A reply to Patricia Evangelista's essay of the same title in the Philippine Daily Inquirer, 27 November 2005
by Sarah Raymundo and Bogart Jaime
Opinion columns have become, in our day, one of the most popular signifiers of liberal democratic consensus. It is here where privileged voices, by virtue of their negotiations with the state apparatus are given the opportunity to publicize their studied "idiosyncracies" thus betraying their nouveau riche predispositions and equally newly-acquired free market (read: insipid) ideas which they deploy as capital for further social mobility.
While some columnists do the best they can to produce rigorous analysis of socio-political conditions, others like Ms. Patricia Evangelista of the Philippine Daily Inquirer use the medium haphazardly for her own self-gratification. She does not,in any way negate the observation that opinion columns have become a venue for personal attacks and megalomaniac fantasies. To cite such an instance of harassment we refer the reader to a classroom discussion that's been cropped to a mere recounting in a paragraph (notwithstanding the complexity of the debate and the nuanced approach of those involved in this debate):
"One of my professors said that a student who questions activism is an embarrassment to UP. There is a right, she said, and a wrong (sic). To question that right and wrong is a ridiculous postmodernist concept (sic). She said that those who oppose activism live with a false consciousness of reality. The language she used was harsher but mostly difficult to translate into English.// For someone who lives by the principle that dissent and questioning are vital in a democracy, I find it odd that she finds being questioned offensive."
Ms. Evangelista, defeated in the classroom dialogue, slays her teacher in her column ruthlessly. If she is indeed as liberal as she claims herself to be (as when she preaches that people should refrain from challenging ideas antagonistic to their own) why would she prevent a public debate to ensue by keeping her 'adversaries' unnamed? How else should the classroom discussion be appraised without any proper referencing? Whom she sketches as the totalitarian monster and dogmatic activist is no less than the president of the UP Academic Union, Professor Lani Abad (Department of Filipino and Philippine Literature). Professor Lani Abad is known for her perseverance in forging unity among the faculty, academic representatives, and UP employees in their struggle for economic and democratic rights. She may have been maligned as a raucous, power-tripping demagogue by Ms. Evangelista but we happen to know that a considerable number of students enrolled in that class regard her as ironic, witty, and sophisticated. Too much for Prof. Abad. The point is to critique irresponsible media practice.
When Ms. Evangelista says that "I'm not a political science major. I know very little about the dynamics of politics and will be the first to claim that my reading is limited to the Bestseller section of a bookstore. Maybe, this is the reason I shy away from claiming that my point of view is the only right view..." she is in fact implying that she has mastered a particular field of expertise. For how can one disavow acumen in a particular field without assuming that one is a master in another? Humility, as opposed to this insidious and arrogant stance, consists in a thorough engagement of ideas to the best of one's abilities. In a sense, nobody could be a master of a field if we consider the material force of dynamism and dialectics. It is redundant for people to claim ignorance of a specific field unless they would want to imply mastery of another; since mastery is a formal impossibility. By saying that she is not a political science major and that her literary fare is limited to bestsellers (that she is far from the generic homo academicus), she makes a representation of herself as an open-minded individual as opposed to the alleged self-righteousness of the Left. Her perverted logic purports reading bestsellers and avoiding the political as proof of her open-mindedness. She makes it appear that any posture of criticality is a self-righteous act. Precisely coming from this innocuous position, she goes on to say that "For someone [Prof. Abad] who lives by the principle that dissent and questioning are vital in a democracy, I find it odd that she finds being questioned offensive." Dissent and democracy, in Ms. Evangelista's logic, are reduced to an unmistakable patronizing relativism that strategically contains the practice of dissent and democracy as functions of the much celebrated liberal multiculturalism. In the liberal democratic horizon, the tolerant multiculturalist can only tolerate customs and/acts that hurt no one. In Slavoj Zizek's words "tolerance is tolerance of the Other in so far as this Other is not an 'intolerant fundamentalist'-which simply means: in so far as it is not the real Other. Tolerance is "zero tolerance" for the real Other, the Other is a substantial weight of jouissance. We can see how this liberal tolerance reproduces the elementary "postmodern" operation of having access to the object deprived of its substance: we can enjoy coffee without caffeine, beer without alcohol, sex without direct bodily contact, right up to Virtual Reality, that is, reality itself deprived of its inert material substance...In other words, the problem with the liberal multiculturalist is that he or she is unable to maintain a true indifference towards the Other's jouissance-this jouissance bothers them, which is why their entire strategy is to keep it at a proper distance (2004:174)."
