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.

 

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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

Against Spirituality

The Specter of Psychology and its Theological Vicissitudes

From someone who has spent an entire college education in a Catholic seminary, following the Augustinian tradition, one of the most repeated words is that of being able to live a spiritual life. It means a life of prayer, contemplation and to construct a spirituality based on a reflection of God’s plan to oneself. We could define spirituality as a form of devotion and discipline, aimed at making any person live a fruitful and faithful life in grace. However, what I find rather difficult in spirituality is how susceptible it is to naively engage with popular fads in psychology, while at the same time condemn the greed of to-day’s technological society. Outside of Christianity, spirituality is sought after as a discipline and a technique of meditation, seen as a counteraction against to-day’s demands and busy lifestyle. It is more popularly associated with new age theosophy and the burgeoning popularity of guided meditative techniques, yoga, oriental medicine, and so on. There is a great market among young people for a less ritualistic and less theologically dogmatic religion that gives the same spiritual benefits. Its current usage is usually tied with a rejection of religious dogmatism and an acceptance of its metaphysical elements that promise a balanced life away from the stress of to-day’s society.

In a Christian (and I can say Catholic) sense, spirituality can be seen as a response to to-day’s fads, given that the words has only seen popular use among Christian of the present generation. At this point, it is necessary to introduce the dichotomy between spirituality and religion and that Christian spirituality must be seen as a response to that growing trend as part of the failure to realize its own ideals and succumb to the ethos presented by popular psychological fads. Let us look into how Christian spirituality is defined apropos of spirituality in general

Spirituality gets traced back to the letters of Paul in which he uses the word pneuma to signal a life in alignment with God’s spirit. Christian spirituality presumes through God’s grace, a human desire and capacity for growing in union with the triune God.[1]

One can immediately see how new age cosmology is at play like how being one with the harmony of the cosmos is replaced with the “growing in union with the triune God.” The only fundamental difference is that while new age spirituality emphasizes the individual effort of a person to attain union with nature, Christian spirituality is an emphasis on one’s alignment with grace. In one of the most divisive debates in Christianity (as divisive as Arianism) i.e. between the Pelagians and the supporters of Augustine, grace, sin, and the nature of free-will were highly contested; the pelagians had a the most optimistic psychology, emphasizing the effort of a believer to attain salvation by himself, making them one of the most ascetic groups during the 5th century, gaining the admiration of a lot of observers including Augustine himself. Hence, even with one of the most optimistic psychology, the effect was of a strict spiritual discipline; Augustinianism on the other hand has a totally pessimistic psychology to the point of being misanthropic. In order to reject the Manichaean dualistic ontology, Augustine emphasized that beings (and subsequently human beings) are created with a fundamental lack in their being, a privation boni as an inevitable consequence of creation. Humanity has a lack that made it possible for him to seek God or choose evil; embodied and capable of liberum arbitrium (translates literally to “freedom to choose” or “free choice of the will” instead of free-will). The post-lapsus made man a being fully identified in the crossroads of good and evil eternally condemned to free difficult choices unless he lives under grace. Here is where Augustine fully employs the dichotomy between libertas (freedom) and liberum arbitrium (free choice of the will) as the pinnacle of human life where freedom is gained through the self-abandonment of free will to the good. Through its surrender to grace, man accepts the incapability to save himself because of the lack it inherently has.[2] Anti-pelagianism entailed a fatalistic psychology, grounded on the importance of the fall and the transfer of Adam’s sin to all men who although individually created by God is inevitably born in the world of sin. This debate is so divisive that although both Orthodox and Roman Catholic churches condemn pelagian teachings only Catholic theology went far with Augustine’s theology of grace and fully integrating it into the doctrinal body of the church (Orthodox Christians do not believe in original sin and have a doctrine of grace radically different from Augustine). The psychological consequence of Augustine’s theology of graced in Catholic and Protestant theology is the fundamental role of inherent guilt and sinfulness of man in the face of God, requiring total surrender to grace. From the downright pessimistic psychology of Augustine emerged his spirituality based on eternally internal turths, expressed in a famous quotation from De Libero Arbitrio: Noli foras ire, in te redi in interiore homine habitat veritas (do not go out, truth lies on the interior man).

Truth lies internally when we search for it from within our heart and discover that it is the one that connects us with God. With Augustine, we see something that resembled a spirituality in the modern sense of the term, but we nonetheless have a picture of two strands of spirituality that present itself to all religious seekers: one, the new age spirituality currently trending on the market; second, Christian spirituality based on the union with God and the attainment of proper spiritual discipline for the salvation of souls. Both options are seen as disciplines, emphasizing prayer life and constant meditation to aid the person in making wise decisions in life as well as being faithful to the a certain set of values. The unsettling fact with both new age spirituality and a Christian response is that both new ageism and Christianity agree on the goal of spirituality as a union with God or the cosmos. I claim—on the accusation of being presumptuous—that Christianity and Judaism are two religions of the book that does not engage with spirituality or does not contain a spiritual tradition or has gone against the attempt of making a spiritual practice out of its religious beliefs.

