Wednesday, October 17, 2007


Dr. Jovy Miroy alerted me to the work of Judy Ick who (if I understood Jovy correctly) says that a certain way of speaking was promoted in the Philippines through theater, especially when the Americans were still hanging around. I have yet to get hold of her article but hearing that I had one of my "oo nga" moments.

The Ateneo called it eloquentia and was embodied in the likes of Henry Lee Irwin and is embodied in Reuter and Pagsi. Reading through The Guidon of old, theater was very much part of the life of the community. Students were also made to recite speeches in Latin and Greek. Debate was already very much alive back then.

Eloquentia was the sister of sapientia and these two were the cornerstone of Ateneo education.

In the 1970s, eloquentia and sapientia were replaced (by among others, Ben Nebres who gave a canonical speech questioning the thrust of forming Christian gentlemen) by persons-for-others, faith that does justice and all those other slogans we know so well today.

I think that debate is one of the last hold-outs from the past, but even then, the debate today is much different from the debate of yesteryear. I have a sense that the debate of the past was more play (there was even a balagtasan before!) and less competition.

Theater is still around but except for Sibol, plays emphasize the cadence of Shakespeare less than before. And of course, Latin and Greek were gone by the mid- 1960s.

Now, more than ever, I realize that the emphasis on eloquentia was formation and one could even say, leadership formation. One thinks of the Ateneo leaders of this country: Raul Manglapus, Dick Gordon, Tito Guingona. Orators and leaders.

Of course oration was also a way of creating distinction by providing instruction in a language that was not common leading to speeches where people end up saying, ang galing niya magsalita. (Note that the complement is best said in Tagalog. In English you usually say, "That was a good speech" rather than "You spoke well". In tagalog, it is the person, not the speech that is emphasized).

Jovy alerted me to the work of Ick because I was telling him that society today is not a knowledge society. It is a communication society where the people who get ahead (or are the very least included) are not those who know much or who have much substance but people who communicate well, who give a good performance.

I know so many people who get ahead because they have a certain manner of speaking (usually described as confident) even if the things they did of which they were asked to speak were hollow. In a communication society, it is not substance that matters but the manner of speaking. (To be fair, Saint-Exupery points this out near the beginning of The Little Prince).

The Ick reflections make me wonder if we teach our students how to communicate nowadays. I don't know of any college teacher who requires students to give speeches (or sermons) or perform plays or read their poems to the class. There is still an emphasis on writing but I don't know to what extent we teach that well either.

We could argue that the kind of communication taught before is elitist, which is true, but we are not even good at forming students to communicate to their fellow Filipinos (and so many of them cannot even write or speak, much less think in Filipino).

I think one of the last hold-outs is Sibol and you can see it in the quality of students from Sibol. I have had the privilege of teaching the likes of Nic Chua, Boyet Dy, Pao Abarcar and working with Luis Abad who is one of the best political speakers I know. Or you get teachers like Bobby Guevara or Henry Totanes.

Debate people get that training too and they seem to be able to build for themselves steep trajectories.

If society today rewards good communication, then we must train our students to be good people, good thinkers, good professionals who are good communicators. Maybe that is the best thing that education can do for our students.

Thursday, October 04, 2007

Why Money Alone Does Not Make You Rich

The reason why we distinguish the nouveau riche from the rich is because it is not just money that makes the rich rich. Being rich is an entire manner of being that money cannot buy. Such a manner of being can only be acquired through upbringing, “good breeding”, so to speak which only comes with constant exposure from a very young age.

The nouveau riche give away their being nouveau in many ways. In their manner of speaking and degree of (dis)comfort with the language of the rich. In their degree of (dis)comfort (and the discomfort they generate) in the presence of “good” company. In their clothes which cannot replicate the understated wealth of the truly rich. In their manner of spending with their tendency to display their happiness at their newly acquired wealth. The truly rich tend to be frugal.

The children of the nouveau rich have a better chance of truly assimilating the culture of the rich as their parents invest their newly acquired economic capital into access for their children to “good” schools and “good” company.

A corollary to all of the above is that it is possible not to be financially wealthy and yet still acquire the manner of being of the rich. A child who enters a “good school” (especially in the early years) through a scholarship for example (or because their parents invest almost everything they have in a child's education), may develop a taste for “the finer things in life”: poetry, travel (abroad), “good” books, classical music, theater, art and all the other things that are signs of cultural distinction.

Next Post: Friday, 12 October 2007. Practical Mastery
I am running out of things to post! :-)

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Effort, Effortless

* This breaks the flow of the recent essays. Back to habitus.

It is easy to think that self-advancement is only possible through hard work. The reality is that successful self-advancement is possible through a combination of hard work and good strategy with an emphasis on good strategy, rather than hard work.

