What’s eating Randy David?

May 6, 2015 at 8:29pm

What’s eating Randy David?

by Arnold P. Alamon

I have been transfixed for the past week to the raging social debate on the supposed ingratitude of the Velosos for their critical stance toward government despite the successful bid to avert Mary Jane’s execution. It is a definitive “sociological moment,” the varied passionate reactions teeming with deep social meanings related to how we define gratitude as a people. This would have been a good occasion for a sober and scholarly discourse that will also outline where we are as a nation, more than a century after self-rule.

And so I turned to one of our foremost public intellectuals for enlightenment, curious as to what he has to say. Prof. Randy David in his recent column “Lack of Gratitude” (PDI, May 3, 2015) did write about the Velosos. But it was full of vitriol and malice that it was difficult to believe that the erudite professor actually penned the article.

First, he lambasts the Velosos for being ingrates by quoting generously from Nanay Celia and Marites Veloso’s speech during the Labor Day rally for maximum effect. He portrays them as resentful family members who violated a sacred social code.

For a moment I thought that he was being refreshingly sarcastic by bringing to light how the Velosos violated the rules of deference and demeanor in asymmetrical situations with spunk. Erving Goffman identified these occurrences as “ceremonial profanations” when actors (or persons) with less power break the sacrosanct expectations of the more powerful. For those of us from the discipline of Sociology and Cultural Studies, we are expected to be keen to the balance and operations of power and there is a default bias for the powerless versus the Leviathan that is the State.

But reading on, and using his own description of his feeling towards the Velosos supposed ungratefulness, it was “unsettling” to realize that he actually feels directly and personally violated.

And this is one aspect that makes this particular development also sociologically interesting. How could a respected intellectual who many trust to elevate social discourse to a higher more socially-relevant plane actually grovel in the same level as online trolls?

Goffman also developed a theory to explain this by studying the relationship between psychiatric patients and the medical staff in mental institutions. The power of the doctors and nurses to do whatever they wish to mental patients emanates from their claims to an asymmetrical identity. Is it the case that Prof. David sees himself from a more powerful crest, atop a pedestal so high that he can bark out proper rules of deference and decorum to the Velosos down below? That maybe he considers himself in the same league as the Aquinos and that any direct attack against the bungling Head of State, he considers a personal affront?

Prof. David then attempts to put a new spin on the motivations of the Velosos by imputing malicious intent on the family. He comes close to saying that the family practically pushed Mary Jane to be a drug mule for the expected economic returns if she works abroad.

This is as close to being sociological as he could get by providing for the possibility of a complex set of motivations beyond the bleeding-heart analysis behind labor migration. But even this is problematic without regard for the context of the decades-old labor export policy of government bereft of solid plans for national development since. And besides, whatever ideological motivations people and families may have for labor migration, majority of them leave because of the desperate material conditions of joblessness and landlessness here.

So, are we saying that this is a case of an intellectual and social Goliath bearing down upon the poor hapless Velosos? Or that he has forgotten Goffman’s sensitive take on social rules such as deference and demeanor that belie the operations of class power within and outside total institutions? I happen to interpret matters differently. There is something else that is clouding his judgement. I do not think that Prof. David has transformed into an online bully, although many trolls have taken his cue in continuously persecuting the Velosos. Unbeknownst perhaps even to himself, he is actually picking a fight with a formidable foe.

What’s eating Randy David and many others like him at present is the fact that the mainstream Left, the political formation of progressive groups including Migrante and the National Union of People’s Lawyers, have stood with the Velosos in their struggle for government accountability over the difficult situation of Mary Jane. Oozing between the lines of his piece is a seething ressentiment or hostility against the progressive movement, accusing these activist groups of handling the Velosos for political gain. But whose interest is the columnist defending?

In the process, he and others like him have actually done a great disservice to the Velosos and the working and peasant class of this nation. Through their glaring condescension, they have rendered the powerless Filipino citizens long suffering from elite rule incapable of standing up to the failures of government as part of a broad uncompromising militant movement. As fellow Sociologists Prof. Sarah Raymundo and Prof. Gerry Lanuza have pointed out, “…[the Veloso’s] indictment of the state of affairs …is a measure of how the most oppressed and exploited class of Filipino families can also be part of the Filipino fighting class.”

forthcoming in the May 8, 2015 issue of sunstar cdo