). Class tensions in Filipino society are either openly antagonistic or non-antagonistic. I hold that the former is repressed and the latter is sustained by different ideological discourses and processes that fill the void that obfuscates class struggles and expresses it in different forms. Such form is expressed in different concepts: ruralism (which is synonymous to traditionalism), nationalisms, and liberalism. All three are responses to the postcolonial situation and attempts to define the contours of Filipino identity in response to globalization and the syncretism of culture that marked Filipino consumerism and everyday life. Moreover, all three are reactive in the pure Nietzschean sense of the term that sought to express the resentment of many at the face of its own failures as a nation that embodies the agenda of the masses.

Ruralism is an idea formed by a nostalgia. City life, especially in Metro Manila where everything seems to be out of joint, creates a nostalgia for the good old times where food is a matter of going to the local market or asking people what they have to share. Ruralism is a nostalgia in response to the perceived decadence of urban life. When confronted with the apathy between neighbors in a gated subdivision, one dreams of a time when neighbors are close by and intimately known. One dreams and desires what one does not have or have lost; ruralism, however, is not a desire for something we have lost, but something we do not possess in the first place. Hence, ruralism is a reactive term inasmuch as it supplied us an ideal that is neither past nor future. It occurs only as a an exercise of thought, a fatal abstraction from attempts at subtraction from the currently perceived decadence of urban life. When urban life becomes too alienating, when the very idea of community is an amalgamation of houses and nothing more, we strive for something that was in the past, untainted by the demands of city life. As a reactive concept, ruralism thrives on the dichotomy between the urban and the rural, where the urban is an actual material reality and the rural a name for a loss that was never there, standing only as a placeholder for what the urban is not. It is an expression emerging from a melancholy.

I see ruralism as an expression of alienation. The demands of capitalist production are embodied by the city; consumerism is a temporary respite from the demands of capital that contains a double demand: spend and consume to relax, but work in the next day and pay for your credit bills and so on. City life is a matter of dealing with abstract and bureaucratic life, organized by strict time frames and production quotas to achieve. Even with the emergence and proliferation of the digital information industry, the mode of production simply moves to a more abstract level that cannot be simply molded to the Marxist labor theory of value, since intellectual labor fully exploits creativity through precarization. To sustain this dynamic, late capitalism is marked by its capability to morph and adjust to the cultural demands of its nodes.

The duality of Western postmodern capitalism and Asian-values capitalism revolves around two distinctly polar tendencies: the permissive Western capitalist dynamic and the traditional and highly exploitative capitalism with Asian values embodied by the state of Singapore and China. Clearly, Filipino capitalism does not fall exclusively to either tendency. Hence, I will go so far as to argue that Filipino capitalism is an Asian values capitalism sustained by the illusion of abiding by a Western spirit of capitalism (a similar ideal was prevalent in the Sonno joi movement during the Japanese Bakumatsu  period where in order to maintain Japanese tradition and Western development rallied under the slogan: “Japanese Spirit, Western technology”). By the “illusion of abiding by a Western spirit of capitalism”, it implies that our economy is fully open to the agendas of the globalized system of capitalist production. The effort of all post-1986 governments has been to force the country’s participation in the global market, allowing as much liberties to global transnational companies to exert their demands upon the Filipino economy. Such a globalizing project is rife with contradictions and it entails the precarization of different labor sectors to provide ample opportunities for transnational companies to maintain its foothold. Hence, as an Asian values capitalism, the effort to remain within the global capitalist network is to assert traditional values, expressed a national identity. It is not surprising that the effort to liberalize the economy is also accompanied by highly conservative Catholic and Protestant law makers who argue for open economies on the left and strict moral family codes on the right. Communism is the name for the disturbance in the national body.

