a lament for the fools and for the thinkers

The thing is, we are all born ignorant.

Each of us comes into this world as the proverbial blank slate: and sure, maybe there are some people out there who might hold a few stray memories of that sojourn in the womb. But it takes time before a child can start gathering information from his or her environment, and it takes time before literacy and numeracy and all those other good things kick in.

So we begin as ignorant, each and every one of us.

And then for a while, we must rely on other people to give us the information that we need to get by in the cultures in which we happen to live in. A parent’s voice, arms, smell, walk; and then that circle gradually grows wider and wider. There are stories to hear, and songs to listen to. There are all kinds of things to learn, and we are provided with these things that we need to learn by those who raise us, those who care for us as infants and as young children.

So it goes, and on and on the trail unfolds, whether we go to school or not: we pick up the skills and the facts and the knowledge of the world around us, and that is mediated by the other people who live around us.

All sorts of things can be published in books. All sorts of things can be posted to the Internet. All sorts of ideas can be found on social media.

At what age are we expected to decide that something is “true” or not?

And, as a corollary, at what age are we expected to start deciding on that which is true or false?

I am writing about these things because there is a rising tide of willful and malicious ignorance swamping the media, swamping the consumers of that media, threatening to drown us all everywhere we turn. It isn’t even a NEW phenomenon, all things considered: propaganda has more or less existed from the dawn of time, and depending on the times and places in which one happens to live, one is more or less smothered in propaganda practically from day one.

But yeah, I have been seeing so much foolishness in the past few days, and I continue to feel the need to fight that tide. Yes, I’ll be Doña Quixote if I must. That is a fact of my life.

I started a new job, so I am really seeing that I know nothing about the new world that I have entered, and I am working hard to overcome that lack of knowledge, even if it means throwing myself headfirst down the work equivalent of a rabbit hole. I’ll go in with eyes wide open, not caring whether there’s a bottom to the hole — and not caring if the bottom of the hole is lined with teeth, claws, or — only if I’m really lucky — a nice warm warren to curl up in.

Okay, so there’s me, knowing I am at a real disadvantage and fighting my way onward, step by slogging step.

What about that person who feels that they’re entitled to an easy coast to the top?

What about that person who expects everyone to make concessions for them, for their ignorance, and demands those concessions in the way of grasping greedy shits, which is what they are?

And it’s not just about my job, either.

So my country’s hosting the Miss Universe pageant over the weekend. This year, I am not not not rooting for my country’s bet. What did she do? She was willfully ignorant. She claimed that the <i>terno</i>, a beautiful dress that has become one of the “national costumes” of the Philippines, was invented by Imelda Marcos.

Yes, that Imelda Marcos, who accumulated shoes and art and garish jewelry by robbing her country blind. Who, together with her equally treacherous husband and the rest of her complicit family, sucked the national coffers dry in the pursuit of overweening personal and monetary gain.

Miss Philippines has gotten called out for her fault, and apparently things are all well and happy again in beauty-queen land.

Okay, so, here’s my problem.

Knowing that Miss Philippines can’t have gotten to where she is now without her own native and innate knowledge, knowing that she has learned things, why is it that she allows herself to be surrounded by people who are not only ignorant but are also pursuing a far more insidious agenda? Why is it that she cannot think to question the people, media, books that are her sources of information? Why is it that she was never asked or even encouraged to develop <i>critical thinking</i>?

Oh, I know why.

I live in the Philippines.

The best minds of several generations have been killed, and ruthlessly so, by politics.

Damn dirty thing, politics in the Philippines.

Martial Law was only the most obvious massacre of the intellectuals and critical thinkers. Those brilliant minds that were mercilessly tortured and killed and disappeared by the Marcoses? They’re the top of that enormous heap of the good and the smart and the wise and the DEAD.

Only the top.

Either the great minds are snuffed out, or they become co-opted by the corrupted systems and culture of this country, and then they turn into assholes. They retain their brilliance, sure, but they become assholes.

I would be so brave to say that anti-intellectualism has always been the norm here in the Philippines. Yes, there were courageous and scintillating exceptions to the rule. Apolinario Mabini, anyone? But he was ultimately surrounded by people who preferred to be brutes instead of being thinkers, and so it has gone ever since, and from the leaders of the people this has trickled down and down and down to all the rest of us poor ordinary citizens toiling to survive from day to day.

If you see a “smart” person in any form of Philippine media, the chances are good that he, or rarely she, will be the butt of jokes — or, weary cliché, the villain in the story. And that villain will almost always be pitted against the handsome and lucky but completely stupid hero/ine, and of course the hero/ine will always win the day, because the hero/ine is good-looking. Never mind the brains on that one, eh? He or she will be so pretty that others will rush to help him or her.

I am so sick and tired of that, and I am also sick and tired of all the stories where the bookworm or the intellectual character is lured away from his or her books to become “cool”. Is it always a one-or-the-other thing? Why the hell can’t it be both? Why can’t the hero or heroine be both book-smart AND street-smart?

Because “smart” is intimidating, here in the Philippines.

Because people go to school for the status and not for the actual, you know, education. And there are such silly stupid stereotypes slapped onto those people who go to places like science high schools, or national universities: usually that they’re either going to run away to other countries, or take to the streets to protest anything and everything.

And you know, I get why they immigrate: maybe they know they will never ever ever get a good deal here at home.

I especially get why they protest because the system is rotten and stinky and smelly and completely and totally corrupt — and why is it wrong to ask for, to expect, something better???

It’s wrong to ask for better things because that would inconvenience everyone who thinks they’re entitled to an easy time because of reasons. It means these entitled people will need to think, to make their minds work, in order to move forward — and if their minds have atrophied? Then they’ll sink to the bottom of the heap and be even more hateful and petty and entitled.

It’s a no-win situation.

I know what it’s like to be ignorant in so many ways. I did not know what emotional abuse was, so I labored in a bad marriage for so many years, thinking I was just fulfilling that which was expected of me. I was and still am fatally bad at numbers, so I have to depend on a calculator for my bills and my expenses. I learn about new things every day and have to play a lot of catch-up. And, of course, there’s the new job and the skills that it requires, which are a little tricky to learn.

So, Miss Philippines, I come back around to you. I wish you would entertain that thought, that niggling idea in your brain, that there is more to learn and more to become aware of. Learn about your history and about the things that have brought the very country that you are supposed to be representing to its present state. Learn about the history of the world and the causes that you can use your platform and visibility to be an advocate for.

There are so many things to learn! It’s exciting! It’s challenging! It’s fulfilling! And you get the chance to do it all, dressed up and made up and with all eyes on you. I mean, put that <i>terno</i> on, and respect the fashion and the culture that actually shaped it, and be the brilliant and intellectual you that you can be.

And I will keep learning. It’s my fond hope that I will never stop learning. It’s a lifelong process. It’s something that will consume all the days of my life. I want to keep learning. I never want to stop.

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