 

Job: the Proto-Critique of Ideology

Current theoretical works have seen a ray of light in the Book of Job and its uncomfortable place within the body of work of the late Hebraic prophets of the Old Testament. The interesting point raised by contemporary theorists (of whom Slavoj Žižek is included in countless citations) is how the narrative of Job is radically different from other stories of the Old Testament. Instead of the picture of Job as a patient sufferer open to the might of God, the Job we read is that of a cynic who refused all attempts to interpret his predicament to a religio-spiritual values. The discourses of the three friends can be described as a defense of Yahweh’s omnipotence, justice, and wisdom, three pillars upon which Jewish theology is grounded and form the standard stereotype of Hebraic imagination as a having an angry God. In all of these discourses, Job can be read as retorting strongly against their suggestions, giving absurd reasons and violent replies; for example in a reply to Zophar, Job said

Anyone becomes a laughing-stock to his friends if he cries to God and expects an answer. People laugh at anyone who has integrity and is upright. Add insult to injury,’ think the prosperous, ‘strike the fellow now that he is staggering! And yet the tents of brigands are left in peace: those who provoke God dwell secure and so does anyone who makes a god of his fist! (Job 12: 4-6 NJB).

One can imagine this simply as a rant of desperation and utter madness; however, instead of accepting Job’s faith as an exemplar of the faithful (as can be seen later in the gospels where Jesus would make countless statements about exemplary men and women), Yahweh instead enters into a show of force akin to anyone who only wants to make a show, while at the same time unconfident about oneself. What is different in the Book of Job aside from Yahweh’s exhibitionism and Job’s cynicism is the role of the devil at the beginning of the book. Unlike the usual portrayal of Satan as the horned one, tempting Jesus or Eve with wisdom, food and all the fine pleasures of life, the devil in the Book of Job acts as the jester. Here the full conversation deserves full quotation.

One day when the sons of God came to attend on Yahweh, among them came Satan. So Yahweh said to Satan, ‘Where have you been?’ ‘Prowling about on earth,’ he answered, ‘roaming around there.’ So Yahweh asked him, ‘Did you pay any attention to my servant Job? There is no one like him on the earth: a sound and honest man who fears God and shuns evil.’ ‘Yes,’ Satan said, ‘but Job is not God-fearing for nothing, is he? Have you not put a wall round him and his house and all his domain? You have blessed all he undertakes, and his flocks throng the countryside. But stretch out your hand and lay a finger on his possessions: then, I warrant you, he will curse you to your face.  ‘Very well,’ Yahweh said to Satan, ‘all he has is in your power. But keep your hands off his person.’ So Satan left the presence of Yahweh. (Job 1: 6-12 NJB)

Instead of a person being tempted, it was Yahweh who was tempted. The whole scenario looked like a royal court where the jester would make absurd observations that would give him a lot of ridicule from the court but sets the plot progression of the whole story. Take for example three of Akira Kurosawa’s samurai movies notably Kagemusha (1980), Ran (1985), and Seven Samurai (1954), in all three films, the fool knows more than the other characters the absurdity of any pre-determined set of values that most of the characters have. For example, Kikuchyo, from Seven Samurai, acted more like a samurai than the samurais themselves (who for the most part are ronin, masterless samurai), going on suicidal missions and at one part of the film rouse the villagers when defeat was almost certain. Kyoami acts as the stereotypical jester in Ran (since the film is an indirect adaptation of King Lear), making absurd comments about Lord Ichimonji’s attempts at wise administration of his feudal domain (like giving his sons de facto rule over the castles) blind at his own ruthless seizure of power. The role of the jester coincides with the Lacanian lesion of the big Other’s ignorance, provoking through sarcastic remarks the leader’s body, making him show his nakedness to everyone.

In the case of the devil in the Book of Job, his temptation of Yahweh is a word of provocation, arguing with him about Job’s faith; perhaps, the devil knows that Job would nonetheless keep his faith even with everything taken away from him. The discourse between Yahweh and the devil is not about Job as such, but about Yahweh’s relation to Job. In the end, the result is one of the strangest exchanges between Yahweh and anyone. While everyone from the previous books of the Old Testament saw Yahweh in his absolute omnipotence and wisdom (e.g. the wrestling match with Jacob, the burning bush, the discourse between Yahweh and Moses in Mount Sinai, the discourses on the Books of Leviticus and Deuteronomy and so on); the dialogue between Yahweh and Job is different. Here, we see God not as the wise figure that Freud would later on label as the figurehead of the primal father, but here he sounds like a nagger, telling Job about how he is absent when everything was created. In the face of Job, God acts like the Filipino politician who had to print his names on every corner and every government project just to announce that he is working and that the trust and faith of his constituents is not put into waste.[3] By nagging at Job, Yahweh is fully shown in his impotence; but to save the big Other’s ignorance, Job replies to Yahweh:

I know that you can do all things, and that no purpose of yours can be hindered. I have dealt with things that I do not understand things too wonderful for me which I cannot know. I had heard of you by word of mouth but now my eye has seen you. Therefore, I disown what I said and repent in dust and ashes. (Job 42: 2-6 NAB)

The end of the book does not describe what happened to Job after this event only that he was reinstated to his former position of wealth and influence. However, it is certain that Job did not ascend to some higher form of spiritual understanding or an attainment of greater wisdom. Rather, Job’s final answer to Yahweh cannot be a final affirmation of God’s omnipotence, but simply Job affirming that between him and God is an irreconcilable distance. Here Slavoj Žižek reads the relation between Job and Yahweh as that of the knowledge of the big Other’s non-existence and that his show of force to Job shows his impotence to the faithful Job. Apropos of Chesterton’s comment from Orthodoxy, God in his monologue appears as an atheist, since he himself does not believe in himself and requires the hapless other to recognize his own power. Job’s answer to God should be read as a fetishistic disavowal, an “I know precisely well but…” It is not Job who is engaging a proto-critique of ideology, it is the text that engages in a critique of (spiritual) ideology, showing the vanity of wisdom and spirituality and at the same time that vulgar denial is insufficient in giving an alternative.

