Letting the Past Die

“Let the past die.”

These words of Kylo Ren became a mantra after last December’s The Last Jedi. They evoked a feeling of progress, innovation, and change, and became a buzz phrase used online to emphasize the point that the ‘old ways’ are done and must be set aside so that the next generation can do their thing their way. Civilizations, innovations, and social norms and mores all all subject to creative destruction.

And yet, the film itself highlights the tension between letting the past go and holding it up. Teetering again on the age of annihilation, the Rebellion reached deep into its Legends to appeal to a tired and broken Luke Skywalker to lead the charge against Darkness once more. But even Luke’s own cynicism cannot shield him from the truth that we all perish anyway and that the work of Masters is to push their students to grow beyond them. This is how legacies form. The past ceases to be a relic but a foundation for the future.

Although only up to a point and here lies the tension: a lot of the conflict in Star Wars is because of people who can’t let go. Kylo Ren wanted to be the next Darth Vader. Luke Skywalker felt the obligation to restart the Jedi Order of old. The First Order was built from the remnants of the Empire. Anakin Skywalker had to live up to an ancient prophecy about bringing Balance to the Force.

Luke, willful and hopeful, embraced his father’s legacy as “a Jedi before me” at the end of Return of the Jedi. The Luke we meet at the beginning of The Last Jedi would probably look back at his naive younger self with some ridicule and regret. And yet, he puts the earnest and innocent Rey on the path of him becoming ‘not the Last Jedi’ leaving us with light, though a more somber light, once again.

We agree to let the past die, but not really. So where do we draw the line between reverence and madness? At what point does standing on the shoulders of the giants of the past become a perpetuation of history’s inevitable cycles? Or is it all really inevitable?

This is where we see ourselves now in our present civic moment.

Last Sunday marked the 32nd anniversary of the People Power Revolution, though not everyone would have it. Key figures in the present administration discredit it as the product of lies (‘fake news’) and history written through the lens of Aquino partisans. The President’s own daughter questioned its standing as our country’s symbol for democracy; unspoken is that as such it should be set aside. They argue that democracy has failed in its promise to uplift the poor and promote social justice. Revisionists now envision a Philippine history where the democratic experiment began and ended with the Aquinos, mother and son. Instead we draw upon a colonial past where for our patron we now have the Chinese rather than the Americans, and an authoritarian tradition that began from Spanish times only to be picked up once again by Ferdinard Marcos whose masterplan was merely derailed but not for long.

On the other hand, there are those who implore to further cement the legacy of People Power in the face of a creeping fascism that is actually already here. We have a long list of things to never forget in this country from the crimes of Marcos to the ability of a people to set right the course of history. The cry of People Power has now widened to encompass the protection of democratic hallmarks such as the freedom of the press, human rights, and the rule of law. In the wake of Duterte’s first year which was marred by the War on Drugs, we have yet to see accountability and now we fear that we can no longer expect it from a regime that simply shrugs away tough questions while pressing down on its own opponents. Hence a key agenda of the mobilizations over the weekend was to jar the State’s efforts to change the Constitution, a move that is seen only to further change the rules of the game to favor the already powerful and most favored.

It now seems that the national discourse is locked in a lightsaber duel, only less entertaining and far more real. But how does it all end? Is there a way out before the space station cracks in half right beneath our feet?

For the purposes of this simple blog post, let me propose two major themes. And let me go back to The Last Jedi here: moving forward, there can either be Old Luke or New Luke.

Old Luke would tell us that all we’re seeing is a natural cycle of things. The more we dip our hand in the fight, the more we open ourselves up to failure and frustration. War and conflict exist because of the ego and hedonism of man, and thus we best leave these battles alone and focus on ourselves and the little island worlds we create: our families, our businesses, our Instagram feeds, our narratives. Perhaps the world will end or it will change, but regardless I am done and if it goes to hell it won’t be because of me. We can be happy this way. We deserve to be happy this way.

On the other hand, New Luke would remind us that we’re all connected. We all have our moments in the sun before it sets on us, so we would do well to ensure that our light shines bright for others while we can be around to show them the way. So let’s raise good children. Let’s educate good students. Let’s run businesses that prioritize the social good. Let’s run for office. Let’s lead by example and do it well. We say that we want the world to change, so let’s show it how. In the end, all we can do is sacrifice the time and energy we have in the Hope that the next generation picks up where we leave off.

In the end, what we let die when we let the past die is us. By shedding our ego we open ourselves up to the possibility of community, continuity, and legacy. The challenges of our moment are daunting but this is just one moment. Change is inevitable but the pain and difficulty need not be.

The denial of People Power and democracy need not be the permanent state of affairs. As long as people remember it, continue its virtues, and build upon the things that it may have forgotten, it will remain an event that will be true to its name. We live in times with no easy answers but with astoundingly simple choices that can have profound effects in the generations that follow. Just get ready for the hard work that comes with any rebirth.

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