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.

References:

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.

The Verbal Consent Form

For the benefit of one of my participants whose mailbox is apparently full, but feel free to peruse it if you want. It’s just as boring as the name sounds. Enjoy it while you can, I’m taking the page down soonish.

Verbal Consent Form (Link is now defunct)

UPDATE 16/8/06: Too slow, it’s gone now suckas!

What is the meaning of this?

So, you know what I hate? When bloggers stop updating their blogs. Actually, I don’t hate it, I just get mildly disappointed. I have a massive post in the works, but it’s so massive that it scares me. So that will be next week. For now, I thought I’d explain what the cryptic titles of my posts mean. They’re mostly just allusions to various works of media.

1. Hello world

This is a standard thing run by programmers. It’s probably the simplest test of a program: make it display the words “Hello world”.

2. I am the Gatekeeper

This is me quoting from the movie Ghostbusters. It’s set in New York, which is why I thought it was appropriate, given that the post was about me getting rejected for a travel grant to the city.

3. Hoy pare, pakinggan niyo ko (also, my hands are deadly weapons)

The first part is Tagalog, it means “Hey man, listen to me.” It’s from the Black Eyed Peas song Bebot, sung by the Filipino American Apl. The next line is “Ito na ang tunay na Filipino” (Here is the real Filipino). I was presenting myself and my daily routine in that post, which is why I thought the line was appropriate. The second part — about my hands being deadly weapons — is actually from an old cartoon show I used to watch, Karate Kat. That may not be the ultimate origin of the quote, but it’s where it came from in this particular case. I said that because I mentioned going to a karate class in the post.

4. Nationalism and its discontents

This title originally comes from Sigmund Freud’s book, Civilization and its Discontents. I’ve never read it. The book that I was actually alluding to was Sasskia Sassen’s Globalization and its Discontents, which I actually have read. But I think she got her title from Freud’s book.

5. In which I prove that I actually work

I originally thought this “In which . . .” construction was from Alice in Wonderland. I really did. Now, I’m not so sure. I’ve never fully read anything by Lewis Carroll. I tried to read Alice in Wonderland when I was little and it made no sense, so I stopped. I’ve never seen any of the movies, either. I think it’s also in the movie Benny & Joon, another work of fiction that I’m only vaguely familiar with. I think I actually did see it, but I don’t remember anything from it except Johnny Depp dressed up as Charlie Chaplin in The Little Tramp (I think that was what the movie was called). I like to pretend he was actually dressed up as Malcolm McDowell in A Clockwork Orange.

6. I’ll go a little later

This is from the Simpsons. It’s a line from the episode where Homer becomes an astronaut. He’s describing to Marge the time he missed the chance to meet Mr. T at an appearance in a shopping mall: “I said, I’ll go a little later, I’ll go a little later. But when I went later, Mr. T was already gone. And when I asked the man at the stall if Mr. T was coming back, he said he didn’t know.” Since the post was about me briefly overcoming my own laziness, I hope you can see why I quoted this line.

7. On the Internet, no one knows you’re a dog

This is from a cartoon in the New Yorker which shows a dog using a computer and saying that line to another dog looking on. I got it from Lisa Nakamura’s book Cybertypes, which I mentioned before. She discusses the cartoon according to the idea that bodies don’t matter online, and so being a dog doesn’t matter when you’re on the Internet. She disagrees with this idea and goes on at length about how and why bodies matter online.

8. Adventures in babysitting

I believe this is or was a book series for girls. Or was that The Babysitters’ Club? The closest I ever got to girls’ literature was when I read a crossover book between Nancy Drew and the Hardy Boys. It was kind of disappointing because Nancy Drew and the Hardy Boys already knew each other at the beginning of the story. Wait, it was actually a bunch of stories. Anyway, the teen detectives were supposedly already friends with each other. I think it would have been more interesting if Nancy Drew and Joe and Frank stumbled upon each other while investigating the same case. Maybe they think the other party is working with the bad guys at first. Then you get the scene where everyone figures out they’re on the same side, and then the cool part comes when they’re working together. Maybe put some sexual tension in there. Sure, Joe and Frank had girlfriends, but we’ll pretend they were on a break or something. I think Nancy Drew also had a man friend, but I can’t be sure. Maybe she was tired of him and was looking for an intellectual equal (or two). Oh hang on, Google reveals that Adventures in Babysitting was apparently a movie from 1987. I was only six years old when it came out, so don’t blame me for not knowing about it. I apparently came across the title at some point in my life, though.

