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Getting used to dystopia?

04:04 AM March 31, 2020

To readers who say I send them to the dictionary, let me go for you. “Dystopia” is “an imaginary place where people are dehumanized and often lead fearful lives.” Its opposite is “utopia,” “a place of ideal perfection especially in laws, government and social conditions.”

’Tis said that we now live in dystopia: scandals in Customs, Bucor, PNP, Immigration; awesome presidential powers used to the hilt; spectacular political comebacks and rehabs; a climate of fear; dynasties ruling and recycling across decades; clueless senators and worthless worthies in Congress; the party list turned to a bad joke by ravenous politicians; a stream of dirty presidential language for speechless, charmed people…

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There is no lack of tipping points to rouse us: the swift jailing of Sen. Leila de Lima, the ouster of Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno, the EJKs, a mendicant China policy and the continuing saga of the West Philippine Sea, Rappler, ABS-CBN, the handling of COVID 19…

And we look on, walk on, as if nothing is happening. We whine, yes, but we settle back to ennui. We will survive, government good or bad. Have our feelings gone dry? Why? How have we come to this?

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Political observers repeatedly cite one reason. We’re taking all this because it’s “the antithesis of an elite-dominated liberal Establishment that promised a better life after Marcos but miserably failed to deliver” (Public Lives, Opinion, 2/16/20). True and real.

I see two more reasons for our nonchalance, perhaps more serious and permanent because already embedded in our culture. It’s a decline in our moral fiber (which I look at only in its manifestations, not in who/what caused it). Our standards and expectations for good conduct and integrity have become very low; while our tolerance for bad governance and dishonesty (like pervasive corruption, election cheating) has become very high. Tipping points only raise our eyebrows. We are “screwed,” “cynical,” “hopeless.” The “fiber” in “moral” is frayed to tatters and little remains of the once sturdy fabric.

A second reason is our shaky democracy. True, democracy wasn’t natural to us; an authoritarian taga-utos and taga-sunod society was (Melba Padilla Magay, Opinion, 3/17/20). But for this Commonwealth baby and for much of the country, Americanization came easy and enticing through the ‘30s, ‘40s (despite the war) and ‘50s. Democracy, its vaunted centerpiece, promised to be a robust ideology that could permeate our culture, which it did.

Who would think that Marcos, President in 1965, and later self-appointed dictator, would singlehandedly (and/or conjugally) batter that democracy, institutionalize corruption, cronyism and kleptocracy, and shake its moorings, which is where we are now? We are back to adoring the “strong” leader, true or bogus, reduced to saying Amen as we watch the political bandwagon passing by.

Who will break the stupor? I am in search of today’s middle class, alternately praised and disparaged in our history. Did it not transform into the middle forces that mounted that classic centrist revolution at Edsa? Alas, it has lost its “force” since then. Where are they? Who and how are they? It is from them that a “critical mass” usually emerges. There are already such pockets, but what are their prospects and their travails?

Except for its being the biggest bloc in numbers, it is the millennials whom I least know and over whom I am most curious. Are they the “influencers” in social media with followings of thousands and millions? Are they the crowd gatherers capable of producing “flash mobs” for a cause? They seem to be a huge amorphous body hard to classify or characterize.

Blame them not for their seeming ignorance of the dictatorship. Does a gaping hole still remain in both the history books for a solid chapter on the Marcos regime, and its teaching nationwide? Surely we have both history writers for a template that can withstand all manner of revisionism, and teachers that can teach the subject well.

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Yes, Michael, you are “the poster children of this decade,” whose “social, economic, and cultural dynamics and activism will lead the way into the 2020s” (IamGenM, 12/27/19). For “activism” you’ve got eminent forerunners —t he “Stormers” of FQS in 1970 (Pinoy Kasi, 1/31/20). And I ask: Is the torch passed, extinguished, replaced?

Asuncion David Maramba is a retired professor and book editor, columnist since 1984, and contributor to the Inquirer since 1992.

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TAGS: Asuncion David Maramba, Commentary, Duterte administration, dystopia
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