Author Archives | Dustin Celestino

The Problem with “Poverty Porn”

I watched a few films during the Cinemelaya festival. I really enjoyed most of them (First ko si Third, The Janitor, Dagitab, Lolo Me), but there was one movie in particular that stood out for me, and not in a good way: “Children’s Show.”

The movie was about two minors, brothers, who had to train MMA-style combat skills because they were part of an underground child-fighting ring. That premise, by itself, would have made for an engaging movie. However, because of the makers’ inability to turn the premise into a story, they ended up just dumping one misfortune after another on top of the premise.

The makers decided that the siblings needed a mom who killed herself, an alcoholic dad, and some brain injury related hallucinations. The older of the siblings also had to have a girlfriend who had a miscarriage, and also had to stab his own father to death, at some point. Finally, the younger brother had to lose a leg due to some injury caused by the alcoholic father, and had to contemplate suicide, because, you know, that’s what one-legged people do. The decision to add more misery to an already miserable duo turned an otherwise sympathetic story of child fighters into a couple of Mary Sues – characters created for an audience to pity, rather than empathize with.

What was the movie about? In my opinion, the movie was “supposed” to be about kids who literally fight to survive. But what it became about is two kids that the universe decided to torture with every tragedy at its disposal.

It was poverty porn.

Childrens ShowIn “Children’s Show,” the characters seem to have been robbed of any chance for improvement. There was nothing any of the characters could have done, there was no decision the characters could have made, to significantly affect where the story was headed.

Similarly, Emily Roenigk, in the article “5 Reasons poverty porn empowers the wrong person,” writes, “Poverty porn objectifies its subjects, defining them by their suffering and stripping them of the vital components of all human life – agency, autonomy and unlimited potential.”

Although its entirely possible that there’s a child fighter somewhere that has an alcoholic father, a suicidal mother, a one-legged younger brother, a girlfriend who had a miscarriage, head-injury-related hallucinations, and a dead former-alcoholic father that he killed, it’s not an accurate representation of the “norm.” In other words, it’s an extreme example.

Ali Heller wrote about this tendency to feature extreme cases. In the article, “The Race to the Bottom and the Superlative Sufferer,” Heller asks, “Why do we need the superlative of suffering?  Why must we highlight the extreme cases when the norm is bad enough?”

I don’t want to completely disparage this movie. I’m sure it was made with good intentions. In fact, supporters of the movie might argue that the sensationalizing of suffering for dramatic effect was done in order to effectively call attention to the problem.

The problem is poverty porn is not an effective strategy to deal with an issue.

In the article, “Poverty porn: is sensationalism justified if it helps those in need?”, Glendora Meikle narrates her personal experience while working with women suffering from fistula (http://www.fistulafoundation.org/what-is-fistula/), as an aid-worker and as a journalist.

At Queens Hospital in Malawi, Meikle was collecting testimonials and stories for her advocacy work. The first patients she spoke to mentioned how their husbands were very supportive of them. Unfortunately, she felt that a fistula patient that had a supportive husband deviates from the CNN stereotype:

“A woman with a fistula, who is perpetually leaking urine and sometimes feces, is often rejected by her husband and shunned by her village because of her foul smell and inability to bear more children.”

The first few patients Meikle interviewed did not fit that particular profile. Meikle confesses that at that moment, she realized she was actively looking for women with worse cases, so she could come up with sadder stories. Meikle writes, “This is a difficult admission. That I deemed their situations not awful enough to merit attention means I had failed at a very human level: an inability to find a story in the quiet, unassuming lives of my fellow humans.”

In other words, Meikle recognized that she was unable to empathize with the average patient, because she was concerned with finding the perfect sob story for her project. Poverty porn has a similar effect. When only extreme cases of suffering are highlighted, it somehow trivializes the struggle of the not-so-extreme cases, despite both cases being worthy of our attention.

In “Children’s Show,” even if the younger child fighter did not have an alcoholic father, or a mother who committed suicide, or an amputated limb, his struggle is still worthy of our attention, because children should not be punching and kicking for their survival. Unfortunately, the main point of the movie was overshadowed by all the other drama.

Meikle ends her article with an epiphany that, in my humble opinion, can help both makers of film and literature portray suffering properly:

“The truth is that we don’t necessarily crave high drama in our stories. We just like them well told. It isn’t an easy fix (partly because I don’t think the best writers would work for non-profit wages) but if there is one thing that connects humans the world over, it is stories. We’ve just got to do a better job of telling them, so that the voices that emerge are not ours, but theirs.”

 

Image Source:http://www.cinemalaya.org/sites/default/files/poster_0.jpg

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Robin Williams is Not Guilty of Suicide

Robin Williams committed suicide, but he should be free of any guilt or blame. What I’m trying to say is, Robin Williams did not commit a moral injustice by ending his own life, because suicide is not immoral.

robin-williams

Suicide is Not Immoral

The negative moral implication of suicide is based on a religious idea that was inspired by old superstitions. The Judeo-Christian notion that “life was a gift from God” meant that destroying one’s own life, would be akin to throwing away a divine gift, or, essentially “dissing” God. Suicide guilt, for the most part, belongs to the believer.

However, suicide is neither a moral issue, nor a selfish act.

In his work, “On Suicide and On the Immortality of the Soul,” David Hume argues that, despite the fact that suicide is a one-step solution to end all suffering, people don’t do it because of their fear to offend god. In addition to that, people naturally fear death. Because of these reasons, it’s difficult to evaluate the implications of voluntary death without negative bias. In his work, Hume attempts to objectively examine the common arguments against suicide to show that a person who commits suicide should be free from guilt or blame.

The article “Can It be Right Commit Suicide?” further examines Humes position:

“A common argument against suicide is that it is selfish and harms the people and society that are left behind. For Hume, a man does no harm in committing suicide, but merely ceases to do good. Even assuming that he is under an obligation to do good, this obligation comes to an end once he is dead. And even if it does not, and he is under a perpetual obligation to do good, this must not come at the expense of greater harm to himself—at the expense of prolonging a miserable existence because of some ‘frivolous advantage that the public may perhaps receive’. In some cases a man may have become a burden to society, and so may actually do the most good by committing suicide. In such cases, Hume argues, committing suicide is not only morally neutral but morally good.”

Suicide is Not Selfish

Robin Williams was not selfish for choosing to die, because he was under no obligation to remain alive. Still there are comments here and there about how Mr. Williams deprived people of his talent; that he chose not to add to his already impressive list of contributions to comedy and cinema.

What is overlooked is the fact that, as an audience, we are not entitled to Mr. Williams’ talent. Mr. Williams is under no obligation to remain alive for our sake, if remaining alive caused him great harm. It’s not the suicides who are selfish, it’s us.

Suicide is not something I would encourage anyone to commit.

If my girlfriend, Patricia, for example, hints at suicide, I will do everything I can to prevent her from committing suicide. But, honestly, I will prevent her suicide not because I think suicide is inherently wrong, but because I love her, and I would like to keep her in my life. However, I must also admit to a human flaw:

“When I obligate my loved ones to stay alive, despite having no knowledge of how much suffering they’re going through, I am being selfish.”

Suicide is Not Irrational

A lot of people question suicide, as if it was an irrational act. But suicide is not a failure of logic or reason. In fact, as a concept, it is quite logical.

A few years ago, I contemplated suicide because I felt irrelevant and unhappy. I felt that whether I was alive or dead, was of little consequence. I found it difficult to justify the importance of my existence. I also felt an overwhelming sense of absurdity:

“What’s the point of all this hassle (going to work, commuting, falling-in-line, arguing, getting sick, overcoming illness, enduring pain, etc.) if we’re all going to die anyway? Wouldn’t it be more rational to skip all the hassle and pain part, and just fast-forward to my ultimate ending?”

Suicides are no less logical than those who don’t commit suicide. I didn’t commit suicide not because I was more moral, more ethical or more rational than someone who has. I believe I didn’t commit suicide simply because I have not gone through the same suffering that they have.

What We Don’t Know About Suicide

No one can make a moral judgment about suicide because it’s not a moral issue. No one can accuse suicides of selfishness, because suicide is not an ethical issue. No one can accuse suicides of irrationality, because suicide is not a failure of reason (unless it’s done for 72 virgins).

