Monday, December 15, 2008

Judging the prejudiced

This is my column today.

There are those who see the Internet as the world’s biggest library—the source of all kinds of information from the truly significant to the most inconsequential.

There are those who see it as a trash box, the repository of filth and many things wicked and unspeakable, though not necessarily repulsive.

Others see the Internet as a virtual confessional—people who religiously log on to the Internet to share with the rest of the world the state of their mental or emotional states.

They use blogs as some kind of an online diary.

Finally, there are people who use the Internet as a pulpit—they are the people who regularly trawl the blogosphere in search of something, anything that grabs their interest. They leave commentary here and there, pick fights with others, engage in healthy or acrimonious debate, etc.

You put all these people together and you have a really potent brew.

And because the Internet and everything that is there is readily available to anyone 24/7 and the blogosphere happens to be world’s best example of a networked community, controversial issues do spread quickly and easily like wildfire.

The current sensation—or victim, depending on where one’s affections lie— of the Internet and the blogosphere is a female college senior from Ateneo de Manila University.

She attended one of those weekend immersion programs which required that she live with an Aeta family. When she got back to civilization, she decided to write about her experience in her Facebook site. Her piece was posted exclusively for her contacts (only those in her list of friends would be able to read it). But someone among her contacts picked up the post and sent it to the rest of the world.

Quite unfortunately for this college senior, the particular post infuriated far too many people. Many found her post racist and shocking in its unflinching declarations of abhorrence for the Aetas she lived with for a weekend and the conditions she had to put up with. In a statement that she supposedly sent to another blogger, she tried to justify her post as “dark quirky humor” that she said her friends normally found “comical.”

As can be expected in a medium that thrives on exchange of ideas, lots of people weighed in with their own opinions. That particular post got passed around and around. Her subsequent clarification was ripped apart as an attempt to obfuscate the issue—she thought betrayal of the friend who forwarded the post to the world was the major issue at stake. There were those who didn’t mince words and called her a major embarrassment to her parents and to the Ateneo.
Quite a number were likewise livid and called her names.

Although there are those who have come to her rescue and tried to provide some context to the issue, the kind of commentary that’s out there is hardly the kind one would like to preserve in a scrapbook.

As someone who has been through the whole experience (for the uninitiated, I had my own 10 minutes of fame—or notoriety, depending again on where one’s affections lie—a couple of years back through an open letter that I wrote for my blog and which got forwarded to the rest of the world), I know too well how frustrating it is not to be given the benefit of the doubt.

One of the things that truly amazes me is the extent to which lots of people out there presume to already know what kind of a person one is, what is going through one’s mind, and what one’s motivations are on the basis of one write up.

I maintain that it is never fair to make generalizations about people based on scanty information.
This does not mean one can’t put someone to task for saying atrocious things about others; but I just don’t see how calling a person names, judging her person, her family, and Ateneo, and ascribing all kinds of sinister motivations on her is any better.

Of course she is a brat and her unabashed declarations of “how kadiri these people are” deserve to be met with indignation. But should we condemn her and urge that she be burned at the stake?

This explains why I will not publish names here. She’s young, and I think she still has a lot to learn. Hopefully, she does learn from this experience. But if you are interested to know the details of this controversy, they are quite easy to find in the Net.

There are, however, a number of issues that I feel deserve to be discussed in the aftermath of this particular issue in addition to our collective penchant for making judgments about other people so quickly and so vociferously.

As a teacher to college students, I am aware that one of the characteristics of the members of the younger generation is the tendency to blur the lines between what is private and public and I’m not just talking about public display of affection here. The whole controversy started because the student published her prejudices and rants.

Not many among us understand, or even care to understand the phenomenon; and certainly, very few among us acknowledge that they do so because there are just too many opportunities laid out that enable them to do so in the first place. Examples of these are the many social networking sites and technological gadgets at their disposal.

This makes me sound ancient, but in my time, diaries were kept under lock and key, and intimate details about one’s life was not something one could splash across a public forum. The status of one’s relationship was not something that defined who one was—so unlike today where one’s status (take your pick—single, in a relationship, it’s complicated) ranks high up there in one’s friendster account than say, one’s educational background or hobbies. One’s opinion about other people was something one kept hush-hush and limited to one’s gossip circle.

So once again, we’re in a situation where those among us who are older are reduced to shaking our heads and heaving a sigh at the antics of the young, oblivious to the fact that we are just as responsible for the very things that we seem to object to.

1 comment:

Trosp said...
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