F. Sionil Jose’s Seven Deadly Sins

One might be tempted to dismiss F. Sionil Jose’s latest column article as the senile (and by now boringly repetitious) rantings of someone–a National Artist no less– who ought to know better. But name-calling won’t do, for it only bogs down the discussion. I rather find the rantings instructive. In fact, I would heartily recommend this gem of an essay to college teachers who need to introduce their students to logic and logical fallacies. This piece is full of fine specimens of flawed argumentation. Below are seven of the deadly sins (of rhetoric, that is):

  1. Hasty generalization

Jose likes to scare himself and his readers by jumping to conclusions. Midway through the article, for example, Jose refers to “some Chinese who say that, indeed, the whole of the Spratlys belong to China” (underscoring added). But by the end of his column, he has so riled himself up that he is convinced that “many of our ethnic Chinese will support mainland China” (underscoring added). Had his Editor at the Star given him a few more inches of column space, no doubt he will end up declaring that patriotic Filipinos should do something about “all” Chinese.

  1. Unfounded generalizations

Does Jose have any empirical basis to support his contention that “many of our ethnic Chinese will support mainland China”? No.

Does he cite any academic research that proves that the Chinese control 60% of the Philippine economy? No.

Does he cite any study that shows that Southeast Asia will be “sinicized” in the coming centuries? No. (There is renewed interest in Chinese culture and an awakening of ethnic consciousness if not pride among the ethnic Chinese in Southeast Asia after decades of discrimination, but this hardly amounts to “sinicization” per se of Southeast Asia. My own research suggests that urban middle- and upper-class Chinese in the mainland are becoming more like the Southeast Asian “Anglo-Chinese”, who are culturally mestizo, educated in western-style schools and brought up to speak several languages, including English.)

What does he mean by “Chinese”? Those born in China, those born in the Philippines, those with PRC citizenship, those with Philippine citizenship, those who identify themselves as “Chinese”, those who are labeled as “Chinese”, “Chinese mestizos,” “Chinese Filipinos”? No idea.

3. Argumentum ad populum

Another of Jose’s favorite rhetorical strategies is to appeal to “the people.” “Ten years ago,” he writes, “I wrote about our so-called ‘Chinese problem’ and I was immediately branded as anti-Chinese when I was just voicing the sentiments of Filipinos apprehensive that, one morning, we will wake up to find that this country is no longer ours.”

So basically, Jose responds to criticism that he is racist by saying that he is just “voicing the sentiments” of other Filipinos–not all Filipinos, mind you, just those who share his views about the “Chinese problem,” a case of preaching to the converted. Well, I’m sure Hitler felt similarly justified and self-righteous when he gave voice to his sentiments against the Jews in Mein Kampf, sentiments that were widespread among the Germans and other Europeans at the time. But just because a belief is widely held does not mean that belief is correct.

  1. Argumentum ad verecundiam

My Communications I teacher, Ma’am Evangelista, always warned us against arguing from authority. Just because someone is an authority on a topic does not mean that person is necessarily correct. But on the other hand, so-called “experts” earn the right to be called experts by studying the matter carefully, by doing extensive research, and by drawing (indeed, qualifying) their conclusions based on this research. As such, experts arguably have a far better claim to “knowing” a topic than people who are just pulling ideas out of their own asses, though the caveat remains that experts may not escape the pitfalls of faulty reasoning, groupthink, and other problems. Obviously aware that he is NOT an expert on China or Philippine-China affairs, Jose now feels the need to deploy argument from authority and therefore casts around for some “expert” he can cite to support his claims. And who does he cite? One David Archibald, a fellow at the Institute of World Politics in Washington, D.C., who predicts that there will be war by 2017. When I Googled this Archibald fellow, I found that he is a climatologist by training, NOT an expert on China or the Philippines, let alone Pacific affairs. Which is to say that he has about as much expertise on this issue as Jose does.

