[OPINION] Lust for violence

[OPINION] Lust for violence
'Duterte’s high satisfaction rating will only take a negative turn when we're able to successfully curb the capacity for violence that has been awakened in us'

It has been puzzling for many human rights advocates that the satisfaction rating of President Rodrigo Duterte remains high.

In spite of the many jaw-dropping controversies facing the Duterte administration, the Social Weather Stations (SWS) reported that for the first quarter of 2019, a combined 79% of wealthier up to low-income Filipinos gave Duterte a net satisfaction rating of +66 in March, which SWS categorizes as “very good.” Thus, Duterte is back to his high satisfaction rating achieved in June 2017. (READ: Duterte’s satisfaction rating bounces back to personal high – SWS)

Many have offered varying explanations regarding the persistence of this phenomenon. In this piece, I would like to explore more on Duterte’s success in tapping into our capacity for violence, which may explain his high ratings.

The thing about violence is that it is built into our human genes as an evolutionary adaptation to crudely get what we want. In the work of Steven Pinker’s The Better Angels of Our Nature, he explains there are 5 primal motivators behind our propensity for violence. I will explain each vis-à-vis how Duterte exploits them to his advantage.

  • Predation  Use of physical force and the fantasy of killing someone to secure resources or one’s position in society. From the very start of his political campaign and his presidency, Duterte continued to vow killing tens of thousands of criminals in a relentless war on crime. Tirades against the nation’s elite that cast him as an anti-establishment hero. He is consistent with his “Kill, Kill, Kill” approach in solving the nation’s problems. Duterte e continues to publicly urge people to kill persons addicted to drugs and others which he considers as undesirables – these include his critics such as human rights activists, truth tellers in media, and religious and consecrated persons. (READ: How Duterte gov’t tried to fix legal loopholes of drug war)
  • Dominance – Use of relative size and strength to gain the upper hand in society. Duterte always woos the police and military by giving them lavish gifts, perks, and bonuses to solidify his political dominance. Up to date, he is the President who has the highest number of appointments of ex-military officials in various civilian government posts. Since military personnel has been trained to neutralize enemies of the state, such specialized training would be instrumental for Duterte to liquidate his opponents since he sees himself as the personification of the state. Evidence? Just look how Duterte addresses the police, the military, and the country – he treats them as his possessions at his disposal.
  • Desire for revenge – Use of grudges to seek retaliation over the long term. When Duterte became the President, he successfully polarized the Filipino people. On one side are those who are classified as either the proud Digong Duterte Supporters (DDS), the closet DDS, and those whose apathetic silence help bolster the dominance of Duterte. The other side, which is critical of Duterte, has been falsely labeled as Yellows regardless of their political, religious, and ideological affiliations. This false label has made it easy for Duterte to demonize his critics as propagandists for the country’s oligarchs whose excesses and oppressive actions against the ordinary Filipino need to be squashed and destroyed. (READ: Blogger-propagandists, the new crisis managers)
  • Sadism – Deliberately inflicting pain on someone just because the sight of suffering becomes enjoyable. Duterte, on many occasions, has publicly declared his enjoyment in destroying the reputation of those he sees as his enemies. He has effectively weaponized the law, used military surveillance, and encouraged death threats to inflict pain against his critics such as Senator Leila de Lima, Senator Antonio Trillanes IV, Rappler CEO and executive editor Maria Ressa, Caloocan Bishop Pablo Virgilio David, and his latest demolition job, Apo Hiking singer Jim Paredes.
  • Ideology – A shared belief that some greater good is so utopian that achieving it warrants limitless violence. Duterte has constantly been reiterating that he is willing to do everything to uplift the lives of the Filipino even if he goes to hell for it. He has also successfully gotten his message across that the country’s problems are so grave that it would require an iron hand and the use of violence, disguised as political will, to achieve it. In short, for Duterte, the end justifies the means, and those who suffer along the way are merely war casualties or collateral damage.

The abovementioned primal motivators for violence has been found by Pinker and other studies to create a pleasurable response in the brain, somewhat similar to that caused by cocaine. Thus, violence can be very highly pleasurable once revulsion towards it is conquered, and in turn, can be very addictive. This is why I suppose Filipinos who got used to Duterte eventually found it amusing when he promotes violence, and I suspect they find it pleasurable when people who are considered undesirable by the President die or suffer in the hands of law enforcement agencies or vigilante justice.

Armed with this understanding, Duterte’s high satisfaction rating will only take a negative turn when we are able to successfully curb the capacity for violence that has been awakened in us. Let us find solace in knowing that violence can be curbed and there is still a way for us to get out of this mess. – Rappler.com

Mark Anthony Abenir is an associate professor and director of the Simbahayan Community Development Office of the University of Santo Tomas in Manila. He is also a development worker and serves as chairman of the Community Development Society of the Philippines.

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