Sunday, April 24, 2011

Get Real Post

It pleases me to see a new development in the Philippine blogosphere. Get Real Post is a re-invigorated compilation of blogs by Benigno and fellow contributors. Gone are the acerbic and one-dimensional Anti-Pinoy rants against President Aquino. In its stead are thoughtful blogs dealing with real subjects: economics, technology, show business and Philippine culture.

Beningo has always been one of the deepest thinkers dealing with the Pinoy condition and it is refreshing to see him enlarge his scope and embrace a more constructive effort to pull apart the ways and means of Philippine life and governance, in search of more productive thinking and acts.

Articles by contributors Orion, Ilda and BenK provoke thoughtful reflections, if not harmony. Already vigorous debates on the fringe of hostility have emerged regarding foreign investment and freedom of speech. And, yes, the unmoderated site gets immature outbursts by the occasional name-caller, but the name-callers are automatically diminished when their diatribes appear within reams of thoughtful debate. I am convinced that if such comments are simply ignored, they will find their rightful place in oblivion.

I grew dismayed with the collection of great minds on Anti-Pinoy limiting their scope to a simple grouse agenda about President Aquino and all things Filipino. It mirrored the Ego-based, tear-down culture so prevalent in the Philippines, and so unconstructive.

I have nothing against agendas. Indeed, I hope some specific agendas emerge from Get Real Post that have a chance to revitalize the Philippine way. Articulating a clear position on foreign investment would be wonderful. Also, pointing out ways to get more bang for the economic buck would be valuable. For example, I am convinced that positioning Customs as primarily a taxing agency, operating within the Department of Finance, is counter productive when Customs could be an agent for change, for significantly stepping up Philippine imports, exports . . . and jobs.

I’d simply transfer Customs from the Department of Finance to the Department of Trade and Industry and give them a primary charter of helping importers and exporters compete. Such a simple step. Such a profound change . . . for the better.

It would be nice to see a short checklist of a few positive acts emerge from the dialogue so that participants are not just writing and reading ideas, but working for real change. I suspect they would get to the Aquino administration, as I sense that the President’s motives are good, even if his expertise suffers from lack of experience and “applied vision”.

It would be great to see Get Real Post work on “applied vision”.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Ego Bondage

Okay, I can move on to a different subject now. I can do no more regarding this culture thing.

After following the Japanese way of “asking why five times”, I have a crystal clear picture of the essence of Philippine culture. I asked why is the nation so poor and struggling and got the answer corruption. I asked why is there corruption and got the answer greed. I asked the question why is greed allowed and got the answer that this is a society that believes laws of self-advantage supersede laws of state. I asked the question why don’t people fix this and got the answer that Filipinos are blind to the roots of their own behavior.

So now I know what separates Filipino culture from western culture, where the former is haphazard and the latter productive. The Philippines is bound by its accumulation of Egos, by millions of people going about their day taking care of themselves, not even aware that there is a different dimension to life: taking care of the community.

Even Filipino pride is shallow and self-engaged, an excuse, a way to hide from the malaise that surrounds the nation: the corruption, the pollution, the violence, the unkindness, the incompetence. Pride hangs on the achievements of a boxer or singer or Miss Philippines or a really good tuba-drunk cock fight.

But there is no pride in achievement, for there is so precious little of it.

Achievement requires a “marketplace of others” where a person aspires to compete well and honorably against people who are also striving to do well, striving to grow, striving to gain, striving to produce. It doesn’t require a place where everyone merely subsists by taking care of themselves while being unkind to others.

Productivity is also other-directed. It requires creating a product that SOMEONE ELSE wants. Alas, self-engagement does not permit other-oriented disciplines such as time-management, the courtesy of appointments or taking care of someone else’s needs.

Barriers to productivity thrive: corporate Philippines in collusion with elected officials; corruption that diverts money from wealth-building; pollution that makes people sick and drains their health and pocket books; unsafe conditions that wash people away in mudslides or kill them when stray dogs trip their motorcycles; an education system that builds respect for authority, to the advantage of the empowered elite . . . but not innovation or ambition.

