Almost everywhere I look, I seem to sense a clash of ideas and opinions about a lot of things. In the US, there is a war of values about practically everything. In politics, religion, morals, etc., both the conservatives and the liberals are fighting for dominance as each side tries to win elections and approval so they can shape their society’s agenda towards the future.
Culture wars are when people of contrasting beliefs debate, argue and try to gain political power and cultural dominance in the hope of shaping society’s mores and laws to conform to their own set of values.
In the Philippines, the same thing is happening. There are culture wars being fought in many areas even if some have just started and their intensity is more subdued, at least compared to other countries. Let’s look at some of them.
Religion is a battlefield. This is a wide area where many contentious issues are being fought right now and will be fought even more fiercely in the immediate future.
Firstly, there is a silent competition that has been going on for sometime now between the Catholic Church and the Born Again evangelicals with many Catholics moving away from their Mother Church and joining different Christian congregations. One might say it is a low- intensity conflict but it often erupts when fanatics on both sides try to argue their positions.
There has also been an ongoing very noisy war over the issue of reproductive health which has spilled not just in social media but also in the streets and even inside the church itself. The conservative elements of the society are predictably anti-RH while a great number of citizens and even the President himself are for the RH law. Issues relating to contraception and sex education continue to be fought as we speak. Recently, the anti-RH people filed a TRO against the holding of an international convention on reproductive health in Manila. The courts threw out their appeal.
I am sure even more battles will inevitably be fought over other issues like divorce, acceptance of gay rights including gay marriage, and I will not be surprised if sooner or later it will even extend to abortion rights.
It is interesting to note that within the conservative Philippine church, many sense a reluctance among our bishops to follow or fall in line with the pronouncements of the more liberal Pope Francis on various issues. Many in the clergy seem intractably entrenched in old dogmatic positions. Even the Pope’s austere lifestyle and his views criticizing careerism, materialism among the clergy seem to go directly against the lavish lifestyles and practices of many church leaders. After all, some of these Princes of the Church have not only been enjoying the material trappings brought about by their religious power and influence but have also gotten used to entitlements coming from government and some officials.
Another culture war is being fought over politics and the economy. These are big items where the busiest, most vicious battles are being fought everyday.
Although we are a professed democracy, our leaders have mostly come from within the elite. Dynasties have ruled the political landscape for ages now. But now more than ever, the move towards reform and full democratization is real and more citizen participation in governance is really gaining traction. This, of course, is a direct challenge to dynasties, the elite and the protectors of the status quo.
President Aquino’s reforms, which include decisive steps he has taken against corruption, are already adversely affecting some institutions and a few powerful people. These and other steps towards the leveling of the playing field in many areas of our economic and social life are popular with a majority of people. For the first time, the political status quo is being shaken in quite significant ways.
In the ’80s after EDSA 1, when changes were instituted, the status quo hit back by staging coup after coup against the government though always unsuccessfully. These days, there is definitely more political stability. The shooting war has become a culture war and is being fought between the reformists on the one hand who want a more open, inclusive, just and functioning society against those who continue to benefit from the old way of doing things amid a corrupt system we have been suffering under through the years.
Issues such as corruption, the delivery of justice, PDAF, DAP, FOI, the present anti-cybercrime law, economic reform, taxation inclusive growth, the peace process, etc. are just a few lines drawn on the sand. And even if the President is not always on stream with the more progressive sectors, he is generally seen as an ally of the reform constituency.
The pressures of climate change bearing down on everyone will soon eclipse many issues as storms, typhoons, etc. become more severe and more people are affected everywhere. After all, the weather affects everyone, rich and poor alike.
The culture wars in the Philippines are being fought in many fronts and in varying degrees. In the sexual arena, save for the topic of contraception, the conflicts are actually still relatively quite muted. That’s because we, as a people have already been quite accepting of LGBTs and so this is not as big a deal as it is in the US. We hardly hear of hate crimes committed against them.
By the measurement of the UN, Philippine society ranks high in women empowerment. And while we do not generally discuss sex as openly as say, the Americans, we have become more open and accepting of unwed mothers, pre-marital sex, separations, etc. in our society.
There are other potential issues that may erupt as full blown culture wars in the future and some of them may actually be about culture. They may seem small and insignificant but they can potential become big. There is the issue of OPM vs foreign music which will be fought in media, on stages and theaters across the country. The emergence of alternative cinema is a welcome addition to the cultural dreariness of commercial cinema. I sincerely hope the movement for better, truer, more commercially independent films becomes a dominant force in the near future.
The last culture war I wish to point out is the one that will dominate the scene in the coming years. It will be all about modernization of almost all aspects of our socio-political and economic lives; how much of it we want, what direction we want to go and how fast we want the pace to be.
PNoy’s Tuwid na Daan may still turn out to be a major impetus towards the start a real modernization movement. Try to imagine the pay-offs that K-12, the peace process, the taming of corruption, openness, transparency and greater citizen participation will have on our society. And the way we are easily adapting to social media and technology is certainly not a hindrance but a big component of modernization itself. Very soon, social media will make it very simple to get national consensus on issues much faster.
Even the tiny improvements on weather forecasting have started to pay some dividends even if we are far from state of the art in weather prediction. Our calamity preparedness and saving lives and property have greatly improved, if the UN is to be believed.
Culture wars release pent up energy and new imaginings of what a nation can be. I am hopeful that many times they result in good things .
I leave you with a quote from American writer Terrence McKenna which goes, “The imagination is the goal of history. I see culture as an effort to literally realize our collective dreams.”
By all means, let’s expound on our ideas and push for values we think will be good for the nation. Let the culture wars continue!