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The Problem Of Aggression

With a psychological background marked by dependency, enveloping affectional ties, suppression of feelings, awe for authority, denial of personal wishes in the interest of family and group, the Filipino finds power a naturally attractive alternative. Adding impetus to this desire is the impelling prospect of economic plenty, a dream that he has nurtured through centuries of foreign political domination. At this time of his history, he finds the expression of his energies being gradually defined in terms of those modern goals: money and power.

Both goals demand for their realization the mobilization of one’s aggressive drive and/or its derivatives. Each requires mastery of interpersonal skills, more so with power than with money. An economic enterprise, to be successful, should influence or control at times in indirect but effective ways the next person’s psyches. In the exercise of power, the effects are brought to bear more directly on the interpersonal encounter and on the other person.

Who is to dispute the Filipino’s long period of apprenticeship in the art and skill of the interpersonal encounter? His specialty, in particular, is that of the vertical orientation, of which he has been witness and participant in his family and society.

Ruesch (1961) remarks: “Some life experiences sensitize an individual to perceive and evaluate the other person’s status. Perception of status superiority in terms of age, seniority, skill, achievement, success, affection, or wealth is essentially a duplication of the child’s view of his parents; after all, they have more power than he has and they can help when need arises.” From such experiences, he notes the development of two character features: dominance-submission on the one hand, and nurturance-dependency on the other.

Bateson (1942), in his study of cultural character, calls attention to the presence of these bipolar patterns within the individual. If we know that an individual is trained in overt expression of one-half of one of these patterns, e.g., in dominance behavior, we can predict with certainty (though not in precise language) that the seeds of the other-submission are simultaneously sown in his personality. We have to think of the individual, in fact, as trained in dominance-submission, not in either dominance or submission.

With such an early installation of a “will to power,” what cultural practices have stifled its successful expression? There are many, which may be subsumed under two headings: the need to be loved and a propensity to guilt. In the ultimate analysis, the second is actually an offshoot of the first.

The need to be loved is synonymous with the fear of rejection. Its principal rule is not to offend and therefore its first requirement is to be sensitive to the reactions of others. Its greatest drawback is found in the very intensity of this need, the fulfillment of which becomes the basis of the person’s self-esteem. Because of its crucial importance, it becomes over-valued and highly guarded. The need to be loved by others then becomes fused with the love for oneself.

In the culture, the traditions of pakikisama, hiya, lacing na bob, delicadeza, mapagbigay, makiramay, pagtitiis, pagtitimpi (to go along with, to feel shame, to be grateful, to be cautious, to be generous, to share, to endure, and to suppress) have been highly valued as instruments with which one may make himself loved. At the same time, one can see that they all tend to place the individual’s aggressive impulses in a disadvantageous position, blocking their release and limiting their expression.

The compromise is to have love and power. To be able to employ the above cultural instruments and at the same time maneuver himself into a position of advantage is the epitome of emotional bliss for the Filipino. It is not surprising that the ego- ideal for the culture is the person who combines both. The charismatic politician with his ardent followers; the benevolent patriarch of the family compound; the supervisor, administrator, professor or dean who wields power with one hand and dispenses and receives affection with the other—their success is an effective blend of both means and ends. (In this respect, the Filipino woman, if she wishes, can work out the problem very well. She combines the work of running the home and holding office with equally successful results. The “mother-figure” in every organization of Filipino women repeats the love-and-power position of the mothere at the head of the family to an even greater and more satisfying magnitude.)

Ignoring for the moment personal and individual psychological motivations, there are enough forces at this time in the Filipino society and culture to create an incompatibility between power and love.

The most obvious and potent one is the push towards economic advancement. Its greatest effect is that of bringing out into the open the Filipino’s innate potential and capacity for competitiveness. (By innate, I refer to exposure in early childhood to the experience of being compared to the others, being discriminated against or favored.) In this respect, Filipinos compete to win or lose. The pleasure derived from playing the game eludes them. Even in a sport like golf, which is essentially played against oneself, he is likely to place money bets to whet his competitive appetite.

Such potential for competitiveness, combined with the limited number of available opportunities, makes it well-nigh imperative for one who wants to advance himself to resort to more expedient, even if drastic, methods. Power is the answer. And fired by a fiercely competitive spirit, power cannot afford to be impeded by considerations of love.

Reliance on the power one has is preferable; to count on affectional ties with persons who have power is less predictable. The instruments of power often lie in the realm of the material and ate therefore more controllable.

As already pointed out by social scientists in the Philippines, the ethos of an industrialized, technological society are incompatible with many existing traditional cultural values. Many of these values will either have to be modified or to be eschewed completely, in the service of the new ethos. And of these values, the first ones getting the axe ate those having to do with affective interpersonal ties.

