Philippine Oedipal politics

is my Trade Tripper column in this Friday-Saturday issue of BusinessWorld:

Whenever the issue of politics crops up in this country, the inevitable "we get the leaders we deserve" and "insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result" are quoted. This should lead to some rumination regarding the real significance of those two statements’ popularity amidst recent political events.

While reading Beth Day Romulo’s marvelous book Inside the Palace (published by GP Putnam’s Sons, 1987), I came across this interesting passage: "Traditionally, Philippine society is a matriarchy. Men may hold top political office, or serve as Chairman of the Board of major companies -- but it is the women who handle the money. … [Yet], One of the things that disturbed me, as I got to know some of the couples and their marriages better, was how Philippine women tended to indulge -- even infantilize -- their men."

At first, I thought nothing of it: if indeed true that Filipinas mother their men, bath, powder, and clothe them, letting their husbands play while they work at home, that’s their problem. But, if such behavior led to an "infantilized" (to borrow Ms. Day Romulo’s word) sort of politics and, hence, society, then perhaps it’s a source of concern indeed.

I then happened to come across an article (a completely unrelated work, I might add) by Manolo Quezon ("Elections and Mutant Evolution," Philippine Daily Inquirer, 2009): "Even when elections were participated in by a tiny minority of Filipinos, it was enough to sweep aside the veterans of the Malolos Congress and replace them with leaders more prepared to [cautiously] accommodate a broader participation among the public; and when they, in turn grown old and cautious, balked at the consequences of extending democracy, they were swept aside in the 1950s. And when that generation, in turn, grew old and unresponsive, a younger, post-war generation was poised to sweep them aside, until Marcos stopped the process dead in its tracks."

Quezon goes on to conclude: "And so began a period of reckless experimentation on the part of a repressed electorate, as well as of frantic cooptation by both the pre-martial law and martial law elite, scrambling to retain power and make up for lost time, cringing in the shadows of a dictator who would brook no challenges, much less groom any potential successors. As the West Indian proverb Juan Mercado often quotes goes, ‘Nothing grows under a banyan tree.’ When the dictatorship fell, everything was stunted and started to grow in a mutant manner."

This led me to thinking of Oedipus, the mythical Greek King of Thebes. Apparently unable to escape his tragic destiny, Oedipus ended up killing his father (unknowingly) and marrying his mother (also unknowingly). Upon learning later of the monstrous deeds that he had done, he decided to pluck out his eyes so that he may be unable to see the horrible world that he inhabits. Incidentally, he was said to have lived out his days accompanied by his daughter Antigone, whom Sophocles would later immortalize in the play that bears her name, significant for this column as it would contain the very first mention (in published, written form) of natural law.

Sigmund Freud would later use the name of Oedipus for his concept of a psychological complex that seeks to illustrate (at least in the abbreviated account contained in Wiki) that "all sons feel they are in competition with their father and often feel in a battle against the father. This is well represented in Greek mythology as Chronos, the father of the gods, is in constant war with his children should they contradict him. This dominant patriarchal attitude still has roots in society today as men are viewed to be heads of families. Freudian psychologists claim that the risk the son runs is that in some cases it is more difficult to win the battle against the father than to lose the battle against the father. This is because a common result of winning the battle against the father is that the son suffers tremendous guilt."

Apparently, "narcissism" is connected to the Oedipus complex in that the former follows the latter and is a means of addressing the latter. Some known symptoms of narcissism include lying, exploitation of others, often frustrated, angry, irrational, stubborn, and disregard for the rule of law.

So it makes one think: Can our neurotic political system be explained as a kind of Oedipal complex played out on a national scale? That those of the post-war (baby boomer) generation of politicians (along with their offspring or protégés) have simply been damaged due to the years they’ve lost, which was further worsened by the war (or pre-war) generation of leaders’ continuing grip on power?

Something to ponder on. And perhaps another good reason why we should vote against political dynasties. Verily, another quote, this time from James Schall, is apt: "in establishing who is to rule us, we reveal our own souls."