Generational Gangrene and Forgiveness

This is not a piece. It’s two. They’re related but with frankly divergent points. Will edit one of these days.

The generational gangrene has begun. It is the slow decay of parts of the body while the body is still alive. Someone had been caught leaping to the dark side, I’ll tell you about it halfway through this entry. Some limbs of this generation have slowly started preserving the rotten social quo.1 This post is a sequel to a piece I wrote before I graduated in which I predicted that some batchmates would eventually morph into the corrupt professionals or vapid socialites we lamented when we were young, fresh, and convinced we will so change the world.

I might have made you indignant with that paragraph, let me explain my sentiments.

I find the process of growing up fascinating. It is sharply felt in instances when I realize we are suddenly and surprisingly half-way to becoming our parents, when I catch the slow turning of generations. There was a dinner among college friends a couple of years ago. The boys banded together on one side of the table and, in the course of their conversations, gave loud and full-bodied laughs. The brief moment of silence among the girls was broken when someone said what we all thought, “They sound like fathers.”

There are sneakier signs. Many times, I’m surprised to recognize my mother’s features in pictures of myself or when I notice, often with an uncomfortable jolt, that I do certain things the exact way my parents do. But these are just petty and amusing examples. When I say that my generation has been handed the burning torch of rot, I mean it in the large, societal scale. I don’t mean inheriting crooked smiles, I mean crooks.

Think of paedophiles, wife-beaters, white-collar swindlers, greedy executives, and corrupt politicians. And as sure as I am that people like that exist, I’m sure that they were once young too. So, I look at us. Is it impossible that some will cheat, have second or third families, stash illegal millions from public coffers, or murder? I think about the different degrees of greed and selfishness of adults and how their creative ways of domination have created the crooked world in which we all come to consciousness. This is the world we hated—or loved so much—that we desperately want to change it.

Before you think I’m claiming my generation is categorically going down the dumps, here’s a disclaimer. I’m privileged to have friends who are movers and shakers of the world. There are people of my age who are passionately and single-mindedly dedicated to the good of the people; they have my full admiration. But in this post, I’m more interested on the opposite end of the spectrum because I’m stunned how small, insignificant, and innocent children could eventually become  massively destructive forces in society.

I sound fatalistic but I don’t speak of people specifically as free individuals in this post. This piece is a musing on how time and the real world erode or wizen us into forms that we wouldn’t have recognized when we were walking along the red brick road of young adulthood. Hitched to the issue of growing up and aging is the question of innocence and idealism. It’s the problem of Holden Caulfield; born fresh, sincere, and authentic, how do adults become ‘phonies’? If only we understood how it works, perhaps you and I won’t harden into evil little nuggets.

I’m telling you this, hopefully so you’ll pay attention to how you grow up. A little vigilance goes a long way so that you’ll never have that moment when you look into the mirror and notice you’ve become a person you said you’ll never be.

* * * * *

A couple of weeks ago, a rich Atenista two years my senior was arrested. The crime was distinguished by the magnitude of the money involved and magnitude of its stupidity. He received through courier service P40 million worth of shabu. He was the English block mate of a good friend of mine; he even attended her debut. I wonder what went through his head when he was in the thick of operations. Was there guilt? Was he psychologically compromised? Did he think it was wrong? Did think he remember his humanities classes? Was he addicted to drugs? Did he call himself as a drug pusher? Did he know he was ruining the lives of  addicts, dabblers, and also their families and friends as well?2

The truth is I don’t have the detached curiosity of a social scientist. When I first heard of this Atenean drug pusher, I was more angry and embarrassed than curious. It was a breach and betrayal of the in-group. If a person who belongs to your identified group does something that is radically out of character—whether it be positive or negative, it shocks and opens possibilities for you. One can see the case clearly in imitative suicides. When a person commits suicide, his social circles realize that suicide is a possible solution to a difficult life. When Marilyn Monroe killed herself, There was a spike in suicides in L.A., no thanks to the fact that her suicide was heavily covered by the media. If someone you know becomes a drug pusher and if you’re still fresh enough to be galled by it, it’s not surprising to ask yourself “How far am I from becoming a drug pusher?”

In this case, the disgust was too great that my initial reaction was to expel him from the in-group so I don’t have to suffer the association. “He’s not a real Atenista!” One colleague said he had always been a douchebag.

What a disgrace he is. How I am ashamed we come from the same institution, how he betrayed it. Someone suggested that if the Ateneo could confer honorary degrees to outstanding individuals in society, so should it be able to revoke the degrees of graduates who are categorically qualified as rotten and destructive.3

My revulsion issues from the gaping disparity between his actions and what (I think) Atenean education surmises. The emphasis on the humanities is not a celebration of intelligence, culture (in the narrow elitist sense), and ego; it is meant to rouse the students to live the good life. How should I orient my life so that it makes the world better? At least for me, teaching and learning philosophy is not a matter of pedantic arrogant know-how. It’s about persuading the students to think critically, to become compassionate and service-oriented people.

The issue becomes more urgent when one takes up the vantage of a teacher. If one’s daily labor consists of preparing and creating material in the hopes of forming students, one cannot but help but question effectiveness of these classes and these labors in the face of glaring ‘failures’, such as having a student turn into a murderer, rapist, or drug pusher. Remember this every time you’re tempted to do something unethical: if you give in, you’re letting down everyone who labored and hoped on you, your teachers among them.

I’m not discounting free will here. People will live their lives as it pleases them. But I don’t think a person’s right to freedom and privacy should be interpreted by the other as the utter detachment and resignation of “Bahala ka sa buhay mo!”4 It’s easy to remain within the initial reaction of anger, rejection, detachment, and resignation. It’s a response that ensconces the individual safely and squarely within the in-group which harshly distances from its deviants. It’s an aggressive and self-preservative stance which ensures that the individual need not feel self-doubt or responsibility for his deviant neighbour, friend, countryman, or batchmate. After all, they screwed up their own lives.

This reminds me of a little peeve. You know how some Filipinos say that the Philippines is a great country with good, hardworking, hospitable, and family-oriented people? I have no problems with that. What’s annoying is when Filipinos say Filipinos are great and it’s just the government screwing everything up. But, seriously, who populates the government if not Filipinos? Perhaps we should work on our sense of collective responsibility.

So, let’s go back to the boy who got arrested because of shabu. Excommunication is the hateful response and forgiveness is a loving one. There’s a difference between treating criminals as irremediable monsters who must be permanently separated from the community and treating them as erring members who must undergo the process of pardon and reparation.  After all, when a child errs the parent shouldn’t throw the kid out of the house. The parent should be extra patient, extra loving. The child must own the consequences of his actions, but that is never an excuse for vengeance. The punishment should not be meted because the parent is angry, but because the punishment is the agreed consequence to an offense. The punishment follows an action that shouldn’t be repeated.

When there’s a waylaid child, everyone else must be adults. Perhaps this gives us an idea of what it means to grow up.


[1]Preserving something rotten—odd enterprise, isn’t it?

[2]That reality is neither abstract nor foreign.  How I should have told you when I unexpectedly found out that a certain politician cultivated a healthy drug trade in a certain area in the south. I should have told you how evil destroys inside and out, how it has untraceable irremediable repercussions to people he will never meet. How the drama of our lives often have silent unknown actors.

[3]God, that’s such a bad idea. That would make the Ateneo community an exclusive club of holier-than-thou’s which exert intrusive influence on how its alumni lead their various lives.

[4]I’d translate this as “I don’t give an F what you do. Deal with your life yourself.”

You know, I like these footnotes. It allows me to digress with all my parenthetical remarks.

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