Parrhesia

Filipino Dreams in the 21st Century

The Philippine mindscape, like any mindscape that has been chaotically crafted by Third World conditions, revolves around sparkling images of joy, peace and delight. It is precisely in these suspect images that surround us daily that we see the depth of the damage and harm that has been done to all of us and if we’re truly unfortunate, to those who will come after us, fifty or a hundred years from now.

As a child, I would often compare the conditions of our household with those shown on television and I was always the most vocal to declare that no abode was as fair as those in the movies, cartoons and sitcoms. The fantasy homes in movies and cartoons burned certain images of the ideal in my mind and I became a willing accomplice. Like millions of other Filipinos, I was taught to be reflective of what I was “to become,” which had already been secretly predetermined (I was never told) by the invisible hand of the free market.

To choose one’s vocation early in life was more of an admonition, a dire warning. Know what you want to be, because you don’t have much time. The unstoppable locomotive of education, markedly designed only for the ultra-moneyed and the middle class, knew what it wanted: it wanted fresh blood, because the market is constantly aging, evolving, changing before our very eyes. Skillsets from long ago are now being carved away and fresh new configurations, tantalizing as they were to the hordes of the unemployed, carried a sharp gleam, as if these too knew what it wanted from the population.

Louis Althusser, in his dissection of ideological state apparatuses, understood that the educational ISA in its current form could not be salvaged from the murk of capitalist corruption without thorough radicalization. The school, which should be synonymous with the affirmation of radical liberty, remains a symbol of state control, homogenization and exclusion. In nation-states where the state is incapable of shelling out loans to the middle class and the exoticized dependents of the state, those who dream of college diplomas must first dream of where they would acquire the initial capital. “Education is an investment!” scream the educational insurance companies.

No words ring truer for the slices of the population that are denied a stable future due to insufficiency of personal capital. The pseudo-Darwinian principle of “the survival of the fittest” remains the mantra of the centrists, so much so that even the far right has found it easier, year after year, to preach their neoliberal-genocidal gospels.

Widespread exclusion from education meant exclusion from the job market. While everyone remained chained to unbelievably unequal market forces that are threatening to flatten whole communities, to regulate and reconfigure reeks of so much “socialism” that even the most “radical” of the bourgeois politicians are unable to grasp the importance of valuing human life over artificial equivalences of the global-intimate capitalist system.

At the bottom of every argument is the unspoken allegiance to the international banking system, the national bourgeoisie, the oligarchs, the IMF-World Bank: to socialize education or even healthcare is to abandon the principles of private property, labour-alienation and the free market. Socialized education and universal healthcare, based on democratic principles and the humanization of the state, will be the death… of capitalism itself. And we can’t have that, can we?

In the current global configuration, the sustenance of private property and the extraction of precious resources by transnational capitalistic endeavors mark the height of “individual liberty and freedom.” Capital is the “pedestal” where the freest of the evolved freemen are able to comfortably declare their liberty to those who are crushed underfoot – and there are billions of them.

The German Marxist, Ernst Bloch, known for his gigantic undertaking, the three-volume “The Principle of Hope,” spoke of the German petit-bourgeois as if retelling a folktale of long ago. The petit-bourgeois, according to Bloch, begins like everyone else – capable of looking beyond, which he argues is the essence of utopia. However, after the age of seventeen or thereabouts, the ability to think along utopian lines, which necessitates a “looking beyond” begins to fade. At this point in the evolution of the German petit-bourgeois consciousness, the human mind is gradually petrified, frozen by small comforts brought by highly delimited resources but at the same time, tempered by the threat of starvation. For in late capitalist society, there is no middle ground – there is no cushion for the weak, sick and dying.

What are Filipino dreams made of?

