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Monday, November 11, 2013

The pride of the Filipino - the delusion behind Tacloban storm surge

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In an earlier story on the Philippines, I talked about the absence of critical thinking skills. More 'critically' however is the absence of basic knowledge that would support critical thinking. There are several problems:
1. The Philippines is a culture of 'nice people'. 
2. People think being nice and kind is a good thing
3, People think they are 'only human' so its ok when they are 'not nice' under Christian convention, i.e. So they give themselves the odd day pass. They'll be forgive.

Herein, the Philippines is a sanctimonious Christian country. Their religion is everywhere. Ascend to the top, and there is more Christian paraphernalia than anything else, whether its idols hanging in the taxi, or pictures of Jesus or Mary on some office wall, or Jesus statues in the garden. Whatever it is, its all sanctimonious arrogant and judgment, and its holding the Philippines back in a number of ways. The problem for the Philippines is that the obstacles to the nation are not 'self-evident'. They are not concrete and readily linked to concrete issues. But let's examine the implications:

  1. Filipino 'niceness' - Really they are only nice as long as you are nice to them. You are nice back because they expect you to be nice. And you are nice because you have no reason not to be nice. You even remain nice (as a foreigner) when they invite you into your home, not because you are not nice, but because you don't trust their niceness. You don't want to offend them right? Understandably because if you offend a Filipino, you are in trouble. They are very proud of their 'goodness', to the point of arrogance. Never show that side of them...as they can be very vindictive, and the police in the Philippines are next to useless, so you don't want to give them cause for a grievance. 
  2. Being nice - We have hence realised that being nice is simply not confronting people with expectations or conflicting values. Basically its about talking about frivolous stuff like the weather or sweat foods, or boyfriends, whilst not imposing any expectations that are likely to create conflict. This is why the Filipino is so nice and relaxed. They are mostly poor, and they are surrounded by people who share their poverty. If they are not poor, they are happy because they feel great they are not poor, and they in the last 10-15 years have had the opportunity to experience some aspiration.
  3. Original Sin - Filipinos accept this notion of Original Sin, so they pray a lot when they do something wrong, but it seems they can't rehabilitate or 'self-treat' because they are often dishonest. Middle class people will say that its because they are 'poor', but its actually not that. Being poor is not a reason for crime or unethical thinking, at least not in the Philippines where destitution is not so bad. There is actually plenty of food in the Philippines. People live in ghettos for a chance at aspiration, not because they are poor. They moved to the city to get rich, not to survive. They aspired for more; the problem is they did not know how to do it, or to get it.  It is easier for a Christian to look down upon themselves and their fellow man, because its the ultimate acceptance of one's flaws. It is an act of self-contempt. 
The problem of course is that the Philippines was compelled to accept under the promise of riches and salvation in another world a 'better life'. It was introduced by the Spanish, who sought conquest in foreign lands, because as the poor cousins of Europe, they could not find paths to riches in their own culture. They instead imposed their culture on the collectivist tribes of 'pre-science' tribes of Africa and the Philippines. They already learned that 'fear' is a compelling value proposition to morally apprehensive people. They knew that everyone wants to be good. We are all people of communities, so it was inevitable that we would want to be well-regarded. So the Spanish had their 'sales pitch'. Fear and love. Not fear of anything real; but an imaginative fear. Not love of personal attributes; but love of ghosts whose nature defies nature. Their love existed beyond the realm of reality. You had to accept it on faith. They have nightmares about such fears. They have come to regard fear or nightmares as natural. You can't convince them that fear might not be natural because for everyone they know, its normal. 

