February 2018
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Ignorance and Confidence

Ignorance is bliss - shortbread cookie with a smileseem highly intertwined among Filipinos, according to a recent social media survey (link). This is not really surprising. Who has not encountered the obstinate kind of ignorance that many Filipinos mistake for firmness? And who has not encountered the phenomenon that Filipino groups very often believe the person perceived as most “firm” in his or her beliefs? Or finally the phenomenon that what the own in-group believes in is seen as true by many Filipinos? “Everybody I know says that Leila de Lima is corrupt!” is something I have literally heard, with the corresponding firmness. More exactly, the study (link) has the Philippines among the Top 3 that are mostly wrong – and among the Top 3 that think themselves mostly right at the same time. Norway on the other hand is among the Top 3 that are mostly right – and among the Top 3 that think themselves mostly wrong!

Hard knocks

That a country like the Philippines is admiring of a President who says he will “personally defend” himself before the International Criminal Court (link) is a given. Or wanted to have a public debate with UN special rapporteur Agnes Callamard (link) – which probably would have ended up similarly to the way an interview with Pia Ranada Robles went (link). Seen as a victory for him by those who are confident in their ignorance and see blustering confidence as a proof of superior knowledge. There are unfortunate comparisons between Bonifacio and Rizal that are part of this attitude – Rizal is seen by some as insecure for often questioning himself in his search for knowledge – which is even attributed to his having grown up with sisters, while Bonifacio is seen as strong and decisive – which is attributed to his having been the oldest brother, who took charge when his parents died.

I have personally seen similar attitudes to those attributed to Filipinos among people of peasant or working class origin – from different nationalities. In their spheres of life, what matters in order to succeed is to intuitively and quickly grasp the situation you are in and to act and decide similarly. There often is not that much time to think about the different aspects of possible wrong or right. Bonifacio, whose parents both died at 14 years of age, had no time to finish his schooling (link). That he was deeply insulted by Daniel Tirona questioning his lack of formal education during the Tejeros Convention (link) was understandable given his struggles. But it is also documented that Bonifacio read voraciously and that the Katipunan had a library for members. President Duterte was on the other hand too lazy to use the possibilities for education that his rich family provided.

Formal education

Sometimes, the formal education that is provided to the very rich does not necessarily help them understand life better. This is especially true for those who live a too sheltered or privileged life. This was not Rizal’s life though, even if he studied in Europe there were also difficult times there – and also difficult times for his family in Calamba, Laguna, which form a searing arc through his novels. There is a terrible prejudice in the Philippines that sees all educated people as elitists or as social climbers. This is fatal as it puts anyone who tries to improve himself in a bad light. Former Solicitor-General Florin Hilbay (link) comes from Tondo – same part of Manila as Bonifacio. To study law was a struggle for him, unlike for Duterte. Hilbay is the exact contrast to Duterte, shows how Filipino good-heartedness plus human rights education make for promising legal philosophy.

Life experience and proper education can make people and society as a whole better. If education has been misused by charlatans or by privileged classes as a status symbol – Rizal has a few asides at the Dominicans of UST in his novel Noli Me Tangere (link), showing that he disliked their conservatism and preferred the more progressive Jesuits – then resentment against it can exist. Additionally, a language very different from what is spoken at home can be a social barrier also. Recent reforms like MTB-MLE “Mother Tongue – Based Multilingual Education” in K-12 (link) –   may improve things for good: “Research stresses the fact that children with a solid foundation in their mother tongue develop stronger literacy abilities in the school language.”. There is often a gap in the thinking of many Filipinos, as if theory and practice inhabit separate worlds entirely.

Real learning

The language gap is only one factor I think. Rote is another, and even worse reactionary attitudes. Hopefully the kind of teacher with an attitude and stance similar to that of Persida Acosta is not as common anymore today – the kind that sees asking why as an offense, not a search for knowledge. Or the high-hatted type of teacher that ridicules students who make mistakes to prove “superiority” and thereby possibly creates anti-intellectual rebels. Or the kind that treat practice with disdain, seeing theory as the only field for the truly learned. Fortunately modern Filipino scientists like Dr. Mahar Lagmay of Project NOAH are the exact opposite of this. But the old reactionaries that looked down upon practitioners did help create the cesspool of resentment that dismisses the likes of Project NOAH as “useless”. Only societies that link theory and practice seamlessly win (link)!

It is good that voices like those of Dr. Gideon Lasco are also there now, who has among other things written about Dengvaxia (link) and the necessity to explain things properly to the public, even such difficult principles like “correlation does not imply causation” and dealing with large numbers. Because the issue of the Philippines remains one of insufficient public education, even if the literacy rate is nominally high and there are a lot of college graduates, one sometimes wonders what they really have understood and what they just memorized on time for examinations – unfortunately. What use will it be to oust Duterte now if in a few years the likes of Pacquiao or Sotto take over? Maybe even the likes of Persida Acosta and Mocha Uson? How to get the confidently ignorant on the trail of curiosity and learning? Stop laughing at them for a start. After that – don’t quite know.

Reasoning entails doubt – reasonable doubt. Confident ignorance creates people who believe that certain people are guilty without sufficient evidence. Confident ignorance makes things very much black and white, like in the discussions about the Dengvaxia matter centered mainly on blame, not on finding systemic reasons for certain failures. What shocked me more than the 14 children who allegedly died of vaccination but in fact didn’t was how many children still die of simple diseases in the Philippines, showing that the public health system might need a lot of improvements, still. Systematically improving public health in Europe took centuries of both practical policies and scientific findings. Fanatical screamers who accused Jews and witches and whatnot did not help. But if the Philippines wishes to repeat centuries of experience, that is its stubbornly sovereign right.

Irineo B. R. Salazar
München, 8. February 2018



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