"American government is a deviant subculture."

Let us suppose that I am back at my home on a mountain top in California, USA, never having traveled to the Philippines, and ran across a blog by a Filipino criticizing US government, social institutions and culture. Say he lived down in the valley below, a permanent resident of the US. What would I think? What would I feel?

I suppose it would depend on what he said and how he said it. I could get angry or be impressed. Ha! Or be bored.
Here are some common reactions that I deal with as the outsider in the Philippines:
  • Case A: “Why you ungrateful jerk, you are here living in our house and you have the audacity to criticize us!”
  • Case B: “Wow, that is a fresh perspective, I hadn’t thought of it from that angle.”

  • Case C: “Well, Joe, I think you may have missed that in the Philippines (explanation of what I got wrong)  . . .”
  • Case D: “You know the United States is pretty messed up, too, so you shouldn’t rag on us.”
Case A usually comes from older people with a lot of pride, with a lot of themselves invested in the Philippines. Case B usually comes from people who have spent time outside the Philippines or are extraordinarily open-minded. Case C usually comes from people who are not threatened by an American and recognize my experience is limited. And Case D usually come from irritated younger people who get the argument away from the subject being discussed and simultaneously deliver a smack upside my head.

 My responses are something like:

  • Case A: “I live in the Philippines permanently and the only difference between you and me is a piece of paper.”
  • Case B: “Thank you! Glad you appreciated it.”
  • Case C: “Ahh, thanks. I’ll correct my observations to take that into account..”
  • Case D: “Yes, there is a lot to criticize about the U.S. But my interest is building a progressive Philippines, where I live.  The issue at hand is . . .”
This blog will lay to rest where I stand about the United States. Then we can put it aside. I am writing about the Philippines and that is that.
I love my old homeland. She treated me well. I was lucky to be given great parents who were not rich but had jobs (my Dad once worked three jobs at once), gave their kids everything including discipline, good brains and the drive to excel; I was blessed with a fine school system, lots of games at which I excelled thanks to my Mom’s athleticism, and all the opportunity in the world.
My nation is well-principled. When she loses her way now and then she comes back straight and true, to the middle path, a testament to the earnest desires of the people for prosperity, freedom, health, fairness and kindness. Government is a process of tensions, forces, one playing against the other.
The social norms are shaped by strong arguments. One is being played out now regarding immigration from Mexico. The arguments are often carried out in the courtrooms which for the most part are impeccable places  – quick, fair and intelligent – to judge right and wrong under established written and case law. So social norms change and are kept up-to-date with new knowledge. Laws and courts do a good job of protecting American residents, no matter their race, religion, gender or age.
Some Filipinos argue that the US is a warmonger or imperialist nation. She is neither. She is a confident and overbearing pursuer of her own interests and ideals and often is relied upon by other countries that need protection from outside forces. The “warmonger and imperialist” criticisms are levied by people who do not have to deal with America’s risks or aspirations; they are in an armchair looking at the game from a camera that gives a very narrow view; they are not on the field, experiencing it fully.
 I view America’s international engagements as under control, highly principled and responsible under President Obama. It’s a tricky business as the Philippines is learning regarding Scarborough Shoal and the Spratleys. U.S. international relations were horrifying under President Bush. So is terrorism.
American technical achievements are amazing. Many of the people pushing them are born outside of America, but American wealth and industrial drive gives them a place to thrive.
America is doing a poor job on three main fronts: (1) Fighting her own poverty and the disenfranchisement that it represents, (2) engaging in rabid over-consumption and commercialization with too little regard for impacts on global resources or climate, and (3) fostering an acrimonious political environment pushing power to the extremes and risking economic collapse or social chaos.
My angerometer occasionally runs high on all three matters, but it is not particularly relevant to the Philippine condition, so I don’t belabor it here.
One of my favorite news publications is The Atlantic. The opinion columns are generally deeper and richer than in mainstream newspapers. James Fallows, who penned the famous article on the Philippines a few years back that brought the term “onion skin” to the forefront, writes for The Atlantic.
Well, last week, The Atlantic fired off another superb commentary, this time by Philip K. Howard, a lawyer, author and chair of Common Good.
His opening lines set up the rest of the critique:
  • “A deviant subculture is defined by sociologist Anthony Giddens as one “whose members have values which differ substantially from those of the majority in a society. . . . American government is a deviant subculture. “
So if you think Philippine Governance is flawed, YOU AIN’T SEEN NOTHING YET. It is calm and constructive compared to that pit of dysfunction, that deviant subculture, of American Government.
If you want to join in a highly articulate criticism of America, please read the article. It is a classic. I wholeheartedly share the views expressed by Mr. Howard.
34 Responses to “"American government is a deviant subculture."”
  1. Anonymous says:

