Have we lost instinct and capacity for just rage?
It is not as if the news about the alleged P10-billion pork barrel scam came as a complete surprise. It is not as if we have not heard about such a scam for the longest time. And it is not as if we were lacking in ideas: We’ve heard a long time ago of the suggestion to take the Priority Development Assistance Fund away from legislators (and let them concentrate on making laws, instead of breaking them) and leave its management to professionals.
But where is the just rage? Why are we not out in the streets demanding accountability?
Surely the Aquino administration has done quite a lot in terms of cleaning up its ranks, and many of its members, notably the President, are to be commended for their courage and determination to curb corruption and tread the “straight path.” What they have achieved in this regard has been noted by international observers, and our country is beginning to benefit from such a determined crusade, though of course there is still much to be desired when it comes to the just distribution of wealth.
But I am afraid that as a people we may be found sorely lacking in the instinct and the capacity for just rage. Or maybe we used to have it, but lost it somewhere along the way. When I think of how Brazilians, for example, protest over general services, like the increase in public transport fare, or how residents of Stuttgart sustained a long period of mass actions (every Monday for months, if not years) to protest the building of a new multibillion-euro train station that meant the destruction of some parts of the old, historic structure and the uprooting of old trees (the number of protesters was said to have reached 50,000, and the issue eventually reached national level), I cannot help but envy them. I cannot help but ask: Why are we not out in the streets to express just rage and to demand accountability?
Surely, compared to the public services in Brazil and the construction of a new train station in Germany, the issues we face are much, much graver (even as they include similar issues), so outrageous and so scandalous that perhaps even nonbelievers might find themselves crying out to heaven for justice.
Has our tolerance level for injustice and outrageous behavior become so high, so dangerously high? Are the brazenness and impunity with which the powerful break the law, with which rich developers ignore zoning laws and disregard the environment and the wellbeing of people, with which even ordinary citizens create chaos on the streets and public spaces in general through the sheer disregard for traffic rules and road safety—aren’t these inversely proportional to our instinct and capacity for just rage? Don’t the two go hand in hand?
But if only to give ourselves the benefit of the doubt: Is it perhaps the case that, in the same way as there is the phenomenon of donor fatigue, there is also protest fatigue? Has the series of protests that date back to the time of Ferdinand Marcos rendered us protest-fatigued?
But then again, should we not overcome fatigue with vigilance? Is not democracy as a principle of social equality (and therefore of mutual respect) something that not only has to be won, but also kept?
St. John Baptiste de la Salle once said, “There is a holy anger, excited by zeal, that moves us to reprove with warmth those whom our mildness failed to correct.” Correction and reproach are not just a matter of justice; they are also an act of charity and holiness. But where there is no just rage where there should be, there is a lack not just of anger but also of holiness.
For his part, Aristotle remarked that getting angry is easy, but that getting angry at the right person, at the right time, to the right extent, for the right reason, is not easy, nor is it for everyone. The state of character that is able to respond to a situation to just the right extent and for just the right reason—neither excessive nor deficient—is virtue. An excessive or deficient response to a situation is a manifestation, not of virtue, but of vice.
And so we ask once more: Have we as a people lost the instinct and capacity for just rage? In the face of such outrageous issues as the supposed P10-billion pork barrel scam, is our response just right, or utterly deficient?
If it is the latter, then it not only means that we are up against the powerful players of big-time corruption; it also, and far more alarmingly, means we ourselves are to be found to have sunk deep in a vice that shows itself in a lack of instinct and capacity for just rage.
Let alone holy anger.
Remmon E. Barbaza, PhD, is an associate professor of philosophy at the Ateneo de Manila University.
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