Writing on Air

Writing on Air by Jim Paredes


In a cult-like trance

Posted on May 01, 2016 by jimparedes

In a cult-like trance
HUMMING IN MY UNIVERSE By Jim Paredes (The Philippine Star) | Updated May 1, 2016 – 12:00am

If you have wondered during this election season why certain friends and family members have startled you with their choice of candidate, you are not alone. Sometimes I wonder how once reasonable, decent women and men seem to suddenly defy reason and logic, and have even changed their demeanor from pleasant and mild-mannered to aggressive and hostile. Are they in some trance that makes them defy their previously held values in favor of the values of their chosen leader? How is it that they react violently to any kind of criticism of their candidate? Is there some kind of political infatuation playing out? Is there a “cult” culture developing here?

Some things I have noticed from my interactions with many of them:

They have a sudden strong, unquestioning commitment to their leader. The leader is defiant, strong-willed, domineering. He is practically adored as a deity. They imitate his traits. They, too, suddenly become aggressive. They will defend him to the death. They elevate him to mythical status.

Questioning or pointing out facts that go against their leader is discouraged within their ranks. When people outside the group make a questioning or critical statement, the members pounce on him, threaten and insult the dissenter, as if he was a dangerous man. How dare anyone question their dear leader?

Millennials are the most vulnerable and impressionable to this kind of candidate. They love his words, his bravado and braggadocio, and subconsciously reject any character issues their leader may have. Often, they become his apologists. When they cannot defend an outright wrong move or utterance, they accuse the other side of any issue, to try and turn the tables and put his opponents on the defensive. Often, they counter with the accusation by waving the flag, saying that unlike their candidate, his critics have not done anything for the country.

They set very high standards for his opponents, accusing them of tiny faults, making mountains out of molehills. But for their leader, they do not require such standards.

What I do not understand is how many of them have completely and conveniently turned their backs on beliefs and values they used to hold as ethical and moral to defend and justify their leader’s behavior and attitude. It is as though they have lost their moral compass. They rationalize this by saying their candidate is just being “real.”

In a cult, no one questions where the money comes from or how it is spent. No one demands an accounting lest he or she be accused of doubting the leader or subverting the group.

They have become fact-resistant. Real evidence is completely ignored or denied. Mistakes, blunders made by their leader are given a new spin to make them seem okay.

This type of leader likes to scare his followers with doomsday scenarios and proclaim himself as their savior, the answer to all their fears. He exaggerates the problem and spins a simplistic solution, claiming that he alone can provide it. He makes general statements with no details, but their belief in him is so total, no one questions him about specifics.

His strategy is polarization where he can exploit the tribal fear of “them versus us.” Thus, the constant need to create enemies.

His followers live and feed on memes and lies that they themselves create.

Such a leader is necessarily anti-authority (excepting his own). He does not believe in sharing power or being accountable to anyone. He threatens anyone who stands in his way in exercising complete and absolute power.

The followers of this type of leader are now unrecognizable to their friends and family because they seem to have suddenly changed personalities. They have become the mirror image of their leader. They have surrendered themselves totally to him. They have established an emotional, psychological bond. The leader now validates their new identity.

Writer M. Scott Peck defined evil as “the militant denial of the light.” I do not think all of the followers of such a leader are necessarily evil. And I’m not making any conclusions about anyone specific. But people I know and love seem to be in a trance. Like the followers of Jim Jones in Jonestown, they seem to have drunk the Kool-Aid, and the vitriol, threats and pure hate coming from them is not their real selves talking.

2 to “In a cult-like trance”

  1. Nicky Franco says:

    Hi. Something i wrote for the office. I’m @HoR_102 on Twitter

    Yolanda. Zamboanga siege. Mamasapano. MRT3. DAP/pork barrel. Tanim bala. Traffic. SSS pension. Taxes. Balikbayan boxes. Kidapawan. Sec. Abaya. Comm. Henares. Sec. Jasareno. Sec. Alcala. Etcetera, etc., etc. Filipinos have heard and seen all of these in the news for the past 6 years. Filipinos read about it over and over again in their social media feeds. All legitimate issues. All things to be angry about. All things that trend on Twitter and FB. Too bad people cannot see the good things that are happening to the country.