Utopian dreams in the Philippines are articulated across the intersections of class lines. We can only speak of the aspirations of the disenfranchised, for the compradors and national bourgeoisie are interested only in one thing: the creation of surplus value, ultimately for the extraction of profit. Axel Pinpin, author of Tugmaan Matatabil: Mga Akdang Isinulat sa Libingan ng mga Buhay, expresses the dialectic of labour exploitation succinctly in “Apihin ang Api:”

Kayuring tulad ng niyog ang lakas ng mahihirap,
Kayod, kudkod; kalaping lahat ang masisipag.
Hala kayod, kudkod pa; isagad sa balat.
Huwag mahabag, huwag mahahabag.
Ang pawis nila’y pinakamainam na alak,
Ang dusa nila’y pulutang masarap
Sa pagkalango natin sa kapangyarihang hangad.1

There is a powerful sense of life in the midst of exploitation which stems not from the violence itself but from the recognition of something else. What becomes implicit in the text is movement – a moving away from the current condition of surplus creation and labour exploitation. The possibility of utopian resolutions of class conflict, expressed in the bloodied fields of armed revolution and insurrection, finds a way out through the consciousness of the proletarianized social forces of society.

Though presently atomized, the promise of social power remains firmly embedded with these disenfranchised classes. Social power amplifies with the aggregation of a labour power into a central mass movement. Though the voices be many and the consciousness be fragmented, it is only in permanent struggle can the labourer, farmer and modern-day Sisyphuses liberate themselves from the endless permutations brought by global-intimate capitalism. In the fields, mountains, towns and cities, the war cry of the militant movements remain, a reminder of the work that remains to be completed.

Not all dreams are just

The intersection of classes, which involve ethnicities, linguistic differentiations and other cultural differences has bred countless atrocities throughout history. No other atrocity is more well-known than the Holocaust, or the purging of Jews in Europe. Though the profit-driven dreams of the Nazis were clear to begin with, the dark core of the Holocaust lay in revenge. Ernst Bloch writes:

“The Nazi dream of revenge is also subjectively bottled up, not rebellious; it is blind, not revolutionary rage.”2

When a nationalist undertaking takes the form of any kind of purging, it ceases from becoming a utopian undertaking – it becomes anything but utopian. Therefore, the Filipino nation must be constantly guarded against any form of fascism, cleverly disguised as something else completely. Bloch continues:

“The instigator, the essence of the Nights of the Knives was of course, big business, but the raving petit-bourgeois was the astonishing, the horribly seducible manifestation of this essence… His wishes for revenge are rotten and blind; God help us, when they are stirred up. Fortunately though, the mob is equally faithless; it is also quite happy to put its clenched fist back into its pocket when crime is no longer allowed a free night on the town by those at the top.”3

The aspirations of the Filipino middle class on the other hand, follow the same general logic proposed by Bloch’s analysis of the German petit-bourgeois, but with a marked difference. The essential difference is this: in the present-day Philippines we are not bound by a singular, overarching ideology that is permeated by hatred for other ethnicities. The sworn enemy of the Filipino middle class is poverty – and the mythology of poverty is encapsulated by the experience of those living on the poverty line, day in and day out.

This puts ordinary Filipinos at odds with each other. How do you begin the dialogue when the people who represent more than half of the population are suffering from poverty? How do the petit-bourgeois aspirations of the Filipino middle class fit into this unlikely interaction?

The resolution of class antagonisms is never peaceful, though it can be protracted over a long period, thereby diluting the impact of violence of one class against the other. A cultural analysis will yield a simple insidious solution: close the dialogue and press the masses to accept middle class aspirations, for the sole purpose of empowering the national bourgeoisie.

The Filipino mass man is pulled from the possibility of revolt and is later dressed up as a potential middle class individual. The indices of “middle-classness” are constantly revised and reinvented to accommodate the largest number of willing participants. All the cultural categories generated by the free market in the name of petit-bourgeois aspirations have never had any concrete relations with the economic base. Which is why everyone can lay a claim to being middle class, of being little bourgeois masters themselves.

Where are you going, Philippines?

[1] Pinpin, Axel “Apihin ang Api” Tugmaang Matatabil: Mga Akdang Isinulat sa Libingan ng mga Buhay Quezon City: Southern Voices Printing Press, 2008.
[2] Bloch, Ernst The Principle of Hope: Volume One USA: The MIT Press, 1986. pp. 30-31
[3] Ibid p. 31

Marius Carlos, Jr. is a storyteller, essayist, and journalist. He is the current editor-in-chief of Revolt Magazine. He is also the English editor of Rebo Press Book Publishing. He is an independent researcher focused on transnational capitalism, neocolonialism, empire, and pop culture. You can reach him via social media at Minds and MeWe.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: