Monday, September 5, 2011

The Context of a Civilized Nation

One of the enlightenments of "crossing over" from one culture to another is awareness of the blindness culture imposes on its people. Outsiders have perspectives that insiders generally discount as irrelevant. There is a natural defensiveness, an insecurity, about outside views. I am not talking only about Filipinos here. This is as true for me defending being American. Or try telling the French about the deficiencies in their culture if you want to get slapped down good.

Because we are used to doing things the way we do them, we don't see any other way. And don't really WANT to see any other way. As much as we claim a superior brainpower over lesser animals, we prove daily how constrained our own thinking can be. And how fragile our sense of self can be, that we need to defend it so.

This sounds a little nebulous, I'm sure. Let me work on crystallizing it as much as I can.

First, let's start with the framework, our reason for being.

Now, it may be that our personal reason for being is to have fun, or it may be to accumulate wealth, or to achieve wide-ranging experiences, or enjoy the thrills of risk, or raise a robust family, or become more knowledgeable, or acquire power, or dedicate ourselves to our God. Maybe a mix of these.

Or maybe there is no real reason, and that is why we can concoct so many.  Each an artificial excuse for being here.

Our delusional brains give us the power to rationalize anything. It gives honorable US Republicans the ability to rationalize that a very capable president is a "destructive force" for America, and the head of the Federal Reserve commits treasonous acts; never mind that those acts saved the global economy from ruin. It gives an NPA gangster the ability to justify blackmailing people for their "own protection", or a Muslim fanatic to blow up 50 innocent people, mothers and babies among them; for God. It gives killers authorization to murder and rapists approval to abuse women. It gives the religious confidence that their God is the right one.

Rationalizations justify the insecure us, the ignorant us, the delusional us.

Perhaps . . . just maybe . . . there is absolutely  no reason for life. Perhaps we are no more than complex reeds, blowing in the wind. Here to occupy space and time, then gone.

For sure, we move from birth to death without pause. Like a plant. Relentlessly. Physically, we grow bigger and stronger and more aware, then we hit the prime of life and thrive in good health, then we start to decline. We grow smaller and weaker and, often, less aware. Then we become nothing. Or maybe a spiritual something, but we don't really know what that means. I tend to "worst case" it, and figure there is just a big black nothing at the end.

And along this path, we can only know what we know. What we experience and what we learn from reading and listening. We can't know what we don't know.

And what we don't know is a lot. Most likely, we don't know how to program a computer or splice a gene or compose a Shakespearian sonnet or play jazz on a saxophone. We don't know what the other gender feels during hormonal cycles, or what it is like being homosexual. We don't know what it is like to live in the International Space Station or in a cardboard box on 4th Street in Los Angeles. We don't know how to make a chocolate mousse or how to get a bill on the table in the Senate. We don't know the forces at play on the cables of the Golden Gate Bridge. We don't know what Lady Gaga had for breakfast or what Barak Obama does whilst sitting on the toilet. Does he hum or read or scratch? We don't know what Koreans eat or Mongolians wear. We don't know the definition of "panache".

We only know what we know; and it is virtually impossible to break out into a more expansive view of things. Our context defines who we are. We are molded. We are wax figures, really, or puppets that move within the confines of the context that surrounds us. Within the limits of what we know.

It is amazing, considering how little we know, how robust our personal arrogance is, how we delude ourselves into thinking we are all-knowing. I suppose our overbearing self-confidence exists to keep us from going insane, for if we were to become bluntly aware of all our shortcomings, we would shrivel up into an emotional fetal wad of helpless, hopelessness sobbing putty.

So we live our delusions:

  • That there is a reason for living.

  • That we are somehow whole and knowledgeable.

What is the purpose of nationhood?

I suggest it is a banding together of individuals within a geographical context to protect ourselves against the delusions of others, and of ourselves. It provides a very real reason for being, to band together to live safer, and live longer.

Let me repeat that. Banding together, as a nation, gives us a reason for being. And the reason for being is TO TAKE CARE OF THE COLLECTIVE, to take care of the nation. Survival of the fittest as a band of brothers.

What are laws?

