2/11/2020
The discourse of moral ascendancy

I remember this time when former president Noynoy Aquino admitted that he refused to award National Artist honors to actress Nora Aunor because she was convicted of drug possession. He worried, or so he argued, that it would send the wrong message. Something about drugs being okay or whatever.

Of course he really did that because he wanted to send another message, one that he's been sending for the six years he's been president: that he has the moral ascendancy to lead the country. With the blessing of his mother and that yellow ribbon pinned to his chest, he is here to deliver the Philippines from eternal damnation, away from the darkness and into the light. He has done nothing wrong, therefore he is the right man for the job; everyone else who has made mistakes along the way can never be have the supremacy bestowed upon him.

We all know what happened.

Rodrigo Duterte being elected president was, in many respects, a complete rebuttal of Noynoy's claims of moral ascendancy. But the response wasn't "you don't have the right to say that". Rather, it was "you cannot claim to be better than everybody else, because we are". Wrapped not in delusions of decency but in a frank, folksy, shoot-from-the-hip fashion, he pretty much said the same thing. He is here to deliver the Philippines from eternal damnation, away from the darkness and into the light. However, he has done wrong things, but he did them only because he believes it is right. If you disagree with them, then you must be able to prove that you have done nothing wrong in your life, otherwise, it's his way or your personal damnation.

You're not perfect? Tough luck. I'm president, not you.

And thus, this became the language of political discourse in this country. Well, any discourse, really. We've had hints of this long before, from the prevalent stereotype of the tsismosang kapitbahay to the quiet nastiness of office politics. But then the concept of tribes came to the fore - again, not a new thing - and suddenly, what used to be "are you Team Edward or Team Jacob?" became "are you for the country or against it?" Such complex, visceral questions require some ruminating, but instead, we've answered it with the quickest answer we can grasp: "I'm with the good guys."

"But you can't be with the good guys. You're not a good guy. You did this and that and--"

"--but you did this and that and--"

So, here we are. We express and talk and argue and fight amongst ourselves with this need to, ultimately, prove that we are ultimately good people, that what we believe in makes us good people, or at least better than those idiots who don't subscribe to the same beliefs as ours. We all have this need to, whatever it takes, demonstrate that we have the moral ascendancy to, at the very least, speak about whatever it is in the zeitgeist. Never mind if you're misinformed. Never mind the facts, really, if you can prove that your anger is enough to make you right. Never mind if you're really not a good guy. So what if you're racist towards the Chinese? As long as you retweet those generic tweets that say "racism is bad", you're fine. As long as you can claim you're on the right side, with a dash of hysterics and suspension of logic, you'll be fine.

And your responses...

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