The Spirit of the Staircase
“…parce que l’homme sensible, comme moi, tout entier à ce qu’on lui objecte, perd la tête et ne se retrouve qu’au bas de l’escalier.” (Diederot, 1830. p. 40).
I became acquainted with the untranslatable French expression “avoir l’esprit de l’escalier” in the pages of Neil Gaiman’s 1993 comic book miniseries “Death: The High Cost of Living”. In the first issue, Sexton Furnival, a teenager contemplating suicide is bewildered upon being confronted by Didi, a girl who confidently proclaims herself to be the personification of death itself.
In the face of such an obviously absurd assertion, Sexton is unable to reply satisfactorily and retreats hastily. Annoyed with his reaction, as he leaves, he contemplates the many responses he should have said. Thus, “avoir l’esprit de l’escalier” (to have the spirit of the staircase), refers to that infuriating situation in which one arrives at the perfect retort to an argument or statement well after the event.
I found myself in such an occurrence last Saturday evening, at a dinner I hosted commemorating 201 years of classical liberal ideas in the Philippines and the continuation of the Initiative for Filipino Liberty (IFL) into its 7th year of existence.
Towards the end of the dinner, Mr. Oplas, one of our older members, arrived late from Pampanga with a guest in tow. Mr. Oplas informed me that he had just recently came back from a conference in Hong Kong a few days ago and that he had made the acquaintance of several anti-taxation advocacies, both foreign and local, who if approached properly, might be willing to assist IFL development in the next year. This was welcome news!
Continuing a discussion he and I had several weeks prior, he asked how the process of IFL formalization was coming along and in which direction the organization was to proceed. As before, I spoke about my intention of organizing a populist tax protest. Mr. Oplas then asked if the rest of the organization agreed to such an undertaking. His concerns to our commitment were valid since, as is common to all committee-based organizations, a number of us have a tendency to dominate the group decision-making process whenever a pet topic comes up. As group coordinator, I then asked each member what objective they would like the group to focus on for the next year.
It went as expected… with the militant faction expressing the desire to fully exploit the Napoles Scandal to push for tax reform in the minds of the public awareness (rather than merely gathering for ineffectual protest rallies which, in our post-EdSA society, do little more than to expend public outrage and return our restive populace back to docility and complacency) and the conservative faction maintained their abstention, maintaining that entering into politics offered too little reward to warrant the expense of labour and capital and that our best effort could be done elsewhere.
Finally, Mr. Oplas’ plus-one, Mr. Calagui had his say, that the IFL was limiting its potential by concentrating solely on offering economic solutions.
N.B.: This is somewhat true. The IFL has, for the longest time, fallen into a comfortable rut of regular dinners and discourses on politics and economy. Quite enjoyable for all, but it doesn’t particularly implement the practical goals we set for ourselves back in 2007.
Mr. Calagui’s solution was for our group to advocate social change, specifically: divorce. I honestly don’t remember the rest of his proposal as I promptly interrupted in order to blatantly torpedo a topic so near and dear to our enclosing socialist and statist enemies. Just like Sexton, this unexpected proposal blindsided me and I found my attempted rejoinder sounding rather feeble and rambling.
So, for the rest of the evening, I found myself wishing… avoir l’esprit de l’escalier.
201st Anniversary Dinner, After Dinner Scene, Take 2.
What I should have started off with, was to politely introduce Mr. Calagui to the nature of the Initiative for Filipino Liberty so as to explain why such a suggestion was completely unsuitable.
First, the IFL espouses a philosophy that focuses primarily on how the government ought to use the powers expressly granted to it by the Filipino people, the extent of those powers and particularly where those powers stop. It also focuses on how persons can lessen the effects of arbitrary interference in daily life, exercised by those possessing power and influence.
N.B.: To the casual observer, this brands us as “yet another libertarian group” though perhaps one at odds with orthodox libertarianism. Most of us would certainly agree with the label.
However, unlike the many social-change advocacy groups to be found on the Internet these days, the IFL decided at the start of 2007 to limit ourselves to offering lectures on classical liberal theory and providing concrete proofs by promoting existing private solutions to problems res publica rather than demanding loudly that the government or religious institution or some other “class enemy” implement all sorts of social changes and then label the entire mess as “freedom”.