Now, the people of Northern Europe took a different tact. They rejected religion, or more broadly mysticism, not because they are less fearful, but because they found something more valued - opportunity, comfort and efficacy in thinking, competing and succeeding. It was only the rare person who found some useful product. By overtime, the habit and valued utility of their discoveries came to be broadly appreciated by everyone. For the religious, this was squalid materialism. In fairness, when the idea was first hatched in the Industrial Revolution, it probably looked squalid, turgid, exploitive and opportunistic, as people struggled to overturn their destitute lives and desperately sought to acquire some efficacy amidst their tragic lives. The first efficacy they needed to develop was 'knowledge', and in most cases that meant science. Next, they needed to come to learn the value of methodology, and that meant self-discipline, self-reflecting, and a constant process of self-improvement. Now, this was a source of frustration for them too. They were accustomed to instant gratification. They wanted or expected instant gratification. The word of 'success' would travel, but the knowledge of how to do it would take even longer. Soon the governments came to appreciate the value of these people to financing the development or protection of their country. The vast economic surpluses they produced would be extorted by politicians to defend their nations. Eventually the number of wealthy became so seductive to the politicians that they would play off capitalist against capitalist, or worker against capitalist. They soon realised they could not do this much longer without losing credibility, so they specialised. We saw the development of Conservatives (preserving the power of the landed class) and Democrats (asserting the rights to wealth they didn't produce). This was a sordid game that saw everyone lose because:
1. For the wealthy - it made them fear the loss of wealth - so they became very tragic and apprehensive about the extortive power of politicians in their capacity to mobilise labour. They responded in their interests by simply paying off the representatives of labour. It demanded a rhetoric be retained...'down with the rich'; but it also demanded an acceptance of their value. In time, these labour politicians would become rich, so they inevitably turned conservative...or just remained 'stealthy hypocrites'. Anyway, they didn't care because they were wealthy. They dare never to betray that trust because labour supporters might kill them. 
2. For the poor - they wanted the comforts of the rich. They of course didn't want or expect to wait decades for it. They wanted it today, and labour leaders promised it today, by offering a rationalisation which would convey an entitlement for it. 


The history of the Filipino is well-understood. The people have been subjugated by dictators, Spanish pastors and kings, seduced by Americans, belittled by the Japanese. Now, washed away by a storm surge. A big beach way. The final indignity. No one feels proud when one's balance is undercut by a surging wave. Its funny when its 0.5m. When its 6 metres tall and kills, you might have a different perception. The thing is - this was 'easy knowledge'. This should have been commonly knowledge and understood knowledge for the people of Tacloban, in the Philippines. Some 10,000 killed is a gross indignity for a people who clearly lack the education to survive. Its not just an indignity that befalls third world countries. NZ suffered an earthquake in Christchurch in 2009. A surprise perhaps, but their were warnings, and they were ignored. People lived in the now, and ignored the risks. In comparison, they were smaller risks than the Philippines, and harder to avoid. This is the travesty of the Philippines storm surge. This risk was easily understood and avoided. You just knew to stay away from the beach. They even telecast it; but no one cared whether people understood ore not. People were indifferent to the risk or vulnerability of others. Perhaps because people who give so little consideration to ideas, who so little value education, they minimalised the importance of the information. You might have expected the government to elevate the risk. The warnings were not heeded. 

The Philippines has a history of abuse; but the greatest travesty is self-abuse. The travesty is relying on someone else to make your life better. It is commonplace to rely on a wealthy relative abroad, to gamble away the family fortune, to drink senseless without a regard for the future. This 'care free attitude' is destined to keep the Philippines in the third world. The Philippines has one of the poorest work ethics in the third world, so it fails to attract investment from around the world. Why? Because the poor Filipino does not think about the future. They want instant gratification; they won't invest in education. They are 'living in the now'.Aspiration is dirty, and they distrust it. This does not stop them from stooping to guilt their family members into providing them some gratuity. A dying relative is good news. It gives you evidence or a rationale for mooching off a relative. Please uncle, can I have some money for 'lolo', he is dying of bladder infection. Gold mine! They even hit up their bosses as well. Yep, same story. It works so well. Most often they use that story just before leaving the company; maybe to go abroad themselves. 

