Pubdate: Mon, 05 Sep 2016
Source: Philippine Daily Inquirer (Philippines)
Copyright: 2016 Philippine Daily Inquirer
Author: Cyril Belvis
Note: Cyril Belvis is assistant professor of literature at De La 
Salle Araneta University, Malabon City.


IT'S EASY: Start with semantics.

Step 1: Establish a consensual value system to shape a receptive 
audience. A consensual value system is composed of a repertoire of 
values everyone is willing to accept. It aims to be universal as well 
as encompassing by differentiating a set of favorable values from 
those unpalatable to the audience. We desire a drugfree Philippines. 
Who doesn't?

Values legitimize a political action (be it human rights intervention 
or extrajudicial killing) by leading their audience to perceive 
coherence in their binary arrangement.

Steve Chibnall draws up a list of positive legitimating and negative 
illegitimate values employed to justify an act masquerading as "voice 
of reason": equality/inequality, freedom of choice/coercion, 
firmness/weakness, impartiality/bias, 
responsibility/irresponsibility, honesty/corruption, 
openness/secrecy, legality/illegality, moderation/extremism, 
compromise/dogmatism, cooperation/confrontation, order/chaos, 
peacefulness/violence, tolerance/intolerance, 
constructiveness/destructiveness, realism/ideology, 
fairness/unfairness, industriousness/idleness. The list can go on.

Although the repertoire purports a universal timeless quality, it is 
subject to historical exigency. In other words, some pairs may fall 
out of the list and stay dormant until they regain political 
usefulness. Sometimes, new pairs replace them. Examples are drug-free 
nation/narcopolitics, change/business as usual, authentic 
language/political correctness.

How is a consensual value system constructed? Begin with a positive 
list of values; from there form the contrasts. Yes, it sounds 
arbitrary. Yet it's also impartial. Let's take Scrabble as an 
example. If I win the draw to start a game, the word I construct 
limits the possible tiles my opponent can play. For example, OXEN can 
elicit words which only contain any of these four letters. My 
opponent can play FOG but not FIG, or KELT, not KILT.

A consensual value system appears democratic (and objective) by 
distancing itself from the agent who constructs it. If someone 
accepts to play Scrabble, she must consent to its rules. I call the 
shots without calling attention to myself. It's not me, it's the law. 
Better yet, it's common sense.

Step 2: Strengthen the us-them dichotomy. Because of their arbitrary 
nature, consensual values may lose hold among the audience. To 
prevent potential resistance, draw a clear demarcation between 
positive and negative sets. Avoid nuance and hedging. They are 
complicated and politically inefficient. Instead, be reductive. Life 
is already problem-ridden, and you don't want people to overthink.

Speed, process, and user-friendly are few of the prevalent conceptual 
metaphors which work in your favor. People prefer speedy internet 
connection and multipurpose phones. Like processed food, ready-to-use 
ideas are much welcome.

If a political action is translatable into a slogan, it has passed 
the propaganda test and it's ready for deployment. To accomplish it, 
use fallacies generously: argumentum ad hominem, ad baculum, tu 
quoque. People won't know; in college they fed on sexist Aristotelian 
logic: All men are mortal. Pedro is a man. Therefore, Pedro is mortal.

Fallacies develop reductionism taking the form of false dichotomy to 
construct an image of a common foe. An enemy functions as linchpin 
sustaining a political act's rationale. If you can't find an enemy, 
make one. Examples proliferate: national autonomy versus a meddlesome 
UN, citizens fed up with crime versus drug addicts, innocent victims 
versus criminal-cradling CHR, the President versus the media.

The last example has powerful resonance among Mr. Duterte's 
supporters. While openly upholding the always elusive objectivity, 
the media as industry are bound by conflicting interests. 
Practitioners select stories according to newsworthiness. Hence, news 
consumers sympathetic to the President criticize them as biased reportage.

Yet no news is value-free for we can never rid language of ideology. 
Instead of "biased," it's preferable to think of news as mediated 
language in action.

Step 3: Avoid referring to drug addicts as citizens. Cue words like 
"addicts," "drug pushers," and "criminals" reactivate the schema of 
horror and perversity competing with other cognitive frames like 
citizenship. To prevent confusion among the audience, displace the 
citizenship narrative with criminality. Consistently refer to their 
crimes to inoculate the audience against contesting narratives. If a 
certain frame becomes "taken for granted" in conversations, 
inoculation has been successfully carried out.

Once addicts and pushers are semantically divested of citizenship, 
they become pariahs at everyone's disposal-police, cartel, 
vigilantes-yet belonging to no one. Because only in a state can a 
human being be treated as such, to lose one's citizenship is also to 
forfeit one's humanity and rights. Virtually dispossessed of 
citizenship, addicts are at the state's disposal. So their lives have 
contingent value like a bug's.

One doesn't get to see drug addicts and pushers rallying. Perhaps 
they have assimilated the dominant cognitive frame, too. So it's 
easier to kill them.

Blaming Mr. Duterte and his acolytes for extrajudicial killings 
neglects a key point. Blame still operates within a dichotomous mechanism.

The semantic construction of a drug addict is a national project, a 
bayanihan involving you and me. It won't stop until it turns our 
unremarkable neighbor into an obedient Adolf Eichmann or a patriotic 
Martin Heidegger.
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom