Platform 101: On Culture

DSC02296The anthropological definition of culture is “The sum total of the attainments and activities of any specific period, race, or people, including their implements, handicrafts, agriculture, economics, music, art, religious beliefs, traditions, language, and story.” What that all-encompassing definition suggests is that culture is the identification of a people, the picture that they and the rest of Mankind can look at and say, “This is what a Pinoy is.” Or an American, an Indian, or a Japanese and so on, as the case may be. A single picture, but one with two faces: one is the symbology, the comparatively simple components that serve as reminders of the deeper character – a flag, a national language, anthems, heroes, modes of dress, unique foods, spiritual beliefs and customs – and the other is the character itself, the ethos and mores, the shared attitudes towards self and community, and the common thought process that leads to shared ideals.

If these aspects of character are weak or absent, the symbols are meaningless – the flag is just a piece of cloth, the anthem mere words set to music. The Philippines has no lack of angst over the development of a ‘national culture’: bills are passed in the Legislature to enhance “cultural heritage”, and even the idea of a ‘national language’ – a laughable notion in this polyglot land – is fervently promoted as a means to “bring the people together.” All such efforts fail, and will continue to do so, because the underlying character that gives such symbols meaning is missing from the Pinoy. Benign0 in his thoughtful article “What Freedom Demands of Us” explains one of the root causes for this shortcoming:

“Whereas anyone can wear a shirt with a slogan, wave an “L” shaped hand, or tie a yellow ribbon, what separates Sapiens from Erectus is an ability to consider in a deliberate manner the consequences of one’s actions and remain personally accountable for said consequences.

That is what freedom truly entails: a freedom to think and a freedom to act on the basis of said thinking. …The common denominator here is the obvious reliance of Filipinos on or deference to pedigreed, elderly, or celebrity edict above their better individual judgment.

Marriage is a microcosm of that cultural syndrome that stands out as a stark reminder of just how backward Philippine society remains. Marriage or choosing a lifetime partner is therefore a good example to use. In the most primitive societies, one’s lifetime partner is largely determined by prior arrangements/contracts made between one’s parents (or worse, as a result of a debt owed by one clan to another). In modern societies, on the other hand, most adults make that choice based on free will using their independent evaluation faculties to the best of what is available.

In primitive societies, the partnership is entered into with a resigned state of mind or in deference to the established order of things. In advanced societies, it is a relatively deliberate and conscious decision based on the best information available at the time.”

The unfortunate fact revealed by the evidence of the Pinoys’ sheep-like acceptance of authority, their respect for credentials, and their utter reliance on instinct and emotional response in any other situation is that as a people, the Pinoy has yet to rise above the third Maslowian level; esteem and self-actualisation remain elusive, because those things require, as Benign0 puts it, “a broad range of work and thinking that productive participation in a free society demands of us.”

From the point of view of a serious candidate for public office, culture presents a dilemma: Without a healthy culture no plans or objectives can be fully successful, if at all, yet it is impossible to express an objective to “change the manner in which the people think to one which is productive” in practical, measurable terms. Even the most open-minded and thick-skinned people will balk at being told they are primitive or mentally lazy, and so a platform intended to achieve the above objective must be subtly creative in how it approaches the task. Throughout my example platform, then, measures to encourage fundamental cultural change are provided: ideas that require individual and national self-reliance, accountability, and long-term considerations of actions and consequences – in short, things that advanced societies can do as a matter of course and that primitive societies must learn.

By addressing the fundamental character aspects of culture in this practical way, the more easily-understood symbolic aspects can be addressed more directly. Despite their more measurable, specific results, however, their main purpose is to support the larger fundamental goal. The points included under the heading of “Culture” in the example platform do so in the following ways:

Increased funding for arts: Admittedly, this is a vague proposition that in any other context might be considered a “motherhood statement,” but here simply means that the specific manner in which the directive can be accomplished is yet to be discussed and determined. The real purpose is to encourage creativity, because creativity in turn encourages empirical thought and innovation.

Improve management of natural preserves & parks, historically- and culturally-significant sites, and museums. For all the lip service paid to the Philippines’ natural and historical heritage, the respect and preservation of those national treasures is shameful. Not only does this measure protect and maintain the country’s tourism assets, it serves as a reminder of national self-respect.

Fast-track completion of agreements on indigenous lands, including indigenous waters (within the three nautical mile national limit) where appropriate. Apart from recognising the rights of the country’s native peoples to honour their own cultures and traditions, this is a reminder that it is the differences among Filipinos and not the sameness that make the people unique and unified.

