It’s always been one of my greatest fears that by some twist of fate (not really that strange and even much closer to reality when I think about it) that I’ll end up a beggar on one of the many footbridges of Manila.
That even with all the education and the job experience I have, I’ll end up being one of those subhuman creatures barely distinguishable from the dirty concrete on which they crouch and lay festering with all the grime and soot of the city.
Then one day, my educated and well-off friends from the university will pass by my footbridge and happen to identify my face among the faceless. And they’ll be shocked to their wits’ end. They’ll cry. And they’ll be afraid to talk to me for fear of what I have to madly rave about the world, about life, maybe even about them.
It’s not an exaggeration to say that that fear is one of the many reasons why I strive daily to make something for myself. I want to be able to tell people I’m ok–in fact, that I’m doing great and I have a future. Like many of us who have actually finished our studies, I’ve always wanted to send a crystal-clear message that, so far, my life was worth it.
But what if I fail?
What if the devil whips its cruel tail and this nightmare of nightmares by some not-so-strange twist of fate comes true and I become, by tomorrow, a hapless beggar on a bridge muttering insane?
Would I not be worth considering a worthy friend and schoolmate?
Would I not be worth considering a productive and honorable citizen of this nation?
Would I not be worth considering a good son to my family?
In other words, would my life not be “worth it?”
Let’s cut the bullshit. You and I both know the answer and we don’t have to sugarcoat it just to defend our conscience currently being questioned. When I say “burger,” you instantly think of the object “burger.” And so therefore, just to be honest right here, right now, don’t stop that burger from appearing in your mind. The easy, simultaneous and honest answer, stranger, is that “Yes, your life would not have been worth it. Your life would’ve been a waste.”
It would’ve been an utter waste because I failed to make something for myself. All that learning and toil for nothing. Networks of useful people down the drain. Hopes extinguished by a terrible, inescapable destiny when an unspeakably shameful, shabby and fearsome monster came out from the skin of a former, now forgettable, human being.
What this means to me is that my life’s worth is in my toil–in my hollowed place in the market, in economics.
Stripped bare naked without my education, without my networks of friends, without my career, without my money, I am not worth it. To cut the huge pile of bullshit again, I don’t deserve to live.
No, it’s not that harsh of an idea and this is definitely not just the ramblings of another depressed soul who’s overflowing with sappy melodrama. Make no mistake about it. This is a rational proposition you should think about.
The squalid people in the streets, they don’t deserve to live.
Our pathetic, uncivilized, dirty neighbors, they don’t deserve to live.
Our farmers who barely earn anything, they don’t deserve to live.
The 925 million people who are suffering from hunger in the world don’t deserve to live.
For if these people deserve to live, how come they’re dying? And how come it is within our conscience to let them die?
I tell you the day I join these people is the day I lose my right to live. That is the day everyone who is in their right mind would leave me to rot and be another heap of meat for the city’s voracious host of parasites, the worms, the flies.
If someone has the right to live, we do everything to allow them to live. Or to be more precise, if someone has the right to live, then he has the MEANS to live. What is right but freedom and what is freedom but the means to achieve an end? For instance, if someone says he has a right to education, that could only mean that he he has the power to access education. Otherwise, that right is nothing but an empty word spoken by a lunatic to a brick wall.
To have the right to live is to deserve to live. And to deserve to live is to have the means to live. No more, no less.
And here we arrive at a question of conscience: since it is within our conscience to let other people die of extreme poverty while some of us live in obscene luxury, do we then concede that it is within our conscience to say the majority of the people in the world just don’t deserve to live?
Do we then concede we our complicit to this setup that agrees some people should just die?
Why? Because these people haven’t found their hollowed ground in toil, in the market, in economics. Therefore, they deserve their lives extinguished.
For if these people deserve to live, then obviously, we should have already acted in a decisive way ages ago to save their lives and keep them from dying a slow, terrible death brought about by hunger and sickness. If your mother got sick, wouldn’t you spend every bit of your savings to send her to a hospital and provide her with all the medicines she needs to get better? Heck, if your puppy suffers a stomachache you would surely send it (Him? Her?) to a vet if the fee is within your resources. Your mother, your puppy, and other beloved human beings and creatures in your life–they clearly deserve to live because we have the means to make them live.
But those others I mentioned earlier, they clearly deserve to die.
Oh, don’t feel so guilty. We’re all in this together. We are stopped by the same obstacle and arrested by the same fears. We’re not so bad.
This is not a new proposition at all. On the contrary, this is something deeply ingrained in our consciousness, manifesting in our most automatic judgments and decisions. We affirm it everytime we say and we agree that “The poor are poor because they don’t work hard enough. They deserve what’s happening to them.” We proclaim it every time we cheer the MMDA who clear away shanties, leaving the poor howling and thrashing on the ground in front of their “illegal” dwelling places. They don’t deserve such places. Some people who have already bought those spaces deserve them. They alone have the right to build dwellings and buildings or maybe even leave those spaces growing nothing but tall grasses for years. Curiously, this is the economic equivalent of that karmic belief in Buddhism and Hinduism that underprivileged people deserve whatever they have in life because they have been unworthy in their past lives. They haven’t reached Enlightenment. And in our case, this means our poor haven’t reached economic Success with a capital S. In that country we so find it righteous to follow in institutions, culture, and in many other aspects of life, that karmic enlightenment, that Success is known by another term–the American Dream.
Without toil, we are nothing. We aren’t human beings. Let me correct that.
Without toil that makes us a significant amount of capital, we are nothing. We aren’t human beings. After all, the beggar on the footbridge still captures capital in a cup. It’s just nowhere near “significant.”
And so I go from day to day, struggling to keep all my armors and weapons of life in tact–my education, my networks of people, my career. These are my chain mail, my iron shield and my great sword forged in the fires of bourgeois upbringing. I wear them always and polish and sharpen them everyday lest they crack in the midst of the often merciless battle of the global market. I wouldn’t want to be stripped of them and die suddenly, do I?
I’m sure you’ve heard of that term, the “inviolability of life,” the “sanctity of life.”
Well, it is clear to me these beautiful phrases mean nothing but the “sacredness of toil,” the “the holiness of the market.”
From my former professor, Gerry Lanuza:
“If all the food produced worldwide were distributed equally, every person would be able to consume 2,760 calories a day (hunger is deﬁned as consuming fewer than 1,960 calories a day). Food entitlement differs from food availability in that it indicates what a person can command with income and thus consume, rather than what is available in the market.”
He said it on Facebook, if that means anything.