According to psychologytoday.com, “Psychiatrists believe that more than 90 per cent of cases of suicide are not the result of a rational decision (the so-called ‘rational suicide’), but of mental disorder.” That’s one fact about suicide that a lot of people don’t recognize – suicide happens because of depression, a mental disorder.

As the article, “What We Don’t Know About Suicide,” claims:

“Here is the grim fact about suicide: this is a health problem that claims 35,000 lives a year that we don’t understand, and that we are not trying hard enough to understand. We don’t know why people kill themselves, and that fundamental fact means that we are not very good at preventing tragedy.”

 

Image Source: http://uselesswarrior.files.wordpress.com/2010/06/robin-williams.jpg

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The Internet is Turning You into an Asshole

I become an asshole when I play online games with strangers. I happily curse at all my teammates, call them idiots, throw games on purpose to spite them, and tell both my teammates and the opposing team how I wish that they, along with all their relatives, die in a fire or of a plague.

It’s not just games though. Sometimes I would encounter an idiotic post by a stranger on reddit and it compels me to hurl insults at him. Sometimes I would see a YouTube video that features some form of idiocy or another, and I would use everything I’ve learned from years of creative writing classes to compose the most soul-destroying, suicide-inspiring, comment I can. That previous sentence is an exaggeration. I’ve never done that. However, I know people who have.

In any case, I’ve dealt my fair share of Internet venom. In fact, now that I’m writing this down, I kind-of feel bad about myself. I know that online flaming is unhealthy, and it’s unproductive, but I tend to do it anyway. There is just something about the Internet that turns people into assholes.

Just this month, I’ve encountered two interesting cases of unnecessary Internet vitriol.

There was an article from “the dailypedia” about a girl who sent her ex-boyfriend pictures of herself with a different guy. The girl wasn’t famous. Neither was the guy. However, it still went viral, because of how eager people are to swear and curse at strangers they’ve never met, and whose personal feud they have little knowledge of. There are over 200 comments posted on the article mostly consisting of remarks such as:

“Hahaha!!!Boom panext!!! Nagpapaka silverswan si ate… sawsawan bayan! Mga ganyang babae dapat pinag dadasal n lang…”

“ang babaeng mahilig sa seamen ay mahilig sa semen.”

“She deserve [sic] to be stoned to death!!”

Another article, from “techpinas,” mentions a deaf Filipino who was cyber-bullied because of his faulty grammar. Upon arriving home from school, 24-year-old Mininio Buhat, posted a simple status message about his day:

Deaf Pinoy Cyberbullied

A screen-grab was taken of his post, posted on Facebook, and people started making comments that range from insensitive remarks like, “Ito ang tunay na nakakanosebleed…” (“This is making my nose bleed), to more intense bashing like, “Sakit sa ulo basahin. Bigti na!” (“It’s giving me a headache to read this. Go hang yourself!”).

Thankfully, a certain Mike Sandejas, came to his rescue to inform people that the boy who wrote that “grammatically flawed” post was deaf.

There are a number of reasons why people are more prone to unnecessary aggression in online environments. In the article, “Why Is Everyone on the Internet So Angry?,” Natalie Wolchover and company discuss the social factors that provide the recipe for unwarranted hostility. In the article, Art Markman, a professor of psychology at the University of Texas at Austin, explains 3 factors that allow for online rudeness and aggression.

According to Markman:

“First, commenters are often virtually anonymous, and thus, unaccountable for their rudeness. Second, they are at a distance from the target of their anger — be it the article they’re commenting on or another comment on that article — and people tend to antagonize distant abstractions more easily than living, breathing interlocutors. Third, it’s easier to be nasty in writing than in speech, hence the now somewhat outmoded practice of leaving angry notes (back when people used paper).”

In the same article, the writers point to another asshole enabler: the media.

Rude television and radio hosts sometimes exhibit rude and aggressive behavior. I’ve heard radio hosts interrupt, insult, and even accuse their guests (many of them, public officials) on air. I’ve also heard radio Dj’s pretend to be experts on love, and call their guests “idiots” or “sluts.” Unfortunately, these attitudes are not corrected and are further legitimized by them having a private platform for their vitriol.

The article quotes Edward Wasserman, Knight Professor in Journalism Ethics at Washington and Lee University, on the effect of media on how people communicate:

“Unfortunately, mainstream media have made a fortune teaching people the wrong ways to talk to each other, offering up Jerry Springer, Crossfire, Bill O’Reilly. People understandably conclude rage is the political vernacular, that this is how public ideas are talked about.”

I’m not a mean person. I’d like to think of myself as rational. If I were asked to describe myself, nice would probably be one of the adjectives I use. However, like most people on the internet, I often become an asshole online.

There are scientific reasons why people become assholes online. However, discovering factors that enable negative behavior does not rationalize negative behavior. At the end of the day, if a person behaves like an asshole, despite any scientific reason, he should know that he’s being an asshole.

Acceptance is the first step to recovery. So, I invite all recovering Internet assholes to say this with me:

“I am [YOUR NAME] and I am an Internet asshole.”

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Watch Me Burn: Why the Fire Challenge Went Dangerously Viral

There have been a number of harmful and dangerous trends that had emerged from social media sites: planking, thigh gap, self-harm, etc. But there is something about the “fire challenge” that makes it truly unique.

When people starve themselves to adhere to an unattainable standard, the perfect thigh gap, they do so with a goal in mind – to be viewed as thin and attractive. When people go on dangerous diets, they do so because they want to be thin, not because they want to suffer.

When plankers ascend to dangerous heights to take silly pictures of themselves planking, they do so thinking that they’re not going to fall. They were not planning to fall and die. They know that they might fall, but they don’t plank for the purpose of falling.

But when you set yourself on fire, you know you will be on fire. You can’t pour flammable liquid on your body, light it with a lighter, while thinking “I will not burn.”

People should not pour flammable liquid on their bodies and set themselves on fire. They really shouldn’t. I can’t imagine a situation where setting yourself on fire would be a good idea. However, that’s exactly what’s been happening recently.

fire challengeThe fire challenge is getting more popular on multiple sites, mostly Facebook and YouTube. An article from the Bustle (http://www.bustle.com/articles/34669-the-facebook-fire-challenge-is-only-getting-more-popular-and-heres-why) mentions how many teens around the United States have been reported to have set themselves on fire.

According to the article, “Cases of teens taking on the challenge have been reported everywhere from Kansas City to Cape Girardeau, Missouri, and Miami’s Kendall Regional burn centers have received eight of these cases in a matter of days, including a boy who was just 11 years old. Kids have been using a variety of flammable liquids — a 12-year-old girl in Cape Girardeau was severely burned after someone poured perfume on her and lit her skin on fire — but the most popular has been rubbing alcohol.”

And the motive for setting oneself on fire? Facebook “likes” and YouTube views.

It’s crazy that teenagers are setting themselves on fire. However, there is an invisible culprit in this scenario – us, the audience. Why do “we,” as an audience, reinforce these behaviors by “liking” and viewing teenagers set themselves on fire?

The perverse desire that compels us to see a kid set himself on fire is the same human instinct that compels people to slow down and stare when they pass by a gruesome vehicular accident.

In the article, “Science of Rubbernecking” from salon.com, Eric G. Wilson explains morbid curiosity.

“Carl Jung, who founded, along with Freud, psychoanalysis, believed that we like to witness violence precisely because it, the watching, allows us to entertain our most destructive impulses without actually harming ourselves or others,” writes Wilson.

Both Jung and Freud have theories about the human compulsion for murder and suicide, as well as the desire for ruin. In Jung, this collection of urges and drives that represent everything we hate about ourselves is called “the shadow.” In Freud, it’s called the Thanatos Drive.

Both these terms tell a common story – human beings have an irrational, primal desire to blow up shit or set things on fire.

Unfortunately, doing those things would land us in jail. So, as a socially acceptable alternative, we watch other people set themselves on fire instead. It allows us to satisfy that desire without committing any crimes.

The fire challenge is not entirely irrational. It’s very logical, actually. These kids crave attention. They figured out that potential, permanent ruin excites people. Our morbid curiosity about the consequences of them setting themselves on fire, compel us to watch. We want to see what happens when things go wrong. Our morbid curiosity feeds them the attention they were craving.

