The Resurgence of Apologetics
On Clerico-Fascism and the Emergence of Open Society Groups
I n Ideology and Ideological State Apparatus, Louis Althusser stressed that “man is by nature an ideological animal.” Every idea becomes a sensual delight, thinking becomes an appetitive need, thus orienting man to be brute, almost insatiable, to reason. To be an ideological animal is to touch beyond the flesh and blood of an idea, to enter into it, possess even, and eventually be controlled by it. First, the mind, then, the language, lastly, the gesture. How much can an idea devour humanness in a man?
When the mind basks in biases, language becomes demagogic. Once language only speaks of fervent demands, gestures become violent. The various forms of violence explore the socio-cultural phenomenon of clerico-fascism, particularly how consent is utilized to forward authoritarian interests and defend conservatism through Christian morality and reasoning. Seeing the form of political community in religious societies, the insistent presence of Christianity to different spaces — may it be institutional or digital — has the power to mobilize and structure mass psychology given its repressive power relations.
Further multiplying in social media platforms, specifically Facebook, this likewise intends to see the operations behind growth-based online societies, also known as “open society groups,” some of which are The Right Thomasian and Prager USTe. From perpetrators down to the spectators, the participation of diverse actors and organizations enable the fascist ideology to organically permeate Internet-based communication, thus widening the political divide. Utilizing the communication opportunities in Facebook, this anticipates to explain not the recent rise of these groups, but the use of a moral standpoint in getting approval and validation to their target audiences.
Besides their online fiasco, the issue here lies in the historical class struggle from weaponizing religion caused by the ruling class. Legitimizing coercion through the use of conscience, sacred adulation, and Biblical duty to supplement fascist interests in educational institutions are evident of their resemblance with the State power at large. In other words, clerico-fascist ideology aggressively appropriates administrative censorship while practicing “conservative” behavior among students and faculty members.
Mass Psychology and the Affective Dimension of Religion
The influence of holding on to Divine truth — a belief system that is anchored through emotional responses such as empathy and sentimentality — makes people prefer the actual truth less. Arguably, Christian values are shaped out of human misery. Without a feel for concrete reality and practice, the mere utterance of these sublime words — God, Logos, faith, among other things — illustrates that Christianity will remain decadent.
The modern social practices of Christian values — such as adhering to scriptural authority, dogmatic formulation of truths, and charismatic freedom that guarantees redemption — are beyond lament, as the notion of good and evil are not only accomplished through augmenting the feeling of power, but likewise validated through enforced will. It is a compromise of the intellect and reason to base life on blind obedience, as it is a malady to prey on human willingness for fantasy fulfillment.
Insofar as sustaining social domination is concerned, the presence of reactionary emotional states and imposed prejudices demonstrate the conforming aspect of religion. Primarily, it assimilates utopic promises of liberation, when it actually is the smokescreen to their vicious claim of maintaining the status quo. Exploring the dialectics of class struggle in clerico-fascism, the abstract yet universal character of Christianity has been vital to the human affect that is capable of structuring one’s hopes and fears to a belief system. Its crucial role supposes the social attitudes of conservative religious societies against overwhelming internal-external conditions.
Aside from driving people away from knowing actual truth and articulating reason, the ruling class found religion to be the compensatory refuge for the people they are oppressing, which in this case, is the whole Thomasian community. The Christian values and imposed attitude have become fanatical to the point that people would adhere to it — more so, promote it. These current situations date back to medieval history, when the demarcation between church and state are still nonexistent. It also served as a feudalistic response to material situations, which observably, is so calculating — because it psychologically invests in its subjects through desire — that people in it are unaware of the clear-cut conditions to which they suffer.
Likewise affecting the productive spheres, Christian teachings and values are not preaching on State subversion, relatively aligning fascist elements in the university’s principles. Along with spiritual emancipation, it inspires people to a sense of service or national responsibility. Therefore, the influence of clerico-fascism is greatly attributed to the system of thought and action, where people allow themselves to deny the current state of their lived conditions.
The Recent Manifestations of Clerico-Fascism in the University of Santo Tomas
Supporting college documents and imposed rules in the student handbook are some of the long-held authoritarian practices and right-wing interests that are clearly realized and exist in this institution. Some administrators exploit their degree from the humanities and social sciences to secure their great networks in the office of student affairs as well as in the rector’s office. The three core values — Competence, Compassion, and Commitment — are often attributed to acclimate the whole community regarding gradual changes in the admission processes and code of conduct.
