Tuesday, March 30, 2010

We Could Try "Nice"

It isn't nice to block the doorway,
It isn't nice to go to jail.
There are nicer ways to do it.
But the nice ways always fail.

It isn't nice, it isn't nice.
You've told us once,
You've told us twice.
But if that is freedom's price,
We don't mind.

--Malvina Reynolds

The current controversy engulfing the university where I teach is one that could happen in any sufficiently open society. It is about whether a group of protesting faculty and students were right in painting slogans on walls; lobbing paintballs at one of our chancellors and destroying some chairs.

Yesterday I sent our Faculty Regent a song for those who believed the actions were justified. I have loved this song for a long time and I would urge people to look up Malvina Reynolds', “It isn't nice”.

The impulse to send the Faculty Regent the song comes from years of being an underground propagandist during the Marcos dictatorship. I have criticisms to make of those who used paint and destroyed chairs. Yet the song is a perfect vehicle to express their sentiments.

Only a few lines need be said about those who stood up for their beliefs in ways that were branded as impolite, improper, barbaric, unwise and criminal. Apart from the those who took up the early protests against the Marcos dictatorship, there are those who fought against apartheid, those who joined the civil rights movement in the US--- I could go on and on. I will add only that these movements were started by small groups who were initially vilified, only to be supported later by millions.

My criticisms have to do with why I have become a pacifist, though an angst-ridden one. Anyone who supports violent tactics and strategies needs to reflect on whether that particular form of violence (say, armed struggle as opposed to suicide bombings) can be justified. I am still convinced that there is a moral basis for violence. I am just setting the bar very high for when violent acts can be moral.

I think that using violence to defend oneself, one's loved ones and those in the immediate vicinity, against battering, sexual violence, torture, mutilation and attempted murder is eminently justified. I would not say that violence is only justified for these grand instances. I once slapped away the hand of my eldest son with enough strength to make him wail. At the time he was a toddler, trying to insert a pair of tweezers into an electrical outlet.

I do not think the methods used at the rallies in question were justifiable.

It is not just the University's officials who are condemning the methods. Several faculty members and researchers have expressed their disagreement in our discussions as well. I am also told that as the slogans were being painted on the walls, rank and file employees in the building were upset because the University would need additional funds to repaint. In their minds, the very people who had made an issue of the state's budgetary neglect of education, were squandering the very resources they wished to augment. Additionally, the discussions have now become about the methods of protest and not the issues of the protest.

I disagree with those who have tried to justify the violence by essentially taking the line that there is violence in society that is far more immoral than the case-at-hand. One cannot justify bad practice by stating that worse things have gone unpunished.

I must say that the tactics used do not rise to the level of truly gut-wrenching violence. In the opinions I have read or heard on the matter, I have noted some hyperbolic descriptions.

Furthermore, I do not condemn these actions just because these were impolite or bad mannered. Even the genteel may be roused to cussing when unduly provoked. I also urge the reader to look into the book entitled “Miss Manners Guide to Excruciatingly Correct Behavior”, to find out how and why a person should deliver a social snub—of which there are several varieties. The lack of politeness in the protest is self evident. The proposition that bad manners per se are condemnable is put to rest convincingly by the sentiments expressed in Reynolds' song.

The protesters have every right to go beyond the formal or sedate ways of handling dissent (more Board of Regents meetings, administrative cases, court proceedings, fora, petitions and scholarly papers). The history of revolutions and transformations shows this to be a necessity. But the decision to use non-formal methods is not necessarily a decision to escalate to violence. The methods of Gandhi and Martin Luther King are but two examples of this.

The question about tactics that should be answered is whether the wrong that is being protested justifies the slogans on the wall, the throwing of paint and the destruction of chairs. I have tried my best to follow the issues and believe that the protesters have very legitimate concerns. But I do not believe the tactics were just.

I believe this is why, confrontational tactics are being rejected by many ordinary citizens. We have too often planned protest actions that have resorted to minor forms of violence when, in the minds of a significant number, the moral basis for proceeding to violent action had not been met.

