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Smart-shaming and our Pinoy culture of anti-intellectualism


We all agree that knowledge is power. So why is it that there are so many people who are proud of the fact that they're dumb? 
 
Or simply put: why does there seem to be a culture of anti-intellectualism in the Philippines? (Don't take my word for it! See here, here, and here.)

The phenomenon of anti-intellectualism
 
But first, we must ask: What is anti-intellectualism?

It was Isaac Asimov who explained this the best in an interview in the 1980's.
 
"There is a cult of ignorance in the United States, and there has always been. The strain of anti-intellectualism has been a constant thread winding its way through our political and cultural life, nurtured by the false notion that democracy means that my ignorance is just as good as your knowledge," he said.
 
Asimov later explained that this statement was born out of his frustration with the ignorant views some Americans had on science education and evidence-based learning. But interestingly enough, for most of Asia, this isn't the case. 
 
In fact, it's the opposite. 
 
Professor John Traphagan from the University of Austin at Texas, observed that for most of East Asia, the culture of intelligence is actually more dominant: education, intellectual awareness, and the pursuit of knowledge is encouraged—even expected.

Cultures of intelligence
 
This culture of intelligence is evident when you look at student test scores and the cultural values of these countries. The 2011 results of the  Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study, lists Japan, Singapore, South Korea, Hong Kong and Taiwan as the countries with the highest test scores for grade school math and science.

It recently made the rounds in social media that the Prime Minister of Singapore Lee Hsien Loong actually knows how to code and even went on Facebook to ask people to check his code for bugs.

In Japan, it's a well known fact that teachers and scientists there are paid more compared to their peers in other countries.

And when you look at the list of the top universities, these 5 countries consistently make it in the top 20 for Asia and top 100 for the world.
 
When you look at the Philippines, well, it's a complicated story.

You can say we celebrate education but we seem to hold ourselves back. It's almost like we're afraid or ashamed to be too intelligent. 
 
When you look at the Top 10 highest paying jobs in the Philippines for 2015, you see that almost all of them are in the IT industry.

The DepEd K-12 program, despite its flaws, and the salary increases for public school teachers shows that the government is serious about revamping the educational system. The Philippines is the biggest social media user of the world, evidence that Filipinos are not intimidated at all by modern technology.

Pinoys celebrating ignorance
 
But if you look at popular Filipino culture, there's a pervasive thread that seems to celebrate ignorance. 
 
Let me clarify. I'm not saying that we Filipinos are dumb or that we don't value knowledge or education. I'm saying that as a culture, we tend to see high intelligence as a negative trait.
 
I think the best example of this would be Philippine politics. When you look at the elections starting at the later end of the 20th century, we start seeing the word "intellectual" as an insult rather than a quality that you look for in public servants. We see candidates downplaying their academic and career achievements to appeal to the masses. 
 
In the last election, Gibo Teodoro was often criticized as being "too intellectual". When you look at Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo's political career, one of the most common criticisms of her as a President was "matalino pero corrupt".

And if we look further back in the 1992 elections, when Senator Miriam Santiago was running against Fidel V Ramos, the rumor mills often implied that there was a direct correlation between her unstable behavior and her high intelligence.
 
On the other end of the spectrum, we see Former President Erap Estrada arrogantly celebrating the fact that he was kicked out of school. Senator Lito Lapid regularly cites his ignorance and has basically built a political career around it. And don't even get me started on Senator Tito Sotto, there's just too many to mention for this article.
 
And just look at how we passive aggressively insult and make fun each other. We playfully shame people when they’re ‘too smart’ for our common tastes. 
 
‘Masyado ka naman pilospo.’ ‘Teka lang, dahan dahan, na-nosebleed ako sa iyo.’ ‘Paki-bagal lang, bobo lang po kasi.’ 
 
And my personal favorite: ‘Masyado ka kasing matalino, pasensyahan mo na ako kasi hamak na bobo lang.’
 
It's the same with Filipino movies and TV. The ItchyWorms catchy hit, "NoonTime Show" was actually a serious criticism of how these shows exploit and celebrate ignorance.

Five of the top 10 highest grossing Filipino movies of all time are self-admitted dumb comedies that rely more on slapstick and stereotypes than witty writing for laughs. And if you've seen these movies, the characters that display some degree of intelligence are either smart-shamed or portrayed as villains.
 
Sikolohiyang Filipino and Intellectualism
 
My friend, developmental psychologist Phil De Leon, led me to "Sikolohiyang Filipino" by Dr. Virgilio Enriquez. She explained to me that psychology might help give me some perspective on why Filipinos have a complicated relationship with intellectualism.
 
In his book, Dr Enriquez writes that togetherness or "kapwa" is the core construct of Filipino psychology. We value conformity, empathy and social relationships, a common trait among Asian countries. But our experience under Spanish and American colonial rule has embedded in our psyche to mistrust constructs that are associated with Western culture like individualism or elitism. 
 
Even though a lot of the heroes in Philippine history are intellectuals, the social structures in place at that time helped ensured that only a few Filipinos had access to education, especially Western education. This created a gap between Filipino communities which goes against the construct of togetherness. Intellectuals eventually became associated with elitists, a stereotype that continues up to this day.
 
How does it relate to modern day Filipinos and intellectualism? The sense of togetherness remains strong within us despite the years of colonization and globalization. It's that sense of togetherness that makes us cheer as a nation for Manny Pacquio or pray together for Mary Jane Veloso. Filipinos strengthen the sense of togetherness by associating themselves with the common Filipino. 
 
But when you have a country where only 42% finish high school and more than 25% live below the poverty line, you get a better idea of what the common Filipino looks like.

We don't have a culture of anti-intellectualism because we value ignorance; what we value is our camaraderie with the common Filipino.

And sadly, the common Filipino, more often than not, is uneducated and in poverty.
 
When you look into the problem through the lens of science and psychology, it becomes clear what we should do as Filipinos to join other Asian nations in the culture of intelligence. To value intelligence more Filipinos need access to education. More Filipinos should have opportunities to finish primary education. Filipinos must be given means to help them rise over poverty so they can focus on finishing education. The solution looks so simple on paper, but it's not an easy fix.
 
In the end, I guess what I'm trying to say is that as Filipinos, we need to use togetherness to raise ourselves up. Kapwa or togetherness is a wonderful construct, it makes us who we are. But we can’t keep using it as an excuse to celebrate mediocrity and ignorance. If we take the time to look at the Filipinos achievements, it’s obvious that we can do more and it’s time for us to expect more from ourselves. — GMA News


 
Julia Jasmine Madrazo-Sta. Romana is a scientist turned freelance writer and social media manager for a number of local and international websites. She’s also a full-time mom, a science communicator focused on IT and science news from Davao City and a campaigner for internet rights. In her spare time, she and her husband likes to binge watch on cooking shows, bad movies, and Disney Junior shows.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the position of this website.
 
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