In effect, such interference involves major censorship of news and information concerning active occurrences of campus repression. If greater reputational damages against the university are insinuated from external sources, then administrators leave students with severe sanctions, such as expulsion. For instance, the Enrollment Conforme, which was known to be circulating since 2015, allows enrollees for another new semester if they consent to sign it, while agreeing on the Thomasian Code of Conduct and Discipline. For them, the university-wide mandatory waiver is to assert moral self-discipline, compelling and leaving enrollees no choice but to succumb to austere authority. Failure to do so will be imperiled to grave offenses, which ranges from a reprimand, non-readmission, exclusion, to expulsion.
To get a clearer picture of what composes the Thomasian Code of Conduct and Discipline, some of the policies that students are forced to consent upon are as follows: (1) On wearing a civilian attire, students must conform to the standards of “propriety and decency” that also prohibits cross-dressing; (2) On hairstyle or color, unique hair colors are not allowed, whereas additionally, for men, they should not sport a hairstyle that touches the uniform’s collar or neckline; (3) Public display of affection or any sexually suggestive behaviors or acts done in locations accessible to public view are not allowed; (4) Cohabiting without marriage, acts involving sexual misconduct, as well as relationships contrary to the university’s principles and Catholic Church teachings are forbidden; (5) Rallies or any illegal activities that may cause class disruptions or university events are prohibited; and (6) Students must only form or join organizations that support the university’s mission and vision.
How can they perceive these renewed efforts as moralistic fundamental obligations? These exclusivist enforcements prove how far they intend to advance their clerico-fascist interests. Despite the challenging responses that were raised online and offline, students from different colleges and universities contested the degree of controlling personal decisions, which purposely assassinates critical thinking, articulacy, and expression. Excusing the necessity for moral compass and spiritual guidance in order to manage every student’s character and welfare is the cover to a fascist agenda that supports the old conservative teachings of the Catholic Church. The overall prudish treatment towards Catholicism has been transgressive towards building trust to the student body.
To what extent can the administrators be complicit with their conservative social responsibility? Last February 2018, some UST Senior High students held a silent protest to condemn the continued implementation of the K-12 program along with questioning the transparency of the “other fees” paid. Staged inside their building, the administrators blocked the protest to which IDs and gadgets were confiscated, school documents were withheld, and trumped-up charges were filed.
Additionally, last May 2019, Hannah Rondilla, a freshman at the College of Education, was immediately suspended for being a convenor of an organization named Thomasians Against Tyranny and Killings (TATAK), where she aimed to dissent the amendment of Republic Act 10630 that sets the minimum age of criminal liability at 15 years old. This issue stirred an instant administrative hearing, irrespective of the fact that Rondilla’s numerous pleas for parental and legal guidance, thus promptly issuing her instead of a 4-day suspension along with 32-hour community service.
Seeing the rigid turnout of their interests, these events point how demagogic they can be. Like State power, the clerico-fascist mind relishes silence — through devaluing human rights at worst — upon its adversary, as long as these traditional regulations attain their sacred matters. Beneath the guise of age-old monotheism and the messianic culture in the university is its fluid ties with right-wing demands. Tensions constituted among these show in the manifested norms, culture, motives, and ideas.
Primarily stated in the student handbook, refusing to follow orders or resolutions issued by the UST Office of Student Affairs (OSA), Student Welfare and Development Coordinators (SWDC), and other authorized representatives of the university, shall get appropriate sanctions. Such refusal include dissenting statements, publishing and distributing these materials to any form of media. The consistent pattern of targeting the Thomasian community resulted in another tactic, which is the Permission to Post (PTP) Form.
The OSA, in coordination with the SWDC, recently issued a repressive guideline wherein social media posts of recognized student organizations must be assessed beforehand and subsequently be closely monitored for any threatening engagements. This allows for administrative interference, which at large, suppresses constitutional rights and is anti-democratic in nature now that press freedom is in juncture. This regulation proves UST’s draconian measure, all for the sake of solely preserving the university’s goodwill and reputation.
These desperate efforts of burdening students with unnecessary requirements expose the administration’s incompetence and paranoia concerning unaddressed issues, particularly on budget transparency and student rights. Therefore, the immediate solution they deem effective is to impose this policy without even determining the value or criticality of the course of action. With this logic, there is a blatant admission of antagonism toward acknowledging the piled-up student grievances.
