6/12/2013
Subservience

My mother didn't want me to study in UP. Not that it was ever an option for me - the Diliman campus, the nearest campus to me, was too far, and besides, their application period started so early in the school year that by the time I got wind of it, it was all over. But, with my tendency to get riled up by what's in the news, and my consistently (seemingly) angry (or at least loud) way of expressing myself, my mother decided that if I do go to UP, I will end up as an activist, and spend my free time protesting in the streets. I think she thought I will be killed by my beliefs.

While I understood where my mother was coming from, I felt it was all a bit ridiculous. Really? You won't let me study in one place because I might be an activist? For one, I cannot really call myself an activist. Sure, I get riled up and can get dramatic about it, but I cannot get myself to go out and wave placards and chant slogans and risk being sprayed with water cannons. (I will not have a change of clothes and get sick.) La Salle isn't any less activist - these are people that fashion themselves to be agents of change, after all - but despite all the photocopied posters on the perils of calibrated preemptive response, I decided I'll focus on my studies and, on the side, my burgeoning so-called writing talents.

But most of this is because of my impression, formed when I was in high school, of activists. My teacher then in social studies - he had a bit of an abrasive personality and didn't really get along with most, including me, but I liked him because he was smart and he analyzed the hell out of things. Occasionally he'd hint at his activist background, or what I perceived to be an activist background - his penchant for protest songs, his breakdown of what was to go wrong with the Arroyo administration - but for the most part he was a high school teacher who decided he can't spoon-feed us, under the pretense that we'll encounter all of this in college soon.

He was right. In college - one of the reasons why I enjoyed it immensely - I encountered a lot of different mindsets. One of my classmates in philosophy class, for example, was a proud atheist, and I got a little giddy knowing that he is one. An atheist! A real-life atheist! as if he's in a cage in a zoo. He'd answer questions from his perspective and I was transfixed, not because I wanted to do what he wanted to do - my faith is, well, my faith - but because I was genuinely interested in what he had to say.

The thing with college, however, is that all these perspectives are perfectly tolerated because you are studying, you are supposed to be exposed to these things, and it will all be good for you. Once you get out of it, it's a completely different thing.

Or is it because you tend to be very idealistic in college? You come in and the first thing you're told, at least in my case, is that you, you, you have the power to change the world. In my three years in college, this was all that I saw and heard. Your peers who gather the courage to barge into classrooms to give speeches about how they can make life better for the rest of us. Your teachers who nudge you to be a little more progressive when it comes to your films. Then you get out and feel that all that was a bit of hogwash: the so-called "student leaders" want to advance themselves, the faculty who live on past glories...

You could be forgiven for feeling that way. A part of me is amazed, still amazed, at how all those perspectives live together in such a small space. Here I am, outside of La Salle, in what everybody calls the real world, and all you see are people who shut people down for thinking different things. To be fair, this is also the case in schools. (I am speaking, again, as a victim of bullying.) And you can say it's really just me and my tendency to get riled up and be dramatic about it, of how I make a mountain out of a molehill. But around you, it's people shutting people down for thinking different, believing different, being different.

There are still times when I watch the news and get uncontrollably angry about what I hear. Sometimes these things can get ridiculous. My parents would then get angry. Watch your mouth! I'd have cussed by then. I don't cuss for the sake of cussing, I must add. Stop it! We don't want to hear what you have to say anymore! Now, will you let us eat?

Perhaps there is no use in getting angry anymore. What you do get from it, after all? You complain about how it's politics this and politics that, but can you really do something about it? Will you express your grievances to the president's face? Will you lash out to the president's face? No? I thought so. Now shut up and let us eat.

As much as I still believe all that hope we saw in the middle of 2010 is misplaced, what with it being all about what we thought rather than what we know, you have to admit that there's validity in some aspects. We really have had enough of just sitting back and taking the blows. We all dismissed the shouting as just, well, shouting. You shake your head and go on with what you were doing before you were so rudely interrupted. But now, they tell you that you, you, you have the power to change the world. You really do. Never mind what they all say, you really do. And now is your chance! Yes, we are involved! We are in this! We can make our lives better! Let's do this!

But how exactly? We're a country of almost a hundred million people. There will be different opinions, different beliefs, different approaches. But what I'm seeing right now is an almost-systematic take down of anything that differs from the prevailing groupthink. Someone disagrees and he gets tossed aside. You don't dare do that. You're delaying all of us by dissenting. Either you shut up or you leave. Suddenly we're all sitting back and taking the blows again, trusting that this will be better, much better than before. And yes, we did the same thing before, and it was a mistake, and we will never commit that mistake again, but this one is different. This one, I believe, will work. And you do not dare complain about it.

That probably explains my mother's opinion of activists, or at least why she didn't want me to be one, even if I didn't want to be one either. You know how all they do in life is watch the news, connect points A to B, brush up on their big Filipino words and burn effigies whenever some major date rolls by? We're not really independent! Oh, do shut up! We are slaves to foreign interests! Shut up! The 1%! Shut up! The imperialists and the fascists! Shut up, shut up, shut up!

I'm definitely exaggerating my mother's possible explanation, but really, think about it. We are not really independent. We are all conditioned to think that way. And I'm not saying this from a radical viewpoint, the sort that wants to burn all Starbucks branches because they are an American influence. I'm just saying, we all think we have decided for ourselves, when actually we're more than influenced by what everybody else thinks - and what everybody else thinks, they never really thought of it themselves. The idea that we're moving forward - we're subscribing to it slavishly, and whenever someone stands up and asks us to take a breather and look around us, he gets drowned out by people who just want to get on with it. See? He tells us corruption is gone, that the culture of impunity is gone, and that there is no way for us to go but up. Are you that stupid to not notice that?

Me? Stupid? Well, I do see something else. Is it rosy? Not entirely. Are we really moving forward? We're still preoccupied with the procedural follies of the past. We still worry about who's voting and how many votes are there and whether one guy is fighting the other. We all want to know about sex tapes and magazine shoots and who made a huge, potentially career-ending joke at the Araneta Coliseum. We look out for the next wave of angry, indignant minorities and latch on to it because it feels just right. And while you're doing that, someone's dropping the ball - or maybe he's not dropping the ball, maybe he's carrying another ball now, getting comfortable, preparing for his future - and it's still all good?

Right now, nobody is supposed to say anything that's against everything else. No, sir, you sit down and do as your told. This culture of subservience, this lull, this belief that it will all be better - maybe it will, but most likely it won't, because we're all just sitting back and putting our feet up. And the people who yak, perhaps they're yakking too much, about how we're all just slaves and we're not entirely free, the people you shoot down and hope to never hear from again - at least they're doing something. At least they keep watch when we all get relaxed about this freedom we're supposedly enjoying. May those who keep on challenging what we think is true continue what they do.

And your responses...

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