Oh, and speaking of teen detectives, weekend fun from the satirical website McSweeney’s (I actually got the link from the blog of danah boyd, who is a fairly prominent blog researcher): Publisher’s response to a Hardy Boys manuscript submission

First and foremost, we are unpersuaded that the subject matter of The Case of the Secret Meth Lab is appropriate for our readers. We understand that the manufacturing of narcotics in otherwise bucolic towns has indeed become a problem. That said, we ask you whether Joe Hardy would realistically go undercover and turn into what his brother repeatedly refers to as a “crankhead.”

. . .

Page 60: We encourage including Nancy Drew in the adventure as it represents great cross-marketing with our other adventure series. We would think it goes without saying, however, that she would not have, nor even contemplate, surgical enhancement. Please delete all references to her “killer rack.”

Adventures in babysitting

Actually, this post is about my adventures online but the original title is catchier.

1. First weird thing: I was downloading something the other night and some guy started hitting on me. This is how our exchange went

Interlocutor: are you really in ns [Nova Scotia]?
Me: why do you ask?
I: i’m in truro [a town in Nova Scotia]
Me: yes i’m in halifax
I: i’m m/40
Me: sorry you’re barking up the wrong tree
I: no i just wanted to talk
Me: sorry anyway, i only use this [program] to dl [download] and don’t like to chat on it

And that was that. Yeah, so maybe he genuinely wanted to talk. What can I say, I was multitasking, I had multiple article PDFs and websites open. I didn’t want to add chatting to my activites otherwise I’d have opened up MSN Messenger. He must have found out where I was by my IP address. I think he thought I was female because my handle had “pink” in it. But I was going by “pinky” after Pinky & the Brain, a cartoon show I used to watch when I was younger. Or he may have thought I was male and wanted to flirt anyway.

On the one hand, this incident shows how being online changes the way people relate to identity. The guy was asking for my gender and my age, something he probably wouldn’t have done if we’d met in person (I look like a twentysomething guy in my picture, right?). Because all he had to go on was my name, the guy (possibly) assumed I was female and started doing the mating dance. I would have had to explicitly tell him my gender for him to get it.

But on the other hand, the incident above also reveals how being online changes nothing at all. The guy immediately declared his age and gender and implicitly asked for mine as well. If he was genuinely interested in just chatting, how relevant would that information have been in reality? Doesn’t the Internet make it so that age and gender don’t matter? Don’t we get to transcend our bodies by being online? Evidently not, since the status of my body (namely, my age and gender) obviously mattered to this guy. A/S/L (age/sex/location) is a common query in chatrooms, so it’s not limited to this one person. Bodies matter, even on the bodiless Internet (though the other person may not have been m/40 anyway, or even just a single person).

This perspective, where the body is seen as the source of identity, mostly comes from feminist theory. In this specific case, I’m drawing upon the work of Lisa Nakamura, whose book Cybertypes: Race, Ethnicity, and Identity on the Internet I’m using quite extensively in my research.

2. Later that night, I went to the University of California at Berkeley’s website to find out more about Ethel Regis, whose work on the Filipino diaspora I read about here. I go over to the page of the Department of Ethnic Studies and find this instead:

Hacked by Byond

Yes, I admit I was reading The Onion while I was working. This was on July 25 at 11:51 PM ADT. It’s puzzling why this crew hacked this particular website. Berkeley is a rather liberal campus, and if anyone is likely to support the Lebanese it’s people from Berkeley. Second, why hack the website of the Ethnic Studies department? A lot of the people there are postcolonial and anti-imperialist thinkers, and they’re even more likely to oppose Israel’s actions in Lebanon. Don’t worry, the website was fine the next day.

Take a look at the countries that the hackers* claimed to be from: Argentina, Mexico, Germany, Cuba, the Dominican Republic, and Chile. They’re all over the place, aren’t they? The Internet is certainly quite good at severing people from the bonds of geography. However, look closer and you’ll realize that all of the countries mentioned are in Latin America, except for Germany. Why are these crews so concentrated in one particular area?

One answer may be language. While the Internet allows users to potentially communicate with anyone else connected to the Internet, the truth is that Internet users are segregated in several different linguistic communities. I’m guessing that these hackers operate mostly in Spanish and they probably met through some kind of Spanish-language space online: a message board, an IRC channel, whatever. Yet another example of how geography is reproduced online.

Notice also that the hackers specifically stated what countries they were from. Why did they do this? What does it matter what country they were from? Does that change their message in any way? It may be that the hackers felt proud to be non-Americans bringing down an American website (though being based in Mexico doesn’t mean you can’t be American too). You see? Nationalist pride exists online, and therefore geography does as well.

