The Underpinnings of Filipino Anti-Intellectualism


Discussions about the Philippines’ problems and condition often lead to the topic of anti-intellectualism, as what our webmaster Benign0 recently wrote about. It is considered one of the factors why the Philippines remains a bottom-feeder among societies. Many try to explain it as a result lack of education or poverty. Sure, poverty may be one thing, but it isn’t the only or most prominent cause. Another may blame religion, but as I have said before, religion is itself a product of intellect, and isn’t the cause of societal problems. The underpinnings of anti-intellectualism and desire for non-work are cultural, and often embraced as ideas we assume are “normal” or “right.”

One aspect is a wrong understanding of what intellectualism is. Most people understand intellectualism to mean just educational achievement, or even the highbrow manner of thinking and speaking attributed to people converging at Starbucks. Another idea is that being smart or intelligent is used only for trickery or deceit. Hence, the Filipino word “utakan” (literallly “braining”) means cunning or use of trickery.

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Changing this mindeset starts with a discussion on the significance of intellectualism and anti-intellectualism in a society. I believe that the reason for anti-intellectualism in this country is that Filipinos believe that they have the right to live without thinking (karapatan na mabuhay na walang alam). They see it as normal to be like savage animals: scrounge around, pick food from somewhere and communicate only when you need something (or, sometimes, fight and kill someone over something). Brainwork is seen as unnecessary, and making someone use their brain is equated to oppression. Or, they would believe in “maski-paps” (maski papaano, or any which way/anything goes) when doing something, even if what the method they use is wrong.

I see as one result of this mentality the desire to make other people their ATMs. This leads to the perception that smart or intelligent people who work should generate money to be given to others, that “others” being themselves. If such intelligent people refuse to give it out, they are to be shamed or attacked in some way. This might be why some Filipinos are also afraid of being intelligent. This is because if they become more “intelligent,” they will be made into ATMs, or else, they will be smart-shamed (and they will smart-shame others too).

Adding to this is the belief is that if a person is intelligent, he should not be poor. For example, if an intelligent person decides to settle down into farming (even if he uses “high-tech” farming methods), that is seen as crazy. Why, what’s wrong with intelligent farmers? Also, some get angry when they hear of rich people trying to spend less or save money. They’ll say, “eh ang yaman nila, di na dapat sila tumipid (they are rich, so they schouldn’t scrimp)!” On the other hand, when they see a magkakariton (cart pusher) or taho vendor vendor with a smartphone, they will rage and say it’s imappropriate for a poor guy to have a “luxury” device (despite phones being ridiculously cheap these days). The misconception remains that only rich should be intelligent and non-intelligent should be poor, despite the reality showing that there are intelligent poor people and non-intelligent rich.

If you oppose this view that lack of intelligence is not harmful, just look at squatter slums, our incredible birth rates, the steady mass exodus of intelligent people from the country, how they vote, etc. Just look at our politics, elected by and peopled by brainlessness. Our TV shows and print media (especially tabloids) are often peppered with gossip and rabid emotionalism.

Ah yes, mass media. The dramas of Philippine TV and movies demonize intellectualism by implying that intelligent and rich people are the same and are “madamot” (stingy). They imply that such people are evil because they refuse to give out their wealth to others. This idea strengthens the sense of entitlement of viewers, and encourages the desire to take from others what they don’t deserve.


This shows how long and far-reaching a problem anti-intellectualism has been

Of course, anti-intellectualism is not limited to local TV. I watch anime and read manga, and I find it painful to see so many dimwit protagonists. Even in the American films, there are so few very intelligent heroes. Seldom do come out the likes of MacGyver and Sherlock Holmes. Or, perhaps, anyone who is not irritatingly flawed. I know that most audiences of fiction prefer flawed characters – but sometimes the flaws are sometimes annoying and stupid. Perhaps this is because TV show makers assume the watchers are dimwits and thus give them what they assumptively want.

One may also look at history of how anti-intellectuallism has led to murders and hypocritical corruption. Look at the French Revolution, Josef Stalin’s purges in the Soviet Union and Pol Pot in Cambodia. Look also at the business world; add people like what Kate Natividad described and many other examples.

I consider a bit part of anti-intellectualism extreme emotionalism, which I have discussed earlier. Emotionalism clouds the mind and distorts the sensibilities of people. People follow their foot, make rash and stupid decisions, and then are clueless on why it all happened. Of course, that goes with the desire for primitivity, non-thinking and mooching.

