Why my dialogue with Sass and Mocha?
In a letter to his favorite niece, Henriette Lund, the 19th-century Danish philosopher Soren Kierkegaard wrote, “Truth always rests with the minority, and the minority is always stronger than the majority, because the minority is generally formed by those who really have an opinion while the strength of a majority is illusory, formed by the gangs who have no opinion.”
Today, the “minority” is composed of those who choose to speak on behalf of the “silent majority,” namely the tens of millions of Filipinos who don’t subscribe to the binary divisions of our society, but are instead struggling to cope with everyday challenges of survival. Theirs is the hardest and most thankless task, for they will be passionately despised and enthusiastically hammered by spirited partisans. As Margaret Thatcher blithely put it, “[s]tanding in the middle of the road is very dangerous,” because one, “get[s] knocked down by the traffic from both sides.”
I personally experienced what Thatcher warned against when I decided to call for a dialogue with the most avid and ferocious propagandists of this administration, namely Sass Rogando Sasot and Mocha Uson.
Last week was particularly vicious. On one hand, a deluge of trolls with the vilest insults and comments imaginable flooded my Facebook page. But I kept Epictetus’ wisdom in mind, telling myself “bear and forbear” as I whimpered through the valley of tears.
Somehow, I was largely unscathed, having been used to constant “DDS” trolling, including death threats and graphic pictures sent to my inbox, for the past three years. But what was even more vicious was the constant attack on Twitter from partisans of the opposing camp, who branded me a sellout, a closet “DDS” and an “enabler” of the regime’s worst policies.
And it was then that I fully understood, in the depths of my heart, the extent to which two opposing camps, which seem more interested in destroying each other than rebuilding a broken nation, have collectively poisoned the well of our democratic discourse.
Let me be clear: Ideologically, I belong to the center-left. I believe in economic justice through expanded social welfare, progressive taxation, comprehensive land reform, and an optimal industrial and trade policy that protects domestic strategic sectors against the onslaught of unfettered globalization.
Socio-politically, I believe in the inviolability of human rights, personal dignity and civil liberties.
At the same time, I’m also a scholar and pundit who has the obligation to dispassionately assess every major public policy issue on the balance of evidence, and within a broader longue durée (long-term) historical perspective that transcends the events of everyday politics.
No Filipino administration has ever fully embodied my values. But, as an unconditional democrat, I have accepted all election outcomes.
Thus, I have been highly critical of the Duterte administration’s scorched-earth drug war, which defies fundamental logic, empirical evidence and human compassion. Yet, I support this administration’s efforts to protect our environment, reform our broken tax system and bring about development to the peripheries.
What I can’t accept, however, is the reduction of our public discourse to a Manichean showdown between two camps. This doesn’t mean “indifference” toward the great intentions of each camp, or an embrace of moral vacuity amid the onslaught of extrajudicial killings, political repression and institutional emaciation in recent years.
The task of a true public thinker is to discourage and resist the worst instincts of those in power, while nurturing their best policies.
It’s precisely within this spirit of social obligation that I felt it’s also necessary for us to initiate substantive, issues-based dialogue among our political commentators across the ideological spectrum, especially when our leading politicians shamelessly shun debates during our most important elections yet.
My forthcoming dialogue with Sass in early April is just the beginning of that bigger project.
I have no illusions. I know I’m walking into a den of lions, where I will likely be abandoned by most of my liberal colleagues and fall prey to the venom of illiberal diehearts.
But as Socrates said ahead of his execution: “My plainness of speech makes them hate me, and what is their hatred but a proof that I am speaking the truth.”
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