We Have Met the Enemy

Photo Credit: irenem13 via Compfight cc
Photo Credit: irenem13 via Compfight cc


“Life is not one damn thing after another. It is one damn thing over and over.” — Edna St. Vincent Millay

It was fun to watch Heneral Luna, but it was not easy.

It was fun to watch a Filipino film that did not feature worn and hackneyed plots, screaming drama queens and slapstick comedy. It was fun watching serious acting, witty dialogues, impressive costumes and brilliant cinematography. I never was a history buff. To my shame, I went into the moviehouse not really knowing who Antonio Luna was — except that he was a street name in Davao, and perhaps the brother of the painter, Juan Luna.

But when I came out of the theater, I will never forget who he was.

It was not easy watching the film, though. The enjoyment of watching a well-crafted film carried undercurrents of anger and despair — anger at how people could be so callous, greedy and selfish, and despair that the problems our forefathers faced are still the very same problems we face today. 150 years of history has not done much to eradicate regionalism, political ambition and backstabbing, and abuse of power.

I need not convince you of this. Simply going through the national and local daily news should be enough. It is disheartening to read about the Intellectual Property Office stealing its logo from a design proposal, but it is no longer surprising.  In our country, it seems normal for our lawmakers and law enforcers to be themselves the lawbreakers. How many videos have we seen of kotong cops flagging down vehicles for imaginary violations? How many photos have we seen of police cars turning left with a No Left Turn sign in full view, or of policemen riding motorcycles without helmets? Even a presidentiable was captured in a campaign trail photo driving without a seatbelt.

It is probably only in our country where we have ejected a dictator who has stolen so much from our national coffers, and yet his family has come back, unashamed and unapologetic, and once again occupying key leadership positions. It is only here where we have impeached and imprisoned another president, only to have him released and serving as a mayor of the nation’s capital city a few years later. Like Buencamino, Paterno and Mascardo, these people seem to have an unlimited supply of Get Out of Jail Free cards that they keep playing, and none of the other players seem to mind, and applaud them even.

And what’s worse is that some don’t even need to get out of jail, but win as elected officials while serving time. I mean, seriously, how ridiculous is that? Why hasn’t a law been made against that after all this time? Even a fictionist would be hard-pressed to come up with such an implausible plotline as this.

Yet this is our reality, and this is why the film was so hard to watch.

Since we watched the last full show of the movie, I went to bed with a heavy heart and I woke up still disturbed and perplexed. What can I do, what can we do, to solve the intricate mess that we have put ourselves in? How long must we suffer and be doomed to repeat the sins of our fathers? When will we wake up and realize that it doesn’t really take much to change — just a little more patience at intersections, giving way to others and preventing unnecessary gridlocks; just a little more effort in picking up our own trash — throwing that candy wrapper or cigarette butt in the wastecan instead of the street; just a little more responsibility in doing our jobs properly — showing up to work on time, being courteous and considerate, and finding ways to get things done instead of looking for others to blame; just a little more self-respect — not asking for or giving bribes or taking short cuts,  but taking pride in a job well done; just a little more love for others and for ourselves; just a little more encouragement to others to not give up, to continue fighting the good fight, to press on and not lose heart.

We all need it. I need it. You need it.

It is not easy, but it is a worthy goal.

“We have met the enemy, and he is us.” — Walt Kelly


Originally published in Sunstar Davao.

Send me your thoughts at andy@freethinking.me. View previous articles at www.freethinking.me.

Morality in Two Tablets

Photo Credit: seeingimonkey via Compfight cc
Photo Credit: seeingimonkey via Compfight cc

The story of Moses and the Ten Commandments was drilled to me since early childhood. I remember various picture books of this fierce, bearded man holding two stone tablets. Some of the illustrations had lightning flashing over dark skies behind him.

In my younger years, I believed that these 10 edicts were the highest exemplars of human conduct, the gold standard of morality. Little did I know that I would one day look at these with a more critical frame of mind, discarding some as useless and seemingly the product of an insecure deity (the first through third commandments), while rephrasing others to better emphasize an underlying value.

Thou shalt not kill and Thou shalt not steal, for example, could be rephrased in a more positive light as Be kind to others. The value of kindness already encompasses the injunction against killing and stealing, but it is also against slavery, rape, torture and other means of unkindness not mentioned in the Ten Commandments and even practiced or tolerated by the Israelites at that time.

Many humanists have thus attempted to rewrite the Ten Commandments. And they sound better even. Let me share some of these with you.