It is a strange phenomenon, for example, that obtaining a Masters degree in the Philippines is infinitely more difficult than obtaining a Masters degree (anywhere) abroad. I have experienced firsthand and witnessed through the experiences of my friends the difficulty of obtaining a Masters degree in the Philippines. On the other hand, I have heard from my friends and former students that obtaining a Masters degree abroad is easy. I have heard stories of how masteral work abroad is comparable to undergraduate work in the Philippines, theses being the equivalent of long essays submitted in local universities. Of course, it is the getting there that is difficult, which is why those with deep pockets or good connections get further ahead compared to those who only have brilliant minds in terms of being able to enter prestigious universities even if these students who are economically or socially endowed may not possess the sharpest brains in the universe.

And yet despite the fact that local Masteral degrees put you through the wringer while courses abroad are relatively easy, it is the foreign degree that has more economic and social value. Good strategy trumps hard work in this case.

In many fields, hard work is not even to be associated with a demonstration of technical knowledge or technical skill but could take the form of giving a “good performance” (even if that performance has very little substance) or good relations (social capital is after all capital that takes effort to accumulate) or good presentation of the self (which is why people say socially processing their bodies to make themselves “presentable” takes a lot of hard work). All of these investments pay off more than a demonstration of technical knowledge or technical skill not because of the amount of effort put into them but because to begin with, they constitute good strategy.

Next Post: Friday, October 5. Nouveau Riche

Saturday, September 22, 2007

The Social Limits to Equity

Almost 10 years ago I read a book by Fred Hirsch entitled The Social Limits to Growth. My reading of the book is that it is essentially a critique of socialism which, according to some interpretations, strives for equality of all.

Rather than approaching the problem as that of the impossibility of designing a system that will generate economic equality, Hirsch asserts that the true limits to socialism are found in what he calls the social limits which I take to mean is the impossibility of social equality.

Humans have a natural need to distinguish themselves from other humans not merely in the sense of difference but in the sense of hierarchies. In Hirsch's architectonic, humans struggle to distinguish themselves vertically from others, to set themselves apart on another, higher level relative to others.

Therefore, the whole notion of economic equality is bound to fail because people will resist attempts at generating homogeniety by placing everyone on a single level. Such homogeniety can only be enforced through force (and even then, the fact that there are those who control that force and there are those on whom that force is applied already denotes inequality).

Softer approaches call for growth with equity and the most popular form of this is the basic needs approach. The call here is not for equality but for all to have access to certain basic needs. Hirsch's argument here is that this is all fine and dandy but the consequence of ensuring basic needs for all is the need for those who always had their basic needs to feel the need to re-establish some measure of distinction from those who are newly non-poor. An analogy here is that when minimum wages are raised, everybody's wages have to increase because heirarchies have to be maintained. So the consequence of ensuring basic needs or raising minimum wages is that while poverty defined by some “objective” standard is addressed, it will never ever be able to erase the whole notion of some being (relatively) poorer than others.

Next Post: Friday, September 28.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

The Competitive Filipino

Filipinos are a very competitive people but they fail to recognize it. They criticize it in others and even identify a phenomenon for it (the talangka) mentality but they fail to recognize it in themselves.

One phenomenon that has not been adequately explained is the phenomenon of Filipinos doing better in other countries than in their own country. I think this can be accounted for by two things.

First, people in other countries are not ashamed to admit that they are competing, and in fact, people are encouraged to compete. There is no effort wasted on the act of misrecognizing competition. Competition is laid bare for all to see.

Here in the Philippines, relations are never viewed as being competitive (except for the higher levels of competition, ex. for an award, for a promotion). That is why a person who is considered competitive is looked down upon. That is why exhortations are made for the values of pakikisama and pagkakaisa usually by the dominant who try to forestall competition.

But the reality is that the state of competition is everywhere in the Philippines (made more intense by the fact that it is misrecognized). We see it the talangka mentality. We see it in the propensity for backroom gossip and personal commentaries even during work hours. We see it in classroom settings where students who are excellent are considered arrogant/ mayabang. We see it in the competition for space on the road and in public utility vehicles.

Second, there are a great number of competitors in the Philippines, referring not principally to the population size (but of course that also matters) but to the size of the population who are neither “above the competition” (i.e. above a certain level of competition) or who are too weak to compete. In other countries, most people are competing on another level and the Filipinos who enter do not compete on that same level and on the level in which they do compete, there are very few people (ex. nurses, caregivers, maids; occupations which the locals shun). It is also true that within the level they compete, they are ascendant for various reasons (because they know some English and they are maalaga or maybe because their salaries which are relatively smaller than the salary of the locals mean more to them than it means to the locals (who are surprised that Filipinos are willing to work so hard for so little) and so they work harder).

