[OPINION] The new normal

Intimidation is the name of this administration's game. The President and his network of subservient devotees have resorted to the same strategy: to scold people in public.

They curse. They shout. They tell you that you're wrong. If you ask them questions, they curse you all the more.

They remind you of your teacher who chastised you in front of your classmates. Only that now, these are adults who think they own the country and their rule is eternal.

And the way they intimidate is far more insidious than it seems. Their intimidation carries a moral tone: either you're with them or against them.

Moral crusade

They have launched a moral crusade between themselves – lovers of the country – and their critics – enemies of the state. In this cosmic battle, journalists, human rights activists, and anyone associated with the political opposition are evil people who must be brought down by all means.

Its moral crusade appeals to the "people" and the "country" as if they are powerful divine forces. Forget that they are empty signifiers. The point is that they justify and even explain away an administration's excesses.

Here we find the marriage of unholy forces. The welfare of the "people" becomes the excuse for the curtailment of other freedoms.

Thus it is not all rhetoric.

The state has resorted to legal remedy to silence its opponents. From the impeachment proceedings against the Chief Justice to the cancellation of a news company's license, we see the same pattern. It is a moral crusade against those who disagree with what the administration does.

Do not forget too that the Vice President has a battle to face. And if you think that she is unassailable, just look at the former CHED [Commission on Higher Education] chair who, in the end, had no choice but to resign after a phone call.

What this atmosphere of intimidation creates is this: self-censorship. For others, it is much worse: weariness.

Either way, intimidation breeds silence.

And silence is the desire of a dictatorial state that pretends to be democratic. It hides behind the tyranny of opinion, the popularity of a charismatic figure, and the spirit of unyielding legalism.

 

Tyranny

Philippine society has entered a twilight zone of moral complexity. Many people have accepted as the new normal unexplained killings, the castration of the opposition, and the silencing of alternative voices.

These sacrifices, as it were, are justified for the sake of progress and security.

Born after the Martial Law, I never thought I would ever face the specter of political oppression. But now I fret the day when professors like myself and our students are arrested for the same reason.

The regrettable part about the new normal is that it has its own legitimate believers. And there are so many of them.

They are convinced that sacrifices in fact have to be made. In abandoning their freedoms to the presumed benevolence of one man, they have conveniently forgotten that no one is infallible.

In the words of John Stuart Mill, the new normal is the "tyranny of the majority".

And so times like these call for eccentricity – that people who have opposing views muster the courage, no matter how dreadful, to speak up and do something. It is "desirable, in order to break through that tyranny, that people should be eccentric. Eccentricity has always abounded when and where strength of character has abounded."

Thankfully, all is not yet lost. There is still space to be eccentric. Those of us in civil society need to widen and deepen the way we engage the administration, its policies, and overall direction.

Eccentricity is the potent antidote to intimidation.

But time may be running out as intimidation intensifies. The day is fast approaching when either we restrain ourselves or are restrained. That would be the day we've lost our democratic spirit.

And we have all become complicit to the new normal. – Rappler.com

Jayeel Cornelio, PhD is a 2017 Outstanding Young Scientist of the Philippines and a visiting professor at the Chinese University of Hong Kong. He is on leave from the Ateneo de Manila where he is the director of the Development Studies Program. You may reach him on Twitter @jayeel_cornelio.

Jayeel Cornelio

Jayeel Cornelio, PhD is Associate Professor and the Director of the Development Studies Program at the Ateneo de Manila University. A sociologist of religion, he is a recipient of the 2017 Outstanding Young Scientist Award from the National Academy of Science and Technology. He i...

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