It came to me the other day as I sat in the shade amongst the bamboo that dominate our back garden. Filipinos lack a certain passion.
Now the immediate reaction from most Filipinos will be, ironically, passionate.
- "You dickhead, JoeAm, how can you say that about a country that overthrew its dictator decades ago, before the Arabs even thought about it?
- "What about the cheering throngs backing Colonel Pacquiao?"
- "Hey, muttonbrain, you obviously were not at EDSA!"
- "And our tears, our tears!! You don't see them on the daytime entertainment shows like Showtime that pour it on for the poor? Or can't you imagine what is going on at home at night where people sit glued to the tearjerk dramas on TV?"
- "Hey foreigner, go back home! You wanna see passion, check out the business end of my .45!"
- "But Joe, you are married to a Filipina. Surely you find her passionate!"
And I fall to my knees and plead "wait, wait!" I said a certain passion. A specific kind of passion.
Please don't let your impatient, hotheaded passion get the best of your inquiring mind. At least hear me out.
A certain kind of passion.
It has been perplexing to me to observe what appears to be a bump in the space/time continuum as it pertains to Filipino thinking. I know Filipinos are intelligent. My wife is smarter than me, with her high school degree and my BA in Mathematics and MA in Radio and Television Arts. She reads things quicker, remembers things better, and can solve a practical problem faster. I dither and ponder, for I am Gemini, busy looking at all sides of an issue. Yes, sometimes my problem solving is a little richer. But by the time I have it figured out, she has made the decision and is onto something new.
The breadth of education in the Philippines is amazing. Zillions of kids march daily off to their dilapidated, overcrowded classrooms to learn as best they can. Some good brains emerge. Not enough, but plenty to organize a successful nation. Many adults speak two languages and several dialects. I speak English and 200 words of Visayan that I can string into lengthy sentences of one or two words.
Along with India, the Philippines is the call center capital of the world. It can deal in the World Language better than any Asian country except Singapore. Many Presidents, generals and top-officials went to top-flight American universities, or the best universities in the Philippines.
Read Rizal or Mariano Renato or Doy Santos or, yes, Benigno, and you see intellectual foundations that go deeper than that of 99% of all Americans. Seeing with wise eyes, expressing concepts artistically or logically.
Filipinos are smart.
Then why is the nation so poor? So corrupt? So polluted? So industrially lackluster?
That is the bump in the space/time continuum that I've been working on. So let me try my latest iteration of thinking about this. First, a review.
I have learned that one cultural phenomenon of Filipinos that sets them apart from Americans and other Western cultures is a humongous preoccupation with self. I call it Ego, with a capital E because it is so profound. This Ego is also tender, sensitive, and susceptible to either murderous outrage or total capitulation.
Egos actually fit quite well into the Philippine social system of situational power, where people size each other up as fast as the mind can compute, "that guy has a nice car, he may be someone important; so what if he is on my side of the road; I choose the rice paddy." Power and subservience to power are two poles of hundreds of daily interactions, whether they be on the road or in the bank or at a government office. The person in power is rude, the person without power concedes. And makes excuses or tosses blames to save face or undermine the face of the person with power. . . behind his back.
Seldom to his face. Delicate dazzle requires submission.
Sometimes people can buy a little power with some excess cash. That is the Philippine style of corruption which is broadly accepted as legitimate no matter what big fish the President is currently trying to fry. After all, the main currency is not the peso, but the favor. Trading favors may get more accomplished than cash investments. But cash is also a nice favor to swap, under the table, or behind the scenes. A job. A court settlement. A driver's license. An election. An unfair contract. A used helicopter as new.
So Ego is big here, and power, and the trade of favors.
Overlay the Ego with a case of blindness to one's own susceptibility to the forces of power, and you have a great unmovable chunk of concrete that does not do change well. Why have things not changed much from the 1950's? First of all, there is precious little introspection, so there is no read-out that gross change is needed. Second, thinking outside the box puts one at the target side of the bow-and-arrow where traditionalists take plenty of shots. After all, rich oligarchs who control everything like being rich oligarchs, and they sit at the pinnacle of power. All that they do . . . or fail to do . . . like stuff in a sewer line . . . flows downhill.
It is a society that does not do strategies well. It is transactional, waiting for and reacting to the assorted powers that emerge from the day's activities. Or from the ever present oligarchs. No one dare pre-empt the powers that be. No one dare plan around them.
And that brings me to the matter of a certain passion. Or the absence thereof. Why do people not rebel if they are dealt shit every time they turn around? Why are they subservient? I don't mean march and mindlessly join the anti-government protests occurring around the globe, as if responsibility can somehow be found in a mob. Why don't they form progressive, independent political groups? Or a consumer's union? Or a civil liberties union? Why don't they organize the universities with a charisma that shouts loud and clear, "this is what we demand!"? How can the Catholic Church speak so powerfully, but a million university students stand largely mute?
Why don't they protest FOR certain rights, instead of against things. Protest FOR gender equality and divorces that give women (or men) the right to end relationships that punish them; just as they had the right to form a relationship they erroneously thought would be good for them? It is a legal contract, by Constitutional law outside the reach of faith. Protest FOR equal opportunity laws that remove favor from the career path and substitute competence in its stead? Protest FOR free schools so the poor have opportunities equal to richer folk? Protest FOR free access to courts so justice serves all?
I argue that the reason is the lack of a certain kind of passion. One that knows how to channel wrong into a forceful corrective path. Missing is the passion of righteousness.
The United States is a nation of immigrants. People left the hard times in their homelands and set out to find the wealth of opportunity available in a democratic nation. They moved their lives to a capitalist nation that prized ambition. A free nation, dedicated to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. A growing nation with lots of land and riches there for the discovery. Gold. Silver. Farms. Ranches. Stores. Trade. Banking.
They bought into the American Dream lock, stock and soul. They became passionate about defending it. They defeated racists in the Civil War. They advocated gender equality, age equality. Fair treatment. Transparent information rather than commercial manipulation. They became litigious, and a flood of social justice lawsuits defined where freedom left off and harm began. The passion of righteousness arose every day in every form of media. Right and wrong were knocked about and shaped until a center emerged. And good. And how to attain life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness as an individual and as a community.
The passion of righteousness became the soul of the American Dream.
That is what is missing in the Philippines. Missing is a deep-down sense of wrong carried too far. Missing is the national scream for a right abandoned for too long.