In to-day’s discussion, one always finds the sporadic comments about religious devotees and how Filipino religious devotions have laudable devotions to certain religious traditions, but lacked the capacity to transform them into a spirituality that would give them the proper way of life. Sociologists debate about the characteristic of Filipino devotees and are often stuck with dichotomies or a syncretism between Christian baptism and a repressed paganism. One should here take the fetishistic disavowal to its theoretical limit; consider the common Tagalog truism Nasa Diyos ang awa, nasa tao ang gawa (in God there is mercy, in man there is action), the believer has the unwavering belief in God’s capacity for mercy, but it is supplemented by man’s action. In relation, consider the Jesuit axiom of believing that your success is independent of God…but nonetheless work as if everything depends on God.[4] At this point, spirituality as seen as a body of spiritual and faith based disciplines is rendered irrelevant.

 

The Commune of God is with you, and with thy Spirit!

The conflict between naïve universality (i.e. when everything is united in one consiciousness) which forms around the concept of Nirvana—the liberation from suffering—and the Christian universality—that of inherent conflict, a universality of struggle with the commune of believers—is best demonstrated in the final two episodes of Neon Genesis Evangelion, forming the film version The End of Evangelion (1997). In the famous final sequences of the film when Third Impact was initiated by the mysterious organization SEELE (comparable to the Illuminati), as starting point of the “Human Instrumentality Project” ( a sci-fi expression for Nirvana and the universalization of human consciousness into one), Shinki Ikari, the series main protagonist who is undoubtedly an Oedipal subject deprived by the father, was given a choice by Rei Ayanami (who by that time was completely united with Adam and Lilith) either to end everything and reduce annihilate everything to end all the pain of existence or endure the pain through a rejection of instrumentality. One has to remember that the intention of instrumentality was to artificially generate mankind’s final evolutionary moment through the unification of everyone within a single being; to achieve that a sacrificial lamb must be slain in the “ego of Eva-01,” Shinji’s evangelion unit. With Rei/Adam/Lilith, only through Shinji’s decision can instrumentality be successful. He chose to endure the pain of consciousness, after a long dialogue between him and Rei, recounting every painful and pleasurable memory; his refusal of instrumentality forms around the dialogue where he is fully immersed in instrumentality (Shinji and Rei floating around the primordial soup), given a choice either to accept it and experience the suffering of consciousness.

Shinji: I don’t know where to find happiness.

Rei: So, you only find happiness in your dreams.

S: Then, this is not reality, this world where no one exists.

R: No, it’s only a dream.

S: Then, I don’t exist here either.

R: This convenient fabrication is your attempt to change reality.

S: is that wrong?

R: You were using fantasy to escape reality.

S: why can’t I dream that I’m alone?

R: That is not a dream. That’s a substitute for reality.

S: But where is my reality?

R: It is at the end of your dream.[5]

When Shinji makes his final decision to endure everything, he was given assurance that everyone would eventually return to their former selves as long as their consciousness is capable of reclaiming themselves. Instrumentality was denied and the film ends with Shinki choking Asuka Langley, with no explanations as to why.

What was denied is instrumentality is a naïve version of universality that everything in the end will unite in a single consciousness, ending all suffering and reach the apex of human evolution. This goal is where occidental and oriental cosmologies converge; both Gnosticism and Buddhism aim at the unification of humanity within the one (which provoked Elaine Pagels to conclude that Gnosticism and Buddhism shared a common ground and even influenced a few gnostic groups). Shinji’s “no” can be seen as a refusal to end the pain; the psychoanalytical lesson here is that Shinji tries go beyond the pleasure principle, fully accepting pain as part of any pleasure seeking activity. In the end, everything does not return to normal and the Earth is reduced in a sea of LCL (the primordial soup), with Rei/Adam/Lilith gigantic body in ruins overwhelming the background. We can describe him as occupying the same place as Job by the end of the Book of Job. Both Job and Shinji witnessed the big Other in its purity—to the point of being too close to it. However, Shinji and Job diverge when it comes to reacting to the show omnipotence. While Job distanced himself from the belief in the other, fetishistically disavowing it and is rewarded for keeping the image, Shinji makes a radical choice by refusing to believe in the other. He fully realizes the non-existence of the big Other and that what we have on Earth is the hopes and dreams of everybody the capacity to realize them despite the enduring the pain of desire. The film engages in a critique of spirituality by showing Shinji’s obstinate attitude towards his superiors, refusing to pilot Eva-01, denying his part in a bigger plan for humanity. Furthermore, through such obstinate attitude, he was able to avert SEELE’s plan to initiate instrumentality. It was this group through their obsession to force the evolution of man through a spiritual sublimation through the unification of all beings into one that we get into the gist of the film’s criticism of spirituality.

There is a small boundary between the burgeoning popularity of exotic spiritual practices and the interests of big businesses. William Davies points out how at a 2014 meeting of the World Economic Forum, aside from the usual attendees (billionaires, bankers, corporation big shots etc.) a Buddhist monk was one of the guests, offering meditative and relaxation techniques. Furthermore, the forum was filled with discussions on mindfulness, where twenty five sessions were about mindfulness and holistic wellness.[6] The big business interest in various spiritual traditions made a large demand for oriental gurus and certified yoga instructors. The appeal of oriental spirituality and syncretic versions of Christianity can be related to the demand by big business companies to have a dynamic workplace ethic. It is necessary to point out that both Christian and Oriental “spiritualties” are two sides of the same coin, providing an individualist trickle down spirituality—improve oneself through this and that and everything follows—; its egotistical element is retained and a banal cosmo-theology in place.

