Resolving indifference with the Gadfly Society, with some words on dictatorship.

Once upon a time in my university, one of the laments often uttered was that students were apathetic (and perhaps, it should be said, quite a few faculty) about developments in the outside world. It did not change with EDSA 2, although it did, for a while. And rarely does the spell of apathy get broken; it is when disaster strikes that people from Ateneo sometimes prove the mourners wrong. Whether the purpose for pursuing higher education is to get a job or not (which is a debate raging anywhere in the emerging capitalist Empire), there is a sense that apathy about things that would ultimately come home to haunt us would leave room for the manipulation of an elite that chooses to maintain its power, for the rest of our lives.

I can surmise, for instance, that few are aware of what has gone on in Burma. It came home to me because, for the first time in my life, I had both classmates and students from that country. On the day the crackdown began, two of my students were in my friend’s flat, watching BBC World for developments. Yet I knew before the present crisis that this had happened, in 1988. I wonder now if a Burma-style dictatorship in this country would be as brutal. It would not need to be, because the means it would use are far more insiduous. Any form of legitimate opposition would be branded as “irrelevant to the everyday worker,” “destabilizing,” or “politicking.” Not to mention the fact that a generation weaned on the propaganda of authoritarianism and drank the Kool-Aid have children who are coming of age and are being inculturated into that very possibility of dictatorship. Perhaps the Burmese junta should take lessons from our own. They would not have to kill so many people at the same time.

Such ruminations come to mind because I received an email on one of my lists from a group that calls itself the Gadfly Society. They were declaring that they would support a protest in sympathy with the farmers of Sumilao in Bukidnon province, a case which has raged on since my time. In so doing, they wondered aloud whether the same energy that was being channeled into “demanding their right to wear Havaianas” could be placed on addressing the grave inequities of land ownership. The group’s leader, who has adopted Rizal’s pen name, recently wrote our university’s student paper attacking the student government for what I would call “inertia.” And they wondered why the Ateneo-La Salle game was more important than the verdict in a case for which nearly seven years ago many of the same upper and middle class kids from Catholic universities and schools went spontaneously into the streets. (I apologize to Estrada supporters for saying this; you have a different story, I know.)

I envy this generation, for there would have been no such thing in my time. Perhaps, or maybe certainly, the crisis of indifference has gotten out of hand. I wonder if students and faculty alike (because I know apathy can strike those ensconced on ivory towers) could go to school with their textbooks in one arm and the papers in another. Only then can we really get “relevant education,” and be able to ask ourselves what really matters.

I must conclude these ruminations with a reminder. I have said here before that there is something inherently transformative about being Christian. I would say, right now, that perhaps we could, like our Muslim brothers and sisters who will be celebrating the Eid’l Fit’r festival tomorrow, end the dualisms of our supposedly modern world and find it transformed by the radical revelation of God. It begins with ending our apathy.


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