By Angelita B. Resurreccion
UP Diliman, 9 October 2013
Submitted To Dr Michael Tan
In Partial Fulfillment Of Requirements For The Course On Anthro 282,
Culture And Personality
I remember reading this article one evening sometime in 1988 after I had put my two-year old boy to bed. My husband had brought home a photocopy from his graduate class at UP, and I remember the outrage I felt within me. How dare this Fallows guy kill my dream of a changed Philippines? Our family was away in the Netherlands during the People Power Revolution and we had come back full of enthusiasm to take part in rebuilding the nation. In fact, I had started a small school in Old Balara, an urban poor settlement across Tandang Sora behind the UP Campus, as an expression of our family’s romantic notions about helping the poor.
Today, 25 years later, I am glad I can read Fallows more soberly, having experienced a seesaw of feelings, from excitement to disappointment, within months after election of presidents who followed after Cory. Informed by formulations encountered in graduate courses in education, psychology, and anthropology over the past few years, I see that Fallows wrote from a perspective that viewed culture, power, history and education as discrete analytical categories. While his views seemed valid on the face of surface events he had written about, his article failed to help readers (particularly Filipinos) understand what was going on. Instead, he managed to infuriate Filipinos enough to be declared persona non grata. By laying the blame on culture, it was like him saying the problem with people was they were human. Fallows was like saying the problem with Filipinos was that they were brought up in the Philippines by Filipinos.
Why blame Filipinos for their culture? Is culture a cause? Or an effect? My thesis is that it is both a cause and an effect, just like much of life. It is produced, and reproduced, in all of life, particularly in schools. People like Fallows, and his country America, who introduced their brand of culture, were very much a part of the whole process.
All about Fallows
- Fallows as author
I think Fallows, and any other author, is entitled to his own opinion. That is what makes democracy work, and that was the objective of our resistance to Marcos for a long long time during our youth. As President, Marcos declared he was the only one who had the right to say what was good for the country and everyone had to agree on the pain of disappearance from the face of the earth. In the Freedom Constitution of 1987, ratified shortly before Fallows wrote his article, opinions even of people such as those expressed by Fallows is guaranteed. As I engage myself in discourse with his article, I note two points about him.
First, I note that Fallows writes as an American. I believe those who want to know about our culture should read articles written by Filipinos. But if the reader wants to know what Americans think about our culture, then s/he should read one such as this one written by Fallows. For instance, Fallows’ understanding of the ethic of delicadeza seemed wanting from my emic perspective. I think his etic equivalents, which include saving face or vague sense of guilt, do not totally capture “delicadeza”. But if those were his understandings of the term, he should have applied them on himself, or at least apologized for his lack of kagandahang asal. In the context of Philippine culture, if you really need to say something bad, nagpapaalam ka muna, magpasintabi ka muna. As the saying goes, “Bato bato sa langit, ang tamaan wag sana magalit.” So he should have exercised delicadeza and asked permission from his Filipino readers that he was going to hurt their feelings, and whether that was all right.
But as I said, he writes as an American. So he did not seek permission. I wonder if he even informed his Filipino friends, or at least those he had bothered when he went about his data gathering, that he was going to write disparagingly about them. If he did not ask their permission, he could have suggested ways by which local readers could use what he wrote to improve their lives. So, again, he writes as an American. If his behavior is not even American, let me say that he definitely did not write like a Filipino would. We want to be of value to others, even by the way we give negative feedback. Ayaw natin makasakit ng kapwa, lalo na kung bisita lang tayo. May delicadeza tayo. As an American, Fallows probably wrote for Americans, not for Filipinos who I suspect were kind to him.
Second, as an American, he was an outsider writing about Filipinos. We were an Other, and expressed himself from a position of power. Given the historical events, it was the US that had unplucked the dictator from the country, it was their Senator Lugar whom the dictator had called by phone to consult about what to do when he was rammed into a corner by people in the streets outside his Palace. It seemed Cory Aquino was in power because of them. You immediately see Fallows’ positionality in his very first paragraph:
In the United States the coming of the Aquino government seemed to make the Philippines into a success story. The evil Marcos was out, the saintly Cory was in, the worldwide march of democracy went on. All that was left was to argue about why we stuck with our tawdry pet dictator for so long, and to support Corazon Aquino as she danced around coup attempts and worked her way out of the problems the Marcoses had caused (Emphasis mine).
and in his last :
America knows just what it will do to defend Corazon Aquino against usurpers, like those who planned the last attempted coup. We’ll say that we support a democratically chosen government, that this one is the country’s best hope, that we’ll use every tool from economic aid to public-relations pressure to help her serve out her term. But we might start thinking ahead, to what we’ll do if the anticoup campaign is successful–to what will happen when Aquino stays in, and the culture doesn’t change, and everything gets worse. (Emphasis mine)
His writings contrast to my view that the ouster of Marcos was the collective achievement of our people. America decided to benefit from our struggle by stepping in, rather than the other way around. America’s stepping in likely saved Marcos from being murdered by the people, not saving the people from Marcos. That is my opinion, and obviously, from where I write and who I am, mine is from a powerless position. In the corridors of world power, my voice and those of thousands who marched in EDSA, were probably not heard because America loomed large in Fallows’ article, and he saw events as an American accomplishment, in the global march of democracy. Of course, in 1987, America was still powerful. The democracy rhetoric, then and now, is what would appeal to an American reader (given their notions of being the greatest country on earth). Fallows chose to remain silent on the people of the Philippines rejecting Marcos as their democratic icon. I am not sure if he was ignorant of us, but as I said, we are powerless and so we did not matter. Instead, he and the US promoted the idea that the new icon Cory Aquino was theirs, after they rejected the previous one. Fallows was just being American. Every leader on the planet needed to blessed by America.
