Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Ambit's Gambit (A. B. Casuga Litblog): POEM ON A WINTER SOLSTICE

Ambit's Gambit (A. B. Casuga Litblog): POEM ON A WINTER SOLSTICE


By Johnny L. Mercado
“Mary gave birth to a son, her firstborn. She wrapped him in swaddling clothes and laid him in a manger because there was no room for them in the inn.” -- Luke

In the Christmas story, we have always vilified and demonized the innkeeper. He turned Mary and Joseph away, leaving them no choice for shelter except a stable. And the lesson we took from this was the need for greater hospitality in our lives, the need to not be so busy and preoccupied that there is "no room in the inn". That is there is no place, in our busy lives for a messiah, to be born, for Christmas to happen.

There is some truth in this.

But scholars suggest that there is a deeper lesson in Jesus having to be born in a stable because there was no room for him in the inn. What is being stressed is the fact that Jesus was born outside of a city --- outside of what is comfortable, outside of glamour and fame, outside of being recognized by the rich and the powerful, and beyond notice by the everyday world.

(“He came into the world and the world was made by him and the world knew him not ,” John was to write. “He came unto his own, and his own received him not.”)

Jesus was born in anonymity, poor, outside of all notice, except for family and God.

Being rejected by the city also foreshadowed his death. Jesus' earthly life will end as it began. He will be a stranger, an outsider, crucified outside the city just as he was born outside the city.

(Author and Cistercian monk) Thomas Merton once gave a wonderful commentary on this: Into this world, this demented inn, in which there is absolutely no room for Him at all, Christ has come uninvited.

But because He cannot be at home in it, because He is out of place in it, and yet must be in it, His place is with those others for whom there is no room.

His place is with those who do not belong; those who are rejected by power because they are regarded as weak, those who are discredited, who are denied status as persons, who are tortured, bombed, and exterminated.

With those for whom there is no room, Christ is present in the world. He is mysteriously present in those for whom there seems to be nothing but the world at its worst.

Jesus was born into this world unnoticed, outside the city, and outside of all persons and events that seemed important at the time. Two thousand years later, we recognize the importance of that birth. But at the time, virtually no one did.

Understanding what is implied in that can help give perspective to those of us who, in our lives, forever, feel like we are outsiders, unknowns, anonymous, small-time, small-town, persons who are incidental to the big action and the big picture.

Our photo and our story will never appear in Time (Newsweek) or People magazine. Our names will never be up in lights. And we are destined to live and die in basic anonymity, not known by anyone outside of our own small circles.

Most of us will live lives of quiet obscurity, in rural areas, in small towns, and in the unknown parts of our cities. (We) watch the big events of our world from the outside and seeing always someone other than ourselves as being at the center.

We ourselves, it seems, will remain forever unknown. And our talents and contribution will not be recognized by anyone, perhaps not even our own families. There will never be room for us in the inn. We will live, work, and give birth to life and to our children in much humbler places.

And, perhaps most painful of all, we will suffer the frustration of being unable to manifest our talents and gifts to the world. (Instead we will find) find the deep symphonies and melodies that live within us, will never find satisfying expression in the outside world. Our dreams and our deepest riches will never find an earthly stage.

There will never be room in the inn, it seems, for what is best within us.

Our deepest riches, like Jesus' birth in our world, will be consigned to the fringes, to the “martyrdom of inadequate self- expression”, as Iris Murdoch once called this. Art too has its martyrs. And there is no pain greater than the inadequacy of self-expression.

Mary gave birth to the Christ in a stable because there was no room for them in the inn. This is a comment on more than just the busyness and inhospitality of some ancient innkeeper. It is a comment upon what, in fact, lies deepest within human life.

In essence, what it says is that it is not those who sit at the center of things --- the powerful, the rich, the famous, government leaders, entertainment celebrities, corporate heads, scholars and academics --- who ultimately sit at the center of life.

What is deepest and most meaningful inside of life lies in anonymity, unnoticed by the powerful, tenderly swaddled in faith, outside the city.

(“But to those who did accept him, he gave power to become children of God,” as John wrote.)

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(Johnny L. Marcado, a veteran Philippine Journalist, writes his annual Christmas column, and we gratefully repost it here for all believers to hearken unto the meaning of Christmas when every bored shopper seems to be muttering under his breath in an over-commercialised celebration of the Nativity that "the real meaning of Christmas must preside over this frenzy." --- ABC)

Friday, November 19, 2010


Is Liberal Arts Education going to perish in Canada? (Or has global economy found another victim?)

Canada’s Maclean’s Magazine has seen the handwriting on the wall for liberal education. It has published the column of Dr. Todd Pettigrew, and it hopes to excite debate that would telescope attention on a potential virus that could finally cripple university education in this northern hemisphere of North America. The United States and a number of European countries have cast an “evil” eye on lib-arts. It will not find you a job. It is a useless, elitist “pipe dream”. Abandon it. Go to the University for a job-providing course. Global economy demands it.

Sad, but real. What do you think? (My response was published as comment #15 by McLean’s. It is reposted below together with the surprisingly immediate response of readers.

--- Albert B. Casuga
Mississauga, November 19.

It’s time for private universities to support the liberal arts

By Todd Pettigrew
November 15th, 2010

If governments won't support the liberal arts, someone else is going to have to do it.

Canadians have for many years been justly proud of their system of public universities. And as with publicly-insured health care, our system of government-funded universities serves as a means to distinguish us from the U.S. Sure, we say, Harvard and Yale may be great schools, but their costs make them almost exclusively for the elite few, while working-class Americans have to settle for modest state schools or community colleges that no one takes seriously. Here in Canada, by contrast, anyone can go to any of our high quality public universities.

So far, so good, but the times are changing, and changing fast. It is increasingly an accepted article of faith among university administrators and government officials alike that universities are economic levers. As such, programs that seem to have a clear economic benefit — business, engineering, computer science — are increasingly understood as the disciplines that matter, while the traditional areas of studies — the liberal arts in particular — are viewed as old-fashioned, irrelevant, and economically unsustainable.

Like many professors of the humanities, I have railed against this view, with no success. No matter how many times people like me argue that education ought not to be mainly about training workers who can create value for corporations, the march of the Philistines goes on. No matter how many times people like me point out that research shows how liberal arts grads actually end up doing better economically than graduates from applied programs, English Literature still appears to be the discipline you can’t do anything with, while Entrepreneurship seems street smart and savvy.

So be it. Governments have the right to fund what they see as important and if the electorate doesn’t make an issue of it, I suppose we shouldn’t expect our politicians to do so either. The barbarians aren’t at the gate: they’re in the cockpit.

But if governments refuse to properly fund and support and promote the liberal arts, they should allow — indeed, by all rights they must allow — the creation of private universities for those same liberal arts. It’s one thing to deny funds to such programs. It’s entirely another to deny the whole populace the right to pursue the kinds of education they want. Notice, by the way, that I am not talking about for-profit institutions, only institutions that do not rely on regular government funding.

Can such institutions be viable? I think they can be, though the gestation period will be long and difficult. For one thing, they would require a certain amount of start-up capital, and that would mean private donors. But building a foundation of private donations is not impossible, and many existing universities got their start just that way. Such donations would go mainly towards building and furnishing a building (or renovating an existing structure), providing books for the library, and creating an endowment from which an annual investment revenue could be drawn to continue to cover the maintenance costs.

Once a base of donations has been gathered and the start-up costs have been covered, the running of a small liberal arts college is actually extremely cost efficient. Without expensive labs and scientific equipment, and with an endowment to help cover day-to-day costs, the largest expense for such an institution would be faculty salaries, and these could be covered through tuition. I could imagine a small, credible liberal arts university with, let’s say, five departments: Literature, History, Philosophy, Anthropology/Sociology, and Languages. We could tweak the exact organization and complement, but let’s start there for argument’s sake. Now, let’s imagine five members in each department, and let’s say every faculty member teaches 3 courses per year with 30 students in each class. That’s enough room for 450 students taking a full course load. Now, let’s say each of those students pays something near the top end of the existing Canadian tuition scale (and why not for an elite liberal arts school?) or $7000 per year. That’s about $3.2 million in revenue. Our 25 faculty members, making, let’s say $75 000 per year, cost about $1.9 million for their salaries, leaving us a surplus of over a million dollars to spend on other things such as administrative costs.

Readers might argue with the particular details and the exact arithmetic, but the basic point holds: a small, private liberal arts university would not be particularly expensive to run. And with a small faculty and student body, the army of administrative staff that bogs down the budgets of other universities could be largely, though not entirely, avoided. There would be no need for Deans or Chairs or their secretaries. Similarly, by focusing only on academics, needless expenses like football teams can be forgone, too. Many aspects of campus life — residences, food services, the bookstore — could support themselves with the revenue they generate.

But why would anyone go there? For one thing, there is still a large number of students (and parents) who understand that the joys of communing with the great minds of our past and present are too great to pass up. Moreover, such a university would attract the very best scholars and teachers in the relevant fields, because Canadian liberal arts professors generally feel undervalued and would jump at the chance to teach in a small university dedicated only to their disciplines.

