In Defense of Intolerance

Sunday school teaches tolerance is good, intolerance bad. As Christians, we are also taught to turn the other cheek, and wish our aggressors well. Is it any wonder it took us more than 300 years of painful vassalage and the death of a Poet before rage spilled into the streets? Had that not happen, the Indios would have elevated obsequiousness to an art form. It took us all of 20 years also before we sent a Dictator packing, thanks in part to a Widow who refused to tolerate any more Northern bullshit. Tama na. Sobra na. Palitan na. For all her imperfections, Widow was for me a beacon of what we can achieve when we flex our collective muscle.

Our resurrected complacency, however, is backstage pass for a former and a recent Plunderer. Right now we are locked in a battle of wits to try and put a stop to the shenanigans of a Just Plunderer but we bungle so predictably, like clockwork. But is there gnashing of teeth outside the august chamber? Jury’s still out (or rather, prosecutors are still in).

Leon Ma. Guerrero once wrote that Filipinos‘ endearing trait is their ability to laugh in the midst of adversities. Our cheerfulness is so infectious I get sick of it. Our jolliness is so widespread it must be a cottage industry. Media images showed us grinning through Milenyo, Ondoy and Sendong; and while this “positive” attitude saw us through adversities we had refused to acknowledge that these natural disasters were anything but, and that they were helped along by unscrupulous practices of those in power. If we could only be a little less tolerant and a little more angry, we could haul off to prisons individuals who were directly responsible for them, and not suffer through an “annual cleansing” from a deluge.

Alas. Unlike the French, we’re incapable of righteous anger directed at incompetent leaders. Once we were, but those days are gone. Nor are we descended from the race of Ceaușescu whose just desserts came in the form of swift trial and capital punishment, payment for the crimes they committed against their country and its people. If the scions of the Dead Dictator are back in power, it is because, well, we deserve them. Our legendary short memory has worsened to a pandemic of Alzheimer’s disease: give us a few more months, and we’d all but completely forget that So-so Senator once skipped the country, General Pulp was a murderer, and AFP Pursers very nearly succeeded in milking the country dry, the way they spirit money away in second-hand helicopters. Or in undeclared hot cash in some Senator’s Wife’s purse.

But if forgetfulness is the balm of the downtrodden, myopia is punishment for the middle-class whose immediate concerns could not get beyond the tips of their noses. Since there is already so much institutionalized myopia anyway, it could be a good idea to start giving out honoris causa degrees for it!

Jesus had been known to express anger when he refused to tolerate the merchants who sold goods on hallowed grounds. But anger does not have street cred these days; it, in fact, has bad rap in the press. We had replaced anger with “plasticity” as sin du jour when anger could mean “losing your cool”, “going ballistic”, “exploding”–all admittance of loss of control; ergo, defeat. We hide behind “civility” and rein our anger tightly in, and use saccharine sweetness to deal with spectacularly bad behavior whenever we experience them. Rather than protest despicable attitude, we practice obsequiousness: gifting with the right shade of red lipstick, or a Goldis mamon here, a duster from Divi there. Instead of indignation, we invoke the idea of `karma,’ lazily consigning to the cosmos our responsibility toward redress.

Consider this. In a place I call home, people are bullied into subservience. Teachers wait ages for what is due them. Failing that, they grit their teeth, and write scathing letters, none of which staves off hunger. They ask questions, and get shabby treatment. Underlings become public ATMs for the influential, delicadeza be damned.  They protest, and sanctions, or the threat of them, come down hard. Lineament is playing Angry Birds, where anger is re-channeled.

Consider another example. An entire class condemns a lazy teacher for not showing up in class but showing up to collect his pay. Class act was thwarted when nobody was flunked. An administrator goes MIA but no one dare ask for fear of a backlash in an unlikely place. Funds vanish without a trace, and everyone is cowed into asking for transparency.

Then we wonder why there is apathy among the youth. They only follow in our footsteps. We provide them their persuasive models–us. Someone with whom I share bed space has this mantra: Justice right here, justice right now. It might be time to fire away at  simple corruption, incompetence, abusive behavior, inefficiency and downright meanness, anywhere in the world.

A shot of intolerance mixed in our morning coffee can’t be bad, can it?


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