I recently read a blog post about former Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad and his thoughts about Philippine political leadership and culture. Needless to say, it evoked a strong reaction in me, thus, this post. Read the blog post that is the subject of my ire here.
Philippine culture is not flawed. How could culture be flawed? According to whose standards is it flawed? Based on whose measures of ‘healthy cultural functioning’ is it flawed? — Whatever your race or ethnicity, would you accept a serious proposition that your culture is flawed? To argue and seriously believe that a people’s culture is flawed underlies flawed thinking, and a deeply limited understanding of the construct of culture.
Culture is like an iceberg: we often only see what’s above the water line, when it reality it is much more expansive and far-reaching.
Social norms can be flawed, and, therefore, the true subject of significant change. Smoking used to be cool; in 21st century California, it no longer is.
Between culture and norms, there is a difference; we don’t need experts to argue the distinction for us for we can think deeply about it ourselves. Culture, on one hand, is about creative, intellectual, spiritual, and material heritage, traditions, and values; norms, on the other hand, are patterned social behavior based on an interpretation of or rebellion from heritage, traditions, and values.
Kundiman and martial arts are parts of the Filipino culture; the teaching of these in the teacher’s backyard, instead of a commercial space, is a norm.
1). The fundamental problem is an education system that deposits ideas into the people, instead of cultivating the people to have original ideas of their own.
2). The problem is an education system that breeds dependence at the grassroots and entitlement at the grasstops.
As a result, public dialogue is coopted by a chattering class that frequently serves the interests of the elite; patrons are entitled to political leadership as though it were any other family heirloom; ordinary people too willingly give up their responsibility in self-governance due to their perception of their own ineptitude.
In all three cases, for a majority of the time, no one bucks the conventional thinking; no one demonstrates depth of thought, or braves to critically think. It is thus that we are prisoners of our own collective mind and the social system we create and transmit to the next generation.
Those who flee the Philippines do so to be free from this flawed social system and the flawed social norms that normalize and sustain it. They leave not because they reject their culture; they leave because leaving is the most generous and loving act they can do for their families. Away from the flawed social system, free from the corrupting social norms, those who leave thrive, like most everyone else. Their source of strength, their anchor, the foundation of their identity, is their beautiful uniquely Filipino culture.