of intellectual doldrums & filipino voices

in a speech on publishing in the regional languages that poet professor Ricky de Ungria delivered in cebu’s academic publishing fair last july, he dared point out, bully for him, what ails the intellectual life of the filipino, which i dare say is true for mainstream media and the blogosphere as well.

“I refer not only to the appalling lack of criticism or critical frameworks by which standards of quality, excellence in craftsmanship, good judgment and taste are defined and observed in the production and appreciation of works.

. . . . for good or ill, our country appears to be a place where everybody is or wants to be an artist and no one wants to be a critic. A good ninety percent or more of the literary books published are creative works; the rest, on a good year, would be critical work.

. . . . this is an unhappy situation: for without the rigor and passion of critical thought that puts up certain standards of excellence in literary productions and points at directions that our many literatures could take, all we will have would be back-patting and mutually admiring literary coteries producing more of the same year after year, contest after contest.

. . . . the fact that of the total number of higher academic institutions wehave in the country, only three or four regularly make it to the lower rungs of the top universities in the world should tell us something about the state of affairs in our education sector.

Would it be too much to conclude from these that there is no viable intellectual or artistic climate in our country where ideas come freely and are grist for the mill of the mind- except for the political that passes off as an activity of the mind?

Would it be too much to put down as a corollary that we don’t have an intellectual climate, nor can we bear to support one simply because we have lost the passion for truth because truth has turned out to be manipulable and changeable and undependable?

Or perhaps because we have not shaken off our feudal cast of mind and psyche that inhibits us from critiquing the ideas of the “elder statesmen” in our fields as a result of a kind misplaced measure of deference or respect for elders, and that allows us to accept conveniently their word as “law” so we don’t have to bother with it anymore as we go on quietly with our own desperate lives?

. . . . year after year, we hold conferences and workshops on the state of this or that industry in the country, and we end up hearing more or less the same old things being said as if anew.

. . . . There being no such thing as an intellectual climate in the country, there is little knowledge production going on at all. If we can’t even get our facts down pat, how do we even presume to advance to the next step of knowledge creation?

When we debate, we debate with persons and not ideas. Disagreements take on the unhappy form of personal affronts and become desultory and, in some instances, life-threatening. Then again, how can we be assured that the knowledge produced so far is legitimate, given that much of the valuable information about us is in the hands and shelves of foreign funding agencies and foreign scholars?

. . . . If, as with the fate of colonized countries, the colonial language remains the main means of intellectual discourse and knowledge creation, …in our particular case there still appears to be no decent intellectual discourse and knowledge creation in English, or our version of it, even in Manila, and still lesser, though emergent (the word “inchoate” came to mind) discourse has come about in Filipino. . . .”

CUT to the blogosphere’s filipino voices, a political group blog offering news, politics, and social commentary, that’s been getting raves from a circle of political bloggers and their followers/commenters but where the discourse is quite, well, “inchoate” comes to mind, just because freedom of expression is the only value and critical thinking stops short of seriously discussing and crafting options and solutions that could contribute to knowledge production and nation-building.

to my mind fv is just an extension of manolo quezon’s blog, featuring as it does mostly bloggers cited now and then by mlq3 in his daily dose, but nothing more: no unifying thread, no consensus on anything, no attempt at synthesis to sift the grain from the chaff, writer blogger as well as reader/commenter left on his/her own, sink or swim, ang pikon, talo. good job :-(

in a recent manifesto (better late than never?) founder Nick cites James Surowiecki‘s “Wisdom of the Crowds” to justify fv’s free-wheeling style:

Why the Many Are Smarter Than the Few and How Collective Wisdom Shapes Business, Economies, Societies and Nations, is about the aggregation of information in groups, resulting in decisions that, he argues, are often better than could have been made by any single member of the group.

The book presents numerous case studies and anecdotes to illustrate its argument, and touches on several fields, primarily economics and psychology. The opening anecdote relates Francis Galton’s surprise that the crowd at a county fair accurately guessed the weight of an ox when their individual guesses were averaged (the average was closer to the ox’s true butchered weight than the estimates of most crowd members, and also closer than any of the separate estimates made by cattle experts).