Next Post: Friday, 21 September

Thursday, September 06, 2007

Unconsciously Competitive

There are some people who strike others as being competitive. But among those who are identified as being competitive, there are those who would deny that they are competitive. At first, I thought those who seem competitive but deny that they are competitive are merely projecting themselves in an acceptable way but know they are competing. Now I realize that they really think that they are not competing. Now I realize that they really are competing despite their sincere denials.

To some extent, the old adage, beauty, or in this case, being competitive is in the eyes of the beholder and now I realize it also is. Those who brand others as competitive are competitive themselves, otherwise the branding would be an irrelevant act not worth making. But the competitiveness of the labeler does not detract from the fact that those perceived as being competitive are really competitive.

Those who are competitive (and isn't everyone competitive?), who sincerely think they are not competing believe that they are merely behaving as they think they ought to. They are merely acting out their social position, walking down a path that seems absolutely natural for them to take. Without realizing it, by acting out their social positions and by walking down the path that is laid out for them, they are competing in so far as their actions have consequences on their share of the market for economic capital, social capital and prestige. When others think that the actions of these individuals leads to certain consequences in terms of the market for various resources, then they are branded as competitive.

The natural defense of those labeled as such would of course be to say things like they are just doing their jobs, or they are misunderstood, or they are victims of envy, or they aren't doing anything wrong or any other kind of legitimation except for the naked fact that they are in the market for resources. But for these individuals who misrecognize their actions, their act of taking resources is simply like taking champagne from the tray of a waiter who offers the champagne to them. Reaching for resources (not even struggling for them) is a legitimate act which they would not consider competition.

The real winners in society are those who are acknowledged to deserve the resources that are in fact consider “theirs” for the having (not even for the taking). These individuals are not even seen by others as competing for resources. In their case, the misrecognition that all individuals are competitive is universal, affecting both the person whose entitlements are publicly acknowledged and the public that does the acknowledging.

Next Post: Friday, September 14. The Competitive Filipino

Friday, August 31, 2007

(Other-) Worldly Competition

It is possible to think of all individuals as being engaged in the struggle for valued resources, whether these resources be economic, social or cultural.

A strategy of those who have more resources than others and less than some is to contest the valuation of resources to make it appear that the resources that they have more of are actually more valuable than the resources that those who have more resources have more of.

More often than not, it is those who have more economic capital than others but less than some who find themselves in this position. Their natural response then is to ascribe to themselves some other form of distinction which more often than not is defined in direct opposition to a desire for economic capital. They proclaim themselves ascetic whether they be academics who perform the (thankless) social duty of reproducing the dominant classes and laborers for production; the artists who produce for arts sake; or the religious who forsake wealth in order to save souls.

In defining themselves as ascetic, they legitimize their lack of economic capital and think of themselves (and want others to think) as having won the battle (which they themselves defined and against whom no one else cares to compete).


To think that there are different kinds of resources for which people are in competition is to expand the reach of accumulation beyond the economic realm.

Some sectors say that they are beyond worldly concerns and yet in so doing, they have effectively accumulated prestige along the axis they defined which runs along the worldly- other worldly continuum, the other-worldly pole of which would be ascendant in their hierarchy.

This can be said of academics and artists and the religious who legitimize and valorize their position in society precisely by ascribing value to their otherworldliness. And yet in their wanting to ascribe value to themselves, they are accumulative as much as those in the economic sector.

And the accumulation does not stop with their positioning themselves vis-a-vis other fields. Within their field, they too are engaged in struggles over valued resources , which need not be monetary (positions of control, prestige) and in this they participate in the act of accumulation.

Furthermore, if we look at the actions of academics and artists and the religious, they too participate in the act of economic accumulation except that they find ways to justify and hide such accumulation. Academics will complain of the low salary from teaching and yet some will accept consultancies which pay a generous amount. Religious will speak of the poverty of the individual religious who owns next to nothing and yet live in orders which allow them to maintain their social standing.

But since their social position is defined in opposition to the worldly, they cannot explicitly say that they are in the business of economic accumulation. To admit that they desire to accumulate economically is to admit their subordinate position in terms of the market economy and to acknowledge that that is a criteria they choose to live by. And so they accumulate economically while professing something different rhetorically and their economic accumulation remains the subject of whispers far from the public rhetoric.

Contrast this with the economically dominant (especially those with something left to prove) who choose openly to donate to the other-worldly sector in order to enhance their other-worldliness by sacrificing some of their accumulated labor to demonstrate their capacity for other-worldiness (and detachment from worldly values) to obtain the values the other-worldly claim they have.

Next Post: Friday, September 7