I propose no alternative here and I will not attempt to come up with a “materialist spirituality” to supplement a dialectical materialist theory. With a rejection of spirituality, I am emphasizing the communal aspect that bound Christians in its early days. What they have is not a system of spirituality, but a theology of militant anticipation of the parousia. When Paul tells the church at Ephesus to put on the armor of God, loins girded in truth, the breastplate of righteousness and so on[7], Paul is not telling the Christians at Ephesus that they can already have a cake and eat it; rather, the recourse to martial metaphors is Paul’s reminder that the faith entails a struggle far more difficulty that philosophical and religious ones. Without being nostalgic, to-day’s religious atmosphere has the wonderment at what lies beyond knowledge and the seeming inherent unity of all things. However, one must maintain that the very failure to understand what is out there is inherent in the object being grasped. The Lacanian lesson of the Book of Job and Neon Genesis Evangelion is that when we are face to face with the traumatic real of what is in front of us, realizing how it is void of all value, we either keep appearances and go on or create another reality outside of what has been fetishized. When Christianity only had an appeal with slaves, women, the illiterate and others who are marginalized by the (multi-cultural avant la lettre) Empire, it never kept appearances; instead, their writings were preoccupied with an anticipation of the end, the apocalypse of Imperial domination. The legacy left by the Early Christians is that they left a memory of militancy and communal living. In our neoliberal age, when communal living means exercising identity politics, perhaps, only the religious militant gesture (without being fundamentalist) can provide a proper theoretical stance against to-day’s ideological struggles.

 

[1] Colleen M. Griffith, “Catholic Spirituality in Practice,” C21 Resources (Spring 2009): 1.

[2] Augustine’s debates with Pelagianism spans over a great number of his major writings, sermons, and letters; to start, De Libero Arbitrio (On the Free Choice of the Will), De Natura et Gratia (On Nature and Grace), etc. for a comprehensive source see Anti-Pelagian Writings, ed Philipp Schaff (Grand Rapids, MI: Christian Ethreal Library, 1886)

[3] However, there are cases when politicians have to blame government bureaucracy to escape the blame from their constituents. For example, in one of the cities of Metro Manila, numerous word works, causing heavy traffic, bore the signs “DPWH [Department of Public Works and Highways] project NOT the City of _____ so that public blame would fall on the bureaucracy of the DPWH and not the City officials who are elected.

[4] Slavoj Zizek, On Belief (London: Routledge, 2002) p. 125.

[5] I am quoting from the English subtitles of the Japanese original.

[6] William Davies, The Happiness Industry: How Government and Big Business Sold us Well Being (London: Verso, 2015), pp. 1-3.

[7] Cf. Eph 6: 13-17.

Against Spirituality

Where do we Stand? Responding to Slavoj Zizek’s Remarks on the Failure of the Left

 

From the rise to power of right-wing groups in Europe, the defeat and co-opting of Bernie Sanders in the status quo of the Democratic party and the rising tensions in the West Philippine Sea, such current events will push anyone to ask “where were the leftist movements that passionately fought for everything?” or “why the left continues to fail at its struggles only for far more worse events to take place?”, Slavoj Zizek’s comments on the failure of the left should not be taken as a reactionary jab at current left-wing struggles, but a clear and present practice of criticism and self-criticism. With such a wide ranging movement that the term “left” means, one gets lost in the quagmire of different opinions that contain either a dialectical or un-dialectical understanding of our current situation. The fall of the Soviet Union along with the dissolution of other communist states goaded some leftists the opportunity to re-write and re-consider some of the old ideological stances and replace them with more inclusive theories and affirm the necessity of remaining within the logic of liberal democracy.

Capitalism, in the understanding of a grand system of labor relations and private ownership controlling the flow of commodities and raw materials, is no longer the theoretical bogeyman; the words US Imperialism, feudalism, and bureaucrat capitalism are discredited as merely slogans of a passé passionate politics that have to give way to “rational” liberal democracy. Leftist theory (from the agonistics of Chantal Mouffe to discourse theory of the postmodern and post-colonial left) is less preoccupied with alternatives but with reforming the democratic system to become more “deliberative”, rational and open. The struggles of old make way for cooperation within the cozy offices of the Parliament building and organization of various civil sectors relegated to valid party-list groups or non-government organizations that would function outside of the state system or even function as a gap-filler to what the state lacked. Such a move is justified as a way to integrate the excluded ones into a supposedly more inclusive democracy. To allow such to happen is it not necessary to reject the cliché in the guise of the communists, the last remnants of a bygone era? What is to be affirmed and held with rigor is the multiplicities of reason, various narratives that unfold simultaneously to each other and functioning within a currently established liberal democracy. The enemy in this case is vague; to the post-colonialist, it is Western hegemony; to the identity politician, it is the hegemonic discourse that prevents peoples to exercise their chosen identities (be it Patriarchy or the dominant scientific rationality). It is enough to say that in the dominant reason there is a singularization and an enforcement of certain cultural norms, repressing the uniqueness of one’s own reason. There is no class conflict here, just the struggle against the dominant and the imperative to openness and dialogue, acting as a medicine to our monologue society.

