The Social Theory of Everything

narra residence hall

It’s gone now–Narra Ressidence Hall, the university dormitory where I stayed  while I was at UP Diliman doing my undergraduate degree.  I chose UP partly because of my father’s encouragement.  He wanted me to become a scholar and continue his unfinished work on the sociology of poverty.  He chose marriage over graduate studies; he was not able to pursue his academic interest.  Like my father, I was interested to know more about poverty, but I wanted to study something bigger and grander.  Right after high school, I began wondering about chaos and order–why there were problems around me and what should be their solutions.  It was at Narra where I began working on my theory.

They say UP Diliman is a macrocosm of Philippine society.  I can’t really say it was during my time, considering the numbers of rich kids around and the arrays of cars in the parking lots.  The chic coños outnumbered the class-conscious activists.  The rest were nonchalant and middle class.  UP, as a whole, was not University of the Poor.  Narra, however, was different.  It was noisy,  busy, and crazy.   It was a perfect fit to what was the Philippines then–still unpredictably chaotic after decades of Martial Law and years of failed military coups d’état that followed.  It seemed to me that the poorest and the most rambunctious male students of UP Diliman stayed in that dormitory, where chaos ruled and order became noticeable only when nobody was awake.  Loud arguments happened inside the rooms and in the open hallways we called “bridge”.  Every issue, from NBA Finals to tuition fee increase, was contentious.

Narra was old and dilapidated.  It was a dormitory exclusively for men, but we often saw females using our nasty bathrooms in the middle of the night or early in the morning. Some residents drank and gambled like such vices were not prohibited–well, I did not get a dormitory handbook.  Sex happened too.  I couldn’t tell though what kind.  There were gay men around and one or two transvestites.  They would join us when we watched porn in the TV room.  When it came to sex, nobody could outperform our famous dorm mate, a UP professor in his forties or fifties.  Although he looked horrible, he was a sex fiend.  I wondered if those women inside his room were his students and desperate to get passing grades.  I didn’t think philosophy courses were that difficult.  

In my second year in the dormitory, physical upgrades, staff changes, and new policies were done and implemented.  I saw some improvements in the rooms, in the lobby, and even in the demography of Narra residents.  The  management painted the walls, fixed the gates, and tightened the security.  They kicked out the overstaying troublemakers and the delinquent residents.  We even had a curfew, and women were no longer allowed to go beyond the lobby. The mannish security guard we called “Manang” memorized our faces like we were criminals.  On-time payment of dorm fee was imposed.  We could not openly drink or gamble.  The fully made up dorm manager, an ageing woman who could pass either as a prison warden or a retiring prostitute, would even ask chess players if betting was involved.  The noisy gossipers and those who had secret transactions in the hallways were lucky because they would know when she was approaching.  Her headache-inducing perfume was a foul warning.  Yes, she was strict, but there was order.

What happened at Narra during that time gave me an idea on how to transition from chaos to order–get rid of the troublesome elements.  It was that simple.  Later my idea evolved into maintaining order, and it was about solving problems and establishing networks.  I did write a paper about it in one of my social science classes.  My Marxist professor must have been shocked by my theoretical framework.  I appropriated all theories I knew to explain mass media.  I combined liberation theology with individualist anarchism and the rest of the staple theories widely used and talked about at UP.  I got a C–3.0 in our grading scale.  She could not understand my idea of a social theory of everything.  She did not buy my argument that poverty can only be explained thoroughly if all theories are appropriated and linked.  How can class (Marxism) or gender (Feminism) explain the seasonal price increase of goods and services that overburdens the poor when storm, typhoon, drought, climate have neither class nor gender?

I graduated a semester early and went abroad.  I had forgotten my theory.  I could have written a dissertation out of it, had I not dropped out from a graduate program.  I got tired of reading and learning at that point.  I just wanted to make money.  I’m still hopeful though that one day I can go back to school and continue my father’s unfinished ideas about poverty.  Nowadays my theory has many names in the academe.  They call it systems theory, network theory, or general theory.  I have yet to read a book or a paper though that appropriates all known theories to explain a single issue.  Can both Socialism and Capitalism be frameworks of a solution to poverty?  I think so.

I write about this theory in this post to explain the evolution of my model: a web or network of solutions to a problem.  My intent for this blog is to apply that model in all social, cultural, economic, political problems we have in the Philippines.  I also want to express that there is a set of methods I follow when I think of solutions.  First, those solutions can coexist in a web or network. Second, the aim of every solution is order.  Third, the failure of one solution is not the failure of all.  Fourth, all solutions should be organic–open for improvement, growth, extension, and modification.  Last, every solution must be sound and solid if put through theoretical, factual, logical, empirical, comparative, ethnographic, qualitative, and quantitative analyses.  I just don’t propose solutions without thinking if they are, at least, possible or doable.  Whether they are feasible still depends on the academic efforts of the concerned professionals or the investigative studies of the interested departments of the Philippine government.  What I’m trying to do here is offer alternatives.

In my next post, I’ll talk more about the theory in relation to system and network considering chaos and order.

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