In writing about Filipinos, Fallows presented us as an Other. People like Fallows who come from a position of dominance consider it normal to take or give the right to determine what is valuable for a people, and label those in subordinate positions (Filipinos in the Philippines) as defective or substandard. Culture is a tool for making Other ( Abu-Lughod, 1991).
What Fallows may not realize is that an outsider never really stands outside, but is actually positioned within a larger political-historical context. What he has written about the Philippines are but partial pictures of Philippine society, and should be seen in the context of socio-cultural-political-historical forces which his own country and people helped produce.
- Static view of culture
In his article, Fallows’ view of culture seems to be static. Culture is reified, and made capable of causing underdevelopment, of bringing out the “the productive best in the Koreans (or the Japanese, or now even the Thais),” and in Filipinos, their “most self-destructive, self-defeating worst.” But culture is not static. Anthropologists view that culture as a social structure that powerfully impinges on people’s behaviors (for instance as a set of behaviors, customs, traditions, rules, plans, and programs, to name a few), it is nevertherless learned and can change (Abu-Lughod, 1991). Hence, it is dynamic rather than static (Hytten, 2011).
Ignoring role of history and power
Even as Fallows lays the blame for Philippine underdevelopment at the feet of culture, he could have interrogated the way history and power relations in society intersect in people’s everyday lives so that he might better understand Filipinos rather than resorting to moralizing or blaming. To do this, he could have examined how schools produce and transmit the damaged culture he wrote about. In this context, it is useful to refer to Nader’s (1997) conceptualization of the term “controlling processes” to understand why Filipinos seem to be behaving in ways that are contrary to their own interests, hence suggesting a damaged cultural frame. Controlling processes refer to the transformative nature of central ideas (such as Marcosian New Society ideology and development rhetorics) that emanate from institutions (the State, in the case of Marcos, and schools/industries, in the case of globalized US interests), operating as dynamic components of power.
Schools have been a favored site for the shaping of Philippine culture ever since the US sent the first batch of Thomasites to “educate” our people. In the case of Marcos, schools and teachers were favored intruments for implanting his ideologies for a New Society and imposing docility and acquiescence among the people.
When Fallows came to the country in 1987, a number of ideas had been encoded in the people as they went through life in or out of school, and these found their way into ways of thinking and behaving that came to be considered “natural” and “logical” as good for society (thereby creating consent). This way of thinking was described by Fallows as a damaged culture, as if there was a perfect one that was possible. Perhaps at this time, 2013, with America having a government shutdown, he knows for sure that he is not living in one. Theories of power indicate how ideologies and policies emanating from social institutions download ideas that are accepted by people (either by choice, persuasion or by coercion and compulsion).
Ignoring our agency
It was Giroux (1983) who wrote that social and cultural reproduction is never complete and always meet with partially realized elements of opposition. I think that was what Fallows should have realized. His views were particular for a time in history, when Filipinos were still discovering what it meant to exercise their freedoms in a suddenly equal but definitely unequal society. By the time Fallows wrote the article in November 1987, we were not work in progress, we were work warming up to start. The Freedom Constitution was just passed.
Being an outsider, Fallows had no way of knowing what Filipinos outside of the Marcos cronies and the favored Cory elite groups did in order to interpret their world and exercise their agencies to create a better culture. At the UP Psychology Department for example, psychologists were persistently working hard to cobble a Sikolohiyang Pilipino to benefit Filipinos so that we need not use outsider lenses to define who we were and what our future would be like. Dr Virgilio Enriquez said as much.
It was around 1985 when my husband and I, plus a group of like-minded young informal settlers in Old Balara, got together to find expressions for our own Community Revolution. We put up our own school, and established a Christian fellowship that would express our basis for resisting injustices brought about by Marcos, blind obedience to church interpretations of papal dogma, the dictates of market forces as to the language of education or for tracking young people in schools. We believe that culture is what we make it, and local communities should be the ones to define what is best for their own cultures, being aware of- our heritage, our strengths and weaknesses, our hopes as a people.
In our work with the community, we have time and again proven that it pays to listen to the people we write about. They have a voice, they know what works for them in their world. We need to write from a position of equality so that we understand them and be able to unpack what it is about their lived experience that has made it difficult to see why their behaviors are not beneficial to them. They need also to listen to others who can see, for having considered their oppressions as “natural”, they cannot or feel powerless to access knowledge available only to those in positions of dominance. Fallows failed to see that when he pointed out how newspapers were available only to the few millions closest to Manila.
Instead of moralizing or blaming the poor, the goal of writers should be to understand and empower the disadvantaged. Otherwise, writing like Fallows did about people from Smokey Mountain made them double victims of their poverty.
Abu-Lughod, L. (1991). Writing Against Culture. In Recapturing Anthropology: Working in the Present (pp. 466–479). Santa Fe: School of American Research Press.
Giroux, H. (1983). Theories of reproduction and resistance in the new sociology of education: a critical analysis. Harvard Educational Review, 53(3), 257–293.
Hytten, K. (2011). Cultural studies in education. In Handbook of research in the social foundations of education (pp. 206–218). New York: Routledge.
Nader, L. (1997, December). Controlling processes: Tracing the dynamic components of power – ProQuest Central – ProQuest. Retrieved from http://search.proquest.com/pqcentral/docview/237092130/fulltextPDF/137E080D7095D204928/10?accountid=141440