What is wrong with this theory is precisely its mystification of multiplicities; this way we lose sight of what really causes the global phenomena of exploitation under global capitalism. While the proposed alternative is to return to our post-colonial ethos and relation to the earth (recall how our liberal academicians would love to cite Heidegger), seeing ourselves within an immense universe in the great chain of being with a proper place on earth; it fails to see itself within the ideological coordinates of global capitalism. Its attachment to the system of liberal democracy only serves to demonstrate that our current (supposed) left-wing academic theory “wants to have a cake and eat it,” without realizing that any attempt at radically changing our current predicament requires a lot of risks, examination of current conditions, and the courage to organize and resist, while at the same time rejecting obvious alternatives. While conscious of past mistakes, a communist knows that the struggle requires a constant experience of failure and failing better until a successful alternative is achieved. Our current liberal intelligentsia sees the search for an alternative as a futile attempt at achieving a desired utopian end, settling for the vicious circle of democracy’s oscillation. It is evident that with the almost unfettered rise of the right-wing quasi fascist movements, we can no longer rely on the democratic system to decide the fate of nation-states. From a more theoretical level, we can no longer systematically accept the postmodern discourse, rejecting a singular unfolding of narrative. Rather, our singular narrative is contained in the universal struggle of the exploited from the exploiter; at the end of this struggle is the toppling of the very system that allows poverty and exploitation to occur. Global capitalism thrives in multi-culturalism and nationalism, seeing that the attempt to de-colonize our culture keeps the intelligentsia in check i.e. to remain in the universities, exchanging witty philosophical remarks, barking at each other over who can make a more rigorous noise, while pandering on radicals, seen as nostalgically attached to the passé ideologies of old. That is one of the risks being an avowed Marxist-Leninist in the university. When forming the party is seen as militantism and a theory based on class struggle as un-dialogical, closed to the myriads of options out there. Perhaps, being closed and loyal to the convictions of the cause is better than engaging in speechifying sophistry of academically accepted ways of theoretical resistance.

What is basically wrong with the left? It has transformed itself mainly as a university discourse, producing variations on any allowed theme but as long as it remains within the production of essays and commentaries. For that reason, even among bourgeois students of philosophy Karl Marx is admired only by the scope of his research and the applicability of his thought in various research endeavors. However, if we move outside of the production of essays to the actual work of doing theory (i.e. not merely as writing an essay but the actual analysis of material conditions within the exploitative nature of capitalism) in light of informing current revolutionary movements, they are ready to cast it aside as a futile political project. If they (and ourselves included if need be) remain within the confines of their academism, perhaps Zizek is right to reprimand us of our complacency.

Where do we Stand? Responding to Slavoj Zizek’s Remarks on the Failure of the Left

Duterte: Three Essays on Populism, Fascism and the Politics of Inherent Transgression (Part 3 of 3)

The Politics of Inherent Transgression

We know proceed to the final point in determining the contours of our present political situation and the hype it has been causing all these times. For the enlightened liberal, a question often hangs in his mind: who are we to blame for the disintegration of our politics into this heap of irrationality and reduction to a mere spectacle of popular support. It is easy for the liberal to blame the poor, the ones who eat away at government welfare, waiting for doleouts, while honest working people have to pay taxes. In this case, the poor is often conceived as the ones who receives all the blame for the difficulties of the country; but at the same time, they are the ones who must occupy the object of our duty to charity.

In our present post-religious milieu (in which religion is only a means for one’s well-being and good vibes), the duty to do charity is already packaged in our consumerist ethos. Zizek always emphasized this aspect in which the commodity already included the fulfillment of one’s duty in giving to the poor, so that one can in turn blame them, if everything does not work. The poor in the character of the squatter, the drug addict, the petty criminal, etc. are seen as the primary problems of society, seeking to corrupt the healthy body of the social body. The response, in this case, is the emergence of someone who believes fully in the symptom of our times, someone who fully takes on the public’s disappointments. Perhaps, this picture is inadequate in describing our present political situation. We are fully aware of the effects of a mismanaged economy upon our political structure and any administration will attempt to save its own image for the sake of maintaining them and at the same time to secure a clam political climate, appeasing the passions of the people. The elections are a better way to appease the passions, sublimating them into something tolerable through the performance of a political play of images. This “play of images” can only be understood in the way bourgeois politics is a politics of inherent transgression, developed through the years of political instability, sustained by academic attachment to a national identity, corrupted by colonialism, the search for a rational state, manned by the educated bourgeoisie capable of public discourse and the compromise with neoliberal global capitalism. The hopes and dreams for a vibrant democracy form the symbolic order, covering the traumatic kernel of our politics through an assertion of the pure social subject (the diligent, working, taxpaying, family centered worker), presupposed by our liberal discourse as prepared to take the ultimate sacrifice in working for the benefit of the family, tradition, and country. The image of the conservative (almost middle class) working man acts as the cover for the traumatic gap from which class struggle emerges.

So far, our own political environment plays on this political spectacle where decency and clean politics are invoked to convince the political agents of the worth of representing them in government. The problem comes from the assertion of decency and the multi-cultural facet of their political machinery. All candidates play along with the omnipotent capacity of the working class to endure the hardships for the sake of the nation, requiring them to cooperate and blamed for the failure as such.

The liberal, on the other hand, responds valiantly to this proposition and affirm the capability and capacity of our present structure to generate a social revolution without going over to its horrible prerequisites (the organization, education of the masses, analyses of material conditions and so on) and instead we relegate the capacity for social transformation in the sheer capacity of someone else, a subject supposed to know. However, Zizek warns us that

The crucial mistake to be avoided here is the notion that this displaced belief is nothing but a reified form of a direct belief, in which case the task of the phenomenological reconstitution of the genesis of reification would be to demonstrate how the original belief was transposed to another (Zizek 1998, 4).