To make matters worse, the fire challenge deeply is offensive to actual burn victims who did not set themselves on fire. In a YouTube video a burn victim talks about the fire challenge and how it affects her.

“Not a lot of people understand what I go through… how I live. I had no control over my car accident I wish I was never burned.” She continues, “I do suffer every single day due to the fire I lost body parts, my eye my nose my ear my arm. I can still do everything but that’s because I adapted and I learned but just to go and burn yourself on purpose because everyone else is doing it, What kind of sh*t is that?”

When a person burns, it’s not funny. Burning people and humor should not be freely associated with each other. Otherwise, more disturbing trends, like burning other people for shits and giggles – may emerge:

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Filipinos Need Sex Scandals

So, another scandal hit multiple media outlets this week.Paolo Bediones is reported to have allegedly starred in his own sex video. Who cares? Well… everyone, it seems. From the cigarette vendor around the block, to primetime news channels, everyone has a statement to make regarding whether or not:

scandal…it was really Paolo Bediones.

…there are ethical boundaries violated in the production of a private sex video.

…Paolo Bediones exhibited a superior skill-set of sex moves as compared to the other celebrities involved in scandals of a similar nature.

Seriously, why do so many people give a shit about this?

Let’s put a little bit of context on why this is surprising: Israel is currently bombing Gaza, Russia started a war with Ukraine, our own president just delivered a “State of the Nation Address,” and Filipinos are talking about a sex video.

At this point, it would be tempting to make a judgment about our nation and say that it’s just Filipinos being morons. However, that’s not always the case. Thankfully, we have science to rationally explain the irrational decision-making of many human beings. It’s comforting to think that, to some extent, there are socio-biological factors that could distort a human being’s priorities to such a degree as to prioritize sex scandals over anything else.

In an article published in The Atlantic called, “Why So Many People Care So Much About Others’ Sex Lives,” Cari Romm explains the evolutionary psychology behind human interest in private matters that doesn’t concern them.

According to the article, “In environments in which female economic dependence on a mate is higher, both a woman and her mate have a greater interest in maximizing paternity certainty. Because promiscuity undermines paternity certainty, both men and women should be more opposed to promiscuity by both sexes.”

In the Philippines, women are mostly economically dependent on men, and structures are in place to ensure the persistence of such a status quo. Many Filipinos still live by traditional gender roles that restrict a woman’s economic potential.

Therefore, in countries like the Philippines, both men and women are interested in maintaining a social order that penalizes sexual deviance, if only to improve paternity certainty. To simplify, Filipinos like hearing about sex scandals because it gives them an opportunity to create a stigma against sexual deviance and dissuade behaviors that may inspire doubts about paternity.

As Romm says:

“We’ve evolved to consider sex, the researchers argue, as a game of finite resources. For our ancestors, multiple sexual partners meant things could get knotty when it came to proving whose kids were whose. For women who depended on men for their livelihoods (and the livelihoods of their offspring), that uncertainty meant losing out on the support of their male partners. Bad news. For men, it meant investing in the well-being of children they hadn’t necessarily fathered. Also bad news.”

Filipinos talk about sex scandals and demonize people involved in them because of a desire to maintain a social order that guarantees paternity certainty. In other words, Filipinos are poor and fostering an environment that may help guarantee paternity certainty is a more pressing and primal concern to them than deaths in Gaza, a war in Europe, or the state of the Philippine nation.

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Haters are Going to Hate “50 Shades of Grey”

In the article, “To the women of America: 4 reasons to hate 50 Shades of Grey,” Matt Walsh recently called for the boycott of what he expects to be a terrible movie – 50 shades of grey. According to him you shouldn’t watch this movie because:

1. Because you aren’t stupid.
2. Because you don’t go for cynical, boring, corporate marketing ploys.
3. Because you’re a Christian (and the sex portrayed in the movie isn’t Christian sex).
4. Because you’re a feminist (and feminists “supposedly” abhor dominance).

fifty-shades-greyAccording to Walsh, “This is some very, very stupid material. It reads like a thesaurus procreated with a script from a soft core porn and then the baby fell into a vat of Lifetime Channel DVDs. My inner goddess is rolling her eyes, my inner brain is hurting.”

The reasons he provided for boycotting the movie, came with a number of what I perceive to be faulty notions (only stupid people enjoy stupid movies, any movie that isn’t “art” is not worth watching, feminists hate all forms of dominance, etc). But that’s beside the point. The point I’m trying to make is that, in all social circles, of varying intellectual capacity, there will always be people like Mr. Walsh.

We call them haters.

Haters can’t stand it when other people make movies about a premise they don’t like. Haters don’t like it when other people like things that they don’t. The movie, “50 Shades of Grey,” maybe crappy to haters, and the high-brow, intellectuals they hang out with, but is it really necessary to shame people who like things that haters don’t?

The hater attitude is common among critics and connoisseurs. They never fail to point out how their tastes and preferences are superior to yours, and they make you feel embarrassed or inadequate for not being able to tell the difference between cheap and expensive gin, or between good and bad poetry.

However, this attitude is not exclusive to them. It’s just as notorious in rational circles.Greta Cristina wrote about this in her article, “More Rational Than Thou: When Atheists Buy the “Straw Vulcan” Fallacy.”

In the article, Cristina discusses how she appreciates the rational community’s habit of calling out each other’s bullshit. She likes the fact that atheists and skeptics don’t have sacred cows. However, she’s annoyed that some atheists and skeptics make value statements on subjective concerns. In other words, atheists and skeptics have a tendency to treat subjective questions as if they were objective.

Cristina argues that when it comes to questions with definite answers, rationality is the best way to find out what those answers are. However, not all questions are about objective reality.

“Some questions are subjective. The answers aren’t the same for everybody. If you enjoy drinking/ sports/ fashion/ pets, then you do. If it’s true for you, then it’s true,” writes Cristina.

Even in philosophy, there’s a term for matters that are not within the domain of what can be explained, understood, evaluated, or analyzed using pure reason: arational, or non-rational. There are simply situations in life where people do things for no other reason than, “it makes them happy.” If one commits an sub-optimal decision, based on a preference, its not evidence for how their rationality has failed them.

For example, Cristina writes, “I could make pragmatic arguments in favor of pet ownership: there’s some evidence that it reduces stress, and so on. But that’s not really relevant. Even if none of that stuff were true, I would still own cats. They make me happy. And when I’m talking about my own personal happiness, the subjective evaluation is the only one that matters.”

However, subjective evaluation should not be applied to all concerns. Rationality should still be applied to questions concerning what’s real and what isn’t; for example – the existence of God. Based on the same logic, that of subjective evaluation, people might begin to claim, “If my religion is true for me, then it’s true.” Well, unfortunately, it’s not.

Cristina explains:

“The question of whether God or the supernatural exists is not a subjective question of what’s true for us personally. It’s an objective question of what’s literally true in the real, non-subjective world. Any given god either exists, or doesn’t. And when it comes to questions of objective reality, rationality is the best tool we have for understanding it.”

In other words, it’s okay to challenge the rationality of people who think that evolution is not real, because there is overwhelming evidence to support evolution. However, it’s not okay to challenge the rationality of people who enjoy reading “50 Shades of Grey,” because the value of the book is based on a person’s subjective preferences, not on objective, observable facts. Even if there was a standard that judged that “50 Shades of Gray” was an objectively terrible book, with objectively terrible dialogue, it wouldn’t be irrational to read it and enjoy it, if that was the sort of thing you liked.

I guess, regardless of which circle we come from, we all need the self-awareness to identify when we’re making a rational argument based on objective reality, or expressing a subjective opinion based on a personal standard of value. Matt Walsh wasn’t completely inaccurate with his disparaging remarks on what the movie version of a terrible book would be like. “50 Shades of Grey” does have bad dialogue. It does have a weird plot. There are many rational arguments for not watching this movie. However, our preferences are not entirely determined by rationality.

It’s not irrational to like bad literature or bad movies. But it is irrational to use rationality as the sole standard for evaluating arational or non-rational concerns.

