‘Take it personally! Rage! Kill!’

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PRESIDENT AQUINO made very worrying remarks in his speech Monday:

“Some of my critics say that I am taking this campaign against corruption personally. It’s true: doing what’s right is personal for me, to make people who did wrong pay, whoever they are. And it is not only me who should take this personally, everyone should take this personally, since every Filipino is a victim.”

How could taking things personally ever be a virtue? Taking things personally means one has an insecure yet overblown ego and an unprofessional attitude. Certainly nothing to brag about. But that may be, unfortunately, our President’s proclivity.

An admonition to the nation by its President, to take things personally, even for the most noble of reasons is a slippery slope towards irrational animosity, national discord, and even deadly fanaticism. Democracy and civilization are based on the principle of depersonalization—the objectification and then, institutionalization—of a society’s values, not on these values’ interpretation within an individual’s egoistic and emotional world.

Indeed, the most recent publicized spectacle of somebody “taking it personally” was Davao City Mayor Sara Duterte beating up in front of news cameras an officer of the law, who in her mind had the gall to reject her request to put off a court’s demolition order. The warlord of the Maguindanao murderers obviously took it very personally that a vice mayor of an obscure town would challenge the powerful Ampatuan clan’s scion for governorship, so he ordered killed all 58 human beings in the convoy on the way to file the certificate of candidacy. Somebody powerful during President Estrada’s term obviously took personally whatever publicist Bubby Dacer had done or intended to do, so he ordered not only Dacer but his driver tortured, strangled and then burned.

Most horrifying is that Norwegian Anders Breivik took personally rightwing resentment against Muslims and Asian immigrants, so he killed 86 of his countrymen, just to draw public attention to the issue. A Norwegian psychiatrist trying to fathom Breivik’s mind pointed out: “With spree killers, which is what he is as opposed to a serial killer, their motivation is a mixture of the personal and the political.”

The notion of “taking things personally” in fact has spawned one of the planet’s biggest problems: Islamic jihadism. A suicide bombing is the ultimate way to take things—well, even cosmological issues—very personally. Hundreds of thousands of Muslims took personally a Danish editorial cartoonist’s depiction of the Prophet, that they went on a rampage that resulted in 100 people killed.

To take things personally is to see things—innocuous remarks, demonized personalities, political views one doesn’t agree with—not as problems to be addressed but as affronts to one’s ego.

Never has there been a Philippine president publicly fomenting such a politics of animosity against a previous administration. His mother didn’t, even as the dictator Marcos was so easy to caricature as the devil incarnate.

That isn’t too surprising though. Mr. Aquino was catapulted to power not only by grief over the death of his mother but by the politics of hate against the previous administration. Listen or read Mr. Aquino’s supporters, and they have continued to this day, to demonize the previous administration—beyond a rational concern for the country—with frothing-in-the-mouth passion, in much the same intensity as, say al-Qaida had demonized US presidents, or conversely as the US demonized Saddam Hussein.

Mr. Aquino has been malleable to the culture of outrage that has been cultivated by media, here and globally, which had resulted in the widely recognized crisis of media in the 21st century. The culture of outrage indeed had been so fired up in the US that the Bush government, with media’s total subservience, got away with the invasion of Iraq based on its fabricated claim that Saddam had weapons of mass destruction.

Such media-to-whip-up-outrage has taken forms familiar to us: sensationalism, British red top journalism (with its expertise on making politicians as hateful as possible), and tabloid journalism. This kind of journalism—even practiced by mainstream media—has been recently evident in the feeding frenzy over the rape allegations against IMF head Dominique Strauss-Kahn.

The rationale here is of course commercial: the rational discussion of issues and the unembellished reportage of events are boring, and don’t sell. The arousal of hate and the creation of heroes and villains do.

Mr. Aquino’s State of the Nation Address (Sona) mimicked tabloids, and pandered to the mob. Who wouldn’t be outraged by a claim that Pagcor spent P1 billion for coffee? That’s great for a tabloid headline. But is it fair to use the soapbox of the presidency to vilify a past official and a private company without presenting their side?

Her mother’s Sonas were mostly paeans to the restoration of democracy. Fidel Ramos’ were either a general’s morale-boosting speech to an army before a battle or a technocrat’s report. President Estrada’s were a B-movie monologue. President Macapagal-Arroyo’s were chronologically, an attempt at drama, the outlining of a vision, and then mostly report cards.

Mr. Aquino’s? A rambling one appealing to emotions, guided by tabloidism and sound-bite broadcast journalism, peppered with dubious data (hunger surveys for one) and with dangerous side-trips to whip up outrage against the previous administration. National unity wasn’t mentioned even once.

The Roman philosopher Cicero’s jab against a demagogue certainly applies here: “He only employs his passion who can make no use of his reason.”
From the Philippine Daily Inquirer