Filipinos choose to measure progress from a Western perspective (mainly financial wealth and capital-intensive development). Thus a “successful” Filipino individual as measured by contemporary Filipino society fits the standard Hollywood mold — big house, party lifestyle, trendy clothes, shiny car, and flashy mobile devices.
The trouble with Philippine society is that we embrace the superficial glitz of acquiring those trappings (consumerism) without internalising the deeper process of creating and accumulating the means to produce and apply them (capital expansion). This is because the West originated the tradition of real industrial development whereas hangers-on like the Philippines piggybacked on it — relied on capital imports, “foreign direct investment”, and “trade liberalisation” to create the commercial activity that gives the illusion of progress.
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One example of how this illusion of progress is burst is in the overwhelming evidence that describes the way countries that are rich in natural resources remain among the most impoverished in the world — because the means to exploit that natural wealth are external (foreign technology, methods, and equipment), whilst the ones impacted by the application of those means are internal (local communities and local cultures).
A second example of this illusion of progress is the ballooning of the population of the Philippines from just 20- to 30-odd million in the 1940’s to 100 million today. Our allowing our population to increase to that appalling number rested upon the dubious assumption that technology and commerce (as European civilisation had come to define it) can grow commensurately to support that number. Specifically, our population levels today, rely on modern health care and agriculture to sustain — both of which the Philippines has historically struggled to develop at a rate proportionate to the astounding rate of growth of its population. Perhaps being “modern” (as the West defines it), is not an ethic indigenous to Filipino culture.
The commerce that drives the tunnel-visioned metrics we use to measure “progress” today may be there (enjoyed by the minority), but the actual development (enjoyed by the majority) remains elusive.
Admittedly we lost a bit of focus on the original message of GRP — which is to take a deeper look at what our society and culture is telling us that we are and re-evaluate not only what we are but how we want to move forward based on an understanding of what we are as a people. Do we change our culture to progress in today’s world order? There is merit in that view. Do we alter our approach to development on the basis of our culture? There is merit in that view as well.
Jacob Maentz’s article, “Can Photos Help Save Our Indigenous Cultures?” while a good introduction to the plight of “indigenous people”, only scratches the surface of the issues surrounding not only our indigenous communities, but our society at large. Indigenous people (again, the way the West have defined them) are often seen to be what are necessarily subsistence cultures living in places considered “uncharted” or “untouched” by our way of life. Ironically, they represent everything that Western society aspires to today — they are communities that are in equilibrium with their immediate environments. They take only what they need from the environment and live off only on what their local environment can provide — an approach to living all of us need to learn given the challenges we face today.
And this brings us to why I qualify my previous use of “indigenous people” with the phrase “as defined by the West”. For what else would one consider to be an “indigenous” community other than one that had continuously lived off a piece of land (of whatever size), say, for a thousand years in a fundamentally self-sufficient manner? Doesn’t that make, say, the Icelandic people an indigenous community as well? In fact, Icelandic people lead a way of life that can be considered admirable by the standards we apply to “conventional” indigenous people. They rely on domestic energy sources to serve more than 80 percent of their demand and largely live off their traditional source of food — marine life native to their seas.
Indeed, much of the malaise in the economy of Iceland that has been making the news in recent years has to do with an embrace of the global “free market”. In the 1990s Iceland undertook extensive free market reforms, which initially produced strong economic growth. As a result, Iceland was rated as having one of the world’s highest levels of economic freedom as well as civil freedoms. As of 2007, Iceland topped the list of nations ranked by Human Development Index and was one of the most egalitarian, according to the calculation provided by the Gini coefficient.
From 2006 onwards, the economy faced problems of growing inflation and current account deficits. Partly in response, and partly as a result of earlier reforms, the financial system expanded rapidly before collapsing entirely in a sweeping financial crisis. Iceland had to obtain emergency funding from the International Monetary Fund and a range of European countries in November 2008.
The only reason we are less-inclined to readily classify Iceland as an indigneous community in the conventional sense is that it is a European society — one that is successful by Western standards but at the same time fundamentally anchored in society-level achievement that is underpinned by a long domestic cultural tradition. It may be a counter-intuitive notion to also espouse preservation of the Icelandic tradition (and protect it from outside influence) from the same perspective that we regard what we consider to be indigenous communities, but it is a notion that makes the same logical sense.
Stepping back from all that and looking at mainstream Philippine society today, we see a country that represents an absolute antithesis of all the principles at work in our now broadened regard for what an “indigenous community” really is. It is pathetically dependent on foreign capital, foreign employment, foreign culture, foreign armies, and foreign politics for its persistence as a viable nation. In that sense, there is a strong case for re-visiting the essence of what it means to be a community. Whether that may be one we consider “modern” or “traditional”, the standards that define what we aspire to be may need to be redrawn.
[NB: This article was inspired by a comment posted on the article “Can Photos Help Save Our Indigenous Cultures?”. Portions of this article were lifted from the Wikipedia.org article “Economy if Iceland” in a manner compliant to the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License which governs the use of the content of this site.]
benign0 is the Webmaster of GetRealPhilippines.com.