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Opinion

Flagellating ourselves: On insecure Pinoy intellectuals


Many people will be angered by what I am going to say and some of them will no doubt be my friends. But I am terribly uncomfortable when our elite intellectuals, who should know better, are the first to cast the stones aimed at ourselves, in an act akin to self-flagellation.  
 
I am more upset when this occurs when we have an encounter with people from foreign cultures whose different assumptions about the world these intellectuals readily uphold and consider as the right side, even as they turn against us, our culture, and readily condemn these as the ones at fault.
 
This, to me, is like the behavior of a mayordomo – a privileged servant, but a servant nonetheless. When he is confronted by the Don about a misdeed iin the mansion, he'd be the first to heap blame on the other poor servants, if only to land on the master's favor.
 
Campos's faux pas
 
This is what I felt when I read the strong reactions of many from our learned, elite intellectual class in social media about the incident which involved the former strongman of Singapore Lee Kuan Yew and one of our own, one named Harvey Campos (he who asked Mr. Lee a question in a public forum held in Singapore). Some of these learned elites are cosmopolitan Filipinos who have travelled and lived abroad. 
 
Mr. Campos asked Mr. Lee how supportive the latter’s wife was, in terms of her values and principles, to him as a leader. Mr. Lee responded that the forum was not the right venue to ask that kind of private question.
 
Contrary to what others said Mr. Campos, to my mind, politely asked a relevant question.  
 
As a political scientist, I look at politics as a domain that is not just in the public sphere, but is deeply rooted in the personal. I subscribe to the idea that the personal is very political. 
 
Thus, I would argue that it is not out of order to ask a public figure what is the contribution of his family to his politics. A public figure is not rendered less human just because of his stature. I would further argue that knowing the connection between his private space and his public discourse may in fact enable us to better understand his political positions on public issues.
 
Mr. Campos cited the old adage that behind every successful man is a woman. This may sound worn-out and a bit corny, but when asked of a public figure with the stature of Mr. Lee, it has the effect of humanizing him. If only for its iconoclastic implication, a question like this is worth pursuing, particularly when one considers the fact that Mr. Lee is projected as a strong man, even a dictatorial one to some of his harshest critics. 
 
I would personally be interested to know how in the public representation of such an esteemed, even feared, powerful figure one can be pleasantly surprised to discover a place for an emotion as a loving husband and a doting father.   
 
I also want to argue that somebody like Mr. Lee who is in the public sphere should know that his public life will always be seen under the lens of a broader discourse, where lines drawn to insulate his private space may not necessarily always hold under public scrutiny.  
 
It is his defense to draw that line when he is confronted by such a question, which he firmly did in response to Mr. Campos’ query. But it is also in the exercise of a right to inquire that Mr. Campos should be given the benefit of the doubt, in the spirit of freedom of expression, we should in fact be supporting the latter for his boldness to ask what Singaporeans may consider improper, even heretical.
 
 
But as it happened instead, the manner by which the Pinoy, Mr. Campos, was thereafter cyber-lynched and bullied by some of his fellow Pinoys was even stronger than Mr. Lee,'s response. In fact, I have yet to hear any condemnation of Mr. Campos by Singaporeans themselves, for an act that some of us Pinoys now see as an insult to their former, and still very much respected, leader. 
 
The condemnation, in fact, came from our own corner, albeit from among our elite intellectuals. It was a classic case of self-flagellation.  
  
No mercy from social media 
 
Mr. Campos was pilloried by Pinoys in social media, some have described him as arrogant,  others have labeled him as terribly ignorant, worthy of the “smacking down” that he got from the former strongman. Worse, some even readily considered this as indicative of our flawed culture, and attributed it to our equally flawed educational system that even learned people like Mr. Campos do not know better, that someone like him would be stupid enough to commit such a gaffe; something on the level of becoming a source of national shame.
 
Indeed, there is a point when someone commented that this is evidence of our insecurity as a people. I can only but partly agree.
 
This is because the insecurity lies not in Mr. Campos, but in our elite intellectuals who readily translated a simple collision of cultural constructs into a form of public shaming. Something they would readily attribute the onus of what they perceived as a debacle, not on the cold, stiff and formal Singapore strongman but on what they perceived as an arrogant, impertinent kababayan.
 
