Sunday, May 11, 2008

‘Philippines has much to teach the world’

The relevant exchange in FilipinoVoices runs thus:

ANTHONY: I think the difficulty here is that when you scratch beneath the surface, you find that the concept of a nation as a distinct and unique collective is artificial.

After all, the rise of the Nation State came hand-in-hand with the rise of industrialisation and capitalism. It was the mechanism to create artificial bonds between disparate ethnic groups, giving them a shared sense of identity. This collectivisation happened to be most efficient way of mobilising enough people to create wealth during the industrial age.

ABE: I agree that the state is neither universal nor natural, but an ideological construct for the most part; what’s even more apparent is that the power that has personified (or fabricated) the state is the same power that is attempting to demystify, delegitimize or deconstruct it, again, as you said, in the service of wealth. Now, would it help the disempowered individual to resist the reverse process? If not, why should the individual simply go with the flow (or get equipped for the paradigm shift, if you will)?

ANTHONY: For centuries, we have learned to equate culture and identity with the Nation. Now, in a world of the multinational corporation and supranationalism, we’re forced to reassess what this means. As Chuck’s post displays, people still draw comfort in the permanence of their Nation. In reality, Nation States are struggling to remain relevant as their powers are being rapidly eroded by global corporations and supranational bodies. For example, just last month European Union laws drafted in Brussels affected how loud traditional bagpipes can be played in Scotland.

Abe asks if the disempowered individual should resist. We cannot. There are such huge forces in play that resisting will only lead to the annihilation of one’s values. What we must do, as all successful cultures have done, is adapt. In nature, the species that resists environmental change becomes extinct; cultures are no different.

However, culture and traditions cross national boundaries; they transcend the Nation State and need not die with it. Ironically for the Philippines, our disadvantages and failures as a nation has given us a head-start in this new landscape. The Filipino ‘OFW global workforce’ is a sign of things to come as more people leave their countries in search for jobs. The Philippines has much to teach the world about this new style of living.

We must also learn quickly to capitalise on this ‘first mover advantage’. While we spend our time with insular bickering about governmental failures, others are catching up. To put things in context, approximately 90k to 100k Filipinos have settled in the UK over the last three decades. During that time, we have stayed largely underground, our groups mirroring the same divisive squabbling as can be seen in the Philippines. On the other hand, in the 5 years since Poland’s accession to the European Union, around 1 million Poles have moved to the UK. They are making their presence felt and once again Filipinos risk being relegated as insignificant.

What in effect I am postulating is that both nation-state and a “world of the multinational corporation and supranationalism” are not something given, but constructed by those with the power to do so for a reason and therefore the concept (or process) could be deconstructed or reconstructed also for a reason either by the self-same power to further their interests or by those whose ends are not thereby served or in fact jeopardized in the wake of it.

On the juristic (legal) level, a parallel could be drawn between the conception of the state and that of the (private) corporation, an artificial being no less bestowed by law with certain attributes of a person than a state personified by being invested with a mind and a will of its own. So, if the legal rationale fades out or lapses (e.g., the law is abrogated), what actually break the surface are real people socially relating to each other, or working and collaborating together (and I agree with BenignO that they may not be forged as one identity by some hollow symbolisms like Manny Pacquiao; commonality of purpose may be enough).

The artificial entity, it is well to note, is not just legitimized by a statute or by some agreed upon international legal arrangement, it is also reinforced by a belief system. If we look back at history, the myth of the territorialized nation-state has supplanted another myth, the open and frontier-less kingdom of the absolute monarch. The belief system then was that the king was supposed to have unchallenged authority (sovereignty) because his power was derived directly from God. The Devine Right of Kings was however undone when the struggle for parliamentary democracy was won by once disempowered individuals.

It needs to be underscored too that while we are certain the tectonic transformation of the global village is happening, its consequences are still very problematic. For one, are the winners so far outnumbering the losers? What are the negatives in terms of plain ethics: Does supranationalism value life the same way irrespective of nationalities? Or, supranationalism notwithstanding, to what extent the interests of “our” nationals should be promoted or protected at the expense of “their” nationals? How serious is the concern at this point to reconsider the locus, indivisibility or indispensability of sovereignty, or, just like Divine Right of Kings, consign it to oblivion (forget about it)?

