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Commentary

Behind every great fortune

In “Discipline and Punish,” Michel Foucault describes the manner of discipline imposed in the prison system. The society in which we live is not different. Two things mark the character development of our children: power and control. Teachers have the power and, for this reason, they control the behavior of our children. We teach our children the value of human freedom, but we also tell them in the absolute sense what they can and cannot do. We abhor dictatorial rule, but their lives are nothing short of being reprehensively manufactured.

The early formation of our children in school consists mainly of one main course: strict following of the rules. This happens in broad daylight, with the child unaware of its implications later in life. A child has to come to school in proper uniform, stand straight during the flag-raising ceremony, and listen to everything that his or her teacher says. While there are real efforts in advancing curriculum change, education has somehow been diminished into that restrictive process of learning to abide by the rules, to follow norms without question, or to embrace the truth of universal principles of action.

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In the broader scheme of human society, there are duties, rules and regulations prescribed for good citizens. A nation built on a law-abiding people is strong. Without laws, some people will naturally dominate the weak. The power of those cabals in society does not come from a God-given gift or talent. It comes from the lack of proper norms that would legitimize human action. In a just society then, people have to act in a reasonable way as equals. No person is above the law because the law is supposed to guarantee the equality of each. When people’s basic rights and entitlements are guaranteed, there will be food on the dinner table, every single night.

But we are not a country of laws. Ours is a different world. We have many laws, but many people incidentally do not follow them. Instead, some people master finding shortcuts and creative ways of bending them. Some bright and learned people, by virtue of the power of money, help criminals evade the claws of justice. Some people are very good, not in understanding the ramifications of their actions, but in making excuses once they are caught. The basic point here is that there has evolved a kind of mentality wherein some Filipinos think it is natural to do illegal things on a small scale because somebody up there in the higher echelons of society, both in the private sector and the government bureaucracy, must be doing something big.

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That being the case, imagine how hard it will be for a law-abiding young Filipino to achieve the good things that he or she desires in life. For him or her, the basic principles of morality have become a futile prescription to a symptom, for they do not address the root cause of the problem. Those who must have achieved a lot in life are ones who have learned the trick of the trade, or who have the right connections, one might think. Of course, most successful people have achieved things in life in a hard and legitimate way, but the point here is that there are social and political barriers to human freedom or greater self-realization.

The Filipino is not lazy. The Filipino is, however, a victim of a fraud. The Filipino has fallen prey to the despicable promise of a good life by those who are in positions of power. For sure, we are one of the most talented peoples in the world. We succeed, for instance, mostly in individual sports like boxing and billiards, because the indomitable human spirit can be found in the will of the individual Filipino. Poverty is not bad at all times. You just have to look beyond it. But it can be argued that, long divided by class or by ethnicity, we do not have a collective will as a nation.

Now, given that social and political change is perceived as impossible, many people will begin to see life as an insurmountable ordeal. For this reason, the Filipino begins to appeal to fiction in order to change his fortunes. He will begin to think of the stories of “Asiong Salonga” and envisage how, while poor, the outlaw was able to turn his life into a legend. “Crime does not pay,” unarguably, but people love Asiong Salonga’s story because it reflects his struggles, and how, by the sheer power of his will, a poor man was able to overcome utter insignificance.

Vito Corleone, the fictional character in “The Godfather” who personifies the mob boss, is portrayed as cruel, but more importantly, his personality is also showcased as fair and just. But Mario Puzo’s story of crime, power and family has earned a cult following not so much because of its impeccable representation of the criminal underworld as because Vito Corleone’s saga captures the corruption and ills of modern human society, including our present Philippine society. Honore de Balzac put everything there for us in his famous words, “Behind every great fortune lies a great crime.”

Christopher Ryan Maboloc teaches philosophy at Ateneo de Davao University. He holds a master’s degree in applied ethics from Linkoping University in Sweden.

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TAGS: ‘the godfather’, Asiong Salonga, development, Filipinos, laws, Society, Vito Corleone
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