A SOJOURNER’S VIEW: Symbolic Violence

DAVAO CITY (MindaNews / 21 Dec) — I am writing this piece in the morning of Sunday, 21 December. Four more days and it will be Christmas Day.

With our parish/church/seminary located along J.P. Laurel St. (traversing Bajada) in Davao City, one cannot ignore the crowds as traffic swells at peak hours these days. It will definitely worsen towards the 25th and then again as New Year approaches.

One major reason for the traffic is because on our street is where the grand malls of Davao City have mushroomed through the past decade with names like Victoria Plaza, Gaisano Mall, Abreeza Mall, Robinson’s and SM Lanang.  And to think that when I was in college (in the mid- to late 1960s) there were no more jeepneys that came this way from the downtown area past 5 in the afternoon since there was very little business activity this part of town.

Appropriating one song from My Fair Lady (the musical play made into a movie starring Rex Harrison and Audrey Hepburn – these film stars seem so ancient now!), I could sing:  “I have often walked down this street before, but the pavement always stayed beneath my feet before, all at once am I several stories high…”

The fact is that I am NOT the one who is several stories high. There are in fact, a growing number of tall buildings along this street  which are several stories high. And there is no denying the fact, that it is the onslaught of the capitalist drive that is changing the landscape of this strategic part of my beloved home city.

And one major activity takes place in these buildings, namely, SHOPPING.  The frenzy builds up around this time of the year when everyone – including those who are non-Christians or even unbelievers – rush to the malls to buy gifts for their loved ones.

Recently, I attended a forum at the Adamson University in Manila and listened to a talk of the distinguished theologian-social theorist, Fr. Daniel Franklin Pilario CM, former Rector of the St. Vincent School of Theology.  He was speaking about Pierre Bourdieu’s theory on Symbolic Violence.

He gave a very clear example as to how symbolic violence arises and this example is so appropriate during this Christmas holiday season.  Questions need to be asked:  why do we take away the price tags of goods when we buy them to give as gifts to others?  Why do we take pains to have the gifts wrapped in the best paper available and then have ribbons to tie them up? Why do we attach handwritten notes making sure to identify the person to whom the gift is given? And for us Pinoys (we have students in our seminary from other countries with different cultures who are perplexed with this practice), we go through the ritual of the manito-manita?

Fr. Pilario’s Bourdieusian explanation was this: we do all these things to camouflage what is in reality the blatant incursion of the economic and political realms into our everyday lives. By taking away the price tag, wrapping the gifts and doing rituals we make an attempt to deny what is behind all these, namely, the dominance of an economic and political reality in our midst.  Which critical activists would label as a reality that oppresses the poor as well as enslaves all of us.

Symbolic violence is so innate in the capitalist system.  Just before writing this essay, I browsed through my FaceBook wall, and to my delight found a posting that helps to illustrate what capitalism does to the world today showing how efficient this mode of production is.  The place mentioned is Africa, but it could as well be Mindanao.  I admit it is a bit simplistic, but there is truth in this posting. (See Attached. Thanks to the FB of AM, which indicates it came from US Uncut).

https://www.facebook.com/usauncut (Posted 15 December 10:54 p.m.)
https://www.facebook.com/usauncut (Posted 15 December 10:54 p.m.)

Cell phones are such a rage not just among the millennials these days but across all generations.  When we receive such a gift, very few among us do wonder how this little phone reached the counter, was bought and now given as a gift.

I am not actually pleased that I am following the path taken by Charles Dickens’ character, Ebenezer Scrooge. Who wants to be a spoiler in a merry season such as Christmas?  But something has to be said to critique the worsening scenario of shopping during this season whose celebration actually began on “a silent night, away in a manger with a child wrapped in poor clothing, born of a couple who were internally displaced persons made homeless by circumstances decreed by an Empire.”

Humanity has come a long way from that scene of impoverishment. And year after year, we have moved very far away from the memory of that obscure event that, ironically, changed the course of history and civilization.

So how to avoid symbolic violence this Christmas?  Shall one refrain from buying a capitalist good in the mall to give as gift to a loved one?  Perhaps there are gifts to be given that transcend the capitalist frame. So back to the lyrics of a Christmas carol – give love on Christmas day!

Alas, unless one is creative, that love is often reduced to a capitalist product.

[Redemptorist Brother Karl Gaspar of Davao City, Academic Dean of the Redemptorists’ St. Alphonsus Theological and Mission Institute (SATMI), and author of several books, including the recently launched “Desperately Seeking God’s Saving Action: Yolanda Survivors’ Hope Beyond Heartbreaking Lamentations,” writes two columns for MindaNews, one in English (A Sojourner’s Views) and the other in Binisaya (Panaw-Lantaw)].