The trouble with politicians is that they spend an inordinate amount of time propping up their reputations. Because of this obssessive focus on reputation, the inclination to lie, misrepresent facts, and downright suppress information becomes a lot more powerful — which is why politicians lie. What if we propose the ideal hypothetical politician, one who cares not about his reputation but wields vast influence over the masses nonetheless. Indeed there are many existing live models out there to choose from.
Paris Hilton is one example. She’s a woman most parents wouldn’t want their daughters to grow up to be. Yet she has an immense following. Her fans not just want to follow her, they want to be her. Because Paris Hilton does not lead a “moral” life, she attracts a lot of derision and criticism. But does she give the slightest hoot about all that? By all accounts no. She just continues being herself and makes no apologies.
Rock stars are an even better example. Their sheer talent and charisma outshines any kind of sordid past (or present) and any sort of unsavory way they routinely behave. Ozzy Osbourne once bit a bat’s head off before a live audience. He makes no apologies about that. His fans continue to love him. Jimi Hendrix and Bon Scott both died by choking on their own vomit while passed out after bingeing on drugs and alcohol. Today they are revered hall-of-famers.
Closer to home there is presidential sister Kris Aquino. Many Filipinos refer to her as the STD Queen thanks to persistent rumours of having caught an embarrassing bug from former boyfriend Joey Marquez. A hoax headline news report once screamed “Overflowing STD virus from Kris Aquino caused a stink at NAIA-1”. People did not believe it of course. Or did they? Suffice to say, the hoax — or perhaps the humour behind it — resonated so powerfully across Philippine society that it prompted the GMA News network to issue a “disclaimer”. Nonetheless Kris Aquino’s bankability as a mighty opinion-shaper worth millions of pesos to advertisers and markers remains undented. Filipino fans love her. Kris need not make apologies for her transgressions — because she is routinely forgiven by her legions before the fact.
Politicians, in contrast, have lots to apologise for. Yet they don’t — even if they have to. That’s because their reputations — costing fortunes and often lives to cultivate — more often than not come in conflict with the truth. Because they have a lot to hide, their reputations are as fragile as a house of cards. A single one of the spindly pillars holding it up can be flicked off and the whole edifice crumbles. For such poor sods, no less than a glass dome needs to be built around their public personas to protect these from the slightest breeze while making sure that high visibility is retained. What a way to lead a life. Imprisoned within one’s own vanity.
The venerable bestselling author Nassim Taleb said: “You may never know what type of person someone is unless they are given opportunities to violate moral or ethical codes.” Lay everything on the table and your critics cannot touch you. You become “anti-fragile” is what Taleb basically says.
It is ironic that many politicians fail to take this simple bit of wisdom on board. Perhaps they do not have to. Many of them are second-generation politicians — children of former politcians — who grew up in environments where outward appearances rank far above the virtues of robust substance and sound consistency often found only on the inside. As such, deceit and showmanship is a complete way of life for them. That plus the reality that they possess vast resources to mask the stinking rot within them with the best perfumes.
But as evident in the sad victims of plastic surgery addiction we like to gawk at on celebrity magazines, masking the truth can only go so far before things become hopelessly grotesque and twisted. When that happens to a once-revered celebrity, people — being the media sheep that they are — continue to applaud them or, at the very least, flash a polite smile in their presence.
It is ironic that popular rallying cries and slogans in Philippine politics and the adolescent “activism” that surrounds often involve statements that contain the word “truth” in them. Terms like “Truth Commission” and such nonsensical concepts like “truth advocacies” abound in the lingo of the politically-passionate. Filipinos claim that their actions and advocacies are motivated by a search for “the truth”. You gotta wonder, though. For a scene where the word “truth” is quoted in every other sentence that leaves the mouths of popular talking heads, there is very little of it to be seen.
Perhaps therein the over-use of the word “truth” lies the real truth about Filipinos — that they are an untruthful and inherently dishonest lot. When a person has to keep reminding you ad nauseum that she is telling the truth, all the more reason to doubt that said person is doing just that.
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