Back in the Dark and Middle Ages, the Church was practically the State. It maintained a firm and oppressive grip on the lives of the people, bending them to its allegedly holy will. People suffered and were persecuted, and all of these were done in the guise of God’s divine providence. Faith became the sharp sword that stabbed the dissenters, people who dared think outside the box. The cross became the symbol of the Church’s irrevocable authority over the lowly citizens.
It could be said that the dark times of civilization, where holiness is associated with a seemingly insatiable appetite for bloodshed and social supremacy, is now a thing of the very distant past. Such horrors can only be found in the texts of history, to remind mankind of how vicious it became in the past. However, somehow, that curious tendency of man to invoke religious fervor to further his interests lingered on and stuck to the human psyche long after the olden times.
History documented the likes of Francesco Giuseppe Borri and Michael Schüppach and their cunning as they manipulated countless gullible folk into believing their gimmicks, ranging from revelatory prophecies from angels and God, dubious healing rituals, even alchemy, which sparked the frenzied pursuit of the fabled elixir of life and the conversion of base metal to pure gold. People willingly, even desperately, surrendered their will to men of such wit and deceit, since they so conveniently played with their deepest fantasies and desires.
Why are these historical pieces being invoked in this article? Unsurprisingly, the Philippines exhibits the very symptoms of religious infection. But like Borri and Schüppach, religious manipulation is not limited to the Church; it does not hold a monopoly on the concept of religion, or, to be more precise, of a cult.
I now turn to my main political reference: the 48 Laws of Power by Robert Greene. Here we discuss this particular law in detail; the twenty-seventh law.
Law 27: Play on Peoples Need to Believe to Create a Cultlike Following
People have an overwhelming desire to believe in something. Become the focal point of such desire by offering them a cause, a new faith to follow. Keep your words vague but full of promise, emphasize enthusiasm over rationality and clear thinking. Give your new disciples rituals to perform, ask them to make sacrifices on your behalf. In the absence of organized religion and grand causes, your new belief system will bring you untold power.
Needless to say, the twenty-seventh law explains the power that can be derived by imprisoning people in some sort of a fantastic belief system; a cult, one might say. So who am I accusing of using this clever trick on us? My, accusation might be a strong word. After all, I’m still open to the possibility of inadvertent causation. Nevertheless, an institution in our country has so subtly ingrained itself into the minds of our fellow Filipinos… the government.
For those who find the idea ludicrous, I request that you tag along for the moment. The next, and obvious, course of action we must undertake is to substantiate my claim. We shall do this systematically. First and foremost, what is the catalyst? What is this that made many Filipinos gravitate towards the government’s influence? This question is too easy to answer, almost rhetorical, for this catalyst, the source of the Filipinos’ devotion to the State, is practically the same with the others who fell for Borri and Schüppach’s charms; the desire for miracles.
What do Filipinos think of the first EDSA revolution? It was a spectacular moment. People from all walks of life united for a single purpose; the ostracism of an oppressive president who for so long made them suffer. It was spearheaded by the benevolent Cory Aquino, who then subsequently replaced the old president, and quite literally, gave the Philippines democracy. It was mythical, it was magical… it was a miracle.
Every now and then Filipinos tend to associate good things with miracles, something that just cannot be explained. An unexpected win from a lottery is a miracle. A dirt-poor lad who grew up to become the People’s Champ is a miracle. Imaginative Filipinos can make anything miraculous. And then Filipinos witnessed the economy take a nose-dive since Cory. Unemployment rose together with crime rest. Social unrest became more and more pronounced. Thick-faced politicians plundered our resources at the expense of our people’s livelihood. It was dystopia, to say the least. The Filipinos, wrought with tragedy after tragedy, can only hope for, well, a miracle.
And then it, or rather, he appeared. Vowing to bring the corrupt officials, most especially Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, to justice, Noynoy Aquino embodied everything the Filipinos desperately prayed for; someone who’ll bring swift justice to the evil ones, someone who will guide everyone to a better future. Noynoy was, in every aspect, the hero… the miracle, Philippines hoped for. And so began the Philippine state cult, the perpetuation of the Aquino-Cojuangco glory.
We now proceed to the system of this cult. The clan has started the power game; how will they maintain it? The 48 Laws of Power explained things quite clearly and entertainingly for my taste, and I shall take the liberty of sharing it with you.
The Science of Charlatanism or How to Create a Cult in Five Easy Steps
Step 1: Keep it Vague; Keep it Simple. To create a cult you must first attract attention. This you should do not through actions, which are too clear and readable, but through words, which are hay and deceptive. Your initial speeches, conversations, and interviews must include two elements: on the one hand the promise of something great and transformative, and on the other a total vagueness. This combination will stimulate all kinds of hay dreams in your listeners, who will make their own connections and see what they want to see.
Noynoy Aquino, with the possible—no, probable inclusion of the local oligarchy, observed religiously. Recall how Noynoy captivated the oppressed Filipinos with his heart-warming speech back in the elections. How he promised change in his daang matuwid, how he boldly claimed that kung walang korap, walang mahirap (if there are no corrupt officials, there will be no poor) how he will strike down the violators of the law, and how he will carry on the legacy of his much-beloved parents. Noynoy provided the ultimate rhetoric; simple, straightforward, and complete devoid of substance, specifically of action, and the people rabidly bought into the rap. People started dreaming; here is a man who can finally liberate us from the clutches of the corrupt government officials, and who will bring us lasting economic prosperity. There goes the first step.
Step 2: Emphasize the Visual and the Sensual over the Intellectual. Once people have begun to gather around you, two dangers will present themselves: boredom and scepticism. Boredom will make people go elsewhere; scepticism will allow them the distance to think rationally about whatever it is you are offering, blowing away the mist you have artfully created and revealing your ideas for what they are. You need to amuse the bored, then, and ward off the cynics.