The more prosperous societies are the ones that have “demonized” moochers and made people believe that working for one’s own keep is the proper way. Let us throw away our egocentric ethnocentrism and look at other societies and cultures. Japan, Israel, Jewish culture and others are all have this part of culture that looks down on the non-working. They disabuse themselves of the notion that being alive without thinking and working, or expecting something to go your way even if you know nothing about it, is a right, and they value working and doing it the right way. This is the attitude we need to adopt.

So here’s what basically underlies anti-intellectualism: laziness. The desire to live without thinking and without working is a strong subconscious factor in Filipino behavior. It ties in with the survival instinct to lead to undue hostility towards others, including the behavior of cheating or taking from others. Conquering laziness is the first step to concrete prosperity and well-being.

9 Replies to “The Underpinnings of Filipino Anti-Intellectualism”

  1. And all of those aspects reinforce each other, resulting in an unholy confluence of failure that’s almost impossible to dismantle.

    Incidentally, the habits you mention aren’t unique to Filipinos. You can see them in almost every third world country, particularly in Africa and South Asia. The idea that every family has a “designated earner”, and that it’s OK for everyone else to just sit on their ass with their hands held out, is common to every failed society. In that scenario, it’s mathematically impossible for anybody to be rich (or even slightly well-off) unless they’re ‘kuripot’.

    The only way to deal with this is brainwashing: proper teachers, putting sensible ideas into the heads of children. Young minds are empty minds, and right now they’re having all these terrible ideas poured into them by their elders and, uh, betters, for the most part unconsciously. Filipino teachers are still Filipinos, and with very few exceptions they’ve adopted all of the habits and memes of the society around them. Of course parents and peers have a huge influence, but teachers could potentially break the loop.

    I’m disappointed that Duterte hasn’t bothered to overhaul the education system. It’s the crucial lever that can fix this, and until it IS fixed, the country is going nowhere. As long as 80% of the population believes that it’s right and proper to drift through life with the minimum possible effort, it doesn’t matter how much the government spends on ‘capacity-building’.

    Incidentally, for a country that’s supposedly Christian, I’m surprised the quote ‘If a man shall not work he shall not eat’ hasn’t gained more currency. ‘Go forth and multiply’ is a lot more fun, I suppose.

    1. I’m reminded, a friend told me, some people like to live, while others like to exist. With the way lazy Filipinos want to do things, they don’t want to live, they want to exist. Just to exist is meaningless, and so that’s probably what makes people feel meaningless. But Filipinos seem satisfied with just existing, and don’t care about the burden they put on others while being so.

      True about the educational system, it’s not high on Duterte’s priority, and K-12 has just been implemented, so they’re not keen on changing it yet. But they probably should. And yes, the irony of not following that vital Bible verse just shows how unreligious Filipinos really are, and yet they pretend to be religious.

    2. As long as PH teachers are seen and regarded as role-models, there is really something wrong with a country. Being a teacher is a job. In the same way as being an engineer is a job. But not in the Philippines. The fact that Dep-Ed (and probably CHED as well) s ets out rules for teachers is really ridiculous. A teacher must be either single or married and is not allowed to live together is really something from the Middle Ages.

      “I’m disappointed that Duterte hasn’t bothered to overhaul the education system.”
      I agree. And what about the job market in PH? From what I hear and understand, it is very complicated (and even expensive????) to apply for a job (compared to my country).

      1. @Robert – a teacher can’t really AVOID being a role model. It’s the nature of the job. His only choice is to be a good role model or a bad role model; he doesn’t ge t to opt out. Although you’re quite right that the DepEd’s opinion of what a role model should be is completely ridiculous.

        Remember, there are some truly awful parents around. Society doesn’t provide much of a role model. Consider the average young boy growing up around male relatives who spend their days drinking, cockfighting, arguing, and looking for the next dumb girl to get pregnant. He’s going to think that’s normal. The teacher is the last hope he has of growing up into a functioning adult.

        In fact I’d say there is no point at all trying to teach a kid math or history or science if he’s going to leave school a lying, sneaky, lazy, unreliable brat. He will never, ever be able to use his academic skills in a job (assuming he even has any) if he doesn’t have some basic life skills.