For the IFL to advocate for the dissolution of the matrimonial status, would not only be a betrayal of the cause of liberty by granting the Filipino State more power in the form of new burdensome implementing regulations and a further enlarged bureaucracy, but would open the IFL to accusations of violating the principles established in the existing Constitution of 1987, which clearly states that:
“The separation of Church and State shall be inviolable.” (1987 Constitution. Art II, Sec. 6.)
Matrimony, as an institution, clearly exists outside the purview of the Filipino State. It existed well before the establishment of the national government on 24 June 1571, therefore the national government has no authority to interfere in defining, regulating, or implementing what it never created nor owned… despite the agonized howling and increasingly strident demands for the national government to do so, coming from over-privileged and politically immature armchair activists with access to a network connection.
As a principle, the IFL too, by virtue of being civic organization, has neither the right to demand that the religious sphere of society conform to the vagaries of the mob, nor the lawful authority to order our public servants and representatives to do so on our behalf.
The second point I should have made to Mr. Calagui is that ordinarily the individual person has about as much chance of withstanding state power as the Armed Forces of the Philippines has, of conquering, occupying, and implementing regime change in the People’s Republic of China.
However, the Initiative for Filipino Liberty has determined that there currently exists in our society, two social institutions that collectively have both the power and the influence to standoff total domination by the Filipino State:
- the religious sphere (of special mention: the Roman, apostolic, and Catholic religion) which is already well-known for its resistance to State authority; and
- the “political household”, as recognized in the 1987 Constitution:
“The State […] shall protect and strengthen the family as a basic autonomous social institution.” (1987 Constitution. Art II, Sec. 12.);
“The State recognizes the Filipino family as the foundation of the nation.” (1987 Constitution. Art XV, Sec. 1.).
Once again, for the IFL to advocate for the dissolution of the matrimonial status, would not only betray the cause of liberty by granting the Filipino State a political power vacuum to exploit and further expand unchallenged, but would make IFL party to both denying the individual person his natural right to exercise his sovereignty and destroying a social institution which we have tasked ourselves with safeguarding and empowering for the purpose of stalemating the Filipino State.
Sadly, both points require a much more in-depth clarification than what the average after-dinner conversation allows for!
From Family to Political Household
Calls to “support the family” have, over the years, become increasingly sentimental, increasingly socialistic, and increasingly abandoned to religious institutions and thus negating much of its potential to challenge the Filipino State. A situation that the Initiative for Filipino Liberty hopes to rectify in the near future.
N.B.: The mental image most people get when the word “family” is mentioned the nuclear family. This is why the IFL deliberately uses the term “political household” to differentiate the common idea of the family from what the 1987 Constitution describes as an “autonomous social institution”.
A political household encompasses more than just the nuclear family. It is the entire familial association one has with his extended clan and their entire combined personal, social, economic, and political network under what is known as either the compadrazgo, kumpadre, or padrino system of reciprocal duties and obligations.
The average Filipino has come to view the padrino system as the source of all political evils and responsible for leading Filipino governance astray. This assumption is half-true at best.
Yes, most of us are powerless against established political households (the oligarchies) which possess an extra-legal stranglehold on the political system in the Philippines, if not outright own most of the national economy.
However, this personal powerlessness is not because the padrino system, which we have inherited from both the Malay and the Roman systems of governmental organization, is somehow evil in itself (malum in se), but that it has been destabilized through monopolization by those established political households currently in power.
N.B.: See [McCoy, A. (1993). An anarchy of families: State and family in the Philippines. Madison, WI: University of Wisconsin, Center for Southeast Asian Studies. ISBN: 978-0299229849.] for a scholarly overview on the who’s-who of Filipino political power.
Furthermore, the average Filipino has conditioned himself to view the Filipino State as his only recourse to end the undue influence of these established political households; the very same Filipino State controlled by them! Anyone expecting this stacked deck to produce anything but disillusionment and broken political promises is insane.
This ingrained cognitive dissonance in the collective Filipino psyche is precisely what prevents the average Filipino from taking advantage of what the IFL has known for quite some time now: that given the right focus, every Filipino, no matter what his current economic or social status is at the moment, has the potential to turn his family into a powerful political household, challenge the established supremacies, and restore the padrino system to its natural balance.
(To be continued.)