Perhaps the value held on to with much zealousness is still, despite all, the sense of belonging to one’s parents, spouse, and children and to a lesser extent, to one’s siblings. The Filipino affluent businessman or powerful politician who epitomizes success in the pursuit of money and power brings his family with him to these heights. The politician does this perhaps partly for public image purposes. The Filipino businessman accumulates money to open more prestigious doors for his family and, through proper connections, preserve the family’s wealth. One does not see a Filipino businessman living alone, isolated from his grownup children, eating hamburgers in solitude in the park or secluding himself in legendary anonymity away from society. In the Philippines, the whole family shares in utilizing the power and money to their full advantage within full knowledge and view of the public.

It is in the middle class where economic necessity separates members of a once solidly united family from one another. Not only are some members moving to Manila away from the rest, but no longer do they feel exclusively and totally responsible for the welfare of parents and other members. They feel less and less compelled to help relatives who are “less fortunate.” They have internalized the concept of individual effort. As they say in Tagalog, kanya-kanyang kayod (Each to his own grind). An increasing number of professional sons and daughters are going abroad, studying, working, and marrying there, with some finally deciding to permanently reside there. With the high standard of living abroad, they can hardly afford to be over-generous in taking care of relatives left behind. Talking to some of these people one often gets a wry, if somewhat sad, remark: “Relatives in the Philippines think I am making a mint over here. I am afraid to go home because they expect me to be a Santa Claus.” As this problem of dissolution of family ties continues and increases in proportion, one cannot help but view with apprehension the future of elder members of the society. With their security and stability greatly reduced by family break-ups, where will they turn to for emotional support?

The old value of loyalty to friends and a feeling of obligation to help them has undergone considerable mutation. (Nowhere is this depicted so clearly as in political affiliations.) Socialization in urban Manila partakes more and more of the nature of projects for announcing prestige and for acquiring connections. The old greeting of, “To which family do you belong?” has acquired the new dimension, subtly expressed, of, “Is your family one with money or influence, perhaps?”

A person moving away from the confines of family security and the limitations set by time-honored traditional interpersonal practices is developing and discovering heretofore unsuspected capacities in himself. He is increasing his facility for verbal communication. While he still has strides to make to approximate the bumptiousness of the American, he has already begun to open up, and it is to his advantage that he has a working knowledge of English. However, his tendency to keep silent during difficult moments sometimes works to his disadvantage. But as one young Filipino student abroad put it: “We are past the smiling stage; we know when to use dialogue and when not to.”

Guilt, however; remains a big problem. This is the other impediment to a successful implementation of his assertive and aggressive drives. Guilt in the context of the Filipino’s psychology is synonymous with blame. This explains his great reluctance in many situations to summon and harness initiative, to commit himself to a project, and assume responsibility for consequences. “Bahala na’ is widely used, but equally, if not more so, is, “Bahala ka” (You are responsible). People say this in nearly every situation where there should be, ideally, joint responsibility. Husbands say it to wives and vice versa in deciding how children should be raised. Asked why silence is maintained in situations where speaking up could help another person obviously in trouble, the reason given is: “I don’t want to be blamed.” The experiences of rural workers are replete with anecdotes reflecting this refusal to assume sole and exclusive responsibility for an act, much less a project. There is more cooperative response from people if the project is carried out in groups, with shared responsibility.

It is not difficult to document the high prevalence of “blaming” in the Filipino culture. What is more elusive of clarification are the reasons behind this phenomenon and their relation to the formation of guilt. Some of the factors involved in these two issues have been discussed in the chapter on psychodynamics. The culture-bound factors which give “blaming” such widespread use and acceptance have still to be brought to light and identified.

Perhaps the behavioral scientist working with Filipino culture can explicate what kind of world view engenders a propensity for “blaming.” Might it be one which believes that man’s fate is never in his own hands but in outside forces? He, then, is never responsible for what happens to him. Members of a society which subscribe to that notion will always attempt to define and localize the blame outside of the self. Does such a world view further assume that whoever (or whatever) is out there who determines fate is hostile, threatening, or unkind? Such an attitude would conceivably filter down to involve other people, one’s neighbors, strangers, and even one’s friends.

Is blaming utilized by the culture as another form of social control to discourage those who may become too aggressive or ambitious? In this case, blaming would then be a force to maintain equality among members of a group; it would serve as a threat to those who openly seek a position of power and advantage, since responsibility, which is considered unenviable, would fall on his shoulders.

