Thursday ∗ 04 Aug 2016

Freedom of anti-information

A little over two months since we elected a new President, there is no day that I do not reel from the change that has come, for good, better, worse – depending on where you stand on issues.

It is the latter of course that has become the more critical question. “Where do you stand?” after all seeps into our daily engagements on social media: it is measured by the headlines we share on our Facebook walls and Twitter feeds, and what we refuse to speak about.

And while we like to be sure about where we stand, I have found freedom in being shaken by this President. By the fact that he requires that I read up on the South China Sea crisis on one day, and climate change on another; the drug crisis in the country on a Monday, poverty and oligarchs on a Wednesday, and then back again.

It’s tiring for sure, but with the internet and all the information we have access to, there are no excuses. You keep up with this parade of issues, or you lose yourself in the rhetoric.

No, not the President’s rhetoric but that of social and mainstream media’s. The latter’s echo chamber is the new comfort zone.

Anti-information
The ingredients for creating a successful echo chamber are few and simple. Bring together people who believe in the same thing. Disallow information that will put into question this belief. Refuse any data that might otherwise make that chamber implode. Listen only to each other. Hear yourselves roar until the echo becomes endless. Sleep soundly at night, wake up in the comfort of hearing your own voice.

The echo chamber is also about not thinking twice when sharing news articles – never mind that these might come from questionable, incredible news sites. It’s about picking news articles with the most useful headline to drive home the echo chamber’s point – not at all that other story that puts it into question.

It’s agreeing to be complicit in information from mainstream media outlets even if these are obviously skewed towards painting only one image of the President. It is refusing to read, listen, hear contrary opinions and narratives – the chamber depends on the refusal to admit that it is unstable.

It’s about discussing the international tribunal’s decision on the West Philippine Sea dispute, mentioning the President’s proposal – pre-decision – of joint developments with China, and finding that the next logical question is: “Can the President be impeached?”

It is refusing information that would paint the President to be any different from the image we have already formed about him in our heads. It is refusing to read nuance and context.

Silencing context
This is not to erase the value of that which the echo chamber holds as its central issue: the killings that have happened contingent upon, in relation to, as a product of – though yet to be proven condoned by – the anti-drug campaign of the President.

Yes, we should continue talking about human rights violations. Yes, we should continue talking about extrajudicial killings.

But no, do not talk about it simply. Do not put it on the same shelf as the killings and disappearance of activists under official military operation plans of past governments. Do not put it on the same shelf as the journalists who have been killed for doing their jobs well. Do not put it on the same level as petty crimes gone wrong.

Do not condone a newspaper’s ongoing “Kill List” which lists down those who have died since this anti-drug campaign began: a kill list denotes an assassination list, not a list of victims.

Do not speak of these lives the way sensationalist media talks about them: there is a context that is specifically about the drug crises in small impoverished communities, a context that we might not know to understand. Demand that media talk about this crisis because it exists, and ask that they stop with the sensationalist images of dead bodies. At any other point we would demand better from them.

Ask yourself as you speak about human rights, now with this renewed belief in our absolute right to live: when was the last time we heard government take a strong stand against hunger and poverty because that is an injustice we have lived with forever? When was the last time you took a stand against poverty because it kills countless Filipinos year-in year-out, kills them in multifarious ways and not just with the use of a gun?

It is hunger and poverty that pushes our children to stop going to school and start begging in the streets – a violation of their rights as well. It is poverty that has created the violence and chaos on our streets, and has impinged on our collective right to live free from fear and danger – a violation of our human rights as well. It is hunger and poverty that the drug cartels have fed upon, that has endangered whole communities, has made whole generations dysfunctional with fear – that’s a violation of their human rights as well.

These are not answers, as these are questions: when we talk human rights, are we talking about one universal all-encompassing concept? Or are we being forced – should we be working – towards a more specific nuanced discussion of our absolute right to life, and asking questions about its limits or lack thereof, and how exactly it applies to this specific context, within this historical moment?

Ah, but the echo chamber does not allow questions.

Choosing blindness
As someone who respects the freedom of those who voted for the President, I take it as a challenge that I have been shaken the way I have, my stand on issues rendered unstable, my insistence on what is fundamental and true being revealed as but a limited view of what it’s like to live in nation.

Yes, this President forces you to think, and rethink, where you stand. And while one might go about it kicking and screaming, refusing to even ask questions, I tend to appreciate that it is has put me in my middle class privileged place countless times. Yes, I’ve eaten a whole lot of humble pie the past two months, and spent many-a-late-night reading.

This reminds me why the echo chamber is in fact the new comfort zone. Lest we forget, it requires two more ingredients – probably the most important ones of all: a dollop of self-righteousness, and a heaping cup (or two) of blindness.

Originally published in The Manila Times, 21 July 2016.

Posted in: bayan, gobyerno, komentaryo, kultura, media, pangyayari, pulitika

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