Days before Ferdinand Marcos declared Martial Law, he underwent a so-called “spiritual exercises”. In his diary entry of 29 March 1972, he writes “The permissiveness of society must be balanced by authoritativeness. The two poles must be given weight and equal importance…And the permissiveness of our society has spawned the many evils that will wreck our Republic. It must now be balanced with authoritativeness and that is martial law. However, I put as a condition the occurrence of massive terrorism which would alarm the people as well as the authorities.” (cited from Manuel Quezon, III, “Martial Law and Parental Guilt” available here ). What then is the permissiveness he sought to counteract? In 1972, it collectively meant “Communism” under which long-haired hippies, drug addicts, rebellious students, and Voltes V belong. Hence, speaking at a national conference on the children and the youth, Marcos wrote: “This requires a national effort. This requires the effort of everyone whether in government or outside government. There will be a great need for the resources and services of agencies and organizations outside the government. There will be a need to mobilize free and voluntary services dedicated to the welfare and development of the youth. Unfortunately, many of the parents must answer for some, if not many, of the ills of our society. Many of our parents think that after they have sent the children to school their responsibility is finished. This is not true and many regrettable mistakes in our society are due to the fact that the parents have failed in many instances in performing their role in society. And yet we blame the young. We keep on blaming the young. When we speak of drug addiction and we speak of the waywardness of the young, we have an inclination and a tendency to point to them and say, they belong to this drug-addicted generation. Perhaps, we should look inward and into ourselves and ask ourselves how far have we as parents fallen on our job. I speak as a parent. As President I am a busy man. I sometimes work up to 3 or 4 o’clock in the morning and yet, I have a feeling that notwithstanding the fact that we may be very busy there are certain obligations you and I cannot shy away from and they have to do with the care of our children. When my children were here, even if I was very tired or very occupied, I always tried to see them before they went to bed. When they were working on their lessons or when they were whiling away their time I tried to talk to them even for just a few minutes. I am certain that many of those who are drug addicts among our children will say, will tell us, that it was because we the older generation didn’t care enough that they turned out that way.” (Ibid) Communism was the name of an external conflict, an invader accompanied by the rabid permissiveness of radicals, posed against the values of the nation embodied in the family. Drug addiction, rebellion, and radicalism can be resisted by the simple time a parent can give to his children, properly honing them to the values of the nation.

However, it should be clear that Marcos’ nationalism accommodated itself to outbursts of nationalisms. Back then, the Marcos dictatorship is a nationalist reaction with a populist appeal; today, the nostalgia for the Martial law years reverberates in the outbursts of nationalisms that decry the decadence of contemporary cosmopolitan life. Disobedience to authority, rebelliousness, apathy, consumerism and so on are highlighted as repulsive values of the urban life. To counteract this, nationalism(s) revolve around the mystification of the past of rural Filipinos who cooperated with their leaders for the betterment of society, regardless of political color. In this case, market society offers a level playing ground upon which traditional values must inform the relations between people while at the same maintaining a highly permissive workplace. Hence, one can complain about work and at the same time obey with commitment. The organic unity of society is sustained by perceivable enemies: drug addicts, drug pushers, rebellious students, decadent bourgeois thinking and so on are seen as external bodies that disturb the harmonious flow of the organic body, the removal of which guarantees the continued healthy lifestyle.

Confronted with latent and all-out outbursts of nationalisms, liberalism sought to a middle ground. Provide a Filipino democracy founded on good values of cooperation and kindness. One can live a highly opulent and occidental lifestyle, but contribute to charity and make acts of philanthropy. Liberalize the economy to such an extent that the oligarchy becomes more wealthy, but make time for progressive programs. A totally ridiculous example of this can be seen in how SM justifies its prolific building of malls; in an advertisement, a clip of a storm hit town was shown in all its brutality. After which, the ad goes to successive pictures of a SM mall and its built-in flood control structure, accompanied by interviews from locals thanking SM malls for the project. This is Filipino capitalism at its most elementary: unfettered free market sustained by nationalistic tendencies and traditional morality. Liberalism panders on both tendencies, attempting a balancing act between allowing nationalistic outbursts or promoting an economy for global capital.

Dutertismo and the recently termed “Dutertenomics” (which echoes Reaganomics) shows that liberalism is waning at its own weight unable to control the contradictions inherent to the economy, politics, and society. Here, nationalisms are directly accommodated and named as a form of nationalism (or Duterte’s use of the word “Filipino”).  At the same time, here the law is taken to its full inherent transgression, providing the police and the army a free reign to inflict their policies under the guidance of the enforcement of the law. In the political arena, dissent is seen as a violation of national stability; destabilization emerges with disobedience and rebellious attitude.

