The politics of condescension

Published October 29, 2021, 12:05 AM

by AA Patawaran


AA Patawaran

Last week, a friend shared with me a message from a Viber group chat, in which someone ever magnanimously urged the rest of the group, to have “patient and knowledgeable discussions with the masses, starting with our kasambahay, at least to influence their family and communities in the provinces.”

The sender minced no words when she wrote that these kasambahays, as well as their families and friends in the provinces, had no idea what was at stake in an election, whose campaign period shouldn’t start until Feb. 8, 2022, at least officially, according to the calendar of activities the Commission on Elections released early this year.

The kasambahay, as the word suggests, is a constant in the household and, in my book, a member of the family and, by now, if we care about them at all, should have long been immersed in what’s important, including the outcome of next year’s election, especially as we leave it to them to do even more important things, such as the preparation of our day-to-day meals, the upkeep of our most private spaces, or the raising of our children.

You can give condescension proper manners, but it still is condescension, defined in Macmillan as “the behavior of someone that shows they think they are more important or more intelligent than other people.” In Webster, it has been defined as the “voluntary descent from one’s rank or dignity in intercourse with an inferior.”

But political desperation seems to justify condescension in a world and at a time those accused of not knowing what is at stake have every power to catapult nincompoops, thieves, dictators, murderers, even porn stars to power.

This condescension, as you yourself might have gleaned from your Facebook, Twitter, and now TikTok feeds, is apparently not limited to private chat groups. These are desperate times, the future is at stake, and so those who know better about what’s best for this nation must stoop down — stoop is a Merriam-Webster synonym to condescend — in order to recruit those beneath their ranks who, as they have now realized, have at least 16 million times more say in who gets to win next year’s presidential derby. Suddenly the intelligent few are so concerned that the ignorant masses are making choices against their self-interest.

Condescension is an old thing, drawn from Middle English, which meant “to give way,” or from the ecclesiastical Latin words con and descendere, which meant to “go down together.” It was useful back in the day for polite society when the masses were relegated to the fringes of society, subject to the generosities or the unkindness of those higher up in the social hierarchy.

But it’s the age of social media, when everybody, even the nameless, the faceless, and the clueless, has a voice. In a political discourse, whose new main arena now happens to be Facebook, the self-appointed superiors, often out of touch, perched on their higher ground, try to persuade those they consider inferior for not knowing what’s good for them, but should they fail, as they did in the last election, their condescension rears its monstrous head, revealing its more boorish twin — contempt. And so politics turns ugly, not only among politicians, but even more now for the voting public, especially between these two forces, the presumptuous superior and the resentful inferior, neither of whom is aware that, as the Latin root condescendere of condescending behavior as a form of war also suggests, when one falls down, both go tumbling down together.

Next year, as they cast their votes, the intelligent and the ignorant in the politics of condescension are even more equal than they care to admit. Every registered citizen, 18 or older, gets one vote in an election, no more, no less, according to Article V, Section 1 of the 1987 Constitution. As stipulated therein, “No literacy, property, or other substantive requirement shall be imposed on the exercise of suffrage.”