The concept of flaunting wealth, or display/show of wealth, seems to be yet another topic of contention in the Philippine social environment. It became the subject of debate following the discussion of the Marian Rivera-Dingdong Dantes wedding, and was the subject of other discussions such as my piece on Century Properties scion Robbie Antonio. Many are railing against the idea that flaunting wealth is considered wrong and unethical. No less than newspaper columnists defend it, saying that it is the “right” of people to show their wealth.
Let’s start with this concept of “right.” When people have the right to something, what makes it a right is not that you can do it, but it is right to do. Being able to do something doesn’t make it a right. It’s just permissible. But just because it’s permissible doesn’t make it right, or to use the Bible’s words on it, beneficial. A right is something that is right and beneficial. Thus, I say “show of wealth” in society is not really beneficial. So why say so? Why is it wrong?
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Perhaps, flaunting wealth is related to that American-originated movement, the “worshippers of success” or “magical voluntarism” thing, that supports myths like “The Secret,” that the poor are the cause of their own poverty and that poorness and richness is a symbol of one’s moral state (ergo, if you’re poor, it’s because you’re immoral, and if you’re rich, you’re moral, blah blah). These are not true, because there are people who work hard and sometimes even smart, but they are unable to attain riches. It is not their fault. But “show of wealth” supporters may say it is, and that people who are not wealthy or successful are failures. Some go the extreme to condemn poorer people as the “dregs” or “trash” of society, even if some rich people do worse.
Also, I gave the explanation that showing one’s wealth loudly to others is similar to “spitting on others.” Oh? How is it “spitting on others?” My view is that the “show of wealth” is an expression of disrespect for others. Why disrespect? Why simply, doing things akin to saying “meron ka nito? Wala ka nito!” (Do you have this? No, you don’t!), or even “inggit ka lang!” (You’re just jealous), signifies contempt for that person who doesn’t have it. So if the other person is someone who works hard and is ethical, but is not rich, this is an insult to the dignity of the other person. It exhibits the lack of respect for public space (which includes “lesser” people) that Jorge Mojarro wrote about. This is the very core of the unethicality of flaunting wealth.
Just look at wealth-flaunting as applied to ordinary people. Because of consumerism, we are all hoodwinked to believe we have to show our wealth. “If you have it, flaunt it;” and many advertisements have this message. Thus, Filipinos are desperate to buy the latest gadgets, the latest whitening cream, and get into the latest fads just to have something to show. And they sometimes resort to borrowing money, without assurance that they are able to pay later. Thus, the “show of wealth” attitude can lead to people being mired in debt, and spending beyond their means. Thus the problem with the “show of wealth” attitude in the Philippines is that even less affluent people tend to have it, when they should not.
Also, isn’t the fiesta mentality criticized in the Philippines? The problem with “fiesta” is not just that it can be a type of false happiness similar to “drowning one’s sorrows.” People may hold fiestas because it is a “show of wealth.” Perhaps they want to hide that they are poor, and look rich, even for a while. But that’s basically lying to oneself and not being true. Hence, the saying, “magpakatotoo ka! (Be true to yourself!)”
And there is this other reason some have mentioned; a large and loud “show of wealth” can be a sign of mental problems, such as narcissism. If you have wealth, why not just enjoy it quietly? Why proclaim so loudly and disproportionately that you have wealth? It could be narcissism. Or, as fellow blogger Gogs would call it – KSP (kulang sa pansin or pining for attention), which he aptly calls the root of all evil.
If less affluent people carry out this “show of wealth” attitude, not only would they have a greater risk of becoming poorer, but they also invite criminals to target them. The really rich people fortify themselves against their own countrymen. Certainly not good examples in our society.
Don’t forget what the much-maligned law against obstentatious display of wealth implies. It exists because if public servants have such enormous wealth, it could be because of corruption.
Thus, the “show of wealth” dynamic does not help solve or ease the class divide, as some claim; it helps increase it. It is a function of one of Filipino culture’s most cherished yet misguided goals: to assert class dominance over the other. It is also a goal that has kept Filipinos under dysfunction for years.
Now, I’m not here to condemn people about their wealth or tell them what to do with it. But just think: what does the way you use your wealth tell about you?
If you have wealth, best be quiet and discreet about it. Find ways to properly use it and invest it, and don’t waste it on stupid endeavors. Philantrophy is good, but better do it sincerely, not just for PR purposes. One other reason to use wealth in a philanthropic manner can be summed in this saying: actions speak louder (about your character) than words (or your wealth).
I believe, as my cohorts here do, that what Filipinos embrace as their culture is what actually pulls the country down. And those who seem to be anti-dictators, who may also believe themselves to be “heroes,” are the real dictators.