The next day, Ibarra pays a visit to Old Tasio and finds him writing in hieroglyphs, which the old man says he does so that nobody will understand his ideas. This is because he is not writing for his contemporaries. “The generation that can decipher these characters will be an educated generation,” he says.
Tasio is already a figure that represents isolation from his own community—given his commitment to rational thought over church-ordered policy—but his insistence upon writing in hieroglyphics highlights his intellectual solitude. In this moment, Rizal uses Tasio to illustrate that Filipino society is ignorant while also showing the downside of embracing isolation, which leads to an irrational acceptance of obscurity.
Tasio tells Ibarra that he heard about his encounter with Elías—the boatman—from “the Muse of the Civil Guard,” his term for the ensign’s wife, Doña Consolación, whom Ibarra neglected to invite to his party. Insulted, Doña Consolación heard about the incident with the crocodile, guessed that the boatman was the same person who threw her husband into the mud, and dispatched the Civil Guard to invade Ibarra’s party as a way of spiting him for not inviting her.
Doña Consolación’s manipulation of the Civil Guard to serve her own grievances brings to mind once again the many ways in which characters abuse power in Noli Me Tangere. In fact, with the exception of Ibarra’s project to build a school, it’s quite rare in the novel for a character to use an institution properly to benefit the community. Rather, people like Doña Consolación assert their authority over others by wielding whatever form of power is at their disposal.
Ibarra turns his attention to his plans to reform San Diego, telling Tasio that he intends to build a new school and asking for his advice, since Tasio always helped Ibarra’s father navigate tricky situations. First, Tasio tells Ibarra to not come to him for advice anymore, since the majority of the town thinks he is a madman because of his secular posturing and his commitment to reason. “People believe that madness is when you don’t think as they do, which is why they take me for a madman,” he says. “And I’m grateful for that, because, well, the day on which they restore my reason is the day the deprive me of the small bit of freedom I’ve purchased at the price of a reputation as a sane person.”
In this moment, Tasio insists that the idea of “madness” is predicated upon differing viewpoints. This means that powerful figures will claim their opponents are insane in order to discredit opposing ideas. The fact that Tasio is “grateful” for this because being a “madman” gives him “freedom” reinforces the idea that the old man welcomes his own social and intellectual isolation.
Tasio’s second piece of advice to Ibarra is that he consult the town’s influential leaders, including the priest and mayor. Tasio acknowledges that these people will offer bad advice. Nonetheless, it’s important for Ibarra to act like he’ll heed their suggestions. Ibarra asks, “Can’t I carry my idea forward without a shadow hanging over it? Can’t good triumph over everything, and truth not need to dress in the borrowed clothes of error?” Still, Tasio insists that Ibarra’s plans to build a school will only be met with scorn unless he gains the approval of the church and government. Eventually, Ibarra admits his belief that, though the Spanish government abuses its powers and overlooks the tyranny of the Catholic church, it is “working to introduce reforms that will correct these things.” Tasio points out that this is worse, because reforms from high places are “undermined at lower levels thanks to vice everywhere.”
Tasio’s argument that Ibarra must gain the church’s support before building the school is interesting because it implies that, despite his own affinity for the freedom that comes along with isolation, Tasio recognizes that an individual can’t bring about change if he is labeled a madman. As such, Ibarra must avoid social and political isolation by consulting with the priests and members of the local government, even if he believes this is unnecessary because the larger Spanish government will support his efforts.
Tasio urges Ibarra to “kiss the hand” of the country’s reigning powers in order to bring about good in San Diego. When Ibarra replies disgustedly that these same powers led to his father’s death, Tasio says, “If you hold on to those memories, […] abandon the task you have set before you […].” After a while, Ibarra accepts that the old philosopher is right, resolving to sacrifice his dignity in order to pull of his project.
In this moment, Tasio shows Ibarra that sometimes submission and subservience can be used tactically. In other words, if Ibarra swallows his pride, he’ll have a better chance of reforming his country and its system of education. Revenge, it seems, doesn’t lead to true change. Rather, Ibarra must focus on how he can work with his enemies to improve the Philippines.