As soon as Noynoy made himself publicly known together with his advocacy for the betterment of Filipinos, what things suddenly popped out and boosted his popularity?
The symbols did wonderfully for the Aquino-Cojuangco cause. People need not hear what Noynoy actually has to say; the symbols spoke for the entire cause! The L gesture means laban (fight); a fight against corruption and poverty! The dove means peace, which means Noynoy is after peace! He intends to lead us to an economic paradise where we can live in harmony! The ribbon, well, I’m not sure what that means (perhaps “almost infinity”?) but who cares? It’s sure to be something good, and I’m definitely putting my money on this guy. In effect, the symbols became the explanation for Noynoy’s candidacy; irrevocable arguments on why you should vote him, and why critics are just jealous cynics who are shamelessly plotting to bring Noynoy down. Suffice to say that these symbols hit many birds with one stone.
Confucius once said, “signs and symbols rule the world, not words nor laws.” Well, although Noynoy didn’t exactly rule the world, he definitely ruled the people’s hearts and desires, and that’s good enough, as far as daang matuwid is concerned.
Step 3: Borrow the Forms of Organized Religion to Structure the Group. Your cultlike following is growing; it is time to organize it. Find a way both elevating and comforting. Organized religions have long held unquestioned authority for large numbers of people, and continue to do so in our supposedly secular age. And even if the religion itself has faded some, its forms still resonate with power. The lofty and holy associations of organized religion can be endlessly exploited.
The Aquino party didn’t exactly fulfil this after they have gathered their loyal followers; they have fulfilled this step before Noynoy even began his presidential campaign. And what better entity can be utilized to accomplish this objective than the Roman Catholic Church itself? In fact, the Aquino-Cojuangco clan did not just borrow the system; it incorporated the RCC into its cultish system. Remember that EDSA is always described in a holy way; it was God’s will, it was supported by the Church, and stuff like that. Most notable was the canonization of Cory Aquino to crystallize her legacy. Yes, Cory being a saint; very Catholic, and this just proves how the government cleverly incorporated the enduring Filipino faith to further its causes, without eliciting much objection from its loyal followers. After all, how could they, when their Church is on the side of Noynoy and friends?
Whenever Noynoy moved, it was as if he was guided by God, as well as her heroic parents, Ninoy and Cory. Isn’t it thus natural, that we leave our individual fates in the hands of the balding messiah?
Step 4: Disguise Your Source of Income. Your group has grown, and you have structured it in a churchlike form. Your coffers are beginning to fill with your followers’ money. Yet you must never be seen as hungry for money and the power it brings. It is at this moment that you must disguise the source of your income.
Fulfilling this requirement is fairly easy and straightforward; after all, the state (Aquino administration) and the church it allies with (Roman Catholic Church) are both known for their ability to generate money, via taxation and donations, respectively.
We all know how the Church acts like our tithes are like investments for heaven to secure some kind of a housing deal with God (the priests make it look that way), and how people are more than willing to part ways with their earnings. Meanwhile, we know how taxation is of crucial importance to the maintenance of a government; it maintains non-profitable social apparatuses like public roads, courts, prisons, traffic lights, among others, and they are a source of revenue to pay government employees, as well as of bailouts in times of deep economic crises. And how, given its important nature, it is easily exploitable.
Where do you think Noynoy got his Porsche? Where do you think priests get their money for around-the-world trips and cars? Heh, lame question, right? Interestingly, most Noynoy supporters are mum about the issue, and prefer believing that Noynoy is on the right track, that these things do not really matter. Just understand his symbols and you will see! The L sign, the dove and the unfathomable yellow ribbon, they hold the answers!
Step 5: Set Up an Us-Versus-Them Dynamic. The group is now large and thriving, a magnet attracting more and more particles. If you are not careful, though, inertia will set in, and time and boredom will demagnetize the group. To keep your followers united, you must now do what all religions and belief systems have done; create an us-versus-them dynamic.
This is the most important piece of the religious puzzle, the single thing that can keep religionists together throughout the years, and it seems Aquino’s lot has done this quite beautifully. Put the blame on Arroyo and her administration for anything bad that’s happening in the economy. Persecute Corona, a key figure in his predecessor’s administration to win his people’s favor. Set the previous administration as the absolute evil, and set his own as the knights of light that will vanquish the darkness that plagues this wretched nation; nothing could be more inspirational.
As expected, support poured into Noynoy like a waterfall. People were touched; finally, someone who will stand his ground against the oppressors! Nothing else mattered; here was the man who is fulfilling every frustration Filipinos felt in the past… here was the man who is satisfying their depravities! Here was the man who will fulfil his promises, and so what he’ll do is right… no matter what. Of course we know how his administration flunked horribly in prosecuting Chief Justice Renato Corona, but the fact remains that he was able to maintain a stronghold of unswerving faith despite his blunders; such is the sheer power of our religion-state, masterfully established by the Aquino-Cojuangco clan and its lackeys.
Intentional or not? What does it matter, when the way Noynoy and his lot structured the government mirrors that of the teachings of the twenty-seventh law so perfectly, it warrants sheer recognition? Congratulations, Noynoy, commendable performance. It seems that your lot does know a thing or two about power; and what splendid job of perpetuating the influence of your clan for so long! Such feats deserve an entry in the books of political philosophy.
Here, we have the very manifestations of the Dark Ages, only it’s not mainly about bloodshed, and more about intellectual bankruptcy. For those who look for real-world illustrations of the twenty-seventh law, look no further than the Philippines. Now, an interesting question is posed; what will we do about it?