They are rules of behavior that prevent us from harming one another. They force us to behave in a way that is "civilized". If we were whole, we wouldn't need laws. We would understand how wrong behavior hurts people. But we are not whole, and if we were left to our own devices, the human world would be quite animalistic. Survival of the ruthless.

Laws permit survival of the weak, and the fit.

Is the Philippines civilized?

Not very.

Laws are written and ignored. People do what they will, regardless of the harm caused others. They pollute their neighbor's space with smoke and sound and trash, drive without license or consideration of what "right of way" means, allow their dogs to kill motorcyclists and defecate where children play, steal money from the public coffers or any gullible foreigner, shoot journalists or suspected drug dealers or political opponents. It is the Wild, Wild East.

What will it take to become more civilized?

A context that prizes taking care of others. That understands a nation is built on what its people give, not on what they take.

Civilized behavior requires a better understanding of the importance of courtesy, and compassion, and honesty. And achievement.

Acts that represent a reason for being.

Right now, the Philippines is just a plant, blowing in the wind. It is not a strong nation, in my sense of things, because so few give to the collective. People take what they can. They do undisciplined, lazy things. They don't comprehend why laws that constrain are actually beneficial. They don't comprehend that discipline is the second highest form of civilized behavior, and caretaking of others is the highest.

The Philippines might just as well volunteer to join the great Chinese Empire, where civilization is on the rise.

US civilization, I regret to report, is on the decline, so there is nothing there but torment. America is a nation that thrives on deceits, on manipulative sound bites, on spin. It cannot take care of its own when it is so busy tearing down rather than building up.

There is a third option for the Philippines, too.

Climb all over that baby, Option 3. That is to shape up. To start actively caring about other Filipinos. With a sense of passion, a sense of urgency, a sense of direction.

From that, productive acts will emerge.

It is a high-value context, this caring for the collective. It is civilized.


  1. I didn't know the American people can be so gullible and easily manipulated by those evil GOP people. Geez, do they not know that the great Obama just knows better than everyone else? Hmmmm, that would be an awesome campaign ad.

  2. Anon, Any group considering Sarah Palin presidential is light above the jaw line. I also think Democrats are masters of manipulation and game playing, too, and Pelosi and Reid continuously disappoint me. I think people have no idea of the demands on a US President, and ought to be proud of what President Obama has done for the US.

  3. ahhhh, so we should definitely cut this president some slack, since he is the great Obama. The poor misguided American voters sure would get a bashing, if Mister change doesn't get a second term.

  4. Anon, I'm not sure what your point is. You speak in snide riddles. I'd be stunned if American voters picked any of the existing Republican candidates over President Obama. I give them more credit than perhaps you do.

  5. Hey Joe,

    "Taking care of others"

    Sure. We can take care of our families, friends, co-workers even - but total strangers? No wonder why Buddha wasn't a Filipino. Even for some strange, random, cosmic event, a pinoy would, out of the blue, commit to this act, man, others would think that there must be something seriously wrong with that guy.

    I may be wrong you know. Hell, politicians and primetime tv hosts do it all the time, right? Those less fortunate get played on all the time. And do they care? Nah. For one thing, those personalities in particular don't do it for the sake of civilization.

    Which would lead us back to your topic on rationalization.

    Yeah, life's a bitch. But in an ideal world, good deeds like those are what should be expected on. Who wouldn't want to live in that kind of world. Hmm, i sure hope parallel universes do exist...

    Personally, it all boils down to the genuine concern that we should have for others. But how could we do it as a country, or hell, as individuals, if we could hardly satisfy our own needs. Perhaps, several more competent leaders would provide us the answers. Until then, this article is one prime piece of literature.

  6. 1DC, That is the thing that amazes me, the sacrifices that Filipinos make for their families. Leaving to go work in strange places to earn some money to send home, for instance. But for strangers . . . no consideration.

    It is like the Golden Rule never quite got polished up all the way.

  7. 1DC, I'm always leery of Filipinos giving advices. Filipino advices is tinged with jealousy. Their advice is to put you in the hole in the guise of "caring". Here is an example:

    I don't like BMWs and Benzes. These are generic luxury cars. From Compton Drug Dealers to Wall Street Embezzlers knows these brands.