I am one of those who ascribe to the political ethic that the means must be justifiable in themselves. On a very practical level, questionable tactics are a barrier to revolutionary change. I am not the first to be discouraged by the fact that the people have not been more active in their resistance to the shenanigans of the Arroyo administration. I am not the first to note that the Left has been unable to provide the disgusted majority with tactics that evoke wide-spread action.

Folks from all walks of life have a deep desire for effective governance and democracy. This is true in all social institutions including the academe. If we are to be so arrogant as to call ourselves activists, we must come up with creative methods that can harness these passions in ways that do not trade off the future of activism for present gains.

Monday, March 1, 2010

Good doctor, Bad Priests

Note: This was published in the Yellow Pad column of today's Business World. http://www.bworldonline.com/main/content.php?id=6900

Today, I received this text message: "They are crucifying Dr. Esperanza Cabral because of her decision to take HIV prevention seriously. Please write for Ma’am Espie." "They" are the extremists of the CBCP and their allies among the laity.

I send my apologies in advance to Dr. Cabral who taught me more things than just doctoring. I am unable to obey your lessons in graciousness. I am just too disgusted with the lies.

I will not engage in sophistry. I will give the public specifics that can be validated by the public themselves. I will trust in ordinary folk by telling it like it is: condoms protect against HIV infection.

Check out the literature of the World Health Organization (WHO). Check out the literature of the purveyors of death-by-AIDS. Here is one significant thing: the latter’s literature cites the few scientific studies that say condoms don’t work. The WHO will cite both types of studies and explain why they conclude that condoms protect against HIV. For one thing the studies that prove this are in the majority and are better constructed.

While you are at it, please remember what was taught you in grade school: there will almost always be contrary studies. I leave you to decide on the truthfulness of those who won’t tell you that they are citing the oddball findings.

I should end this piece here so that the reader can establish for himself or herself the truth of my specific claim. But I will beg your indulgence and request that you let me add a few more things.

The opposition to the condom is based more on the belief that people should not have sex unless they leave the women open to pregnancy. The propagandists will say "open to life," but anyone who understands basic biology knows the more accurate term is "open to pregnancy." Those of you who are shocked by my lack of respect may be comforted: in matters of religious belief I can be more respectful. I can say that I disagree with them and leave it at that. I only ask that they respect my views as well.

I think it is moral to use condoms to prevent HIV infection. Using condoms saves lives. I do not engage in their word play. Proper and large-scale condom use prevents the spread of HIV and other reproductive tract infections that cause death and disability. This is a pro-life stance in the real sense, not a pro-pregnancy stance that has been dressed up to look pro-life.

I also do not see anything moral about such fanaticism. Fanatics prefer hard and fast rules and acquiescence to authority figures. The authority figures seek power, not in respectful persuasion, but by encouraging compliance. Both leaders and followers are unable to accept the immense diversity of human beings and embrace the tolerance this diversity demands. This is why they misbehave in secular space and do not respect our country’s allegiance to secularism.

When these fanatics wander into secular space by making bogus scientific claims that threaten our people’s well-being, they must not hide behind the customary respect we accord each other for our moral beliefs and disagreements. And so I feel I am not being ill-mannered when I say: they lie and they lie repeatedly.

I will also state the obvious. I am not saying all Catholics are extremists. Many Catholics do not agree with extremists on their interpretations. Many who agree to their sexual morality are nonetheless disgusted by their methods.

We are often told we should choose both our doctors and spiritual guides wisely. Beware of the priests that lie. On the other hand, choosing Dr. Cabral as our nation’s doctor is wise. I know her, I was her student. She taught me in medical school that scientific rigor is necessary to compassion and moral rectitude.

Sylvia Estrada Claudio is a doctor of medicine and a doctor of philosophy in psychology. She is a fellow of Action for Economic Reforms. She heads the project Watch Out When Women Vote (WOWWVOTE) that hopes to encourage women to vote for candidates that uphold women’s rights.