Moreover, employers would scramble to hire graduates from my little university because they would recognize that their well-developed curiosity, imagination, and critical faculties make them much more valuable in the long run than graduates from public universities trained in technologies that will be obsolete in five years. And so students will be all the more eager to attend, knowing that a degree from Pettigrew University really means something.

But wait, don’t such colleges already exist as public universities? They do, but given current trends, they won’t in the long run, and those who want to save the liberal arts traditions from the unexamined dustbin of history have to start preparing now. If we don’t, the last university liberal arts program will be cut by the end of the century, long after there are enough people left who remember why it mattered.

But to start now we need to do two things. First, start keeping your eye out for rich people who want to leave a legacy akin to, say, the Stanford family and when you find them, encourage them to establish a foundation for a private liberal arts university. And get them to tell their friends, too. Second, give up the notion that Canadian universities all have to remain public and get your provincial government to give it up, too.

Once you’ve done those things, contact me, and I will take it from there.

There Are 15 Responses So Far.

1. Jeremy Cockrill says:
November 15, 2010 at 3:40 pm

Todd –
Great article and I agree with you on the importance of a liberal arts education. In fact, I myself am a business student yet some of the most interesting and thought-provoking courses I have taken have been Philosophy and Religious Studies courses.

And believe me, I know you’re not a big fan of my school (Trinity Western), but our school is all about liberal arts education. You are entitled to your opinion and I know that not everyone is not happy with TWU, but don’t ignore the fact that this institution offers the kind of liberal arts education you are looking for in Canada.

Let me know the next time you’re in B.C. I’d love to show you around campus, take you to a few classes, and buy you lunch. Looking forward to meeting you.

2. Harumpf says:
November 15, 2010 at 4:36 pm

” Sure, we say, Harvard and Yale may be great schools, but their costs make them almost exclusively for the elite few, while working-class Americans have to settle for modest state schools or community colleges that no one takes seriously”

WRONG. Lower income Americans (and Canadians too BTW) can attend Harvard abd Yale free with full need based scholarships funded by their immense endowments. They define low income as any family earning less than US$60,000/year. Also, some of those “modest state schools” outrank most Canadian schools in worldwide rankings: Berkeley, Michigan, Chapel Hill etc.

3. ahd39 says:

November 15, 2010 at 6:04 pm

lol liberal arts.

what a waste of time.

if you want to work in Mcdonalds, go study lib arts

4. eng2010 says:
November 15, 2010 at 11:57 pm

Are you serious? Pettigrew, you’re taking all of the source links you’ve provided out of context, and even the source links themselves are flawed…especially the one about graduates in liberal arts doing better economically than more applied fields. The study cites data from 1992 which was when Canada was in a recession. During recessions, companies tend to cut back on R&D and technology infrastructure. Who do you think works in these fields?

Secondly, you also conveniently forget to mention the fact that your source for “disciplines that matter” state that graduates of more applied fields earn $10,000 MORE annually than liberal arts graduates.

Also, “modest state schools”?! What about UC Berkley, Michigan, Penn State, Rutgers, etc.?

5. Agathias says:
November 16, 2010 at 8:29 am

“if you want to work in Mcdonalds, go study lib arts”

Wow, somebody sure is feeling insecure.

6. Todd Pettigrew says:
November 16, 2010 at 10:03 am

Eng2010, I can’t comment on every single link, but I will make a couple of quick responses.

First, the disciplines that matter link does show higher earnings for applied fields, but other research (including that of Statscan) says that those immediate earnings hide a larger trend to higher incomes by those whose education is more flexible. But of course, this issue is only by way of introduction and is not central to my main point either way. Even if liberal arts graduates make less than others, that in no way impugns the value of the education.

As for the modest state schools, now you’ve taken me out of context. My point was that this is how Canadians often imagine the US system and that caricature is used to resist private universities in Canada. I was not commenting on the reality of the US system.

7. Chris says:
November 16, 2010 at 3:04 pm

Dr. Pettigrew, you need to seriously sit down and look at the books of a small liberal arts university like the (public) University of King’s College in Halifax or a comparable American private institution. King;s receives government funding, is about twice the size of your proposed college and fees are close to $7k per year.

$75,000 per year per faculty member is an unrealistic long term cost. It might work out that low when everyone is an assistant professor but as folks start climbing the seniority rank things will esclate quickly. Your numbers also don’t even begin to factor in other costs like pension, benefits, etc.

Your bizarre model doesn’t actually take into account the purchasing of buildings or maintaining them. It is also unrealistic and insulting to assume that you could operate without any level of administrative support. I hope you let your department administrator know that s/he is a waste of money. Yes, the top level of management needs to be trimmed in the public system, but to think that you could recruit, retain and serve students without financial services, registrars, medical service, etc. departments is foolhardy and short sighted.

Your fictitious school also would be devoid of all the other things that make elite, small liberal arts colleges so popular and so enriching: active athletics programs (not necessarily varsity), students, public talks, theatre and arts programs, pubs and other social spaces. 30 students per class is also generally considered to be *large* in institutions like the one you envision.

Quest University in BC tried to create a model not radically different from yours and while they’re fiercely defensive about their school even Quests’ defenders would have to admit that it has had significant financial and administrative struggles so far. (Even though it charges far more than $7k per year in tuition fees)

Small American schools are able to rely heavily on alumni donations to grow a massive endowment. Vassar for example has an $896m endowment despite its tiny size. Canada’s largest university endowment is at UofT and is about 130% (rough guesstimate not real math) of Vassar’s despite a massive discrepancy in size and the presence of professional schools. Centuries of fund-raising, reinvestment and legacy admissions have built up these endowments and allowed for fairly generous financial aid to offset the unregulated and insanely high tuition fees. The only real hope for starting a viable one from scratch today in Canada would be for some rich billionaire to donate her/his whole fortune to founding one. (or more likely for an existing university to decide to turn private)

Aside from your questionable premise (that the best way to promote the public good of the liberal arts is to privatize) the logistics of your plan don’t seem to be thought through at all.

8. Todd Pettigrew says:
November 16, 2010 at 4:47 pm

Chris, actually my model does take into account some of the costs you mention, because contrary to your implication I do not see this hypothetical institution functioning only on tuition money. Perhaps raising the necessary private funds would prove impossible and tuition would have to be much higher than I propose above. Perhaps tuitions in the $15 to $30 thousand range would be necessary. Or perhaps by starting with a ground-up institution there could be other creative solutions to keep costs down.

In any case, I think a fair reading of my post would admit that the specific costs are really not the point. Nor is my point that privatization is the best way to promote the liberal arts. The best way would be for governments and administrations to recognize the value of these disciplines and fund and promote them accordingly. My sense is that governments (and increasingly university officials) have no interest in doing that, and so private liberal arts colleges might be the only way.

9. Myron A Penner says:
November 17, 2010 at 1:43 am

Suppose it could be demonstrated by some reasonable, quasi-objective measure, that some private Christian university provides a flourishing liberal arts education. Would you:

(a) begrudgingly admit that even a Christian university can, on balance, contribute to the public good,

(b) assert that whatever incidental contributions to the public good a Christian university can make, the stain of religious belief negatively outweighs any such contributions, or

(c)reject the initial supposition and claim that there is no reasonable, quasi-objective measure by which a private Christian university could be shown to provide a flourishing liberal arts education?

I’ve a hunch you’d prefer something like (b) (in a comment to a previous post on private religious universities and the public good, I gave some good reasons against (b)). But it’s interesting to note that the very reasons and values you cite in support of liberal arts education are ones upheld by my own institution which is chartered as a private, Christian, liberal arts and sciences university. So, if you really do value the liberal arts, and there’s no compelling argument in support of options (b) or (c) above, shouldn’t you look at least a bit more kindly on Canada’s existing private universities?


Myron A. Penner
Associate Professor of Philosophy
Trinity Western University

10. S. Gallagher says:

November 17, 2010 at 8:51 am

Your article is excellent. I truly hope this idea is in some way carried through in the future. I am an English Literature/Cultural Arts major who wants to spend their life in these fields. A private institution that would focus on the arts and humanities would allow me to grow as a writer and artist. After university, I would enter society prepared in my role to service the arts and literary sector.

11. Steph says:
November 17, 2010 at 4:45 pm

To ahd39: “if you want to work at McDonald’s take lib arts.”

I have a masters in History, have worked for a major canadian corporation for the past 5 years, and make more money than the business school graduates of my university who graduated the same year as me. Why? Because I have an ability to reason, to learn new things quickly, and to argue a point. They don’t.

12. name(required) says:
November 18, 2010 at 12:17 pm

$75K salary? Good luck getting good faculty with that.With no benefits or with? Because that’ll cost you another $10K.

