[OPINION] Road rage and mimetic violence

Danny Pilario

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[OPINION] Road rage and mimetic violence

Guia Abogado/Rappler

'A violent culture breeds violent desires'

In a matter of two weeks, two road rage events happened in the Manila streets. The most recent was August 25 in Makati involving a man in a white shirt holding a gun, pressing a rider on the ground; the former is a policeman, while the latter claimed to be a military man who turned out to have faked his credentials. Two weeks earlier — on August 8 — a dismissed policeman pulled out and cocked his firearm against a cyclist. He later appeared in a presscon with police authorities, saying that both of them have made an amicable arrangement. What kind of society do we have?

Road violence is not new to the Philippine streets. There is a pending House Bill (No. 5759) since 2019 called the “Anti-Road Rage Act” with corresponding sanctions to motorists who exhibited “mild to moderate screaming, wild gesturing at others, cursing or using bad language, physical attack at another or an attempt thereof, reckless driving, any kinds of threat or intimidation, any use of force against another person and other analogous circumstances.” Even Ferdinand Marcos Jr. filed a Senate Bill 2329 (“An Act Defining the Road Rage”) in 2011 when he was still in the Senate. I do not know what happened to these bills.

In the meantime, the road rage still continues. 

Where does violence come from? 

The French philosopher, Rene Girard, thinks that violence is mimetic, that is, simulated, copied or imitated. One derivative word is “mimicry” — when you mimic someone, you copy his/her actions and make them your own. Girard thinks that when people want something, they do not pursue it on their own. Desire is something that humans do not fully control. We do not generate it on our own. It is a product of society around us. Actually, we do not know what to desire. So, we look for “models” and copy them. Our desire is mimetic. 

“Man is the creature who does not know what to desire,” Girard argues, “and he turns to others in order to make up his mind. We desire what others desire because we imitate their desires.”

A Filipino saying goes: “Ang maling gawa kapag ginagawa ng matatanda ay nagiging tama sa mga mata ng bata.” 

The saying goes beyond the moral call to have good role models. It is also a challenge to examine our cultures and the way we are socialized into them. It is our cultures that shape us, our desires, our decisions, our actions. A violent culture breeds violent desires.

“For every act of violence committed against a human being is a wound in humanity’s flesh; every violent death diminishes us as people…. Violence leads to more violence, hatred to more hatred, death to more death,” says Pope Francis in Fratelli Tutti (227). 

It is not a coincidence that ex-policemen or present men in uniform are involved in road violence. Not discounting the good men in their ranks, these people have been fully socialized into violence.

Just in the last six years at least, we had a President who gave them license to kill.

“Kill criminals if you have to. I’ll protect you.”

“Your duty requires you to overcome the resistance of the person you are arresting…. If he resists, and it is a violent one…you are free to kill the idiots, that is my order to you.”

Kung walang baril, bigyan nyo ng baril.” 

This culture of violence continues in the social and political structures we allow to exist in our midst — red-tagging and the anti-terrorism law, confidential funds and non-accountability, disregard for the rule of law and election anomalies, corruption and impunity, patronage politics and poverty. If we do not say “no” to them, if we do not fight to dismantle them, we are complicit to breeding a violent society.

Pope Francis writes in Evangelii Gaudium: “Until exclusion and inequality in society and between peoples are reversed, it will be impossible to eliminate violence…. When a society – whether local, national, or global – is willing to leave a part of itself on the fringes, no political programs or resources spent on law enforcement or surveillance systems can indefinitely guarantee tranquility…. If every action has its consequences, an evil embedded in the structures of a society has a constant potential for disintegration and death. It is evil crystallized in unjust social structures, which cannot be the basis of hope for a better future (EG, 59).”

The famous refrain of Bamboo’s “Tatsulok” is right: “Habang may tatsulok at sila ang nasa tuktok, hindi matatapos itong gulo.”

If this present government does not curb the reigning social, political, and economic violence which they seemingly allow to keep them in power, we will soon have a violent society that kills and continue to kill for generations. 

I once asked an orphan of the war on drugs in Payatas what he wants to be when he grows up. His answer: “Gusto ko pong maging pulis.” 

“Bakit pulis?” 

“Gusto kong patayin ang pulis na pumatay sa Tatay ko.”  –

Fr. Daniel Franklin Pilario is a member of the Congregation of Mission. He is a professor at the St. Vincent School of Theology of Adamson University. He is also a guest minister at the Parokya ng Ina ng Lupang Pangako in Payatas, Quezon City.

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