What does it really take to provoke us to outrage?
Wholesale plunder, as it is, can only make us mouth disgust and indignation, but that’s a long way from outrage. Outrage is a feeling that bubbles over and snowballs and collects into a critical mass capable of bulldozing a bad guy out of office and any further ambitions.
It’s something like what led to the impeachment of a chief justice or like the current senatorial investigation of accusations of corruption against the vice president.
More desirable in fact would be a quicker and more decisive process, one devised to determine not one’s guilt, in the legally minute yet fixable way of the courts, but one’s lack of worthiness for any position of leadership.
The sight of an apparently murdered homosexual, with her head halfway into a toilet bowl, doesn’t seem to do it for us either; indeed, even before we can gasp at the cruelty and human degradation that characterize the crime, we’ve already begun passing judgment on the victim, disguising it all as natural curiosity, raising questions about her homosexuality and about the propriety of her going out with a young American soldier, the alleged attacker, while already engaged to be married—to a German guy.
The same hypocrisy surrounds one’s interest in what the rape victim was wearing at the time of the attack. What’s happened to us? Our tolerance for heinous crimes has certainly gone up; we tend to complicate or rationalize matters for ourselves in order to escape their glaring moral implications.
At our Sunday breakfasts with journalists and other observers of public affairs, these things are discussed, and the case of the murdered homosexual provokes a range of views.
“It’s class prejudice,” says one. The idea is easy enough to accept; after all, we’re not exactly a classless society.
“It’s about gender,” adds another. The news describes the victim as a transgender, even as the fact has been established that she was a transvestite. We seem to think there’s wider acceptance of gays in our society, although it’s actually more like an uncomfortable tolerance.
In a rape case where the victim was a certified female and the accused another American soldier, it’s whispered about that she and her family have been compensated with green cards, among other currencies.
“It’s all in our culture,” says the oldest of the journalists around. “And it’s a culture that has developed in us a warped sense of hospitality: As hosts we bend backwards for visitors.”
To the US soldiers here under the Visiting Forces Agreement, he goes on to illustrate, “our house is their house.” Of course, the hospitality does not extend to murder, but apparently, in the homosexual’s case, the teenage macho soldier may have had his share of trauma of war to blame for his rage and just lost it. But that’s yet another diversion from the simple brutal fact of murder.
We’ve seen the desperate but only righteous reactions of the victim’s family, but we have yet to hear from the family of the accused—not one word of sympathy. That reflects cold confidence; the government will do everything to get its soldier off. After all, in the US, soldiers are a privileged class, revered for their sacrifices for country.
The victim’s family, on the other hand, can only hope for realistic concessions, which will always be short of justice. If we still feel no outrage in the face of the victim’s mother’s screaming sorrow, we must have become numb in our hearts, for it’s precisely there that honest outrage comes, rising naturally.
Again it’s Fr. Tito Caluag who puts things in perspective for me, this time in his homily during the observance of the ninth day after the death in October of my 96-year-old uncle Marcos Roces, one truly upright and moral man of the old school, of another time.
Proper outrage, he says, is not against the perpetrator and the gravity of his crime; it is concern about the victim and the injustice done to him at the moment of the crime and the justice denied him after that. And the victim here is not one person, not one family, not one community, but an entire underclass which has next to nothing in life, the very same victim of plunder, as well, he says.
He singles out corruption, “a moral issue that runs deep,” he says. It may well be the murder of the poor, the murder of their hopes and their future.
Father Caluag urged the family of Marcos Roces to honor and respect him and the rest of its forebears by carrying on their legacy of honor, moral integrity, and humanitarian love that goes beyond fences and bloodlines.
Indeed, the absence of outrage seems to me a clear sign of our disconnection from our God-given human hearts and conscience, in perilous disregard for our honorable ancestors’ legacy.