13. Nick Smith says:
November 19, 2010 at 2:43 am

Great article Todd, I never did understand the stigma associated with taking an arts degree. I’m a 4th year Poli Sci major that has just received an early acceptance to Law School next year. I attribute my academic succes to the last 3 years I’ve spent studying English, Philosophy, Poli Sci, History and Psychology. I don’t think that there’s any better prep for Law School than a B.A. and I wouldn’t have changed my path for a split second.

P.S. I’m also a marker for one of my Poli professors and I’ve had the opportunity to read papers for a 2000 level course, and it blows my mind how horribly some of these commerce and science students write. They’re going to be in for a rude awakening once they enter the working world without the ability to express themselves intelligently and concisely.

14. just my 2 cents says:
November 19, 2010 at 6:54 am

I am a graduate of both Canadian public and American private universities. I see no problem introducing a private system into Canada. There are private universities that offer assistance to students in need. One of the Private schools I attended proudly extended help to those in need by way of grants, scholarships, and even special loan programs. They also accepted OSAP and were on par with the price that I would have had to pay in Ontario, had my program been available.

Let face it, a little competition never hurt anyone. Competition may actually drive down ever increasing public education tuition rates. It would definitely employee more people. After all, it takes many people of varying expertise to properly run an institution.

I think smaller class sizes made my experiences far more beneficial. Plus they also opened the gates to fascinating debates and problem solving exercises between universities on various subject matter. It created a healthier, less stagnant system where a myriad of ideas were respected and explored.

As far as Liberal Arts not being respected. I experienced this after my first degree. I blame this in part on a society that has not been providing fertile ground to the minds that could offer real leadership to Canada in the future. A prime example of this lies in the current collection of politicians. (of all parties)

It takes people educated in Maths, Sciences … and Liberal Arts to help provide a frame work to the success of Canada. Devaluing Lib Arts serves no one.

I, for one, applaud your point of view.

15. Albert B. Casuga says:
November 19, 2010 at 8:07 pm

There should be no need for private liberal arts colleges, if education in the secondary level would provide for a strong base for a personal liberal education for every graduate who must, thereafter, enroll in the tertiary level (or vocationally-oriented education to qualify for a job in the community where he chooses to live). A university education may, thereafter, be a higher level of education where the high school gaduate’s base for a liberal education may be expanded (depth and breadth). The university education should be funded by the state and those enrollees should qualify for it through state-conducted qualification examinations. University education becomes a privilege of the qualified and the potential-leaders/thinkers/teachers/philosophers, etc.

Indeed, it is the state’s responsibility to provide for all levels of competence and responsibilities needed in developing the common wealth of the community.

Democracy in education is unnecessarily overestimated in Dr. Pettigrew’s model. A high school graduate, given good reading and thinking skills, could provide himself with a liberal education that would serve the needs for a “finer, more civilized” citizenship. (Scholars like Maynard Hutchins have compendiums like “The Great Books”, Will Durant the tomes of the “History of Civilization” and the various encyclopedia of philosophy, languages, science, and literature — all these are available resources for a private liberal education. Professors in liberal education are not needed in this scenario — let them do research or write more books to enrich liberal education.)

Liberal education-based preparation for University has always worked well with the screening of students qualified for higher learning. (There used to be the Associate in Arts certificate — a two-year liberal arts education, until it outlived its usefulness in Asian universities. It is, indeed, a misdirected utilisation of scarce tuition and other funds). It is futile to encourage every secondary school graduate to proceed to university if they are clearly not equipped nor inclined to serve the community as university-education equipped citizens. Surely, college/technical school/vocational school graduates have their role in the development of the community. University graduates may primarily be equipped for leadership and planning for the dynamic continuum of social/economic/cultural development of the country.

Let the high shool graduate provide for his liberal education, as well as technical/vocational education. While he earns money after his vocational education, he might want to save for university education if he is so inclined or qualified. If he wants to proceed to university, he should pass a qualifying examination and be supported through a university education by the state.

If private liberal education can be supported by endowments, that can only add to the depth and breadth of an excellent educational milieu. Private enterprise should not be precluded from establishing the private liberal arts colleges. They, like technical/vocational schools thrive or perish according to their usefulness and trustworthiness in equipping the citizen.

Elementary, secondary, university (from masteral to doctoral levels) should remain as the responsibility of the state. Look only to Denmark for an exemplar in this scheme. Denmark is by UN-ranking considered the best country to live in.

The argument that should never prosper, nevertheless, is whether a liberal education is necessary for cultural/social development of a country. It is stupid not to rest on the shoulders of civilisation’s giants if these shoulders are available. Liberal education provides these perch to see and grasp opportunities otherwise beyond the reach of the feeble individual who invented government to provided services to guarantee that he is equipped to have dominion over the Earth and its resources. Or does man have dominion?

Wednesday, October 20, 2010


 (By reprinting this New York Times feature, this blog hopes to contribute to the excitation of discussion on issues such as the following, which we consider worth spending precious lifetime on.) 

Morals Without God?


(Reprinted from the New York Times Opinionator column as part of the The Stone, a forum for contemporary philosophers on issues both timely and timeless.)

I was born in Den Bosch, the city after which Hieronymus Bosch named himself. [1] This obviously does not make me an expert on the Dutch painter, but having grown up with his statue on the market square, I have always been fond of his imagery, his symbolism, and how it relates to humanity’s place in the universe. This remains relevant today since Bosch depicts a society under a waning influence of God.

His famous triptych with naked figures frolicking around — “The Garden of Earthly Delights” — seems a tribute to paradisiacal innocence. The tableau is far too happy and relaxed to fit the interpretation of depravity and sin advanced by puritan experts. It represents humanity free from guilt and shame either before the Fall or without any Fall at all. For a primatologist, like myself, the nudity, references to sex and fertility, the plentiful birds and fruits and the moving about in groups are thoroughly familiar and hardly require a religious or moral interpretation. Bosch seems to have depicted humanity in its natural state, while reserving his moralistic outlook for the right-hand panel of the triptych in which he punishes — not the frolickers from the middle panel — but monks, nuns, gluttons, gamblers, warriors, and drunkards.

Hieronymus Bosch Hieronymus Bosch’s “Garden of Earthly Delights” depicts hundreds of erotic naked figures carrying or eating fruits, but is also full of references to alchemy, the forerunner of chemistry. The figures on the right are embedded in glass tubes typical of a bain-marie, while the two birds supposedly symbolize vapors.

Five centuries later, we remain embroiled in debates about the role of religion in society. As in Bosch’s days, the central theme is morality. Can we envision a world without God? Would this world be good? Don’t think for one moment that the current battle lines between biology and fundamentalist Christianity turn around evidence. One has to be pretty immune to data to doubt evolution, which is why books and documentaries aimed at convincing the skeptics are a waste of effort. They are helpful for those prepared to listen, but fail to reach their target audience. The debate is less about the truth than about how to handle it. For those who believe that morality comes straight from God the creator, acceptance of evolution would open a moral abyss.

Our Vaunted Frontal Lobe

Echoing this view, Reverend Al Sharpton opined in a recent videotaped debate: “If there is no order to the universe, and therefore some being, some force that ordered it, then who determines what is right or wrong? There is nothing immoral if there’s nothing in charge.” Similarly, I have heard people echo Dostoevsky’s Ivan Karamazov, exclaiming that “If there is no God, I am free to rape my neighbor!”

Perhaps it is just me, but I am wary of anyone whose belief system is the only thing standing between them and repulsive behavior. Why not assume that our humanity, including the self-control needed for livable societies, is built into us? Does anyone truly believe that our ancestors lacked social norms before they had religion? Did they never assist others in need, or complain about an unfair deal? Humans must have worried about the functioning of their communities well before the current religions arose, which is only a few thousand years ago. Not that religion is irrelevant — I will get to this — but it is an add-on rather than the wellspring of morality.

Deep down, creationists realize they will never win factual arguments with science. This is why they have construed their own science-like universe, known as Intelligent Design, and eagerly jump on every tidbit of information that seems to go their way. The most recent opportunity arose with the Hauser affair. A Harvard colleague, Marc Hauser, has been accused of eight counts of scientific misconduct, including making up his own data. Since Hauser studied primate behavior and wrote about morality, Christian Web sites were eager to claim that “all that people like Hauser are left with are unsubstantiated propositions that are contradicted by millennia of human experience” (Chuck Colson, Sept. 8, 2010). A major newspaper asked “Would it be such a bad thing if Hausergate resulted in some intellectual humility among the new scientists of morality?” (Eric Felten, Aug. 27, 2010). Even a linguist could not resist this occasion to reaffirm the gap between human and animal by warning against “naive evolutionary presuppositions.”

These are rearguard battles, however. Whether creationists jump on this scientific scandal or linguists and psychologists keep selling human exceptionalism does not really matter. Fraud has occurred in many fields of science, from epidemiology to physics, all of which are still around. In the field of cognition, the march towards continuity between human and animal has been inexorable — one misconduct case won’t make a difference. True, humanity never runs out of claims of what sets it apart, but it is a rare uniqueness claim that holds up for over a decade. This is why we don’t hear anymore that only humans make tools, imitate, think ahead, have culture, are self-aware, or adopt another’s point of view.