Therefore, we are not dealing here with the leader as the collective expression of our political aspirations; rather, our democratic process depends on the displacement as such. Again, to develop the line of thinking in the second essay, here we encounter the problematic of Mouffe’s struggle for hegemony. Although the Laclau-Mouffe strategy attempts to return politics to its core in the struggle for state power, the latent unexplored consequence here is the lack of the displacement of belief in the cause, as if passion is merely enough in guaranteeing its vibrancy. Our drunkenness for passion will always give way to the sober displacement of political belief, saying to ourselves that we’re already done with our political duty; let us now relegate it to the system to enact what we believe. Such is the horrible outcome of Mouffe’s dependence on passion as the drive for political movements.

The inherent transgression at work in our bourgeois politics emerges from the thrust to maintain the images of a political process and at the same time keep the oligarchical powers intact. Whenever we speak of the spectacle, it is not the direct manipulation of political discourse and the play of images to generate popular support and legitimize the bourgeois political order; but, it is inherent to bourgeois politics as such. We encounter the fundamental lesson that Marx already stressed that the elections are a way by which we choose the leaders to exploit us through the bourgeois controlled elections. To rescue the very ideals of democracy is the emergence of a new political theory that does not begin from any pre-conceived notion and fantasy about the citizen who is prepared to engage in deliberation with anyone and against anyone. Rather, emancipatory politics begins with the resistance to categorization and instead goes into the malevolent sections of the symbolic to unravel the structure divided by class struggle and repressed by bourgeois ideology. To-day’s liberal ideology regulates daily life and everyday political relations, determining what we can say and what counts as politically relevant, cutting through various territories of socio-political relationships. Hence, the relevance of the National Democratic Front’s slogan that the any country whatsoever suffers from the triple entente of Imperialism, feudalism, and bureaucrat capitalism is its capacity to transgress the coordinates of bourgeois liberal politics, unable it is to co-opt this slogan through the open exchange of discourses.

We must break down the territories of the political, set-up by neoliberalism to separate various sectors of socio-political life in its attempt to bureaucratize our everyday activities through the separation of private and public spheres, subjecting us to the mindless activities of everyday labor (and integrated through the quasi-religious activities to ensure our submission). To overturn liberalism is a return to the omnipresence of the political as the constant struggle set against neoliberalism.

Duterte: Three Essays on Populism, Fascism and the Politics of Inherent Transgression (Part 3 of 3)

Duterte: Three Essays on Populism, Fascism and the Politics of Inherent Transgression (part 2 of 3)

On Fascism: is Duterte a Jacobin?

Fascism is often a word thrown out to denounce a potentially repressive regime. Aside from being the primary slogan against any repressive state and the right-wing ideology that sustains it, any form of totalitarian state from Stalinism to American establishment bureaucracy can be described as a fascist regime. However, for all the horrible outcomes and repressive character, why are neo-fascists and hardline right-wingers gaining ground in our present political landscape? Furthermore, their legitimacy is even cemented through popular elections, gaining power through legal means and not through any form of revolution.

Fascism emerges from a thorough examination of current conditions but its fundamental difference with leftist struggles is the simplicity of its solutions and the pragmatism of its political program. It has always been a conservative revolution to save the capitalist order (Žižek 1999, 138-139). It is a revolution that attempts to keep the current status of class antagonism in place and at the same time posit and external enemy that acts as a parasitic invader that disturbs the pristine nature of the nation. What this account fundamentally misses (since it remains entirely on the level of populism and mass appeal) is how the whole discourse on fascism itself is a mirage played by a small bureaucratic clique that is actually in power. Fascism at its purest is not defined by the brutality of its leaders but in the brutality supplemented by the pragmatism of its bureaucracy that actually defines the contours of a country’s operation. This particular picture of fascism is perfectly described in the political films of Costa-Gavras. In Section Speciale, Z, Etat de Siege and Missing, Costa-Gavras describes fascist (or military regimes) not as they are led by a single leader, driving the country by the sheer magnitude of his will; rather, in all of these films, we see the inner bureaucracy at work, determining all decisions and choosing which groups to suppress and so on. The common pattern of these films (aside from how each film is a metaphor for real events) is the absence of the leader who is supposed to lead everyone by the force of his political will. Costa-Gavras demystifies fascism and describes its aestheticization of politics simply as the attempt of the oligarchy to continue the legitimacy of its regime. The dictator is removed from his privileged position and relegated to the shadows, while the real determinants of its politics are made by the small circle of bureaucrats.

Hence, the logic of fascism is founded the naïve ontological dualism that what lies behind the appearance (of a leader atop triangle leading everyone below him) is the grim reality, what things really are. To understand fascism therefore is to go beyond the charisma of its leader’s cult of personality and turn one’s attention to the ersatz reality of the regime. To overcome the ontological dualism that lies in our previous description, we must see fascism as the culmination of bourgeois politics, playing with the popular dissatisfaction with the present, social, economic, and political condition, then positing them as the struggle between the purity of something against the invasion of another or as problems caused by the intrusion of something impure and pathological to the healthy body of the socius. The antagonism between the external pathology against the pristine body attempts to dispel the latent class antagonisms at work and at the same time establish categories of national identity that attempts to neutralize the boundaries between enemies, to see each other as part of one royal group of people against another.

