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.

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.


About ChinoF

I stick with this blog because I believe, as my cohorts do, that many things Filipino embrace as part of their culture are pulling them down. And I blog freely to show that in a truly decent society, with true freedom of speech, even nobodies have a voice.