Monday, December 19, 2011

The Tyranny of the Good


I was a very young boy when I started reading books. One of the first genres I fell in love with was fantasy and I devoured the Dragonlance novels with gusto.

Who could forget Caramon's big heart and undying loyalty to his brother? Or Raistlin's constant torment between good and evil? Or Tasslehoff's endearing charm, despite his thieving ways.

These books may talk about dragons and mages, of kenders and dwarves, but the characters in them face the same daunting tasks we are given, the struggle to be good. It may seem strange but the truth is, the world they portray is much like our world, filled with the same wars, the same sorrows, the same joys.

Filipina actress Valerie Concepcion tweeted last Sunday night that she performed at a party for the Presidential Security Group where President Benigno Aquino had laughed at her jokes and enjoyed her show.

It was a normal tweet perhaps for anyone who enjoyed meeting the president, but the party happened when a tropical storm hit the country and killed more than 600 people.

The message unleashed a flood of righteous indignation. People posted angry messages on their Twitter and Facebook accounts condemning her and the president for being insensitive, for having fun at a time when the nation was in mourning.

In the Dragonlance novels, there once was a Kingpriest who ruled at a time when the powers of good were flourishing in the world.

He fought evil and sought to end wars in the world. But as time passed, the Kingpriest begun to persecute not only evil, but even those who did not think exactly like him. He had begun to assume that he knew what was good for the world, and those who opposed him were evil. He had become arrogant, and in time, called upon the wrath of the gods.

I suppose there is always a danger when we start to expect that people should think and feel the same way we do. Especially when we believe that how we feel and the things we fight for are for the good. It can make us cross the line from righteous to self-righteous. When we begin to think that our way is the only way.

Under the guise of good intentions, personal liberties can be questioned; the right to not feel bad, the right to have fun, the right to feel happy.

C.S. Lewis, Christian apologist  and staunch defender of the Catholic faith, was one of those who constantly warned against dystopian futures that arises from utopian visions. In his book God in the Dock, he said

"Of all tyrannies, a tyranny exercised for the good of its victims may be the most oppressive. It may be better to live under robber barons than under omnipotent moral busybodies. The robber baron’s cruelty may sometimes sleep, his cupidity may at some point be satiated; but those who torment us for our own good will torment us without end for they do so with the approval of their own conscience." 

I told Rudeboy that I found it interesting how people reacted. I am always curious about people, why we do the things we do, why we are the way we are.

"It echoes the late Christopher Hitchen's contempt about the comfort these 'hysterical bunch of pearl-clutching virgins and their righteous indignation' find in conformity," Rudeboy said. "Not to sound callous, but the world does not stop spinning for any tragedies, no matter how small or great. Christmas this year will still be celebrated with cheer, shallow or genuine, dead drowned bodies or none."

I understand that people are angry. They feel helpless, and worried and upset and as is often the case, we often lash out against those who seem to not care.

But as we have seen in the past,  people will learn to move on from tragedies. Lives will continue. The holidays will come. People will still hold parties to celebrate, friends and families will give presents and cook a feast, even as thousands of others lie hungry, homeless and mourning their dead.

That hard fact may make some of us uncomfortable, squirm, or seethe at the seeming callousness and indifference but perhaps, that's just the way it is. Each of us can and will respond to tragedies in different ways. To help or not to help. To care or not to care. how much to care. To give or not to give. How much to give.

These questions pose delicate and complex issues about morality and examine our responsibility to help those who are in need. But I'm afraid there are no easy answers. Each of us must find his or her own way in the dark.


JJ Roa Rodriguez said...

At 12midnight (toronto time), reading this made me think of a lot of things. I would probably reflect on this and come back again tomorrow and reread it.

Beautiful post...


rudeboy said...

I agree wholeheartedly with that C.S. Lewis quote about those "omnipotent moral busybodies" and their invocation of "It's for your own good" as the justification for what is essentially tyranny and thought-control.

From the staunch defender of the Catholic faith, it might be interesting to offer a companion quote on the matter from an avowed atheist - one who is supposed to be his polar opposite, but in matters of logic and insight, actually his brethren :

“The essence of tyranny is not iron law. It is capricious law.”
― Christopher Hitchens, Love, Poverty, and War : Journeys and Essays

Kiks said...

I do not like, in fact never liked, the man at the centerstage today.

But somehow this incident is different from that time he scoffed a smile during the early hours of the 2010 Manila Hostage Crisis.

Nonetheless, I guess this is the kind of response one gets when the inutility, nay refusal, to enhance government service becomes stark, especially at a time of crisis.

And I am not talking about Valerie.

Mugen said...

"I understand that people are angry. They feel helpless, and worried and upset and as is often the case, we often lash out against those who seem to not care."

You hit the spot dear.

But again, sometimes we have to rock the boat for people - we expect to act as they should - tow the line. Kita mo the next morning, the issue is already gone.

Nimmy said...

I have the same comment as yours. Mas sosyal nga lang ng delivery mo teh. Hehehe :)

Nate said...

i agree with nimmy.. :)

Eternal Wanderer... said...

i always thought of myself as lauranlanthasa the moment i read dragons of autumn twilight.

for then, as now, am i dalisay, busilak, and mayumi.


Orange Wit said...

I really dont have any idea with the Valerie and PNoy issue, good thing you were able to share it, thanks! :)

I remember Ondoy tuloy, when our house was affected (though not that tremendously). It was really heartbreaking. I even have to cancel a night out with a friend because I know it will be insensitive. The idea of spending much on booze and smokes while some were suffering pains me.

Each of us must find his or her own way in the dark.

Very nice post, will follow you na po. :)

nyldgreat said...

I've read so many blog entries about this Valerie/PNoy brouhaha and so far Kane you are the only one that has seen this incident beyond its politcal relevance.

Good job.

by the way, this is my first time to read a post that has nothing to do with alcohol hahaha:P

Raymond said...

It wasn't the president's party, it was the PSG's. I don't get it why PNoy gets all the blame for insensitivity to the flood victims.

But I think, the victims would do pretty well in working out their condition. We, Filipinos, have been so good at that. :)

kaloy said...

we each have to move on - we cannot mourn forever or feel sorry or guilty about tings that happened. we acknowledge, we help if we can and then we move on...

Spiral Prince said...

I haven't read a single Dragonlance book. Does that mean I'm unrefined? :O

It's always good to read these things from you, K. :)

VICTOR said...

Kane, I'm very disturbed by this post. Aquino is the President of the Philippines. As such, he is in a position where he is the most ready and the most able to prevent, and, in the worst-case scenario, respond urgently to a crisis.

He has failed in both counts. Under his administration, large-scale mining and logging has continued to devastate Mindanao, without any long-term plans for sustainability.

Early this year, he vetoed disaster preparation in the P5 billion calamity fund for 2011.

When disaster finally struck, why did it take so long for Aquino to get to Cagayan de Oro? His lame excuse was that it's embarrassing to leave his guests in the middle of a Christmas party. He considers his guests' feelings while, at the same time, he ignores the plight of those who need his help and attention.

Aren't these reasons to be rightfully angry, regardless of the season?

Related blog post:

Lulu LaBonne said...

Good points, well made, I really enjoyed this post.

Have a wonderful 2012

pointlessparanoia said...

Disturbing yet true. Happy new year, Kane! :)

Joe Pereira said...

Great post Kane - food for thought