The Tacloban storm surge was a case of politics gone wrong. Politicians are however a legacy of values, and those values are 'renounce! Renounce! Renounce! Renounce any expectation of better for self or others. Renounce the mind. Live in the 'now', and renounce responsibility. Whether the expectation is that God take care of you, or the government, its a massive betrayal of human nature and personal responsibility. Death is the final or ultimate price, but almost as insidious is the prospect of a life half-lived. The opportunity cost of not developing one's mind, and the price of not finding a sense of pride and efficacy in one's mind. This is the greatest price people pay because its ultimately what stops them aspiring, achieving, searching or accepting responsibility. One does not achieve that sense of efficacy by giving up. One does not discover its value by giving up. The crisis is actually not in the parents of the Philippines, for if you think about it:
1. They were never an industrialised, modern disciplined economy
2. Their values were modelled or influenced by the Spanish - who would go down in history as the 'economic laggards' of Europe. They'd be better off if they had been invaded by Japan. Pity it was Spain. Of course this is a gross justification, and its fair to say that its not true of all Filipinos either. But it is a force within the community which pulls at everyone...and most people succumb. Family is important to them. 

What Tacloban was a mistake that showed the vulnerability of the Philippines to basic weather phenomenon. People will say this was an unprecedented storm. Its not the point. Buildings can be protected and lives can be saved through effective planning. Building a storm surge resistant wall might not have been a priority; but ensuring adequate planning was 'monumentally' critical It clearly was not done. This is a testament to that care-free, indulgent Filipino attitude, that allows standards to slip. Whether its emergency planning, or simply being at an appointment on time. It demands a change in values...It becomes ever more pressing when lives are being lost. But more importantly, Filipinos need to appreciate the value of thinking for its own reward - success, certainty. They do not have to avoid aspiration, they don't have to fail in business. They don't have to rely on hand-outs from brothers abroad. They don't have to wait for governments to give them an opportunity. They don't have to wait for God. He's not coming. His promises expired 2000 years ago. It was a rort. You were an unintended externality. The Romans only intended to fool the Israelites. That's history, but I want to return to the topic of science. History is hard. Humans are complex. Before you study history; come to respect facts by studying science. Learn discipline by studying 'engineering'. More than the importance of saving lives is the more basic and important value of knowing how to live as a human being. Religion gives you a value system fit for a wounded dog; the life of a human demands not faith, but a disciplined application of your mind. Its critical lessons are already states - beyond the capacity to solve problems and anticipate them. They give you a respect for facts and the objective realness of existence. Engineering for discipline and philosophy for moral imperatives; but that's a big ask for a society that renounces its collective responsibility to think. You have a leader who has finally recognised the need for objective justice. This is not 'forward-looking' economic management; but its a start. Don't just build roads; build minds. You can waste billions are they Americans have done and achieve nothing more in education. Or you can simply change your mind and transform the world. That choice is open to everyone. 
Critical thinking skills is another thing; but its nothing more than an intellectual honesty that is a derivative of objective science. Being self-critical as well as being critical of others is a moral imperative for the Philippines. Not as an evasion of responsibility; but as an abject respect for facts and justice. Honest people want the facts; only dishonest or apprehensive people seek to evade them. People with reasonable expectations, who live by their own values and judgement, don't accept others opinions without filtering them through their own minds. That's not arrogance; its personal responsibility. 

This is not the first natural disaster for the Philippines. The Philippines as a poor country is more vulnerable than Western countries, but its not without means. The distinctiveness of a 'modern economy' is not simply buildings and infrastructure; its the capacity to which it thinks and anticipate. NZ, as a Western culture, paid the price of ignoring scientific advice when it experienced at earthquake. Governments cannot be trusted as custodians. People need to develop their own minds, and NZ is not the standard. It lies in an idea; projected by too few human beings. 
PS: This blog was not edited...I could care less about the logic of English. It may have spelling issues. It serves no purpose to be strictly correct with arbitrary rules of English when ideas are properly understood in their context. A disclaimer for Filipino English teachers (or liberals). In Western society, it is the liberal who facilitates and sanctions and mobilises the extortion racket that imposes monetary expectations upon the wealthy. This class of people is still so small in the Philippines. Do you best to avoid their grievance impact because its more insidious than religion. It is however similarly an assault on your mind and independence. It gives you a carte blanche justification for stealing the products of others mind.

Author Andrew SheldonApplied Critical Thinking | www.SheldonThinks.com

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