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Mimetic violence

In a matter of two weeks, two road rage events happened in the Manila streets. The most recent was August 25 in Makati involving a man in a white shirt holding a gun and pressing a rider on the ground. The former is a policeman, and the latter is an alleged member of the intelligence service.

Two weeks earlier, on August 8, a dismissed policeman pulled out and cocked his pistol against a cyclist. He later appeared at a press conference with police authorities, saying that both of them had made an amicable arrangement. What kind of society do we have?

Road violence is not new to the Philippine streets. There is a pending House Bill (No. 5759) since 2019 called the “Anti-Road Rage Act” with corresponding sanctions to motorists who “mild to moderate screaming, wild gesturing at others, cursing or using bad language, physical attack at another or an attempt thereof, reckless driving, any kinds of threat or intimidation, any use of force against another person and other analogous circumstances.” Even F. Marcos, Jr. filed a Senate Bill 2329 (“An Act Defining the Road Rage”) in 2011 when he was still in the Senate. I do not know what happened to these bills.

In the meantime, the road rage still continues.

Where does violence come from?

The French philosopher, Rene Girard, thinks that violence is mimetic, that is, simulated, copied, or imitated. One derivative word is “mimicry” — when you mimic someone, you copy his/her actions and make them your own. Girard thinks that when people want something, they do not pursue it on their own. Desire is something that humans do not fully control. We do not generate it on our own. It is a product of society around us. Actually, we do not know what to desire. So, we look for “models” and copy them. Our desire is mimetic.

“Man is the creature who does not know what to desire,” Girard argues, “and he turns to others in order to make up his mind. We desire what others desire because we imitate their desires.”

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Meron tayong kasabihan: “Ang maling gawa kapag ginagawa ng matatanda ay maging tamas sa mga mata ng bata.”

The saying goes beyond the moral call to have good role models. It is also a challenge to examine our cultures and the way we are socialized into them. It is our cultures that shape us, our desires, our decisions, our actions. A violent culture breeds violent desires. “For every act of violence committed against a human being is a wound in humanity’s flesh; every violent death diminishes us as people… Violence leads to more violence, hatred to more hatred, death to more death,” says Pope Francis in Fratelli Tutti (227).

It is not a coincidence that ex-policemen or present men in uniform are involved in road violence. Not discounting the good men in their ranks, these people have been fully socialized into violence.

Just in the last six years at least, we had a President who gave them license to kill. “Kill criminals if you have to. I’ll protect you.” “Your duty requires you to overcome the resistance of the person you are arresting… (if) he resists, and it is a violent one… You are free to kill the idiots, that is my order to you.” “Kung walang baril, bigyan nyo ng baril.”

This culture of violence continues in the social and political structures we allow to exist in our midst — red-tagging and anti-terrorism law, confidential funds, non-accountability disregard for the rule of law and election anomaly, corruption and impunity, patronage politics, and poverty. If we do not say “No” to them, if we do not fight to dismantle them, we are complicit in breeding a violent society.

Pope Francis writes in Evangelii Gaudium: “Until exclusion and inequality in society and between peoples are reversed, it will be impossible to eliminate violence… When a society – whether local, national, or global – is willing to leave a part of itself on the fringes, no political programs or resources spent on law enforcement or surveillance systems can indefinitely guarantee tranquility… If every action has its consequences, an evil embedded in the structures of a society has a constant potential for disintegration and death. It is evil crystallized in unjust social structures, which cannot be the basis of hope for a better future” (EG, 59).

Tama si ang Buklod at si Bamboo. The famous refrain of “Tatsulok” goes: “Habang may tatsulok at sila ang nasa tuktok, hindi matatapos itong gulo.”

If this present government does not curb the reigning social, political, and economic violence that they seemingly allow to keep them in power, we will soon have a violent society that kills and continues to kill for generations.

I once asked an orphan of the war on drugs in Payatas what he wanted to be when he grew up. His answer: “Gusto kong maging pulis.”

“Bakit pulis?” tinanong ko ang bata.

“Gusto kong patayin ang pulis na pumatay sa Tatay ko.”

Father Daniel Franklin Pilario, C.M., is a theologian, professor, and pastor of an urban poor community on the outskirts of the Philippine capital. He is also Vincentian Chair for Social Justice at St. John’s University in New York. The opinions and views expressed in this article are those of the authors. They do not purport to reflect the opinions or views of LiCAS News or its publishers.

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