The recent rise of the phenomenon of autocratic nostalgia in numerous countries worldwide has brought to the fore rabble-rousers and incendiary demagogues styling themselves to the disaffected as viable alternatives to traditional neoliberal figures of power. That such traditional leaders are seen as guilty of exclusivism, ineptitude, and malversation that has fed—and continues to feed—decades-long systemic corruption is being utilized by opportunistic firebrands to capture the imagination of the disillusioned populace who are seeking change in the form of unwavering, resolute leadership. This seemingly irreconcilable tension between ‘old’ (read: traditional, decadent, ineffective) and ‘new’ (read: progressive, revolutionary, better) spheres of authority belies a reductive approach to the dialectics of power and influence. Two examples illustrate this reductionism. First, despite a vitriol-filled campaign based on xenophobia and denialism, the meteoric increase in Donald Trump’s popularity among a United States electorate suspicious of a still-predominantly centrist (moderate or radical) pool of Democratic candidates has prompted waves of Americans to threaten with a mass exodus should he be elected into the presidency. Meanwhile, tough-talking mayor Rodrigo Duterte—a known misogynist, queerphobe, and summary executioner of local criminals—recently won the presidential seat 9,000 miles away in the Philippines on a platform of ‘cleaning house’ by any means necessary, inciting militant reactions from members of the middle class wary of a redux of Marcos-era martial law. Such polar reactions spanning across a global context underpin the radicalization of the two impulses of fight or flight.
The term ‘fight or flight’, coined in 1915 by American physiologist Walter Bradford Cannon, refers primarily to the instinctive bodily reaction of animals to moments of acute stress. It is premised on an inoppressible need to survive, and indeed, to thrive. Whether that survival is achieved by meeting the stress head-on or by absconding, the general discourse on the fight or flight response has been characterized by two dominant but narrow assumptions: 1) that there exists an oppositionality between the two responses, and 2) that one response, by virtue of being more overtly antagonistic to the stressor, should be lionized. But as the Call for Papers for this issue of The Scattered Pelican notes, there exists a spatio-temporal aporia that challenges the view of ‘fight or flight’ as a primarily involuntary response, and which instead shows it as a split-second horizon where subjectivity can enact conscious action that may or may not result in that much sought-after equilibrium. Highlighted in the stylization of the issue theme as ‘Fight OR Flight’, this issue seeks to grapple with that liminal space and the asymptotic (there-but-never-quite-there) temporal instance where the decision to choose one response over the other takes place. And while some may eschew one response over the other—more often than not placing premium on fighting as the ‘more courageous’ response—such a view precludes the strategic value of the escape, the surrender, and the roundabout road. In both cases, such presumptions take for granted the ultimately ontological weight of the Subject doing the choosing. Thus, as a first principle of fight or flight: in the Subject is the will to act. But no subjectivity exists in a vacuum; every choice is en-acted against and within a set of values. It is therefore these values that transmute the choice to fight or fly from being a pure ontological act to being an ethical imperative, bridging the centuries between Descartes’ ego sum, ego existo (‘I am, I exist!’) and Levinas’ après vous (‘after You’). In the case for example of Trump and Duterte, social critic Jose Montelibano argues that a determined leader may—and sometimes does—have the stomach to whip people in line. But whipping people is not leadership. The measure of such leaders’ decisions and our consequent responses as their constituents, whether such acts are a fighting against or a flying from, weighs heavy not just because they exist within our collective history, but perhaps more so because as the Three-Eyed Raven from Game of Thrones opines: “the past is already written; the ink is already dry”. Because totality must give way to infinity, the second principle of fight or flight: in all actions, integrity.
On behalf of the rest of the Editorial Board, I hope that this issue of The Scattered Pelican impels everyone to reflect critically on the conflation of the fights and the flights that we enact in our everyday lives. The articles that appear here contend with the narrow but definite space where the chronotopic distillation of subjectivity and history lead to choices that simultaneously anchor and define us. These articles provide an entry point into an inevitably complex discourse, one that leads down different rabbit holes and through labyrinthine corridors. Because for every counterrevolutionary narrative, there are normalizing spasms of violence; for every figure that fights, there is a text whose words fly. And between such extreme poles, there exist rare moments of true intransigence where instead of being fought against or surrendered to, the Gordian knots of history are not undone but cut. It is our fervent hope that you will find some of those moments in the papers presented here.
So go ahead: fight on, or fly away. Take everything on, or do nothing. But this above all: act.