Theres The Rub
by Conrado de Quiros
from Philippine Daily Inquirer
Over the past couple of weeks, I’ve read and heard people putting on airs of being sophisticated and putting down the paradigm of “Good vs Evil” as naïve and simplistic. A tiny box with which to fit the complexities of the Philippine plight into. In fact they’re the ones who are too naïve and simplistic to grasp not just Philippine politics but politics in general. Or forget politics, life in general. It’s their concept of “rationality” that is the tiny box they’re trying to fit the complexities of life into.
In his book “Pasyon and Revolution,” Rey Ileto showed how the Filipino masses joined the Katipunan not just, or even mainly, because of concepts of republicanism and constitutionalism. They joined the Katipunan because they saw it as the Christ-figure, joining which enabled them to go through the process of suffering and liberation, death and resurrection, hell and heaven. Centuries of oppression had made the situation stark. A matter of justice, a matter of right and wrong, a matter of Good and Evil.
It’s not just the masses that think that way, we all do. The people who criticize Good and Evil presume completely unsophisticatedly and plain ignorantly that we think only with our conscious abstract mind, not with our unconscious image-making mind. They’re so busy looking at logistics, figures, organizational charts, they cannot appreciate the power of myth, symbol and archetype. Or the power of the storyline the ad agencies of the “presidentiables” are so desperate to find and mine for their candidates.
The phrase “Good vs Evil” is merely a symbolic, mythical, archetypal, shorthand for a situation where the choice has become so stark, so life-and-death, it cannot be captured by trite and sullen articulations.
The two Edsas were a fight between Good and Evil. Between Marcos and Cory, between Erap and the forces of Good arrayed against him. The latter by way of the impeachment trial, which became a hugely popular morality tale of Good vs Evil, not unlike the telenovelas of the time. Were the people wrong to see it as such? Not at all. There are times when the issue becomes fundamentally a moral one, a matter of justice, a matter of right and wrong. Those were two of those times.
The reason there has been no Edsa III, as I’ve been saying again and again, is that while there has been an Evil, there has been no perceived Good. Until Aug. 5, with Cory’s burial. Until Sept. 9, with Noynoy’s resurrection. I am deliberately using the language of myth and symbol when I say this. You cannot invent Good, you cannot manufacture Good. It inheres in the situation, it inheres in the person. Until recently, there has only been Evil in the person of Arroyo. There has been no Good. You have Good vs Evil, people take to the streets to remove Evil. You have only Evil and Lesser Evil, people grow apathetic, cynical, damn the Evil privately and in surveys, but make only text jokes.
It’s not just Filipinos who think that way. The power of myth, symbol, archetype—chief of which is the storyline of Good vs Evil—overwhelms every race, creed and belief. That was the storyline of the recent American elections. Barack Obama didn’t just represent an “alternative” to George W. Bush, he represented an end to centuries-old oppression, breathtakingly embodied by Bush. He represented the long journey of Kunta Kinte to freedom, armed with Martin Luther King’s dream, “We shall overcome.” If he did not, he would not have brought tears to the eyes of the Rev. Jesse Jackson and Oprah Winfrey when he won. If he did not, he would not have won.
Look what happened to John Kerry.
Of course the Republicans tried to clip his wings by trying to bring the debate down to health care and Iraq and socialism vs. capitalism, harping on the idea that Obama was just soaring rhetoric and entertainment (no better than Paris Hilton, McCain said), variations of “walang alam.” It didn’t work. The voters knew better.
The one thing Romulo Neri said that made him look wise was not “Moderate the greed” but “GMA is evil.” The latter put into words the one thought that had been foremost in the Filipino mind, which had been registering with phenomenal consistency in Arroyo’s approval ratings. That wasn’t just the thought of socialists, that was the thought of socialites; that wasn’t just the thought of the unshod rabble, that was the thought of the Imeldifically shod gaggle. All it needed was a Good to complete the storyline.
Of course none of this means you may ignore the nitty-gritty, the pragmatic, the day-to-day complexities of the Filipino situation. Obama did not, and made a very good case for health care, Iraq and socialization (if not socialism) vs. capitalism. But none of it means either that you may ignore the overarching, mythical, larger-than-life storyline underlying these elections. Obama did not, and made a case for the oppressed rising to shatter their chains. You take just the one road and not the other, you have a naïve and simplistic view of politics, and life. You take just the one road and not the other, you won’t overcome, they will.
The Republicans tried to clip Obama’s wings as well by harping on the idea that he was “fighting the wrong candidate” in George W. Bush. It didn’t work, McCain being seen by the voters as a mere extension of the bushwhacker of American democracy. The same tack, I’m sure, will be taken by Malacañang and the other “presidentiables” against Noynoy—he’s “barking up the wrong tree.” It won’t work either, Arroyo being seen by the voters—indeed more here than there—as very much a part of the equation, the spider at the center of the web. The storyline is Noynoy vs. Arroyo, Right vs Wrong, Decency vs Rottenness.
The storyline is Good vs Evil.