3. Someone found my blog by Googling “nova scotia rifle ass”. They ended up on my post about Canada Day, where I mentioned a rifle exactly once. Sorry, I’ve got no analytical insight into this. I’d just like to know what exactly they were looking for.

Anyway, I still haven’t done the post on nationalism and diaspora that I said I’d put up weeks ago, so that is definitely the next thing that’s appearing.

*I know that coders actually prefer these types of programmers to be called crackers, while hackers should be reserved just for really good programmers. But as far as the vast majority of the world is concerned, a hacker is an online vandal and burglar. I defer to the dictatorship of the majority.

Internet dogs continued

I just did another phone interview this morning (actually it was over Skype). I think I see another way that IM interviews are different from voice: the way previous utterances are saved. IM is different from voice communication because speech is ephemeral. Once you say something, it’s gone. Even if you’re recording the exchange, you can’t review the recording during the conversation itself. But with IM, you can always scroll back and see that there was a point you wanted to come back to. So time is handled differently with regards to IM. This isn’t a novel observation, but it was just something that struck me after this morning’s regular old voice communication.

On the Internet, no one knows you’re a dog

Well, I just conducted my first interview through instant messaging (IM) over the weekend (if you’re reading this thanks again CK!). I was going to blog about how different it was from traditional interviews when I realized that I actually have little experience with doing traditional interviews. Not the Platonic ideal of traditional interviews, anyway. The first set of interviews I ever conducted were in Spanish, a language I’m not that great in. I got the meanings of the words but I didn’t have the level of fluency necessary for the true back and forth rapport that the best interviewers are supposed to get. I only interviewed two people for my second set of interviews, one of them over the phone (I was doing their life histories). And now for my third research project and third set of interviews, I’m interviewing people for this blogging thing. I was going to do some face to face interviews, but now that’s gone and it’s all phone interviews and VOIP (Voice Over Internet Protocol, also known as Internet phone). Anyway, I thought I’d compare the different kinds of interviews I’ve done.

Face to face interviews. With this one you get the most and the richest information. When you’re interviewing someone, you’re supposed to take notes not just on their answers but on the interview itself: your impressions of the other person, awkward pauses in the conversation, the tone in which things were said, and so on. You get the most of this kind of nonverbal information from face to face interviews. A lot of times you feel like you’re being deluged with a constant flow of information that you have to get down. And with face to face interviews, you can keep the whole thing going for a relatively long time (I think the longest I ever did was two hours).

Phone and VOIP interviews. Obviously, with this you don’t get as much nonverbal information. You can still tell a lot from voice, though. How is the participant feeling? Are they sick? How strongly do they feel about what they’re talking about? The thing is, you can’t keep this kind of interview going for very long. As a general rule, most people start getting restless if they talk on the phone longer than 30 minutes, unless it’s about a subject they’re interested in or they have a personal connection to the person they’re speaking to. So you have to keep phone interviews short and sweet. But they’re a lot more convenient for both the researcher and the participant.

Instant Messaging and Chat. Ok, so I’ve only done one so far. Still, here are my impressions:

  1. First, there’s a lot less information you can get that isn’t explicitly told to you by your participant. You can guess at how they’re feeling by their responses but it’s not a foolproof method (though it’s not foolproof in person anyway).
  2. It’s also hard to tell when someone is actually paying attention to you. The other person could be watching tv and you wouldn’t know it. It’s not so bad when they answer immediately, but when there’s a longer than normal pause, it’s impossible to tell if the participant is considering their response or have shifted their attention somewhere else. This is particularly bad because interviewers aren’t supposed to pester their participants and pressure them for answers, otherwise the person may just whip out a half-formed thought solely to satisfy the researcher.
  3. The nature of IM makes it easy for numerous conversational threads to form. The participant can type something interesting, then you think, “Aha! Better follow that up,” but then they go on to say something else entirely that’s also as interesting. Interviewers are supposed to give their participants enough leeway to explore interesting tangents, but then you have to keep in mind the interesting thing that was said several dozen lines back. And it’s even harder when there are multiple items of interest that come up.
  4. Connected to the previous point, it’s very easy to interrupt the other person when they’re in the middle of typing. When I’m using IM normally, I often interject when the other person is in the middle of typing, which adds to the number of conversational threads that come up. Often, it’ll be like two conversations are going on as I ask a question, then I ask another, and then the other person answers the first question and I respond to that while they answer the second question. It gets confusing until one thread ends. That is a definite no-no in interviewing, since you’re supposed to give your participants time to respond, and the constant appearance of more questions will make participants feel like they have to type faster to keep up. So what happened during the interview was that I kept starting to type and then deleting what I had when I saw that my participant still had something to say. I just had to keep watching out not to fall into my normal IM habits.
  5. Finally, you can keep IM and chat interviews going for a relatively long time, longer than phone interviews. This probably has to do with the fact that most people spend more time sitting around typing on computers than they do talking on the phone. And being on the computer means you can multitask, so you can keep an eye on the kettle you set to boil or play solitaire or something.