It is undeniable that they are aggressive and overly sensitive when it comes to damage control. Indiscriminate measures are instead taken from the perspective of faith and morals, assuming that anyone can be a potential threat or attacker who poses real danger against the amity of the university. This goes to show how abundant their resources are — outside networks, security forces and intelligence, and monetary support — only to uphold clerico-fascist standards. Obviously, their continuous implementation of these policies suggest nothing long-term value offered, compared to the magnitude of dissent expressed by the Thomasian community.
Digital Fascism and the Open Society
Alongside Anti-Terror Law, the dispersion of fascist acts have gone online, which are disguised from pro-State interests to blatant red-tagging. For instance, The Right Thomasian discloses personal information and exposes leftist students and organizations from different universities. Using the hashtag #ResistTheResistance, the indoctrinated posts emphasize how the teachings and values of progressive groups run counter against educational institutions.
The fluidity and ambivalence of digital fascism depicts the ideology’s lack of organizational center. Vulnerable online users are networked to participate in certain propagandistic techniques, such as gaslighting and data manipulation, which amplify fear against the attacked groups. Corresponding to the growing community of hate speech enablers, these open societies only function as echo chambers, bound together by shared sentiments and a common interest of preserving traditional societal values.
Their emergent phenomenon intend not to approach or look at fascism as an ideology, but rather as a social spectacle of online practices. The identity-building of online mass support systems depict how current fascist development became strategic, which probably aims to change the public opinion regarding fascist rationality. For instance, in The Right Thomasian, there is an overwhelming support coming from various audiences regarding the implemented PTP Form. The actor justifies fear and anxiety using dangerous speech, necessitating the violent means of adamant red-tagging against academic expression.
Observably, the strategy of right-wing pages online is to find an audience as the “new-found majority,” while convinced that they are already solid enough to overpower the targeted individuals and groups. Along with state-sponsored intelligence agencies, these black propaganda depict their deceitful morale-sapping tactics. They manipulate vulnerable online users through disseminating information about the supposed violence that leftists put forward.
Besides unstructured organization, the core of digital fascism is failed leadership. As it is easier to find gullible online users, the digital space serves as an alternative to seemingly strengthen and expand their community, to defend themselves and their interests through fallacious objections.
As for the youth and the Thomasian community, how do we counter clerico-fascist rhetoric?
Our concrete reality resides in the struggle against the assimilated religious interests of the ruling class. As the imposed moral sense influences our view of things, there is a call to undo this systematic suppression of human rights. We are consequently trapped in an alienating existence of fear, duty, and hope of eternal blessing. Our feudalistic view of guilt has developed and has largely to do with belligerent repercussions like administrative censorship, thus the inherent pulse to obey the Christian moral compass.
The Thomasian core values compel us to willful submission or victimization to external dynamisms, leaving us with an educational system that focuses on depriving our intellectual capacities. It is undeniable that UST has been restoring the age-old template of punishment, where the whole theological architecture distorted the idea of God as the feared instrument in order to elevate respect in the administration. Their frustrated forms of social control allow themselves to be the determiner of instilled values without needing the approval of the student body.
We must root the causes as to why people follow the majority’s decisions, as the struggle of being devised as a monolithic entity expressing a common will. To oppose the blatant lies and accusations that these right-wing pages have posted, our role is to understand its dynamic nature, where in reality, it is the fear of difference that drives the students and the faculty members to belong in the premature state of the clerico-fascist movement. As much as parents, school authorities, and students act as spectators online, they similarly enable the plot against us, passively including themselves in the “new majority.”
We must take radical measures in assessing if the allocated miscellaneous fees are for a self-serving political agenda. The institutional preservation of academic freedom and scholarly integrity through these documents are mainly excuses, which knowingly are incapable of evaluating the solidarity of the Thomasian community.
National Union of Students of the Philippines. UST college admin suspends freshie for convening anti-fascist network. Facebook, 11 May 2019, 9:21 p.m., facebook.com/NUS Philippines/photos/alert-ust-college-admin-suspends-freshie-for-convening-anti-fascist-networkthea/10157501478689789/. Accessed 8 September 2020.
“Senior High Students Hold ‘Silent Protest’ vs K to 12, Sent to Principal’s Office.” The Varsitarian, 21 Feb. 2018, varsitarian.net/news/20180220/shs-students-hold-silent-protest-vs-k-to-12-sent-to-principals-office.