Dissecting our own Age of Reason

I am by no means Eurocentric when I begin this discourse with the aim of looking into how Reason has seeped into our consciousness. Aware of how different the conditions that gave rise to political articulations in the other nations are, it must be said that something occurred in our territories during the days preceding the 9th of May, and with the days that followed. The last election season was characterized by vitriols, gross exchanges, illogical positionalities, and this is not mentioning, finally, the realization that there are indeed Trolls in our midst, not the enchanting kind, but disenchanted being tasked to sow disinformation and fake news. And these trolls live in “farms.” They thrive in a system that supports their well-being, assuming that spreading hate does not ruin one’s being as a human.

However, for all the dark days that witnessed the relentless attack on certain persons and the dumbing down of the media, as we know it, there was observed a new kind of politics, albeit marginalized but giving us hope, the small cowering type, but still hope, for a better tomorrow. There was the youth at the forefront of the campaign. Young men and women were leading communities in giving voices to their choices. It may be that the same demographics may be behind the dismal results of the electoral exercise, but it cannot be denied that there are also the young sectors determined to follow their new brand of politics. This is one that generates debate and articulation of testable data and verifiable facts.

If political scientists—and philosophers—find joy in their claim that we have not yet achieved nationhood, the bravado and daring of young voters confirm that they are working for a nation, a Philippines not even inchoate in their minds. Granted that this nation is imagined, it is still a nation. When, in fact, Benedict Anderson employed the concept of nation as being imagined, I do not see it as imbuing such a collective with the generous illusion of a phantasm; rather, in Anderson’s words, “it is imagined because the members of even the smallest nation will never know most of their fellow-members, or even hear of them, yet in the minds of each lives the image of their communion.”

Indeed, in the countless online engagements, the exchanges between opposing parties of youths carried in them this sense they knew each other’s fears and dreams.

Benedict Anderson would also say: “…it is imagined as a community, because, regardless of the actual inequality and exploitation that may prevail in each, the nation is always conceived as a deep, horizontal comradeship.” Thus, the very searing and deep hurt as each party hurls insult for a fact, destroying a fact with a curse, as if they are all conversant with the conditions on the other side, having known each other for so long a time they know what would wound them, what could kill them. Then deal with histories they did, fulfilling again Anderson’s concept of what this imagined nation generates—“a fraternity that makes it possible, over the past two centuries, for so many millions of people, not so much to kill, as willingly to die for such limited imagining.”

The young people did not have to work against a centennial of collective consciousness; they had to relive, in the absence of active historicizing, for themselves the decades of activism in the late ’60s and ’70s, the regilding of the martial law years, the false memories of a generation, and the betrayal of educational institutions removing any chapter on dictatorship. We are forgetting also the fact that for more than two years, our world has been isolated from other worlds, our spaces as learners and mentors have been diminished by a virus more potent than politics.

What are we dying for?

In the last few months, it was common for the enlightened older generations to acquiesce to the younger population in the fight for the next leaders. It is they who will live under the coming dispensation. Let them fight for it.

In homes and in living rooms thrived debates where the sons and daughters face off with their parents as regards their differing choices. You see a glimpse of these bitter disputes online and through statements revealed by the young voters. Sometimes, as in glorious tales, we hear about parents finally relenting and going for the candidate preferred by their child. Then, on the day of the elections, we saw first-time voters in tears, firmly believing their votes had been stolen.

I go back years to my being a young voter myself. Did I cry when my candidates lost?

Sound bites were made decades ago. And they made or unmade candidates. But now, memes have taken their place. These were words, special characters that could easily go viral. Add visuals, and you have a pandemic of poisoned and/or sophisticated presences online.

“Respect my Opinion,” otherwise, a traditional statement was reincarnated online—and I suppose, offline, face-to-face with other individuals and interlocutors—with animals serving as mascots for what became what many dubbed as “the dumbest retort” in any discussion.

Plainly speaking, one must first have an opinion before that person can demand or implore another person to respect that opinion. In the order of the day, though, the requirement for respect happened in the absence of an opinion. Technically, it should have been: respect me for not having an opinion, which is arrogant but sensical, or respect my opinion, which you do not know anything about or that I did not express to you, which is bad Zen, pardon my Buddhism.

Be that as it may, do I have the right to summon the words of Thomas Paine, the Patron of human rights, when he, in his dedication to The Age of Reason, said: “You will do me justice to remember, that I have always strenuously supported the Right of every Man to his own opinion, however different that opinion might be to mine. He who denies to another this right, makes a slave of himself to his present opinion, because he precludes himself the right of changing it.”

Addressed to his “Fellow Citizens of the United States of America,” it is reassuring that on that continent, as expressed in the expanding universe of trolling, these quotes have not been exactly favored. Which does not mean we shall not heed it.

We look to the day—an era, perhaps—when we will not deny another person of his opinion and we will not close ourselves to changing our opinion as well. This will be a tough act given how the troll industry in our country has barely begun, and has proven to be a new cottage industry for our youth. Not everything is hopeless: Paine, again, nearly four centuries back, made this statement: “The most formidable weapon against errors of every kind is Reason.”

When that day comes, preferably a period, this country, its nationhood imagined perhaps still, shall benefit from the youth who will demand a hearing of Reason, not a respect for Opinion. In whatever form, that will be our own Age of Reason, born not out of revolutions, but from opinions laid out—inspected, questioned, respected but for a moment.

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Image credits: Jimbo Albano

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