Christopher Hitchens

1. Do not condemn people on the basis of their ethnicity or their color.

2. Do not ever even think of using people as private property, or as owned, or as slaves.

3. Despise those who use violence or the threat of it in sexual relations.

4. Hide your face and weep if you dare to harm a child.

5. Do not condemn people for their inborn nature – why would God create so many homosexuals only in order to torture and destroy them?

6. Be aware that you, too, are an animal, and dependent on the web of nature. Try and think and act accordingly.

7. Do not imagine that you can escape judgment if you rob people with a false prospectus rather than with a knife.

8. Turn off that [expletive deleted] cell phone – you have no idea how unimportant your call is to us.

9. Denounce all jihadists and crusaders for what they are: psychopathic criminals with ugly delusions. And terrible sexual repressions.

10. Be willing to renounce any god or any faith if any holy commandments should contradict any of the above. In short: Don’t swallow your moral code in tablet form.

AC Grayling

1. Love well

2. Seek the good in all things

3. Harm no others

4. Think for yourself

5. Take responsibility

6. Respect nature

7. Do your utmost

8. Be informed

9. Be kind

10. Be courageous

Bertrand Russell

1. Do not feel absolutely certain of anything.

2. Do not think it worthwhile to proceed by concealing evidence, for the evidence is sure to come to light.

3. Never try to discourage thinking for you are sure to succeed.

4. When you meet with opposition, even if it should be from your husband or your children, endeavour to overcome it by argument and not by authority, for a victory dependent upon authority is unreal and illusory.

5. Have no respect for the authority of others, for there are always contrary authorities to be found.

6. Do not use power to suppress opinions you think pernicious, for if you do the opinions will suppress you.

7. Do not fear to be eccentric in opinion, for every opinion now accepted was once eccentric.

8. Find more pleasure in intelligent dissent that in passive agreement, for, if you value intelligence as you should, the former implies a deeper agreement than the latter.

9. Be scrupulously truthful, even if the truth is inconvenient, for it is more inconvenient when you try to conceal it.

10. Do not feel envious of the happiness of those who live in a fool’s paradise, for only a fool will think that it is happiness.

But perhaps the best rewrite came in the form of a meme I saw the other day, brilliantly compressing the entire Ten Commandments into one sentence: Don’t be a dick.

Originally posted in Sunstar Davao.

Send me your thoughts at andy@freethinking.me. View previous articles at www.freethinking.me.

To Vote Or Not To Vote

Photo Credit: bryan thayer via Compfight cc
Photo Credit: bryan thayer via Compfight cc

That is the question. For me, at least.

I don’t remember when I last voted. I do know I was still single at that time. So after around 2 decades of not voting, I was all set to register for the upcoming elections —  but after Digong’s supposedly “final” announcement that he wouldn’t be participating in next year’s race, my interest waned again. If I had to choose between what I perceived to be a shameless thief, a bumbling newbie and an ineffective, obnoxious lapdog, why bother?

On the one hand, I understand the man — the burden and challenge to turn this country around is more than monumental. It is gigantically humongous. And at the twilight of his life and career, it would be much better to sit back and enjoy the benefits of what he has sown, rather than to be in the thick of what would be the biggest battle of his life.

On the other hand, it could be another strategy of his, as they say — to see how much public clamor his refusal to run would raise, and to throw his opponents off guard. It is uncanny to see some of his supporters seeing hidden messages in his words and actions, like conspiracy theorists revealing cryptic communiques in public documents. They post a photo of him and a well-known tycoon and say that he is already pledging his financial support. They post a photo of his aide wearing a shirt with his slogan “tapang at malasakit” (courage and concern) and say he is revealing Digong’s true message.

About a year and a half ago, I wrote that I didn’t think our mayor would make a good president. But given our current choices, what choice do I have? The curse of democracy is that it is a popularity contest, we know all too well that popularity can be unfairly skewed towards those who are more charismatic (even if they do not possess the necessary skill set of leadership) — or worse, popularity can be bought. Therefore, we are simply forced to choose among the most popular. The idealist would say that one should vote for the person who best embodies one’s ideals. The pragmatist, however, simply looks at the most popular choices and makes a decision. In many cases, it is choosing the best among the worst.

But why is it Digong for me? The next three paragraphs will explain why, and they are three paragraphs because each is also an answer against the three other popular presidentiables.

One, he has never been known to enrich himself from public coffers. We Davaoenos know where he lives and what type of vehicle he drives. He does not own multiple SUVs with bodyguards escorting him with umbrellas. He does not live in a posh, gated subdivision nor does he bully their guards. A few years ago, a traffic enforcer flagged him for not wearing a helmet while on a motorcycle. When the fellow realized who it was he had flagged down, he became flustered but the mayor simply told him to “do his job” and write the ticket. All throughout his political career, Digong has never been known to flaunt wealth and power, unlike you-know-who.