Anyway, that’s what my experience has been with interviews. Your mileage may vary.

I’ll go a little later

Wow, getting up early really does change your view of the world. It’s only 2:40 PM and yet it feels like I’ve already had a full and productive day of work. I’ve been running interviews all week and will continue to do them next week. I know that I said I haven’t been blogging much about my research itself. This is partly because I don’t want to influence any of the people I’m going to interview. When I recruit participants, I invite them to check out Sarapen for themselves as part of the proof that I’m a legitimate researcher and in hopes of starting a dialogue. But I can’t discuss my findings just yet or else my participants might start answering differently according to how other people have responded.

Also, thanks to the fact that interviews have become my top priority, I’ve been reading the books that I really should have finished reading by now but kept setting aside. So the reading I procrastinated on before I’m doing now because I want to procrastinate on something else. I’m reading lots of good stuff that I really could have used earlier. But remember, the early bird may get the worm, but the lazy worm will live another day. Of course, in my case it’s the lazy worm that gets eaten. Maybe the bird is also lazy?

In which I prove that I actually work

It strikes me that for a blog claiming to be about my research on Filipino bloggers, I haven’t actually discussed blogging yet.

Partly it’s because I’ve been setting the ground for discussing Filipino bloggers. Filipinos don’t exist in a vacuum, and it’s hard to talk about them without talking about the Philippines. This is especially true when you want to discuss nationalism and national identity.

But how do I define Filipinos and how do I define blogs? And how do I define Filipino bloggers?

Well, I define blogs using the most inclusive definition: a website that displays dated entries in reverse chronological order. I’m not interested in hairsplitting between online journals and blogs. When people make this distinction between online journals and blogs, they usually define online journals as being about personal issues in the author’s life while blogs are about larger issues (i.e., politics or information technology) which are covered in more of an essay format. I don’t agree with this distinction, which I think is partly an attempt to exclude female and youthful bloggers from the blogging world. Online journals are dominated by females and youths, and the attempt to define them as merely journalers creates a scheme where females and youths talk about who’s dating whom on journals whereas older and more masculine bloggers talk about big stuff like the war in Iraq. In other words, the mushy emotional stuff is for online journals, but the serious stuff is for blogs. And it’s no coincidence that the mushy emotional stuff is mostly covered by women and youths: it’s girly and childish, but the serious stuff is grownup and mature (i.e., masculine). This follows larger patterns in popular media, where the contributions of women and youths are devalued and where the emotional and personal are seen as superficial and shallow.

Since I don’t follow this distinction, then it should be obvious that a lot of the bloggers I examine are women and younger people. Quite a few are on Xanga and Myspace, too.

Now then, how do I define Filipino? It’s not really so important how I define Filipino, though, the relevant question is how I define Filipino bloggers. The definition I use is also very simple. Filipino bloggers are those bloggers that identify themselves as Filipino.

Actually, I don’t really mean that. What I mean is that for the purposes of my research, I am only studying those bloggers that identify themselves as Filipino. This means that I don’t cover those bloggers who consider themselves Filipino but don’t identify themselves as such in their blogs. Partly it’s for reasons of pragmatism. How would I be able to tell a blogger was Filipino if they didn’t tell me they were? It’s not like I could tell just by sight, since someone who calls themself Filipino could very well be mistaken for Chinese, Indonesian, or another ethnic group. And not all bloggers put up pictures of themselves in the first place. Sure, I know some bloggers that don’t mention being Filipino, but not enough to be able to base a research project on them. At least, not according to how I’ve designed the project; I can think of several ways you can conduct a project by just studying a couple of people or even just one person, but I’m not interested in the questions that only that type of research can answer.

I’m also relying on self-identification because I don’t want to impose my own definition of “Filipino” on the people I’m studying. Identity isn’t something that’s already there, but instead something that people actively create. No one is born Filipino, they’re raised that way. “Filipino” is a label that a bunch of people have decided to share, but it’s not some eternal and unchanging category like solid, liquid, and gas. It’s a label that has had different meanings at different times. Not even Filipinos have always been Filipinos — “Filipino” used to only refer to Spanish people born in the Philippines, or what are known as criollos or creoles in other parts of the colonized world. If I try and impose my definition of Filipino on the world, then I’ll be trying to set in stone what has always been in motion, rather like trying to put the wind in a box. It’s not the wind if it’s no longer moving, it’s just empty air. Would I then be studying Filipino bloggers, or would I be studying my definition of Filipino bloggers?

