‘Lest we forget’ - Blueboard by Arjan P. Aguirre

August 22, 2017

This year marks the 120th anniversary of the publication of ‘Recessional’—an enigmatic poem written by the great English novelist and poet, Rudyard Kipling, for Queen Victoria’s Jubilee Celebration in 1897. In the poem, Kipling constantly mentioned ‘lest we forget’ to allude to our inclination to excessive hubris following a triumphant or glorious feat.
 
In this time of so much hatred and division, such words of Kipling are a fitting reminder for politicians and those who support them about the ephemeral nature of power, inviolability of truth, essential worth of life, indeterminacy of politics—that a man cannot be a God, having the great tendency to control and predetermine things of this world.
 
Power is a mere passing moment, a temporary reality in politics. In fact, in its most fundamental sense, power is supposed to be shared—something that can only make sense in the presence of the other. Efforts to singularize power, to me, will always lead to its corruption and perversion. When leaders exclude people just to possess/dispossess power, power ironically becomes a tool that depraves the very basis of its existence and worth. The exclusion itself makes power powerless for it lacks the legitimacy to exist to be deployed or used in the public realm. Thus, a privatized/singularized power is a power that pretends to be legitimate and true.
 
This is what makes dictatorship or authoritarianism a problematic framework of power. Dictators and authoritarian figures use singularized power to centralize their control. This seemingly powerful means is powerless because of the absence of the people in the emergence and exercise of such power.
 
Truth comes in as a way to make sense of both the ideal and reality. In my political theory classes, I usually highlight the balance between the ideal and real as the approximation of the truth. Just like power, truth is also something to be shared—for it is something to be seen and known always with the presence of the other. Now, efforts to distort the truth, to relativize its meaning, manifestation and happening, to me, will always render the truth as senseless and worthless. When people start to use lies and deception, truth will lose its meaning and will reduce everything in its path meaningless. The worthlessness of things will then tempt tyrants or people in power to redefine things/people as they see fit. Thus, truth that is diminished as a personalized and particulartized creation is a truth that can take the life of this world. Who lives or dies / what exists or not is now something that can be decided by a decision that is contextualized by time and space.
 
Life is an essential aspect of our existence. It is something that constantly gives us, from birth to our death, endless possibilities and potentials that cannot be known beforehand. This, in fact and in principle, makes us equal with others—whether you are rich or poor, young or old. It is, as I always mention to others, a non-negotiable aspect in politics. Any act to take a life should be as a negation of existence, foreclosure of possibilities, arrogance of the self over others, and a negotiated evil that renders humans as a mere means and secondary. This is the reason why, in my view, killing should have no place in politics and nonviolence both as a principle and practice should always be advanced all the time.
 
Politics is, to me, something that involves the unstable, contingent, and spontaneous reality that involves the interaction between people and the ‘world’. In politics, man is always invited to be daring in facing new opportunities given by the situation. The ‘creation of something new’ makes us part of the endless unmaking and remaking of the world. Change, therefore is the inherent nature of politics. To stagnate, over-calculate, and predetermine things means to be anti-political.  
 
As I see it, people nowadays no longer know or care about these four important things in our world today: power, truth, life and politics.
 
They have allowed their hubris—their false sense of righteousness, their strong belief that an electoral success changes everything in its path, their distrust toward the other, their strong paranoia toward power, their distorted sense of life, their own truth, and their politics to predetermine things of our society.
 
Today, there are efforts to personalize power by the constant distortion of the truth which leads to the senseless taking of life. These are done against the backdrop of politics of antagonism that in turn gives life to this personalization of power to become of more powerful.
 
And yes, the work of Kipling is a fitting reminder to us all.
 
Nothing can change the nature of life. Not even popularity can take away the centrality of truth. No one can fully possess power. No politics of predetermination will last a lifetime.
 
As we commemorate this month the bravery of the late Senator Benigno Aquino Jr, and the fallen heroes of our country, let us be reminded similarly, lest we forget, that heroism involves also our commitment to truth, life, shared power, and freedom as politics. That to be a hero—a daring truth bearer, firm defender of the truth, constant lover of life and unbridled individual—means not just to have the willingness to offer one’s life as means to a higher end that usually involves the general public. To be hero, most importantly, should mean having that commitment to advance and deepen our sense of the truth, respect of life, plurality in power, and freedom.
 
Arjan Aguirre is an Instructor at the Department of Political Science, School of Social Sciences of the Ateneo de Manila University. He handles courses on Politics and Governance, History of Political Theory, Contemporary Political Theories, and Electoral Reforms in the Philippines.