The Manila Times : Family ties and friendships in peril because of politics

17 February 2022

By Antonio Contreras | The Manila Times

MY personal wall on Facebook is like a rainbow, but dominated by pink and red, evidence that I do not live in an echo chamber. I am not in the habit of unfriending or unfollowing people just because of their political choices, no matter how disagreeable these are. I only do these, even block, if the posts that come my way violate my own standards of acceptable discourse, and when they begin to launch personal attacks.

As a social scientist steeped in qualitative research experience, my social media space becomes a fertile terrain to harvest data on micro-political behavior of people. They become everyday forms of auto-ethnography and auto-phenomenology. I have gathered enough qualitative data, from actual posts that attack and insult cyber-silences in the form of just being "seen," or not even. Silences are important because it is also here that I can obtain evidence of disengagement from my friends and even family, as empirical data of their discomfort and disapproval of my politics. Well, of course there are also others who are simply inactive. The silences that matter here are the sudden ones, particularly from those who I know hold political positions that are different from mine.

What is most painful, however, is when the silences extend beyond political discourse, and now include even absence in the usual social pleasantries of commenting on my grandson's antics, or my wife's creative works which I also share because my wall is not just about politics. After all, I do have a life other than my political microblogging on Facebook.

Things like these are not happening just to me. I know it happens to many people.

Among friends and family, frontal attacks are rare, while deliberate silences are more abundant. But it is also useful to decode the posts that unfold in your newsfeeds, as they contain more general commentaries about the political proclivities of friends and family. And it is here that you get to witness the transformation in the political landscape that now extends into your own private cyberspaces — toxic, divided, sad.

What bothers me, however, is less the brutally violent tropes considering that I have friends and family who are not known to post these kinds of incivilities. It is more the gaslighting, passive aggressive types of posts that indict and make you feel as if you are morally and ethically inferior. In response to the dominant sentiment among the more rational supporters of former senator Ferdinand Marcos Jr., a view that I happen to agree with, that we should respect the opinions of everyone, you get to read posts, mainly from the pink crowd who project this as selfish and unprincipled. You get to be lectured about the value of thinking about others and about the future of your children, and that you have a social responsibility to enlighten people so that they can make the right choice.

You get peppered with posts that exhort the value of truth-telling, and give you an online version of a history lesson on the horrors of martial law, on the evils of Marcos and Duterte, and that if you have a different take on the issue, even if not necessarily disagreeing with the objective facts but simply for a fairer, more objective expansion of the coverage of truth telling and seeking, then there must be something lacking in you — intelligence perhaps, or good morals. You will be labeled a revisionist, as if it is a mortal sin or worse, a Marcos loyalist and enabler of evil.

It is these forms of gaslighting, these sanctimonious online perorations, that are simply turn-offs because it assumes that there is only one voice to be heard — theirs. It is the online equivalent of someone lecturing blue-collared service workers about why their choices are wrong without even trying to first understand where they are coming from. This is characteristic of the missionary position in teaching, where a teacher assumes the possession of all knowledge lecturing a student who is an empty sponge.

It just doesn't work that way anymore. Friendships and family subsist on respect, and the willingness to listen and learn from each other. And even here, the pink crusaders of virtue even problematize the word "respect" by denying anyone who disagrees with their narratives the right to invoke it. Someone even posted that people who vote for a candidate other than Vice President Maria Leonor Robredo do not deserve respect.

It is in these less violent, but equally if not more, hurtful words and demeanors that friendships and families are wounded.

I have been unfollowed, unfriended and even blocked by family and friends, not for anything else but because of my politics. I have not done anything wrong to them as a person, but they find my political statements and opinions offensive and not just disagreeable.

As an equal opportunity critic, I have been at the receiving end of the fury of diehard Duterte supporters (DDS) and Marcos loyalists. But there is a significant difference. What I encountered were brutal words, but not canceled culture. I was not subjected to a kind of treatment where people even issued petitions to undermine my gainful employment at La Salle. And my DDS and loyalist real friends and family simply respected my views.

This is not the case with how some of my pink friends and family have treated me.

For them, it is offensive that I criticize Robredo, that I once supported Duterte and that I give Marcos a fair hearing.

Would have I been so hated, maligned and misunderstood had I simply said that I will vote for Robredo? Would some of my friends abandon me with their silences and departures as I was being savaged, not even asking me if I am fine, if I was in agreement with their politics? Would there be attempts to cancel me if I wore the color pink?

These are valid questions to ask.