How to kill a drug addict: a modest guide
IT’S EASY: Start with semantics.
Step 1: Establish a consensual value system to shape a receptive audience. A consensual value system is composed of a repertoire of values everyone is willing to accept. It aims to be universal as well as encompassing by differentiating a set of favorable values from those unpalatable to the audience. We desire a drug-free Philippines. Who doesn’t?
Values legitimize a political action (be it human rights intervention or extrajudicial killing) by leading their audience to perceive coherence in their binary arrangement.
Steve Chibnall draws up a list of positive legitimating and negative illegitimate values employed to justify an act masquerading as “voice of reason”: equality/inequality, freedom of choice/coercion, firmness/weakness, impartiality/bias, responsibility/irresponsibility, honesty/corruption, openness/secrecy, legality/illegality, moderation/extremism, compromise/dogmatism, cooperation/confrontation, order/chaos, peacefulness/violence, tolerance/intolerance, constructiveness/destructiveness, realism/ideology, fairness/unfairness, industriousness/idleness. The list can go on.
Although the repertoire purports a universal timeless quality, it is subject to historical exigency. In other words, some pairs may fall out of the list and stay dormant until they regain political usefulness. Sometimes, new pairs replace them. Examples are drug-free nation/narcopolitics, change/business as usual, authentic language/political correctness.
How is a consensual value system constructed? Begin with a positive list of values; from there form the contrasts. Yes, it sounds arbitrary. Yet it’s also impartial. Let’s take Scrabble as an example. If I win the draw to start a game, the word I construct limits the possible tiles my opponent can play. For example, OXEN can elicit words which only contain any of these four letters. My opponent can play FOG but not FIG, or KELT, not KILT.
A consensual value system appears democratic (and objective) by distancing itself from the agent who constructs it. If someone accepts to play Scrabble, she must consent to its rules. I call the shots without calling attention to myself. It’s not me, it’s the law. Better yet, it’s common sense.
Step 2: Strengthen the us-them dichotomy. Because of their arbitrary nature, consensual values may lose hold among the audience. To prevent potential resistance, draw a clear demarcation between positive and negative sets. Avoid nuance and hedging. They are complicated and politically inefficient. Instead, be reductive. Life is already problem-ridden, and you don’t want people to overthink.
Speed, process, and user-friendly are few of the prevalent conceptual metaphors which work in your favor. People prefer speedy internet connection and multipurpose phones. Like processed food, ready-to-use ideas are much welcome.
If a political action is translatable into a slogan, it has passed the propaganda test and it’s ready for deployment. To accomplish it, use fallacies generously: argumentum ad hominem, ad baculum, tu quoque. People won’t know; in college they fed on sexist Aristotelian logic: All men are mortal. Pedro is a man. Therefore, Pedro is mortal.
Fallacies develop reductionism taking the form of false dichotomy to construct an image of a common foe. An enemy functions as linchpin sustaining a political act’s rationale. If you can’t find an enemy, make one. Examples proliferate: national autonomy versus a meddlesome UN, citizens fed up with crime versus drug addicts, innocent victims versus criminal-cradling CHR, the President versus the media.
The last example has powerful resonance among Mr. Duterte’s supporters. While openly upholding the always elusive objectivity, the media as industry are bound by conflicting interests. Practitioners select stories according to newsworthiness. Hence, news consumers sympathetic to the President criticize them as biased reportage.
Yet no news is value-free for we can never rid language of ideology. Instead of “biased,” it’s preferable to think of news as mediated language in action.
Step 3: Avoid referring to drug addicts as citizens. Cue words like “addicts,” “drug pushers,” and “criminals” reactivate the schema of horror and perversity competing with other cognitive frames like citizenship. To prevent confusion among the audience, displace the citizenship narrative with criminality. Consistently refer to their crimes to inoculate the audience against contesting narratives. If a certain frame becomes “taken for granted” in conversations, inoculation has been successfully carried out.
Once addicts and pushers are semantically divested of citizenship, they become pariahs at everyone’s disposal—police, cartel, vigilantes—yet belonging to no one. Because only in a state can a human being be treated as such, to lose one’s citizenship is also to forfeit one’s humanity and rights. Virtually dispossessed of citizenship, addicts are at the state’s disposal. So their lives have contingent value like a bug’s.
One doesn’t get to see drug addicts and pushers rallying. Perhaps they have assimilated the dominant cognitive frame, too. So it’s easier to kill them.
Blaming Mr. Duterte and his acolytes for extrajudicial killings neglects a key point. Blame still operates within a dichotomous mechanism.
The semantic construction of a drug addict is a national project, a bayanihan involving you and me. It won’t stop until it turns our unremarkable neighbor into an obedient Adolf Eichmann or a patriotic Martin Heidegger.
Cyril Belvis is assistant professor of literature at De La Salle Araneta University, Malabon City.
Subscribe to our opinion newsletter
Subscribe to INQUIRER PLUS to get access to The Philippine Daily Inquirer & other 70+ titles, share up to 5 gadgets, listen to the news, download as early as 4am & share articles on social media. Call 896 6000.