Everything is for the benefit of the empowered.

The Philippines needs a revolution, not of guns and democracy. But of culture, of thinking. It needs a wake-up call. A release from bondage.

People must come to realize that to compete as an individual . . . to achieve and gain riches of wallet and soul . . . one must take care of others. One must create markets.

The old power model, where intimidation and cheating and uncaring dominance is admired, must be squashed dead. It is sucking the Philippines dry.

Who has the perspective and the power to lead a revolution?

The church is too self-involved and bound by old doctrine. Politicians are too self-engaged. Corporations and rich people are too greedy. Indeed, these are the three pillars that support a dense power front that blocks progress: the church, the politicians and the corporate dogs. It is a national axis of evil; it perpetuates poverty and favoritism.

The only force strong enough to cut through this blockade is the internet community. But it can’t be done by whining bloggers like those on Anti-Pinoy. It requires constructive work, not tear-down, Ego-bound complaints that mirror the malaise of the community they criticize.

It requires a few people to step forward to lead, people who “get it” and are willing to give a little of self to start building a new Philippines. Then it will require money, and publicity, and acts that challenge the well-embedded status quo of Ego-bound Filipino behavior. . .

Call it a revolution. One that aspires to rid the country of the leadership of three dictators that have the country locked in poverty and favoritism: (1) the Catholic Church that consigns the Philippines to poverty, (2) self dealing politicians who drain the nation of riches earned by the people, and (3) corporate dogs who don’t build markets, but limit them.

The revolution needs to replace the subsistence mentality with an achievement mentality. It needs to throw out the obsession with self and replace it with a giving of self and thoughtful efforts to care for the community.

I have no confidence that this kind of revolution can be envisioned or organized by citizens hereabouts, and for me to urge it on is like some foreigner beating a dead horse on the streets of Manila.

It is time for me to search for a different animal to see if it is dead or alive. Maybe an 800 pound gorilla, called government finance.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Butt Muscles and Filipinos

Racism carries with it a negative connotation, that one brand of humans wrongly considers themselves better than another because of the color of their skin or some other hard-wired distinction between peoples. Well, Humpty Dumpty knows full well that a word means whatever you say it means, and for the purposes of this article, I define racism as neither good nor bad. It is the process of recognizing the differences between groups of people. It is an analytical, rational, statistical process with no stigma good or bad attached to it.

Take the case of basketball. There is a reason for the movie “White Guys Can’t Jump”. Generally, whites have a lesser developed set of butt and leg muscles than blacks, so they can’t elevate as well toward the rim.

“Generally” has its own definition as well. It means most or a lot or enough to make a point.

Westerners and Filipinos have differing characteristics as well, passed genetically along, one generation to the next. Throw in Arabs and we really have something to talk about. It has nothing to do with butt muscles, but with the way the brain breaks down facts and aspires to knowledge, the iterations or processes it goes through to align thoughts.

Western thinking is deductive, building to greater knowledge from a set of observed facts. Westerners are really good at solving problems.

Filipino thinking is inductive, taking greater knowledge and mashing it up into a pile of reactive nonsense.

Arab thinking is emotional and chaotic and wholly incapable of harmony with anything at all.

Western thinking strives to understand its own behavior, the whys and wherefores of emotions and what motivates us to act as we do. It appreciates change. It is modern. Filipino thinking is strictly defensive, Ego-bound and locked into itself. Filipino thinking is hostile to any change. So you have an idea of why the Philippines is stuck in 1945. Arab thinking is loaded with logic that is bullshit in disguise. It is impossible to nail anything down or decide anything or depend on anyone or anything. That’s why Arabs generally are still running around loud and wild-eyed, looking for people to nail to the cross or blow out of skyscrapers.

At least the Philippines got to 1945.