If we consider our species without letting ourselves be blinded by the technical advances of the last few millennia, we see a creature of flesh and blood with a brain that, albeit three times larger than a chimpanzee’s, doesn’t contain any new parts. Even our vaunted prefrontal cortex turns out to be of typical size: recent neuron-counting techniques classify the human brain as a linearly scaled-up monkey brain.[2] No one doubts the superiority of our intellect, but we have no basic wants or needs that are not also present in our close relatives. I interact on a daily basis with monkeys and apes, which just like us strive for power, enjoy sex, want security and affection, kill over territory, and value trust and cooperation. Yes, we use cell phones and fly airplanes, but our psychological make-up remains that of a social primate. Even the posturing and deal-making among the alpha males in Washington is nothing out of the ordinary.

The Pleasure of Giving

Charles Darwin was interested in how morality fits the human-animal continuum, proposing in “The Descent of Man”: “Any animal whatever, endowed with well-marked social instincts … would inevitably acquire a moral sense or conscience, as soon as its intellectual powers had become as well developed … as in man.”

Unfortunately, modern popularizers have strayed from these insights. Like Robert Wright in “The Moral Animal,” they argue that true moral tendencies cannot exist — not in humans and even less in other animals — since nature is one hundred percent selfish. Morality is just a thin veneer over a cauldron of nasty tendencies. Dubbing this position “Veneer Theory” (similar to Peter Railton’s “moral camouflage”), I have fought it ever since my 1996 book “Good Natured.” Instead of blaming atrocious behavior on our biology (“we’re acting like animals!”), while claiming our noble traits for ourselves, why not view the entire package as a product of evolution? Fortunately, there has been a resurgence of the Darwinian view that morality grew out of the social instincts. Psychologists stress the intuitive way we arrive at moral judgments while activating emotional brain areas, and economists and anthropologists have shown humanity to be far more cooperative, altruistic, and fair than predicted by self-interest models. Similarly, the latest experiments in primatology reveal that our close relatives will do each other favors even if there’s nothing in it for themselves.

Frans de Waal Maintaining a peaceful society is one of the tendencies underlying human morality that we share with other primates, such as chimpanzees. After a fight between two adult males, one offers an open hand to his adversary. When the other accepts the invitation, both kiss and embrace.

Chimpanzees and bonobos will voluntarily open a door to offer a companion access to food, even if they lose part of it in the process. And capuchin monkeys are prepared to seek rewards for others, such as when we place two of them side by side, while one of them barters with us with differently colored tokens. One token is “selfish,” and the other “prosocial.” If the bartering monkey selects the selfish token, it receives a small piece of apple for returning it, but its partner gets nothing. The prosocial token, on the other hand, rewards both monkeys. Most monkeys develop an overwhelming preference for the prosocial token, which preference is not due to fear of repercussions, because dominant monkeys (who have least to fear) are the most generous.

Even though altruistic behavior evolved for the advantages it confers, this does not make it selfishly motivated. Future benefits rarely figure in the minds of animals. For example, animals engage in sex without knowing its reproductive consequences, and even humans had to develop the morning-after pill. This is because sexual motivation is unconcerned with the reason why sex exists. The same is true for the altruistic impulse, which is unconcerned with evolutionary consequences. It is this disconnect between evolution and motivation that befuddled the Veneer Theorists, and made them reduce everything to selfishness. The most quoted line of their bleak literature says it all: “Scratch an ‘altruist,’ and watch a ‘hypocrite’ bleed.”[3]

It is not only humans who are capable of genuine altruism; other animals are, too. I see it every day. An old female, Peony, spends her days outdoors with other chimpanzees at the Yerkes Primate Center’s Field Station. On bad days, when her arthritis is flaring up, she has trouble walking and climbing, but other females help her out. For example, Peony is huffing and puffing to get up into the climbing frame in which several apes have gathered for a grooming session. An unrelated younger female moves behind her, placing both hands on her ample behind and pushes her up with quite a bit of effort, until Peony has joined the rest.

We have also seen Peony getting up and slowly move towards the water spigot, which is at quite a distance. Younger females sometimes run ahead of her, take in some water, then return to Peony and give it to her. At first, we had no idea what was going on, since all we saw was one female placing her mouth close to Peony’s, but after a while the pattern became clear: Peony would open her mouth wide, and the younger female would spit a jet of water into it.

Frans de Waal A juvenile chimpanzee reacts to a screaming adult male on the right, who has lost a fight, by offering a calming embrace in an apparent expression of empathy.

Such observations fit the emerging field of animal empathy, which deals not only with primates, but also with canines, elephants, even rodents. A typical example is how chimpanzees console distressed parties, hugging and kissing them, which behavior is so predictable that scientists have analyzed thousands of cases. Mammals are sensitive to each other’s emotions, and react to others in need. The whole reason people fill their homes with furry carnivores and not with, say, iguanas and turtles, is because mammals offer something no reptile ever will. They give affection, they want affection, and respond to our emotions the way we do to theirs.

Mammals may derive pleasure from helping others in the same way that humans feel good doing good. Nature often equips life’s essentials — sex, eating, nursing — with built-in gratification. One study found that pleasure centers in the human brain light up when we give to charity. This is of course no reason to call such behavior “selfish” as it would make the word totally meaningless. A selfish individual has no trouble walking away from another in need. Someone is drowning: let him drown. Someone cries: let her cry. These are truly selfish reactions, which are quite different from empathic ones. Yes, we experience a “warm glow,” and perhaps some other animals do as well, but since this glow reaches us via the other, and only via the other, the helping is genuinely other-oriented.

Bottom-Up Morality

A few years ago Sarah Brosnan and I demonstrated that primates will happily perform a task for cucumber slices until they see others getting grapes, which taste so much better. The cucumber-eaters become agitated, throw down their measly veggies and go on strike. A perfectly fine food has become unpalatable as a result of seeing a companion with something better.

We called it inequity aversion, a topic since investigated in other animals, including dogs. A dog will repeatedly perform a trick without rewards, but refuse as soon as another dog gets pieces of sausage for the same trick. Recently, Sarah reported an unexpected twist to the inequity issue, however. While testing pairs of chimps, she found that also the one who gets the better deal occasionally refuses. It is as if they are satisfied only if both get the same. We seem to be getting close to a sense of fairness.

Such findings have implications for human morality. According to most philosophers, we reason ourselves towards a moral position. Even if we do not invoke God, it is still a top-down process of us formulating the principles and then imposing those on human conduct. But would it be realistic to ask people to be considerate of others if we had not already a natural inclination to be so? Would it make sense to appeal to fairness and justice in the absence of powerful reactions to their absence? Imagine the cognitive burden if every decision we took needed to be vetted against handed-down principles. Instead, I am a firm believer in the Humean position that reason is the slave of the passions. We started out with moral sentiments and intuitions, which is also where we find the greatest continuity with other primates. Rather than having developed morality from scratch, we received a huge helping hand from our background as social animals.

At the same time, however, I am reluctant to call a chimpanzee a “moral being.” This is because sentiments do not suffice. We strive for a logically coherent system, and have debates about how the death penalty fits arguments for the sanctity of life, or whether an unchosen sexual orientation can be wrong. These debates are uniquely human. We have no evidence that other animals judge the appropriateness of actions that do not affect themselves. The great pioneer of morality research, the Finn Edward Westermarck, explained what makes the moral emotions special: “Moral emotions are disconnected from one’s immediate situation: they deal with good and bad at a more abstract, disinterested level.” This is what sets human morality apart: a move towards universal standards combined with an elaborate system of justification, monitoring and punishment.

At this point, religion comes in. Think of the narrative support for compassion, such as the Parable of the Good Samaritan, or the challenge to fairness, such as the Parable of the Workers in the Vineyard, with its famous conclusion “The last will be first, and the first will be last.” Add to this an almost Skinnerian fondness of reward and punishment — from the virgins to be met in heaven to the hell fire that awaits sinners — and the exploitation of our desire to be “praiseworthy,” as Adam Smith called it. Humans are so sensitive to public opinion that we only need to see a picture of two eyes glued to the wall to respond with good behavior, which explains the image in some religions of an all-seeing eye to symbolize an omniscient God.

The Atheist Dilemma

Over the past few years, we have gotten used to a strident atheism arguing that God is not great (Christopher Hitchens) or a delusion (Richard Dawkins). The new atheists call themselves “brights,” thus hinting that believers are not so bright. They urge trust in science, and want to root ethics in a naturalistic worldview.

While I do consider religious institutions and their representatives — popes, bishops, mega-preachers, ayatollahs, and rabbis — fair game for criticism, what good could come from insulting individuals who find value in religion? And more pertinently, what alternative does science have to offer? Science is not in the business of spelling out the meaning of life and even less in telling us how to live our lives. We, scientists, are good at finding out why things are the way they are, or how things work, and I do believe that biology can help us understand what kind of animals we are and why our morality looks the way it does. But to go from there to offering moral guidance seems a stretch.