    "She was the song of my dark hour."-from America is in the Heart by Carlos Bulosan-Sleepless in Seattle

  2. Edgar Lores says:

    Joe, Reviewing my input I think I'm Cases B, C and D all rolled into one! What does that make me? A guy suffering DID with a sensayuma?Be assured I'll never be Case A.

  3. You may not like the distinction I assign you, but I fear that makes you fairly normal. You should see me bristle when people criticize the U.S. in ways I think are short-sighted. Maybe we'll get into a knock-down drag-out on one of your "D" remarks one of these days, eh? That would be fun.Why do I think I'd lose?

  4. Anonymous says:

    Whenever I go around Asia, say Hong Kong or Singapore, the only news I ever see about the Philippines on most local media is about:PovertyCapital CrimeDomestic HelpersRelgious Zealots doing weird thingsCalamityJust a few weeks ago, the Philippines was featured on a prominent Hong Kong newspaper saying that our Illegal Gun Trade is flourishing thanks to the upcoming local elections. It would seem that the black market gun makers CAN'T KEEP UP WITH DEMAND. Prior to that, there were stories of domestic helpers turning to the sex trade to augment their income. Another article highlighted OFWs tendency to loan money willy nilly, losing all their life savings because of loan sharks and abusive fellow OFWs and family.Here's my point:I started getting this horrible impression (especially in extended stays abroad) that the Philippines is merely a: Dirt poor, crime-ridden, typhoon-prone country run mostly by religious fanatics.Not a pretty picture.Will issuing persona-non-gratas, sending out death threats, bad viral marketing really change how other countries perceive us?What ever can we do, Joe?-patrioticflip

  5. I think you'd find most in the U.S. have a similar negative view. I've dedicated almost 400 blogs to the topic and it mostly deals with what I said in a recent blog that the bottom line on poverty rests with parents. And the need to be responsible. Well, this also applies to the leaders. I believe Mr. Aquino is striving to change things within the Philippines. The RH Bill is a classic test of whether the nation is enlightened enough to move away from its sordid past. It is the Catholic Church vs. the UN, WHO, Human Rights Watch, 20 department heads that deal with poverty, women's groups and just about anybody who sees rampant birthing as unsustainable. If the Church wins, then the Philippines is confirmed to be stuck in values that won't allow people to excel. Lose lose for the nation.So I'd say if you want step one, make sure your legislators know that this is a Philippine turning point. Or not . . .

  6. Anonymous says:

    From: Island jim-e (aka: The Cricket)1. Hope you have a nice vacation time, look forward to your return epics-pre-quils, sequils, etc..2. As regards "turn-overs", "over-turners", "turning-points"– and the "PH-legislators" (aka: mis-managers,mis-legislators, mis-takes) my "island princess"-wife is of the opionion that they are part ofthe problem-like the church- and not part of thesolution! They waste time while stuffing their ownpockets/egos, etc…showboating, flaunting, puffing, and need to be replaced (example: they have refused to face up and deal with a simple national "plumbing problem/issue"for too many years!). Perhaps they even contributed to global warming by putting out toomuch hot air and political-bio-gas!3. As regards a few more items to add to the list of national "failures" (disapointmets/deficiencies)both the USah and the PH swamp–makers need to attend tobuilding more hydro-electric dams, flood control andrelated infastructure, deal with crime and the drug issues, construct a transportation grid system of light and heavy rail fast-track-systems interconnected with a master express-way program. Lastly, but far from least, start now tobuild a "coastal fortress fortification master plan" to addressflooding, storms, ocean surge, and the coming ocean sea-level rise! The challenge to prevent/address proverty by puttingpeople to work in construction of these needed improvements byboth nations will go a long way to improving civilization and providing solutions to mutual problems/crisis/issues!Chirp!

  7. Thanks for the good wishes, Jim-e. Yes, the challenges are enormous, so is the lack of humility. The posturing would be fine if it were attached to solution and accomplishment, but it is not. That makes it strange, indeed. Absurd, Kafka would say.

