In the darkest of times
There is a famous story about Alexander the Great, then the strongest ruler in the world, visiting Diogenes the Cynic and asking him if there was anything that the great emperor could do to have him relieved of the miserable life of being an ascetic. Diogenes is said to have replied: “Yes, you can go away from my line of sight and let me see the sun.”
Unlike Diogenes, we have not actually rejected society as such. We only want to derive the goods society can offer. However, people find no cogent reason to contribute anything for the cause of social justice. Personally, many of our young men and women do not want to risk anything just to disturb a government that privileges the few but persists in undermining the weak. The apathy of the youth is the evil shadow that is slowly killing the very foundation of a moral society.
During the Dark Ages, good men armed themselves in the name of faith to conquer lands. The kingdom of heaven meant human glory against the defenseless. This belief in the Divine Providence appeared as beyond human questioning. God has a dominion over holy men who in turn had control over the destiny of other men. The blind obedience of the people signified that they willingly embraced a divine master plan. Thus, the human individual, a powerless soul, had lost all courage to question his/her God.
It was Galileo who first challenged the authority of the Church, a step that ushered in the era of modernity. When he proved that Copernicus was correct, the astronomer put a big question mark on the supposedly infallible claims of the Church. As a result, Galileo was condemned by the Vatican. It took the Church 350 years to apologize for their persecution of this pioneering man of science.
If any, Galileo and modernity taught us one important thing: The essence of all truth is to put things into question. There is nothing unusual in the life we have today. It is just that our fears more than our hopes have defined how we live. Diogenes, like many among us, chose to withdraw from the world of politics. Eerie silence in the darkest of times is how we insulate ourselves from the cruel truth.
Thomas Paine, in the 1776 essay “Common Sense,” clarifies for us the important distinction between society and government: “Society is produced by our wants, and government by our wickedness; the former promotes our happiness positively by uniting our affections, the latter negatively by restraining our vices.” Yet, it is fundamentally wrong to suggest that the ends of government can be gained at the expense of individual liberty.
The French Revolution was the single most important event that changed the course of human history. But while it ushered in a new era that enshrined human liberty and the equality of all men as the highest values, Robespierre’s “Reign of Terror” also underscored the inherent evil not only in any ideology but in men. There was nothing so divine in monarchial rule, but political authority in the hands of corruptible men can equally bring destruction to a powerless people.
Philippine society breeds its own oppressors. For many years, the kind of education that we have been giving our children has impeded rather than promoted their own capacity for self-criticism. By being proud about individual success, our leaders have developed a culture that unevenly favors intellectual skill, putting aside compassion and human-heartedness, two critical elements in having a social conscience.
Still, we have an obligation to the truth. But even persons of great intellect nowadays have not been brave enough to ask the right questions. And so the vast majority of the Filipino people have openly put their fate in the sullied hands and messianic promises of a few who are out there to destroy the very foundations of a just and humane society.
Christopher Ryan Maboloc is assistant professor of Philosophy at Ateneo de Davao University.
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