August 25, 2006

Dear diary,

Today I changed something on my blog. I’m not sure if anyone will notice. Oh diary, will boys ever start paying attention to me? Or girls? Or genderqueers?

If it wasn’t for you, diary, I wouldn’t be able to get through my days. I know you’ll always be there for me.




Metallica rules.

Flips on a plane

I really like how my last two posts have gone. They’ve really opened up a lot of exciting new avenues for me to think with. What would you say if I made my blog entirely about the French Revolution?

Okay, joking. But I think I realize now why I’ve been so fascinated with European history and nationalism lately, even though it’s only peripherally related to my research. You see, it’s rather strongly related to the research I’d like to do for my Phd. So in order to avoid working on my present project, I’m actually starting work on a future project that doesn’t even exist yet. Oh me, oh my, the things I’ll do to avoid working on what’s right in front of me.

I said I’d start discussing my findings this week, and I meant it. So what have I discovered about Filipino bloggers in my research?

For one thing, I’ve found out that it’s not very easy to speak of a single Filipino blogging community. There are instead multiple communities of Filipino bloggers, many of which apparently don’t read the blogs of other communities of Filipino bloggers.

Yes, it’s not a profound observation. But how exactly do these different blogging communities differ from each other?

The most important distinction seems to be between Filipino bloggers based in the Philippines and those based overseas. Actually, I’m still trying to decide on a proper term for the second category. Referring to “overseas” Filipino bloggers implies that those bloggers are originally from the Philippines but at present are residing overseas, when many or most overseas Filipino bloggers were actually born and raised outside the Philippines.

Anyway, in terms of linking behaviour, Filipino bloggers as a whole can roughly be divided into two groups: Philippine bloggers and overseas Filipino bloggers. Bloggers may link to other bloggers in their group, but rarely do they link to bloggers in the other group. However, the dichotomy isn’t actually quite so simple. Philippine bloggers do link to the blogs of overseas Filipinos, but only to those blogs written by overseas Filipinos who left the Philippines as adults. Likewise, these adult migrants link to Philippine bloggers, but they almost never link to overseas Filipino bloggers. The opposite is also true for overseas Filipino bloggers. They link to each other, but they hardly ever link to Philippine and adult migrant bloggers.

A similar dichotomy exists when considering the political content of Filipino blogs. Bloggers in the Philippines and adult migrant bloggers are far more likely to mention Philippine politics in their blogs, particularly the corruption scandal surrounding Gloria Macapagal Arroyo and the calls for her impeachment. By contrast, I have yet to see one blog written by an overseas Filipino blogger that mentioned Philippine politics.

This situation shouldn’t really be too surprising. Different people in different countries have different political concerns. Only if you think that Filipinos are racially bound to the Philippines do you start expecting overseas Filipinos to obsess about Philippine politics the way people living in the country do. But why should overseas Filipinos pay attention to something that has little meaning and little impact in their daily lives? You might as well expect them to closely follow village politics in Inner Mongolia.

There you go, my first significant finding about Filipino bloggers. I’m working on a draft for one other post, but otherwise don’t expect me to post before September, I’m in the process of moving right now. So, hasta la proxima vez.

Invasion America, or Texas Hearts Part 2

Max Weber’s definition of the state is of “a relation of men dominating men [sic], a relation supported by means of legitimate (i.e. considered to be legitimate) violence” (Rassmussen). Put more simply, a state is an organization with a monopoly on legitimate violence over a certain group of people. Note the use of the word “legitimate.” Both of the passages I discuss in yesterday’s post examine how it is that violence is made acceptable and legitimate in modern democracies. How can modern democracies break their promises of peace and still appear peaceful? Both Comay and Povinelli, then, seek an emic understanding of this democratic violence.

Comay says that “[w]ith the tennis-court oath, the ex nihilo transition of the tiers état from “nothing” to “everything” is announced and performatively accomplished: the oath both marks and makes the people’s transition from political nullity to the “complete nation” that it will retroactively determine itself always already to have been.” She’s referring to one of the major events marking the beginning of the French Revolution, when the Third Estate (the French commoners) vowed to establish a new constitution for France based on their authority as representatives of the majority of the French population. The French revolutionaries were treasonous rebels according to the laws that existed at the time of their revolution. However, according to the revolutionaries themselves, it was the French government that was illegitimate, since it did not represent the will of most of France. Therefore, the revolutionaries were the ones enacting legitimate violence, while it was the royalists that had no authority. Or as Sir John Harrington observed,

Treason doth never prosper: what’s the reason?
Why, if it prosper, none dare call it treason.