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Possession by Indoctrination

On July 20, 2014, five students were possessed by evil spirits because they took selfies near a duhat tree. Allegedly, several men were attempting to hold down a kid and they seemed very, very strong. To appease the spirits who possessed the kids, all cellphones that were used to take the selfies were buried underground.

sanib

How did this nonsense make the headlines? It sounds like the premise of a low-budget horror movie. The incident in La Union and how it was described by the people who were involved does not prove that possession is real. The only thing it proves is that the Philippines and its many regions suffer from a harmful culture-bound syndrome.

In his paper, “Possession, Exorcism and Psychotherapy,” Timothy C. Thomason mentions various examples of shared delusions:

“The DSM-IV TR (American Psychiatric Association, 2000) describes several disorders involving spirits and possession in the appendix on culture-bound syndromes. For example, the phenomenon of Zar possession is common in many North African and Middle Eastern countries, including Egypt, Ethiopia, Somalia, Sudan, and Iran. Susto or “soul loss” is an illness that is said to result from the soul leaving the body, and affects Latinos in the U. S. and people in Mexico, Central America, and South America. The DSM-IV TR notes that similar beliefs are found in many parts of the world. Many Native American tribes believe in spirit possession, and healers often suck illness-causing spirit objects out of patients; the Tlingit have a verbal exorcism ritual (Hultkrantz, 1992). The phenomenon of Windigo psychosis (possession by a cannibalistic demon) is well established among the Northern Algonquin Indians. The Ainu community in Japan believes in demonic possession and exorcism; in Nicaragua and Honduras there is a possession state called Grisi Siknis; and trance possession is found in Voodoo as practiced in Haiti (Prins, 1990).”

Demon possession is also a culture-bound syndrome. What this means is that demon possession happens only to people who believe in demon possession. The symptoms that “possessed” individuals exhibit are based on the mythos they subscribe to. A person suffering from Windigo Psychosis, for example, cannibalizes people, mostly because he believes that this is how a “demon” would function “if” he was possessed. People who become possessed subscribe to the fantastic narrative they were fed.

However, in the case of the “selfie” kids, it’s not just them who are affected by this delusion. The delusion is shared by those who make claims of supernatural strength, and those who attempt to cast out demons. In other words, these individuals are subconsciously playing a game that allows them to flesh-out their religious fantasies.

As Thomason writes:

“Although exorcists claim that people who are possessed demonstrate superhuman strength and perform supernatural acts such as levitation, a literature review shows that no evidence for this exists other than the anecdotal statements of believers. Given plausible psychological explanations for possession behavior (such as self-deception and communal reinforcement), and the lack of evidence for the existence of demons, there appears to be no good reason to believe in the reality of demonic possession.”

Now, if demonic possession was a harmless culture-bound syndrome, it wouldn’t be much of an issue. Unfortunately, aside from the fact that this belief causes kids to act out in strange ways, demon possession and attempts at exorcism could be fatal as well.

According to the article, “Exorcism: Facts and Fiction About Demonic Possession,” a number of people have died because dumb people have attempted to exorcise them.

Benjamin Radford writes:

“While most people enjoy a scary movie, belief in the literal reality of demons and of the efficacy of exorcism can have deadly consequences. In 2003, an autistic 8-year-old boy in Milwaukee,Wis., was killed during an exorcism by church members who blamed an invading demon for his disability; in 2005 a young nun in Romania died at the hands of a priest during an exorcism after being bound to a cross, gagged, and left for days without food or water in an effort to expel demons. And on Christmas Day2010 in London, England, a 14-year-old boy named Kristy Bamu was beaten and drowned to death by relatives trying to exorcise an evil spirit from the boy.”

There are many reasons as to why a person would exhibit symptoms of demon possession, and none of these reasons involve a real demon or a real devil. Despite the fact that demon possession is not real, news of it should still be a major cause for concern.

We should be concerned about “news” of demon possession because it is evidence that many people in the Philippines can’t tell fact from fiction, and this is primarily because a lot of people in the Philippines grew up with religion.

Here’s a fact: The real cause of the selfie kids being possessed are not demons – it’s religion.

An article from Politix reveals a study published in Cognitive Science whose findings suggest that one’s exposure to religious ideas has a profound effect on a child’s ability to distinguish between what is real and what isn’t. Those who believed in fantastic religious situations are more likely to believe in other supernatural stories. In other words, if a child was raised Catholic, he’s also more likely to believe in white ladies, kapres, tikbalangs, manananggals, and spirits who possess children for taking selfies.

On July 20, 2014, five students were NOT possessed by evil spirits, or by elementals who lived in a duhat tree, or by a “Shake, Rattle, n’ Roll” inspired cellphone. What the news should have said is: “Five students were possessed by the cultural delusion that they have been indoctrinated in.”

 

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Why Most People Suck at Love

*Reflections on Yann Dall’Aglio’s TED TALK presentation, “Love — you’re doing it wrong.”

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I’ve always been interested in the idea of attraction. I have, in fact, for a number of years studied theories on attraction, desire and seduction. I also experimented with those theories A lot of people think that my decision to study what women found attractive, in an attempt to be attractive, creepy. “It’s like browsing for video game cheat codes that one can use to manipulate women into bed,” one friend commented (not true, by the way). Some think it’s unethical, even, to use certain speech or behavioral patterns to elicit positive emotions in other people, that may cause them to see one as a favorable mate.

Everyone does it though. At some point, most people who have been infatuated with another wanted to be seen as desirable by the the person they’re attracted to. MOst people have, to some degree, altered his or her behavior because of a desire to be “liked.” Some people wore makeup, other people learned pickup lines. Some people feigned disinterest, other people gave gifts. Some people projected a successful image, other people talked about art.

According to Yann Dall’Aglio, all these compulsions to behave a particular way, to project a desirable persona, in order to “earn” another person’s interest comes from a faulty, preconceived notion – the idea that one can “earn” desirability.

As a teen, I subscribed to the same notion. I thought that “attraction” was something that you did, or something that you accomplished, to earn another person’s adoration. Courtship made sense, at least on a theoretical level. If desirability was something one can earn, one only has to keep working to make someone fall in love. If the other person hasn’t fallen in love yet, it means that you have to invest further. It sounds like a gross oversimplification, however this notion has a long history.

In the past, what made a person worthy of love was his or her ability to fulfill a role. As Dall’Aglio says, “You had a specific part to play according to your sex, your age, your social status, and you only had to play your part to be valued and loved by the whole community.” However, developments in science, politics and economics have unshackled individuals from having to play specific roles. Unfortunately, these developments also ensured that the rules would change. These changes have created what Dall’Aglio calls a “free market of individual desires.”

In this market, “performing a role” is no longer enough to be desired. Thus, the modern individual’s obsession with desirability. Dall’Aglio says, “We only accumulate objects in order to communicate with other minds. We do it to make them love us, to seduce them. Nothing could be less materialistic, or more sentimental, than a teenager buying brand new jeans and tearing them at the knees, because he wants to please Jennifer.”

In other words, we buy nice things so other people will like us. Dall’Aglio predicts that the future of our romantic interactions will proceed in one of two ways. One, the commodified consumption of the modern individual, the personal obsession with one’s own desirability, will result in the further depersonalization of intimacy.

Dall’Aglio says that a symptom of the former trend is the advent of the “Pick-up Artist,” specifically a concept introduced in pick-up culture called, “oneitis.” Many members of the pick-up community see an individual’s exclusive desire for one person, romantic love, as a disease that is meant to be cured. One can collect “seduction capital” by causing people to fall in love, while not being in love.

The narcissim of the seducer comes from the distorted belief that one can become worthy of desire. Because of an individual’s desire to be deemed worthy, he collects seduction capital that he can display as if to declare, “I am entitled to your love because I’m a desirable person.”

The second prediction made by Dall’Aglio is a little more optimistic. He beleves that the faulty premises that we delude ourselves with and suffer through may collapse and lead to the renunciation of the need to be valued. Once these delusions are eradicated, we can begin to understand that regardless of what we accomplish, we are not entitled to love – not worthy of it, even.

As Dall’Aglio says, “We are all useless. This uselessness is easily demonstrated, because in order to be valued I need another to desire me, which shows that I do not have any value of my own. I don’t have any inherent value. We all pretend to have an idol; we all pretend to be an idol for someone else, but actually we are all impostors, a bit like a man on the street who appears totally cool and indifferent, while he has actually anticipated and calculated so that all eyes are on him.”

