Abellanosa: Of leftists and brainwashing

Fringes and frontiers

ONE legislator came up with his own diagnosis of students who are becoming members of “leftist” groups. Being “pilosopo” and becoming “hardheaded”: these are the two symptoms, according to him, of someone who is “brainwashed” by the communists. I honestly do not know what punctilious behavioral analysis the good lawmaker employed, which made him arrive at such a conclusion. All I can say is that the remarks are too digested to the point that it is sweeping and simplistic.

There is no denial that “leftist” recruiters take advantage of many young people’s adventurism. I beg to disagree though that it is the left who makes the people they recruit “pilosopo” and “hardheaded.” In Erik Erikson’s stages of psychosocial developed, it is at age 12 to 18 that the human person seeks to know, understand, shape, and clarify his identity. This he does and should strive to achieve in order not to fall into confusion.

Part of identity clarification is asking the question “what should I do with my life?” “Who am I?” and “What role should I take?” Everyone therefore goes through the process of some kind of a confusion and tension in his adolescent or even early adulthood years. Precisely, the pressure brought about by a lot of physiological and external environmental factors would lead to some changes in behavior, thus the rebellious tendencies or perspectives. This is what the good legislator did not consider.

There is one word that I would like to pick up from his statements: “brainwashing.” He used the term to describe the left’s recruitment strategy. But I find it ironic for someone who strongly advocates the revival of ROTC to feel uncomfortable with “brainwashing” because precisely the military and the police are equally capable if not crafty of such matters.

If any act, gesture, and effort to teach and instill a worldview or a perspective on someone, is considered brainwashing, then all institutions and the agents working under them are guilty of the alleged scheming tactic. One can go as far as saying that religious groups, cults, sects, fraternities, sororities, and even networking businesses are forms or variants of brainwashing.

It is often forgotten that the so-called enemies of the State are but its own shadows. They reveal that though they are the dark side of the State, they are characterized by that very “sameness” which the State is capable of. This means that if rebels are capable of violating human rights then so does the State. Thus, the accusation that rebels or leftists have been into brainwashing is basically an issue, which the State may be guilty of.

One may just search in Google how the US no less through CIA used brainwashing at the height of the cold war. We may also review the so many red scare tactics used by many governments in order to advance their own agenda to militarize states and thus gain full control of people’s lives without being accused of human rights violations.

Ideas can only be presented. People are free to accept or reject it. In a genuinely free country, norms should still be observed but only at the minimal base needed for the stability of the system. When norms thicken to the point of also invading the spaces where ideas are supposed to be free, authoritarianism creeps in. A good measure of democracy is the latitude of people’s capacity to do thought experiments. Systems should be respected but they cannot be absolutely immune from criticisms.

For all their claims to legitimacy, the chief agents of the State should not forget that concept of the State itself is a “legal fiction.” Such a fiction should not be used to abuse real lives and thus inflict illegitimate harm on “warm bodies.” This is a reminder to those who are in power that the very accusations they have against their enemies are crimes that they too are very much capable of committing.


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