Dutertismo now stands as a politics for the lost ideal. Nationalisms aim at trying to assert the lost ideal as a political category. The debate between supporters and detractors of Martial law were reduced to a matter of regional affiliation. Nationalistic tendencies played on either side as one stand for national stability and close ties to cultural roots and the other for the protection of civil liberties against the encroachment of a new authoritarianism. What the debate on the notion of nationalisms tell us is the untenability of  a post-colonial politics that relies on unraveling marginalized rationalities that seek to inform dominant rationalities, seen to be more dynamic and tolerant of cultural difference.

The way out of this deadlock is to assert a politics of universality. In this case, there is no authentic regional ethnic roots to fight for whether Taglog, Visayan, or Mindanaoan.  No true regional culture to stay true to. Of course, this does not mean an abolition of culture and the imposition of universal values by force. A politics of universality is a politics of universal struggle. Such a politics was apparent in the Lumad crises, different tribes from the North to the South converged in Manila not to celebrate their being a tribe, but to fight for the simple right of land and a dignified sense of self-sufficiency. In a joint statement, their leaders denounced transnational companies that played on tribal antagonisms to further its exploitation of the land. They were not content with simple ethnic recognition as such. This is universalism at its finest.

 

Filipino Nationalism(s) Under Dutertismo: An Urgent Warning

When the Not-All Speaks: On Kadamay and Liberal Philanthropism

I had two distinct experiences with Gawad Kalinga and their brand of granting free housing to the urban poor. In the first instance, I was able to participate in a GK integration program for the recipients of housing in a former squatter’s area in Parañaque which was improved through GK funding and programs. Aside from the usual feeding program for the children, the highlight of the program was a series of talks led by Catholic groups. The talks centered on traditional family roles and their importance in a peaceful family and community. The roles of the father and the mother are emphasized in the most Catholic way possible; the father works and the wife attends to the matters of the house. In addition, sexual ethics are discussed through a series of obscene analogies: men are like firecrackers; if you don’t light a firecracker up, they tend to explode almost immediately; women, on the other hand, are compared to an electric iron which needs to be plugged in to heat up (it sounds more obscene in Tagalog: kailangang isaksak bago uminit, isaksak which either means to plug in something, to stab someone, or the act of penetration in sexual intercourse). These values are taught to the recipients of housing with the intention of making them prim and proper citizens, dissuading them from leaving their new houses and put them for rent and squat elsewhere. In the second instance, we took a more hands-on approach, helping other GK volunteers in constructing the houses; we did everything from carrying sacks of cement to mixing cement and so on.

There is nothing special in this instance aside from the fact that participating in a GK volunteer activity is always a venue for other parts of society to do good deeds. Participation has some sort of cultic appeal to it. The volunteers, donning specially made volunteer t-shirts, designer denim pants, and original rubber shoes, come to the sites with the expectation of being welcomed by a throng of poor people cooperating with them in building a better community. This is embodied in the typical appearance of a GK village: dolled up single detached houses with neon or bright pastel colors on the outside, unpainted walls on the inside, and each house looking the same with a few plants to adorn the house and the community perimeters. GK promotional material always painted these communities as an evolution from the dense and unorganized communities formed by squatters to the proper communities with a sustainable sense of communal identity.

Gawad Kalinga (despite its growth as a religious to a more secular group) is the typical response to urban poverty. The rising number of squatter communities in places near business districts and urban peripheries posed a challenge to both government and private sector. Real estate investment has been focused on the development of more gated communities and high-rise condominiums, appealing to both high income executives and middle class yuppies who can afford government loan programs to procure affordable housing units provided by private real estate companies. Hence, all the development of subdivisions and condominiums in Southern Metro Manila and the Southern Tagalog cater to those people who are employed in regular desk jobs or for the burgeoning class of small time digital entrepreneurs.

Clearly, the people who are employed in casual, contractual, and manual labor do not have a place in this system. Since contractual labor (or outsourced laborers) does not oblige companies to grant securities for its employees, the rampant employment of casual labor in the city made it impossible to have a sustainable financial capability to be able to eat three times a day, let alone afford government loans for housing. Furthermore, past attempts at relocating the urban poor to mass government housing has constantly failed, being far from sources of income. “Why would I live in a subdivision, if I’ll starve just to pay the bills. I’m a squatter, but it’s quite clean in our area” said one squatter I encountered. To understand the mind of a squatter is to understand the constant state of emergency these people experience, having to live with no stable income or stable means of employment.