Therefore, where the authority of the king made the violence of the royalists legitimate, the authority of the people — or rather, the authority conferred by claiming to represent the people — made the violence of the revolutionaries legitimate. Which is a pretty story, but wasn’t it actually the might of the royalists that conferred authority, and wasn’t it the greater might of the revolutionaries that made them legitimate in place of the royalists? Didn’t their political power grow out of the barrels of their guns?

Yes and no. Ideology isn’t just a justification for violence. It’s also a reason for it. The Third Estate rebelled because they wanted more power (to put it crassly), but they wanted more power because they thought they had the greater legitimacy.

In the passage from Povinelli, she examines how violence and liberal democracies can coexist, how violence is made acceptable in a liberal democracy. While Hegel, by way of Comay, says that democracies by their very nature demand violence, Povinelli describes the twists and turns in logic liberal democracies take to make their violence seem reasonable and rational.

It seems to me, though, that asking why democracies are violent isn’t the right question. Rather, I think it’s more interesting to ask why democracies shouldn’t be violent. All democracies are states and all states are violent, so why should democracies be an exception?

There are many theories of state formation that are empirically supported by archaeological and historical evidence. In truth, states probably formed for different reasons and for combinations of reasons. However, one of these reasons was for the organization of people for the purposes of violence — in other words, for war. In this theory, the ultimate cause of state warfare is the development of agriculture. Hunter-gatherer societies can’t accumulate material surpluses, since the resources they depend on cannot be stored for long periods. The domestication of plants, however, means that grain be stored, and more crucially, that it can be stolen. Therefore comes raiding parties to capture that grain, and therefore states are needed to both organize for and defend against the seizure of resources. Or so goes the simplified evolutionary schema taught in undergrad anthropology courses.

Just as with the birth of the French Republic, so the birth of states was also fraught with violence. State formation is not simply marked by violence; rather, it was for purposes of violence that states were formed. All states are violent and all democracies are states; therefore, all democracies are violent. Individual states may be extinguished by the violent actions of other states, or even by the violent reactions of their own citizens, but despite this, states still act out in violence. So how could one expect a democracy to act in any other way?

Asked the frog of the scorpion, “Why did you sting me in the back as I was carrying us both across the river? Now we will surely drown.” “I couldn’t help it,” replied the scorpion. “It was my nature.”

Deep in the heart of not-Texas

This post is going to be heavier than my normal writing. I can’t help it, I found something last night that tickled my fancy. I just had to write about this issue, especially since it will never appear in my thesis, even though I find it absolutely fascinating. Very well, then, onwards!

While reading s0metim3s’ blog (chock full of theory and Battlestar Galactica — two great tastes that taste great together), I came across her post about an article by Rebecca Comay [NB: link is now defunct] on Hegel’s analysis of the Reign of Terror during the French Revolution. This quote in particular is interesting:

For Hegel, unlike for Kant, the revolution is a block: the terror cannot be surgically excised as a local anomaly, deformation, or betrayal of its founding principles, the revolution does not splinter into essential and inessential, structural and incidental. Indeed any attempt to define the chronological boundaries of the terror — to confine it to a sixteen-month interval as a temporary deviation from the revolution — arguably only prolongs the persecutory logic that is contained (a paradox exemplified by the Thermidorian counterterrorist reaction and the virulent culture of denunciation it perpetuated: Thermidor is itself the prototype of every war on terrorism).

For Hegel, therefore, the terror proper begins not with the law of 22 Prairial, not with the law of suspects, not with the regicide in January 1793, not with the king’s arrest and trial, not with the September massacres of 1792, not with the riots at the Tuileries on August 10, 1792, not with the suspensive veto of the 1791 Constitution, and not with the storming of the Bastille. Hegel backdates the terror to the very onset of the revolution, if not before—June 17, 1789, the day the États Généraux spontaneously and virtually unanimously recreated itself as the Assemblée Nationale as sole agent and embodiment of the nation’s will.

With the tennis-court oath, the ex nihilo transition of the tiers état from “nothing” to “everything” is announced and performatively accomplished: the oath both marks and makes the people’s transition from political nullity to the “complete nation” that it will retroactively determine itself always already to have been. As structurally complete, the nation must eliminate what falls outside it as an excrescence whose existence is a contradiction: the founding act of revolutionary democracy is thus the purge (Comay 2004:386-387).

