my Trade Tripper column in this 07-08 August 2015 weekend issue of BusinessWorld:
This article essentially is a reiteration of something I wrote back in 2011, and was brought about by recent impressions gathered from social media, particularly now as the maneuverings for next year’s elections are gathering pace.
The puzzle: why many (definitely not all) of our people hate rational thought or any form of critical thinking. This hate is quite well disguised, what with the numerous publications and public discussions now available in the country.
I used the word “hate” (twice) deliberately. Say something with logical, reasoned, factual basis, with clarity and grammatical coherence, and one will get subjected to torrents of insults for doing so. What is allowable instead is “thinking” based on “feels” or one that can be captured by a hashtag.
The 2010 national elections had a very anti-intellectual bias. Academic credentials were either a) taken against the candidate or b) immediately disregarded due to some imaginary or unproven personal failing of the candidate.
This was quite interesting for so many reasons. In a world where information is created and travels in speeds previously unimaginable, to now consider learning as something unnecessary is incredible.
A sizable number of national leaders in other countries have world-class academic credentials. Obama, Cameron, Lee, and Merkel, just to name a few. Admittedly, not all are doing well in office but that is the point: considering the difficulties of the job then all the more reason to seek even better, more prepared, more learned individuals for public positions.
In our case, the twisted reasoning goes like this: since bar topnotcher Ferdinand E. Marcos or Georgetown-educated economist Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo were seen as unsatisfactory by a certain group of people, therefore we should seek leaders that have no academic distinction whatsoever. Which is downright stupid.
Accepting the argument that Mr. Marcos and Ms. Arroyo, with their experience and education, were unable to do the job well, then the proper (and sane) thinking would be to seek individuals with even better experience and training, plus other attributes necessary in a national leader: a clear vision of where he wants to take the country, competence (which includes the ability to select able people), and integrity (including having respect for our history and institutions). To say that no Filipino like that exists belittles the Filipino and is patently myopic.
But going beyond the elections, why the anti-intellectual bias?
Years ago I talked with a successful businessman who bragged about his refusing to read the classics (through time I’d discover his attitude to be shared by many Filipinos). Rousseau? Drucker? Aquinas? Who cares? For him, they’re irrelevant to his business. Instead, he expressed eagerness in getting advice from elder businessmen friends (“kasi practical daw siya” [because he considered himself as a practical person]).
Obviously, to learn from one’s elders is good.
But to disregard actual pieces of wisdom from the known giants of humanity is absurd, shortsighted, and idiotic. Undoubtedly, good advice is good advice, whether it be from the neighborhood barber or Pope Benedict XVI.
But to proudly disregard the insights of men who made themselves immortal through their stupendous achievements in favor of the opinions of people who just happened to possess wealth (which is but a mere pittance compared to the wealth of businessmen from our neighboring countries), out of companies that will no longer exist 30, 50 years from now, is deeply bizarre.
Perhaps the reason for the abhorrence against coherent disciplined thinking lies with our “intellectuals” themselves. A well-known professor would lecture constantly against oligarchs only to end up covering for their corruption. A columnist happily name-drops Rawls or Chomsky for no useful or coherent purpose. Then there’s this economist whose idea of public debate is to screech and scream against those who dissent from her views. Which is ridiculous.
Intellectuals are supposed to encourage others to think critically and objectively, to think calmly and methodically, to discuss politely, to like thinking (and learning), and to think for a purpose. Not paralyze people into inaction or scream loads of esoteric data in order to shut them up.
In the end, many of our people disregard rational thought (either from intellectuals or by politicians) because there had been those who assumed intellectual poses for purposes of ego tripping, treating serious discussions as theatrical performances for people’s entertainment. They serve no purpose other than as a diversion during coffee breaks or cocktails.
Intellectuals should exhort people to unify their actions with their thoughts, demand responsibility and accountability, all rooted in realistic and doable considerations. Above all, true intellectuals practice what they preach. Otherwise, they’re just encouraging the country to be basket cases like them.
Ultimately, there could be other, more profound reasons. After all, maturity and character demand introspection and openness to change. And thus Blaise Pascal’s words could be the key: “The embarrassment wherein he finds himself produces in him the most unjust and criminal passions imaginable, for he conceives a mortal hatred against that truth which blames him and convinces him of his faults.”