As a psychiatrist, I feel that whatever social and cultural explanations are given for blaming or blame-shifting, the factor of hostility and aggression implicit in the process will have to be reckoned with. I see blaming primarily as a vehicle for release of hostile thoughts and impulses. The accusing finger is never loving or benevolent. In individual patients in this study, it was experienced and perceived more as smearing and defacing. In group dynamics, concerted action to localize blame has the added assurance of shared responsibility for the hostile act of blaming. Thus, when the Filipino who is blamed turns to his accuser and confronts him with, “Is it true—are you the one blaming me?” the accuser will nearly always deny that he is alone in the hostile allegation and will point to others as supporters of the same opinion.

One is forced to retrace this overload of hostility and aggression back to its origins. Its psychological beginnings were discussed in connection with the dynamics of the emotional conflicts of patients in this study. Cultural factors contributing to their genesis and sanctioning their impulsive release have still to be identified and analyzed. Among the possible cultural patterns likely to be involved are the very same ones which emphasize suppression and repression of assertive and aggressive impulses. By continuously straining to avoid confrontation, the person accumulates a reservoir of such impulses with increasing tenuousness of controls. Of such patterns, particular attention must be given to those which tread upon the individual’s self-esteem, which is then sacrificed in consideration of other people’s interests. In a society which pays homage to status and rank and, at the same time in other guises, thwarts the individuals’ attempts to enhance himself, resentment and hostility will surely be rife. Compounding the problem is the general agitation from economic competition, pushing the individual to more aggressive activity while allowing only a few to find room in the upper ranks.

Other cultural habits such as a teasing and shaming, which have a way of choosing as their target those areas where it hurts most, have to be studied, not as forms of social control, but as instruments for provoking rage and impulse release. One interesting area of study would be that of the Filipino’s sense of humor. I have often felt that this humor is a vehicle for lively sadistic impulses. One type especially delights in that which deals blows at body image; the humor is dispensed persistently and irritatingly. The target usually ends up angry or enraged. Sex jokes are very common eve in mixed company and thoroughly enjoyed by both sexes s, a though the jokes may be coarse and leave nothing to the imagination.

Finally, the manifestation of guilt is regarded as the only human and acceptable reaction to unacceptable acts of aggression. In such a study, the cultural contributions to the formation of conscience will have to be dissected. The question of the Filipino’s capacity to feel guilt has been debated by observers and students of his culture and behavior. Social scientists, psychologists, journalists, and civic leaders have the impression that he feels troubled about any wrongdoing he commits only when caught. Whenever he feels he can safely get away with violation of a rule, he would not hesitate to break it. If caught, he can resort to other mechanisms to avoid suffering the consequences of his acts. Privately, he has many devices to ease his conscience, if he has one.

The emotionally disturbed Filipino demonstrates a capacity for feeling guilt. Like his better adjusted countryman, he tries to avoid being confronted with it; but unlike him, he has not quite succeeded in escaping it. Inundation with guilt, for some Filipino patients in this study, spelled emotional disaster.

To the Filipino who is unaffected by guilt, there are a number of mechanisms available in the culture to help him continue avoidance of guilt. For one thing, there is the cultural sanction for the use of awa (pity) to relieve the person of any burdensome guilt feelings. Provided he throws himself at the mercy of the aggrieved, and go through a period of being contrite and repentant, forgiveness will surely come and guilt will not stay very long. Lately, he does not even have to resort to this. The exercise of power finds a way to protect, rationalize, and justify his ill-controlled aggressive acts. (Such inconsistencies in cultural reactions to impulsive release of harmful aggression are the counterpart of the “super-ego lacunae” in psychoanalysis [individual conscience or cultural conscience which does not maintain a consistent, predictable attitude towards the aggressor.)

In this connection, one notes that the culture abets and supports the trait of being clever, smart, quick to put one over others (listo, mabilis). The antithesis: slow-footed, dumb (tanga, mahina) is severely disparaging. Even small children know this, especially in rural areas where economics is an urgent issue. In such situations, getting caught is a sign of stupidity. Young men are also often enjoined when they are out to play around with a girl, “Go ahead, but be sure you know how to get Out. At any rate, don’t get caught.”

The hypothesis proposed here is that there is in Filipinos a problem with hostility and aggression to the extent that:

1. They have great difficulty regulating its expression — there is on one hand great suppression and on the other, release through impulsive discharge;

2. There is guilt over the harboring of such hostile and aggressive impulses; and

3. The guilt is dissipated through blaming and blame-shifting, which at the same time affords release of hostile impulses. Thus, the issue of guilt has been successfully beclouded by the abundance of cultural mechanisms which enable Filipinos to escape being confronted with it. Meanwhile, blame continues to make the rounds.


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