Mong Palatino

blogging about the philippine left and southeast asian politics since 2004

About

@mongster is a manila-based activist, former philippine legislator, and blogger/analyst of asia-pacific affairs.

Part 1: postblogism

To see is no longer to believe.

There was a time when people had to look up into the sky to search for answers about the mysteries of life. We raise our eyes to the heavens looking for clues about our existence. Astronomers and astrologers gaze at the stars and planets to discover their meaning in relation to our own planetary system.

We are curious creatures. We are explorers of the world. We are adventurers.

To understand the realities of the globe, we only had to open our eyes. We use our eyes to probe the riddles of humanity. Often, after seeing something interesting or extraordinary, we are pushed into action. We are motivated to deepen our knowledge about this enigmatic thing. In short, the first step towards the affirmation of truth and the need for change is to see.

Hindi lang buksan ang iyong mata. Idilat ang iyong mata.

The problem today is that we no longer gaze at the stars. We no longer want to touch the fleshy, spongy, rough surface of the planet. We have lost the patience to look for answers by peering into the distance. We are refusing to open our eyes to the ugly realities of our society.

Yes, we are still using our eyes to see the world but we no longer go out to experience reality. We are satisfied “to see” in the comfort of our homes. It seems our eyes couldn’t resist the glare of our TV sets, computer screens, cell phones, ipods and other gaming devices. Truth is validated if it appears in front of our computer windows. Emile Zola once wrote that “you cannot claim to have really seen something until you have photographed it.” Using Zola’s words, we can say today that you cannot claim to have really seen something until you have seen it in the internet.

What is worse than refusing to see? Paul Virilio warned that “our contemporaries no longer want to see, they want to be seen by all.” The best example is our facebooking activities. We want to be seen by everybody on Facebook. We are exhibitionists. We upload our photos and videos on Facebook. We have redefined the meaning of privacy. Suddenly, the lives of everybody are now an open (face)book. Susan Sontag’s term of self-surveillance is appropriate in describing our internet habits.

So we have two issues: 1) we refuse to see; 2) we only want to be seen.

What is the problem of refusing to see? We can’t solve the problems of man if we do not open our eyes. Or worse, if we only use our eyes to observe others or if we continually compare ourselves with others. Or if we end up as cyber voyeurs. Virilio wrote that the information revolution is really a revolution of generalized snooping. Think of webcams and camera phones.

What is the problem of only wanting to be seen? We can’t be good neighbors if we are satisfied with looking in the mirror everyday. How can we feel the pain of others if we are obsessed with our Facebook profile? The world does not evolve around us. The center of the earth is not us. There are more important things on this planet other than our puny concern about an unflattering picture on Facebook which was tagged by one of our friends.

It is wrong to think and assert that providing instant and realtime information to everybody will inspire people into action. The reverse might happen. Over-communication might actually prevent people from doing something. And it is already happening.

For example, pictures of poverty are retweeted on Twitter, shared on FB walls, liked by FB friends, reposted in blogs to the point that they were seen by everybody in our online network many times over. This is the “obscenity of ubiquity.” And there is no guarantee that viral blasting the images would provoke people to do something concrete about what they have just seen. Why? Sontag reminds us that “pseudo familiarity with the horrible reinforces alienation, making one less able to react in real life.” She adds that the “feeling of being exempt from calamity stimulates interest in looking at painful pictures, and looking at them suggests and strengthens the feeling that one is exempt.”

But it is not just overexposure to the real that discourages people to act. The “art of seeing” itself is gone. Moholy-Nagy mentioned eight distinct varieties of seeing – abstract, exact, rapid, slow, intensified, penetrative, simultaneous, and distorted. Meanwhile, Alvin Langdon Coburn wrote that the camera is an instrument of ‘fast seeing’. Sontag wrote about us having a photographing eye used for photographic seeing. Today, we have internet eyes which are used not to see but to consume vast amounts of information in realtime. We don’t even blink anymore. We are too overwhelmed with the power of the cyberspace that we refuse to reduce our intake of data believing that doing so would deprive us of the chance to access the great truths of our time.

Surfing the web is not a sightseeing activity where we can experience and witness the marvels of the world. Most of the time, it is only a glorified and eye-stress inducing celebration of the trivial, inconsequential and boring information tidbits about ourselves and our neighbors. But because we believe that internet data is the truth and web surfing is the modern and safe way of seeing, we proudly share our new knowledge with the less informed others. Sharing of internet-sourced knowledge becomes the preferred mode of political action of the 21st century man.

The challenge then is to restore the radical power of seeing. The truth is not located in our RSS and twitter feeds. It is out there.

Reference:

– Susan Sontag, (1977) “On Photography”, Penguin, London
– Paul Virilio, (2007) Art as Far as the Eye can See (Translated from the French by Julie Rose)
Berg Press

3 Responses to “Seeing and politics”

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