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February 19, 2006



you're right, interesting take-- the alipin mentality, and i would say, as a filipino who grew up in the philippines, that it is quite accurate. we all know about the de facto caste system in this country because we all participate in it.

I suppose it is what the local Left refers to as 'semi-feudal'-- though we are currently living within a capitalist economy, the dominant cultural mindset is still feudal.

And if i ever won the lotto, it is a foregone conclusion that i would vanish without a trace on the very day of jackpot collection.


I've a reaction to Idiot Savant's post here:


I’m glad Sparks raises the points she does, because I had similar thoughts when reading Idiot Savant’s piece. I’ll have to be careful not to misrepresent Sparks or Idiot Savant), but one of several points that she makes is that:

“Idiot Savant is right in claiming that it is an "insane value system." What he does not says is it's a value system that is "insane" from his view.”

Assuming you know what other people believe is a tricky business. Judging others’ beliefs is even riskier. I think most of us middle-class bloggers know what Idiot Savant was driving at, and most of us would probably believe in some of it, but it seems at times that his (our) values are taken to be almost a given, against which those of the “Alipin class” are to be judged. Yet there is a strong element of subjectivity in all of this; I am sure we all hold values that could be classified as “insane” depending on where you are coming from.

It all reminds me a little of the Marxist sleight of hand to explain why the oppressed proletariat did not rise in revolution – that he did not was a result of his “false consciousness”.

So are some values better than other? Is queuing for a game show any more insane than spending hours locked to a computer performing tasks that you do not really believe in (guilty)? These seem to me important questions.

Another point that Sparks makes is that in the unfair world we live in, a “rational response” to poverty (try to get a job and work yourself out of poverty) probably won’t help any more than queuing for Wowowee:

“Contrary to little "nuggets of wisdom" we, the educated folk, have been taught since birth, poverty cannot be overcome by simple hard work. An ambulant vendor can work 15 hours a day every day for fifty years and still die with nothing to show for.”

These points don’t necessarily make Idiot Savant’s piece invalid. I still think he wrote the most interesting piece on Wowowee. This is a very complicated area though …


'It all reminds me a little of the Marxist sleight of hand to explain why the oppressed proletariat did not rise in revolution – that he did not was a result of his “false consciousness”.'

Ah, you've been reading me for far too long. :)

I've a response on my blog.

empress maruja

The balato culture probably began even before the Spanish colonization, but it definitely went high gear with the onset of balikbayans. I remember one news item about an old Filipina who won a huge lotto jackpot and decided to share it with the community through balato. In about a week, around 80% of her winnings was wiped out because even people from far villages went to her house for balato (and it was featured on local news).

And this is quite peculiar in balato. We are familiar with the saying "beggars can't be choosers," but in balato, people who receive "charity money" complain on how little they get and would ask for more money.


Hi, Torn and Frayed. Thanks for the link and the kind comments. More exchange over at {caffeine_sparks}.


Over on her blog, Sparks has taken issue with the notion of the survival of pre-colonial values in the Philippines (see the addendum to her original post):

“how could you discount 400 years of "colonial rule" and the consequent value systems resulting from the social structures created at the time and the interaction of agents of history? For example, how does the concept of an all-knowing God, one that monitors your each and every move change your values? How does the innate, natural superiority of caucasians change your values? How does a State, previously unconceived of in the pre-colonial Barangay system, the supreme authority above everything and everyone you see change your values? How does the concept of property, of exclusive ownership of land for example, change your values?”

I think my verdict on this debate about the survival of “alipin values” would be a draw.

I do agree with Sparks that many of our values come from our immediate environments. Look at the difference between your beliefs and those of your parents—and that is just a difference of 30 years. (That’s not necessarily true of course—your values may be the same as your parents’, but most people I know feel very differently from their parents about many matters.) I also agree with another point that Sparks makes that nothing is likely to increase the value of material belongings so much as their absence.

On the other hand, I still think Idiot Savant’s point about the continuing significance of pre-colonial norms holds true in many societies. The best example of this is India, where the traditional caste system (which had nothing to do with the British colonial period) continues to drag the country down. Only this week, I was chatting to a friend who had just returned from seeing his elderly parents in Nepal, another Hindu country. His mother and father are having trouble taking care of themselves, so while he was there he arranged for someone to stay with them and take care of them at his (my friend’s) expense. Was his family grateful? No—the main concern was that his parents would now have to share a kitchen with an “untouchable”. And this was in 2006.

This also makes me think about the way we perceive history and historical causation. “History” (meaning the formal discipline) is happier defining causes in economic and political terms. Such matters are formally recorded and (in the case of economics) are quantifiable. Values, traditions, and other more nebulous factors are either ignored, or shunted off into a “social history” ghetto, while History remains centered on the politics and economics. As Idiot Savant has pointed out, that might not be the best way of figuring things out.


Empress -- thanks for the interesting comments. That's rather a chilling observation in your last paragraph, though I am sure it is true.

Dominique -- there was synchonicity in the air this morning, your comment (and your well-taken points on Caffeine Sparks) went up at the same time as I posted my last comment.


Ha, ha, yes, indeed.

Anyway, as I said, it's a theory. If someone wants to come up with a more academic approach to it (and it seems no one has), it might help.

By the way, it's helpful to read "In Search of the Pre-Hispanic Filipino" by the late Henry Scott. At P275, it's pricey for such a thin poor-quality volume, but the material inside is great. Available at Powerbooks and National. There's a long section on alipin society.


I've a new post which addresses the supposed causal relationship between "alipin class" and dependency. It also demonstrates what I've nothing better to do than engage in fruitless intellectual exercises. Ah. But it's fun :)


I never liked the balato system. Here's why.

I'm all in favor of kindness and generosity. I applaud those who give to good causes, and I myself support several such charities. However, that's not what the balato system is all about.

Rather, the balato system is a form of culturally accepted extortion. It amounts to forcing someone to share in his good fortune -- whether you need it or not. It is extortion and manipulation, pure and simple.

There are many things to extol about Filipino values. The balato system is not one of them.

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