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What’s wrong with necropolitics? (Part 1 of 2)

“You can kill a man, but you can’t kill an idea.” ~MEDGAR EVERS

“To every man upon this earth death cometh soon or late. And how can man die better than facing fearful odds, for the ashes of his fathers, and the temples of his Gods.” ~ THOMAS BABINGTON MACAULAY

Duterte fanatics and Marcos loyalists, including pseudointellectual political “pundits” like Rigoberto Tiglao, are fond of using the term “necropolitics”. It is one of the commonly misunderstood and misused words that this bunch of fascist enablers throw around as a misguided criticism against the Aquino family and the so-called dilawans — as if it is a type of valid argument and a fitting insult.

The way DDS and Marcos apologists understand the term is wrong. It is not the standard definition known internationally by real political pundits, philosophers, sociologists, and political scientists. The term is mainly related to the works of Cameroonian philosopher and political theorist Achille Mbembe. He first mentioned the concept in an essay and later expounded about it in a 2016 book written in French, entitled, Politiques de l’inimitié, which was later translated and published in English in 2019, as Necropolitics.

The wrong definition

The prefix necro is derived from the Greek root word nekros, which means corpse. Hence the term necropolitics can be literally translated in English as “corpse politics” or the “the politics of death.” Nonetheless, the standard understanding and usage of the term are not the same as the way DDS and Marcos loyalists try to define it.

Necropolitics is wrongly understood by some as the exploitation of the dead by the living relatives, friends or political allies of the departed to gain public sympathy, which eventually can be used as a political leverage. Critics assert that the main goal of which is to be elected to a high government position despite not being qualified for the position.

Marcos apologists fondly relate the wrong definition to how Cory Aquino was catapulted to political limelight and eventually elected as Philippine president after Ninoy Aquino was assassinated in 1983. Similarly, supporters of BBM accuse VP Leni of necropolitics because she allegedly capitalized on the death of her husband, former Naga City mayor and former DILG secretary, Jesse Robredo, in 2012 by captivating the sympathy of the voters for her as a grieving widow and reluctant vice-presidential candidate during the 2016 national and local elections.

The recent death of former President Noynoy Aquino is now being speculated by conspiracy theorists in the DDS and Marcos loyalist camp as another ploy to use necropolitics. Are they correct in their malicious speculations based on their own definition of the term? What’s wrong with necropolitics?

The correct definition

As originally expounded by philosopher Achille Mbembe, necropolitics is about the politics of deciding who matter and who does not. It is about determining who is disposable and who is not. Hence, it is a framework by which the government assigns differential value to human life. Extreme examples are the genocidal tendencies of totalitarian regimes like Nazi Germany, Stalinist USSR, and North Korea.

Totalitarian regimes typically do not have any regard for the basic human rights of the people that they oppress and whom they consider to be inferiors or threats. Rulers, governments, and society in general are willing and motivated to assign valuation to human lives in the name of the greater good. This is more pronounced in times of crises such as economic depression, wars, or other existential threats. Mass killings and brutality are justified by invoking the twisted idea of “greater good” of protecting and ensuring the survival of the nation, a class, race or even an ideology.

Mbembe’s idea of necropolitics is a radicalization of Paul-Michel Foucault’s biopolitics, which is part of a larger critical theory of society. This reveals the power dynamics and power structure that expose people to death or threat of death. (to be concluded…)


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