Monday, June 22, 2009

Self and Society

Business World today has two excellent columns which, at first glance, do not seem to be interralted. The one written by Marivic Rufino pokes fun at snobbishness in our society. The other by economist Cayetano Paderanga is a melancholic account of how Filipinos have failed at economic development.

Reading the two in succession, I cannot help but see a correlation. While I am not one to privilege cultural explanations over the tremendous limits placed by unseen social forces, structural limits and the burden of history, I cannot but help reflect more and more towards our incomplete nation-building project. Above and beyond materially putting two and two to make four, our consciousness as a single cultural unit - bound and destined by fate towards a singular goal - is far from cohesive.

Rufino hints at a culture that does not lend itself to democratic principles - that is, at core, we are all equals. How does this fit with our on-paper republican ideals?

Paderanga notes:
But now, as the impatience and irascibility of age creep into my sentiments, I start to see that our failure has never been in the resources, the hard work, and the incremental adjustments that we have somehow missed. That somehow we have always found defeat in victory, that we would somehow undercut our own selves, that what we lack is something fundamental. Perhaps, it is the common vision, the common soul, the collective spirit that would make us work really, really hard and work as one with little attention to what is coming to us or our families; that special something that gives meaning to the self-sacrifice for the common good among us. I find this piece missing every time I witness the supreme egoism manifested in traffic snarls where nobody gives in to anybody, or when I see insensitive attention to the public in service areas, or when I witness the high-handed treatment of powerless individuals by powerful interests or officials. In fact, I see it everywhere; sometimes I see it in me. And I start to lose the optimism that my father gave to me.
Is it an inability to see ourselves in each other that is today's social cancer? Far from the sense of community that underlined the Bayanihan spirit of our ancestors, have we devolved into this dog-eat-dog mentality where only the toughest, meaning those willing to do the dirty work, triumph?

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