Kadamay comes as a whiff of fresh air into the dynamic of urban poor politics. Typical liberal attitudes regarding the urban poor is condescending. Liberal politics restricted their political organizing around NGOs and Local Government actions, made to be dependent on either more blessed members of society or to scraps of welfare doled out by local government politicians at crucial times of elections, even the author of Governing the Other necessitates that a proper democratic approach to the poor is to understand their rationality and have it represented by civil society groups that best suit their ways of thinking. In short, liberals only see them as recipients, victims of circumstance, victimized by their own lack of education and economic capabilities. The bourgeoisie, therefore, see themselves in the role of intervening in this order and granting all sorts of humanitarian aid to these people. Such attitude stops at the religious concern for the victim; the victim has to remain one in order to be helped, he has no right to self organization.

Kadamay’s occupation of stagnant housing projects in Pandi, Bulacan breaks this system of victimization. One should only hear Senator Antonio Trillanes’ remarks on Kadamay as a haven for communists and members of the New People’s Army, citing its security threat or Sen. Tito Sotto’s demand for reconsidering the President’s decision for giving them the houses, citing it as a beginning of a terrible legal precedent for other occupation of stagnant government housing. Such remarks show how Kadamay’s actions attempt to break the vicious circle of liberal philantropism that acted as a stopgap to the country’s lack of welfare programs. Hence, what they did is highly traumatic; the once group of people that are seen both as rabble and recipient of bourgeois kindness organized and took what they think is proper for them i.e.  the simple dignity of being able to live securely.

The ideological consequences of Kadamay’s occuption is overreaching. In an administration bombarded with the criticism of its violent drug campaign, one can hear everyday the clamors to stop Extrajudicial Killings of suspected drug addicts and pushers and a call for due process in the prosecution of drug suspects. Ironically, the same people who deplored and denounced the administration’s violent drug war in favor of legal due process also favor the planned violent dispersal of Kadamay members in favor of due process in the granting of housing projects. Hence, one should rephrase Max Horkheimer’s famous quote “whoever does not support Kadamay in its occupation of stagnant housing projects, should also remain silent about the violence of the war on drugs.” In issues like this, the mettle of the so-called millennial political renaissance is tested beyond the confines of its condemnation of other issues that it saw easy to address.

When the Not-All Speaks: On Kadamay and Liberal Philanthropism

Palm Sunday as Anti-Tragedy

The greatest ironies of the Christian faith do not start in Holy Thursday. The radical nature of Christianity that will unravel in the Paschal Triduum begins with Palm Sunday and the ironic nature of its celebration.

At the start of the mass, the congregation heads outside of the church each one holding a branch of Palm that the priest blesses; after which, the celebrant reads the gospel depicting the entrance of Jesus to Jerusalem and welcomed with palm branches laid before his feet. This scene is then counteracted by the gospel reading during the mass proper, when the same congregation is tasked to read the parts of the High Priest and crowd that demanded Jesus’ crucifixion. While this scene is dogmatically meant to represent the guilt of men, these set of readings should not be read in such naive manner. Rather, is not the whole set of readings from the blessing of the palms to the reading of the passion of Christ according to Matthew a parody of a Greek tragedy?

The readings take us on the typical flow of a Greek tragedy. The fateful hero enters the city in triumph and welcomed by the people as the savior or the destined king of the city. However, this same person, by a twist of fate, does not live on to the expectation of the crowd and is denounced by the city’s ecclesiastico-political authorities for violating the fundamental traditions of the nation and sentenced to death not just physically but is removed from the community, a double death. However, a Greek tragedy employs a fundamental dramaturgic tool, the chorus, that completely separates the crowd and at the same time fully immerses them into the cathartic aspect of the play. While the chorus responds to what the crowd should feel in the performance, it, at the same time, separates them from the story by providing a fetishistic disavowed relation with the play.

