Sunday, February 3, 2013


Sometimes, I'm amazed at how the Philippine educational system, deranged though it is, has produced people who appear to think profoundly, but not give an alternative future for the Philippines at all.

I have this acquaintance who prides himself on being a "proletaryo". In fairness to this guy, he is actually a working-class intellectual, the sort of Mao Zedong-types colegialas fall in love with, marry, and then dump well into their marriage because they eventually prove to be a burden. He reads much, talks much, and knows a lot of people. He is generally genial - until you hear this "proletaryo" shit from him. We're good, by the way - but I'm not okay with this kind of deception or hypocrisy I hear, not just from him, but from a lot of such other working-class intellectuals. It's becoming a widespread phenomenon in the Philippines.

I am a working-class intellectual, and one of the hardest things for us is to congeal (in Tagalog: pagtagni-tagniin) the things we learn in school, the things we read in books, and the doings of the people around us. We must make sense of all three for ourselves, especially the third; the Philippines is no intellectual paradise where you can even just inquire without being suspected of something bad. . An insuperable feeling of intellectual claustrophobia is stamped on us every time we look around and try to befriend people around us. This is exactly the feeling experienced by middle-class intellectuals and the upper classes in general as well - but we claim to be "working-class", or on the side of the people. We profess to love the people and serve the people because we're part of them. Working-class intellectuals are much like middle-class intellectuals without money. But we're intimately living with the working class non-intellectuals - and our differences with them become more substantial as the intimacy deepens.

It's a bit like having a girlfriend who doesn't share your BDSM tastes and likes sex only once a month, given that she does like it in your relationship in the first place.

So the danger for working-class thinkers here is to have intellectual "flings", instant gratifications of the mind. The thing is that, in the end, we could either 1) get sucked up by the system we are trying to change or at least peacefully coexist with, 2) create ivory towers for ourselves, where we can live out our fantasies and dreams, or 3) become cynical and hard-bitten by the reality. We end up bitter, and mistake the bitterness for "revolutionary fervor". We hold a "revolution" and, if it works out, we translate the bitterness into the kind of social regimen (not "regime", but regime change is a part of it) we feel our society must have. At best, we might foster a government like Cuba (left) or Milosevic-era Yugoslavia (right). At worst, we might give birth to another Khmer Rouge-era Cambodia (left), where a fifth of the population was killed just because the leaders wanted them killed, or Taliban-led Afghanistan (right), where, for ten years or so, militants chopped hands, stoned people, forced women to cover themselves entirely in public, and terrorized the general population just because they wanted to.

[You might be surprised that I didn't list Nazi Germany and the Stalin-era Soviet Union as the worst cases. At least the society stabilized and developed - for a time - before eventually breaking into mass killings. The cases I cited as 'worst' broke down society in those countries from the moment they came into existence, and rapidly.]  

I think that the Philippines still has a long way to go in developing its intellectuals, and its working class. The best treatment for this problem might be for us working-class intellectuals to realize that we are, in fact, part of the working class, and that will not change. We should adopt terminologies suited for the working class, an attitude open to the rest of the working class and their concerns, and not merely posturing in public. By virtue of the skills and information required of them every single day, the working class is actually very intelligent (maybe not 'informed', but intelligent). They know if someone is only deceiving them with words. The working class is the strength of a society, because most of the other classes look to them for everything they need. Working-class intellectuals need to remember this, not flinch when rubbing shoulders with the rest of the working class, and destroy any ivory towers.

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