  1. Argumentum ad odium

Jose is more than happy to exploit and amplify existing anti-Chinese sentiments. This is not the first time Jose has been trying to incite his readers to do something about and against the “many of our ethnic Chinese [who he is sure] will side with China.” In 1999 and 2000, he published a series of newspaper articles castigating “disloyal” Chinese who remit their money to China (Jose does not distinguish between remittance and investment) and continue to be loyal to the mainland (Jose does not give any statistics to show what percentage of ethnic Chinese is “loyal” to China). In the event of anti-Chinese violence, Jose preferred to pin the blame on the “Chinese[, who] have willed it [the bloody pogrom] with their contempt for Filipinos, their continued loyalty to the Mainland.” Jose also called for putting “them all in prison camps,” seizing or freezing their assets, and treating “them as the enemy.”

6. Red herring

Jose says that the question “How will the Chinese come in the very near future” is moot because “they are already here,” an argument that slides from talking about the actions of the mainland Chinese state to talking about the actions of “ethnic Chinese” (the majority of whom are already Filipinos by birth and citizenship), as though these two can be conflated. Tons of academic research (the works of Wang Gungwu, Ien Ang, Rey Chow, Allen Chun, Tan Chee Beng, Leo Suryadinata, Aihwa Ong, and our very own Teresita Ang-See, to name a few) have shown that identification with “China” and identification of oneself as “Chinese” do not necessarily or even readily translate into identification with the state, let alone the mainland Chinese state. Studies have shown that there are many ways of being Chinese in Southeast Asia, and as the comments posted on his article show, calling oneself “Chinese” in Hong Kong, Singapore, the Philippines, etc., does not mean that one claims kinship or community with the mainland Chinese. The existence of (often negatively inflected) terms like G.I. (Genuine Intsik) and TDK (Tai-diok-a, “mainlanders”) is evidence of the fact that Chinese Filipinos tend to differentiate themselves from the Chinese in China.

What Jose really wants to say–but knows he cannot do so without inviting criticism–is that it’s bad enough that the “Chinese” already control the Philippine economy, and now “they” (ah, the beauty of vagueness!) want to occupy Philippine territory as well. This is a repackaging of the Cold War assumption that ethnic Chinese constitute a Fifth Column for the Communist Chinese state and the nationalist assumption that the ethnic Chinese cannot be “true” Filipinos unless they “assimilate” or “integrate” into Philippine society. The tricky part about this assimilation/integration imperative is that even when post-war Philippine Chinese have already made the Philippines their home, people like Jose still make an issue of their “dominance” of the economy, in effect still insisting that these Filipinos are not really Filipinos because they are Chinese. The Yuyitungs, whom Jose mentions in his column, called for integration of the Chinese and did their best to live and raise their children as Filipinos, but this did not prevent the Philippine state from having them deported to Taiwan (a country they had never been to) on account of their so-called “subversive” activities, which included publishing reportage on China and publishing newspaper articles that were mildly critical of the Philippine government.

7. Inconsistency

A favorite ploy of racists is to declare that they cannot be racist because: a) they have friends among the reviled group; and/or b) they themselves are descended from these reviled people. Philippine history (see the works of Edgar Wickberg, Filomeno Aguilar, Jr., and Megan Thomas) tells us that Chinese mestizos were some of the most virulently anti-Chinese among Filipinos. Rizal himself was not exempt.

*   *   *   *   *

The mark of a great writer is his or her capacity for empathy, the ability to put oneself in another’s shoes, to imagine what the other person is thinking and feeling and understand why the person thinks or behaves in a certain way under specific circumstances. None of this empathy is in evidence in Jose’s latest work (and this from a man who gave Philippine literature a nuanced portrait of the Chinese mestizo in Sherds). No hindsight here, just scare tactics buttressed by plenty of fallacies. A college freshman might have written a better essay.

Originally posted in Letters to Narcissus.

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