Cynicism and the more tragic end of the world

The other of the other – the refutation of today’s people’s widely kept sense of cynicism. When the symbolic efficiency has died down and the people started casting doubt on these institutions, they sort of revert to a subtle, internal contradiction; silently holding on to these institutions which they also doubt. There are muted doubts for the government, the church of the mass media but nevertheless, the people still cling onto them, still pin hopes on them, even only the slightest of hopes.

What is frightening about Sloterdijk’s and Zizek’s modification of the idea of ideology as “they know very well that they are holding onto an illusion but still they continue to do so” is that it introduces a large gap between what one knows and what one does. If I know something and what I do does not attune with what I know, we have a serious problem. If I know very well that money at an inherent level does not have a real value yet I regard it as the simple signification of wealth, then we have a problem.

In more religious Marxist terminologies, does not this introduce the gap between theory and practice – what one knows and what one does? It gets more frightening when we encounter the very manifestations of this gap. I know very well that Starbucks is a multi-national capitalist company, propagators of this system, yet I still go there for my cup of coffee. I know very well that excessive drinking and doing drugs are part of the “liberal, bourgeois and decadent” lifestyle promoted in this social set-up yet I still indulge in these activities. But this is just one part of the vaster horror. On the ranks of what we call the masses, the cynicism is also wearying.

As the Chair of the Baguio-Benguet chapter of the College Editor’s Guild of the Philippines, I usually encounter distressed testimonies of campus press freedom violations from several editors and publication members not only in my area but from different parts of the country. in one instance, a publication editor-in-chief told me about how the release of their funds were tactically delayed by the administration so to keep them from participating in a CEGP activity. While discussing the case with her, I was quite adamant in goading her to fight for their rights as campus journalists and at the maximum launch a campaign against these tactics of the administration. However, her reply was not a shy refusal. In her text message, the gist of her reply was to let it pass, “hayaan na lang natin,” as she herself quoted. Reading this, I was momentarily reduced to helplessness. How can we act on the situation if this is the attitude of the people who are supposed to be primarily involved in the action? Is this not an excellent evidence of the people’s cynicism nowadays? We know very well that our rights as campus journalists are being deprived from us but we won’t do anything about it? Apparently, there is no consistency, no harmony between our knowledge and our actions.

In that textbook procedure of arousing, organizing and mobilizing the people, this problem of cynicism resulting to the theory-practice gap poses a dead-end that needs to be efficiently dealt with and resolved if the movement for change shall continue. During hoppings on publications and casual chats with publication members, they would all resemble the sense of helplessness, the simultaneously bashful and subconscious application of cynicism in their remarks. “Ah ganyan pala, napakahaba ng proseso ng paperworks bago kayo makapaglabas ng pera?” “Oo kuya eh, ganun talaga eh.” Can massive propaganda and hard or softcore educational discussion still work to save them out of the pit of helplessness, of refusing to do something big to halt the existing currencies? I am in doubt of an answer. This now seems to be less a matter of stances and perspectives than a matter of stepping into practice and doing accordingly what the situation entails. Perhaps new methods of discourses and engagements should be applied for us to act again as if the world is truly changeable and we can do it. Because of all the horrors this period suggests, that thing I happened to read somewhere which eloquently puts this present temper seems to be the most haunting and chilling: people are more likely to believe that the world is going to end that it is going to be saved.



14 thoughts on “Cynicism and the more tragic end of the world

  1. Hi, Ivan. Maybe you have too high expectations of your fellow campus journalists at this conjuncture? Perhaps there is a need to start at their present level of political consciousness and build up their organizations and willingness to fight from their? Or as Mao puts it, “It often happens that objectively the masses need a certain change, but subjectively they are not yet conscious of the need, not yet willing or determined to make the change. In such cases, we should wait patiently. We should not make the change until, through our work, most of the masses have become conscious of the need and are willing and determined to carry it out. Otherwise we shall isolate ourselves from the masses.” Cheers! Cynicism is the obverse side of excessive idealism, it is the pitfall one falls to after soaring into flights of unrealistic expectations. Our key towards fighting off cynicism and molding a highly politicized youth who are ready to fight it out for the people is the building of strong and stable organizations. As Ho Chi Minh’s refrain goes, organize, organize, organize! 🙂