  8. Anonymous says:

    Well, one thing good about America is the 2-party system; the deviant part, I think, are extreme manifestations of, let's say, the extreme Right in Bush's Iraq war-mongering. In the Philippines, we have "Balimbings", no true parties or platforms in the mold of Republicans and Democrats. Some say we're a young democracy, haven't had one bloody cleansing revolution, we'll get there just you watch. But hey, look at the waste, the carnage left by Marcos, Cory, Ramos, Erap, Gloria…DocB

  9. Yes, I'm not sure of the foundations of Philippine political parties. They seem to have general ideologies, left or right, but are more a concoction of horse trading to see who can put together the most powerful bloc. I really don't have a good grasp of it. American partisanship has gotten harder and harder, so people are posturing rather than working. In that, the Philippines and U.S. seem similar.

  10. Edgar Lores says:

    1. If you know that America the Beautiful is the North Star, why bristle? I've always faced – no, that is not true – I attempt to face criticism with an open mind. I ask myself, is the criticism true or not? If true, then I have to do something about it, like change myself or accept the truth. If false, what does it matter? Let people stew in their ignorance. Or, if you must and they are not beyond hope, then turn them to the light with Reason, not with Anger.2. Indeed, America is the Lodestar. Its ideals of government as embodied in the Declaration of Independence, in the Gettysburg Address, are the most enlightened and eloquent expressions of the political goals that mankind must aspire to. Its missions into space may be the saving of us all. Who knows but that we are the seed race that will populate the Milky Way? Yes, today Mars; tomorrow the Universe! (But first let us settle or accept our differences.)3. My criticism of anything is, I trust, founded on good faith (Sartre). It is with the hope that men of good will can sit down, reason with one another, and arrive at epiphanies.4. Why would you lose? I am puzzled.5. Have a good break. Even in retirement, one must retire.

  11. Anonymous says:

    PatrioticflipI think if you look at different angle for a moment, you will be able to see some good development in the Philippines. Joe's view in his reply to you is something we really have to focus on. Responsible parenting is a big word, perhaps mostly of us doesnt comeprehend. Read more of Joe the smartass then you will know what I am talking aboutWhat we realy can do to our coutry is to teach our children how to become a responsible citizen. Have you heard of the two pilipino pliers?Its Jack

  12. Anonymous says:

    Well, we used to have two party system, the Liberal and the Nationalista Party. Now we have all kind party representing different political interest, its more like a cocktail party where Joe calls it a horse trading.We need to simplify the party system. Creating those party representation of many many diffrent sectors of industry like jeepney drivers etc (cocktail party and horse trading)is diluting the ability to govern. Its Jack

  13. Anonymous says:

    Hey Joe, no offense; I just like that word smartass, it rings a bell(gong your word).Its Jack

  14. Read the Howard article too. Is it the machine or the machine operators? Over here, those who argue for charter change believe it is the machine and those who oppose it believe it is the machine operators. The thing is there is no such thing as a fool-proof machine. The machine that the US and the Philippines has is the best there is. It can do with some improvements but rebuilding it from the ground up would be foolish. If at all, the focus of setting things right has to be on the hiring process i.e. elections and appointments. Right now the electoral processes in the US are fucked. SCOTUS interpreted and expanded the scope of free speech to allow money to speak loudest. Its appointment process is also fucked. It is now based on ideological purity rather than merit. Some very strong people will have to fight very hard to set those processes right again. As to partisanship, what is happening in the US is frightening. I'm sure you've come across reports following the Sikh temple shooting in Wisconsin that the FBI identified domestic terrorism as the nation's biggest internal security threat. Those domestic terrorists are neo-nazi white supremacists who have the dumbest understanding of the US Constitution. And they are first degree relatives of Tea Partyists and religious wing-nuts who are funded and manipulated by neo-nazi white supremacists in limousines. You know the players. The divide over here is not as deep nor as serious. Over here power still changes as they did in the old days when the Democrats and the Republicans could compromise for the common good, when it was not yet a winner take all game. But what worries me is we might go down the same road as we have a weakness for aping both the good and the bad in America.“Ethics”, as the recently departed Gore Vidal wrote in an essay on Abraham Lincoln, “tends to deal with law, cause and effect, logic, empiricism” while morality is “religious-based, which means that in the name of religion [anything] could be proscribed as immoral.” That's what's happening in your neck o'd woods, that whole culture war the moral majority thing. Over here, that culture/moral war is over the RH Bill. Over there, that war started with Roe vs. Wade and it has evolved into the monster that it is now. Sometimes I'm afraid that Noynoy's Daan Matuwid might turn into a moral crusade instead of being based on ethics. If it becomes a moral crusade then we will find ourselves as deeply divided as Americans. It will be good vs evil instead of reason vs. superstition. And I'm just rambling now because that's what a certain kind of tea leaf makes me do….

