We are slowly getting accustomed to the mantra of “the new normal”. The personalized face masks, pocket-sized sanitizers, unreadable health declaration forms, questionable alcohol sprays, and strange-speaking thermometers are becoming part and parcel of a society halted by the brutal pandemic. In business and the academe, we are all Zoom participants in a confined digital space connected and separated by the might of the internet. Some even tend to overrate the supposed socializing role of social media despite long scrolls of unstoppable selfies and nonsensical advertisements.

But what makes the normal new? Once the new is undone are we better off with what is left of us?

One way to address these questions is to consider “the new normal” as a rhetorical device peddled and legitimized by the powers that be. It apparently resonates with some segments and class groups for the obvious reason that official state narrative finds its way through usual mainstream channels like media. The rhetoric and narrative are weaponized against the backdrop of law and order, pre- and during pandemic.

Pre-pandemic, Mr. Duterte ordered his military to shoot the women rebels in their vaginas to keep them “useless” in the hinterlands. A proud womanizer in a so-called devout society, he reasoned against those who dared criticize him for kissing an overseas Filipina worker, suggesting that such kiss indeed honored and privileged the worker.

The indigenous Lumad of Mindanao are taught to rebel against the government, the leader claimed. His recommendation? Bomb their indigenous schools. Bomb their ancestral lands. Better yet revive the Marcosian ploy of hamletting to set apart the law-abiding, impoverished indigenous from the ranks of subversives.

Failing miserably in his self-pronounced war on drugs, Mr. Duterte created a new enemy and declared communism the antagonist. Regardless of how he understands the term, one implication of his McCarthyism is the creeping normalization of red-tagging of political dissidents. The spate of killings of environmentalists and lawyers, and recently of human rights workers and community organizers in the provinces surrounding Manila, known as Bloody Sunday, attest to systemic attacks within the pretext of red-tagging.

On social media, the mainstreaming of “resilience” and “let’s just support the government” narrative is conveniently deployed. If someone crosses the administration’s playbook the hostile armies of trolls are prepared to hunt down the “enemies of the state”. Community journalists, alternative media outfits, as well as those non-politically aligned are among the common target of social media policing. The goal is to paralyze political opposition and command silence among the critical public.

These atrocious narratives constitute “the new normal” as we know by now. New in a sense that they are openly, repeatedly and stylistically conveyed, amplifying the pseudo-nationalist camps of us/law and order versus them/terrorism. Normal as they are constantly popularized in overly simplified and reductionist manner. More crucial, it demonstrates how rhetoric can traverse various domains of political life, with or without the pandemic. The content and extent of these messages are alarming enough to cause extreme, antidemocratic polarizations. Particularly in a society with fragile democratic institutions the authoritarian exploit of red-tagging and “resilience” is justified in the name of national unity, treating “the other” as mere homogenized set of bogus nationalists.

The state-backed narrative of “the new normal” can’t hold up. There is however a potential for “the new” if we can undo “the normal”. (davaotoday.com)

Jefferson Lyndon D. Ragragio is a faculty member at the College of Development Communication, University of the Philippines Los Baños. His previous column page is titled Decoding the Context.

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