Idealism on a Slow Dive (or is it slow…?)

Answering a simple query from old comrades in the Union showed that this topic definitely is what’s occupying large parts of my consciousness, to the point that my typos and miss-spells are becoming more and more frequent and I seem to be having a hard time expressing myself, and despite my demeanor I am actually a rather irritated person right now.

And wasn’t I at the Gesu not two nights ago? No Questions were answered that night; God refused to take any and told me to sit there and not think for a while. Before I left, I saw the inscription on the statue of Jesus in front of the Church. It was the passage for those who labor on coming to God and laying down one’s burden. It was the first time I deigned to read the inscription in all the time I went to the Gesu, and it was somehow kind of apt to what I was feeling.

Idealism. From the word “ideal,” a situation where the grand majority of the elements, if not all, are right or at their best. If the young of this world subscribe to any ideology, if one were to interpret that term at its broadest, then this is probably it. Idealism marks the young, is commonly found with them, what fuels their activism and even their rebellion, their desire to bring about change – mostly positive – to the staid order of their parents’ generation.

It’s also an “age-dependent” worldview. In a world where the term “naive” is a pejorative, idealism is often viewed by the “elders” as something of a phase. Like pimples, hormonal surges and rebellions against the established order. From personal observations, this would seem to start even while the young person is in college; the demands of graduation during senior year – the thesis, job fairs, a foreshortened school year, senior syndrome, etc. – begins the long road for the idealist to a life of pragmatism and, yes, compromises. Although there will always be exceptions to the rule, the minute a young person tightens that necktie or straightens that power blouse and skirt spells the beginning of the end for idealism. Heck, how many student council officers have I seen shine brilliantly during their first three years of service as young leaders only to fade to near-obscurity at their senior year because of the demands of their “other life” as students? And unless these selfsame SC officers join an NGO or major service department upon graduation, many would be eaten up by the demands of their corporations, relegating their advocacies and ideals to little more than weekend jaunts, if ever.

Such a negative view from me. In truth, I understand where they’re coming from. And at the same time I don’t. Actually, in moments like this, I really don’t. In really horrible moments I ask, rather loudly, how can they so easily give up the fight when (a) they’re much, much, richer than I am (and thus should be able to weather the low salaries of most NGOs and government agencies), and (b) given the context of what we all fought for during our time in college. Mine was the generation that stood on the Second People Power. I and my contemporaries were the field officers for civil society, their generals and shock troops. Where are we now?

I am constrained both by my upbringing and Training to (further) castigate my generation. But then, I am, actually, putting the cart before the horse, in a manner of speaking. My idealism is in tatters not (solely) because I feel as if my generation “disappeared” after People Power II (or the May 1 Mayhem, at least; that incident seems to have badly injured the psyche of most young moderates), but because of the fallout from Gloriagate. The above is simply a rant that should have followed the reasons for my idealism’s death and not the source of its demise.

Idealism, as with any worldview, depends on certain concepts for its foundations. There must be something you believe in that allows you to take such a contrary point of view with the rest of the established order. A word usually linked to Idealism is Disillusionment. There is a word that reeks with so much pain, bitterness and negativity. Disillusionment is the negation of idealism. It is the poison that can quickly kill not only the desire to effect change but also shatter the lens that allows you to view life from a more-or-less positive light.

Actually, Gloria herself is not the source of my… disillusion. She is merely acting the way she was expected to act; there was hope she wouldn’t, but it’s hardly surprising she didn’t. Too bad. It isn’t the antics of the (original) opposition; that was also expected and is really nothing new. Nothing extant can be the source of the fall of one’s idealism. It is always sourced from much closer, to the things, people and concepts that really matter and therefore define that idealism.