If the narrative of the passion, read during Palm Sunday, were to be a tragedy, it fully parodies the flow and the ideal behind tragedy. While the message of tragedy is the inevitability of fate in the course of human and divine life, the message of the gospel tragedy is that at the beginning the fateful hero’s triumph and fall is downplayed. In the gospel, there is no fate that will devastate the characters and show his triumphant will. Here, we only have triumphant will without the fate; fate, as a series of strings that weaved together the series of events to its inevitable end, does not exist in the gospel. When Jesus dies on the cross and shouts “Father, Father why have you forsaken me”, Žižek is right to indicate that Jesus signaled the death of God as the transcendent God that sustains the fabric of our reality. In addition, he also dismantles the idea that the world is bound by an order that unfolds a singular narrative bound by love. When Jesus died, it did not end in a carnival of love, where people just loved each other and stopped judging, but signaled a constant state of emergency among his believers, carving the boundaries between believer and foe.

Hence, the ideal of palm Sunday: the palm branch has always been a political symbol, a sign of victory and conquest. Caesar’s victory at Pharsalus is symbolized by the palm tree at the temple of Nike and togas with palm ornaments are worn only by military leaders who have previous military victories under their command. It is easy to assume that the triumphant entry of Jesus in Jerusalem symbolizes a misinterpretation of his ideals that the Jews simply saw Jesus as the second Judas Maccabeus who will lead the rebellion against the Empire. This very conservative interpretation (which I first heard in a sermon when I was a devout conservative evangelical) fully separates the political from the religious that the Christian message is radically different from socio-political struggles. Here, the passion is simply read as an act of disgruntled people who did not expect Jesus to be the man for the job.

The separation however is more radical than the political/religious difference. Rather, what the Jews and other Christian readers have missed is that the triumphant entry of Jesus should be read as the initial dismantling of the ideal of fate and God’s role in actively weaving it to one piece. When Jesus enters Jerusalem on a donkey, it already indicates that Jesus did not come to be the nationalist political savior nor simply the scapegoat for all our sins, but indicates that God is already empty and that fate does not exist until the people weaved it to be so.

Hence, the obscene implication of the last words of Jesus in the gospel of Matthew is the complete reversal of the heroic tragic ideal. The city is left to its own devices and the community of believers is left to its indelible bond of Christian love. Love, here, is not the common sense notion of love as an emotion, i.e. an eros, but the tension between philand agape, expressed by the discourse between Jesus and Peter in John 21: 15-18. Here, agape does not supercede philo, but the interaction between Peter and Jesus (i.e. between ἀγαπᾷς με and ὅτι φιλῶ σε) culminates between the common expression of φιλεῖς με used by both interlocutors. Hence, agape is not the precondition for Christian love, but a product that emerges in the gap between it and philo that exists only within the boundaries of philein, i.e. of the gathering of human beings as a community of believers from where agape is produced in solidarity. That is the implication of the whole passion narrative initiated by the narrative of Palm Sunday liturgy.

Love, as presented in Makoto Shinkai’s Your Name, along with all its new age-ish message of everything is connected by a thread, interconnecting people of different times and context should be rejected as a complete reactionary message. Your Name presents relations and conflicts as inevitable entanglements within the the same thread of fate that can be entangled but never separate always connected. The disaster serves as one of the entanglements that will sustain the connection of the whole and the proper place of each people within the weaved fabric of time. Each human being and nature in general moved in relation to its harmonious relation within the whole. This soft fascist vision, wherein Japanese Imperialism (as sustained by both paganism and Zen Buddhism) can be simply read as a an entanglement in the nation’s fabric, is counteracted by Christian universality and the tension between philein and agape. Solidarity breaks fate altogether and dismantles class; for this reason, Shiro Amakusa, a Christian who rejected his being part of the samurai class and organized the oppressed Christian peasants, is such a threat to the tightly knit social system and such rebellion can only be sustained by the ideals presented by Christian love. When liberals want to obfuscate class struggle to emphasize the common bond that binds humans together, a genuine response is always a resounding Christian “no”.