        Part of the reason employers ask for 15 different bits of paper (including a criminal check) is that the average applicant is a hopeless excuse for a human being. You wouldn’t believe how many people I’ve interviewed (or employed) who turn out to be 10-year-old children in adult bodies, and badly-behaved children at that.

        1. wow.

          All I need is my letter of application and my resume/cv, send that in by email (or by snail mail) and then I will be invited for a job interview or not. What possibly does an employer want from me more?

          If/when I have a criminal past (locked up in jail), my CV will show a gap. During the job interview, you can bet your life, people will ask about that gap. So, there is no need to have/show some kind of affidavit of a criminal past (or lack thereof). The people who do the interview (the Iter) are not stupid and not insane. And therefore, for anyone – having a criminal past – its almost undoable to apply for a job. Or the Itee (the interviewee) must say, she/he took a sabbatical.

        2. To add:

          In my country, a teacher is just a teacher. No role model, no star, not a celebrity. If he is gay; if she is lesbian and living together, then nobody cares as long as he/she is the best in teaching academicals. So in all, we have a very simple outlook on those jobs being a teacher, as long as you are the best. What you do in your spare/free time, is something nobody cares about.
          Oh and pupils and students dont wear (school) uniforms.

  2. I’d say, BEING LAZY says all about the ancestry & culture of a certain people.

    One good reason why people from countries that have harsh regular season, like winter, work harder than, say people from Southeast Asia, it is because of the culture brought down to them from their ancestors. Prior to modern times, Europeans or the Japanese people should work more than enough to cultivate or hunt for them to be able to stockpile foods to survive the tough wintertime. If they don’t, they would starve to death since there was virtually nothing that would grow or anything to hunt in the snow! And this is also true with the Jewish people even if they originated from the Mideast or North Africa. Jews were the most persecuted race— making them to always expect for the worst to come. That is also the reason, like European or Japanese, they have turned into “demonized moochers”!

    In primitive time Southeast Asia, all year round foods were present and nothing to really fear about. Hence, Malay race, like the Filipinos, are the laziest of the people in the planet as their fore fathers were, too, like we see today, almost worriless! They could just talk their way down the riverbanks and wait for the fish to enter the fish traps or cages and alas, foods were assured for the day every day and all year round! And giving away these foods to relatives were prominent traits among these people since there were plenty of it to share with the others. Fast-forward to modern day, Filipinos tends to wait for the fruits to fall down to the dining table while Europeans/Japanese/Jewish people are out there looking for new ways or producing new techs to make their lives even better!

    And we are already living in a hyper-modern world and should now adapt to this new situation, forget that “maski-paps” attitude. Otherwise, we will always be the bottom-feeders of the society.

  3. An intellectual is a person who engages in critical thinking, research and reflection, about society and proposes solutions for its normative problems.

    Anti intellectualism is hostility to and mistrust of the: intellect, intellectuals and intellectualism, commonly expressed as deprecation of education and philosophy, and the dismissal of art, literature and science as impractical, and contemptible human pursuit.

    From these two definitions , we can know where we stand. The NPA ideology, or communist ideology came from the Russian revolutions; and were against the Tsarist intellectuals. Joseph Stalin, murdered many intellectuals in his labor camps, known as “Gulags”. Pol Pot of the Khmer Rogue of Cambodia, murdered Cambodian intellectuals in his “killing fields.

    The NPA ideology of : “Pantay pantay tayong lahat”, is anti intellectualism. The Lazy will be on the same level as the industrious. The “Bobo” will be the same level , as the intelligent. The communist leaders, will only have the good intellect.

    As for the Filipino dependency cultural trait; I think it is in our Filipino DNA. Observe the Filipino indigenous people. They have the hunter and gatherer, in the tribe. Whatever the hunter gatherer brings home: it is shared by the whole tribe.

    So, a Filipino OFW goes abroad, earn U.S. dollars or any foreign currency. the OFW remits most of his earnings to the family; that can be shared by all.

    An American friend of mine is married to a Filipina. The Filipina wife, remits money to her family and send ; nephews, nieces and other relatives to colleges. She also send a full load of goods of “Balikbayan boxes” , to her family frequently. My American friend complained : ” I did not marry her family. I married her”.

    So there you go, the anti intellectualism of the Filipinos. It is ingrained in our DNA.

  4. A large segment of the public willingly resigns itself to political passivity in a world in which it cannot expect to make well-founded judgments.

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