Identity as Defined by Cringe
(Rejoinder to the previous entry)
A reader rightfully asked, “Where’s the outrage over F. Sionil Jose’s offensive article?”
A cursory search of reactions on Mr. Jose’s controversial article, “Why Filipinos are shallow,” shows a somewhat overwhelming number of favorable responses. This is disturbing, yet at the same time expected: the response to the “mephitic anodyne” is an attempt at self-reflexivity bordering on self-mutilation. It’s as if to say that we’re beyond redemption, much less saying that every allegation and accusation made in a public forum against the Filipino is only true because it hurts.
The reason why it eats at me is because it cringes upon Filipino cultures.
Cringe is a response that comes from cultural alienation. It takes cringe to say that the tinikling can be learned in ten minutes, much less compare it to a very different dance and have the temerity to say that one is better than the other. It takes cringe to measure sophistication and breeding in terms of Western tastes and Western tastes alone, to fail and feign appreciation for the indigenous and the homegrown. It takes cringe to say that “Filipino culture” is the culprit and cause to every Filipino problem. It takes cringe to divide the world in simplistic terms: the valiant Occident and the pathetic Orient.
It takes cringe to say what F. Sionil Jose said, just like it took cringe to say what James Soriano said about language. It takes cringe to subscribe and to believe in the undercurrents of self-flagellating anti-Filipino ethnocentrism in the Internet. It takes cringe to strip the Filipino of his pride, underscoring the achievements of the Lee Kuan Yew’s and the criticisms of James Fallows’s of this planet, and reduce the Filipino into simple terms and essentialisms, and reducing the argument to psychoanalysis. That he is inherently problematic and irrational: that class, status, and social stratification have nothing to do with the woes his nation experiences.
I’m not saying that we don’t have problems. What I’m saying is that our problems have solutions, and they’re not found in self-mutilation or self-flagellation passed off as an exercise in critical thinking. The best of our critical thought should not be wasted in navel-gazing and wrist-slashing, the acknowledgement that as victims of oppression, we hold the key to our liberation. And if we’re going to tackle the cause, we should realize that it’s never just us: we are so because we are oppressed. We will be because we refuse to remain oppressed.
In a country where the gap – no, the chasm – between rich and poor is too obvious and taken-for-granted, the argument should be rooted on class: not on ethnicity or some antiquated concept of “race,” not on class as abstractions like virtue and excellence. We should be cringing on more obvious and compelling realities: the inability to afford good food and shelter, the lack of capability to secure an excellent education, and so on and so forth. The few who are so high up the social pyramid have control over so much. Philippine society is shaped – and is still being shaped – by patterns of oppression and the denial of capability.
These things have solutions rooted on social justice: making food and shelter and education available for all, and making access to resources like jobs and opportunities equitable for everybody. Saying that “Filipinos are shallow because they don’t read” is to doom the nation to functional illiteracy just because many of the poor can’t afford to buy very expensive books and are better off spending what little money they have on food. Rather, it should be to say that Filipinos are made shallow by a system that denies the masses the capability to afford books and get the education needed to appreciate and understand them. Saying that “Filipino is the language of the streets” is to fail to appreciate the complexities and depths of the language. Rather, it should be to say that Filipino is the language of the streets because a system of oppressive, one-sided globalization has made it profitable for people to understand and use one – and only one – language at the expense of the intricacies and beauty of indigenous languages forcibly left behind and killed in order to survive in a single world-system.
Simply put, it is to root the problems of society somewhere. It is to reconfigure the view. It is to lend historicity, and marry the problem with a cause found in society’s history. It’s to see ourselves more than just passive actors and sponges for the blame game, cringing at our heritage and being because “the truth hurts.”
The challenge is to lend depth to our identity as more than something that takes root only when we cringe.