Just a quick explanation of the historical context. There you are, king of France, living high on the hog in the late 18th century, when suddenly a bunch of dirty pantsless frogs* start demanding republican representation or something. You, Louis XVI, are captured by the revolutionaries and forced to stop claiming your will is divine. You escape and almost make it to your loyal army but are recaptured and executed. Then, from your zombie afterlife, you watch as the revolutionaries start turning on each other, accusing each other of not being revolutionary enough. A campaign of Terror erupts where people are being guillotined left and right on suspicions of treason. Eventually this ends and the French Revolution keeps marching on. You, however, remain a zombie.

The French Revolution was supposed to bring an age of justice, but it soon turned into a bloodbath. Some historians say that this was just a temporary anomaly, or perhaps growing pains on the road to democracy. However, for Hegel, the violence of the Terror was an essential part of the French Revolution. The seeds for the Terror were planted in the beginning. “As structurally complete, the nation must eliminate what falls outside it as an excrescence whose existence is a contradiction: the founding act of revolutionary democracy is thus the purge.” The French Revolution was perhaps the event that heralded the coming of the age of nationalism in Europe. Having created itself, what was the first thing that the new French nation-state did? Violently eliminate people it saw as outsiders (i.e., those who didn’t believe in the ideals of revolutionary democracy).

This ties into my previous post about nationalism, and it’s certainly nice how things converge. Nationalism and nation-states are violent things, even or especially those nation-states that are democratic. Reading the above reminded me of a similar passage in a paper I’d read by Elizabeth Povinelli:

The temporalizing function of the horizon of successful self-correction seems an essential part of the means by which the practice of social violence is made to appear and to be experienced as the unfurling of the peaceful public use of reason. Characterizations of liberal governmentality as always already stretching to the future horizon of apologetic self-correction figure contemporary real-time contradictions, gaps, and incommensurabilities in liberal democratic discourses and institutions as in the process of closure and commensuration. Any analysis of real-time violence is deflected to the horizon of good intentions, and more immediately, as a welcomed part of the very process of liberal self-correction itself (Povinelli 2001:328).

I know, that’s some dense verbiage there. Luckily, I’ve already written a translation:

Liberal democracies present themselves as always peaceful, always good, and always right. How then is the use of violence reconciled in a liberal democracy, since using violence is never peaceful, and which many would say is never good and never right? Liberal democracies rationalize their use of violence as a necessary part of goodness and rightness: violence is always enacted in the name of peace and for the greater good of all. This of course comes up against the contradictory fact that violence is not always enacted for the greater good in liberal democracies, nor does it address the issue that what is good for the majority is not always good for the minority. Liberal democracies gloss over these contradictions in their logic by saying that yes, there are failures in the system, but everyday in every way liberal democracy is getting better and better, and by pointing out these inconsistencies you have made liberal democracy even stronger. Liberal democracy is a utopian ideology; like all utopias, the perfect liberal democracy exists somewhere else, in an unreachable future. This then deflects criticism that the ideals of liberal democracy and the practice of it do not mesh together, since eventually (but don’t ask for a timetable), liberal democracy will be peaceful in fact as well as in name. But until then, try to understand that we’re beating these protesters and arresting these coloureds and exploiting these illegal immigrants because we love peace so much. Thus is violence made rational and good in a liberal democracy.

Neither of the two papers are really about nationalism and nation-states, they’re more about violence and democracies. But I think they do a very good job of explaining how it is that a peace-loving democracy can be violent. Modern democracies are also nation-states, and nation-states are inherently violent entities. Well, to be fair, states are inherently violent in themselves. Weber, after all, defined a state as being an organization with a monopoly on legitimate violence. The difference between a state and a nation-state, though, is that while a state like the Roman Empire was content with having different people such as Greeks and Spaniards for its citizens, the nation-state of Italy can’t stand to have non-Italians such as Ethiopians and Kenyans in Italy walking around being non-Italian (though there is also a racial dimension to this discrimation). So I suppose I am disagreeing about the ultimate source of violence within modern democracies, at least those that don’t espouse multicultural ideology, which is still not a fully-established norm anyway.