There are three things that define my Soul. These are my lenses. These define the way my Being relates to and tries to affect the world around me. I am a Catholic Christian, an Atenean, and a Liberal. These three are the pillars that support my world, and (largely) determine how I act and react to any given situation. They are also the reasons for the paths I took that led to where I am right now: at nine years, I swore an Oath of service to God; all the conceptual, ideological, philosophical and theological training of years of Jesuit education led to one fateful morning in Liberation Theology class when, in a mentally-unguarded moment, Ateneo’s “Bug” decided to bite me and therefore make me strive to realize that Oath; a Question to God on how I could continue serving Him after college led to one morning when I would be recruited into the Liberal Party, and although hesitant and skeptical at the beginning, I realized that here was a good way to effect the change I wanted, for what better way is there to reform society than through the power and resources of a fully-fledged political party that was not only far-less trapo than the rest but has the potential to be a real political party that is the vehicle for the realization of the dreams and aspirations of those who agree to its philosophy?

One of those pillars is badly undermined right now. I am not alone in the disillusionment with that one; indeed, it is the death of the idealism of my comrades there that weighs heavily on my own moribund belief that we can still make a difference in this country. For the first time in my life I contemplate leaving this country, not only to find better opportunities abroad but simply because, in my worst moments, I can’t seem to stand it here anymore and neither do I feel welcome and at home.

I remember a talk Dr. July Teehankee gave us. He said that the reason why a new People Power hasn’t happened is the fact that no single institution retains the necessary clout to call the people to the streets. My thinking during PP2 was this should be the last time this would be done. People Power leaves you with a warm, fuzzy feeling after, but it isn’t the solution to the ills of society: indeed, it is merely the beginning of its rehabilitation, and it is a long and often painful way to go. People Powers are enemas at the very least, and usually they are akin to subjecting your country to chemotherapy since the “disease” has become so malignant the normal mechanisms for check and balances in a society are already ineffective.

And where are the people who can command one’s respect, the men and women who stoke the fires of idealism in the young? Brilliant as we are, the young, by virtue of age and (as many elders will look at you) “inexperience”, do not hold the levers of power in society. Powerful as our voices are, these are oftentimes not enough to bring about the change that we want. The Philippines is lucky to have leaders nominally scared of the public; in other countries, the powers-that-be will not bat an eyelash to ask their soldiers to fire on you or their tanks to roll over you if you disagree with them. Yet, our elders are prepared to go only as far as lip service to the demands for reform. True, substantive change has barely seen the light of the liberating sun in the 19 years since the end of martial rule. Even those who appear as paragons for the young oftentimes fall short of the image they wish to project.

In warfare, one of the worst things that can hit an army is demoralization. In fact, the school of thought that does not subscribe to the idea of victory-through-annihilation revolves around the ways in reducing the enemy’s morale. Even the largest or most advanced technologically of armies will wither in the face of determined opposition if the morale of that army is low. If you are going to ask people to die for a cause, then they should believe in that cause, enough that they would be willing to sacrifice their very lives for it.

Idealism is a lot like that. It has to be sourced from a strong belief that what you are doing is both effective and worth the sacrifices you give. It is not that you ask for something in return for your efforts, no: it is simply having something that you can tell that natural, pragmatic aspect of humanity that all this is worth it even if your life is a wreck. Or that the cause is worth your life.

But when things happen that undermine the foundations of your idealism, where do you find the reasons, the rationale, for continuing the struggle?

When the ideology and principles you were made to love and respect are paid lip service by those “above” you, by the ones who taught you those beliefs, what can you believe in?

When your leaders and elders not only fail you but even force you to subsume your principles for personal gain or even for their intramurals, who can you look to for inspiration and guidance?

When your colleagues leave you alone to stop the rush of your country to oblivion for their careers and personal lives, can you still hang on? Especially when you are made painfully aware that your own life and future is a shambles because of this struggle, while theirs is so much brighter in the corporations?

Even worse: when the people and organization(s?) you have served for so long abandons you without any explanation, how are you expected to feel then? Especially when they are making hash of everything you’ve built and paid blood for?

I was old enough to remember how the world felt when the Wall fell. It was even nicer because it happened on my birthday. That was a time of much hope, when despotic regimes – whether of the Left or Right – fell one by one, the nuclear threat was ebbing, and prosperity seemed like the name of the game. It was a brave new world. Somewhere along the way, something happened to bring us all to this world of darkness, despair and disillusionment.

And with your idealism in bloody tatters and twisting in the gale force winds of pragmatism and personal agendas, how can you still lift your sword and slay that dragon that is before you?

To tell you the truth, Death looks much more inviting…

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