War brings out the beast in humans
War is a dehumanizing experience. It can transform erstwhile meek human beings into ruthless, beast-like creatures out there for the blood, or for the kill.
But there is an insidious war that is happening, and I am not talking about the fiery exchange of gunfire that is the daily reality in Marawi City. It is a war that all of us take part in, either as active warriors or as part of an audience goading a gladiator, thirsting for the sight of blood.
Over more than a year in his presidency, Rodrigo Duterte has made us spectators of the culture of war that he espouses and lives by. This is his lifestyle of spewing invectives from his unruly mouth on an almost daily basis. Our daily exposure to this lifestyle has made us take part in this culture, and for some, it has become the “norm.” To curse, describe women in condescending terms, issue death threats to those who oppose his deadly war on drugs, and to applaud when some policemen kill suspected drug pushers and users — this is the new “normal,” as some writers have noted in their opinion pieces.
Words are like bullets; once fired from the tongue, they cannot be retrieved. In the case of bullets, the empty shells can be recovered. But stinging curses and expletives have no tangible remains of the pain and hurt they may have caused.
And the wounds created by sharp words are much deeper than the physical wounds caused by a piercing bullet. The latter type of wound, if not fatal, can heal. But for those who are at the receiving end of curses and expletives, their wounds go deep. Such words later become a collection of grievances that linger in one’s subconscious. For the group of people that has been constantly the objects of presidential cursing, it may take a lifetime to heal.
Just like the avid spectators of gladiators fighting to their death, we egg the President on, and applaud him when he curses left and right. We seem to be amused and even show delight in his braggadocio, and some of us even tend to mimic his cursing style. Some of us may feel guilty and choose to keep silent. But our silence is no different from the jubilation of those who applaud him for being a badass, for his warmongering behavior. Perhaps our silence is even worse than the idiotic idolizing behavior of his fanatics. Not saying anything about this culture of war that we are dragged into accepting is, as Bishop Desmond Tutu of South Africa has said, taking the side of the oppressor or perpetrator. Assenting to this culture of war through our silence and apathy is even worse than taking an active part in the war on drugs.
Beasts walk on all fours, with their heads aligned with their bodies, indicating that their mental and physical systems allow them to behave as dictated only by instinct. The evolutionary tale shows us that over time our ancestors walked upright, developed larger brains that allowed them to think rationally, and think of complicated strategies for adaptation that separated them from beasts — in their endless capacities for reason, for logical thinking, and most especially for compassion and empathy. These are the traits that clearly define our humanity. There is a reason our brains are on top of our bodies: We are not dictated by instinct alone or by a predatory desire to draw blood from other human beings. We are designed to transcend beastly tendencies because our brains tell us the difference between right and wrong, and to control our emotions, our actions, our words.
Ironically, it is also our brains that make us concoct beast-like lifestyles, like the culture of war.
So next time when the President goes on a rampage, firing off his verbal arsenal of invectives and septic-tank-worthy words, don’t complain; don’t rant. We are (passive) parts of this culture, aren’t we? And we, too, have become beasts.
* * *
Rufa Cagoco-Guiam, 65, has just “changed tires,” or retired from being professor at the College of Social Sciences and Humanities, Mindanao State University–General Santos City. Presently she is busy doing what she likes best — social development work/research on the side while tending to a very playful cat, Princess Naddiyah, for lack of a grandchild, most of her time at home.
Subscribe to INQUIRER PLUS to get access to The Philippine Daily Inquirer & other 70+ titles, share up to 5 gadgets, listen to the news, download as early as 4am & share articles on social media. Call 896 6000.