Monday, September 13, 2004

come what may

My issue of Newsweek has a bit on economist Jeremy Rifkin's new book "The European Dream: How Europe's Vision of the Future Is Quietly Eclipsing the American Dream". He argues that the American Dream, with its overbearing work ethic and focus on individual autonomy, should no longer be viewed as the best route to prosperity.

It seems that the European Dream, which emphasizes community and quality of life, has citizens enjoying longer lives, less poverty and greater literacy level. In fact, European productivity is fast encroaching on US levels.

What of us Filipinos?

The Philippines, of course, is a melange of both lines of thought. After all, writers have observed that we spent 300 years in a Spanish convent and 50 years in Hollywood. And let us not forget our innumerable years with Chinese merchants and the Muslim cottas of the south.

We evince deeply ingrained traits from our Spanish overlords as part and parcel of our culture, obvious in how we think, how we approach life, how we treat ourselves and others, how our communities are built, and the place of the church. We learned the value of the work ethic from the Americans, along with belief in the power of one man in the "right", and the four-color superheroic notions of truth, justice and the American Way. From the Chinese, we picked up on mercantile maneuvers and dynastic protectionism, among many other things. From the Moro South, one of the cradles of the our race, our patrimony includes respect of law and education, love for story and tradition, and a fierce sense of what is rightfully ours.

As is the case with a nation of multiple powerful influences, the national character is at once both easy and difficult to grasp.

In terms of wanting a better life, majority of us continue to subscribe to the American Dream. A dream passed on through the generations, promising wealth through honest effort - but across the sea, in America. The exodus of our best and brightest is an ongoing concern. And who can blame those that leave when their upbringing is one where the White Man's Land is the Land of Milk & Honey? When even their thoughts, like these, are described in English, a language we have a love-hate relationship with? The American Dream is so powerful that a simple substitution still makes sense. The selections continue to grow: Saudi Arabia, Dubai, Australia, Hong Kong, and parts of Europe itself.

We are taught to look at those who leave as heroes, because of their dollar remittances. We gamble our international relationships, free one of our own from terrorists, then fete him with house & lot and tears of joy and relief - because we do not want anything to sully the integrity of the dream.

The European Dream, here contextualized as the Spanish Dream, is expressed in terms of Filipino pessimism. One of the characterizing phrases in common use is "bahala na" ("come what may"). Some argue that it is "we worked hard, did our best, and the rest is up to God". Others opine that it is more "this is beyond us, whatever will happen will happen". Is this the not-so-secret rhetoric of those who are left behind, either by choice or circumstance?

What is the Filipino Dream? Why don't we have one, divorced from the dreams of conquerors and white men? When we dream of a better life, just whose way are we envisioning?

The way it stands is this: majority dream, American-style. They leave, work hard and make their dreams come true, to a certain extent.

Those that remain continue to sleep, and, when awakened by coup or typhoon or hunger, look around groggily, shrug their shoulders and say "bahala na".


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