Monthly Archives: May 2011

Cut the Bullshit: The Sanctity of Toil

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.

Aren’t we?

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.”

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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.

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The World Ended on a Saturday Without Much Fanfare

It started just like any other judgment day.

On the Internet, websites were abuzz with jokes about the end of times while in the streets of Manila, the squalid creatures under bridges and along mucky rivers haven’t even heard about the importance of the day. On this topic, just like with any other piece of knowledge worth talking about, the masses weren’t part of the discussion. In other words, access to armageddon was limited.

I was in my cubicle, busily inventing a tale of nonfiction before I start with the day’s copies.

What’s really striking about the whole affair is that it was so Hollywood. You’d think the Son of Man would defy everyone’s expectations regarding his second coming but it seemed he cared less about originality than the purpose of his visit. And so it was that when the building’s windows to my right seemed a bit too bright and murmurs started floating around the office, I stood up, looked outside and saw… something.

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It was indeed something rehashed. It’s the very thing you’ve heard from your Bible-maniacal teachers, priests, parents and friends who joined fellowships about the Man way up there and his much-hyped return. For I saw the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen in my life; something that sent shivers down my spine and made my heartstrings tremble. When I saw it, I instantly knew what it was all about. There wasn’t anytime to think “this shit is crazy.” There was nothing left to do. As supremely creative as I felt that morning, I had to leave that epic non-fiction on my computer screen unfinished in the middle of an incomplete word. I went outside.

We all went outside. Our chests overflowing with a feeling of finality to a whole life’s worth of work, confusion and misery, our legs couldn’t help walking very slowly. There was no hurry. It was the end anyway. There was enough time for everyone to silently weep.

I saw people walking hand in hand with their friends, crying on their shoulders as we made our way toward the fire exit. In a moment of clarity only the witty devil could’ve conjured in my mind, I thought it was pretty amusing that some folks chose to wait their turn at the elevators before they could meet their Maker.My supervisor and I glanced at each other. Alas! This was one time that very helpful man couldn’t help me in any way.

Outside, a huge crowd had already gathered all over the streets and EDSA. As cliche as it sounds, traffic was at a standstill. There wasn’t any “noise”; just the sound of mute beings scuffling to get a better view of the Thing up in the sky. But this wasn’t like your regular pop concert where the audience mangled each other for a better look and howled at each other’s ears. No, everyone could see It with mouths gaping open. I guess it was part of the grand plan for everyone to witness the grand finale.

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Needless to say, ABS-CBN and GMA weren’t covering the big event, neither were any station the world over. Somehow, I wondered what Mike Enriquez could be doing that moment. Just as there was no way to document the beginning of history, there was simply no way to document its end.

We were rendered illiterate like the primeval primates, like dinosaurs and the beings before them. And this is no exaggeration at all. The feeling was that of deep naivety or idiocy. Everyone went back to being children or rather, everyone realized they hadn’t grown up at all; like they were putting on papa’s big shoes or mama’s smeary lipstick for a whole week and now the angry folks were here. We were going to get spanked.

There wasn’t any need to talk to the guy transfixed at the sky next to you. An overwhelming sense of futility overcame every soul. After all, this wasn’t about the matters of men anymore. The instant you see that Thing, that marvelous Thing up there, all your issues melt into nothing. Me, I wasn’t thinking about the next payday anymore, or capitalism, or the RH Bill, Manny Pacquiao, my family and my girlfriend. Once in a while, a little stupid thought would still pop in my head, like Mike Enriquez, but it would disappear just as quickly for the only thing left to do was to immerse yourself at the certitude of the situation. This was the novel’s resolution, the final step in a long, arduous journey, an actor’s shedding of his costume when the curtains fall. The only relation left was between every man and his undoing.

I guess what Hollywood missed was that the occasion made chaos impossible. Last-minute looting, shooting, binging, smoking, copulating, jacking off and raping weren’t possible. For how could anyone even bring himself to do something “evil,” let alone do “something” when there wasn’t any purpose to anything anymore? Even purposelessness was purposeless. Nihilism and anarchism were reduced to empty terms–but to be fair, just like any word. “Dog” didn’t mean anything, neither did “Apple” or “love.” It’s the closing of the closed; what Marxists termed the “negation of the negation” but definitely not what they imagined it to be.

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To be sure, regret flooded the sea of humanity over the face of the earth. But there wasn’t any desperation. Each and everyone somehow knew that he should keep the regret to himself, however earth-shattering that regret was. No sin was big enough to make someone shoot his head or throw himself over a billboard. After all, wherever you were going, to hell, purgatory or heaven, you were surely on your way there and your guide was nothing less than the merciful Creator or, for the majority, the merciless Death Reaper.

And don’t you even suspect that skeptics were quietly criticizing the phenomenon. No way. The most brilliant scientists kept their mouths shut and the sharpest philosophers kept their minds blank. No one could question anything. It took a long time for people to learn it, but finally, people understood and took to their hearts the value of acceptance. And my god, how they could accept every little thing that day. No one was scratching his head over the validity of tools of measurement of sin. All the atheists, the agnostics, the people who hadn’t thought of the concept “god” since third grade wholly accepted their fate, the certainty that there was no tomorrow after this fateful day.

Suddenly, the clouds opened up and a powerful beam of light shone on the multitude. Again, like Hollywood. No one expected for the affair to be so literal an enactment of Bible verses, too. That psalm that said, “The Lord lifts up the downtrodden; he casts the wicked to the ground”–that’s exactly what transpired. The first to literally get lifted off their feet were the shabbiest of the shabby: men who never heard it on the news that today was judgment day, men who were so busy finding a way to live that they hadn’t been living their entire lives. They were the greasiest, the most emaciated, the creatures who the globalized, industrial world had consciously forgotten about. And they rose up from the cruddiest corners of cities. A shower of dirt and pieces of garbage from their feet rained upon the face of humanity who understood a little too late what that profitable holy book really meant. Acceptance was replaced with Shame. The most well-dressed cried the hardest.

Congregations waiting with their spiritual leaders anticipated air below their feet any moment–but many of them were disappointed. It seemed the Thing up there didn’t particularly care how frequently one practiced the “sacraments” or if someone knew the savior’s correct name at all. In fact, the ignorant tribes in the forests, savannas, mountainous and icy regions were the first to ascend. These people weren’t familiar to this monotheistic god. In fact, no one was really counting how many supernatural beings were there now. Nobody cared how many were out to get us. What mattered was, they’re out to get us.

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Then I kept looking at my feet. Several times, I half-thought they were rising, too. I couldn’t help running through all my sins and “good deeds” though I knew the activity was fruitless. It’s up to that Thing to decide what to do with the helpless child that was me. But scenes still kept appearing in my mind: porn sites, street children I turned down, those countless hours in the bathroom. I knew I wasn’t the only one but it didn’t comfort me at all.

Then I thought I saw my mother flying toward the clouds, riding the mighty light, and even if that person wasn’t her, I knew she’s one of the chosen ones. Finally, her endless chores were over. Her back won’t break no more.Toil was over and it’s not a revolution that ended it but a seemingly ordinary, quite boring in fact, Saturday.

A symphony of sounds sang by a billion heavenly voices swept through the crying crowds. It’s coming. Funny that everyone was just Facebooking and tweeting about it just that morning and now it came to harvest its crop. The tremendous feeling of my insignificance and the universe’s impenetrability hit me with an enormous force in the stomach and my knees buckled. Breathing heavily, squinting, I thought I saw a face slowly unmasked by the clouds.

I sho

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