You know what, this is interesting. I need to come back to this. I hate to be a tease, but I don’t have any more time to hang around the library today, so tune in tomorrow for Part 2.

And by the way, I’ve almost finished doing my interviews, so either this week or next I’ll start posting some of my preliminary findings on Filipino bloggers.

* Here I’m referring to the sans-culottes. I know, they weren’t actually pantsless frogs, I was being facetious. It was actually knee breeches that they didn’t have.


Comay, Rebecca (2004). “Dead Right: Hegel and the Terror.” South Atlantic Quarterly, 103(2,3):375-395.

Povinelli, Elizabeth (2001). “Radical Worlds: The Anthropology of Incommensurability and Inconceivability.” Annual Review of Anthropology 30:319-334.

The work of art in the age of mechanical reproduction (kind of)

Here it comes, the post that’s been percolating in the back of my mind for the last couple of weeks.

So, I mentioned in a previous post how the University of the Philippines Open University has an online course on Philippine culture. In the comments, Aries told me about a similar program, where Filipino American university students can travel to the Philippines and take a compressed course in Philippine Studies.

What’s especially fascinating about these courses are that they are specificallly aimed at second generation Filipino Americans. They are an attempt to incorporate Filipinos in diaspora into the story of the Philippine nation-state.

As I’ve mentioned before, in older conceptions of nationalism and the nation-state, the nation is equated with the territory the nation-state controls. Filipinos are people from the Philippines; the Philippines is where Filipinos are from. This circular argument becomes unhinged when you consider that a lot of Filipinos actually live outside the Philippines — 8 million by the last count, or 10 percent of the population of the Philippines, though that estimate only counts Overseas Foreign Workers and not Filipino citizens of those other countries.

This is not a new situation by any means. Diasporas have existed for a long time. Consider that the term “diaspora” originally referred to the Jewish dispersal from Israel by the Romans, which occurred about 2 000 years ago. What is different is the way that diasporas are thought about. Simply a fact of life before, diasporas are now a problem, since they have no place within the ideology of nationalism and the fiction of the nation-state. If a nation-state is supposed to represent a single people, then how does it handle the existence of other people within its territory?

The answer is: “Not very well.” Nation-states, when confronted with the reality of “other” people living in their territory, do everything in their power to make those “other” people invisible. It can be as directly brutal as the way Native Americans have been violently suppressed in the United States, and it can be as subtle as not portraying black people in movies.

But wait, black people are portrayed in American media today. Why, there’s even a channel called Black Entertainment Television. The older form of nationalism (one land, one people) is being replaced with a more complex form called multiculturalism (one land, one people composed of many people). The motto of multiculturalism might be “E Pluribus Unum”: Out of Many, One. That is to say, one nation is constructed out of parts of many others. One people (Americans) composed of many different peoples (African Americans, Hispanic Americans, Asian Americans, etc). There are many criticisms which can be made of multicultural ideology, but one of the things it does is promote the expression of identities beside a single national identity.

Which brings us to the case of Filipino Americans. Here they are, being Filipino outside the Philippines. Here they are, making money, a lot of which they send to the Philippines. If the Philippine nation-state is supposed to represent Filipinos, how does it speak for Filipinos outside the Philippines? More pragmatically, how can the Philippines profit from these outsider Filipinos? I say “outsider”, since calling them overseas Filipinos implies that they’re all from the Philippines, which isn’t the case with the second generation. So, how can these outsider Filipinos be incorporated within the story of the Philippine nation-state?

First, you have to create within outsider Filipinos a sense of connection to the Philippines. The school system is one of the major ways in which residents of a country are taught to become attached to that country, and here it is being used to promote nationalism again. This is not a neutral act, it is suffused with political concerns (then again, a lot of things are). A lot of Filipinos outside the Philippines send money to the country (actually, to their relatives there), but they could also do a lot more. Like, for instance, lobbying on behalf of the Philippines on the government of their host country. These courses on the Philippines are partly strategic investments in second generation Filipino Americans by the Philippine nation-state. One might object by saying that these projects are actually run the University of the Philippines, not the Philippine government. However, UP certainly receives government funding, and even if the university was not directly ordered to create the courses by the government, part of the reason behind the development of these courses was out of a sense of nationalism which inevitably means doing things for the betterment of one’s country. Which is to say that being a Philippine nationalist often means doing things that will benefit the Philippines. None of which is necessarily good or bad, but it’s important to realize the political context of things.