One can feel the difficulty of classifying the impact of Duterte’s presidential campaign upon the political environment, since he has already classified himself as the sole progressive voice in the entire presidential elections. The problem arises not in his close disregard for political correctness or for is women’s rights problems or his positions about the liquidation of the social pathos, but in the way he characterizes bourgeois politics at its finest. Between a yellow liberal party clique and a PDP-Laban clique, there is no clear difference and that the incompetence of one would only be changed by the recklessness of the other. However, people think that Duterte is leading a genuine revolution, a complete turnaround from our present political conditions. Do we not see the similarities between 2010 and 2016, when the same enemy is called out as the no. 1 enemy of democracy in the guise of corruption and incompetence of the present administration? The subjects speak the same message, coming from two places of enunciation. This way, one can speak of totally the same thing with a predictable outcome, capitalizing on the cult of personality of the established candidate, garnering popular support as a way to externalize the collective passions to democratic ends.

Here lies the fascist consequence of agonistic politics and its attempted sublimation of political passions for democratic ends. In the last century, the left is seen as the passionate political sector that acts out of the pure desire to change the status quo, while the right is the agent of discipline, adherence to traditions, and nationalism. Such dichotomoy however is unusually absent in to-day’s political climate. Left-wingers and right-wingers would often be the most passionate political agents, collecting popular support, while bourgeois cliques (and the third way) pride themselves of embodying rationalist political discourse. Perhaps, our very use of the word discourse is inadequate, presupposing that each cadre has its own discourse that is then communicated to the public sphere. The reduction of political antagonism to mere exchange, opening, and deliberation of discourses only serves to cover the underlying class struggle that discourses try to extinguish. They are salient tolerations of the enemy, while at the same time not taking them seriously, reducing their claims to impractical claims, blind of real political work. In this way, bourgeois politics is able to remain at their positions of privilege and at the same time create an image of a vibrant democracy by manipulating the passions through the spectacle of agonism.

Is Duterte capable of changing the political climate, through an introduction of a radical change in political struggle? It prompts us to ask whether he is ready to pay the iron price to take the country to a thorough political transformation. It is crucial that we shed no illusions about such a popular candidate and see him or anyone as being capable to be Jacobin. The Jacobin is the agent of political transformation, lying outside bourgeois compromising tactics. While the bourgeois can play the hat of a pious republican or a faithful monarchist, the Jacobin at its purest is the dedicated republican, prepared to go through the self-consuming fire of the terror to enact the actualization of the revolution. Unlike the fascist dictator (who sees himself as the pinnacle of a aestheticization of the political), the Jacobin is the proto-Stalinist who sees the immanent failure of the Revolutionary movement as the condition of possibility for the success of the revolution. However, in the same way as the Stalinist, the Jacobin is prepared to pay the price by being the final victim of his own reign of terror. It is precisely this reason why I do not agree with Žižek’s criticism of Stalinism as the expression of failure of any emancipatory political project, a horrible outcome of a betrayal of the original project. What I find problematic in this statement is his own call for a lack of theory to understand Stalinism and Jacobinism and dispel any critique of totalitarianism as a justification of a liberal and bourgeois politics. I am prepared to take this latter step and describe Stalinism and Jacobinism as an attempt to get engage in constant struggle with itself, from which a genuine political process can emerge.

Our present electoral fiasco however does not fit any radical change in our political environment. Duterte’s explicit invocation of corruption and criminality as the fundamental cancer of our political realm simply posits an external enemy, without considering the structure that actually causes the pathos he explicitly mentions; friend and foe alike are simply parts of the symbolic realm that organizes the very way we do politics. Duterte’s revolution (as his supporters want to see it) is simply a way to maintain the actual class antagonism intact, while at the same time generate the illusion of a political agonistic spectacle. Duterte and the elections itself is a theatre for those in power to remain in power and entertain the masses with a candidate they can identify with just like an action star in a telenovella.

 

References

Zizek, Slavoj. Ticklish Subject: the Absent Centre of Political Ontology. London: Verso, 1998.

Duterte: Three Essays on Populism, Fascism and the Politics of Inherent Transgression (part 2 of 3)

Duterte: Three Essays on Populism, Fascism, and the Politics of Inherent Transgression (Part 1 of 3)

Overture

My previous take on Rodrigo Duterte engaged in a usual psychoanalytic reading of his impact on Philippine democracy, engaging with Jessica Zafra’s naïve description; she claimed that our current situation is an id-ified politics where certain candidates embody the irrational desires of the people, acting as the externalization of our disappointments as such. However, I am more inclined to think that our current situation is simply a variation of rationalist politics, where we simply encounter the inherent transgression of liberal state democracy. At best, what we encounter with Duterte is not irrationality as such, but the expression of pragmatic rationality that our politically correct liberals have been attempting to repress.

I would admit that in the growing literature about to-day’s electoral politics will prompt us to take a more unusual stance; I do not like this usual fear about the emergence of fascism as a form of bribery to justify the status quo and the competence of the administration. In this case, I admire the radical left’s denunciation of Duterte wherein we do not argue for the decency one the other. Hence, to further expand the horizon of the first Duterte essay, I would express it in three themes: populism, fascism and the politics of inherent transgression. With that particular form in mind, I argue that we can understand the traumatic situation of our present predicament.