  15. Anonymous says:

    Sir Joe, your assesments remind me of a similar sentiment of a former co-worker, a Russian Jew and a political emigre in America. His name is Yuri. It's all posturing in Russia Yuri confided. And comparing the country he abandoned to the country he adopted Yuri declared: Russian Social System similar to Capitalist Amerika. In Russia people exploit people; in Amerika it's the reverse…same difference Yuri expounded!-Your sleepless fan in Seattle

  16. chohalili says:

    Hi Manong Joe, I like America! I think it is the greatest thing that happened in this World, known as the "melting pot" because it is the home of people from all over the world who blend together. Everyone can have a piece of that great American Pie (love it ala mode:)) Children wear costumes, carve pumpkins, and walk around asking for candies as trick or treating (halloween) music like Bob Dylan, Crosby & Still, Nash Young in happy hippie time (acapulco gold or inducan:)) Greatest sports baseball with Joe DiMaggio and the noted Filipina New york lingerie designer Josi Natori. People from other country made it in the USA. Freedom of speech and Women's Liv movement; reform on issues as; reproductive rights, domestic violence, maternity leave, equal pay, women's suffrage and sexual violence.

  17. I bristle because I have not yet reached my Buddha-like potential, but I'm working on it. Your counsel helps. I made the "lose" comment as testament to your wisdom and intelligence. In truth, I doubt that we would ever have any conversation without both walking away winners.Yes, even retirement is hard work at times.

  18. Jack, that is a very good point. Representatives of parties seem mostly to represent themselves and their "trade of favors" buddies rather than important sectors of the nation's fabric. Like transportation workers.

  19. Sleepless, Yuri is brilliant. Maybe find out what brand of tea manuelbuencamino is drinking. Might help with the sleep.

  20. Jack, none taken, for sure.

  21. Really great insights, MB. Morality is a bitch when it becomes closed to new knowledge. And you are right, morality is plaguing both the US and Philippines right now. The directions are different, though, I think. The Philippines is struggling to throw off its bindings. The US is wrapping itself tighter.Kindly send me some of those tea leaves . . .

  22. I'd propose that American school kids read and recite your paragraph rather than the Pledge of Allegiance once a week. Congressmen, too, instead of opening with a prayer.

  23. Edgar Lores says:

    Political parties are classified Left or Right according to the political spectrum. Left usually emphasizes the community (the poor), and Right the individual (the Rich).In America, the Democrats are left of center and the Republicans right of center. I'm not sure that America has a Far Left since the defeat of the God that Failed; at the Far Right are the Tea Party (Palin, Limbaugh), Fox star, and the militias.In Australia, the Labour Party is obviously of the Left and the Liberals of the Right. There is a Green Party that is left of the Labour Party. There was a Democratic Party that was dead center, but they have disappeared. There is a lesson in this, which is perhaps that biases attract people better than reason. In the Philippines, the parties are generally right of center, are indistinguishable and are, thus, interchangeable. The term oligodemocracy is accurate, but oligotheodemocracy is better.I am not up to speed, I am not knowledgeable about representation by sector, but I believe the Bagong Alyansang Makabayan party represents the Left. The Left must be strengthened; currently they are wussies as they can be cowed by the Church as demonstrated in the withdrawal of the Anti-God Bill. Perhaps, the NPA should lay down their arms and "come to the party". If Makabayan can refashion itself to be the Labor Party, and UNO and the Liberal Party merge into one, then we would have a true 2-party system.The thing is the parties must produce manifestos of their principles, and define very clearly what they stand for, what their policies are, and what programs they will legislate and implement. Then there will be true choice, and people can vote accordingly. Not on whether a politician is a boxer, a movie star, a hot-shot reporter, or the heir of a dynasty.

  24. Edgar Lores says:

    If you're not a stinkin' intellectual, I'm not one either, much less a stinkin' sage!

