EDSA People Power Revolution

[OPINION] The burdens and demands of historical reflection

Roberto Lim Jr.
[OPINION] The burdens and demands of historical reflection
'When we seek to become better men, we never seek to return to our monstrous selves, no matter how tough the going gets'

It is that time again — the Philippine elections — always an exciting but stressful time. This year is not any different. After engaging in discourses with different people lately on political and social issues, I have suddenly been compelled to reflect on the role of history, especially as an emerging millennial scholar.

The nation is about to make its most monumental decision this coming May, choosing the next set of executives and legislators. The choice is motivated by the hope to salvage the country from the intertwined health and economic crises. However, the highly volatile state of historical reflection lies on top of such hope, as contentious names remain present in the upcoming polls. Moreover, the plethora of historical insights and historical distortion makes for a complicated situation for this decision-making process.

The general conservative view towards millennials like me, as well as towards Gen Zs, does not make the situation better. The discourse becomes challenging, as we are at a natural disadvantage of not being eyewitnesses to critical junctures of a nation’s history — that is to say, ’80s and ’90s kids not being wise enough, let alone not existing, during the tail end of the Marcos regime, the EDSA revolution, or any other historical period before that. The older generations continue to hold on to such a view towards the young ones despite their enthusiasm and training in social, political, and historical reflection; they solidly assert the primacy of being able to experience events, much like how they did, to attain a certain level of “fuller understanding.” 

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Such an unwelcoming view of us being “too young” serves as an immediate response to any argument we run about the seriousness of politics and history. Efforts of young scholars appear to be futile, as the only things we can hold onto are primary and secondary sources. This situation highlights that our most vigorous efforts to become public historians, analysts, philosophers, and other academic professionals become tremendously meaningless. We are left to listen to the elderly, even if it means subscribing to distorted and propagandized views of history.

The older ones are not wrong when they say that experience is crucial, and I never wish to disagree with such assertion. After all, it is an inherent wisdom of the old that still holds true to many key respects of daily living. However, for us young scholars who obviously cannot travel to the past and get such first-hand experience, the onus to read and analyze the sources and narratives available to us intensely deepens. 

As if this is not difficult enough, in the present times when almost anyone can just write “history” on their own, judging an account as untrue, inaccurate, biased, or truthful becomes an easy thing to assert, but a tricky thing to prove.

So where do people like us go? 

For starters, media and information literacy (MIL) is a critical tool to proceed with the complicated decision-making process at hand. UNESCO’s framework provides a comprehensive and fundamental understanding of such composite concept by emphasizing all steps, from access, understanding, evaluation, interpretation, use, and dissemination of various information and media. MIL experts across academic and non-academic terrains are currently working on the double to undo the damage caused by historical distortion and news disinformation. But despite such advocacy growing, the clamor to take action exponentially grows by the day.

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More importantly, part of such skill is the significance of the reflective side of historical analysis. The existence of many voices (whether official versus non-official, from above versus from below, even fake versus real) must be acknowledged and scrutinized together. Learning the motives of such narratives and voices makes the analysis richer, as it does not just confine to a simple conclusion of fact versus lie. This is not to say that fact-checking historical claims is impotent, but the process stopping at a mere conclusion of something being a fact or a lie can only lead to a political to-and-fro that only clarifies who is more powerful and not necessarily what is legitimate.

In my experience, hopefully, I did not need to be a revolutionary Red Guard or a bourgeoisie for my thesis on the Chinese Cultural Revolution to pass muster back in June 2021. Historical reflection of another country’s narrative, in this case, needed to make sense for the lessons to demand our attention. This is the essence of using history as reflection points for today and the tomorrows. Aside from imploring the present generations to never hesitate budging or to refrain from repeating the ills and disappointments of the past, history provides a platform to reflect on the numerous changes in our society’s progression, and its members’ values, moral fibers, and aspirations. 

When we seek to become better men, we never seek to return to our monstrous selves, no matter how tough the going gets. – Rappler.com

Roberto Lim Jr. is a social science teacher affiliated with the Philippine Association for Media and Information Literacy and the Philippine Association for Chinese Studies. His research interests include representations in various media texts and contemporary China.

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