Let’s again focus on this brilliant quote often attributed to U.S. First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt, about people, events and ideas:
It apparently means small people talk wild gossip and rumors about people (who they are likely backstabbing). Average people talk about events that they just observe, without any desire to change anything. Really intelligent people talk about ideas that they hope to apply to change things. I have personally understood it in another way: when things work, there is success or goodness happens, it is not because of people, but because of ideas.
Yes, this will be a sort of rant, with misanthropic undertones, but I’ll put some real ideas into it. I can’t understand it when people say, oh, people are so beautiful, oh they are so awesome, how lovely the beauty of people, they make the world beautiful! I can’t figure out what these guys are on. I would say people are also the source of atrocities and ugliness. That’s why I dared express the thesis that we shouldn’t “celebrate,” “appreciate” or “like” people just off the bat. I say it’s overrated because it leads to starstruck ignoramus idol-worshipping and our bloated egos. While not exclusive to the Philippines, it is certainly something that our culture seems to embrace as an intrinsic part.
A prevailing notion from olden times is that people’s actions are an extension of their fundamental selves. I forget what it’s called; perhaps you can call it natural attribution. Basically, a person does good or evil things because they are fundamentally or “naturally” good or evil, i.e. they are “born” good or evil. For example, when a person does beautiful things, we tend to call them a “beautiful person.” And we assume that the person’s personalities or characters are permanent and cannot change. This is why, when a person thought good murders someone, others will say, “I can’t believe that he did that, he was such a nice guy.” And when we see a person who likes to make amends for something wrong they did, we tend to disbelieve, because we assume his evil nature is permanent. It could also be used for things like talents. And so I butchered such things in my previous articles about “natural” talents and bloodlines. Such things are wrong beliefs that keep us from doing the right changes to our behavior. They are also why we tend to embrace personalities instead of platforms for politicians.
Doing good or evil is not the product of intrinsic natures. It is the product of will, and human will can transcend nature. Character and personality are not really “natural;” they are intentional, or in Tagalog, sinasadya. Using their will, people have the power to control their reaction to stimuli and influences, and change themselves. Unfortunately, they refuse to. People may use the idea of natural attribution as an excuse for their unwillingness to change. A person who likes to hit people when he’s angry will say, “I’m always like that.” That is likely an aspect of unwillingness to take responsibility for one’s own actions as well. One thing that keeps them from doing so is their vanity.
Hannah Arendt with her Banality of Evil concept explains that it does not take special traits to become evil. It also dispels the idea that a person can be naturally good or evil. A person who loves saving kittens from trees could be fond of raping and murdering human toddlers. Murderous people like Adolf Hitler or Pol Pot might have given some bread to a vagrant or made a child happy at times. Character is based on decisions, not “nature.” Again, the quote from Batman Begins rings true: it is not what you are, but what you do that defines you.
Celebration of the person is used by our politicians to prop themselves up. For example, vice president-elect Leni Robredo is seen by many as a “nice person.” She often has photo-ups of taking the bus, so we’re supposed to believe she is a “nice person” because of this. It has led to a considerable personality cult around her. But what if, for example, she says no one will be removed or fired from the international airport because of the laglag-bala racket? What if she protects corrupt officials in office? Then she stops being a “nice person,” doesn’t she? Same with a man who people know as meek and hardworking during the day, but after he drinks with friends at night, he turns into a monster and beats his wife and children. Is he a “nice person” by day but “monster by night?” Obviously, these are not a result of “natural selves,” but decisions.
Other cases I would mention include the famed “blade-runner” Oscar Pistorius, who was an inspiration to many by being a runner despite his legs having been amputated in an early age. However, any impression that he is “naturally good” must have been erased when he shot his girlfriend, Reeva Steenkamp, in 2013. Another case is German New Age musician Oliver Shanti. While he created many beautiful musical works, he was convicted in 2009 for child sexual abuse. There are also controversial psychological experiments, like the Stanley Milgram obedience experiment and the Stanford Prison Experiment by Philip Zimbardo, which may have proven that even “fundamentally good” people could turn evil at the drop of a hat.
