Fight the evil

Philippine Daily Inquirer - - OPINION - SOLITA COLLAS-MONSOD soli­ta_­mon­sod@ya­hoo.com

Take a look around you, Reader. You are more than likely to see men and women who are hon­est, up­stand­ing cit­i­zens, peo­ple who would go out of their way to help other peo­ple, to con­trib­ute to a good cause. And yet we are a coun­try de­scribed as one whose peo­ple have an in­her­ently flawed moral char­ac­ter, what with laws bro­ken with im­punity.

In­deed, our coun­try has also been de­scribed as dys­func­tional, with a cacique or a feu­dal sys­tem at the same time as we con­sider it a democ­racy. A coun­try which has ev­ery­thing it takes to be among the best­per­form­ing coun­tries in the world, yet has been over­taken by once-poorer neigh­bors (Thai­land, In­done­sia). A coun­try of peo­ple ac­tive in their faith and re­li­gion, and at the same time a coun­try which ranks 111th out of 173 coun­tries in terms of cor­rup­tion.

But then, trans­port our Filipino abroad, and she be­comes a model ci­ti­zen, pro­duc­tive and law-abid­ing, ap­pre­ci­ated by her em­ploy­ers and her neigh­bors. In other words, the morally flawed, dys­func­tional so­ci­ety dis­ap­pears with an air­plane ride.

Is there an ex­pla­na­tion for this seem­ing in­con­sis­tency?

So­cial psy­chol­o­gist Philip Zim­bardo (of the Stan­ford Prison Ex­per­i­ment) has devoted more than three decades of re­search on why peo­ple be­have the way they do. His 2007 best-sell­ing book, “The Lu­cifer Ef­fect: Un­der­stand­ing How Good Peo­ple Turn Evil,” of­fers us one.

He finds that peo­ple’s be­hav­ior are af­fected by cir­cum­stance rather than any in­nate set of val­ues—which kind of clar­i­fies why, in 2008, a na­tion was out­raged at Mar Roxas’ one sin­gle “P—ina,” while in 2016 and there- af­ter, Rody Duterte sprin­kles his speeches with “P—ina” like it was go­ing out of style.

Zim­bardo’s find­ing that peo­ple’s be­hav­ior are af­fected by cir­cum­stance rather than any in­nate set of val­ues has a corol­lary: that the line be­tween good and evil is not one hard, im­per­me­able line, where one stands on ei­ther side of that line and can there­fore be la­beled good or bad. The line is per­me­able, and Zim­bardo calls this the “ba­nal­ity of evil”: Un­der cer­tain cir­cum­stances and so­cial pres­sures, or­di­nary peo­ple can com­mit acts that would oth­er­wise be un­think­able.

What are these cir­cum­stances and so­cial pres­sures that grease the slip­pery slope to evil?

First is when we mind­lessly take the first small step (cheat­ing in small things). A se­cond so­cial process is when we de­hu­man­ize oth­ers, or think that they are in­fe­rior.

Third is when we dein­vid­u­ate our­selves, like when we are in a large group, so that there is phys­i­cal anonymity. Fourth is when there is dif­fu­sion of per­sonal re­spon­si­bil­ity—when one thinks he will not be held re­spon­si­ble. Fifth is blind obe­di­ence to au­thor­ity. Sixth is un­crit­i­cal con­form­ity to group norms.

The sev­enth is pas­sive tol­er­ance to evil through in­ac­tion or in­dif­fer­ence. Re­mem­ber, “all it takes for evil to tri­umph is for good peo­ple to do noth­ing.”

And that’s how or­di­nary, so-called good, God-fear­ing peo­ple can move from good to evil. And that is a bet­ter ex­pla­na­tion for why we are where we are now, than some crap about a moral or cul­tural flaw.

So, then, is the Philip­pines damned for all time to be­ing a bas­ket case? The an­swer, sup­plied by Zim­bardo again, is NO. Not by a long shot.

Be­cause the flip side of the ba­nal­ity of evil is the ba­nal­ity of hero­ism. Just as or­di­nary peo­ple can com­mit un­think­able acts, or do noth­ing when they are com­mit­ted, so, too, can or­di­nary peo­ple, and even so-called “bad” peo­ple, per­form heroic acts—which means tak­ing ac­tion, rather than pas­sive ac­cep­tance, and do­ing it for oth­ers.

So, Reader, we are faced three Paths: Path 1: Be an ac­tive per­pe­tra­tor of evil in this coun­try (and join some politi­cians we all know). Path 2: Do noth­ing, and let evil tri­umph, which is why the Philip­pines is where it is. Or, Path 3: Fight the evil.

And to those well-mean­ing friends and loved ones who urge us not to get in­volved, to just mind our own busi­ness, to keep our heads low, we must give this as an an­swer: The Philip­pines is MY busi­ness. “I am only one, but I am one. I can­not do ev­ery­thing, but I can do some­thing. What I can do, I ought to do, and with the grace of God, I will do it.”

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