‘The people cried out: Crucify him!’

It’s the most startling feature of the biblical account of Christianity’s defining event. It wasn’t the High Priest Caiaphas nor Pontius Pilate, nor any powerful man or elite who condemned Jesus of Nazareth to crucifixion.

The people did. The Gospel writers’ use of the Greek words   “laos” and “iodaios,” both of which were terms for people of the area (i.e., Judea), incontrovertibly means they weren’t referring to a lynch mob or curious bystanders roused to a rabble, but to  “people” as in “We, The People.”

That it is the “people” who are responsible for the death of the Deity—the embodiment of Truth—is an ancient, even esoteric, insight, and heroic tales down the ages have carried the individual-against-the-many storyline.

Ancient (e.g., the Prometheus legend) and modern literature and even movies from “Rocky” to “Avatar” are replete with such individual-versus-society and “crucify-him” dramas.  The best articulation of this idea is Henrik Ibsen’s play “Enemy of the People,” with its famous lines: “The majority is never right. Who are the people that make up the biggest proportion of the population—the intelligent ones or the fools?”

Democracy—literally people (demos) power (kratos)—was invented in ancient Greece.  But its greatest thinkers, especially Plato, weren’t big fans of such rule by the people, which they called ochlocracy, rule by the majority or by the mob, which demagogues can easily manipulate because of the malleability of the masses’ consciousness. A language’s inner wisdom is evident in that the English words for “mob” and “vulgar” are derived from the Latin mobile (movable) vulgus (common people).

You can spot a demagogue by how often he invokes “the People”—now the Golden Calf of the Cult of the Yellow Ribbon.  In medieval times, the cleric-supported monarchs would frighten serfs to submission, “God will decide… God knows… God won’t forgive… etc.,” as if they had a direct line to the Deity.  Now our ruling elite’s demagogues’ babble: “The people will decide… the people know, the people won’t forgive, etc…, as if they have privileged insight into the minds of 95 million Filipinos.

The modern myth of the “people” has been a boon for dictatorships in the modern era. Until they collapsed, most communist dictatorships, from Albania to Yugoslavia, have invariably had the words “People’s Republic” in their official names. Here, the communist armed group’s official name is New People’s Army.  The tyrant Mao has practically made a deity out of “The Masses,” worshiped as the “Masa” here.  The great Charlie Chaplin’s insight has indeed been prescient: “Man as an individual is a genius. But men in the mass form the headless monster, a great, brutish idiot that goes where prodded.”

Modern democracy replaced the myth of a God working through anointed kings with the myth of “the People” working through people who win electoral contests, because of the need to legitimize the rule of a new type of ruling class, whether they are communist cadres or a new breed of professionals allied with the economic elite we now call politicians.

But who are, or what is the “People”?  The People are obviously, in our case, the 95 million Filipinos whose well-being government must uplift.  The People are the registered voters—roughly half of the population in the last elections—whose arithmetic plurality decides the staffing of the state’s executive and legislative branches. The People could even be, as the Constitution provides, a percent of voters calling for a local official’s recall or for a change in the Constitution.

But that’s it. Outside of these three dimensions, there is no such entity as “the People.”  Those claiming to speak for the People are ventriloquists of wooden dummies they call “People.” They are the secular equivalent of those saying they hear God’s voice.

Modern media as the main molder of masses’ minds and technology have become tools to build up the myth of “the People,” and have made the crucify-him syndrome an epidemic in our country.

A microscopic part of the population with the leisure and funds to use the Internet often click their opposition to this and that, and eureka, there is a groundswell of “netizens”—which connotes a mass of involved citizens—against this official, or against that issue.  Spurious letters-to-the editor—like those written by President Aquino’s dirty-tricks operatives libeling this writer—create an illusion of objective sentiments by “ordinary people.”

Herd mentality is created when people—or cattle—are put physically close to each other that they begin to think and act as one.   Facebook, Twitter, and e-mail groups have dissolved the physical barriers and have put people of the same mentality together in cyberspace, reinforcing their biases and groupthink.

Opinion surveys further strengthen the phantom called “the People.” Feed the population through a partisan media with lies and half-truths against people you’d want politically crucified—whether it is Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo or Renato Corona.  And then ask them, when these are still fresh in their heads—even if they actually never gave a thought to these allegations—what they think of these people. Numbers (“14 percent approve, 54 percent disapprove”) strengthen the illusion that is presented, are quantifiable, and therefore, objective data of what the “People” want.

In Jerusalem on that historic day, and as in our country in recent years, those finding their lives meaningless and/or filled with frustrations, find meaning by losing their little selves into something they think is bigger—the mob, worshiped as “The People.” And hate rouses cold hearts easier.  Then (John 19:15) and now, they were passionate that they were treading the straight path.