I thus imply that “natural” good or evil is a wrong concept, as the same person is capable of both good and evil actions at different times. I call for the dropping of this obsolete belief that one’s “nature” is permanent and unchangeable. As I said, this leads to people being stubborn, as well as being starstruck ignoramuses of others. The fantards believe that the traits of people they admire are natural, they are more likely to be stricken with mindless admiration for these (going along, of course, with the desire to mooch on these objects of admiration). This is very clear in showbiz and politics.
My sentiment is that people who are concerned with “celebration of the person” and “beauty” are wrapped up in their conceit and overinflated egos. I know people seek affirmation from the world that they are beautiful or something. They post on their Facebook profiles selfies saying “woke like this,” or will just flatly say, “Lukatmi, I’m beautiful!” They probably buy into silly motivational ideas suggest things like looking into the mirror and saying to yourself, “I’m beautiful,” to boost confidence. So when they go outside, they may demand that other people say the same thing to her, otherwise they scream insults. Not to mention they backstab people who disagree with her. Nothing beautiful about them even if they have beauty queen looks. They’re among of the reasons people like me stay misanthropic introverts. Sometimes you need to go against them, and say no when they demand flattery from you.
This is what commercialism takes advantage of. Just a look around confirms how mass media and popular culture have been helping bloat our egos. We are only concerned with “appearing beautiful” (and “positive!”), but our actions and practices in life become ugly. All the vanity is used as a smokescreen to keep us from actually doing the right things in life, including fixing our faults.
Along with our egoistic culture, it turns us into KSP zombies seeking “acceptance” that is actually flattery (in Tagalog, bola!). Instead of being responsible, we become narcissistic. Popular culture is so filled with this attitude, and it even sugar-coats this as “appreciation” of people. But it is actually anything but appreciation. It is actually commercialized idolatry. As a result, we spend so much on products meant to make us “beautiful,” but all they do is drain our wallets. Putting lipstick on a pig or polishing a turd can be expensive; but it will never work.
Thus, we go to my thesis: we should not celebrate people, but rather, what they do. It is like the saying, separate the sin from the sinner. Likewise, separate the good deed from the do-gooder. When people do good or bad, it says nothing about their personalities or “how great they are.” It’s just a clue to what they may be capable of doing in the future based on current and past decisions. You can’t just leave it to “nature.”
OK, so I might get flak from the people who say “people are naturally good!” They might even accuse me of trying to promote violence by denying the good in people. If I deny the goodness in people, I am the one making them bad. But is that how it really works? Our thoughts can affect other people? We all like to believe we are good people. But are we really? We should be careful, because when we make mistakes, but still feel we are ‘good,’ we tend to deny our mistakes. That would be hubris, not goodness. By accepting that our decisions form our character, we make it easier for ourselves to change for the better.
People can improve themselves using their will, once they have blown away the smokescreens. Filipinos should throw away the old notions about being “naturally beautiful” and should work to be “beautiful in action.” “Nature” is no excuse to avoid change. Humans have this fascination with permanence, especially when the smoke and mirrors produce “good feelings” or “sarap ng buhay.” We have to break up the smoke and mirrors. This might raise enraged retorts of “you’re ruining our happiness,” but it’s better to firm up and show to their faces that their happiness is fake.
But am I saying we should stop being nice to people? That would be a strawman argument. I am against liking people and putting them on a pedestal for no reason. But as I did say before, do you need to like people to be nice to them? That’s the problem with our society: the idea that you should be nice only to people you like (or know) is the creator of dickheads and asshole behavior. In other words, that is selective behavior. You should be courteous to and respect people even if you don’t like them or don’t know them, and that is the mark of a decent and healthy society. Otherwise, we are no different than rats making their living off a trash dump.
So back to the saying attributed to Mrs. Roosevelt; I would say faith in people is misplaced. It’s ideas that make the world go round. While people indeed give birth to ideas, ideas take a life of their own, especially when they are recognized as principles that consistently work the same way no matter who else applies them. For example, the golden rule remains true no matter who says it. What I said above, that ego deceives us into believing we are good when we’re really acting like maggots is another idea that remains true anywhere. Another thing about ideas, is, while people die, ideas last.
Truly confident people do not try to look for the appreciation or approval of others. They will be excited to share their idea or creation and talk about it. But they won’t point to themselves, they will point to the idea. Because they understand, it’s not all about themselves, it’s all about the idea.
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- Unmuddling the Issue of How One Should See the Poor - June 2, 2018