Two, he has a proven track record as an executive. He has shown political will to enforce laws, even those that are unpopular — like the 30 kph speed limit (which I personally find ridiculous, especially in wide roads like Dacudao, J.P. Laurel or R. Castillo), or the 12MN liquor ban that many bar owners decry. Unpopular as these laws are, however, I have to grudgingly admit that they have served their purpose. The rate of fatal vehicular accidents have, of course, gone down and citizens can roam the streets at night in relative safety.

Three, he exudes a natural charisma. While this is a double-edged sword, it is still necessary for leadership. You can’t be a leader if nobody follows you, as they say. This charisma is a natural extension of his simplicity, it is who he naturally is and he is not afraid to show that side of his personality in public. He does not have the veneer of a polished politician. He is brash, trash-talking and he speaks his mind often too frankly — but that is part of his charm. He has no need to pretend to be one of the masses, posing for obviously fake photo-ops as a traffic enforcer, carpenter, or pedicab driver. In this regard, there is no hypocrisy between who he is and what he does.

But if he is not running, I do not know who to vote for. Perhaps, it may be, as some suggest, that our elections are criminal activities and we as a people ought to fight against it in one form or another.

Originally published in Sunstar Davao.

Send me your thoughts at andy@freethinking.me. View previous articles at www.freethinking.me.

Live and Let Live

Photo Credit: Seniju via Compfight cc
Photo Credit: Seniju via Compfight cc

Someone asked me an interesting question in our last Filipino Freethinkers Davao meetup. Our topic that time happened to be the Christ Myth Theory — exploring the idea that Jesus was not a historical person at all but purely legendary. Anyway, this person asked why we were discussing such a topic and what was the point in doing so?

Someone else also asked me a similar question about why I write against religion. Am I perhaps angry at religion and want to make atheists out of people? Is that the point in all this?

The answer, of course, is no. My main thrust as a freethinker is not to make people believe or disbelieve. I am an educator at heart and my goal is always to teach people to think for themselves, to apply critical and logical methods. I have very good friends who are Christians, pastors even, or priests, and they really know me and don’t feel threatened by me. I don’t go out of my way to de-convert them or to engage them in debates. In fact, I don’t like debating with them and don’t even bring up religion when I’m with them — unless they ask, of course, and then it’s usually a calm and reasonable discussion that we have.

Many people think that religion (or relationship with God) or belief in some deity is necessary for society to survive, for people to behave and be good. A lot of atheists are very much against that and think that religion is the root of all evil and does more harm than good.

I would like to think that the truth is somewhere in the middle. I personally believe that even if there were a god of some sort, he ultimately leaves us to our own devices. We are truly the only ones responsible for what we do and how we live. We chart our own destiny.

I also believe that many people are not able subconsciously to handle this knowledge. In the graphic novel, Sandman: Brief Lives by Neil Gaiman, one of the main characters, named Destruction, reminisces a conversation he had with his sister, Death. He talked about wanting to know more about the universe, that he felt so small despite the tremendous power he had. And Death’s reply was “not only could [we] know everything. We do. We just tell ourselves we don’t to make it all bearable.”

So for many people, it is their faith or their god that makes it bearable — that there is some all-powerful being out there pulling the strings, conducting the orchestra, directing the play (or whatever other metaphor you find useful). That ultimately, he/she/it is responsible for whatever fate befalls us. That takes a lot of weight off our shoulders and indeed makes it more bearable.

But I do not begrudge people their religion if their religion makes them organize and create programs that benefit society like feeding programs, literacy programs, and so on. In the condition that our world is in, we could certainly do better than to fight over religious beliefs. We could just go out there and actually do some good.

Live and let live. That is my motto. I may feel strongly against certain beliefs and belief systems but if in the end, you still feel that is the right path for you, then go ahead. I will not stop you, and have no right to do so. But bear in mind that I expect the same courtesy in return.

Ultimately, I do what I do because it gives me pleasure to do so. I like writing, I like sharing ideas, and I like meeting people of a similar mind. So, I’m just here doing my thing, and if you get something out of it, good. If you don’t, fine, not a problem, and I wish you the best in your own life journey, because I for one, am having a blast.

Originally published in Sunstar Davao.

Send me your thoughts at andy@freethinking.me. View previous articles at www.freethinking.me.

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