The romantic anxieties we suffer are generated by our desire to be perfect, and our desire to find someone perfect to validate our own perfection. This unreasonable demand on both ourselves and others is what distorts our capacity for love and makes our intimate bonds more fragile. The moment we sense weakness or imperfection in the other, we immediately declare, “I deserve better than this.”

Dall’Aglio mentions how tenderness and not perfection should be the measure of love. “To be tender is to accept the loved one’s weaknesses,” he says. Dall’Aglio suggests that we should see love not as something we can earn through our achievements, positive behaviors, or superior genetics, but as a boon we have been granted, despite our shortcomings.

Instead of demanding perfect treatment from perfect partners because of how perfect we perceive ourselves to be, we should recognize our own faults, indulge in self-mockery, and learn to see another’s decision to love us as a gift rather than an achievement.

Personally, I agree with Dall’Aglio. I think we’ll all have better relationships once we learn to get over ourselves.

 

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The Pope is Sorry About Priests Who Fuck Children

In a private mass last week, July 7th, Pope Francis apologized to victims of clergy sex abuse. That’s cute. Unfortunately, it doesn’t change anything. But let’s not forget the facts.

The Catholic Church is still an organization with members that have raped so many children that it has its own child-rape wikipedia page: Catholic Sex Abuse Cases. That page is linked to 277 other online sources, many of which refer to priests having sex with children.

Priests have inserted their penises into the underdeveloped anus or vagina of children as young as 3 years old, and the Catholic Church has turned a blind eye to these incidents for so long that even the United Nations human rights panel has accused their leadership, the Vatican, of systematically protecting its reputation instead of looking out for the safety of children. According to the United Nation committee, “the Holy See maintained a ‘code of silence’ that enabled priests to sexually abuse tens of thousands of children worldwide over decades with impunity.”

In other words, the Vatican allowed pedophiles to rape and molest children.

The Catholic Church is still an organization that continues to pay billions and billions because many of their members can’t keep themselves from raping children. It’s a multi-billion dollar organization that has dioceses going bankrupt because many members have a very expensive sexual preference: children.

In Holland, there’s a set cost offered for different types of clergy abuse. It looks a lot like a restaurant menu:

5,000 € – Sexual gestures against physical or mental integrity.
7,500 € – For touching one’s genitals.25,000 € – In case of rape.
100,000 € – For atrocious,continuous and prolonged abuse resulting in permanent trauma.

As we can observe, the problem of pedophilia in the Catholic Church is so insidious that they had to come up with an abuse scale as a guide for how much they’d have to spend for each form of abuse. According to an article in the Economist, “The molestation and rape of children by priests in America has resulted in more than $3.3 billion of settlements over the past 15 years.” And that’s just in the United States.

Here’s a more comprehensive list of how much this organization has been spending in an attempt to keep rapists out of jail. Here’s a third of the first page. The document, by the way, is 5 pages long:

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Here’s a quick look at some crimes that priests have committed from the Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests (SNAP):

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According to the pope himself approximately 2% of clergymen are pedophiles. In other words, around 8,000 of the 400,000+ active members of the clergy are pedophiles.

Unfortunately, according to statistics, “pedophiles have a strong, almost irresistible, desire to have sex with children. The average pedophile molests 260 victims during their lifetime. Over 90% of convicted pedophiles are arrested again for the same offense after their release from prison.”

The only way to stop a pedophile from having sex with children is to keep him in prison. Unfortunately, the Catholic Church has ways to make sure that pedophiles stay free. In the report, “Fighting for the Future: Adult Survivors Work to Protect Children & End the Culture of Clergy Sexual Abuse” by the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) on behalf of the Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests (SNAP), it was mentioned that there were five ways the church resisted accountability and taking responsibility:

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The section on victim blaming reminds me of that ridiculous notion implied by a priest that, “child sex abusers are often seduced by teenage boys.”

As happy as I am for Pope Francis’ apology, I still don’t think he should be revered for admitting the crimes committed by the Vatican. That’s what he’s supposed to do to begin with. I just find it a little ironic how it’s a big deal when a pope does something an average ethical human being would have done – apologize for being the head of an organization that committed many crimes.

I’m happy that Pope Francis finally admitted that some clergymen have been responsible for sex crimes. I’m happy that he admitted that some of his colleagues systematically hid records of the abuse, hid the abuser, and silenced the victims.

But I’m not happy that the Catholic Church is still an institution that protects child molesters. I’m not happy that the Catholic Church still follows “hush-hush” regulations that perpetuate child molesting. I’m not happy that the Catholic Church is still a financial behemoth that spends billions upon billions to make sure rape victims keep quiet, and child molesters are not punished.

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On the Hazing Article: A General Response to Comments

A few days ago, I wrote, “A Letter to CSB on the Recent Hazing Incident.”

One reader immediately demanded that I retract everything I said, take down my article, and apologize. I’m very accommodating and I would lose nothing over an apology, so here goes: “I’m sorry that basic, observable facts offend your fragile sensibilities.”

Unfortunately, your offended sensibilities do not change anything:

1. CSB still does not have the structure to completely eradicate fraternity violence.

2. The advice CSB admin provided, “Choose God, not Gangs,” is still not very useful.

The second statement is an opinion (and you are free to disagree with me), but the first statement is a fact. Your school does not have the infrastructure to completely prevent fraternities. DLSU doesn’t have it either. UP doesn’t have it either. Neither does Ateneo.

Why is that a big issue? I never said that CSB was the exclusive source of all fraternity violence. I never said fraternities were exclusively CSB’s problem. I never said that DLSU, UP or Ateneo were superior schools with zero fraternity problems. My point was that CSB was not addressing the problem properly, by implying that students become victims of fraternity violence because they failed to “choose God.”

choose god

Comments poured in regarding the fact that no school has the infrastructure to eradicate fraternity violence. Not even my school, DLSU. I agree. That’s why I wrote an article to remind our schools that this has been a problem for years and the way we have been addressing the issue is not sufficient to prevent it. You can’t simply “pray the violence away.”

In the comments section, some people have pointed out that DLSU and CSB worship the same God. Okay. You may have misinterpreted the phrase “your God” as me implying that DLSU had a different, better God. That’s not what I meant. What I meant was, I did not have one.

Some people have commented that all I did was complain or express my thoughts about the issue. In other words, all I did was point out problems. So what? Even if that was all I did, I would still have done nothing wrong. But I did appreciate how one comment challenged me to recommend concrete suggestions that I think would help solve the problem.

I have a number of suggestions:

A lot of initiates participate in the rites not knowing what to expect. There is a vow of silence made by members of fraternities and sororities. Any member or initiate is supposed to keep his mouth shut when talking to people outside the organization. For the most part, initiates do not know how difficult the rites would be and how hard it would be to quit.

Although not all fraternities practice the same brutal rites, these “rites” are kept secret. It’s all shrouded in mystery, hidden behind a “vow of silence,” that it’s quite easy to hide the violence that happens within.

As it was mentioned in the article “The Psychology of Hazing,” “The secrecy surrounding hazing and the variability in the extent to which groups practice hazing make it difficult for people to swear off joining any group that might take part in hazing.”

As for God? I would bet that praying is exactly what these initiates are doing while they suffered from the physical, psychological, and emotional torment of the whole hazing ordeal. I bet that the lesbian sorority initiate who was coerced to sleep with a ‘brother’ was praying while it happened. I bet the initiate who couldn’t feel his legs after they were paddled to purple was praying for his own safety. I bet the ‘sister’ who watched her fellow initiate get sexually harassed by a ‘brother’ was praying too; praying that she wasn’t the next one to go.

I admit that NOT ALL fraternities dehumanize, exploit, or rape their initiates. Most fraternity members would argue that their own organization works together, as a united community, to improve both the life of its members and their environment.

NOT ALL fraternities are bad. NOT ALL fraternities implement brutal hazing activities. Unfortunately, we can’t tell the difference between those who do and those who don’t, because these organizations do not disclose how their initiation rites proceed. It’s one of the factors that contribute to the violence. It’s so easy to hide abuse when everything happens behind a veil of secrecy.

Suggestion 1: If you want to help future initiates understand the dangers of hazing, why don’t you tell future initiates what you have been through, in your own initiation, so they know which organizations to avoid.