The question then is not that “we cannot” resist as inevitable the paradigm shift but more appropriately whether we are unwilling or not to exercise the choice to tame or undo it. For if there is emerging a so-called “network of Empire” (of powerful nation-states in combination with supranational institutions and transnational corporations) poised to rule over a new global order, there is also a “movement of peoples” that is materializing as a countervailing force. In the Philippines, we also call the latter phenomenon as People Power.

Come to think of it, if the Blacks in the United States, together with certain enlightened members of the White establishment, dared not struggle to end slavery and the slave economy but simply gave in to “adapting” to their realities, would there be a Barack Obama today?

Please don’t get me wrong, though. An older commentary below about our town in Bikol, a portion of an op-ed piece of mine published by about six years ago, perhaps shows my concurrence with, rather than divergence from, Anthony’s discourse:
In a microcosmic sense, Iriga (etymologically, y raga, meaning “upland” or figuratively, “there’s opportunity”) was a land of promise to the folks of an older settlement. Apparently goaded by some appreciation of economic topography, the more adventurous settlers of the lowland saw the opportunity to trek up and form a new community. Historically, therefore, Iriga was a land of émigrés, a town built upon the pioneering spirit of its forebears, driven by the hope for greater autonomy. Little wonder then contemporary Irigueños, probably still motivated by such a sovereign zeal, are strong believers in equalitarian values exhibited in a manifold of ways that many would often take for granted.

The Iriga of my childhood welcomed anybody who would want to intermingle with the descendants of the town’s forerunners and its indigenous people. The ever present Chinese and the mestizos, some of Russian, German, Japanese, even Jewish ancestries, and the scions of the “Castilians,” not to mention, of course, the travelers and adventurers from neighboring towns. Nonetheless, the “centro” people called each other “guy” irrespective of status. The pervading communal conception was thus one of inclusiveness and mutual respect in the face of a healthy climate of competition.

In my view, the foregoing enlightenment, so to speak, allowed the fruition of multifaceted talents and abilities, and spawned a wellspring of aspirations and ambitions among the growing cosmopolitanized Irigueños, which, unfortunately, the town’s resources could not accommodate or absorb. Like their founding ancestors, the unsinkable Irigueños had to look for another y raga, or a land of superior opportunities, first in the megapolis of Manila and suburbs, and then even in more distant climes.

The irony is that North America, the favored expatriation of many, as well as Australia, was once a place of banishment where European labor, who couldn’t sell their skills in the market during the early phase of industrial revolution, had been ostracized to go, the better skilled craftsmen having been forced into the burgeoning factories principally in England. In recent years in Iriga, however, a reverse phenomenon—which is quite endemic in the Archipelago—has been taking place. More and more of the “best and the brightest” are lured to leave for the beckoning “upland” in an exodus of some kind because there are no factories, offices or hospitals in town to tap their craftsmanship and expertise with commensurate remuneration. Like other countries whose endowments are natural resources and the human constituents, the adventurism (or, perhaps, abnegation) of the latter would prove to be heroically significant in a lot ways, more particularly in keeping the struggling ship of the nation afloat. The Diaspora of Irigueños, and many other Filipinos for that matter, in different regions of the world, is therefore both a blessing and disguise.

Today, one of the challenges in our rapidly transforming global village could be how to create new meanings and purpose from such our state of affairs. Or, how to avail of the scientific and technological advances that are continuing to shrink both time and space, and turn our situation of physical dispersion to our favor.

In retrospect, Filipinos in exile during Rizal’s times, had taken advantage of the liberal ideas in Spain to hone their cosmopolitanism and proved that given the opportunity they could rise easily to be equals with their “masters.” It was also during this period when the conversation about which course to pursue to attain “emancipation”—either through reforms within the existing colonial relationship with Spain or by social upheaval of the French paradigm—was deepened and polarized. There are lingering questions today whether the Filipino Diaspora, generally speaking, is a reaction to some insurmountable obstacles to reaching rising expectations, such obstacles as anachronistic societal relationship, population growth, technological divide, blighted discipline, geographic fractiousness, prolonged experience of dependency and marginalization, or the ineptitude of self-seeking elites, to cite only those already recognized by some scholars, self-serving or otherwise.

As expatriates ourselves, we have the practical edge of critically looking at certain things that are occurring in our adopted countries from the perspective of our native culture and sub-cultures vis-à-vis our economic, political and demographic structures. Now, which ones do we choose to let go, or intend to preserve, capitalize on and impart? In an age of connectivity and information as wealth, there is an excellent window of opportunities to enrich our exchanges or share our social, cultural and other experiences with one another, and with our compatriots from a geographically distant town we still love to call home.