I do not understand why everytime there is a clash of cultural constructs that some of our elites would readily condemn our inferiority, and succumb to a feeling of envy of the cultural and superior “other.” This is a feeling that I do not see among the masses, who would instead always take our side. 
 
And yet, it is the masses that the elites would call insecure.
 
The incident between Mr. Campos and Mr. Lee was a case of two different cultural worldviews colliding – one was very personal and the other very impersonal. Those who criticized Mr. Campos fault him for his personalization of his discourse, when he ingratiated himself to Mr. Lee, even greeting him in advance for the occasion of his birthday, and faulting him further for publicizing his being a recipient of a scholarship grant given by the Singapore government. What they saw was a “sipsip na mayabang.”  
 
On the contrary, another reading would reveal that Mr. Campos was just being a typical Pinoy who would begin an interrogation with a personal note if only to establish rapport and common ground. His mention of his scholarship was, for me, not even a form of “pagyayabang” but well within the spirit of being grateful to a patron.
 
Mr. Lee responded likewise in a typical manner, coming from a culture that one can label as stiff and detached.  While some can interpret that as rudeness, it was just being true to how he is socially constructed within the dominant construct of his culture.
 
When cultural worlds collide
 
I do not mean to overly essentialize what is Pinoy and what is Singaporean, as I am sure there are many Pinoys who are not like Mr. Campos. I would probably have asked the same question, but in a different manner. Another Singaporean, other than Mr. Lee, may have responded differently when confronted by the same question.
 
The fact that both Mr. Campos and Mr. Lee acted according to what is typical does not necessarily mean that when these two cultures collide, it would always end up the same way. Hence, to attribute this particular outcome as rooted to some structural flaws in our culture or our educational system is not only unscientific, but smacks of self-devaluation. 
 
Worse, I consider it as patently racist if one would predicate the condemnation of Mr. Campos on the belief that our culture is inferior relative to a superior and preferred cultural template, where people presumably have the ability to respect the right of individuals to privacy. No wonder some who condemned Mr. Campos are elite, intellectual Filipinos who are now comfortably living outside their homeland as part of the Pinoy diaspora. Their social views may have now been altered to adapt to their adoptive host lands.
 
To view Mr. Campos’ action as inappropriate begs the question of whose rubric we must use to pass judgment on his acts.
 
In 2015, the ASEAN will become one community, and the interaction between different nationalities and different cultures will become even more frequent and will become the new normal. It would be terribly disadvantageous for us Pinoys to always negotiate for the legitimacy of our actions from a position of weakness and insecurity, where we always have to apologize for our ways as if we are of a lesser species.
 
This is precisely why some political leaders in Hong Kong treat us like the way they do now, and insist that our President formally apologize for the Luneta incident. Well, I am glad that President Noynoy refused to do so. 
 
Shame on those who shame
 
If only to highlight again how discordant the views of some of our elite intellectuals are, one respected political analyst criticized our President, and even lectured his spokesperson on public television for not yielding to the demands of Hong Kong politicians. Said political analyst used, as premise, her newly-minted theory in diplomacy based on the presumption that our worldviews as a people should bow to the worldviews of the Hong Kong Chinese.
 
We are treated like dirt not because we have people like Mr. Campos, but because we do not have a sense of national pride to defend what is inherently in us in the eyes of those who hold us low in their views. 
 
Worse, sometimes it is even some of our best and brightest who lowly see us. 
 
This has to stop.
 
We are not inferior. We are just different.
 
Many years back, Mr. Lee gave a speech in our country, effectively lambasting our culture and our ways in our very own backyard. We allowed him to do so.  Even if it left a bitter taste in the mouth, as a guest we accorded him the respect.
 
It is now the Singaporeans’ turn to allow one of our own, Mr. Harvey Campos, to inflict on their esteemed former leader what is normal and acceptable to the ordinary people among us. And to my knowledge, and after not seeing any massive condemnation from their end, I think they just did that.
 
No, it was not Harvey Campos who brought shame to our country.  It was our insecure, elite intellectuals that did. — KDM, GMA News
 
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