Like I mentioned in the past, extreme hazing practices do not happen overnight. An initiate is primed for the “main event” over a period of weeks. An initiate’s boundaries are shifted slowly through a series of menial tasks with escalating difficulty.

A relevant anecdote I recall is the “Boiling a Frog” story:

“The premise is that if a frog is placed in boiling water, it will jump out, but if it is placed in cold water that is slowly heated, it will not perceive the danger and will be cooked to death. The story is often used as a metaphor for the inability or unwillingness of people to react to significant changes that occur gradually.”

Because of the incremental investments made during this period of incremental abuse, by the time initiates realize that they want out, it’s already too late. The initial emotional, physical and psychological investment losses incurred by initiates compel them to continue with the ordeal rather than face the fact that everything that they’ve invested so far was for nothing. This is the psychology of sunk cost.

Members of fraternities who have gone through brutal initiation rites justify the effort and convince themselves that the ordeal was worth it. In fact, after suffering from abuse from a group, some members tend to value the group higher because they worked so hard to join.

Finally, those who have gone through brutal hazing feel the need to make future initiates to go through the same rites. Even though none of them, zero, liked the hazing process, they rationalize the process as being “important.” They function with the belief that, “I had to do it, so you should too.”

Suggestion 2: As part of Freshman orientation, I would suggest that schools educate students on the psychology behind hazing rituals: incremental abuse, progressive tolerance, sunk cost, justification of effort, and the need to perpetrate abuse that one had to endure.

My goal in writing the letter was to suggest that CSB, like most schools, need to do more in educating students about how insidious the recruitment and initiation process is.

It’s a natural response on your part (if you study or work at CSB) to be defensive when criticisms are directed at your school. I understand your anger. But your anger doesn’t make my statements wrong, neither does calling me stupid.

I don’t know how much has changed from ten years ago, but my orientation seminar as a Freshman in DLSU provided some information on fraternities that went somewhere along the lines of, “Don’t join frats. And if you find yourself involved with or threatened by a fraternity, you can always snitch on them via your guidance counselors.”

Then, I was made to sign a waiver promising that I would never join one.

In my opinion that’s similar to telling a child, “Be a good boy” and asking him to sign a waiver that said, “I promise to be a good boy.”

Here’s a dilemma though. When a student finds himself in the middle of an initiation, what does he do? He’s in the middle of these initiations because he already made a decision, or was pressured into one, to join a fraternity, and he’s thinking, “Shit. I already signed a waiver. If I tell school authorities, they might expel me for joining in the first place. If the ‘brothers’ find out I snitched, I’m dead.”

My intention in the article was not to imply that some fraternities who cause violence, or individuals who make a decision to undergo initiation, should be free of any form of responsibility. What I’m telling CSB is that saying how these people could have simply “chosen God” belittles the personal struggles of those who already suffered in the hands of their abusers. It’s like saying, “You got what you deserved because you didn’t ‘choose God’.”

I know that some readers sincerely believe that previous statement, “that bad things happen to those who don’t choose God.” However, I’m also free to tell those who care to listen that, “No, it’s not as simple as choosing God over gangs.”

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A Letter to CSB on the Recent Hazing Incident

Dear College of Saint Benilde,

In the University Mall, next to my alma mater, DLSU, I once saw a 6-foot fratboy punch a much smaller guy in the face. Immediately after, he ran to his “brothers” excited to show them his hand, red and bleeding from a small wound, because the tooth of the guy he punched grazed his knuckles. He rushed to his brethren and said, “May sinapak ako! May sinapak ako!” Then, everyone got excited and they grouped up, around 8 of them, and they surrounded 3 guys to tell them, “Ano, babalik pa kayo? Babalik pa kayo?”

A fratboy once saw me laugh with his “brother’s” ex-girlfriend as I was walking next to her, a classmate of mine, from the smoking area to our class. Later, six people surrounded me around L. Guinto street, and I was randomly accused of “talking shit” about her ex. Whenever I denied it, one of them would slap me across the face and call me a liar, until I said, “Yeah. I was talking shit,” at which point I was sucker punched by the ex. Then, they left.

Here’s what I want you to know, people join fraternities for two main reasons: they want to satisfy their need to belong, or they don’t want to be bullied. Between those reasons, the latter is a more deciding factor.

In my high school, around 3-5 students in each section was a member of the same fraternity. Either you were one of them, or you weren’t. My classmates who were bullied by fratboys ended up joining the fraternities that bullied them. Almost overnight, the bullied is suddenly the one doing bullying. To be honest, the only thing that stopped me from joining a fraternity in high school is the fact that I was a member of the Taekwondo varsity team and the soccer club. It would have been impossible for me to train with injured legs. Otherwise, I might have joined.

I have been invited to join fraternities althroughout my academic life – from elementary to college. I’ve had friends who were fratboys, and friends who have been assaulted, bullied, extorted, sexually assaulted, and intimidated by fratboys.

At the end of the day, regardless of what bullshit excuses fraternities make for why one should join their “brotherhood,” fraternities are about violence. The currency of fraternities is violence: violence you are willing to commit (for a brother, a turf, a reputation), violence you are willing to endure (hazing, sexual coercion, institutionalized rape), and violence that you want to avoid (bullying, etc.).

The initiation rites of these organizations is not the only problem with fraternities. Hazing is just a natural element of a culture that functions through violence.

The site insidehazing.com explains that hazing is a rite executed to determine who’s “fit” enough to join the group. Furthermore, the site explains that the purpose of joining such a group “is for protection from outsiders; and by joining, one is assuming that the members of the same group will be protective towards one another.”

There are many studies that attempt to explain the nature of and logic behind hazing:

It creates cohesiveness within a group – you’re definitely going to bond with someone you spent an evening paralyzed from the waist down with. You’ve gone through the same trauma. You and a “brother” both know what it took for the other to survive the ordeal, etcetera, etcetera.

It’s designed as a slippery slope. An initiate’s willingness to consent to torture does not happen overnight. It happens over a period of weeks. An initiate’s tolerance for abuse gradually increases, in small increments, as he or she is assigned mundane tasks (cleaning, homework) at the beginning, but later escalates to more extreme forms of dehumanization. As mentioned in an article called, “The Psychology of Hazing,” “Even when we realize that we may find ourselves in the midst of hazing rituals, we may not step away because giving up at this point may feel like a sunk cost. We’ve already put in effort that we cannot get back, so isn’t it better to keep going than to feel like it was all for nothing?”

Another purpose of hazing is to destroy a person’s sense of self-worth through systematic abuse. After suffering through the humiliations you are forced to endure, you start to feel that the only people who can understand you are those who went through the same suffering – those who were spat on, beat, paddled, and sexually assaulted.

Sexual violence is one of the hallmarks of fraternity culture. Stacey Copper and Elizabeth Grauerholz conducted a study called, “Sexual Victimization Among Sorority Women: Exploring the Link Between Sexual Violence and Institutional Practices.” In that study they learned that, “24% experienced attempted rape, and 17% were victims of completed rape. Almost half of the rapes occured in a fraternity house, and over half occured either during a fraternity function or was perpetrated by a fraternity member.” Even in the Philippines, it’s not unusual for sorority members and initiates to be “gifted” to members of a brother fraternity.

When I was in high school, I was warned by a friend, a “brother,” not to court a girl, because many “brothers” already had their way with her as part of her initiation. They called it “hirap o sarap,” an institutionalized form of sexual abuse where an initiate is given the option to suffer physical injuries or provide sexual favors.

In many cases, these arrangements, these assaults happen in the presence of “sisters” and “brothers.” I don’t have intimate knowledge about fraternity logic, but I do know that most people consider it wrong to sexually assault your “sister,” or to watch your “sister,” get sexually assaulted by your “brother.”

Arguing for or against violent hazing rituals is pointless. It’s a moot point. Even the most naive freshmen know that there’s something wrong with being tortured for hours, or being coerced to fuck, and no one thinks that these are pleasant experiences. The question we should be asking is, “Why would anyone willingly endure hours of pain?”

The answer is simple: They are willing to endure a few hours of pain, in the hope that they could avoid years of pain.

