(Parental Advisory: Contains Explicit Language)
Populism is not something new. Even the oldest civilizations had experienced populist despots. As such, I am not bothered by Philippine politics anymore. But what really trouble me are the comment sections at the end of many news reports. For a report that has been only posted an hour and already acquiring 5,000 likes, and almost instantly getting more than a hundred comments, I really do hope that paid trolls are behind such immediate reactions. I still cannot accept that a people known for its hospitality can write comments like “Tangna mo! Mamatay ka na!”, “Kung gahasain ko kaya mga anak mo!” and the usual “Obosen!” I just cannot concede to the idea that collective rudeness is something to be boastful about. And yet from a philosophical point of view, I entertain the idea that maybe we have reached the apex where, as a people, we have really set ourselves free from the bondage of normativity, whether imposed by culture or religion. And when it comes to overcoming the shackles of morality, no other than the philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche would immediately come to mind. In Thus Spoke Zarathustra, he wrote:
“Verily, I do not like them, the merciful who feel blessed in their pity: they are lacking too much in shame. If I must pity, at least I do not want it known; and if I do pity, it is preferable from a distance… therefore I wash my hand when it has helped the sufferer; therefore I wipe even my soul. Having seen the sufferer suffer, I was ashamed for the sake of his shame; and when I helped him, I transgressed grievously against his pride.”
Nietzsche points out that to feel pity for someone is to consider him or her to be of lesser stature. Going against Rousseau’s idea that empathy is what is supposedly the very emotion that makes us human, Nietzsche seems to argue that empathy – or awa in the vernacular – is the worst kind of feeling that humans can have. In order to attack Christian sentimentality towards charity, he wrote this regarding beggars: “But beggars should be abolished entirely! Verily, it is annoying to give to them and it is annoying not to give to them.” He believes that by giving alms we make them less human and if we do not give them anything, as religion dictates, we become less human. And we know vicariously that it is really a terrible feeling.
To understand the above prose from his famous work Thus Spoke Zarathustra, we should look at it from his concept of the Ubermensch or the Overman, which he also mentioned in the same book. For Nietzsche, we are controlled mostly by a morality that is rooted in the idea of goodness which is based on a false premise. Many scholars, interpreting Nietzsche literally, would attribute this premise to a belief in a God or religion. However, I am more inclined to go beyond religion when it comes to moral hegemony. For me, religion should be seen from a wider perspective of the overreaching tyranny of cultural imposition. An example of this overreach is the high value our society puts on a woman’s hymen, or the double standard like the negative view on adultery when it comes to women and the normal attitude towards concubinage for men. It is in this light that Nietzsche, in order to address how we create morality in order to oppress each other, creatively gave as an example the problem of mendicancy. And going back to the concept of the Ubermensch, for him our goal as human beings is to free ourselves from this conventional shackles and just live our lives without constraints. Thus he said, “I teach you the overman. Man is something to be surpassed. What have you done to surpass him?”
This is the reason why whenever I hear President Rodrigo Duterte utter the usual putang-ina, tarantado, gago, tsoktsakan, and lúlo, to cite a few, the concept of Ubermensch always enters my mind. In a way, I admire him for having the courage to defy imposed conventions. However, there is a danger to such a Nietzschean dream. Not all people are that morally strong. It is quite obvious that many people would just imitate him and just move from the shackles of common decency to a Dutertic kind of morality. Without realization, many followers adopt such a seeming ambivalence to cultural restraints, but in reality they just imbibe a replacement convention based on moral APATHY. This is maybe the reason why rape jokes and a sentence with a putang-ina are always bound to elicit laughter. It is in this situation that the Nietzschean dream becomes a nightmare. The Ubermensch just made himself the new herdsman: “To lure many from the herd – for that I have come. The people and the herd shall be angry with me: Zarathustra wants to be called a robber by the herdsmen.”
What if like many, I start to despise the addicts or the drug lords to the point that I don’t even care whether they are murdered in cold blood. Ayaw ko nang maawa sa kanila. If this is the case, what would cause me to feel sorry for the wounded soldier in Marawi or have sympathy for the employee whose contract is about to expire? Well, one can say that addicts and drug lords are different for they destroy the country. But pursuing the argument of Nietzsche, why would I even care for whatever happens to the country? Why should I feel sorry for an addict’s rape or murder victim? Without empathy what could be the basis for my new found code?
Surely, Nietzsche has a point. But even if I accept his concept of moral shackle, for me apathy is worst than empathy. I remember the usual appeal to pity by students when they are not able to take their scheduled exams or they have late paper submissions: “Sir, pasensya na po kasi namatay po ang grandma ko,” “Sorry na-late po ang paper ko kasi po working student po ako. Di po ako pinayagan ng boss ko na di mag-overtime,” or the usual “The dog ate my homework.” There are times I just want them to pass a form with their late assignments and just let them check the appropriate boxes:
a) Got sick;
b) Someone died;
c) Jeepney strike;
d) Working student;
e) Flood; and
f) All of the above.
But even if I want to fail them, I just can’t. I want to teach them a lesson, but I just can’t gamble with their whole lives just because of one assignment. In this regard, I am a huge Nietzschean failure.
In a pragmatic sense, an empathic people is still better than a sociopathic one. Nietzsche might be right in saying that much of the conventions that we have are not only falsely based but more so oppressive, especially those regarding women, money, and sex. As such, electing an uncouth president seems to be a breath of fresh air. But in the bigger picture, a new kind of morality is being formed. One that just reinforces old oppressive habits disguised as coming change. #