The starting point of a multiculturalist is a dogmatic faith in pluralism. Pluralism presupposes that discourses have equal status in a given hegemonic order. However, it is precisely the existence of the hegemonic order that negates the very idea of plurality. For a hegemonic order to exist, it has to marginalize certain discourses that challenge it. Antagonism, and not some Miss Universe idea of World Peace, is the condition of possibility of all social formations, including that of "liberal democratic" regimes. Anybody who understands the dynamics of hegemony would therefore be exasperated at Ms. Evangelista's demand that one should remain silent before others whose point of view contradicts one's own. Should we perhaps keep our point of view as if it were some obscene secret? What is at stake here is not some vague term that Ms. Evangelista refers to as "point of view" but the substance of one's interest embodied in a point of view. At this point, let us venture into a hypothetical situation. Let us suspend, for a moment, that what transpired between Prof. Abad and Ms. Evangelista was an ideological clash on account of class interest and replace that antagonism with a racial one. Should we give the same validity between the views of the Ku Klux Clan and the Black Panther? This does not make sense even in the vacuum of multiculturalism where, supposedly, cultures have the same hold. Is the parallelism so haphazard? We do not think so. We cite Ms. Evangelista in support of this "hypothesis":"...I find it strange for people to accuse others that they have a false understanding of reality just because theirs is different. It's just as ridiculous as Muslim Fundamentalists claiming all Christians deserve to die because we believe in the wrong God." George W. Bush would have not phrased his racism and ethnocentrism this way, notwithstanding his all out "war on terror." Just as Ms. Evangelista has a stereotype notion of the activists, she also has a crass notion of the Muslim Fundamentalists.
By speaking commonsensical language, she reduces historical struggles into idiosyncratic preferences as if the difference between historical materialism and pragmatism were the same as the difference between ASAP and SOP*. Ms. Evangelista seems to understand democracy in exactly this way. Democracy in this diluted state is used by liberal democrats as its most potent defense against so-called left-wing totalitarianism, and hence, they find adhering to it as a virtue rather than a symptom of domination. In Zizek, this is what is called the point de capiton, a "quilting" that gives consistency to a given symbolic universe: " The point de capiton is the point to which the subject is 'sewn' to the signifier, and at the same time, the point which interpellates individual into subject by addressing it with the call of a certain master-signifier ('Communism', 'God', 'Freedom', 'America') -- in a word, it is the point of subjectivation of the signifier's chain (1989: 101)." By capitonnage, too, we can account for Ms. Evangelista's position that she is "outside ideology" as when she states that she is in no position to assess the "dynamics of politics," when she is in fact espousing/mouthing the neoliberal agenda. She valorizes the Third Way and the private sector's grand 'gesture' of corporate social responsibility:? In the United Kingdom, in Australia, in America, development did not come from government handouts. It came from the private sector deciding that they need everyone to succeed to enjoy their own success (sic). Here today, we have corporations like HSBC, SMART, GLOBE, AYALA and many more jumping into the wagon of corporate social responsibility (sic). There's a reason to hope and other ways to fight (sic)." Ms. Evangelista affirms this 'gesture' of multinational corporations as though corporate social responsibility is not a strategy of containment used by global monopoly capital to alleviate its crisis and therefore, it is not as if capitalism has suddenly acquired a human face. The discourse of corporate social responsibility is a conjunctural shift and not a permanent "change of heart" among monopoly capitalists.
Suffice it to say that an espousal of such discourse is anything but a position "outside ideology". In fact, Ms. Evangelista clearly adheres to Thatcherism (the independence of the market from the state which privatizes basic social services such as education and health; deregulates key industries such as oil; and liberalizes trade, bombarding neocolonies with surplus products in a dizzying fashion). What makes her a good subject of Thatcherism is her belief that "there is no alternative" to neoliberalism and the capitalist mode of production that it preserves. This is clearly seen in her denigration of activism as impotent. As though a victim of the Stalinist trials, she laments "the activists decry apathy. Rally, they tell us. Fight the system. Don't settle. Don't be one of them.// I think it's a huge assumption to claim that there is only one way to fight." Any UP student who bothered to spend time listening to what the activists really have to say would sense that Ms. Evangelista has not listened to the activists at all. What she is presenting are no real life activists but one-dimensional representations/stereotypes that only the AFP also deploys in order to cast doubt on the integrity of these people. The true activist that she refuses to reckon with is one who does a concrete analysis of concrete conditions; one whose calls to action are a product of thorough social investigation; one who 'always historicizes' (Jameson); one whose tireless persuasion goes beyond a mere injunction to rally. In Ms. Evangelista's consistent anti-leftism (see Evangelista's others essays in Philippine Star) could we perhaps discern an insistent refusal to see initiatives that enjoins musicians, poets, linguists, political scientists, economists, patriotic businessmen and state bureaucrats, church people, sociologists, film makers mathematicians, visual artists, IT people, physicists, chemists educators and so on? Initiatives that result in unprecedented cultural and scientific synthesis that, among other things, pave the way for even bigger mass demonstrations.