Even the staunchest atheist growing up in Western society cannot avoid having absorbed the basic tenets of Christian morality. Our societies are steeped in it: everything we have accomplished over the centuries, even science, developed either hand in hand with or in opposition to religion, but never separately. It is impossible to know what morality would look like without religion. It would require a visit to a human culture that is not now and never was religious. That such cultures do not exist should give us pause.

Bosch struggled with the same issue — not with being an atheist, which was not an option — but science’s place in society. The little figures in his paintings with inverted funnels on their heads or the buildings in the form of flasks, distillation bottles, and furnaces reference chemical equipment.[4] Alchemy was gaining ground yet mixed with the occult and full of charlatans and quacks, which Bosch depicted with great humor in front of gullible audiences. Alchemy turned into science when it liberated itself from these influences and developed self-correcting procedures to deal with flawed or fabricated data. But science’s contribution to a moral society, if any, remains a question mark.

Other primates have of course none of these problems, but even they strive for a certain kind of society. For example, female chimpanzees have been seen to drag reluctant males towards each other to make up after a fight, removing weapons from their hands, and high-ranking males regularly act as impartial arbiters to settle disputes in the community. I take these hints of community concern as yet another sign that the building blocks of morality are older than humanity, and that we do not need God to explain how we got where we are today. On the other hand, what would happen if we were able to excise religion from society? I doubt that science and the naturalistic worldview could fill the void and become an inspiration for the good. Any framework we develop to advocate a certain moral outlook is bound to produce its own list of principles, its own prophets, and attract its own devoted followers, so that it will soon look like any old religion.

Frans de Waal’s essay is the subject of this week’s forum discussion among the humanists and scientists at On the Human, a project of the National Humanities Center.

Also, view an excerpt from a discussion about this post between Frans de Waal and Robert Wright, author of “The Moral Animal.”

Or watch the entire discussion at


[1] Also known as s’Hertogenbosch, this is a 12th-century provincial capital in the Catholic south of the Netherlands. Bosch lived from circa 1450 until 1516.

[2] Herculano-Houzel, Suzana (2009). The human brain in numbers: A linearly scaled-up primate brain. Frontiers in Human Neuroscience 3: 1-11.

[3] Ghiselin, Michael (1974). The Economy of Nature and the Evolution of Sex. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press.

[4] Dixon, Laurinda (2003). Bosch. London: Phaidon.

Frans B. M. de Waal is a biologist interested in primate behavior. He is C. H. Candler Professor in Psychology, and Director of the Living Links Center at the Yerkes National Primate Research Center at Emory University, in Atlanta, and a member of the National Academy of Sciences and the Royal Dutch Academy of Sciences. His latest book is “The Age of Empathy.”

Albert B. Casuga

Ontario, Canada.
October 19th, 2010
10:18 am

If findings in neurology point to the limbic region of the brain as the site of "goodness" and "moral dimensions", what would prevent one from concluding that morality is part of the creative evolution that scientists have extrapolated from the Darwinian Theory?

Assuming, arguendo, that this is provable, why should the development of religion by man clash with scientific "discoveries" or "re-discoveries" (like the seat of morality in man's brain).

Existentialist moods in philosophy articulate the human's collaborative as well as "destructive" regard for the Other (occasioned by community organizations for society's amelioration and the historical occurrence of wars, genocide, and n.i.m.b.y. ---not in my back yard--tendencies etc.). It should not be difficult to shape up principles governing these human reactions to his milieu. The history of human thought develops a continuous view of the development of morality as we know it. Man is an ethical animal. Man is also a self-destroying animal.

Religion is one of the crowning glories of man's regard for the Other, and the anchoring of his regard on an objective principle of the Good and the Beautiful, the dulce et utile and whatever man has developed to distinguish himself from the rest of living beings. The desire for distinction among the species is likewise de rigueur. If man created the concept of God, and that helps him, why not? Delusions be damned.

Let the mind and the heart roam where they please.

* The New York Times published the above as comment # 436 in the Opinionator's column on line NYT, October 19, 2010.
Frans B. M. de Waal is a biologist interested in primate behavior. He is C. H. Candler Professor in Psychology, and Director of the Living Links Center at the Yerkes National Primate Research Center at Emory University, in Atlanta, and a member of the National Academy of Sciences and the Royal Dutch Academy of Sciences. His latest book is “The Age of Empathy.”



Sunday, October 10, 2010



October 11 and it is Thanksgiving Day this side of the earth. Why do we need to thank anyone at all? Is that part of protocol? In this sermon, Rev. Fr. Francisco R. Albano of the Diocese of Ilagan in the the Northern Philippine province of Isabela, postulates that to be grateful is to be human. Thanksgiving is what makes humans whole in a world that still recognizes God who is also in the "Other".


11. On the way to Jerusalem Jesus {Gk [he]} was going through the region between Samaria and Galilee.
12. As he entered a village, ten lepers {The terms [leper] and [leprosy] can refer to several diseases} approached him. Keeping their distance,
13. they called out, saying, "Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!"
14. When he saw them, he said to them, "Go and show yourselves to the priests." And as they went, they were made clean.
15. Then one of them, when he saw that he was healed, turned back, praising God with a loud voice.
16. He prostrated himself at Jesus' {Gk [his]} feet and thanked him. And he was a Samaritan.
17. Then Jesus asked, "Were not ten made clean? But the other nine, where are they?
18. Was none of them found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?"
19. Then he said to him, "Get up and go on your way; your faith has made you well."

We pray: We give You thanks, O Lord, for all the benefits Your have given us. In Jesus’ name. Amen.” Indeed, it is right and just to do so, even if God does not need our thanks; does not demand our thanks. The justice of God, spiritual gurus remind us, is pure ocean-deep, sky-high, space-wide, history-long, eternal, and infinite generosity. Why? Simply because he is God. His is the way of unselfish love. Still, we must give him thanks for his gifts whatever. For it is good, right, and correct for human persons to do so.

Can we, created unto his image, imitate God in his generosity, approximate him somehow in his love? Can we be economically, politically, culturally, spiritually kind, gifting, caring without any thought of being reciprocated? Without calling those who forget to say “thank you” ungrateful, ingrato, bastos (impolite), walang utang na loob (shamelessly dismissive of debt of gratitude)? Is love and service for us a matter of commutative or contractual justice? Or of distributive justice based on merits?

Do this in memory of me, Jesus proclaimed, he who imitated to the letter his Father’s love. All his good deeds, and especially the Eucharist, contain this message. Therefore, in Jesus’ name, the in the power of the Holy Spirit, in faith, one can strive to love and serve in the manner of Jesus. A new commandment I give to; love one another as I love you. Even if one is not sociologically loved in return; even if no thank you card is received, no beso sets his/her cheeks aglow, it’s okay. What kind of sociological care and justice world issue from this stand?

The philosopher Emmanuel Levinas (1906-1995) opines a simply human basis of unreciprocated love and concern. The ethics of responsibility must be in command of me. I am/must be responsible for the Other. All must be responsible for the Other without any expectation of any reward, any “thank you.” Dostoyevsky puts it this way: “We are all responsible for all for all men before all, and I more than all the others.” And this Other is a concrete Face, undefined, unthematized by concepts, class ideologies, religious dogmas, visions of future and final causes, or by whatever invented bias. All self-interest and over-determinations are bracketed. I respect the Other’s freedom to be.

How close is Levinasian attitude or paninindigan (stand) to that of God and his Son? What kind of sociological care and justice would issue from this stand? Should parents demand that their children repay them for bringing them into the world and rearing them before the letting-go? Certainly, the children must care for their parents in various ways and according to their abilities, but not basically for any reason other than because it is right thing to do so. What if society does away with tit-for-tat love and favor-for-favor transactions, eye-for-an-eye-justice? Can capitalist globalization continue to be?

Does this mean that the Other –neighbor, if you will – I-Other to another I, need not give thanks to God or to caring people, or to be a responsible I? NO! It is good, right, and correct that he/she do so, simply because he/she is a human person. Gratitude, like generosity, is the proper way of a human person.

This is why Jesus asked: "Were not ten made clean? But the other nine, where are they? Was none of them found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?" He did not call them ingrates; he just asked three questions. Perhaps the nine lepers rushed to the priests to get their certificates, their clearance that they were clean and needed not to be ostracized any longer. Perhaps the priests reminded them to give thanks to God. But they forgot to give thanks to Jesus the healer. They forgot they were human persons who had to say “thank you” even if this was not demanded or expected by the healer. But the Samaritan remembered the justice of human persons, the justice of care and thanksgiving.

Today, this Samaritan made clean helps us to remember that each of us is Other to God, to Jesus, to I’s in our time, in our time, our place, now. The Other that says “thank you” because it simply right to do so. In thanksgiving, in justice/righteousness are we made whole and holy before God and his people. #

Rev. Fr. Francisco R. Albano
Diocese of Ilagan

Friday, August 20, 2010



What’s wrong with the Philippines?