Fraternities, despite all the negative consequences they cause young people, provide members with the illusion of safety. They are “supposedly” there to provide a young individual with everything his family, his community, and his school has failed to provide: security and a sense of belonging. The truth is, being accepted by, and being a member of, a group that has a reputation for violence immediately exempts one from being bullied.

Although fraternities have varied mission/vision statements, no one really cares what those are. A young person joins a fraternity because he doesn’t want to be beat up by a fraternity, without being able to retaliate. Violence is an issue schools have failed to address for decades.

The institutions that are supposed to protect the student can’t do its job properly, so young people are forced to look for alternatives. I mean, what statement did you, the prestigious College of Saint Benilde, release after another death due to hazing?

Well, you offered some very cheesy and useless advice:

“Brotherly Care not Brutal Hazings

and Real Friendships not Ruthless Frats.

Therefore, choose God not Gangs.”

Really? That’s your solution? Choosing God? When a kid gets his ass kicked over some dumb shit that probably involves women, money, or territory, it’s not God who helps him out; it’s his gang.

As much as you would like to pretend that your God, being the ultimate bully, will protect your students or retaliate on their behalf, He won’t be around when your students are mocked and humiliated by their peers. God won’t be around when your students are extorted and intimidated. Where I came from, gangs and fraternities provided confused, suffering, depressed, frustrated, young people the illusion of sanctuary from violence, something that this your invisible God couldn’t provide.

God wasn’t around when Guillo Servando was killed. No one was around; not his gang, not his school, not CSB’s God.

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No one warned Guillo Servando about how fraternities used systematic violence to reduce his sense of self-worth and increase his dependence on the organization. No one told Guillo Servando what he could do if he made the mistake of joining a fraternity and wanted to withdraw from his initiation. No one told Guillo Servando that they could help him or protect him from those who threatened him when he wanted to quit. That’s your God’s job, right? Well, He’s not doing it, and neither are you.

There are all of these articles saying the same shit they’ve been saying for decades: “Hazing is dangerous.”

DUH.

Everyone knows that, and you’re missing the point. The point is that some kids think that joining a fraternity, with all its brutal initiation rites, is safer than going to school without one. That’s what you have to fix. CSB, in all honesty, “your house” does not have the structure to eradicate the institutionalized abuse happening in your own backyard. And the half-assed approach of encouraging students to “choose God” is not going to improve your odds.

*Addendum (July 10, 2014):

My response to some of the comments are found here — “On the Hazing Article: A General Response to Comments

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The Unicorn Dilemma: How Purity Myths Harm Women

In the research writing classes I teach in Asia Pacific College, I usually allow students to select whatever topic they are interested in. It’s quite amusing to find out what kids today are interested in. But the most rewarding moment for me is when a student experiences an epiphany, a realization or an understanding a student arrives at on his own.

I had a student who wanted to write about unicorns. She wanted to write about unicorns because she had a unicorn lampshade, a unicorn blanket, and unicorn stuffed toys. There was something about unicorns that truly fascinated her. By the end of the term, after 2 months of research, she no longer liked the unicorn as much.

The unicorn is one of the most beloved mythological creatures. As it’s often portrayed in the cartoon “My Little Pony,” if there was a hierarchy of beloved horse-like creatures, the unicorn would be at the top. However, the unicorn myth, my student learns the hard way, is a myth that reinforces the notion that virgins are better than non-virgins. It’s also one of the myths that reinforce the double-standard between male and female promiscuity.

The unicorn is a creature is linked to ideas of purity & innocence. According to one legend, only a female virgin with a pure heart can ever see a unicorn. Another version of the legend, says that only a female virgin can “tame” a unicorn, and if a non-virgin attempts to tame one, the unicorn will disembowel her with his mythical horn.

Immediately, both versions of the legend sets a faulty premise:

The unicorn myth implies that virgins are entitled to something non-virgins are not; that virgins are better than non-virgins. But there is a double-standard: If you are a man, your virginity is irrelevant, because a man, virgin or non-virgin, would neither see a unicorn nor tame one.

Women are punished for sexuality, men are not. Attitudes such as those portrayed in old myths tend to demonize female sexuality as something “impure” or something worthy of death-by-horn. These attitudes persist even today.

While some would argue that a lot has changed regarding our perception of purity, most feminist would disagree. The fact is that a lot of men have a biased preference for a female virgin, a lot of people still hold the idea that the value of a female somehow correlates with her sexual purity, and a lot of boys and girls are indoctrinated into this belief.

Jezebel’s Lindy West discusses this matter in her article, “Female Purity is Bullshit.” West refers to a speech by kidnapping and rape survivor Elizabeth Smart, where Smart explains why she didn’t run from those who have taken her or even screamed for help, even when she was taken in public.

Smart explains that she had a religious upbringing where sex was compared to chewing gum. She says, “I thought, ‘Oh, my gosh, I’m that chewed up piece of gum, nobody re-chews a piece of gum, you throw it away.’ And that’s how easy it is to feel like you know longer have worth, you know longer have value.”

Lindy West adds that, “The myth of female purity—the idea that ‘good girls have become as extinct as unicorns’—could very easily have contributed to years more sexual slavery for Elizabeth Smart. Or her death.”

In her book, “The Purity Myth: How America’s Obsession with Virginity Is Hurting Young Women,” Jessica Valenti confronts the either/or, virgin/slut, purity binary society places upon women. She argues that society has a habit of equating sexual purity with morality.

She says that this emphasis on the hymen has dangerous implications, “For women especially, virginity has become the easy answer- the morality quick fix. You can be vapid, stupid, and unethical, but so long as you’ve never had sex, you’re a “good” (i.e. “moral) girl and therefore worthy of praise.”

Furthermore, she argues that this dichotomy that women are presented with is a false dilemma: either you are a slut or a non-slut. This exclusively female dilemma creates an imbalance though; it places male sexuality as permissible and blameless regardless of how it’s expressed.

She says, “When women’s sexuality is imagined to be passive or ‘dirty,’ it also means that men’s sexuality is automatically positioned as aggressive and right-no matter what form it takes.”

In other words, it implies that a woman should take a passive role in the sexual encounter, and if she doesn’t, she’s a slut. However, a man is allowed to take both the passive and active roles without being penalized. If a man wants a “virgin” he has to take the active role, because a “virgin” would never initiate the sexual pursuit. But if a man wants to be passive, it’s also okay because it’s the active “slut’s” fault that the sexual encounter was consummated.

unicorn

The myth of the unicorn exhibits female sexuality as a flaw – something that would rob a maiden of the privilege of seeing a unicorn, or in worse cases, something that is punishable by death. The narratives we encounter in myths have an effect on how we see the world. That is why I think it is important to actively dispel these myths.

In other words, what I’m really trying to say is, “The unicorn is not special, neither is a woman’s virginity. Get over it.”

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From Social Rejection to Social Acceptance: The Adventures of My Little Brony

I don’t travel much, but I still consider myself a recreational tourist. I have the belief that the only thing you need to do to see new places is to look at old places with defamiliarized eyes. Borrowing a world-view, or attempting to understand a perspective, allows me to enjoy a variety of experiences from the comfort and safety of my own couch. One of the most interesting perspectives I have done a lot of reading on is the world of the Brony.

A brony, to simplify, is a dedicated fan of the show, “My Little Pony,” a show that was designed for young girls. A huge legion of male young adults have created an entire subculture around this show. I tried watching the show a few times. It didn’t appear to me as anything I would consider special. However, I do understand how it’s different from other shows – It’s so fucking friendly.

The brony culture emerged from 4chan. At first, the intent was to make fun of the show. But as the 4chan-ers watched episode after episode, they developed a liking for the show and started making memes about them to annoy members of the site who hated the show. Instead of being confrontational or defensive about their preference for the show, bronies often defaulted to responses like these:

1

The attitude assumed by many brony’s reflect the spirit of the show.

In his article, “Geek Love: On the Matter of Bronies,” Jacob Clifton attempts to explain the brony’s surprising tolerance for girly things. Clifton says that feminism paved the way for a generation of boys to be raised unconscious of the walls between what is traditionally accepted as male and what is traditionally accepted as female. This development allowed these men to see beyond the pink ponies and rainbows and appreciate the show for what it is, minus the “it’s kind-­of gay” gut reaction of an earlier generation.

