Dec 4, 2010

Are Filipinos always inclined to fight one another?

Dear Filipino,

I noticed, from my experience, Filipinos are always inclined to fight one another. Almost every Filipino family I know has at least two brothers that duke it every now and then. And the Filipino guys I know either see their fellow countrymen as good friends or rivals. Or am I just over analyzing?


Dear Snaffu,

Yes, you are over-analyzing if you think Filipinos are unique in fighting each other as siblings!

No, Sir: We did NOT invent "sibling rivalry."  We don't have a trademark or a patent on it.  In fact, if you will recall from your Sunday school teachers, Old Testament dudes named Cain and Abel popularized the trend, then was copied by Jacob and Esau, and then by Joseph and his brothers.  More modernly, we also know now that American tennis doubles champs Bob and Mike Bryan fought while growing up, MMA fighters Marvin and Melvin Blumer (a.k.a. the Bash Brothers) fought while growing up, and Indian billionaires Mukesh and Anil Ambani fought as grownups! 

See the pattern?  There's none!  Why?  Because sibling rivalry is normal and universal.

But the other half of your question -- whether Filipinos see their fellow countrymen as good friends or rivals -- deserve a longer discussion because this observation is extraordinarily prescient of you (yes, we do fight among each other, though not as often as others would think!).  It also deserves a more in-depth treatment because it touches on two "theories" also often ascribed to Filipinos by some foreign observers and moreso by Filipinos themselves -- i.e., what I call the  (1) "regionalistic Filipinos theory," and (2) the "crab mentality theory."  To conserve on bytes and typing energy, I'll refer to them as RFT and CMT.

But let's tackle the CMT theory first because The Filipino absolutely HATES this theory.

I.  The CMT: Why it is complete B.S.

The "theory" is based on a story that goes something like this: 

There was this crab salesman who was selling live crabs, and he had many different baskets all somewhat filled with different types of crabs.  All the baskets, except one, had covers so the crabs could not escape.  When one customer asked why that was so, the crab salesman supposedly replied: "Ma'am, that uncovered basket is the basket of Filipino crabs.  I'm not worried about anyone of them escaping because as soon as one of them is about to escape, the other crabs will pull him right back down.  So there is really no need to cover them."


A prominent Fil-Am community leader, lawyer and columnist, Mr. Rodel Rodis, is believed to have first written about this story, but he was using this theory then as his personal, and arguable, conjecture as to why no Filipino had yet been elected to high public office in California despite the community's considerable presence in the state (this is no longer true, by the way, with the election of a Filipina Chief Justice of the Supreme Court last month). 

Now, it would have been harmless, except that many other prominent Filipinos, writers and others, actually latched onto the story and arrogated it to be the all-encompassing explanation for any shortcoming of Filipinos, real or imagined, as a group! 

Why is some Filipino not getting recognized as the best in this or that?  "Because of crab mentality!"

Why did the group splinter and what was behind all the in-fighting?  "Because of crab mentality!"

Why do we have differences in opinion?  "Because of crab mentality!"

Why is the Philippines not progressing?  "Because of crab mentality!"

Why are we eating left-over adobo again for dinner? "Because of crab mentality!"

I have to stop before I puke because I'm truly, truly SICK of hearing it! 

Why?  Because the truth of the matter is, the story is not even original nor originally about Filipinos.  As Mr. Rodis himself admitted, he first heard it from his La Raza professor.  But in his professor's version, the crabs in that uncovered basket were Mexican crabs!  And I'm willing to bet that the original version of the story is about a basket of crabs of another nationality!

But what does this really tell you?  What else -- but that the CMT is also universal! 

In fact, as written by one Liberian woman, it's really the same as the “If I cannot get there or be there, then no one will get there” syndrome.  Another variant is the German concept called "schadenfreude" -- that sadistic pleasure derived from seeing others encounter some form of misfortune.  In sociological terms, it can also be partly explained by the Social Comparison Theory as propounded by Dr. Leon Festinger -- the idea being that if others around us have bad luck, we feel better about ourselves because we compare ourselves to others regularly.

In fact, you can even say CMT is as American as apple pie because Americans seem to take perverse delight in the downfall of our modern figures like Tiger Woods, Martha Stewart or Bill Clinton -- all of whom fell from their pedestal because of personal transgressions.  Except it would be unfair to Americans!  Because as Prof. Richard Smith pointed out in a NY Times article:  "However contemptible schadenfreude may seem...we are programmed to feel it" because "[i]t's human nature."