  2. Sige na nga. Hindi pa kita nakikilala personally pero base sa mga kwento ni Levi, super intellectual shit ka daw pero tibak na tibak din. Nung sinulat ko ang taeng ito, i am sort of theoretically numb, unfeeling to, at distance with MLM shits, at immersed sa kung sino-sinong thinker. Balik trabaho at mga meetings at parang back to normality, mahirap sagutin yung point to intensify the organizing. Sa assessments, sinasaktan din kami ng puntong yan eh. but a slight point: “but subjectively they are not yet conscious of the need, not yet willing or determined to make the change:” is not that precisely the problem? objectively, the “masses need a certain change,” and perhaps more fearfully, they “know” that they need a certain change but is nonetheless, unwilling or undetermined.
    or perhaps, as you put it, i just have too high estimations of them, or i give up easily, or i need to review mao. let’s see if the lord can answer my doubts this time, pardon me.
    pero salamat sa komento, it helped, really. 🙂

  3. But that is ALWAYS the case. Your role is helping them get over that fear. I do not mean to sound condescending, we all need to do this by the way, but it would do good for all of us to review our mass line. 😉

    I don’t at all agree with this dichotomy between being “activist” and being “intellectual.” I am reminded of Paulo Freire when he described the so-called experts in Marx: their isolation from everyday life, from the people’s struggles, does not make them Marxists. Mao also said something to this effect.

    And not to mention the limitations of much of so-called “Western Marxism”: its having been formulated under conditions of retreat (Adorno, Fromm, Gramsci, Benjamin under Fascist tyranny, Althusser, Marcuse under the dominant Keynesian welfare state, Jameson under the neoliberal offensive, Zizek under a revisionist regime); its divorce from real and active mass movements; its one-sided focus on how the “masses” are dominated by “culture of silence, ruling ideologies, false consciousness, unconscious fantasies” rather than how they can overcome this. . .

  4. then perhaps i am in a more unfortunate situation, dahil ang mga katrabaho ko rito eh may negative notion sa “intellectual,” not seeing them in compatible terms with the “activist.”
    At isa pa, it seems like merely mentioning Zizek, even in passing, is reprehensible here. As if I do not know “their” limitations and possible ways to critique their rants; as if merely mentioning Zizek is already a digression from MLM. Yun lang.

    1. sobra naman siguro na mention lang digression na. pero problematic naman talaga si Zizek on very crucial points: 1. his impressionistic notion of the world capitalist system vis-a-vis the marxist-leninist-maoist theory of imperialism and uneven development, 2. his overly negative appraisal of the actually existing socialist regimes under stalin and mao as opposed to a nuanced assessment of their weaknesses (leading to their subversion by revisionists) as well as real achievements, and 3. his aversion to action and cynicism against real social movements. The fragmented nature of his discourse sometimes makes it hard to see the forest from the trees, especially with all the dazzling pop cultural and black humor effects. But if you read large doses Zizek, you’d be surprised how consistent he is on reiterating these “reprehensible” lines. About views from the outside, Mao had this to say: “If what they say is right, we ought to welcome it, and we should learn from their strong points; if it is wrong, we should let them finish what they are saying and then patiently explain things to them.” 🙂

      1. well, if you can only hear the tone of their voice when they throw back zizek at you — mocking. they won’t even engage with you, with some of zizek’s that you are invoking, they would just downright malign the name. hindi ako avidly after zizek at may issues din ako sa kanya, i.e. un-recognition of the need for collective action to down capitalism, and the refusal to acknowledge the premium role the proletariat shall play in the movement (ahm, lack of class analysis?), pero yung attitude ng mga tao re: “other” ideas that tends to appear too close-minded.
        parang, we’re being stuck somewhere at hindi nirerecognize yung pagbabago sa lipunan; for instance, syempre alam natin na mkmp ito blah blah blah, pero there’ seems to be a lack of engagement with the complexities brought by this post-post- period. i.e. may pagbabago ba sa halaga ng cultural movement ngayong sa panahon ng new media eh nagkaroon ng bagong verve sa kultura ng gma tao?

        walang debate sa protracted war, mula sa masa blah blah; ayos sa general lines pero kung paano sya nagkakahitsura (naiitsuraan) sa specific programs at plans, at most importantly, implementations, mukhang may sort of urgency to be more evaluative,
        yes! 🙂