    I like Volvo, SAAB, Renault and Fiat. Volvo and SAAB has very well defined narrow niche. They are most coveted by family men and women who are most likely in academia.

    I wanted to be different because I am non-conformist. I wanted something that Filipinos do not drive. Benzes are luxury brand of choice of Filipinos in America. So I started off with VW Jetta. The car of choice of up and coming actors and actresses. They are mostly driven by the young, cool and hip. Never seen Filipinos drove a VW Jetta. But when I do I turn heads. I know what they are thinking "He looks cool in a Jetta why didn't I get one?"

    In parties, Filipinos offer me advice. "Pre, why didn't you get a BMW" I did not bother to give my reason else they'd tease me "trying hard to be in Hollywood"

    I switched to Volvo SR40. They wanted more expensive. Now I got a SAAB Aero. This car is definitely a WHITE CAR ! A car that fits right comfortably in Santa Monica and Malibu. A car only driven by white people. A car valet parking attendants would crane their neck, stand at attention whenever I comes close to Fairmont Hotel. Because a SAAB exudes wealth, intellect and country club manners.

    My mother tired of me switching cars so often told me, "Those Filipinos are not giving you advices, they want you to get more expensive car so you'd be deep down in the hole!" So true !

    One Filipina even told me why not be home with my Family in the Philippines. Very good advice. What realy lurks in her advice was "go home, get poor and sorry for your family you took my advice"

  8. Also, Filipinos cannot be satisfied with what I have. I was shopping for a house for a family of three.

    Here are the common comments and advices: The house is too small. It may be near yet so far because of traffic. Kitchen is lilliputian. Neighbours are OFWs. Why not get a bigger one? Maria Luisa perhaps? Or Amara by the sea by Ayala Land in Lilo-an?

    Now I got a big two-storey custom-made house living-above-the-rest-over-looking treetops foggy mountaintop. Now they are screaming, "It's too big for family of three". "It is so far!".

    Whatever, Filipinos. W-H-A-T-E-V-E-R ! I'll get what I want. Now I am not taking advices from Filipinos. Their advice is really putting me down. NOW I STAND ON MY OWN. I don't take advices from Filipinos.

  9. Mariano,

    My wife and I bought a good sized plot of land. We started by building a small house for her mother in the front of the property. People would stop by, and thinking it is our house, ask why we didn't build something bigger. We can certainly afford it.

    So we are now building our house, sounds a lot like yours. Two story, right about the cloud line, nice view. People stop by and say "why do you need such a big house for just three people?"

    Echo of your experience, eh?

    I think it is indeed a benign form of jealousy, where people elevate themselves a little if they can criticize what you do, a little. I just smile and keep building my fine house. I worked hard for it.

    And it sounds like you have a nice lifestyle. Live it up! You have undoubtedly earned it, too.

  10. Mariano, I can't help but smile while reading your comment. There IS some truth to it I believe.

    I drive a 2.2-li. sedan to work. I could sense the same form of jealousy from the guys at work. 'Matakaw sa gas' or 'Mahal and rehistro" are what i usually hear from them. After all, it seems they are right. And sometimes you CAN feel the pressure from them. But nothing beats the feeling when you're doing less than 90kph in a fraction of what their cars can make in less time they make it.

    Of course, that's only possible on Sundays and Holidays, hehe.

    And Joe is right when he mentioned 'jealousy'. Guess you have your answer Joe for your 'civilization' topic last time...

    Inggit. And with it comes the 'crab-mentality'.

    So guys, be weary of Pinoys and their compliments...

  11. I'd rather that the Philippines remain the plant than join the Chinese empire which is going the way that America went in its imperial days. I'm sure you've heard of China claiming the EEZ of several countries and made a statement that it will not hesitate to use force. Good news for China is that its southern neigbhbors whom its steal the most from don't have capable military. All they have is hope that Uncle Sam will bail them out. But then again, doesn't China hold US debts?


  12. Anon, indeed, China has unknown aspirations, for those aspirations reside in the minds of a few powerful people. Well, we know the aspiration is to assert the power that China has gained lately, economically, to round up the world's resources, to claim entire oceans, to intimidate anyone who would disagree . . .


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