A New Language for the New World
We need new myths to forge towards our uncertain futures, but they need to be founded on established historical truths.
I left the Philippines with a broken heart. My visit (I arrived on the 12th of April and left on the 10th of May, a day after the elections) was a wonderful homecoming: I went on a vacation with friends to La Union, then introduced my husband to my family (it went well, far better than how I expected it to be), and also took a trip to Donsol to see the whale sharks. I never realized how much I missed everything until I was in the midst of everything again: the familiarity of places and people, a comfort that I had taken for granted, then forgotten, because admittedly, it was necessary to steel one’s self from too much sentimentality if one wanted to survive in a new country.
We always say that things are changing faster than we’ve anticipated, but: this is really a new world we’re living in, isn’t it? It’s as if a coin has been flipped and this reality has gone askew.
The Marcoses are back in Malacañang, which is proof that illusion has finally won over facts: the subjectivity of experience is no longer just metaphysical musing, but something that they have weaponized to regain power.
I was teary-eyed when the news had slowly confirmed the landslide victory. We had hoped for a miracle, because wishful thinking was all we had: we came in late to fight against the years of disinformation pumped into our social media feeds. This was a well-organized, years-long, and heavily-funded attack to erase history in favor of the Marcoses. Our feeble attempts to correct course felt more like a guerilla operation: throwing rocks and making a tank here and there explode as the enemy came in from all sides with more armaments and machinery. They knew they had won the war.
Where do we go from here? How do we fight against the algorithms? It seems like our weak institutions do not stand a chance, short of banning Facebook and Tiktok, which feels like a step backward rather than forward, especially considering that the ones in power stand to benefit from that move. There is also no incentive for the platforms to change their whole business model because the platforms benefit from the stickiness of hatred, anger, and sensationalism. Social media feeds off on the worst of human nature.
Perhaps there is a grain of truth in the assertion that truth is only truth in as much as the evidence against it hasn’t been established yet. I got to understand this when I took the Moral Foundations of Politics course and learned about early and mature Enlightenment. Early Enlightenment thinkers were concerned about establishing certainties about the world, especially in our politics. But mature Enlightenment thinkers believe that knowledge builds upon past knowledge: we can only be certain about anything up to the point that a plausible counter-argument can be made against it.
In this context, we must then ensure that our society allows for different ideas to come forward: that more ideas come to challenge existing ideas, like iron sharpening iron. A government should ensure dissent, even at some point protect it, because diversity ensures survival––the way heterogeneous populations survive better than homogenous ones.
Quoting journalist Sheila Coronel in her Kenyon College commencement speech:
“I believe that freedom and democracy are not writ in our stars. They are not destined. They are instead the product of human striving. Unless democracy’s defenses are reinforced, authoritarians will return. Strongmen don’t really go away. Like bears in winter, they fall into a deep sleep and awake once they can feed again.
Democracy is vulnerable to authoritarian assault because it is a promise that is hard to keep. If people fall for the Golden Age fantasy, it’s because democracy itself seems like another fantasy. Democrats — with a small ‘d’— make lofty speeches about freedom and equality but the reality falls far short. Democracy requires the taming of self-interest and greed so there can be equity and inclusiveness, dialogue, and mutual respect. Democracy cannot flourish if the soil from which it rises is poisoned by injustice and division. It requires constant tending, especially in the seasons of discontent.”
There are probably better ways to combat the rise of autocrats and dictators by using the same language that they use, gaming the same algorithms with organized and sustained communications. As writers and artists, we have to build new myths and new visions of our future, but one that is founded not on false or edited pasts, but on historical truths.