IT is easy to get lost in the vitriol and let yourself to be sucked into the throwing of ad hominem attacks.
But if there is one thing I learned as I’ve aged, it is to unleash my energy not on the pettiness of personal attacks, but on the value of demolishing an argument, or an act, be it in exposing manufactured social media followings, or in showing the flaws in a post, or in a master’s thesis.
However, it looks like this is a trait that is difficult to learn, and the brutal instinct of going for the attack trained at the physicality of the body is difficult to unlearn. The urge to maim and destroy the body of the enemy is but what our animal instincts have taught us.
Hence, when we are confronted with an argument that challenges us, the easier path is to call its bearer ugly, or fat, or a pervert. The urge is to demolish the body of the enemy, instead of pounding on the argument. After all, winning has always been about demolishing the other side, by decimating its army and leaving the bodies of its warriors to rot in the battlefield, devoured by vultures, and not about converting them to become believers.
This logic of contentious encounters was perfectly captured by the older practices of capital punishment, when the power of the sovereign was inflicted on the body of the criminal, by severing body parts as in beheading, or quartering while alive. The mighty state inflicted its power on the ones who challenged its rule by using their bodies as the template for the punishment.
In modern times, we punish one who transgresses our values, views and comforts not by attacking the idea that this person proffers, but by focusing on his or her body and sexuality.
Thus, instead of focusing only on what Jover Laurio aka Pinoy Ako Blog is saying, many of her critics zero in on her physicality. And instead of engaging only what Sass Rogando Sasot is doing, many of her adversaries make an issue of her gender identity.
Both Laurio and Sasot have deeply offended me. It would be easy to join the fray and attack their physicality.
But I believe that you can only attack people for the choices they make, and not the attributes that they have been born with.
Jover Laurio did not choose the way she looks. It is not just and fair for anyone to fault her for looking that way. Besides, one has to appreciate the fact that beauty is in the eye of the beholder. And the use of physical looks as a basis to engage an adversary is such a superficial strategy that only betrays lack of substance in the counter-argument, or the inability to respond logically.
Stereotyping has become a weapon that has been deployed to marginalize and oppress. Women have been stereotyped and categorized in terms of physical attributes. People of color are demeaned because of the color of their skin, or the flatness of their noses, or the kinkiness of their hair. Overweight people have been laughed at as comic relief.
It is therefore a betrayal of civilized discourse for people to use physicality to diminish an argument.
The case of Sass Rogando Sasot is one that can beg the question of choice, for indeed some people can fault her for allegedly choosing a sexual identity that many consider a form of deviancy. But this is a worse form of objectification, for it assumes that people choose their sexuality.
Many people deploy the label “gay” as if it is a pejorative, a negative attribute that can diminish an idea.
I have a gay son, and I know deep in my heart that he did not choose to be so. And he is such a good, talented, beautiful person that if I were given a choice to have another son, I will always have him, with all his gayness, all over again.
This is simply because sexual identity is a totally different issue compared to political positioning. I have a problem with how Sasot has engaged me, and demeaned me as a person. She has gone to the level of ad hominem attacks. But I chose to level up the discourse by focusing on her acts, and in critiquing her work.
I will never go to the gutter to join her by echoing what many others whom she has offended have made as an issue against her. I will always refer to her as Sass Rogando Sasot, and not by any other name. She did not choose her sexuality. What she chose was how she can live her life to ensure her authenticity. I will have to respect that. I can eviscerate her thesis, or her actions, but I refuse to disrespect her sexuality.
People can always tell me that Sasot, and her friend RJ Nieto, have repeatedly made malicious suggestions questioning my sexuality. But while it is saddening that they have to use a label that marks their own sexual identities to attack me, I will not succumb to the urge to join them as they cannibalize their own sexuality markers.
I will continue to engage Jover Laurio and Sass Rogando Sasot as adversaries. But I will have to take a leave from the vitriolic attacks on their bodies and their sexualities.
I am always reminded by what King Priam in the movie “Troy” said to Achilles, when the latter told him that they would still be enemies in the morning. The words of the wiser Priam to the stronger but evidently less erudite warrior are instructive of how we should celebrate our humanity. And they still resonate with me.
Priam said: “You are still my enemy tonight. But even enemies can show respect.”
I will respect Jover Laurio and Sass Rogando Sasot by refusing to use their bodies as a battleground for our encounters.