Immediately rescind the Department of Finance Dept. Order DO 17-09 with permanent effect and exempt all books and media materials from any tariffs, duties, and taxes, including VAT. Although the levying of customs taxes on books has been suspended, the very existence of the provision and the means the government has used to circumvent the suspension are a moral affront, and a gross violation of international standards and agreements to which the Philippines is a party. When access to new ideas and the creative output of different people and cultures is restricted in any way, the opportunity to learn and to develop new ideas of their own is taken away from the people. Those responsible for attempting to do so should be immediately removed from office, and prosecuted if the means to do so are available. 

 

Culture, the definition of a nation or a people, is essential to society, but cannot be fabricated and only reveals itself in the long-term through results. The results the Philippines have achieved to this point speak for themselves, and speak volumes for the culture: the picture is a cartoon, a caricature of a nation – a colony with no master, a flock still waiting for the shepherd to return. He’s not coming back, folks. It’s up to you to manage yourselves.

About bkritz

I'm a writer, and I do things my own way. That might sound cool to you, unless you're one of the people who actually knows me, in which case you're probably shaking your head in exasperation at the depth of that understatement.
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10 Responses to Platform 101: On Culture

  1. benign0 says:

    I suddenly saw the light where you said:

    Throughout my example platform, then, measures to encourage fundamental cultural change are provided.

    I realise that we cannot shoehorn all initiative to change culture exclusively within the “Culture” category. The intended effect on culture and character will presumably be emergent from all the individual initiatives across the seven or so aspects when taken collectively.

    The specific actions are there and they do address the preservation/development of cultural assets of our society whereas what I suggested which is really more around addressing or working around weaknesses in our cultural character is addressed by the whole platform you are developing.

    • BenK says:

      Your earlier input and some of the other conversations of the past couple days made me realize that in a sense, a good platform is really only about two things: economy and culture. Without the means to use/develop/increase resources, the country cannot grow or even maintain the status quo, and without the cultural tools to apply to the use/development/increase of those resources, the country may as well have none of them. Concepts that large and pervasive simply can’t be pigeon-holed into categories and expressed in simple terms; only certain aspects of them can be. Yet if neither is addressed correctly and holistically, the entire plan falls apart.

  2. Hyden Toro says:

    Cultures varies throughout the world. We have a good Pre-Spanish culture. We were honest. Look at
    the trade between the ancient Chinese and the ancient Filipinos. The Chinese traders came. They
    give their goods like porceleins, utensils, clothings, beads, etc…to ancient Filipinos. On the promise
    that they will pay on the next harvest. No papers were signed, no lawyers to do the deals. Just the
    Words of Mouth. Truly, on the next harvest. The ancient Filipinos were ready with their payments in
    the form of agricultural harvest, wild animals, gold, fruits, etc…

    If you go to the Northern part of the Philippines. Ask any house to dig on their backyards. They will
    find broken pieces of Ming Dymasty plates, bowls, vases, etc…
    The honesty of the Filipinos were removed by the Colonizing Spanards. Who were thieves, murderers
    and tyrants. We need to rediscover our past. To see the greatness of our culture.

  3. GabbyD says:

    interesting. how can the arts arrest the cultural problems you believe filipinos have? can we be as specific as possible, since this is just a thought experiment?

    say you had 10million pesos to play with initially, what ‘arts’ would u spend it on to solve the “lack of character” you believe that ails the filipino?

    • BenK says:

      As the article implies, the arts alone cannot do that; the purpose of the proposition is to encourage creativity, which supports the larger context of cultural change throughout the whole platform.

      Questions like yours are very good ones to ask candidates when they present you with something vague, or what sounds like it may be a motherhood statement. The manner in how they answer your follow-up should tell you a lot about their level of honesty and engagement with the issues.

      To answer your question specifically, I frankly don’t know what the best form “support for the arts” would take, because it is something that should be designed from the input of the various parties with a stake in it. I would envision a grant program similar – but simpler and more inclusive – to the NEH in the US. At a level of PhP 10M as an initial investment, any initiative would be quite small, but I can say from a personal point of view as a writer that those brief periods when I am free from the concern of earning a living are golden, and tremendously productive; small grants of, say, 20-25K from a larger endowment fund would allow all sorts of artists to have those creative moments. And the project could be expanded and funded on a continuing basis by diverting a small percentage of income taxes earned from publishing, recording, and performing. But again, the particular application is not cast in stone; only the recognition of the need to promote arts is.

