Revisionism and never again

SLOGANEERING can erode the technical meaning of words, particularly if these are terms that have their own deep anchors in the academic disciplines. The reason why popular appropriation of otherwise academic words can get away with murdering the integrity of academic jargon is that those who assert, like what I am going to do in this piece today, the correct use of certain terms can all too easily be labeled as too academic, technical and confined in ivory towers.

One of the words that has been so much abused in anti-Marcos sloganeering is “revisionism,” “historical revisionism” to be precise. There is this dominant perception that any attempt to look at historical events using a different and fresher lens is essentially anathema not only to discursive purity, but to academic integrity. Historical revisionism takes on the character of an “f” word, a taboo, an academic crime that no scholar worth his or her mettle should ever venture into.

Yet, if one is truly familiar with the politics behind the writing of history as texts and narratives, one will be confronted with the realization that history is written from the perspectives of the winners, those whose voices were privileged — the colonizers, the wealthy educated elites who can read and write, the men and the cisgender identities. Dominant history is never written from the perspectives of the defeated and those who exist at the margins

When Zeus Salazar spoke of “Pantayong Pananaw,” it was in rebellion against Western historiography that saw events in our past from the lenses of our colonizers. Franz Fanon, a post-colonial writer and scholar, brought history into the very core of the decolonization project, where the colonized had to take back the writing of history from its colonial templates. Feminist historians followed suit, using the arguments of French post-structural feminism that sought to make visible the feminine, the female gaze, the women’s voices in the reinterpretation and rewriting of male-ordered historical narratives.

All these counter-narratives that seek to give a voice to the marginalized are forms of historical revisionism, the term that is now being demonized and painted as taboo in anti-Marcos sloganeering.

The rationalization of texts, discourses and representations as constructed narratives, and are bearers of dominant voices, and therefore deserving of deconstruction and rewriting, is in fact at the very core of the theory of social constructivism where knowledge is viewed as socially constructed. It is also reflected in the evolution of scientific knowledge, where the growth of academic disciplines is pregnant with antagonistic relationships between dominant constructs and their challengers. In fact, the main logic that drives the growth of scientific knowledge is its falsifiability, ergo its capacity for revision and change.

But then again, anyone who disagrees with this premise can easily counter that unlike Salazar or Fanon or the feminist historians who all sought to give a voice to the marginalized and disempowered, the Marcos historical revisionists seek to deodorize and rehabilitate a tyrannical dictator. Those who criticize historical revisionism cheer the toppling of the monuments of tyrants and racists, including those who have been deified and mislabeled as heroes, and the rewriting of colonial histories as forms of liberating us from the lies.

This is not to nitpick, but these are still essentially forms of historical revisionism, regardless. The point here is that not all types of historical revisionism is wrong, or should be canceled and silenced. And while indeed reframing a dictator like Marcos to become a hero is utterly offensive, it is nevertheless a valid endeavor to re-examine the Marcos era and not to conveniently label every moment of it as an encounter with tyranny. If we have to crucify Marcos, the least that academics could do is to ensure that he is being taken to task in a manner that does justice even to the unpopular interpretations and accounts, and the inconvenient narratives.

The stories of ordinary people who saw Marcos in a different light deserve to be given space, too, as these are part of the collection of historical narratives that made us a nation, in the same way we give space to martial law victims.

We cannot be stuck on the mantra of never again, another slogan that when used in conjunction with martial law flies in the face of objective reality. “Never again to martial law” runs counter to the fact that, in theory, martial law is a protective device written into the Constitution and is available to democratic and modern states in times of crisis. We cannot assume that martial law is only the one that Marcos imposed. We cannot say never again to something that our leaders in the future may have to resort to save us from harm from natural disasters, or another viral pandemic, or to ward off the existential threats of rebellion and invasion.

There has to be some clarity in the way we appropriate words and labels. What we should be saying never again to is the rise of dictators; it should not be martial law. We also cannot cavalierly demonize historical revisionism because it is by nature the way by which knowledge, and human civilization, move forward, evolve and grow. Without revisionism, there can only be stasis and stagnation.

We cannot allow political sloganeering to deny historicity to our understanding of concepts, and to diminish our ability to innovate and evolve. We have to tell those who benefit from fixing the meaning of terms, or of historical narratives, that they cannot fight political tyranny by straitjacketing our understanding of martial law and confining the revision of history only to the rehabilitation of tyrants.

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