02/24/2017

Is it possible for us to be civil with each other?

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During the new edition launch of The Conjugal Dictatorship of Ferdinand and Imelda Marcos, professor and historian Jo-Ed Tirol said that two wars were currently taking place in this country: “One is the war on drugs. But the bigger one, actually, the more long-term one, is the war on memory.”

This was something he would often tell his students, he said. That social memory is malleable, and that the consequences of losing the second war would be far greater than losing the first. “I tell my students,” he repeated, throughout his out-of-the classroom lecture, because he knew the full weight of his discipline: to preserve the integrity of memory, when passing it on from his generation to the next. To persuade.

A digression: before the rise of fascism started becoming extremely apparent here and overseas, the general consensus was that millennials didn’t have a national crisis to call their own. Generation Y-related discourse, at least the hackneyed side of it, was limited to laziness and the advent of social media. Somehow, this kind of discussion still persists, what with the Simon Sineks of the world still clinging to the jeering image of participation trophies to put down a youth that inherited their generation’s ruin. What good does that do? I remember some of my teachers, the ones who told us we were the future, because they knew it was true. I remember a former editor who confessed that she and her husband actually bought how-to-handle-young-people type books so they could treat their new hires properly.

“We know the divide is real. So how do we engage in a conversation with one another?”

I’m more interested in the full-fledged adults who speak to us like friends. Thank you. We’re sorry. We understand. I want to be like them. They’re kind. This is partly why it’s so frustrating to see friends of the same generation bicker.

“I apologize to my students if my generation was not able to continue the fight of our parents’ generation,” Tirol said in the Yuchengco auditorium, addressing a partly millennial press. “But because it is one story — our story — thank you for taking up the cudgels, because we do not want lies to win. Ever.”

For those curious, the working label for the ones coming after us is Generation Z. One of my favorite nicknames for them is “The Founders,” meaning they’ll know what to build over whatever evil we manage to destroy. They’ll be smart enough. They can handle the rest. Sure, their moment seems far, but if the 20-year split for generational distinction is true, then the kids born in the year 2000 are already falling in love, popping their pimples, going to prom, and slow-dancing to Kehlani. 2017, man.

I think of Tirol, a man who has worked to devise a comprehensive martial law curriculum that can be taught in schools, saying sorry. I think I’m going to end up saying sorry some years down the line for being uppity, condescending, and quick to ridicule and condemn people who don’t really know better, the kind I’m around all the time. Maybe that kind of behavior bleeds into aging. Irrational as it sounds, I fear some of us, filled to the brim with outrage and good intentions, might end up becoming the grumpy curmudgeons we relish cutting down now. I mean, some of us are throwing non-constructive shade against kids who get most of their political savvy from Tumblr, just to look cool. Why? This is one way to lose the memory war.

“I want us to win. I want us to walk our talk, and in effect walk the talk of generations before us.”

I want to say to our future children that we beat the enemy easily. That was certainly how it sounded whenever my parents told me stories about martial law, in the same tone someone uses when they tell you about a skydiving trip. But that’s not how it works. My friends and I are learning that dissent doesn’t come with a rulebook, not really. There are elements to it that you learn right on the field — nuances that take more delicate engagement than, say, outright hate speech or harassment, which we always have to come down hard on. Barring that, what is the science of breaking someone out of their confirmation biases? What do we make of “woke” posturing and intellectual pissing contests? What’s the proper etiquette for unified resistance? Yes, we’re many. Yes, we’re doing what we can to stick it to the man. And yes, there will always be a time and place for righteous venom and vitriol. I’m not asking for us to hold hands and sing Kumbayah around a campfire. But I don’t know if we’re doing everything we can to get more voices and bodies on our team.

I remember speaking to a friend, a couple years ago, about the work he was doing for LGBT rights. He said he wasted no time trying to convert those much older, the ones beyond cognitive hope. Instead he focused on younger, more open and impressionable minds. Children. There’s a wisdom to that, narrowing your aim for better shots. But maybe we have to broaden our definition of “young and impressionable minds” beyond kids who still wear towels for capes. Maybe we have to include some of our friends our own age, who still think apathy is cool, who shy away from the messiness of politics, who fancy themselves as agents of chaos for not riding the wave of outrage. Maybe we have to adjust our rhetorical strategies for whoever it is we’re talking to.

I want us to win. I want us to walk our talk, and in effect walk the talk of generations before us. I want to pass our stories down without having to say sorry, because we’ve got so many of our friends on our team. I don’t know if this is reasonable to ask for, when there’s so much pressure to be perfect and airtight and clean. But we can try. See you at the Saturday rally. Bring a friend. Try to bring an enemy.

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