The Virtues of Diversity and Cultural Pluralism (1)

Aurelio Solver Agcaoili
First of a Series
(An excerpt of a talk delivered at the 2012 Knights of Rizal Regional Conference in Honolulu)
My topic is borne of a continuing reflection on what I call the Philippine condition.
I look at the Philippines with fondness and nostalgia. Always.
I look at our people with delight and surprise and their capacity to endure and persevere despite the failure of government to deliver the goods of public life.
People like us who have somehow left the country, and have stayed away for a long period of time perhaps no longer understand what our compatriots go through even as they try to make sense of their everyday life.
There is much courage and boldness and daring among our people.
There is much virtue in their clinging on to dear life despite the odds they witness everyday.
No, life has not become better for many of our people.
The government statistics of the incidence of poverty has not improved much during the last ten years despite claims to the contrary.
The last time I went to the Philippines, at the height of a flood this August, people were using empty plastic containers as floats and lifesaving devices.
Think of ingenuity here.
But think as well of the failure of the state to provide even the basic necessities so that while prime lands in the central parts of our bigger cities are filled with skyscrapers, other people still live in riverbanks and at the belly of bridges.
Disparity is on the rise, and it is not going south.
It continues to become the rule of the day.
I am not going to paint a grim picture that you already know.
I am not going to deliver the message that somehow, our country has failed us.
I am going to deliver the message that somehow, the political instrument of that country, the state, has failed to deliver the common good, that fiction and reality with which we are a country after all.
The social contract is clear: that the country, through the state, should provide for the good of public life, and in return, the people should become good citizens.
So many of our people have become—and continue to become—good citizens despite the failure of good governance.
So many of our people have not abandoned their part of the contract by remaining decent and self-respecting despite the failure of the state to govern.
But how can we hold on this arrangement is something that we must wonder.
When a people have reached the limit of its tolerance, what do we expect?
I would like you to journey with me in revisiting this Philippine state and what it means to us.
I would you to journey with me in revisiting this Philippine nation, and the conception of this Philippine nation relation to the issue of diversity and pluralism.
At best, this I can say: we have a political fiction here not backed up by empirical facts.
In our attempt to get away from our colonizers, we have abandoned our contract with diversity and pluralism.
For this is what we are, indeed.
The country is made up of diverse peoples.
The country is made up of diverse languages.
The country is made up of diverse cultures.
The language count from the Ethnologue (2005) and the Central Intelligence Agency World Fact Book tells us of the kind of diversity that we are: 180 languages, and therefore, 180 cultural communities.
Before this, the Summer Institute of Linguistics reported 175 languages of the Philippines, four of these having gone extinct, thus leaving 171 others still alive and kicking, but some about to go extinct as well.
The context of the number count is clear: it gives us a measure of the richness of a country in terms of linguistic diversity, so that while some countries and continents are economically rich, these countries and continents are at the same time very poor—very poor—in linguistic diversity.
The first candidate in the list of continents poor in linguistic and cultural diversity, of course, is Europe.
While the rest of the world from Africa to Asia knows so much about what is happening to the world, some other continents so enamored by its own monolingual world just do not know what is happening elsewhere.
The phrase ‘what is happening elsewhere’ is not an innocent phrase, and it is not about news that comes to us by Tweet, or by Instagram.
It is about the substance of other people’s lives, and the concerns of communities, including their hopes for a better life.
An event of the world reduced in Twee terms is a non-event: it is just information that clutters our day.
In our quest for the diverse and the plural, that is not what we mean here.
Of the first twelve countries considered linguistically diverse, Papua New Guinea stands as number 1, with 800 languages. (The count is this: Papua New Guinea, Indonesia, Nigeria, India, USA, Mexico, Cameroon, Australia, China, Democratic Republic of Congo, Brazil, the Philippines).
The United States ranks 5th in linguistic diversity, at 311 languages, while Brazil, at 200 languages, tops the Philippines.
The Philippines, at 180 languages, ranks as the 12th linguistically diverse country.
Now, what has this linguistic diversity get to do with your conference?
What has this get to do with Rizal?
What has this get to with the Philippine condition?
(To be continued)

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