That’s as far as I’ve gotten on this line of deductive thought. I’ll leave the rest up to you to figure out, based on your racially determined inclination to do so. Or not.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Puppets and the Ilk of Ilda

Prowling through a reread of Tom Clancy’s novel “Red Storm Rising”, I was struck by his description of the Russian power complex of the 1980’s. The Red empire was no longer run by an individual strong man like Stalin, but by committees and commissioners in which the President was mainly a public face, for his hands were tied by all the deals he struck to become the President. The country was actually run by whoever could muster the most support in the conference rooms of the influential.

Clancy’s most worthy observation was that the President’s power was constrained by all the compromises he had to make to become President.

It is a characterization that fits well in Philippine democracy where the driver is not public service but collectives of self-interest and power.

President Aquino is more puppet than master, making compromises to this influential group or that: the Catholic Church, big business oligarchs, military leaders, the US of A, public perception as measured by polls, family and personal friends.

Those who would criticize President Aquino’s goof-ups or flip-flops or weak decisions are wasting their energy. It would be wiser to criticize the influential forces that motivate him, or else band together with others to form a new influential force. You can shout all you want into the face of Elmer Snerd, but he is just a well-carved hunk of wood with a human’s hand in his back. The puppet himself is immune to criticism.

If you try to attack “Willing Willie” the person, you become water off the duck’s flamboyant back feathers. His super-sized Ego protects him. However, if you attack the influential forces behind him – the advertisers of the show – things happen. Willie’s Ego can’t defend against that.

The President of the Philippines is just a cog in the democratic machine. He is not the gas pedal or the brake or the steering wheel. As a cog, he is made of stout material, rust free. He is good for the Philippines.

Those who bluster in frustration and bludgeon the President with words fail to see how the system works. These critics are na├»ve’ and ineffective, the very same weaknesses they ascribe to President Aquino.

They would get more done by going after the puppeteers . . . the drivers . . . the influences behind the President. Given their self-proclaimed insight, these critics ought to have a better grasp of the dynamics that make the Philippine presidency what it is.

Even predecessor Arroyo bowed to the puppeteers: her husband, the Church, President Obama, and eventually a group of Senators who would not countenance her messing with the Constitution.

Critics of the President generally don’t have a clue about how to effect change in the Philippines. They are just flapping their gums in the wind, beating madly on a big windmill with small twigs, whistling Dixie in Georgia.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Born Again Filipino

JoeAm’s arrogant but marvelously simple five-step method of becoming a born-again Filipino:

1. Always carry a book and read it in public even if your friends try to insult you for being a “librarian”. Help interject the pride of being smart into Philippine culture, driving out the macho pride of tuba-swilling cock fights and the bimbo pride of show-biz glitz and gossip.

2. When a friend hurts himself, ask if he is okay rather than laugh. Practice the art of caring about other people’s pain or circumstance. The English word is compassion.

3. Shoot your dog or pen it up so that it is no longer a risk to motorcyclists, no longer infests neighborhood kids with fleas, and no longer poops and pisses where others walk. Practice thinking and acting for the well-being of others.

4. When someone else tosses a plastic wrapper to the sidewalk, pick it up and stuff it in your pocket for proper disposal later. You need say nothing, for the picture is strikingly clear. You care about the Philippines.

5. When you are driving, yield to pedestrians who have entered the crosswalk; ignore those who honk at you or blast impatiently past, for they are rude and inconsiderate souls, a stark representation of what Filipinos should strive not to be.

I’m not saying this is easy. It is very, very hard.

But through these simple, difficult steps, you will become a person of principle instead of a person of convenience. You will be born again.

When enough Filipinos care about something other than their own advantage, the Philippines will become a nation of conscience, a nation of thought and thoughtfulness, a nation of accomplishment. The nation will become richer of soul and richer of treasure.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

When Child Abuse is Acceptable

It is acceptable to father a child then run off to another city because you don’t want to pay for raising the kid. Who cares if the kid lives his whole life knowing he was not wanted?