    •Foreign direct investment more than tripled from $1.9B in 2009 to over $6.0B last year.
    •Foreign tourists increased over 80% from 3.0m in 2009 to 5.2m last year.
    •The country’s ranking for competitiveness, ease of doing business, etc. have vastly improved over the past 5+ years.
    •Unemployment has fallen below 6% from 8% during PGMA’s term. Underemployment has also improved.
    •GDP growth has averaged 6.2% in the past 22 quarters, much higher than the trend growth of 4%-5% in the previous three administrations.
    •Passage of the sin tax law which has: 1) lowered smoking incidence and 2) increased funding for Philhealth which now covers more than 90% of Filipinos from -% during PGMA’s term.
    •The DPWH has built more linear kilometers of roads in 5+ years, and at lower cost (despite inflation), than the past three administrations combined.
    •The lack of classrooms and textbooks has largely been addressed. K-12 has been painful but it was a necessary step.
    •Inflation has been very low. PH 1.2%, MAL 2.6%, INDO 4.5%, IND 4.8%.
    •Interest rates on bank loans (5.25% housing loan) and even pawn loans are at their lowest levels ever.
    •Coverage of CCT or 4Ps has more than quintupled from 0.8m families at the end of Arroyo’s term to 4.4m families at present. This has led to healthier kids who graduate at higher rates.
    •Irrigation has improved significantly.
    •Armed Forces/Police have proper gear and equipment.
    •Motor vehicle ownership (both cars and motorcycles) have nearly doubled in the past 5 years on higher incomes and low interest rates.
    •Small businesses, especially restaurants, have been popping up left and right.
    •People obviously have money to spend, look at all the high end brands that have come to the country in the last few years.
    •Poverty is down, even in the provinces. Haven’t you noticed how hard it is to get maids nowadays?
    •Disaster preparedness has been improved.
    •Secs. Singson, Jimenez, Villanueva, del Rosario.

    The list can go on but nobody seems to care. People get angry about the MRT which is used daily by less than 0.5% of the population and forget about the far greater number of people who are benefiting from better roads all over the country. There is so much angst about Pnoy’s veto of the SSS pension hike and yet there is very little acknowledgment of the now nearly universal coverage of Philhealth. The DAP was dissected in minute detail but nobody appreciates the increased budget allocation for education, infrastructure and social services.

    F. Sionil Jose, in an interview, said that the Duterte vote is the vote of the angry Filipino. I totally agree with this. But why the boiling rage? Why would so many voters put someone as flawed as Duterte onto the highest pedestal in the land? Why the absolute lack of civility, especially in online discourse? Several reasons come to fore.

    First, media has been unfair. Good news never gets to the front page, if at all. Good news is hardly on broadcast TV news, if at all. One station, in particular, no longer just reports news but injects opinion that is often negative. This same station has the habit of sensationalizing news in order to drive up ratings. On the other hand, even if good news lands on the news, it is often given a negative spin (e.g. annual FDI has tripled but it is still among the lowest in Asean). The constant barrage of bad news has shaped public opinion.

    Second is social media. In a study (http://bit.ly/26DcU9r), Facebook was found to be making its users narrow minded. Why? This is because users “simply seek out views that align with their opinions”. Parallel to this, people hardly go beyond what is trending on social media. Since nothing good ever becomes sensationalized in the news, nothing good ever trends and seldom gets into our social media feeds. In the Philippine context, therefore, since what everyone reads and watches is all negative, social media has become the crucible in which all this anger has been forged.

    Third, Pnoy has made mistakes. He likely underestimated the impact of the MRT3 issue and he could have probably invested more in its improvement. His unwavering loyalty to unpopular cabinet members has cost him dearly in the court of public opinion. He is not perfect but what has made it worse is his apparent lack of empathy. But remember, here is a man who was forced to be the man of the house at 12 years old when his dad was incarcerated during martial law. Here is a man who whose father was assassinated. Here is a man who nearly lost his life, and who still has a bullet in his neck, while rushing back to Malacañang in order to try and protect his mother. In all likelihood, here is a man who was probably forced to lock up his emotions in order to keep himself sane.

    Lastly, is the “advent” of Duterte himself. He’s a crass, politically incorrect but smart politician who has been able to channel all the anger and frustration. Many Filipinos feel empowered by his irreverence and project themselves unto him believing that he is the magic pill who will cure all their ills. The people are out for blood and they have found their executioner.

    In our business, discipline is key. We always value the importance of a trading system. But replacing Pnoy with Duterte would be the worst ever example of revenge trading. He does not have a plan beyond killing all criminals without due process. He has not mentioned any potential cabinet appointment. He has threatened to close Congress if legislators get in his way. He was himself in Davao and that’s fine. He can’t be who he is in Malacanang. The whole world will be watching. I know very few will agree. But what if I’m right? In the end, everyone will suffer.

    Don’t vote out of anger. Make the switch. Anybody but Duterte.

  2. (Please use) MG says:

    So true sir. Your words ring a sad toll. I too cannot understand why relatives and friends have embraced beliefs that they would have rebuked not long ago. I am reminded about how Nazism and Hitler gave rise to a rabid German populace who even found it hilarious to exterminate people. Heaven forbid our worst nightmare from happening.

    But God’s grace and our Holy Mother’s intervention have created miracles for the Filipinos even against impossible odds. I pray for this.



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