So Filipinos reading this blog post: STOP using CMT already as if it's a Filipino thing!  It's NOT!

II.  The RFT: Why it is THE culprit and why it is ALMOST understandable

Snaffu:  I said earlier that you made a prescient observation about Filipino in-fighting because we do seem to have that tendency to divide Filipinos outside our immediate family under two columns: "with us" or "against us" -- which is very cowboy-ish, very George W. Bush-like.  (Actually, there's really a third column: the "I couldn't care less about them" column, but it's boring to talk about that, so I won't.) 

I don't have data to compare incidences of in-fighting among various groups, but I can attest to the fact that, generally speaking, we are group-oriented (as opposed to person-oriented) and collectivistic (as opposed to individualistic).  We abhor being alone.  Older people we are close to, we call "Kuya/Ate" (older brother/older sister), or "Tito/Tita" (uncle/aunt), even if we're not related to them by either affinity or consanguinity.  If you're a friend, you are family.  We want loud and big parties.  And if you've been to a Filipino party celebrating even the most minor of occasions and you see overflowing food and people talking all at the same time, you know what I'm talking about and don't need me to elaborate further.

And because we are group-oriented, for companionship and sense of kinship and camaraderie, we naturally tend to look to people who speak the same language/dialect, come from the same place/hometown, enjoy the same cuisine, and/or have the same customs and religious traditions.  We devote substantial time, energy and even hard-earned money to earn the respect, loyalty and love of the people within our respective groups (in ancient times, we even entered into blood compacts to show, ceremonially, our commitment to true friendships). 

So I think regionalism and/or clannishness -- or RFT -- is really the culprit for the occasional "fights," not CMT. If someone in our group is wronged by someone from another group, we naturally are affected too and show it (or we fake it at least).  If someone in our group has done something to another and we fear of repercussions, we close ranks.

Among the young -- which, gleaning from your question, seems to be your perspective -- this regionalism and clannishness typically manifest itself in region-based fraternities and/or gangs (the malevolent type) and one's choice of barkada (gang-like group of friends but of the benign type).  And as gangs and frats and barkadas go, you make an enemy of one, you make an enemy of all.  (Sadly, this dynamic is taken to extremes in Philippine politics and especially in some areas in Mindanao, with clans literally killing each other, sometimes for generations, in Mafia-like feuds called rido.) 

Now, this may not be of concern to you, but in the US where Filipinos have a considerable presence, this sense of regionalism and clannishness which lead to divisions is considered by many outspoken leaders of the community as the reason why we are not seen as a potent voting bloc, why we don't have real political power.  I have something to confess: I used to buy into that line of thinking, but not anymore. 

I now think that our being non-monolithic as a group in the US is in fact a sign of progress and maturity.  Why?  Because if "misery loves company," then the fact that we are not monolithic and seem more divided shows we are not miserable anymore, right? 

Now, one might think that I'm being facetious here, but I'm actually not.  For I've observed it with my own eyes: Where overseas Filipinos are poorer and looked down upon (e.g., in Europe and in Asian countries where most OFWs are imported for low-skilled jobs), the unity of cross-cultural, inter-regional Filipino groups is impressive.  But in the US where the typical Filipino family is actually richer than the typical American family, Filipinos look to smaller family-based groups or region-based groups for a sense of belonging and support. 

And we avoid big groups because we don't want to be told by some stranger Filipino what to do!  Yes, in the US, we don't want power to be concentrated in a single organization or a few people who may have interests that do not necessarily align to ours individually, or because they espouse causes we couldn't care less about.  Besides, the fact that we don't vote for someone just because he's Filipino is a good thing.  Why?  Because we should vote for the best candidate, regardless of his race!  That's our civic duty!

That does not mean I'm advocating for further divisions within our community.  In the US, I'm still in favor of an umbrella organization for Filipinos to fight for causes that uniquely pertain to us.  But I've learned not to force the issue anymore.

If it happens, it happens.  Because I believe we can make it happen if we really need to, even if we have to keep fighting each other to make it happen.

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1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Finally, an article debunking crab mentality as if it's an exclusively Filipino trait!

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