You see? It’s tough work having to think about this all the time.

Nationalism and its discontents

I’ve just come across this article about the University of the Philippines Open University’s course, Filipiniana Online, which from what I gather is a sort of quick immersion in Philippine “culture”. There are several things I find interesting about this course.

First, the course seems to define culture as art: the student studies, among other things, “Filipino paintings and other forms of visual arts . . . Philippine rituals, dances, musical forms, plays and films.” Well and good, but the implicit message is that culture is superficial. How much of daily life do you spend dancing or watching films? Not a lot, so this culture as art idea seems to be saying that Philippine culture is just something Filipinos indulge in every now and then, but it otherwise doesn’t impact their everyday lives.

The course also seems to define culture as being prestigious. Notice that tv shows aren’t mentioned, and I suspect the films being reviewed are serious stuff like Lino Brocka’s work and not trashy like, say, Darna. Wouldn’t the stuff with popular appeal impact on more people, and therefore reflect the concerns of more Filipinos than high-minded artistic fare? If the purpose of the course is to understand the Philippines, you would think understanding the vast majority of Filipinos would be a very high goal.

The course also focuses on the spectacular instead of the everyday. Dances and plays are certainly nice to watch and participate in, but as I said, they don’t really influence that many Filipinos and aren’t a concern for most. Filipinos in the Philippines, ask yourselves this, when was the last time you danced the tinikling? Probably when you were still kids in school, right? Now, when was the last time you sent a text message? The Philippines has been claimed by some to be the most texting-crazy country in the world. I would argue that studying the use of texting in the Philippines would give someone a greater understanding of Filipinos than studying any number of dances would. The same for studying the demographic composition of the Philippines or the way social class works in the country (for example, how most middle class Filipinos have maids, and how that is not the same among the middle class in, say, Australia). However, if you define culture as being spectacular, then this kind of stuff would not apply, since it is just the boring everyday stuff which also happens to be the stuff that most Filipinos deal with everyday.

Having said all that, I wouldn’t mind enrolling in the course if I had the time. I certainly have the money, which is no small thing when you consider that quite a lot of Filipinos in the Philippines don’t. I’m curious to see exactly what this course would say about the Philippines. Would the course mention that Emilio Aguinaldo, the official first president of the Philippines, had his rival Andres Bonifacio shot because of Bonifacio’s popular appeal despite the fact that they were both supposed to be on the same side? Would it also mention that Aguinaldo collaborated with the Japanese during the occupation of the Philippines in the Second World War?

I’m not trying to be overly critical of the Philippines, I’m just pointing out that all countries have things they shouldn’t be proud of, and I wonder whether the course would take this harsh realist approach instead of the nationalist rhapsodizing that I expect.

Still, this kind of whitewashing should be placed in its context. The Philippines is a country of multiple languages, ethnicities, and religions. It doesn’t fit too well into the ideal of “one country, one people” that nation-states aspire to. It’s a lot harder to sustain the fiction of a Philippine nation when there are so many obvious divisions within the population, and the constant efforts by the Philippine nation-state and its intellectuals to promote the Philippines should be understandable from this perspective. To put it simply, Filipinos have to be constantly reminded that the Philippines exists because they get so many reminders everyday that it doesn’t.

The focus of the course on traditional dances and such reminds me of how the Germans invented Germany. What we know as Germany today was divided into several different principalities, kingdoms, bishoprics, and city-states until the middle of the 19th century. Sure, the people all spoke the same language (in the same way that Scottish people and Texans speak the same language, i.e., with varying degrees of intelligibility), but they had different rulers, somewhat different customs, and even different religions. “Germany” was a mishmash of different peoples. However, once German unification started, the commonalities between these different peoples also started to be highlighted. One of these projects of cultural unification involved the collection of folk tales. “See, Germans, this is something we all have in common — Hansel and Gretel, Rumpelstiltskin, the Pied Piper of Hamlin.” That was part of what the project was saying. The collection of folk tales was one of the ways in which the German Volk was constructed, the German people. And we see the same process taking place in the Philippines with the Filipiniana Online course today.

Anyway, I have more critical analyses of this Filipiniana Online course, but they’ll have to wait for another day.