By Benigno S. Aquino Jr.+

Philippine Daily Inquirer 
(reprinted from Solidarity, 1985)
Posted date: August 21, 2010

(Editors note: The following essay, written by the assassinated father of President Aquino, appeared in the Solidarity quarterly journal in 1985. The President’s father was murdered at the Manila International Airport on Aug. 21, 1983, upon his return from voluntary exile in the United States. The Inquirer obtained the permission of Solidarity to reprint this on the occasion of the 27th anniversary of his martyrdom.)

MANILA, Philippines—A diplomat, after a seven-year tour of duty in the Philippines, once christened the islands as an “enchanting archipelago.” Whether he was merely being polite, or had succumbed to government pitchmen, or had himself become enchanted by the lush tropical beauty of the islands, he should also have seen a country wracked by afflictions, some common to all countries engaged in the desperate race to develop, some peculiar to the Philippines.

Purveyors of the rosy picture continue to roll out endless statistics and charts to depict a growing economy, a country on the move. A portion of this view may even be accepted, considering that the Philippines, with all its imperfections, is only 21 years old as a free republic. The trouble is that there is one vital natural resource that has not been properly developed: the people.

Beneath the outpourings of self-serving government data, hidden underneath the trappings of the good life in the big cities, there remains a depressed and dispirited people. Against the yardstick, not of statistics but of quality of life, the Filipino people as a whole are a melancholy—if patient—mass. Their daily diet is monotonous (rice, fish, vegetables), their clothes are threadbare and their homes primitive and crowded. What could they hope to build on a daily per capita income of just over 25 cents? In sum, the blessings of liberty do not include liberation from poverty.

Foreign gadgetry and other luxury goods continue to flood the cities, and more people travel, despite current government restrictions. But this only serves to dramatize the great disparities and chronic inequities of Filipino society. Indeed, the Philippines is a land of traumatic contrasts. Here is a land in which a few are spectacularly rich while the masses remain abjectly poor. Gleaming suburbia clashes with the squalor of the slums. Here is a land where freedom and its blessings are a reality for a minority and an illusion for the many. Here is a land consecrated to democracy but run by an entrenched plutocracy. Here, too, are a people whose ambitions run high, but whose fulfillment is low and mainly restricted to the self-perpetuating elite. Here is a land of privilege and rank—a republic dedicated to equality but mired in an archaic system of caste.

Caste spells bondage. Of this the contemporary Filipino is well aware. And to break through—to rise out of this bondage into the next higher social stratum—is the ambition of the tao, the Filipino common man. For him, education appears at first the ticket to his aspirations, and parents sell their last worldly possessions, even go deep into debt, to see a son or a daughter through college. But each year, no less than 65,000 swell the ranks of this army of the discontented, educated unemployed. Unemployment runs up to a million, while the under-employed represent 20 to 25 percent of the population, largely in the rural areas. The upsurge of the communist Huks in Central Luzon is but one chilling manifestation of peasant disillusionment. Another is the recent wave of crime which has converted the country into a land of terror in time of peace.

Add to this a government which is financially almost bankrupt, state agencies ridden by debts and honeycombed with graft, industries in pathetic distress, prices in a continuing spiral and there is good reason for the Filipino to feel sapped of confidence, hope and will. The new, young Filipino leaders who exhort their peers to be activists, and not to give up, are greeted with apathy and indifference.

In the early thirties, Manuel L. Quezon, as he led the fight for independence, once raged: “I would rather have a country run like hell by Filipinos than one run like heaven by the Americans.” The father of his country did not live to see this preference realized, but his political heirs have. Since independence, Philippine presidents have logged a grand total of 14 national plans and all they have to show for them is a nation that looks, sounds, and feels discouraged. It is confused by the multiplicity of its cravings, and concerns, floundering in haphazard attempts to modernize and innovate.

Government apologists predictably will disagree with these conclusions. Great strides have been made, they will maintain, and they can indeed produce the required statistics to back up their claims. But the assertion that development is accelerating is only partly correct. “Orderly growth and evolution require delicate synchronization,” Filipino economist Sixto K. Roxas has cogently argued. And this is precisely what is wanting in Philippine economic planning.

Champagne taste on beer income

The truth is that there has been no organized, no methodical over-all economic planning. At best, all that our previous planners have trotted out have been limited programs which, tragically for the people, have bred individual hustling and pushing while the overall economy ran inconclusively in every direction. The result has been impasse in the development of critical sectors of the economy, such as the metal, chemical, wood, plastics and food industries.

For a people who at independence set out to pursue the American way of life as the ideal, the Filipinos—21 years later—are nowhere near the mark. “We are,” one Filipino declared in self-reproach, “a people with champagne taste, operating on a beer income.” Actually quite a number of Filipinos cannot even afford beer.

The annual per capita income is less than $100, less than Communist China’s today and equal to Japan’s only way back in 1910. The gross national product grows between 5 and 6 percent per year, but it is offset by a ballooning population increasing at a rate of 3.4 percent per year, one of the world’s highest. The GNP growth, in fact is hardly enough to absorb the backlog of unemployed and underemployed, to say nothing of improving the people’s standard of living.

Who’s to blame?

Fault, if it must be fixed, belongs not to any single man or people. It lies in the fabric of the society—and in what went into its making. Too many Filipinos are without purpose and without discipline. They profess love of country, but love themselves individually—more. When then Senate President Jose Avelino, in an expansive mood, exclaimed, “What are we in power for?” and when much later President Carlos P. Garcia defended a Cabinet member’s right to “prepare for his future,” these leaders were articulating a common outlook.

Without a soul

The responsibility belongs also to those who came, conquered, and ruled—to America as much as to Spain. For all the good they did (Spain welded and Christianized the people, America democratized them), they are responsible for the worst in the Filipino. While bleeding them, they molded the Filipinos in their own images, Spain Hispanizing, and America Americanizing the natives. Almost half of a century of American rule bequeathed to the Asian Filipino a trauma by making him uncomfortably American in outlook, values and tastes. What was left was a people without a soul.

Filipinos are bewildered about their identity. They are an Asian people not Asian in the eyes of their fellow Asians and not Western in the eyes of the West. They are in Asia, but they know more about the Statue of Liberty than about Angkor Wat in Cambodia; more of the lyrics of Whitman than of Tagore or of their own Nick Joaquin; more of Patrick Henry’s soul-stirring liberty-or-death oratory than of the ageless wisdom of Confucius or Lao-tze. Lately, they have taken to insisting they are Asian but they are so American-oriented that—by reflex—they still react and respond like little brown Americans.

Except for the hyper-nationalists, the Filipinos actually take pride in their community—if not identity—with the Americans. When President Johnson applauded President Marcos as his “right arm in Asia,” there was some derisive reaction from nationalist quarters but, in the main, the people took it as a badge to wear proudly on their sleeves. GI Joe at Clark, at Mactan, at John Hay, at Subic and at Sangley, America’s military bases in the Philippines, remain a symbol of American protection. Herein lies the bigger Filipino problem.

Legacy of the West

Too many Filipinos are given to dodging their responsibilities, running to others for help when they should be on their own feet. This, too, is a legacy of the West. The writer Renato Constantino has put it well: “As a people, we have been deprived for centuries of responsibilities for our destiny. Under the Americans, while ostensibly we were being prepared for self-government, for self-reliance, actually we were being maneuvered by means of political and economic pressures to defer to American decisions (and) being conditioned by our American education to prefer American ways.’’ The result is a people habituated to abdicating control over basic areas of their national life, unaccustomed to coming to grips with reality, prone to escape into fantasies.

Some conjecture that a more tragic fate might have overtaken the Filipinos if Spain had not stumbled upon them in 1521—a fate perhaps, some shudder, like that which befell Indonesia, Indochina, or the Congo. There is nothing to support this speculation; the fact is, the navigator Fernando Magallanes found on these islands well-ordered societies with their own culture. He was slain on Mactan island by a Filipino, Lapu-Lapu, the first Asian to fight and defeat a Western invader. But the Spanish king and Cortez were bent on empire and, in historian Arnold Toynbee’s words, “The Philippines was held for Spain by a handful of soldiers, administrators, and friars after the fashion of the Spanish empire of the Indies.”

With the cross and the sword, Spain stamped out the native culture, commerce and government. The people’s codes and laws, their weights and measures, their literature and even their alphabet were destroyed. There were, of course, periods in Spain’s 377 years of domination when liberal governors ruled, but in the main, Spanish rule was oppressive. No less than two hundred revolts marked the Spanish rule; the last—the Katipunan Revolution of 1896—finally broke Spain’s reign with American military help.

Frying pan into the fire

Filipino jubilation was short-lived, however. A republic was proclaimed by the victorious revolutionaries on June 12, 1898, but the Spanish-American War had already cast its shadow over the Filipino destiny. In the Treaty of Paris of 1898, defeated Spain ceded the Philippines to the United States for $20 million over vociferous but futile Filipino protests. “The Filipino freedom fighter,” comments Toynbee, “now found that they had fallen out of the frying pan into the fire.”