“The protagonist is introduced to a cast of characters drawn from the most terrifying archetypes of our young lives,” says Clifton. And yet, the main task of the protagonist is, “to understand and accept others as being different from Self and acceptable anyway,” before she takes on her pre­ordained leadership role.

It’s a show about tolerance. It portrays a world where friendship is valued as something mystical and worth pursuing. It’s not a surprise then that it appeals to a lot of men who have grown tired of being rejected for not having traditional masculine attributes, for not liking popular things, or for not being cool enough.

Here’s a show, and an entire subculture that can collectively say, “You like Michael Learns to Rock? It’s okay, bro. We love and tolerate you anyway.” I mean, I liked Michael Learns to Rock when I was in high school (when Nirvana was “the thing to like”) and it would have been really awesome if someone said that to me.

The point is, “Friendship is magic.”

In his article, Clifton mentions a guy who said that, “he’d learned more about emotional and social life from one season of the show than from thirty years of living.”

Brony culture is reassuring. It’s okay to like things other people don’t think are cool. It’s okay to be honest about how we feel. It’s okay to express our appreciation for our friends. Suddenly, it’s okay to be yourself.

In other words, brony culture promotes values praised by what is known in not­hipster circles as neo-sincerity, which we will talk about in my next article, “Irony, Neo­-Sincerity, and Masculinity: My Little Brony Revisited.”

And, in the spirit of neo-­sincerity, I would just like to take this opportunity to express my appreciation for you, dear reader. It’s really cool that you’re taking the time to read my articles. Thank you for tolerating the shit out of my sometimes difficult to tolerate ideas. Have a nice day. Let’s keep our friendships magical.

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Atomic Bombs, Cryogenics & Jorge Luis Borges: The Aesthetic Appeal of Science

I’ve been reading a lot of comic books recently. I’ve always been a fan of comic books, but there are a number of titles I’ve encountered recently that made me fall in love with the medium all over again. Vertigo’s “Transmetropolitan,” Image Comics’ “The Manhattan Projects” and “Nowhere Men.”

Science in Contemporary Comics

Nowhere Men” wonders what would have happened if there were scientists in the past that were as popular as The Beatles. They created a universe where scientific innovation is as culturally revered as popular music.

The Manhattan Projects” premise is based on a single question, “What if the Manhattan Project, the government initiative that resulted in the creation of the Atomic Bomb in 1945, actually went a lot further than that?” In this comic you’ll see Richard Feynman make weapons with Albert Einstein and J. Robert Oppenheimer, while contemplating the consequences of the weapons they’re creating.

Transmetropolitan” is about Spider Jerusalem (a futuristic Hunter S. Thompson), a gonzo journalist exploring the cultural paradigm of his milleau. He exists in a city where people from an earlier time (our time) is scheduled to wake from cryo-preservation, where citizens have the option to live in cultural reservations (brutal ancient civilizations) that are isolated from contemporary society, and where commercials can be uploaded into a person’s dreams (Inception style). He blogs and he wears a device similar to Google Glass. However, this comic book was written in the 90s, which means it sort-of predicted Google glass and online blogging.

Every issue of the series tackles a different social concern, but does not provide conclusive answers. What it does is it invites the reader to think, to speculate, about the different social, ethical, spiritual, political, and economic implications of each scientific innovation introduced in each issue.

These works appeal to me precisely because they invite speculation. The point is not the story, but its premise – “What if?” – a style reminiscent of Jorge Luis Borges’ “Labyrinths.”

Labyrinths

It’s hard to summarize what exactly it is about because, mostly, it’s not about anything specific. The protagonist, the hero, of Borges’ collection is information – ordinary, mundane facts.

This collection of works by Borges rarely even have a plot. One could, in fact, describe them as pseudo-essays. Often, the protagonist of the story encounters a document or a study that provides an alternative interpretation of reality. In Borges, ordinary scientific and historical facts exists as a possibilities that could be interpreted in many ways.

TIME

In the story “Tlon, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius,” Borges provides the reader three alternative interpretations on time and the nature of its passing:

1. “One of the schools of Tlon goes so far as to negate time: it reasons that the present is indefinite, that the future has no reality other than as a present hope, that the past has no reality other than as a present memory (Borges, 34).”

2. “Another school declares that all time has already transpired and that our life is only the crepuscular and no doubt falsified and mutilated memory or reflection of an irrevocable process (Borges 34-35).”

3. “The history of the universe [events in time] – and in it our lives and the most tenuous detail of our lives – is the scripture produced by a subordinate god in order to communicate with a demon (Borges, 35).”

The point of the narrative is not necessarily what happens to the protagonist, but the reader’s recognition of these interpretations. These stories are about ideas; ordinary facts people overlook on a daily basis are placed under a microscope and investigated, speculated upon, until the reader himself asks, “Is the time in this story the same time I exist in?”

The appeal of his work is that the possibilities that exist in the fictional world of Borges can exist in our own world. The language itself is a formal attempt (an attempt in form) to create an almost academic (ordinary) atmosphere. Borges mixes quotes and ideas of people from “real life” (Shopenhauer, Bertrand Russel, Friedrich Nietzsche) with the fictional ideas of his fictional characters. Information, itself, generates the experience of the reader. The knowledge is not used to describe the protagonist’s experience. It is used to create “an experience” in the reader.

In Borges, common language itself can be viewed from multiple perspectives:

1. “For example, there is no word [in the southern hemisphere of Tlon] corresponding to the word ‘moon’, but there is a verb which in English would be ‘to moon’ or ‘to moonate’. ‘The moon rose above the river’ is hlor fang axaxaxas mlo, or literally: ‘upward behind onstreaming it mooned’ (Borges, 33).”

2. “[In the northern hemisphere] The prime unit is not the verb, but the monosyllabic adjective. The noun is formed by an accumulation of adjectives. They do not say ‘moon’ but rather ‘round airy-light on dark’ or pale-orange-of-the-sky’ or any other such combination.”

The fictional themes in Borges are broad. There are meditations on ordinary language and interpretations of time, but there are also perspectives on, and interpretations of, religious and historical concepts.

In the story “Theme of the Traitor and the Hero,” a publicly loved president is revealed to be a traitor. Once caught, he negotiates with his captors regarding the manner of his execution. To retain peace in the country, among the people who admire him, he takes part in the preparation of his own heroic assassination.

In “Three Versions of Judas” the reader is provided three different interpretations on what may have motivated Judas’ betrayal of Jesus. One version hypothesizes that Judas was God’s instrument of revelation. The betrayal was a way to reveal the divinity of Jesus. Another versions suggests that Judas’ betrayal was an act of love; that he was an ascetic to the highest degree, one that believed that no one, not even him, is worthy of God’s grace that he committed acts that would guarantee his damnation in hell. And there’s another version that suggests how God was actually revealed through Judas and not Jesus. God, in the form of Judas, sacrificed the innocent Jesus to teach the world compassion.

Science as Art

Borges’ “Labyrinths” show how fiction is not any more “magical” than real life. In fact, most of “the magic” (the philosophical perspectives, possibilities and ideas) in Borges’ fiction is found and is based on real life. It wouldn’t be hard to imagine a person from real life having the same epiphanies and speculations Borges’ fictional characters have experienced. In fact, Borges himself admits that these stories are “autobiographical” and are, to an extent, non-fictional in nature.

In Borges reality, facts and ideas are aesthetic objects. Fiction exists only as a tool to highlight facts that generate wonder.

In his paper, “Games with Infinity. The Fiction of Jorge Luis Borges,” Martin Johnson suggests that Borges attitude towards the creation of fiction is best reflected in his description of the metaphysicians of Tlon from his story “Tlon, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius” – “The metaphysicians of Tlon are not looking for truth, nor even for an approximation of it; they are after a kind of amazement.” Facts and ideas, for Borges, function in the same manner. It is something that one should be amazed by.

I think such an attitude towards science should be encouraged, and the trends these comics have chosen to set (the exploration of scientific ideas and the ascension of the scientist/philosopher as a comic book superhero) reveals a promising cultural shift – mainstream interest in scientific and philosophical speculation. Science is not just a cold, precise tool human beings can use to measure universal forces, it is also a playground – a venue for mental play – as well as a source of constant awe.

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