      • GabbyD says:

        “the arts alone cannot do that; the purpose of the proposition is to encourage creativity, which supports the larger context of cultural change throughout the whole platform.”

        thats the point of my question.

        how do we know that creativity supports cultural change in the direction that you think is viable?

        it SOUNDS good, but i can’t imagine it happening.

        thats why i asked about specific examples of how art can do this. i cant think of any. has art/singing, dancing, theater, movies led to cultural change anywhere?

        are there examples?

        if these examples exist, then we can answer specific questions like budget allocation.

      • HusengBatute says:

        Perhaps, support better screen writers and cinematographers who would not portray & stereotype rich people and people of power as evil snobs who would simply take advantage of poor honest hard-working people–this is a tired & overused plot scenario that just reinforces our prejudices and tendency to distrust our leaders. Sometimes ability to enrich oneself is a virtue that should be emulated rather than criticized. The media shapes the imagination of its consumers, so why not use the media productively as a teaching tool and a venue for good examples? Being pro-Erap, & pro-Cory who helped him regain his beloved station, Lopez has successfully used TFC to stir hatred towards anything Gloria to the point that people will blame their dead fish on Gloria as if she was already President when they became poor. Then again, people think it is simply blessed to be poor.

        But, if we would take the broader sense of the definition of ‘culture’ to include any leisurely activity such as sports, I can see how this would divert attention to more productive use of one’s time and talents. Besides, Pacquiao matches do tend to lower down the crime rate.

        People who are aimless tend to end-up in compromising situations, but give their God-given talents a chance, they will tend to show motivation to seek excellence.

        Many engineers and scientists were inspired by fiction writers such as H.G Wells and Jules Verne. Leonardo da Vinci started as a painter but studied anatomy, nature, and engineering to better his craft (he is considered the first medical or anatomical illustrator.) So, we see here an effect taking place when the human imagination is liberated (“Imagination is more important than knowledge”, Einstein said.)–a movement from the arts to other disciplines.

        Great architecture and interior design helps give the environment a sense of order and stability and may well be a source of inspiration for many–when done excellently, ‘can also be a source of national pride. Industrial design helps improve our products which may attract businesses into our country.

  4. This reminds me of that Famous Hermann Goering quote: “Whenever I hear the word culture, I reach for my Browning!”

    The best thing about culture is also the worst thing about culture–is its political aspect. While it has anthropological dimensions, at its core it is a political space subject to a shifting terrain of conflicting ideas and identities. One core dimension of Filipino culture is our feudal primordial identity shaped by Spanish conquista-era ideas clashing with American conceptions of equality and freedom (no matter how hypocritically practiced in the US South, among others). As with any visit to any peripheral barrio of any province would show, feudalism remains ingrained in the PInoy soul. The Chinese have their Top-Down/In-Out dichotomies, we have that lingering peasant-lord germ within our collective being clashing violently against other more modern notions.

    Its latest manifestation? The NoyNoy phenomenon.

  5. benign0 says:

    I’m almost of the view that Government should come up with a comprehensive cultural development framework and develop a multi-agency dissemination and roll-out plan.

    Cinema and television is an obvious channel for influencing attitudes. For example, most products of Filipino cinema paint rich people as evil and poor people as victimised saints. There are very stories that celebrate wealth and material success. Furthermore, wealth is always seen as something acquired through dishonest means.

    As such cinema propagates that victim mentality in Filipinos which (a) does not build a sense of personal accountability for one’s own personal fortunes and (b) does not enforce a causal link between industriousness and cleverness as a means to claw one’s way out of poverty.

    Left to the devices of the market for entertainment, private enterprise will merely deliver what the market wants thru means where risk is lowest. Government may have to intervene by getting into that business and producing stuff (or funding/incentivising private entitites that do) that provide alternative themes and impart more productive values.

  6. BenK says:

    As the article implies, the arts alone cannot do that; the purpose of the proposition is to encourage creativity, which supports the larger context of cultural change throughout the whole platform.Questions like yours are very good ones to ask candidates when they present you with something vague, or what sounds like it may be a motherhood statement. The manner in how they answer your follow-up should tell you a lot about their level of honesty and engagement with the issues. To answer your question specifically, I frankly don't know what the best form “support for the arts” would take, because it is something that should be designed from the input of the various parties with a stake in it. I would envision a grant program similar – but simpler and more inclusive – to the NEH in the US. At a level of PhP 10M as an initial investment, any initiative would be quite small, but I can say from a personal point of view as a writer that those brief periods when I am free from the concern of earning a living are golden, and tremendously productive; small grants of, say, 20-25K from a larger endowment fund would allow all sorts of artists to have those creative moments. And the project could be expanded and funded on a continuing basis by diverting a small percentage of income taxes earned from publishing, recording, and performing. But again, the particular application is not cast in stone; only the recognition of the need to promote arts is.

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