Impunity. The word is defined as one that describes “a freedom from unpleasant consequences”.
Hold whatever thoughts the above word induces in your mind while we make a quick digression…
I see a monumental struggle all over that part of the Philippine blogosphere I am most familiar with to “understand Chavit Singson“. Singson had recently been under fire for alleged domestic violence against his wife Rachel Tiongson after discovering her together with her boyfriend. The incident left her battered and bruised. From what I’ve read, so far, the arguments that divide the chattering classes over this latest of “scandals” revolve around:
– The crime of passion angle — a doctrine that justifies violence on the grounds of temporary insanity arising from distress caused by finding one’s lover in flagrante delicto with another.
– The “bleeding heart” angle which invokes the “Magna Carta of Women” legislated in 2004 as main battle tank — a “groundbreaking” law much vaunted for its role in bringing Philippine society, in principle, out of the Stone Age as far as women’s issues are concerned.
My personal take on all this is, as usual, generalist. Men are by nature competitive and when insanely so can become violent. This is specially true when it comes to a fundamental objective we share with all other carbon-based life forms — the propagation of our genetic code.
Evolutionary forces stretching over millions of years have built mechanisms into the physiology and psyche of us unfortunate bearers of the Y-chromosome that are almost singularly geared towards ensuring that we do not invest scarce resources on offspring that do not contribute to propagating our own genetic code.
One of the measures we evolved that, at a primal level, helps us mitigate the risk of an unwitting investment in the upbringing of biologically unrelated offspring is the paternity uncertainty principle which I cited in my blog piece Paternity uncertainty and the financial “crisis”.
[…] females are certain of their maternal relationship with their offspring but males are not […]. As such, males evolved to instinctively make use of two classes of measures to reduce their risk of investing in genetically-unrelated offspring: (a) use of proxies to ascertain probability of paternity (such as physical resemblance) and (b) use of measures to enhance competitiveness of one’s ability to inseminate.
The latter (b) is the more interesting concept:
Baker and Bellis studied couples in committed, sexual relationships and reported that, consistent with sperm-competition theory, when copulating with their partner men inseminate more sperm when the risk of sperm competition is high. Specifically, controlling for the time since last ejaculation, they documented a large positive correlation between the number of sperm ejaculated and the proportion of time a couple has spent apart since their last copulation.
Thus further research…
[…] documented a positive relationship between the proportion of time a couple has spent apart since their last copulation and, for example, men’s ratings of their partner’s sexual attractiveness and men’s ratings of their interest in copulating with their partner.
The probability of female infidelity is greatest over a prolonged absence of her primary partner. Therefore the male partner usually returns literally with a bang on the first night after a long absence. The evolutionary objective underpinning this inclination is (to cite the clinical term) semen displacement using an arsenal of enhanced ejaculate volumes, more vigorous intercourse, and heightened attraction in case remnant competing seeds from a possible sexual transgression on the female’s part during his absence remains in the system over the first 48 or so hours of return.
Again, I can’t help echo some sentiment I expressed at the time I wrote that piece:
Ain’t nature beautiful?
But then the architecture of life is designed around the Selfish Gene and as such, the most fundamental wiring of our psyche applies no human-concept of morality whatsoever around how it protects how faithfully our genetic code is propagated over time and space. So the underbelly of this beauty is the violent nature of some of the other measures Mother Nature also deemed essential to our ultimate objectives as carriers of genetic code.
In a sense, Singson merely applies what Mother Nature has encoded at the very fabric of his existence as an organic life form.
But here’s the thing:
Human civilisation is the story of how we as a species progressively overcame the impulses driven by our evolutionary heritage and established elaborate systems to accumulate, enshrine, systematise, and sustain the small victories that each generation’s civilising forces won over this condition. Of course civilisation as we know it traces its roots back only 10,000-odd years. Evolution on the other hand has a war chest of billions of years stacked up against what may then, from this perspective, seem to be our puny efforts against our reptilian complexes.
That bit of context provides us a good vantage point upon which we can regard what truly advanced societies have achieved, doesn’t it?
So let’s get back to the subject of impunity, shall we?
The divided views on the aspects of morality surrounding this Singson thing notwithstanding, everyone seems to agree that what happens next is really a function of how the whole thing will play out given the culture of impunity that Philippine society is renowned for. This is specially so, given the very character of Singson himself — a shining specimen representative of the flaccid machismo of the Pinoy male evident in the kind of cinema we enjoy and the sort of people we look up to for leadership.
So while the usual “experts” will have their tongues wagging about that quintessentially-Filipino story of the influential man walking away from a crime with no more than a token slap on the wrist (easy targets for the chronically self-righteous pundit), let us make like more intelligent beings for even one moment and reflect. For that matter, and considering how, for most of us, this moment of reflection is likely to occur inside our cars while stuck in Manila’s traffic, look around and observe the behaviour of the average Filipino driver. How many acts made with impunity do we see transpiring before our eyes within, say, an hour? Or even within a minute?
As the late sage Michael Jackson once say:
I’m starting with the man in the mirror.
While we reserve our harshest judgments for high-profile targets (who get away with their crimes anyway), the Average Pinoy Schmoe behind the wheels of their “Kings of the Road” go scot free with the banal disregard for human life and limb, basic courtesies, and sense of community in road use that characterises their typical day.
I harp upon jeepneys and their drivers because they are MY easy targets (there are many many others) in this corner of the Pinoy blogosphere. But regardless of what our personal targets are, impunity is our common denominator. And I put it forth as a third item in that slow-to-grow list of things that the Filipino stands for:
– Bahala na (come what may).
– Pwede na yan (that’ll do).
– Impunity (e ganun talaga sa Pinas).
NB (added 09 Sep 2009):
In a comment on a related article in FilipinoVoices.com, my response to a thoughtful suggestion from a commentor led me down a path that might have a productive outcome in our on-going efforts to crystallise coherent structures describing the Filipino Condition:
I did consider ningas cogon (NG) as another element in our What-“the-Filipino”-stands-for framework. However, it can be argued that NG is really an outcome of bahala na (BN) and pwede na yan (PNY) in the sense that there are many undertakings in the Philippines that are conceived and then initiated with nothing more than BN fuelling them. And then when a certain level of (often mediocre) results are achieved, the PNY attitude then takes hold. Overall result then of those said initiatives then come within the scope of the NG domain. So NG is more a function of PNY and BN, thus:
NG = BN + PNY
Perhaps the three elements BN, PNY and Impunity could be thought of as pillars that hold up compound concepts such as NG that are composite results of, in this case, BN and PNY. I’m tempted put NG at the top of the framework which then becomes shaped like a pyramid (and therefore transformed from a 2-D to a 3-D framework) with BN, PNY, and Impunity at its base propping it up. However I still have to think about how exactly Impunity would be a factor in NG.
I think Impunity comes into the picture when we see how our renowned culture of impunity just about saps any effort on the part of people who actually think to implement any of their well-thought-out ideas.
I believe we’ve got something going here! A 3-D pyramidical framework of Pinoy dysfunction (NG accounts for our no-results trackrecord and therefore probably does belong at the top of the pyramid) that brilliantly answers the question What does “the Filipino” stand for? in the works. Watch our space…