Palm Sunday as Anti-Tragedy

Notes on Section 210 of Hegel’s Phenomenology of Spirit

Reading through Hegel’s Phenomenology of Spirit (just to understand Zizek’s “The Most Sublime Hysteric”) and the section on Unhappy Consciousness, I come across this interesting passage that appears problematic
 
From the A.V Miller Translation of Sec. 210
 
“Thus there exist for consciousness three different ways in which individuality is linked with the Unchangeable. Firstly, it again appears to itself as opposed to unchangeable, and is thrown back to the beginning of the struggle which is throughout the element in which the whole relationship subsists. Secondly, consciousness learns that individuality belongs to the unchangeable itself, so that it assumes the form of individuality into which the entire mode of existence passes. Thirdly, it finds its own self as this particular individual in the unchangeable. The first unchangeable it knows only as the alien being who passes judgement on the particular individual; since, secondly the unchangeable is a form of individuality like itself, consciousness becomes, thirdly, spirit, and experiences the joy of finding itself therein and becomes aware of the reconciliation of its individuality with the universal.”
 
Compare that to the Baillie translation
 
“This unity becomes a fact to it, but in the first instance the unity is one in which the diversity of both factors is still the dominant feature. Owing to this, consciousness has before it the threefold way in which particularity is connected with unchangeableness. In one form it comes before itself as opposed to the unchangeable essence, and is thrown back to the beginning of that struggle, which is, from first to last, the principle constituting the entire situation. At another time it finds the unchangeable appearing in the form of particularity; so that the latter is an embodiment of unchangeableness, into which, in consequence, the entire form of existence passes. In the third case, it discovers itself to be this particular fact in the unchangeable. The first unchangeable is taken to be merely the alien, external Being, which passes sentence on particular existence; since the second unchangeable is a form or mode of particularity like itself, it, i.e. the consciousness, becomes in the third place spirit (Geist), has the joy of finding itself therein, and becomes aware within itself that its particularity has been reconciled with the universals.”
 
I will not try to reconcile the two nor recommend a translation, but both seem to point a difficult passage where Hegel uses Einzelheit (particular). Both have two corresponding consequences.
In Miller’s translation, the use of the word individuality, instead of particular, means that individual consciousness will eventually find itself back to the universal after a perilous journey of its own alienation, going back to its own substantial point of emergence. Here, Hegel seems to be pointing at a narrative of the self, going back to itself, reflecting Augustine’s Noli folas ire, in te ipsum redi, in interiore homine, habitat veritas. The impression given here is that the path of consciousness is that of a constant externalization of itself and back again to itself as an individual consciousness reconciled with a universal substance.
 
Baillie’s translation has wide ranging ontological consequences, it introduces a consciousness that is not singular, but particular. Although the translation merely points to a usual classical metaphysical distinction akin to Thomism wherein particulars always reflect the universal or is reconciled with it when the accidents are suspended in the mind, the translation points towards a struggle that is difficult to see in the Miller translation (where individuality and universality reads like an adventure of consciousness back to its own): when the particular is seen as an alien being (das andere, i.e. as an external Other, an obstacle in the Lacanian sense) in the second sense, the reconciliation of the particular with the universal points towards a struggle inherent to the particular-universal relationship. Here, unhappy consciousness implies a struggle with an alien being that can only be experience in its particularity.
What then is the difference between individual and particular in both cases? It seemed to point at the same thing, but the use of individual over particular and vice versa has consequences to any understanding of Hegel and consciousness. The passage quoted above runs after his reflections on Stoicism and Skepticism, both schools have two different ways of seeing thinking and consciousness and its relation to the world. It would seem that Hegel wanted to reconcile stoicism and skepticism and the synthesis is the absolute knowing. However, we are presented with the Unhappy Consciousness (unglückliche Bewußtsein), an “indwardly disrupted consciousness” and “It is itself the gazing of one self-consciousness into another, and itself is both, and the unity of both is also its own essence; but objectively and consciously it is not yet this essence itself — is not yet the unity of both.” Negativity is at the core of the unhappy consciousness, a contradiction that it confronts in the universal.
I think this is an invitation to study further the concept of negativity later on in the Science of Logic. To dispel the idea of a substantial return to itself, the core of the negative core of the dialectic has to be handled and not merely mystified.    
Notes on Section 210 of Hegel’s Phenomenology of Spirit