Religion of Blame: Doom or salvation?
(READER Luis Olitoquit asked me on Twitter yesterday about a Postscript written some 10 years ago. Digging up my ManilaMail.com archive, I found the piece – “The Religion of Blame” which analyzes our penchant for blaming others for our own failures. I’m rerunning it below for its relevance to our present state. This item appeared in the pinoycityusa website in 2002, its author unidentified. It was posted by a certain L. Sibal.)
WE WERE FIRST: There are as many theories about the causes of the malaise that afflicts the Philippines as there are contradictions in our culture. We were the first to declare independence in Asia, but find ourselves among the last to achieve economic freedom for our masses. We are the only Catholic country in our region, but have a higher crime rate and more child prostitutes than Muslim Indonesia — a vastly larger archipelago.
We were the first to write a Constitution for ourselves and embrace democratic traditions and institutions, but decided only last January (2001) to replace a sitting president without benefit of elections or impeachment.
We were the first in Asia to be introduced to the wonders of the Industrial Revolution, among them mechanized farming and corporate commerce, but find ourselves competing with Bangladesh to be the region’s poorest country. We had the highest per capita GNP in Asia in the early ‘50s, but have become the world’s largest exporter of domestic labor.
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DEMONIZATION: There are a myriad reasons why we are in dire straits, but I will focus on one that no one, to my knowledge, has addressed: our conversion to the Religion of Blame, whose twin canons are demonization and victimization. Simply put, demonization is Judas kissing Jesus on the cheek: identifying the enemy for the purpose of crucifixion. Victimization is the state of mind that invariably follows; it’s Judas saying, “I’m innocent — the Devil made me do it.”
Rizal blamed the Spaniards for exploiting the Indio’s body and corrupting his soul. Quezon preferred a country run like hell by Filipinos to one run like heaven by Americans — and got his wish. Magsaysay blamed the Hukbalahaps. Garcia, blaming the Chinese, retaliated with his “Filipino First” policy. Macapagal blamed “canine devotion” to America and unilaterally changed Independence Day from July 4 to June 12.
Marcos claimed that Macapagal’s nationalism was nowhere near as patriotic as his own, but the first thing he did as president was to send a full battalion of Philippine Marines (euphemistically called an “engineering battalion”) to Vietnam. In 1972, to justify martial law, he blamed a conspiracy between the communists and the oligarchy.
Corazon Aquino blamed her predecessor Marcos for all the woes she faced — whether inherited or self-inflicted. Ramos blamed the “remnants of the dictatorship” (wasn’t he one?), the NPA, and the Muslim secessionists for having stopped him from making us “Asia’s newest tiger.”
Estrada blamed Ramos and the arrogant elite, Arroyo blamed Estrada and the ignorant poor, and Cardinal Sin blamed everyone who disagreed with him.
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LAYING BLAME: Filipino historians and writers blame the Spaniards for making us indolent, the Americans for making us materialistic, the Chinese for introducing opium, gambling, and bribery, and the Japanese for making us brutal.
Teodoro Agoncillo and Carmen Guerrero claim in “The History of the Filipino People” that WWII “left ugly scars on the people and made (Filipinos) callous,” and conclude that “the national and individual experiences during the occupation are no doubt largely responsible for this tendency (to commit crimes). The extreme poverty that appeared in the backwash of that war has given rise to criminality.”
Every freshman student of Political Science, Sociology, or Criminology knows that the last apostles of the long-discredited “poverty causes crime” theory died in the 1880s. Nowhere in the history of nations has war or poverty caused a rise in criminality. Most scholars and specialists assert and acknowledge that it is inequality — not poverty — that leads to crime.
But the religion of blame has always been at war with truth. Laying blame is not only necessary, it is healthy — but not when it serves to cleanse the accuser of all culpability. Not when it becomes demonization.
To Corazon Aquino, for instance, absolutely nothing that Marcos did was good. I paid a price for opposing his regime, but have to acknowledge that, among other things, he dismantled private armies and empowered our barangays. As for Cardinal Sin, whoever disagrees with him disagrees with the teachings of Christianity; one cannot disagree with his political views without offending God.
I sincerely admire and respect their contribution to the great collective endeavor of restoring democracy in our country, but they have become the country’s foremost evangelists of the gospel of blame, and to that extent have contributed immensely to the ethical confusion that characterizes our times.
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DEMONIZATION: To demonize is to ascribe to the accused — which is not to say that all the accused are the proper parties — much more guilt than they actually deserve; to depict the accused, to the extent possible, as the source of all evil. No wonder that it logically sires victimization, the tenet that teaches, “Something’s very wrong, somebody caused it, and it’s not me.”
The unscrupulous logger then, becomes the Devil — but not the kainginero. The prostitute is arrested, charged, and publicly humiliated, but never the man who engages her services. Huge fleets are blamed for depleting our coastal fishing grounds — but never the “poor fisherman” who uses dynamite or cyanide — he’s merely “eking out a living, for God’s sake.”
Factories are demonized for their pollution, but not the citizen who dumps motor oil into a ditch. Law-abiding rent-payers, in effect, are punished every time squatters are first on the list on every single government-funded low-cost housing project. The honest are penalized; the dishonest rewarded. (Concluded on Thursday)