Democracies in the third world are always in crises specifically because of the intellectual emergence of going back to the pre-colonial identity and built the national discourse from there as a rejection of Western colonial mentality. The problems of the orient kindled by Western discourse of domination, hijacking the natural development of any nation or creating the present ethnic crises that made any form of authentic democracy impossible. Can we then possibly describe Philippine democracy as simply in crises, kindled by colonial antagonism? Here, I think we should proceed in the same manner as the National Democrats; colonialism, imperialism, feudalism, and bureaucrat capitalism are still evident in the economic conditions of any developing country and imperialist agendas continue to play as one of the antagonist agent of a country’s struggle for independence.

In the case of our present electoral events the candidates are mostly moving within the coordinates of satisfying the imperialist masters in allowing the unfettered entrance of foreign businesses to privatize the country under the illusion of GDP growth. Resistance to this trend however can be multi-faceted and the contradictory attitudes of Duterte can be described as a move to renormalize the crisis under the guise of a big political drama.

 

On Populism: Kindling the Mass Base

Philippine politics is a highly complicated affair as seen from its inherent family and gratitude centered politics. The common man cannot be simply convinced by educational attainment, but to the sincerity one gives to the masses. In every election, a candidate becomes prominent by its capability to incur mass support and mass appeal not for good platforms but on the sheer charisma of his cult. The charisma of such a personality is not based on the capability of the person, but simply on his social relations he keeps with the people. This is however a simplistic description that panders on the masses, seeing them simply as reacting to popularity culture rather than in the engagement of a proper democracy. Populism or the popularity trough an invocation of popular sentiment, highlighting simple problems as national problems is not a political expression of irrationality. Rather, populism is simply the expression of a disgruntled populace, finding a way to overcome the failure of a genuine emancipatory project.

In our present situation, the emergence of populism can be described as a form of resistance to bourgeois domination of the political sphere and the prescription that the masses are simply duped into something. For that specific reason, the very idea that there is a rational and irrational vote is way for the bourgeoisie to maintain its upper position in determining the validity of its public use of reason. Populist politics emerge specifically at this point in the attempt to counteract the bourgeois argument by kindling the mass base. In pure Habermasian terms, the communicative act of the populist leader is a way to collect the general disgruntlement of the other parts of the public sphere against those who might want to restrict discourse to a select expert bureaucracy. The populist candidate is simply the “subject supposed to know” our present situation, belonging to the masses and oftentimes engage in their own politically incorrect ways; behind every mass populism however is the latent class struggle appeal of its movements. In the case of Duterte, it is establishment candidates versus someone with no political machinery. During the candidacy of Erap, it was someone from the poor against the bourgeois candidates. However, it might sound as if a genuine class struggle is played out, but one can see the false manipulation of the class struggle discourse. One pursues an external enemy in the guise of the establishment, the calloused ones to the poor, et cetera. In this situation, the enemy is concrete and abstract at the same time as long as he is posited by the populist and exploited as the central node of his policy making.

Do we see this trend in Duterte? Filipino democratic discourse and debates seldom play the struggle strategy, but the supporters are the ones who fundamentally engaged in positing an external enemy. The enemy however in this case is not a person (like GMA in 2010), but a symptom, embodied in the petty criminals who disrupt everyday life. The popularity of enacting summary executions on petty criminals, the hard-hand tactics against drug abusers and pushers, etc. are posited under the basic assumption that getting rid of them would make the country livable for honest and decent citizens, without worrying about the bureaucratic judicial system. The temptation to reduce this belief into mere receding into an id-fication of the public completely misses the point. The tragic aspect of populist discourses is the complete externalization of the symptom, while at the same time argue that the people are pristine, corrupted by some parasitic external supplement that corrupts the honest good people of the nation.

Here, post-colonial discourses and populism intersect at the obscene assertion of an external enemy or supplement that corrupted the present state of things. Both colonialism and the symptom are posited as coming from outside the symbolic arrangement and that the solution is for the emergence of a new social national discourse that is more inclusive to the cultural aspects of our nation in order to unify with consideration for those who are excluded by the external enemy. Furthermore, the intersection of anti-colonial/post-colonial discourse and populist politics has always been practiced in this country and other Asian countries. The whole edifice of Ferdinand Marcos’ politics is the “Filipinization” effort, to create a distinct Filipino nation and identity. This tactic was so popular that the old Filipino Communist Party (the PKP not to be mistaken for the PKP-MLM, the Maoist breakaway group formed by Jose Maria Sison) agreed to collaborate with the Marcos regime and in turn be tolerated by the government as a prize for its silence and complacency (a tolerance that can also be seen in how the PCF and de Gaulle’s government worked together in suppressing the 1968 strike and student uprising). Filipinization and the “Revolution from the Center” (a concept proposed by Marcos as a compromise against communism and oligarchy, believed to have begun with the declaration of Martial Law) are perfect expressions to arrive with a truly ethnic democracy while at the same time establish a bureaucratic (crony) clique that replaced the comprador and oligarchy class with another set of comprador and bourgeois apparatchiks.

Populism for all its attempts to directly deal with the problems of the masses is simply a cover-up, replacing actual democratic action with the spectacle of struggle between pure honest people and the external parasitic symptom. Here lies the point I want to make in my previous Duterte essay, we do not encounter irrational politics here. I think this is rational politics at its purest that arguments have to be accompanied by a form of passion to supplement its effectiveness. Hence, the obscene effect of Chantal Mouffe’s agonistics is its compromising tone to sublimate the passions to the realm of democratic discourse.

 

Duterte: Three Essays on Populism, Fascism, and the Politics of Inherent Transgression (Part 1 of 3)