Monday, August 31, 2009

Dreaming Awake

Why “Heroism” Today?

“Those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it.”
– George Santayana

“The Filipinos had only one general, and they have killed him.”
– General Hughes, commenting on the death of General Antonio Luna.

Being a child of the 1990’s, I have for role models the confluence of cultures and the overbearing presence of the neo-liberal economies that have been deemed to be the new rulers of the world. I have been exposed to the outlandish narratives of Tenchi Muyo, Zenki, Saber Marionettes, and yes, even Sailor Moon. I dreamed of bringing about world peace through fighting enemies of humanity in various monstrous shapes, together with the friends I have, whenever I see Laser Squadron Maskman, Masked Rider Black, and Space Sheriff Shaider are running around the streets. I once dreamed of terminating terrorism whenever I watched G.I. Joe, Rambo, and Chuck Norris, as well as other vigilantes like Batman. And for once, I actually became acquainted with the insanity of human existence with ABS-CBN making the (fatal? stupid? mistaken?) decision of showing Neon Genesis Evangelion, where Third Impact became an almost certain reality and will wipe out humanity at the flick of a switch.

I am of a generation that grew up in fantasies, but not those of the magical prairies of old as shown by the Grimm Brothers and Walt Disney. I am of an older breed: those of Hans Christian Andersen, those where Little Red Riding Hood was eaten, where the little match girl died on the streets. It was an older ethic of harsh reality but with the grit and shimmer of the new era, the dawn of the metal behemoths.

We graduated from these immersed into the seedy and tumultuous hormonal imbalances of adolescence. As a young man I have strived to contain myself with reading all the texts I have imposed on in classes, taking refuge in the images of pure, unassailed, unadulterated existence. The portrayal of saints as heaven’s messengers incarnate in the flesh, solid without misgivings, tender despite their fierceness, were taught to me hand-in-hand with the pantheon of the heroes of my nation, paragons of selfless patriotism and are honorable in defeat to work with their enemies for the betterment of the nation, in the process becoming brothers who work for the spread of democracy worldwide.

All fantasies which have been dashed when the grim reality of adulthood looms its head above us. All these beliefs and naïveté which has eventually sapped the life away from us, something which reduced us into jaded husks of our former selves spouting the very same things that our failed and tragic first President Emilio Aguinaldo would hold throughout his life: “better be not rash like the moth who died in the flame; it is bad to be learned, you will be hanged; remain little and stay out of trouble.” Yet we glorify now this littleness and claim it as a way to salvation! I will be the change. I’m asking the man in the mirror to change his ways. Ako mismo. Narratives which claim to emancipation but are actually more boxing and therefore more oppressive in their very nature. That "the subaltern cannot speak."

Never have we become so jaded with changing the world than thinking that we ourselves are the center of the world. We have become so much caught up in the necessities and our fears of our daily lives that we have become too deeply anxious of everything, losing our capability to see and hear what is really around us. How it is that our world is not really a small space, but a place big enough despite everything. How science and technology, despite its promise of bringing everything together, only drives everyone apart. All abstractions reduced to a science, an existence predetermined and could therefore be manipulated even before you were born, condemning you to a pathetic existence which all your feel good mechanisms will not at all save you from. And any attempt at audacity is downplayed by the very callous and sarcastic words only George Estregan Jr. could deliver with such gusto you will want to strike your TV screens:

“Nagpapakabayani ka ba? Gusto mo bang magkaroon ng monumento sa Luneta? Laos na yan boy!”

It is because we have been defeated by Jareth, the Goblin King. We have been amazed by David Bowie’s Area so much that he succeeded in taking away what was our most powerful weapon: our dreams. (For the uninitiated, that’s an allusion. See how people who will read this need a joke to be explained to them? That’s how bad it is today.)

We have lost imagination, trembling and fascination. We see life as a game and we want Walkthroughs before we play it. And then we complain that life seems so dull and without mystery? Why of course, you have not just blinded yourself to the glaring truth that you are fatally bound to it, but that you even enjoy such a condition. We have denied the power of dreams and the human soul, and its capacity to steer beyond what appears to be impossible to surmount in order to win and assert our humanity and right to existence. Something which Martin Seligman probably never considered. Something which Gaara rightly rebuked his elder Kages in deciding that only murdering an outlaw could be the solution to saving their villages who lived off the expense of others:

And this is why we need heroes. This is why we need narratives. This is why despite the call to get real, we need flights of fancy. They say poets and writers are madmen who are a threat to society and must therefore be eliminated for stability. Why yes! They are the most dangerous people on the planet and they are proud of it. They do not want monuments; their danger lies not in the constructs but in the ideas and emotions they inspire. Isabel Allende once wrote of an aged fencing master, Manuel Escalante, who believes that “the highest pursuits are not those that have tangible products.” They never were, because only the magnanimity of the human soul willing to break free from the bonds of oppression it was cast into can be deemed the true ethic of human life. Only a person who acknowledges his paradoxical existence of wanting to be free yet as well binding himself to the constructs of what he deems just can dream and be part of the movement to a true liberating society.

Only dreamers will be able to move the cosmos, whilst acknowledging they can never change it but be stewards of the wonders we have to those coming after us. We acknowledge an end, yet it is an end that is never in our capacity to hold back, being finite beings in an infinite plane.

Heroes are not white cloths: they are rags, but they are rags that can be hurled at the face of prevailing oppressive circumstances. They know they are only one but are one; that they cannot do everything but can do something with everyone. They have broken ties with their family because they have espoused a cause: that of the people. They might not have known it, but however dirtied their lives might have been with their failings, they have become sign posts calling us to learn and go on. Postmodernism is a tool, but not an end to emancipation. Caroline Hau has shouted of necessary fictions, and they have been always been an effective rallying cry. It is not without reason Martin Scorsese made Paul speak of truth as “what the people need to believe.” Symbols might be nothing, but they can be everything to a soul who is ever wanting and willing to take the path of responsibility with the free will given him, however painful it might be.

A curious change came over me which I have always noticed in myself whenever anything has stirred my feelings. The flame and the moth seemed to go farther away, and my mother's voice sounded strange and uncanny. I did not notice when she ended the fable. All my attention was fixed on the fate of the insect. I watched it with my whole soul. It had died a martyr to its illusions.

It was a long time before I fell asleep. The story revealed to me things until then unknown. Moths no longer were, for me, insignificant insects. Moths talked; they knew how to warn. They advised, just like my mother. The light seemed to me more beautiful, more dazzling, and more attractive. I now knew why the moths circled the flame.

Jose Rizal, Memorias a Un Estudiante de Manila

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