  25. Anonymous says:

    @manuelbuencamino; very penetrating commentary and I'm also interested with those tea leaves although it may not cure my insomnia. Actually my inability to sleep soundly is due to the 13-hour time difference between Puget Sound and Manila. I wait for ANC news on TFC late night here in Seattle then head to work in the morning via Interstate 5 north to Bellingham near Vancouver BC in Canada and be in the office by 8am before my supervisor arrives (he's married to a Filipina). Then we discuss politics for breakfast in the office cafeteria and it'd serve me well if I'm prepared because the bossing is very interested to know from a Fil-Am up-close what's really going on in Manila!PS, We work for a Power Hydro Company and my boss wished we have all those water overflows in the rivers of the North Cascades instead so we could harness them to generate more electricity and wheel them extra power to grids in Idaho, Oregon and California! -Sleepless in Seattle

  26. Jetlag807 says:

    From differing perspectives (African/Mexican/Native-American, Union Representative & Military Veteran)… As a "minority" born & raised in the U.S., America still has a long long way to go. Just because we elected the first African American President doesn't mean things automatically changed and everything's beautiful insofar as Race Relations are concerned. Problems of Race and Bigotry, to me, are much like submerged coastal rocks or reefs. In "calm seas" (economy analogy),the rocks (reefs) are unseen to the naked eye but always present and folks tend to be careful when walking near the shore. In "stormy seas" (another analogy of the economy), the rocks (reefs) are exposed for all to see. But, even though we have a long way to go; we certainly have come a long way. The generation of my father, in their own lifetime, has experienced the pain of NOT being able vote because of their skin color to VOTING for an African President.As a former Representative of a very large Union I could plainly see how Government/s (Administrations be it Democrat or Republican) work in conjunction with powerful corporations to achieve their goals which in turn, usually spells disaster for the Membership at large. Even now, I see corporation after corporation being allowed to "relinquish" their responsibilities to their employees by turning over Pensions and/or Medical Benefits to the Government because they "risk going bankrupt" in one breath and post record quarterly profits in the next. This is nothing new. Howard Zinn's "A Peoples History of the United States" is one of the best point-by-point studies of the US/Corporate/Worker condition. Yet, by and large, the Membership and their Unions are able to make gains (as in the past) that benefit not only themselves, but end up benefiting all.As a US Military Veteran, well, that's where it gets tricky. I have never had any misconceptions as to the possible or factual reasons for our Foreign Policy. It is what it is. As Americans, we are still raised from birth to question authority but, we still follow (not the same as obey) orders. I was then and continue to be proud to have served.All 'n all, it is the PEOPLE of the United States that continues to shine through. No matter what scandal, heinous crime, shocking accident or natural disaster, we prevail. We (private citizens & government) are the ones who can look past our own problems and reach out to lend a helping hand to those in need across the globe. We are the ones who willingly fight for freedom where ever that fight may be. We are the ones who, in spite of what Rush Limbaugh may want to believe, welcome visitors and newcomers to our country with open arms… America has its fair share of problems, to be sure, but… If its that bad, why are most Americans staying IN America?

  27. oligotheodemocracy it is.Yes, well, NPA have progressed past idealism to extortion gangsterism. It is surprising there is no strong left. No Civil Liberties Union, either. In the US much social change originated in the universities where idealism pushed a leftist agenda. That seem not to be the case here. Students are taught to be cowed from the getgo perhaps.

  28. Nice characterization. Racial equality is indeed unfinished business. I like the uplifting view you have at the end.

  29. Anonymous says:

    Truly, America is the most deviant culture on Earth. Space exploration for example and sending unmanned vehicle in Mars characterized that subculture. Trying to police the world is another one. American justice system is swift and forceful who divorced herself from UK where they believed that an accused criminal is presumed guilty until proven innocent. My point is that America is a great place to live and to start a life, a universal deviation of human attitude driving American melting pot of human diversity. Yes, I agree, America has a fair share of problems, but had solved most of basic human needs, whereas in some countries like the philippines which have not yet solved the toilets problems in public schools. That is the difference and I dont want to hear that crap cited in Case D. Its Jack

  30. Anonymous says:

    Hey! not too shabby from a fellow US Military Vet, perhaps a shipmate. Its Jack

  31. Yes, America is a very special place.

  32. Jetlag807 says:

    Its possible. My first "Cruise" was aboard CVN-70 back in '83. At the time, She was the "largest moving man-made object in the world"…

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