It is acceptable to have a kid and farm him out to Granny or Auntie or Sister’s cousin rather than personally nurture his young life. Who cares if the kid understands that he was not worth his mother’s trouble?

It is acceptable to plop a kid in front of the TV where he can watch skimpily clad girls gyrate sexily, and never sit down with him to show him the joys of reading a book. Who cares if the kid is never given a chance to achieve his educational potential?

It is acceptable to have another kid, in addition to the eight now on hand, to make sure there is another laborer – at age nine - available to earn (or steal or beg for) money for the rice, the tuba and the lotto. Who cares about child exploitation?

It is acceptable to teach a child to follow rules and obey those in power and never display the impertinence of thinking for himself. Who cares if the child never learns about ambition and creativity and achievement?

It is acceptable not to care whether or not a child is grieving inside. Who cares if he is miserable and angry all the way into his adult years?

These abuses are common in the Philippines; they are widely accepted without protest. The Catholic Church encourages the conditions that lead to abuse. The government sanctions abuse by failing to stop it. The schools teach lock-step obedience instead of healthy self-esteem. Parents participate in the abuse by offering up every excuse in the book to avoid responsibility for it.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Faith–Based Lunacy

When faith concocts a reality that is separate from reason, why is that not considered lunacy?

Craziness is a departure from normal behavior. It is behavior that roams a couple of standard deviations from the mean. Most would consider it normal to see facts as facts, to recognize false patterns and to discern right from wrong. But faith asks us to deny such thinking.

Mathematicians can overlay probability statistics on events, like what is the probability that a guy can live more than two minutes in the belly of a whale or that I’ll get a bunch of virgins in heaven if I blow some heathen enemy to bits along with myself. God thinks in mere human terms and wears a beard? Or that an apple full of enlightenment woke man to his essential nakedness?

Faith denies common sense. It denies mathematics.

If these tales are to be taken as allegory, how do I discern truth? Do I listen to the pastor or preacher or imam or rabbi or priest and take his very humanly word for it? After all, these are the guys with the strength of character to bong the choir boys, burn heathens at the stake or otherwise tread God’s earthly planet in an earthy way once they slip away from God’s mighty pulpit.

The church is confined by doctrine written centuries ago when celibacy was considered Godly and birth control devices did not exist. Celibacy was an example to the masses of the Greatest Birth Control Device of All Time, denial.

Now, the flood of babies is slamming humanity against the wall of limited resources, and the church cries out, “Don’t stop! It is good.” Never mind the lack of food and suffering, the millions of unwanted children, the coat-hanger abortions, all the tears of Mankind. God is good.


Alas, no matter how you cut it, right and wrong are circumstantial, defined by whomever you cede your mind to. In one faith, it is correct to stone women, in another it is not. In one faith, it is correct to condemn those who would wear a condom or drink coffee, in another, no problem.

When the foundation of right and wrong is slippery, people concoct a made-up set of rules for their behavior. Tie the rigid rules to stubborn blindness and unrestrained emotions and we end up with the chaos now seen around the globe. Inflexibility in the name of faith. Intolerance. Anger. Guns and bombs and a gross failure to simply talk to one another. Rather than dealing forthrightly and intelligently with real problems . . . like people having nothing to eat, or global warming, or disappearing resources . . . we fall on our knees and pray to some imaginary almighty Dude for help.

Faith enflames our basest inclinations; it does not calm them.

What a sorry bunch of schmucks we are, failing to take responsibility for the havoc that we wreak upon the planet. Failing to rein in our emotions.

I believe God exists. But He would be a Schmuck, too, if He granted us robust brainpower then sent us to Hell for using it to think rationally.

I have more confidence in Him than man’s churches do.

To me, life is about discipline and honesty and hard work and accepting responsibility for outcomes. It is not about stumbling along on some faith-based cloud wishing and hoping, blaming Satan or the neighbor, or begging from God or the neighbor. It is not to deny responsibility, thereby making ourselves small; it is to live large by accepting responsibility.