Thursday, March 21, 2013

Kristel, Suicide, and History

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There may be a myriad of reasons why she took her life. As with the deaths of Kurt Cobain or Lee Kyung Hae or Aaron Swartz, we are left to our second guesses and interpretations of Kristel Tejada's motives, except perhaps that it was triggered by UP Manila's No Late Payment policy. This is discomforting for many, especially those who truly love her. But alas, we will never know what really happened. We will never know the exact array of private reasons that caused to emerge the thoughts of suicide in her head. History will never capture the exact truth. History will never give us the exact description of the complex psychology of Kristel's final escape.

Since we are nearing Holy Week. Another brilliant piece from the Pixel Offensive.

Are we then left perpetually blind by the fuzziness of history? Far from it.

Instead of letting us grope in the dark of the past, history gives us, more often than not, a bright vision - a vision of what is to be done given our defective hindsight. For history is as defined by our knowledge of the past as it is by the needs of our present. We replace the lack of facts with our overflowing imagination of what we wanted history to be so it can suit our objective to change the present and determine the future.

Our lack of understanding is transformed into (though never vindicated by) the clarity of our will. Our inability to deconstruct the complex tangle of causal relations behind Kristel's suicide allowed us to uni-dimensionally select a particular reason, address it, and contribute more to making the world better (and possibly preventing more suicides) than if we focused on understanding the minutiae of details of her death, either for the purpose of holding people accountable or bringing specific institutions to justice (or for others, simply to quench scholastic predispositions).

Does it matter if Kristel's suicide had other reasons beside being denied of UP education? Of course it does, but to individuals. For the vast historical drama of our struggle to transform the Philippine education system, it does not matter as much. As Sylvia Plath's handshake with carbon monoxide (to borrow a line from Radiohead) is now a beautiful and poetic exploration of death, Aaron Swartz's is a desperate escape and protest versus the intellectual property rights regime backed by state violence - despite all the proposed complex reasons (Plath's suicide, for one, may have been accidental and Swartz may have been killed), Kristel's suicide is now a silent indignation against the barriers to tertiary education.

Of course, there remains the need to address the important matter of individual justice. By all means, let us move onward to pursue it. But for those who wish to and will lead the way on this effort, let us not derail the movement towards a more universal and lasting justice by calling it a distraction to the "real pursuit" of truth behind Kristel's suicide. They should not be counter-posed. After all, it is the same inhumane system that is insensitive to the needs and aspirations of persons that drove Kristel to suicide, whether the academic reason had been the primary or not.

 Whether Kristel would have wanted the attention or not, no one can tell. But she has no choice, and for those who love her and care for her, they might just have to accept that. For now, Kristel is a symbol of a greater struggle that she may not have wanted to lead, but is now leading - by history. Kristel is now every iskolar ng bayan, every parent, every single one of the impoverished millions who had been refused of the benefits of education because of the staggering inequality we now face despite the 6.6% economic growth.

You now live forever, Kristel.
All of us are now, by history, Kristels. EXTRA: Congratulations to my friends Aaron Pedrosa (Secretary-General of Sanlakas and Secretary-General of Freedom from Debt Coalition - Cebu Chapter), Dianne Roa-Oarde (the brains behind stopping the controversial Angat Dam sale), and Christopher Louie Ocampo (semifinalist at the 2012 Jessup International Law Moot Court) for recently passing the bar.


Anonymous said...

And that is why I disagree with you ideologically. The individual is important. The individual cannot always be sacrificed in the name of greater good. Human dignity has a value independent of its pragmatic value to society.

Anonymous said...

I DOnt know.. a walk/candy could have save her.

James Matthew Miraflor said...

Hi Anonymous 1!

I have never said that individuals are not important. Of course they are. In fact, that history is continuously built on the truth, myths, and narratives of individuals only goes to show how important individuals are. They are not just important to fellow individuals, but even to the collective whole - sometimes, across generations.

But you see, it is in qualifying "importance" - how society as a whole or individual views "importance" - that you may be confused.

How history or persons treat individuals are fundamentally different, albeit similarly valid. Persons give importance to certain individuals because of the personal satisfaction it gives them. Societies and generations give importance to individuals because of what people collectively feel the individual contributed to the general welfare, on which her/his welfare is pegged. In this sense, it is equally valid for families and friends to know more about Kristel's reason for suicide, and for activists to use her death as a starting point to struggle for a better education system. To repeat, they need not be counter-posed.

We do not sacrifice the individual Kristel is for the greater good. As I said, we leave it to individuals to value and judge Kristel as an individual - and how they do so reflects what kind of individuals they are. There are those who admire Kristel's struggle for higher education, and had been inspired, as there are those who, while not having experienced the context she had to face, will bash her as a coward. Their judgments define them.

But for society, it is different. Her identity and dignity may be preserved or destroyed in the eyes of specific persons - but for the student movement and the youth of her generation, her dignity is calcified, her memory is no longer transient. Her identity is purified, so that her memory can contribute as much as it can to a greater struggle.

This does not damage her a bit - she is, after all, already gone, but it goes a long way to shocking the system out of its complacence. That is good enough a legacy to live, or die for.


James Matthew Miraflor said...

Anonymous 2:

You may be right, who knows? But there was no candy, no walk - nothing but despair.

She may have been, or for some, ought to have been, more loving of her own life. But that she isn't, that she chose death, has largely been defined the conditions of her life - as the conditions of your life have defined you, have allowed you to comment right now in this post as part of the upper 20%, if not 10%, of the Filipino population - if only because you earn enough to afford internet.


MArk said...

You haven't actually suggested anything here have you?