From the very beginning, Washington officials denied any ambition of empire. They rationalized their Pacific acquisition as a humane and civilizing job. President McKinley, so it is recorded, dropped on his knees and prayed to God for guidance. “And one night,” he said, “it all came to me this way—that there was nothing left for us to do but to take them all, and to educate the Filipinos, and uplift and civilize and Christianize them.”

Hokum or truth? A good number of Filipino patriots rejected America’s proclaimed benevolence and kept up the guerrilla fight for independence not only in the mountains but also in their newspapers and literature. In their struggle, they drew moral backing from diverse foreign powers including Imperial Japan, which gave sanctuary to fleeing Filipino rebels.

After “pacifying” the islands (except the hinterlands of Muslim Mindanao), America set out to refashion the Filipinos. In this there was method as well as design. American teachers came first, followed by American missionaries, then by American public officials. So successful were they that the Filipinos were soon thinking, acting, and living American. And so proud was the United States, it was soon calling the country America’s “showcase of democracy” in Asia. The Filipinos liked the label too, such had been the degree of their Americanization.

Filipinos, indeed, have much to thank the United States for. With “the happiness, peace and prosperity” of the Filipinos as the official colonial policy, America gave the Filipinos a new language, schools, free trade, government and laws. It strove to curb disease. It also gave the Filipinos a vigorous journalism, something Filipinos point to with pride. Branded as irresponsible at times, the Philippine press nonetheless has been the unofficial loyal opposition, the strongest deterrent to unbridled graft. And most important, perhaps, the United States kept the regionalistic and volatile Filipinos from breaking up.

Mentor’s neuroses

What if the United States had not come and the First Republic in 1898 had not been aborted? Philippine Ambassador to Washington Salvador P. Lopez, who, as foreign secretary, charted the Philippines’ dramatic turn away from the United States and back toward Asia, answered “... the Philippines would have developed a political system resembling, on the one hand, the self-perpetuating oligarchies of Latin America and, on the other the ‘guided democracy’ of Indonesia. In addition, the young republic would have been confronted almost immediately by challenges to its authority, in particular by serious separatist movements in the Visayas and in Moslem Mindanao and Sulu.” American colonial rule, he affirmed, moderated all these and permitted a new “Philippine society to develop along more democratic lines.”

What the United States fashioned, in fact, is a democratic plural society, a society that finds unity in its diversity. It is a society, some say, as American as the United States itself. It may not have the dollars, but it certainly has the tastes and habits, the wheelings and dealings, the idiosyncracies and neuroses of its recent mentor. And it is —or has been—committed four-square to America, to what America stands for—more than the United States itself, perhaps. In its anticommunism, for example, Manila is more rigid than Washington.

In three wars, the Philippines has stepped forward and fought with the United States—against the Japanese in the epic holding battles of Bataan and Corregidor, against the North Koreans and Communist Chinese in Korea, against the Viet Cong and North Vietnamese now. Clearly, President Marcos voiced the Filipino sentiment when he explained why he brought the Philippines into the Viet Nam war: because, he said, the United States was already in the fray.

Increasingly, however, there are signs of disaffection from the United States. Where it was almost unthinkable to criticize America 10 years ago, more and more Filipinos speak out today against the Americans, if not America itself. The change is seen in anti-American demonstrations and in the search for new partners in Asia and in Europe. Behind it, too, is a renaissance of Filipino nationalism and a growing awareness of where the country is—in Asia. But the main reason is the failure of the United States —in Filipino eyes—to give meaning to the vaunted special relationship; American performance falls short of the promise.

Built-in strings

In this atmosphere, the negative aspects of US policy are surfacing. Approval of parity—equal rights for Americans in the exploitation of Philippine natural resources—is now seen as imposed by the United States on a people left prostrate by World War II, as a condition for American War-damage funds. “The net effect of parity,” Education Undersecretary Onofre Corpus warned the United States, “has been an erosion of the Filipinos’ belief in the United States’ capacity for fair dealing with her friends and allies.”

Filipinos in growing numbers now believe that the independence granted by the United States in 1946 had built-in strings designed to perpetuate American economic dominance—or “colonialism,” as the ultra-nationalists call it. And they point to the trade agreement which has kept the Philippines a supplier of raw materials for American’s mills and a market for American goods. Of course, the onerous provision of the original agreement was rewritten in the Laurel-Langley pact of 1956, but very few Filipinos understand this refinement.

A few Filipino ultra-nationalists, well-positioned and very articulate, would sever all special relations with the United States, putting the Philippines on the path of non-alignment. This of course, is foolhardy. With the nuclear-armed and power-minded Communist China casting a covetous shadow over all of free Asia, the Philippines needs the United States more than ever; the only other choices left to her are to go Red or fall dead.

One truth persists here: the Philippines like the rest of Free Asia, needs America’s continued military presence in the area. Like the others, she needs America as a dam and shield against the Chinese Communists. This need has never been more urgently felt than since President Johnson’s dramatic announcement at the end of March and the beginning of negotiations with the North Vietnamese. Will the United States pull out, as the French and the British have done? This is the common fear of free Asians. For the Filipinos, with a million Chinese unassimilated in their midst, it is more than a fear; it is a spectre.

Breaking the fetters

The Philippines today needs to make bold efforts to break away from the fetters of the past. She must review and revise her so-called special relationships with the United States, taking into account the world as it is, and ceasing to live on the myths and heroics that so welded and so sustained her in the past. The Filipinos ask simply for dignity in their relations with the United States and equality with others in the American-led community of nations. They resent the fact that Japan, a former enemy, has obtained more from the United States than has the Philippines, and that Spain, a totalitarian state, has a more favorable military bases agreement with the United States.

The Filipinos must purge, now and with finality, the cause of their past shame: US puppetry. What they must seek is partnership with the United States, not wardship. If a fresh viability can be forged out of the old tissues of past kinship, so much the better. But this should be farthest from both the Filipino and American minds. A New Spirit must be infused into the Filipino and American relations of today. And it must be applied to the new mutual defense and military bases agreements. These are the main problems that have vexed Filipino-American relations so much in the sixties; approached with a fresh outlook, they could yield a more durable Filipino-American relationship.

Happily, despite the growing swell of anti-American criticism in the Filipino press, there is no hatred for whites on the islands. This is because, it would seem, Americans neither tyrannized nor brutalized the Filipinos in their 48-year rule. In fact, Filipinos, in the main, fondly remember the Big Brother gestures and kindnesses of the GI who liberated the islands in 1945. Out in the country especially, the Americano is still as much a symbol of help, friendship and good will as ever. As before, this is a good augury.

Much to be done

There is much to be done at home. In addition to breaking away from America’s economic dominance, the Filipinos themselves must outgrow the colonial attitude which now impedes the modernization process. Fortunately, there are many latent forces which can be energized. Anyone who has lived in the Philippines will attest to the flexibility of the Filipinos and, most of all, to their great social mobility. There is, on the whole, an openness in the society, the creation no doubt of the egalitarian ideals of the Revolution of 1896 that have slowly seeped into the whole fabric of Philippine life during the last six decades. And this can be ascribed to the public school system which the Americans installed but which the Filipinos have molded to fit their own psyche and needs. We have, after all, been having democratic elections since 1911; many governments have come and gone without the chaos and bloodshed of revolutions and coups d’etat.

There are perhaps more trained technicians in the Philippines today than anywhere else in Southeast Asia, but the industrial growth that can absorb these technicians has not come. Moreover, the Philippines’ natural resources are among the richest in Southeast Asia, yet we are fast falling behind such countries as Malaysia and Taiwan in industrial development. Here, again the oligarchs must be made to move, to invest, to industrialize. They can be captains of industry, but instead they have elected to dig in their heels on the land.

Stirring the entrenched oligarchs into accepting the urgency of land reform is also one of the aims of the younger leadership which wants the Philippines to surge upward. Up to now, however, forces of reaction have made government efforts in this direction largely meaningless. What a few years ago was a mere revolution of rising expectations has grown to the point where some fear revolution itself. It could be sparked, not by the left, the communist-inspired Huk ideologue, but by the disillusioned, depressed and dejected educated unemployed. Clearly, the Filipino elite—the corrupt and corrupting, the irresponsible and unresponsive old leadership—must face up to the need for reform or be swept away.

The new-generation Filipino must also shake and awaken the Catholic Church, which has long ignored the need for social reform and become flabby in its position of revered irrelevance. Because the Church has grown remote from the masses, quasi-religious fanatics have banded together and prospered in the countryside. Last year 31 of them—members of the Lapiang Malaya (Freedom Party) sect—were slaughtered when they demonstrated in Manila and charged the constabulary dispatched to contain them. This was as much a failure of the Church as of the government.

