I think my sense of freedom arrived during commute. Not one moment ofc but in their accretion. Over time. In the early 2010s I think when I just finished college and Manila traffic transitioned vaguely from tough to mind-numbing to the routine existential quandary that it is today. When I and my fellow passengers are told to move back like cattle along the aisle of a bus, for instance, or when peoples’ body parts press unto me for the duration of a ride in a packed MRT. Something violent about it, reminding you how commodified you are–literally moved around like merchandise or spare parts so you may create value for someone else. It literally traps you, too, restricting tiny parts that ought to be free like your legs and line of sight, and the only way out is pressing the red Emergency Stop button or histrionically bulldozing through layers of bodies. Plus the tiny matter of having to do it most days until you die.
W/c means my sense of freedom arrived w/ alienation–little surprise, and ofc my circumstances then weren’t even “that bad” compared to many others. A desk job at an air-conditioned office. Above minimum-wage. But I think it was the commute, at a time when my mental state is already frayed, by the alarm clock, the cold shower, the freshly done workday, that sullies my sense of self w/ a force that I knew would drive me nuts w/ regret in the future. Hence doing freelance, hence the MA, hence the measures toward self-sufficiency, etc. This is sometimes referred to as escapism, or getting deliberately lost in the Rebecca Solnit sense, w/c I tend to think overlaps w/ freedom. Might also explain, thinking about it, the abundance of airports and bus rides and flaneur-ing in my fiction–other than my being a one-trick pony. Or the routine checking of SkyScanner when things get stressful. A trite case of projection, fiction and fantasy enacting the movement my circumstances prevent me from orchestrating.
A weird thing at the independence day / mañanita event last week: met up w/ J in Katipunan then took a trike to GT Toyota Gate because other entrances reportedly guarded by paranoid police. Lo and behold two policemen in camo. Strolled casually straight to gate because this is UP when a voice called out asking where we were going. Was probably a senior xx years ago when No-ID-No-Entry policies were instituted in some buildings on campus, w/c ofc we upperclassmen ignored. Went against what UP stood for, was the argument, and that moment of being refused entry to the campus felt like, school pride and melodrama aside, being barred from one’s home. UP had always felt safe, immune from the tumult outside–messianic echo chamber?–and knowing what we know about the current UP administration, the latest infringement followed the pattern of the past four years, a sense of more and more being taken, being eroded, being surrendered. Rights, spaces, lives.
I joke that in an application for a Covid-related extension for my PhD under Describe impact I just wrote Duterte. Always but especially lately it is mind-numbing how the accidents of your birth–class, nation, etc–dictate so much of the amount and kind of suffering you will have to endure because society is structured the way it is. If media reports were to be trusted, the Vietnamese are back to enjoying bun cha, the Kiwis are back to their sports, and Filipinos are being terrorized into silently accepting a disastrous pandemic response that emerges out of a systematically violent, inequitable, and disempowering political situation. The latest being Michelle Silvertino, who died on a footbridge while waiting for a bus ride home, w/c she had to leave survive. Whose death in other words was only the culmination of layers of life-long violence. For Michelle, freedom is not only devoid of any meaning it is a cruel joke of a word. Harnessed by the state, it is a force that seeks to legitimize all of the things that had failed to save her.
Movement here is thus not so much harbinger of freedom, but the consequence of having no other option. My go-to note on poverty from Ranciere: ‘Poverty is not defined in the relationship of idleness to work but in the impossibility of choosing one’s fatigue.’ How disempowering the nonstop barrage, although yesterday was particularly debilitating polsit-wise, a heinous case of Lunes na Mahirap Bunuin. These days the end-of-days feeling doesn’t quite leave, and our malleable brains in the three months running must have been allotting more and more room for more and more outrage. Lest we go insane. Dystopia as a permanent, stretchable condition, as it surely had been for many people, who have little choice but to soldier on and make space.
Jameson said all of (postmodern) politics is about real estate, about enclosure and roadblocks, land-grabbing and gentrification. Think of reduccion or the Occupy movement. Think of the struggle for safe bike lanes along EDSA. Think of the migrants, here as in India and elsewhere, who are dispersed from the land-grabbed countryside to nurture cities then forced to walk hundreds of miles or die, or walk then die. Think of the monuments being dismantled, in the squares and parks that they overlook the same way the figures they memorialize once looked over sequestered land. I am allowing myself to be comforted by the spirit of radical reckoning that seems to unfold before our screens and feeds–domains, or ‘space,’ in themselves that the Ressa case implicates. The deconstruction of notions like looting as it applies to wage theft or museum collections. Or terrorism as it applies to nominal democracies and de facto martial regimes. I asked the cop barring my entry to campus why he was doing so, and w/ well-meaning apologies he’d refer to vague orders. Pasensya na sir. It would seem that in the world that we are building, these rationale just won’t cut it anymore. The veil has been lifted.