Monday, January 12, 2004

A Refutation of the Weak Pin@y Character

There have been several instances in which Filipinos have criticized the Philippines as being weak because of the weak character of the Filipino people. This is a rebuttal by Lily Mendoza. As an aside, this is what I love about America. Scholars can come to this country, study the world and then critic the world.

From: Lily Mendoza 
Sent: Tuesday, January 06, 2004 10:33 PM
Subject: Re: [williams] Change!
I beg to disagree with the thesis of this message!  I thought we had by now already seen through and debunked this "Damaged Culture" thesis of the notorious Atlantic Monthly journalist James Fallows in 1987!  The contention that the reason for our continuing poverty is a function of our culture is not only a lie but utterly baseless and, pardon the _expression, stupid.   

If you look at all the countries being cited as examples (Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Japan, Switzerland) none of these have undergone the massive destruction and violence of protracted colonization as the Philippines had (in the case of Australia and NZ, these places were completely taken over by European colonial powers and became settler colonies, displacing their indigenous populations).  As one anthropologist put it, "Under conquest social and cultural formations enter long-term, often permanent states of crisis that cannot be resolved by either conqueror or conquered." 

I think we have yet to reckon fully with the impact of the Philippines' historic colonization that left in its wake a thin layer of English-speaking elites (like us) imposing a predominantly western mode of being and doing on the rest of Filipino masses whose indigenous cultures and ways of being were forcibly marginalized, if not totally displaced.  Contrary to the notion that it's our so-called "damaged culture" that's the problem, Edilberto Alegre has this to say: “I am not worried about our culture.  It survived Spain, the US, martial law and post-martial law eras.  It is adamantine.”  In fact, liberation psychologists Ver Enriquez, Felipe Jun de Leon, Fr. Bert Alejo, Zeus Salazar, among others, believe that our greatest strength lies in our indigenous cultures.  Unfortunately, owing to the way all our institutions (educational, religious, economic, etc.) remain structured around alien(ating) models, we're not able to tap into this rich cultural resource but now even consider such "counter-productive" and unfit for "progress." 

I think we make a very dangerous assumption when we attribute the poverty of poor nations as being their own making (as this powerpoint presentation clearly makes).  This is the same thing that is said here in the US (where I am) that the problem with the poor, the homeless, those on welfare, drug addicts, juvenile delinquents, etc. is that they are responsible for their own condition (as if they grew up ambitioning to become homeless, derelicts, addicts, etc.) given that they don't have the right attitude toward life, are lazy (lacking in work ethic), etc.  This is what those on the affluent side of the divide would have everyone believe: that if ever they are rich, it's because of all their wonderful traits, hard work and strength of character. 

On the contrary, ever take a moment to think what the rich countries given as examples have in common?  Ever notice they're all white (with the exception of Japan w/c nonetheless was an imperial power)?  Ever ask whether the aborigines of Australia, Canada and New Zealand feel they are rich and lucky to be living in such rich countries?  Ever heard of white supremacy working hand in hand with western cultural Christianity to reduce global injustice to a matter of personal responsibility and individual psychology?

I, too, used to believe that we Filipinos are cursed because we can never get our act together, are inherently lazy, irresponsible, easy-going, etc.  Some American missionaries even said that Filipinos will never make good leaders because they don't value time, are always late, and their "yes" is never a "yes" and their "no" not a "no.  I have since wizened up.  A bit of critical historiography and cultural studies went a long way in terms of making me realize that the reason why Europe and the West and most countries of the Northern hemisphere are rich is not because they have an inherently superior way of life or ideology but rather because they have plundered the wealth of Third World peoples, hauled off slaves to build their empires and shaped global economic arrangements to benefit their coffers.  THAT--rather than any intrinsic goodness and morality is what's behind the wealth of most wealthy nations.  Ever wonder why there's a direct inverse correlation between the growing wealth of such nations on the one hand and the increasing impoverishment of the rest of the world?  No, it's no coincidence. 

Alas, one of the functions of imperial ideology is precisely to naturalize the vast inequities in the world as being "just the way things should be" given the powerful nations' purported natural superiority in terms of their chosen way of life vs. the barbarism of backward peoples (like Filipinos), the message being, "until you become like us, you will never enjoy the blessings of progress." 

Thank you for giving me this chance to comment.  I noticed that most of those in your list come from NEDA.  If you have a chance to read the more recent works in historiography coming out of UP, that will be great.  I took the trouble to respond only because I find this powerpoint message being circulated very dangerous and precisely what Empire would love to have circulated and embraced by all its subject peoples.

Lily Mendoza
University of Denver
UP Alumna

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