The government itself must be made to respond to the demands of the middle class for a mass market. The archaic and regressive tax structure must be revamped. The wealth that the oligarchy rapaciously covets and hoards must get down to the masses in the form of roads, bridges and schools; these are what the tao understands as good or bad government.

Where salvation lies

Philippine democratic institutions, President Marcos feels, are on trial. “And they may not,” he has warned, “have a second chance to prove and sustain themselves.” The Filipino, he stressed, “must realize his salvation lies with himself.” With this, the opposition cannot disagree. Indeed, great dedication and great labor are demanded of the new Filipino.

All these are Filipino aspirations and frustrations that the Americans must clearly understand. It is they, after all, to whom the Filipinos have always turned for guidance and assistance. In handling the Philippine problem, it will be well for the United States to remember that methods and postures that have repeatedly failed in contemporary Asia cannot any longer work in the new Philippines either. Equally, the Filipinos will do well to keep in mind that invoking the dead—if epic—past will no longer work in this age of rapid revolution. For them sentimentally to rest their future and fortune on the special Filipino-American bonds and other myths of the past is likely to be fatal.

(End of Essay as reprinted by Philippine Inquirer)


(Did these ideas or those enunciated by the late Senator Beingno Aquino Jr. somehow raise hackles where the powerful had fears of not being able to maintain its grasp on "the puppet Philippines"? Why --- after all those "official enquiries" made in the Philippines through several governments --- have they never pinpointed the senator's assassins or their masters? Were these ideas the bases for the fear held against the impending Presidency of the late senator when President Marcos became too sick to hold the office? Too much like the assassination of American President John F. Kennedy, Ninoy Aquino's poses a welter of unanwered questions. 20 years after Kennedy's assassination, Aquino's execution at the Philippine airport in 1983 was just too similar for comfort.  A theory is being bruited about: whoever finds out who got Kennedy killed will also find out who ordered Aquino's killing.  Will President Aquino move mountains to find out? the late lamented Bobby Kennedy tried to do the same for his dead brother. He got killed, too. Just asking. ---ABC)

Ambit's Gambit: WAITING

Ambit's Gambit: WAITING

Monday, August 16, 2010


What will happen to food production as global warming adversely affects regions considered to be the bread baskets of the Earth? In the previous post, media played up the incidence of natural disasters all over the globe. These are veritable warning signs that need the attention of people on this planet and planning by their governments, assuming they are still functioning.
Veteran Filipino journalist Juan L. Mercado gives us a microcosm of some dire results of this global warming and its impact on food. Food production in the tropics could be imperilled, and the colder regions on the planet could pitch in. But could they?

This is an issue that the United Nations Organization must focus on with urgent intensity. It is not only an inconvenient truth at this point; it is a frightening possibility within our lifetime.


By Juan L. Mercado (The Philippine Inquirer 14 Aug )

“The promise of food lies in the tropics,” the UN Food and Agriculture Organization director general said at the University of the Philippines. “Here in this sun-drenched belt of land, temperature is benign and rainfall abundant. These could be the food granaries for the world of our children.”

Not anymore.

Rising temperatures have widened the “Tropical Belt, “notes Nature Geoscience.. Since the FAO official delivered his Los Baños address in May 1979, the tropics expanded by between 2 and 4.8 degrees latitude. As the world warms, edges of the “Belt” -- outer boundaries of the subtropical dry zones – drift towards the poles.

Temperature and rainfall changes are altering yields. . Affected are politically-volatile crops like corn and rice “In the Philippines, rice yields drop by 10% for every one degree centigrade increase in night-time temperature”, BBC’s environment correspondent Richard Black writes.

The slump is region wide. As droughts dry reservoirs, yields have fallen by 10-20% over the last 25 years. More declines are ahead.

"We found that as the daily minimum temperature increases, or as nights get hotter, rice yields drop." Researcher Jarrod Welch said. In fact, where “temperature increases more than 3C, impacts are stressful to all crops and in all regions, “the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) concluded

Currently three billion people live in the tropics and subtropics. They’ll nearly to double by the end of the century. How many more Filipinos will need food then?

The National Statistical Board asserts there are 94 million of us today. . No, sir, it’s 99.9 million, counter some US and international bodies.

The squabble stems from the flawed 2007 census. An “implosion” of voting age (18 years old) residents in Maguindanao for example, shoved growth rates to triple national levels. That skewed the Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao demographic profile.

“There’ll be rude surprises in the 2010 census,” predict demographers at UP, Xavier, and San Carlos Universities. All agree there are five Filipinos today where there was one in 1940. We’ll breach the 100 million mark sooner rather than later.

The sea level has risen rapidly, Vital Signs points out. More than half (55%) of sea level rise “results from the melting of glaciers and the Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets”. This happened in tandem with pollution, acidification, and changes in seasonal water cycles.

Seventy percent of Filipinos cluster in coastal areas. Seaside resort owners are bewildered as sea water encroaches into front yards. Reclamation project calculations, in Lapu-Lapu City and elsewhere, now look shaky.

Fishermen are reeling from the impact. “Warming of sea water is associated with El Niño episodes. These caused coral bleaching on massive scales never seen before,” notes Ocean Heritage.

El Nido reef, for instance, once had 60-70% coral cover. El Nino, a decade ago, stripped that down to 5-10%. It has not recovered to date. Sea surface temperature in Bolinao, Pangasinan, ranged between 34.1 °C to 34.9 °C. That grilled giant clams.

“Mercury and lead emissions, from coal-fired power plants, particularly in the inner seas of the Visayas” will ravage fisheries further. Unmet protein needs from depleted fishing grounds are dumped on stressed farms..

Formation of severe storms could double. Remember “Ondoy” last year and “Basyang” as this year’s storm cycle began? Warmer climates will bring changes to rainfall and resulting drought. “It’s best to read the weather forecast before praying for rain,” Mark Twain once joked.

But it’s not funny that the “most extreme summers of the last century could become routine towards the end of this century”, predicts the University of Seattle. What would be summer 2100 in the Philippines be like?

One thing is sure. Today’s glut of 41 million tons of rice, recklessly imported by the Arroyo administration, would not be possible. Rice exporters will find their capacity sapped.

Filipino policy makers must move beyond politics-as-usual concerns. Executive and legislative agendas need to face up to gut issues. Water shortages, soil erosion, adaptation to, or mitigation of, weather change matter more than coddling Supreme Court justices by unqualified towns itching to be cities.

There are biological limits to what can be done. . "We can't just move all our crops north or south because a lot of crops are photosensitive.” notes Dr Geoff Hawtin at International Centre for Tropical Agriculture. “Flowering is triggered by day length”.

Will Russia and Canada, with their colder weather regimes, turn out to be the world's bread baskets tomorrow? Would the poor of Asia and Africa be able to pay for imports?

“The race is on to breed maize which can tolerate the heat of future summers”, says James Morgan, BBC’s science reporter. Countries are urged to maintaining maximum level of genetic diversity. Seed banks is a good insurance policy, providing options for developing future strains.

There is a potential for heat tolerance in”beans, legumes, sorghum, millet --- anything which grows in an environment subject to drought.”

Adapt or starve is the ultimate option that an altered tropical belt could offer. "You can let it happen and painfully adapt, or you can plan for it," said Seattle’s Professor Battisti. "You could also mitigate it and not let it happen in the first place.

"We are not doing enough… We don't know where the tipping points are,” Hatwin adds, “They could come quite quickly."

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JUAN L. MERCADO started his journalistic career as a reporter for one of the community papers in Cebu. He then joined the staff of Evening News, serving first as a Senate reporter, then later as associate editor. Mercado was the first director of the Philippine Press Institute (1965-1972). He instituted PPI's first training programs as well as hands-on courses that helped facilitate coverage of sensitive beats like street demonstrations, the stock exchanges, the police and military.

He continued writing exposes on graft and corruption in government using the Philippine News Service as outlet, while still PPI director. Among the more notable stories he wrote were: the plight of sacada workers in Visayan sugar fields; customs corruption and widespread leakage of questions in a (nationwide) civil service examination for professionals.

He joined the Press Foundation of Asia as its Joint Chief Executive and started (DEPTHnews), an experiment in developmental journalism. He worked as editorial director of the service.

Mercado also served as correspondent for the Financial Times of London; the Honolulu Star Bulletin as well as The Bulletin of Sydney in Australia.

He was among the 22 journalists detained in the first wave of arrests by the Philippine martial law regime. Upon his release, he became communication officer for the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations in Bangkok, Thailand. Thereafter, he was posted in FAO Headquarters in Rome, Italy as Attaché d' Cabinet.

Juan L. Mercado graduated from the University of San Carlos, Cebu City. He also took special courses at the American Press Institute in Columbia University in 1964 and at Henry Kissinger's foreign policy seminar at Harvard University.

He was named Journalist of the Year by Manila Rotary Club and received an Outstanding Alumnus Award at the University of San Carlos in 1970.

Source: Press Club Golden Jubilarians (thesis prepared by students of Miriam College) with revisions by. J.L. Mercado