  5. pero, the cultural movement always takes secondary importance in relation to the armed struggle. syempre naman, we would still agree on this: primarya pa rin ang armed struggle sa ngayon. pero how does the cultural arm of the revolutionary movement places itself in today’s so-called post-post world (i.e. post-structural, more prominently, postmodern; in the development studies, meron nang post-development vaguely characterized by the investments on “intellectual labor,” post-industrial to some, but on top of all this is: globalization.). on the one side, we can easily track down all of these designations into one term: imperialism. but how do we deal with its more noted facet: cultural capitalism, i.e. rise of social media, mechanization of culture, pop culture, etc. paano kinacounter, or ginagamit ng cultural arm ng rev ang ganitong uri ng laganap na kultura? sapat ba ang twittering the revolution, utilizing blogging for our political goals? syempre ang sasabihin dyan, yun exactly ang point, the revolution will not be tweeted. dahil nga primarya ang armado blah blah. OR: nagkukulang ba sa pageexhaust ng iba pang porma ng counterculture, i.e. street art, mala-axel pinpin na rebolusyonaryong panitikan na ginagawang pasa-bilis.

    hndi ba dahil sa notion na the cultural arm is ONLY secondary to the armed struggle, nalilimitahan ang pagusbong ng revolutionary culture na itinatapat natin sa lady gaga, mtv, bob ong?

    1. These are heavily loaded statements. So let me get things straight. Firstly, I have never said anything here about culture being secondary to military forms of struggle.

      Although as a representative of the legal youth and student mass movement, in particular as the regional coordinator of Kabataan Partylist in Panay, I respect the armed struggle waged by the underground revolutionary movement. I recognize the validity of their grievances and understand that the struggle they are waging is more decisive in effecting systemic changes.

      While indispensible for the clinching of small gains for the people and defending their democratic rights, the parliamentary arena and the legal mass movement can only do so much, especially as the ruling classes are ready to defend their wealth, power, and property through the repressive apparatuses of the state.

      About the use of new media for social movements, my view would be to effectively combine elements of new media and online tools and the tried and tested traditional organizing methods–of having the former complement the latter, especially in mobilizing the urban middle classes. This is the lesson of the Arab Spring and the recent upsurge in other parts of the world.

      As for your final question. The answer is a simple NO. While there are spaces for the emergence of a revolutionary culture in the present society–especially in the countrysides where the power of the reactionary state is weakest and where the seeds of an alternative order are being planted, it can only become truly hegemonic with the coming into power of a new order.

      Lady Gaga, MTV, Bob Ong, and their future versions will, of course, be the mainstream as long as the socio-economic and political foundations of the present society remains in place.

      Ultimately, if you take the bourgeois propaganda about so-called “globalization” at face value and is easily awed by heavily-funded western “post-structuralist”, “post-modernist”, “post-developmentalist” academics who characterize the world as “post-industrial” or dominated by “immaterial labor”, the “knowledge economy”, and the likes in order to counter the continued reign of monopoly capitalism, then your view of things is perfectly understandable.

      As the old French saying goes, “Tell me what you eat and I shall tell you what you are!” 😉

      1. then it becomes problematic, when people treat the cultural realm as a secondary realm of struggle? diba may slogan sila na ito ang “pinakamataas na panawagan?” then does not that relegate every other non-armed struggle to a secondary position?

  6. what is problematic is when people treat the two as distinct and separate, as if armed forms of struggles do not embody and radiate its own forms of culture, as if the terrain of “cultural struggle” is confined to street art, blogging, et al, as if winning military battles for political objectives do not effect cultural transformations and raise the revolutionary consciousness of the masses. The better dichotomy is that between legal and open forms of struggle and the clandestine and armed forms of struggle. From a purely academic point of view, I would have to raise that cultural revolution cuts across both open democratic mass movements and revolutionary underground movements.

  7. if only everyone thinks like you do. then I ponder on this case, why would not the people I work with here understands the cultural revolution only as that important step to be taken when the protracted war succeeds? we all claim to be marxists-leninists–maoists but could this sameness be limited to that mere title self-claims? i sort of planned that this comment shall end the thread, so: i guess, i’d resign, case-to-case basis, what is happening here might just be uninspiring lately.

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