So what could perhaps be the 'master-signifier' (Lacan) in Ms. Evangelista's symbolic universe? NEOLIBERALISM. Neoliberalism or the free market ideology purports free competition as the highest form of virtue when in fact the free market has spawned the uneven development of nations. The free market harps on the equality of subjects while it maintains the gap between classes. The free market continues to foster oppressive forms of stratification while it profits from the commodification of gender identities and indigenous cultures. The free market presupposes autonomy from the State while denying the latter's active intervention in the export of warm bodies (read: cheap labor) leaving Filipino families restless and anxious on account of separation. The emotional costs of which has been the burden of social scientists and is left uncalculated until recently.
Celebratory discourses on migration have reached the point of utter absurdity as when it is asserted that women's unpaid labor in the household gets compensated upon export. Never mind that these are professionals at home. Never mind that they are maltreated, that they suffer undiagnosed depression, that their salaries are usually put on hold, that some are sexually molested and that many come home dead. Yet the logic of the free market declares them heroes. Indeed, state deregulation as espoused by the UP School of Economics is really the deregulation of the market's social evils. This is anything but close to the so-called autonomy of the market from the state.
Despite this, Ms. Evangelista continues to be lured by the discourse of neoliberalism. It may be difficult to resist the seductive 'synergy of the global village.' The difficulty doubles up when one, like Ms. Evangelista, does not yet see any need for partisan politics: "[W]hen I believe the cause is great enough, and that there is no other means, I expect I'll be out there in the streets, too." Could this same aversion towards activism prompted Ms. Evangelista's insidious attack on the faculty and staff of the College of Arts and Letters who mobilized themselves in the fight for the COLA back pay? She says: "Two days ago, as I was rushing up to class, I met one of my professors facing the hallway (sic). He said the academic staff was in front of the Oblation rallying for ten years of backpay (sic). Yet my professor was there in front of our classroom, a solitary old gentleman in a baseball cap, reporting for duty because he promised us a lecture (emphasis ours)." The implications of this statement on the professors who participated in the said demonstration are enormous.
Ms. Evangelista's functionalism makes her think that teachers should just teach, that students should just attend their classes and leave social responsibility to the well-funded NGOs and support organizations like the GAWAD KALINGA. She lauds the GAWAD KALINGA thus: "Everywhere, there are organizations that work from the grassroots to uplift conditions in the face of political turmoil (sic). Take GAWAD KALINGA (sic). House after house, slum after slum, it changes lives and gives opportunities to people who would otherwise be mired in poverty. Thousands of volunteers from Mindanao to Luzon have picked up either shovel or wallet to help in the war against poverty."
Even Robert Owen, a Utopian Socialist of the esrly 19th century realized that the logical conclusion of charity is a rupture in the social relations of production. In his well-meaning experiments on charity he found himself bankrupt. This goes to show that genuine charity entails the loss of profit, something that the corporations she alludes to would never consciously give up. Although Ms. Evangelista invokes ideas resembling that of a Utopian Socialist like Owen, her ego-ideal (read: how one views oneself in order to appear likeable to oneself) seems to be closer to that of a socialite. But the ego- ideal in the context of Lacan's mirror stage is always illusory and deceiving. One would have to reckon with the rock of castration (rendered here in terms of habitus) for there is no escape from the symbolic, save for psychosis. Habitus consists in enduring dispositions; like symptoms these signifiers can be gleaned from dreams, speech, writing, comportment and habits of mind.
Ms. Evangelista's metaphor for the activists is a noisy cat that has made her "become deaf to the noise." The same cat she wishes to serve as "cat soup for dinner." Should we take that as a fascist urge to kill all that is bothering her? Another symptom, another essay.
*SOP and ASAP are competing Sunday variety-shows aired on GMA-7 and ABS-CBN.
**Sarah Raymundo and Bogart Jaime are orgmates from the Center for Nationalist Studies in the late 90s. Sarah is now a faculty member of the Department of Sociology and Spokesperson of CONTEND (Congress of Teachers/Educators for Nationalism and Democracy). Bogart is now knocking on the doors of call centers and calls this a function of social ageing. They spend their free time scouting for scoundrels and gossiping on the scandalous practices of academics, whether political or sexual. They are, in the last instance, national democrats.