The book relates to diverse collections of independently-deciding individuals, rather than crowd psychology as traditionally understood. Its central thesis, that a diverse collection of independently-deciding individuals is likely to make certain types of decisions and predictions better than individuals or even experts, draws many parallels with statistical sampling, but there is little overt discussion of statistics in the book.”

interesting nga, if it’s true.  and if it applies to all kinds of decision-making.  and if it works in the third world as well.  and if it actually applies to filipino voices, where no one is keeping track of anything, no one is doing any “averaging” of any opinions on any issues, so how can anyone, writer blogger or reader/commenter, know that/what the group is contributing to anyone’s decision-making, if any?

but wait, here’s more from nick himself:

Here is something, if even on the concept alone, that can help us understand the usefulness of how groups can contribute to a better understanding and a better result in terms of decision making, and in our case, maybe in terms of our views and analysis on issues of great importance.

The wisdom of the crowd can only work, if each individual contributes independently of one another. To rely, solely on others’ views and opinions can not only turn this theory upside-down, but can inevitably lead to what could be termed as “The Stupidity of The crowd”. The stupidity of the crowd, in my opinion lies when individuals cease to think independently of one another. If we can isolate the views and opinions of individuals, then we have a better shot at arriving at a better outcome.”

oh my.  ano daw?  independent thinking and endless debate lead to wisdom? relying on the views of others leads to stupidity?  clearly fv’s nick needs a crash course on dialectics.

In classical philosophy, dialectic (Greek: διαλεκτική) is controversy: the exchange of arguments and counter-arguments respectively advocating propositions (theses) and counter-propositions(antitheses). The outcome of the exercise might not simply be the refutation of one of the relevant points of view, but a synthesis or combination of the opposing assertions, or at least a qualitative transformation in the direction of the dialogue.”

keywords: “qualitative transformation in the direction of the dialogue.”  until he gets it, he should stop with the intellectual pretensions muna because, really, buking na buking that he’s in way over his head.


  1. For a group blog, i think the danger of groupthink is greater than the danger from being ‘inchoate’. Personally, i don’t believe in trying to arrive at a synthesis on purpose because it would detract from the flow of the discussion, and more importantly, the value i get from FV is to test drive viewpoints which can later be used in the real world. Any synthesis is up to the reader and if the bloggers/commenters arrive at such a state on any topic, that would be a bonus. For now, i’d be happy with any knowledge spillover effects.

  2. Angela, thank you for the criticism, although I would have appreciated a bit more constructive criticism, rather than just criticism outright. But, in it, I see the point that is made.

    In any case, I did not, nor have I advocated endless debate as a means of providing a solution to the issues that are to be discussed.

    Mind you Angela, that it has only been six months, and we can never fully realize the potential of such an endeavor at such an early stage.

    I appreciate the feedback, and would like your input as to how we should proceed.

    I’ve been called out. Yes, I’m a kindergarten student masquerading as an intellectual. I don’t need to be pretentious, I have merely put out there a “draft” with which further discussion and input made, and that which maybe, we could arrive, as you may suggest, a dialectic outcome. If that is being pretentious, then so be it. My intentions were nothing more, nothing less.

    I may be way over my head, if so, would it be so bad to get some help.

    What say you, as to the proper course to take?

    In any case, it’s a challenge that I am all too willing to take. Even if it’s way over my head, I am all too willing to ask for help… Which is why I put it out there. For such criticism I am all too willing to bear, if it moves us forward to something that we can truly say will be of help in providing critical thinking, as the speech you have provided asks for. And in the end, as even Benign0 pointed out, move towards a resolution on issues with which we can have common ground.

  3. Free wheeling.. no, just freedom to write. Not confined or restricted to an editor which mandates only certain topics for a certain writer.

    If any criticism within your article can be taken with 100% full agreement was the cynicism with which you make on the time it took to arrive at such a manifesto. I agree.

    In another instance, you also miss another point that FV is trying to make strides in, and that is the need for more people to be active in the discussion. If for any other reason than this, that we can bring more individuals, who have gone the way of apathy, into the fold, I think it is yet another success with which we should be happy about.

    Angela, I respect you very much, I am always hopeful you can contribute your two centavos on any issues, and even towards FV in general.

  4. indeed, perhaps FV’s goals are a tad lofty. I can’t imagine a single weblog being able to generate consensus. It isn’t designed to generate consensus. Its about writing your own opinions.

    Well there is a comments section. Comments should be encouraged. Spam should be shut down. To be more conversational, maybe they can program-in a ‘reply to’ feature. When that becomes cumbersome, a followup post is useful.

    Lastly, blogs are incredibly partisan, so i don’t know if any individual blogger will change its opinion, or ‘synthesize’ to use a fancier term.

  5. nick: gabbyd is spot on – fv’s goals are just a tad lofty. scrap the manifesto. forget about making a difference or influencing the national discourse or doing better than mainstream media or climbing mountains a la martinlutherking. like cvj and marck say, happy naman sila the way it is, which works naman, fv gets a lot of traffic, di ba. and isnt that what counts in the blogosphere?

  6. Naku, kontrobersyal itong entri mo, Angela. Hehe.

    Tinitingnan ko rin pana-panahon ang Filipino Voices, para malaman kung ano ang pinag-uusapan ng ilan sa mga nag-iisip sa bansa, at kung ano ang pinakamatalas nilang naiisip tungkol sa mga paksa nila.

    Pero totoo nga ang mga punto mo.

    Pero may mungkahi ako. Kasi, madalas, pare-pareho ang paksa ng iba’t ibang nagsusulat sa FV. Baka makatulong lang na kapag natapos ang isang bugso ng pagsusulat sa isang paksa, baka pwedeng may nagsusulat doon na maitalagang mag-sum up ng mga punto.

    Syempre, malamang, opinionated pa rin ang pag-sum up. Pero baka lang makatulong. Kung gustong magpalalim ng nagbabasa, tsaka siya pupunta sa mismong entri.

    Sa porma iyan — na tingin ko, madaling matatanggap.

  7. Angela, this is the most defeatist statement I’ve heard in a while.

    Strive to make a difference or cease altogether and be happy with the status quo, with stagnation, because people say and think one cannot?

    You point out obstacles as if they are bound by the laws of physics…

    In any case, your criticism is noted. I do not agree. Except only with the suggestion made by Teo.

    Scrap the manifesto? I say improve on it..

  8. over at filipino voices some have, like nick (September 26, 2008 @ 9:06 pm), tagged me as “defeatist”, even “defeated,” for advising nick to “scrap the manifesto…” lol. that’s what i get for trying to be nice. i thought i was letting nick off easy. for the record, “scrap the manifesto…” (September 26, 2008 @ 12:27 pm) was my response to his admission that he’s “a kindergarten student masquerading as an intellectual” (September 24, 2008 @ 9:40 pm). my way of saying, kung ganoon, huwag na lang mag-ilusyon, hindi mo (pa) kaya, be happy with what you’ve achieved, masaya naman as is. hey, i was/am just being realistic. leading a collective like filipino voices up a mountain of lofty goals, and sustaining the movement, requires nothing less than intellectual grounding and maturity and perspicacity. now if it were djb, well, that would be another matter. that would be really interesting, even exciting — that is, of course, if he can manage to be objective about the left. hope springs eternal.

  9. I like some of Ricky de Ungria’s poetry, but I think some of what you quoted borders on the solipsism that so infects the Left with an arrogant self-loathing, for example:

    “. . . . If, as with the fate of colonized countries, the colonial language remains the main means of intellectual discourse and knowledge creation, …in our particular case there still appears to be no decent intellectual discourse and knowledge creation in English, or our version of it, even in Manila, and still lesser, though emergent (the word “inchoate” came to mind) discourse has come about in Filipino. . . .”

    What could be more “inchoate” (and unconscious) than to criticize the inability to create “decent intellectual discourse” using “the colonial language” whilst using the colonial language to do it?

    Personally, I am proud to be connected to Filipino Voices, where you never know how your writing will be received, or, and this is more important, whether it will matter to the readers.

    Unless you yourself are willing to take that risk, you risk falling into solipsism. When you think you are ready and that your ideas can infect others from sheer merit, coherence, persuasiveness, then you will be ready to join Filipino Voices.

    What I think we fail to see is that the topology of this medium ensures that “No Blog Is An Island” (not even MLQ3) though some seem fervently to wish it.

    It is the unmitigated desire of many Filipinos to be unique. When we get over that, then paradoxically we will be.